I’ve written before about how teaching and tutoring have greatly enhanced my own understanding of my subject. Teaching is something I really enjoy and the longer I spend in academia the more I see the value in having, and now being, a great teacher. So I was very excited to hear that this years Deans visitor for the Faculty of Science is Professor Saundra McGuire from Louisiana State University in the USA. Professor McGuire gave several talks during the last few weeks and I attended a morning workshop aimed specifically at tutors like myself.
I’ve come away from the workshop feeling thoroughly inspired and decided I had to share a few insights from her talks. I feel like I’ve gained not only an array of new ideas to help the students I work with but also a better understanding of how I’ve learnt things during my time at University.
We started off our workshop by examining what it is to learn something, and asking what do students really need to get out of their university education? Whilst school may be the time to memorise and repeat facts, university makes very different demands on learners. It is no longer enough at university to remember facts, students have to progress from knowledge to understanding and application of concepts. This can be a bit of a blow for many students, who’ve recently been successful at school and achieved a coveted place at a top university.
Teaching at this level, and tutoring in particular, becomes more about equipping students with the skills to learn, understand and crucially, apply concepts to problems. And mostly, teaching the students that this should be their motivation. Professor McGuire showed us that students know a lot of this already – they know that you have to understand a subject better to teach it, than to get an A on a test, but they also recognize that if you know a subject so well that you can teach it, you’ll probably get that A!
Professor McGuire introduced us to blooms taxonomy as a way of understanding how learning changes through high school in to higher education. The taxonomy is basically a hierarchical triangle with the following sections (starting at the bottom):
According to the taxonomy, undergraduate students should progress from the knowledge and comprehension skills gained at high school on to application and analysis (synthesis and evaluation is the domain of the researching graduate student, an equally difficult jump I’m sure many of my fellow PhD candidates will agree!).
Here are a few other tips Professor McGuire shared which I think will be very useful for me in future:
- Don’t use textbooks to work example problems. Have a go first then check the answer and try to work out where you went wrong BEFORE looking at the books method! Take home message: Making mistakes is a great learning experience. I personally think this is the only way you ever learn how to code.
- Use a study cycle:
– Preview – Prepare your mind for what its about to learn about.
– Attend – All the lectures.
– Review – Move new knowledge from to long term memory.
– Study – 2/3 short intense sessions during the day, 2 at night.
– Assess – Consider: Am I learning well? Be aware of the process.
- Use reading strategies:
– Get the course materials – textbooks etc
– Give an overview – make a big picture – spider plan etc based on chapter structure. Summarise from bold print/italicized text, graphs etc.
– Think about questions you might want answered.
– Consider differences between concepts and importance to other topic areas.
– Read paragraph and put in own words/translate in to your home language.
- Remind students that their mindset determines their reactions. See challenges as something to embrace rather than avoid; see difficult tasks as the path to mastery, rather than being fruitless.
- Attribute failure to correctable causes and success to effective strategies.
For more information about effective teaching, check out courses and other resources available at the Centre for Academic success (www.cas.lsu.edu) and the book “How people learn” by John D. Bransford, available here.
Many thanks to Professor McGuire for the fantastic lecture and workshop!
Most PhD students will get at least one and often even many opportunities to attend a summer school during their studies. Are they useful? And how do you pick the best one for you – especially if you’re work falls between multiple disciplines? I’ve just taken part in my second summer school – a week long workshop run by Greenseas, which was quite different in structure to my first – a bio-optics summer lecture series in Villefranche last July (if you skip between hemispheres, it can always be summer )
Time is of the essence in the third year of your PhD – if, like us in SA, you only have 3 years, now is the time to be wrapping up ideas in to concise and well explained conclusions and writing chapters and papers. So a decision to take a week or two off to cram more information in to your already overworked brain is not one taken lightly. For this reason, I was a little concerned in the few weeks before last weeks Greenseas workshop. The last year has been a tough one where I’ve had to push through coding difficulties, endless hours of trying to form a coherent data set from years of inconsistent in situ data and try to understand plenty of theory rooted in complex physics. I guess this is the status quo if you want to produce “new science” as a researcher, but anyway, most PhD students I’m sure will be familiar with that feeling of being completely overwhelmed and overstretched. The thought of spending a week trying to learn more, or spend time on things not directly related to my work, was unnerving. But my last summer school had been really helpful, giving my bio-optics knowledge a much needed boost, so I determined to keep an open mind about the upcoming workshop.
