Tag Archives: excitement

Adventures in Being a Complete Novice

Yesterday I failed miserably. I was frustrated, a tiny bit embarrassed, and delighted. I was delighted because one of my personal goals for my sabbatical is to learn something completely new from scratch. I want to feel like a complete novice, so I can improve my empathy for what my students may be going through when they join my class. The phenomenon called the hindsight bias or curse of knowledge basically means that once we know something it’s really difficult to imagine what it’s like to not know that thing. Imagine not knowing what the traffic lights or temperature mean. Imagine not knowing how to decode what these letters that form this sentence mean. Weird, eh? The challenge is, it’s my job as a teacher to imagine what it’s like to not know about psychology (or some aspect of it), and then try to teach that topic to people who actually do not know (as much) about it. What makes this action trickier is that the longer I do my job, the more I know about psychology, which makes it harder and harder to imagine what it’s like to be in my students’ chairs. I try to get around this challenge in a few ways, including talking with my students about their thoughts. But let’s be honest: it’s been a while since I’ve had a pure experience of complete and utter lack of understanding.

Enter: Pottery class.

Yesterday morning I wandered down to a studio I’ve passed a million times but never entered. I was excited to embark on a new learning adventure! I was going to create something! It might not be beautiful, but I could create! I was the second person to arrive, out of a class of 10. I met my teacher, she used our names to introduce us to each other. I felt welcome. Someone said she had done this before and I didn’t think much of it until later. (For the record, my only foray into art was a single class in high school that was half history, and included zero pottery.) The teacher showed us around the facility. I was trying to absorb all the information. The keywords I remember, in no particular order, include: kiln, bisque firing (as opposed to another kind of firing I forget), plug, glaze, members only shelf, don’t touch, student shelf, slip, washroom, clay, silicate, wheel, clean, wedge, centering. Soon, my brain was full of terms, but I was still excited. Read: without some sort of handout or way to take notes, jargon became a jumbled mass quickly… but maybe that’s ok as I don’t really need to know all this right.

It felt like an eternity until we finally got our clay! Read: all I wanted to do was *DO* the discipline of pottery, which made it difficult for me to concentrate fully on the orientation. The teacher demonstrated wedging, which is kind of like kneading dough and is essential for a strong final product. I measured exactly 2 pounds of clay from my large block (instant success!). My wedged clay looked reasonably good for a first try. Great! With confidence I prepared my wheel station. I watched the teacher’s demonstrations carefully, and tried to emulate her precise hand and body actions. Things were going reasonably well until suddenly half my clay came off in my hand! I made do for a while, and then I tried to make a cylinder, carefully watching the steps and trying to follow with a half portion of clay. After trying to be so careful with it, my cylinder fully collapsed in on itself. It was such a disappointment. I suddenly felt frustrated, especially when I looked over at the person who had done it before. Hers looked just like the teacher’s. Read: social comparison framed my feeling of disappointment and pushed it into failure, but also motivation to make another one.

I stayed an extra half an hour because of a fierce desire to make SOMETHING, ANYTHING that didn’t resemble a pile of grey mush. I tried three times and couldn’t even get the clay to stick to the wheel. It kept slipping off! That most fundamental starting point eluded me, despite the careful attention I had paid to the demonstration, despite the fact that I’d successfully done it just an hour before when my teacher was there. Frustrating! I gave up — but only because I realized I had actual work I had to do and couldn’t just spend the rest of the day on pottery. Reluctantly, I left. All the way home I was frustrated and annoyed because I couldn’t get it. Slowly, I began to laugh at myself. I had taken one single class in a completely unfamiliar discipline and somehow I wasn’t a magical unicorn prodigy in pottery so I was frustrated by it. Ha! Later, I actually uttered the words, laughing, “Turns out I’m not a great potter!” and they made me pause. Really? Is it true that I don’t think I’m a great potter because I got one lesson and couldn’t make something? Of course not. Read: This reaction is consistent with something I’ve suspected for a long time. I tend to have a fixed mindset, and correct to growth when I notice it. I’m reminded of when my statistics students say “I’m no good at math” and I try to convince them otherwise. It takes time and practice and willingness to fail but not feel like a failure.

Scorecard: Pottery definitely won the day. I won insight about failing and a pile of clay covered in mud (called slip) that looked kind of like this (actually this is nicer than mine was):

When I searched for “Pottery cylinder collapse” this image from “Fine Mess Pottery” came up, in a post aptly titled “To that beginning student.”  Apparently I’m not alone.

Welcome back!

September 2012 is here, and the first week is already over! I forgot how tired I feel by Friday afternoons — wow! It’s like I can feel my body powering down. But my fatigue is warranted. This has been such a fun week! My husband and I kicked off the school year with a whirlwind trip to Ontario to witness my friend’s wedding last weekend. She and I lived together all through undergrad, and were basically inseparable during that time. A few of our other lovely friends from undergrad were there too, so it was wonderful to catch up and reminisce about good old Waterloo. The experience also served to remind me of what a profound impact my undergraduate experience had on my life, both intellectually and socially… which got me pumped to be a part of other people’s undergraduate experience!

