March 07, 2005

Learning outside the classroom

Three days each week, I eat a late breakfast at our campus snack bar. I like to eat meals in an area where students congregate because I like to talk to students outside class and find out what is going on in their lives. Two other professors, ScienceGuy and Ornithologist, share this philosophy so I am often sitting a table that is a mix of faculty and students. ScienceGuy always brings the morning newspaper with him so we all look at the day's news, fighting over sections. We get into the big discussions: we analyze politics, we give scathing reviews of movies we've seen, we talk about what's going on in courses we are taking or teaching.

Topics this semester have included: Ward Churchill, biotechnology, the Vagina Monologues, Lawrence Summers, thong underwear, Jane Goodall, mountain climbing, the Beach Boys, Michael Crichton, roadkill, body piercings, DNA testing, contra dancing, public education, underage drinking, the Moosewood Cookbook, cell phones, whitewater rafting, and winter camping.

These informal discussions are often the best part of my day, and often whatever we talk about spills over into my classroom. I learn all kinds of new things from these students. Today, one student at the table was cutting up strips of paper and taping them together. When I asked him what he was doing, he took the time to show me how to make a Moebius Strip. Oh, it was the coolest thing.

The group at the table told me I was a nerd for getting so excited by the Moebius Strip. But I say that if I was REALLY a nerd, I would have seen it before ....

20 comments:

Scrivener said...

Gotta say, I agree with you: you have seriously undermined your nerd credibility by admitting you'd never seen a Moebius strip before today. How could you have been calling yousrself a nerd all this time?

Your sitting around the breakfast table sounds a lot like blogging to me. But I'm a little hurt that you think that's the best part of your day--I though the best part of your day was ridiculing me in the comment threads of various other blogs. Sigh.

Lisa V said...

Okay I am going to have to google "Moebius strip."

I envy your job and discussions. The public school I work for and the girls attend is always under the clock. We seldom get time to discuss big ideas- well they do in the classrooms. The rest of the staff is just rushing to keep the place afloat and going. However, its a wonderful school and I'm happy to be a part of it. I would just love an adult conversation or two that discussed other topics.

Lisa V said...

Aw, math that explains it.

Rudbeckia Hirta said...

My students are not nearly impressed enough by mobius strips. They tell me that they would rather learn about somethnig that they can use to make money.

jo(e) said...

Okay, David, I admit it. The best part of my day is staying up late, mocking you out, writing a million comments in tiny little boxes that my getting-older-by-the-minute eyes can barely see, and NOT getting the sleep I desperately need.

Does that help my nerd credibility? Because really, truly, only a nerd would stay up late talking to someone like you.

Friday Mom said...

Nerd or not [and I'm not really sure which you're shooting for here :-)], you are my hero, (j)oe. I keep coming back here because you are the kind of mom and teacher I want to be, truly capable in your field of interest and as a mom, but uncommonly interested in people and their lives. What a gift!

bitchphd said...

Jo(e), do you knit? B/c if you do:

http://www.math.wayne.edu/~isaksen/Expository/mobiuslinks.html

http://www.thebellwether.com/scmoandmo.html

http://cerebro.cs.xu.edu/~smbelcas/mkmb.html

http://www.junebugsplace.com/mobius.htm

profsynecdoche said...

This sounds so idyllic that I just spent 20 minutes trying to ferret out where you teach. At Coca-Cola U., no one sits around and chats like this on a regular basis. (And certainly not in the morning.) First, traffic is so bad that most people don't come in until after rush hour. And then if they do, they are either busy or trying to look busy. My department is filled with people who are always trying to get some place else. For a couple of years, I would try to organize afternoon outings of junior faculty to a bar off campus, but I eventually gave up becuase I realized that no one else really cared. So, savor your coffee and your newspapers.

Moebius Stripper said...