The Greenseas project has a detailed list of aims but in short, the project brings together knowledge and data on phytoplankton from in situ, satellite and modelling methods and aims to make this available for answering global scale questions. My PhD research falls pretty well within this, and so I applied for the summer school as a good arena to discuss my ideas. The week started with a few days of lectures about in situ data collection methods, ocean colour remote sensing and biogeochemical modelling, with a big focus on how we can combine and assess these data sources, despite their vastly different assumptions and spatio-temporal resolutions. Lectures and practicals on statistics and data processing, supplemented these sessions, providing tools in matlab and R that would be useful for the second part of the course. Though a lot of the academic content of the lectures was not new to me, it provided a great set up to explore the statistical and data processing tools which I know will be vital for my work in the next year – the scripts provided to regrid data, extract time series and conduct meaningful statistical analysis will only need minor adjustments to apply to my data – saving me a lot of time coding!
After the first few days of lectures and practicals, we were split in to groups of 5, with at least one student with a specialism in each area of in situ, remote sensing and modelling data. Our task was to investigate a particular ocean region, using in situ data from the Greenseas data base, combined with ocean colour data and output from a model. I had previously felt this would be a waste of time, why would I want to spend days working on a region unrelated to my own? But the case studies actually proved to be an incredibly valuable experience. Though I consider myself an interdisciplinary scientist, I became very aware of how stuck I am in my own little sphere of work. Being forced to work with others, using different data sources, was a great exercise in learning how to communicate across disciplinary boundaries and recognising how to draw expertise together. A side effect of this approach, was to go someway to alleviating that most dreadful of PhD conditions – imposter syndrome. Most students (and probably many senior academics) I’m sure will admit to feeling like they aren’t smart enough or don’t deserve to be working where they are. Being able to share your skills with others, certainly makes me realise that I do have things to contribute and has given me a big confidence boost. With the pressure of a deadline, a report to write and presentation to give, I managed to develop some new skills in R in a very short time, whilst simulataneously getting lots of ideas and new contacts to help with my own work. If I ever organise a workshop, I will definitely try and bring in the case study approach used during the Greenseas summer school.
I’ve found that one of the most valuable things I’ve gained from summer schools I’ve attended, is a sense of perspective – both about the interdisciplinary field of oceanography itself and my place in it. Here’s a few things I would recommend thinking about when trying to find a suitable summer school to apply to:
Guide to picking a good summer school:
• Look for one that’s not directly in your field. If you’ve been doing your PhD for two years, the chances are you know the basics through and through already, so maybe think about looking for a school that will bring added value to your work. E.g. a workshop on statistical techniques, or one on different data sources that you could use to support your understanding of your system of interest.
• Look for one that will give you cross-disciplinary skills and tools. I may have given up a week of work for Greenseas, but the tools provided would definitely take me more than a week to develop myself.
• Home or away? I’ve attended two summer schools – one a significant distance away and one at my own university. There’s benefits and disadvantages to each. Obviously travel takes time and money, so it may be easier on your budget/schedule to attend a summer school at least in your own country. However the opportunities to network internationally are also very worthwhile. I got the best of both with Greenseas, being an international project, the students came from all over, but being held at my university made it very easy for me to keep in touch with work commitments here – much less stressful.
Do you have any experiences at summer schools? What aspects did you find most useful? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Many thanks to the Greenseas project (funded under the European FP7 Environment Program, Grant agreement no.265294), everyone who attended the course, especially the lecturing staff and my team – “baklawa”.
Also thanks to Lauren Biermann and the Greenseas team for the photos used in this blog.
I’ve never really been one for new years resolutions, but 2012 was a little bit of a let down after the crazy excitement of 2010 and 2011, don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of highlights, but mostly the weight of PhD second year ground me, Ben and our friends down a bit. So I’ve decided to make a list of things I’d like to work on this year.
I’ll be continuing with my slow and steady fitness plan, after much success in 2012 with finally getting my arse off the couch and out trail running! To begin with I’ll be attending an Adventure boot camp, then I’ll be running the long races of the Cape summer trail series and the Two Oceans half marathon.
At some point I’ll probably try and finish this PhD too, but to keep me sane and healthy I’ve got a few things I’d like to work on in my food endeavors!
Salads: I love salad, but I find it hard to make a truly special one. After visiting the beautiful gardens of Babylonstoren and purchasing their book, named after their restaurant “Babel”, I’ve been inspired to experiment with different vegetables, dressing and protein combinations to make delicious, healthy salads. I’m also hoping to sign our house up for a Harvest of Hope veggie box.
Mushrooms: I love them, Ben hates them, I think this should probably change. Regardless, I need more of them in my life.
Sustainable seafood: Cooking with seafood is a relatively new thing for me, but you’ll have seen from various banners and blog posts that I’ve been involved with the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI). I’d like to up my commitment to this great initiative this year, to develop some lovely, home-style recipes to make the most of our great sustainable options in SA.
