Build curiosity first, then answer questions

DSC05844  First day of class and I meet these wonderful new students, all 54 of them, more actually if you count the hopefuls. If I can’t make behavior seem interesting and wonderful, I have no business teaching. I have a plan. The students get an overview of the material with Dawkins, then methodically cover it all with Davies, Krebs, and West, going into detail on one chapter, covering fish, butterflies and moths, or social ants, bees, or wasps. Should work well.DSC05849

But today I’m not even sure they know what behavior is. What better way to tell them than to have them watch some videos. So I used some of my own. I had them watch this rather hand held one of birds of the Galápagos as they came in. Then they went into the great egret videos.  I told them what an honor code was, that they had to write it at the top of every piece of work they did, and sign it. Dan Ariely said it worked better at the top than at the bottom.

The questions on the egrets were simple: “What are the great egrets doing? How does it vary with age, gender, nest or date? Be specific, not comprehensive.” I’m dying to see what the put, but let the teaching assistants have the first look.


The teaching assistants plan their approach.

I had them watch six videos from my YouTube account, made by Rice University undergrads way back in 2008. They watched two tapes from each of three dates, 31 March, 7 April and 24 or 29 April. They were Video 3, Video 5 and Video 2 from Nest 5, and Video 6, Video 10, and Video 31 from nests 1, 4 and unlabeled. Anyone can use these videos for they are creative commons licensed. There are also a lot of other great egret videos available for use.

I had them watch these videos and think about the general questions so they would be curious about behavior. How often do students get to watch wild natural, unedited behavior? This should make them more grounded in the concepts we teach them with the texts. Next time they’ll watch wasps, also from my YouTube channel, also put together by the wonderful David Brown.

DSC05846What else did we do that first day of class? I got permission to photograph them. I introduced them to my wonderful teaching assistants, Boahemaa Adu-Oppong (the teacher on the left in the header of this blog), Kimberley Suhkum, and Jason Scott. I told them about honor codes and how we were going to use them. I told them to read Selfish Gene and do the study questions. I told them about the specific groups and that they would be teaching high school students Saturday 9 November.

It is going to be a wonderful semester!

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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