Thursday, May 18, 2006

Teaching Update

Teaching the third lecture was really fun. We now all know each other, students are much more relaxed and willing to interrupt with comments and questions. Also, after the second lecture, everyone was aware that we have no Creationist nutjobs in class, so we could all proceed to talk about evolution as much as we wanted - and let me tell you - they wanted to! It is exciting to them.

We started the class with students' brief reports on articles they have picked. One read about the electric fish - both the production of electricity and the sensory perception of the electrical fields; one talked about the cognitive abilities of Portia spiders; another one on the longevity of turtles and a possible connection to the telomerase hypothesis of ageing; next one talked about an article on Anosognosia (the opposite of phantom limb phenomenon, i.e., the limb is there but the brain does not register it); and one talked about land iguanas of Galapagos and their habit of laying eggs in a volcanic crater, etc..

All of the topics provoked nice long discussions, often involving evolutionary/adaptive questions. The last one picked an article by Stephen Jay Gould on abuses of Darwinism. That discussion was the longest and obviously the most interesting to them. We discussed Social Darwinism, eugenics, Creationism, Sociobiology/Evolutionary Psychology and the Bell Curve debate. This was something that they could definitely relate to - something that affects their lives as citizens of this country in the midst of culture wars.

After such a wonderful breaking of the ice, I gave a lecture on behavioral biology which is always fun for everyone because I can talk about sex, sex and some more sex for an hour. Then, after a break, I gave another lecture on ecology (all of it in one hour!), which I heavily tied to the evolution lecture of the previous week. Finally, we watched a cool little movie about co-evolution between flowers and insect pollinators, with heavy emphasis on orchids that cheat and deceive the insects.

I'll post the notes from the behavior and ecology lectures tomorrow on The Magic School Bus. Next week, we move on to a more taxonomic approach, covering bacteria, protista, plants and animals in less than four hours. That's going to be fun!

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