Tapas tuesdays: Ben and our good friend Janine are planning to play some gigs this year and so will be practicing at our house on tuesdays. I’ve decided this is a good opportunity for me to work on finger food/tapas type recipes, a style of social food that I really love.
Low budget and stress free eating: This year is likely to be one of the toughest of our lives, whilst Ben, myself and housemate Emily try and finish our PhD research. Funding will be running out, and time will be of the essence. I’m not happy for this to mean poor diets, so I’m going to be working on some recipes for simple, cheap food, that can be prepared quickly or in bulk, for those days where time and money are tight!
Beer and food pairing: Our fellow oceanographer Brett has recently started his own blog about the excellent variety of craft beer in Cape Town. Inspired by his trip to the Stone Brewing Company in the USA, Brett proposed that we do some beer and food pairing soon. I have some experience with food and wine pairing, so look forward to this new venture!
Watch this space for new recipes and foodie thoughts!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Our love of cheese and wine tends to leave little time, money and tummy room for desserts. But every now and then we need a little something sweet for a party or dinner. For my research group braai (bbq for non-SA readers!) we adapted this recipe from BBC Good Food. The cake is very indulgent, having a more mousse than cake like texture, and can be made gluten free (check your chocolate).
Almond, chocolate, pear and rum cake
85g butter, plus 1 tbsp to grease the tin
85g caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp to coat the tin
85g dark chocolate (I used 80g and then topped it up with some of Willy Cacao)
1 tbsp dark rum
1 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs, separated
85g ground almonds
2 large pears, peeled and sliced in to four.
Icing sugar to dust
Whipped cream with fresh vanilla pods to serve.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Melt 1 tbsp of butter and coat the base of a springform tin, line with a circle of baking paper, coat this with some more of the butter and sprinkle with caster sugar. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl, mix in the rum and let this cool. Whisk the egg yolks and add to the cooled chocolate with the almonds and cinnamon. Whisk the white until the form soft peaks and fold gently in to the chocolate mix. Pour the mixture in to the tin, add the pears and bake for 35-40 minutes. Dust with icing sugar, serve with whipped vanilla cream and a nice glass of rose!
We make roast chicken pretty much every sunday and love a traditional lemon and thyme flavoured bird with crunchy roast potatoes and an array of veggies. But it’s summer in Cape Town now, and the last thing you want to do is spend 3 hours in the kitchen when its 35 degrees out and all you really want is to drown yourself in an ice cold glass of dry sauvignon blanc!
With that in mind, last sunday I decided to shake up our tradition and try a new style for our sunday roast. During my trip to Zanzibar in September, I bought a number of spice blends. One of these was a vibrantly coloured tandoori mix. Remembering how much we’d loved the roast tandoori lamb I’d made last year, I made a simple yoghurt based marinade for our roast chicken. To accompany the chicken, I reworked a delicious spinach and mustard salad that our house mate Cora recently made, to include some of the elements of our favourite Indian side dish – Saag aloo.
Tandoori roast chicken
Serves 4 with some leftovers!
1 cup of yoghurt (plain or greek)
3 tbsp of tandoori spice mix (you can use any curry mix of your choice, just be careful with spiceyness if it’s a hot one!)
Juice of half a lemon
Ground black pepper
1 large (about 1.5kg), free range chicken (we use Lazena and Elgin chicken)
Combine all the marinade ingredients. Make a pocket under the breast skin of the chicken, pour some marinade in and smother the rest on the outer skin.
Cook the chicken, uncovered, in the centre of an oven at 180 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Then turn the heat up to 220 for another 30 minutes. After this time, check if the juices run clear, if not, you may need to return it to the oven for another 10-15 minutes or so. Ours took just over 70 minutes in total.
Saag Aloo inspired salad
250g fresh spinach, you can use baby/English, but I used the more substantial variety we get here in SA, for its fresh crunch.
8 medium sized potatoes
2-3 spring onions, roughly chopped
4 tbsp of mayonnaise
1 tbsp of wholegrain mustard
1 tsp of fresh ginger (grated)
1 tsp of cumin
Peel, cube and boil the potatoes until they are just done (they need to stay firm), leave to cool. Make the dressing using the mayonnaise, mustard, ginger and cumin. Wash and roughly chop the spinach. Assemble the salad (potatoes, spinach and spring onions), add the dressing and lightly toss together.
Serve the salad with various cuts of the chicken. You can also add rice to bulk up the meal if you like, we can’t do spicy food in our house without it!