On Tuesday I arrived in class at 5pm… and sat down in the student chairs. Yes, I’m taking a course! Why, you ask? Well, I want to. I value the classroom as a rich opportunity to learn, and I felt it was time to sit down and feel what it’s like to learn in that way again. I chose the course Psyc 312A: History of Psychology for many reasons. First, Dr. Andrea Perrino is amazing. I was a TA for her a long time ago and was inspired then by her enthusiasm. I wanted the chance to learn from her, as one teacher to another, to consider her pedagogical choices and prompt me to reflect on my own. Faculty rarely ever watch each other teach; I was grateful she agreed I could take her class for this rich opportunity. Second, I am (finally!) interested in the content! I’ve been teaching intro psych (3 years and counting), research methods (5 years and counting), and statistics (recently renewed after a few years’ hiatus). These are broad, generalist courses: my training in my home area of social psychology is useful but not always directly. Over these years these courses have prompted me to cultivate an interest in the discipline as a whole, and I felt it was time for me to really consider the origins and development of my discipline to enrich how and what I teach in these generalist courses. Psychology is only about 150 years old, so it shouldn’t be too hard, right? Ha!

One of the things Andrea (I mean… Dr. Perrino) did on her first day was started foremost with an introduction the the history of psychology. The topic. Not the syllabus. Sure, that came later, but she kicked off with a passionate rationale for why this course is important. It was inspiring, and influenced the way I began my courses on Wednesday. Instead of starting with the syllabus, I started with the topic, the reasons why it’s important to take this course. Based on feedback after that first class, I seem to have succeeded in inspiring at least some students to be excited about our course (even research methods!). In fact, I barely covered the syllabus at all in Intro, but did so using an i>clicker quiz today. I did that last year too, but this year I was more deliberate in my choice of what to reveal on the first day versus the second. The subject is most important… how we get there is important too, but secondary.

My students have been fantastic this week! Research methods felt like a class reunion from last year’s intro — fantastic to see so many of my fabulous students returning for more psychology, and I can’t wait to meet everyone else! And intro… well… I’ve never had two completely-filled hours of student meetings on the first day of class! I have had such fun meeting so many students this week. Their energy is palpable: it’s a new year, a new beginning, and we’re going to have a great time!

Here’s (sort of) what I see when I look out from the front of my intro psych classroom: 270ish energized students! Click on the image to enlarge it. See you next week!


Upcoming Conferences

I have the great privilege of speaking at two fantastic student-driven conferences this month. Check out the websites and mark your calendars!

First, on Saturday October 15 in the new sustainable CIRS buiding, is ICE 2011: the Interuniversity Conference on Education. The focus is on innovations in education, and I’ll be speaking about how I’ve approached the question “Why should any student care about my class?” Check out the agenda and my talk abstract here. Everyone is welcome, and registration is free!

Second, on Monday October 24, is the kick-off to CLASS: Conference on Learning and Academic Student Success. This year it’s a full week of workshops and speakers geared toward helping first year and otherwise new-to-UBC students transition to life at UBC-V. I’ll be speaking about  “What I’ve Learned that has Changed my Life” at the opening ceremony.  I met with organizing team members Julie and Bowen this morning for a brief interview. Check it out on the CLASS website or a direct link to Youtube here.

Exciting times! Hope to see you there!

New Syllabus Posted

Ah the dawn of a new term! Living in an academic world means every four months is an opportunity for renewal. January can be an especially tough transition because of the remaining fatigue from Term 1. Thankfully, we also get Spring Break to catch our breaths. I’m very much looking forward to Term 2. I have had a fabulous time with my Intro Psyc (Section 006) students so far and I look forward to teaching and learning with them as we venture into the more “social” side of scientific psychology.

Psyc 208, Section 002, will begin anew on Tuesday. Here is a copy of the syllabus for those of you interested in checking it out early. This is a refreshed version of the course that was featured in UBC Reports last August. Based on feedback from students and my TA Jelena, I have revised the course to focus more on making teamwork work well, alongside personal development of skills such as self-control, goal-setting, and stress management. An open mind and a willingness to actively engage in learning will be assets to any student joining us in this course. Looking forward to meeting you on Tuesday!

Psyc 217 Poster Session!

Last Friday evening (November 26), 550 Psyc 217 (Research Methods) students showcased their hard work designing and conducting research throughout this term in a poster session. It was a fabulous event with many students reporting a rich learning experience… and that it was fun to see what everyone else had come up with!

Many thanks to Eric Eich, who committed financial support from the department to make this happen, to the Life Sciences Institute for allowing us to book their space, to my fellow 217 instructor and poster session co-coordinator Colleen Brenner, additional 217 instructors Victoria Savalei and Rajiv Jhangiani, and all dozen Teaching Fellows for their support and dedication to making this a success. And, of course, to our hard-working, impressive students! It was a pleasure to see your work!