...and this is where I got my handle from ;)

Whenever I have some some left and the end of the term, I show my students Moebius strips, partly because they're fun and partly because they're related to some math I studied in grad school. Some of them seem to think they're really cool, and I could die happy if I ever say any of my students showing their friends how to make them.

I'm guessing your students showed you what happens when you cut one in half, lengthwise; did you try cutting it in thirds? I love that one.

jo(e) said...

Moebius Stripper: I did think of you and actually said aloud, "Hey, I know someone named Moebius Stripper," and they all thought I was talking about someone who worked at a strip club ....

In thirds? Lengthwise, you mean? I am going to have to try that ....

jo(e) said...

Profsynedoche: The strange part is that there are only 3 professors who like to hang out with the students. Everyone else buys food and rushes back to their office to eat at the computer. But there are ALWAYS students around who like to talk with us.

One of the reason we all get to work early is because you cannot get a parking spot after 8:30 am ....

jo(e) said...

Professor b; thanks for the links. I haven't knit in years but I might just have to take it up again. I am also happy to see that there are people out there nerdier than I am.

dr. m(mmm) aka The Notorious P.H.D. said...

I used to know someone who is the granddaughter of the Moebius strip guy. They pronounce their name "Maybe-us" by the way. She's from Amherst, MA, if that helps verify anything. She also went to highschool with the guys in the band Dinosaur Jr (and Sebadoh). But I digress. . .

I work on a huge campus (over 35,000 students, most of whom commute). But, I've gone a few times to the student dining hall, and I love being there. The energy is so nostalgic and wonderful. And the food is much better these days. Vegan Chili! Paninins with fresh basil! Not so much on the campus discussions, I'm afraid. It must be the research one thing that keeps people from being friendly and fun and engaged.

Moebius Stripper said...

Re not being friendly and engaged: for me, it's the exhaustion. I teach six and a half hours on Tuesdays and another six and a half hours on Thursdays, four and a half of which (each day) are uninterrupted. Then I get a break for dinner, and I just don't have the energy to talk to my students or anyone else at that time. If I had a nice 2-3 hour teaching day, I'd love to chat with my students outside of class. (Then again, my most recent outside-of-class discussion with a student was about how addicted we both were to America's Next Top Model, so maybe I'm not missing that much ;)

jo(e) - yes, cut it lengthwise. One of the most common Moebius strip tricks is making the cut halfway across - try making the cut a third of the way in instead. I have a cousin who's much younger than me, and when she was 8 or so, I showed her a bunch of tricks, each time having her guess what would happen to the moebius strip. After showing her what happens when you trace a line on one side, and showing her what happens when you cut it in half, she no longer trusted her intuition. "Look, I just don't know how this thing works, okay?" she responded when I asked her about cutting it in thirds.

Scrivener said...

If it wasn't clear, like Prof Synechdoche, I'm jealous that you can sit around and socialize with colleagues and students like this. I wish my students would want to sit around and bs or discuss the larger world in some way. I keep thinking maybe someday when I'm not teaching exclusively freshmen, but I don't know. Maybe I'm just so unfriendly and introverted?

Dr. H said...

my students are too over scheduled to do something like this, I think... I, too, am jealous of your experience with your students.

I *heart* moebius strips. I like how you resist calling yourself a nerd, but... face the facts, woman! Nerdiness is the way to go.

jo(e) said...

Yes, Scrivener, it's because you are soooo introverted. I mean, you are just the shyest person I've ever met.

I think small colleges lend themselves to the kind of atmosphere where you can hang out with students and chat. More than half of the graduating class where I work will have had me for at least one course. So when I walk into the snack bar, I always see familiar faces.

When I taught a Snowstorm University, the big university in town, years ago, I never saw my students outside class. Ever. I hated that.

the lawmom said...

Is he so fishing for a compliment or what? That is David's equivalent of "Do I look fat in these jeans?"

jo(e) said...

No matter how many compliments I give David, he is always fishing for more. Sigh.

Nice to see you over on my blog, lawmom!

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