Serve with a chilled chenin blanc or viognier, a great IPA like the Devils Peak Kings Blockhouse would also work!
This week was my very dear friend Emily’s birthday, so I decided to allow my overworked brain a full day off to prepare a birthday tea party for her.
I spent quite a bit of time deciding what sort of party would be suit Em, in the end, I stalked her Pinterest boards and tried to incorporate as many of the things she’d pinned as possible. It started with the central concept of toasted cheese sandwiches – a favourite of us both. Inspired by this wonderful blog: Grilled Cheese Social, which Em had shared with me, I set about creating my own grilled cheese recipes for the tea party.
In addition to the revamp of the traditional sandwiches, I decided we had to have tea with a twist, so Ben came up with several ice tea based cocktails using the rooibos based BOS ice tea.
Apple Mar ‘tea’ ni
For this sour and fresh cocktail, we added a shot of gin and a shot of vodka per serving and topped with BOS apple ice tea and mint.
I think this was the favourite cocktail of the party. We added a double shot of gin per serving and topped with half lemon BOS ice tea and half stoney ginger beer.
This was a version of BOS’ recommended recipe, where we swapped the honey syrup for rosemary and honey syrup.
Served in tea pots to pour over ice containing edible flowers, the cocktails were a big hit!
For the toasted cheese sandwiches, I settled on the following 8 filling combinations. They’d probably be at their best with different types of bread for each, but as I was making lots, I settled with doing half wholemeal, half plain white bread. I’ve included an ideal bread you could try if just making a few.
New York style
Inspired a delicious salt beef sandwich I had at the Biscuit Mill recently. This sandwich contained sliced of bresaola, emmental cheese, gherkins and a spread of mustard mayo. Slices of sourdough would be perfect with this filling.
The green goblin
Named for Bens love of all things green, but general dislike of eating green things. I mixed 4 tbs ricotta with raw broccoli chopped very fine, 2 tbs of coriander and parsley pesto mayo (made by blending parsley, coriander, almonds and olive oil to form a pesto, then adding 1 tbs to 3 tbs of mayo). Perfect on seeded wholewheat bread.
Chilli poppers are the pub snack of choice in Cape Town. Many bars and pubs now sell these spicy, stuffed jalapeno peppers, often with a twist of different cheeses/wrapped in bacon etc. To make a sandwich to replicate this deliciousness, I mixed feta, grated mozzarella and chopped jalapenos together, then topped this mix with sweet chilli doritos (I know, it sounds odd, but trust me!). This would be awesome in a tortilla – like a quesadilla.
One of my favourite dishes is sweet potato gnocchi and sage butter. But putting gnocchi in a toasted sandwich may be a step too far even for me. So, instead, I cooked up some saute sweet potato slices, in butter with sage, then stacked these up in the sandwich with emmental, cheddar and some thinly sliced white onions. Nice on wholewheat bread or slices of ciabatta.
Loaded potato skins are one of my mums favourite things and I figured why not try and immortalise their tastiness in a toasted sandwich. Again I used saute potato slices (just normal white potatoes) and topped them with sliced, cheddar, mozzarella and crispy bacon bits. Each slice of bread was spread with a chive mayonnaise. A crunchy, white roll or ciabatta would work well with this.
Nuts about blue cheese
When we have a braai (South African bbq for non-SA folk), we often make a delicious salad with pear, walnut and blue cheese. This toasted sandwich takes that salad as inspiration, swapping the pear for slices of more robust red apple and topping with blue cheese and chopped walnut mix. Good on a rye bread or even a brioche roll.
There is a prego sauce made in Cape Town that I’m certain surpasses any other in the world. Chippies is a store cupboard essential in our house and I’ve caught Ben having it on toast in the morning and Em eating it with a spoon. So, to prevent a riot, I thought I’d best make a cheese and chippies toastie. Short and simple – slices of cheddar and an unreasonable amount of chippies. Perfect on a thick portugese roll to absorb all the chippies oils.
Straw ‘brie’ melt
To add a sweet touch to the menu, I divised this beaut of a sandwich. Strawberries, sliced and soaked in balsamic vinegar, combined with slices of brie. Particularly good on wholemeal bread.
Our party spread was finished off with some home made scones (with fig jam and whipped cream with vanilla pods), some delicious macaroons from cassis, tiny cupcakes in beautiful colours from Woolworths and some of our friend Bretts famous shortbread.
For decorations, Ben made lots of origami birds, which were displayed around the flowers we bought for the occasion.
It was such a pleasure to run wild with party recipes and ideas, and I think the party was enjoyed by everyone. It might be a while before I can face toasted cheese sandwiches again though…or maybe not