P’s and Q’s and Pocketbooks

B picSince 2006, I’ve assigned a theme on a financial topic for the English 101 concept theme. Why not? What good does it do to translate a proudly earned diploma into more income only to wonder where the money went so soon after payday?

Students find pleasure in choosing one of three topics: budgeting, credit card use, or investing. No matter where one is on the financial map, researching a couple of good sources and picking up new knowledge benefit most everybody.

Credit Cards

Credit Cards (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

I introduce this unit with a 20-30 minute motivational talk on money management—or rather mismanagement. Students like to hear stories about people digging out of holes, and two always come to mind.

The first goes back to when my wife was mostly a stay-at-home mom who worked 12-15 hours a week for minimum wage, and I made a modest salary at my job. Yet budgeting and creativity kept us out of debt except for the house payment, and life was not luxurious, but it was fun.

Dianne Wilkerson - Past Due

Dianne Wilkerson – Past Due (Photo credit: stevegarfield)

A highly paid relative by marriage surprisingly came to my wife one day years back with a shoebox. In it were not shoes. The bottom layers were opened bills quickly piled into the shoebox, and the top layers were unopened bills. Frustration and fear were written all over his face. He and his wife had become spending machines.

The problem is this: if you make 100K or 200K a year but spend way beyond what is coming in, the result is debt. Our relative asked my wife to help him and his wife get on a budget and establish a plan to retire their non-mortgage related debt. This happened and brought much relief.budget

You’d think that having helped others, we would have continued on too without faltering. Having avoided credit card use except for convenience and quick repayment, we departed from this when a couple of money opportunities looked like sure things. Feeling certain, we made purchases based on these “sure things.” That’s when we learned that money can sprout wings like a bird and fly away. The opportunities fell through, and glaring at us was $7500 on the credit card.

The card had started benignly—0% the first year, but it quickly escalated after that to over 20%, and monthly interest payments were over $200. Our jobs also destabilized at this time, and our kids were almost grown but not quite. We made the commitment to dig out and were fortunate to get a low interest loan so that the card could be retired. That left the slow task of paying off the low interest loan.


Budget (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

Going through this built steel girders in us about the “sure thing.” Unless we hear the jingle of money already in our pockets or see the happy figures already on the bank statement as on deposit, purchases wait.

The displeasure of going through this brought the pleasure of persevering and getting a plan going again. The pleasure for students in hearing the stories is that their instructor has had some tough times and learned some tough lessons. That’s not to say they will avoid their own mistakes, but at least they will have done a little research and thought about how to live financially with a plan.

How Sweet It Is: Using Candy to Teach A&P

While my anatomy and physiology classroom is full of interesting and helpful models, sometimes I need a little something extra to help students grasp a concept. Last week I shared some items from my “toy box.” Today I’m opening the candy jar.

Students are usually unfamiliar with the concepts of “cortex” and “medulla.”  The adrenal gland, the kidney, the ovary, and several other structures exhibit this lay-out.  Simply put, the cortex is the outer portion of a structure, and it varies significantly in its function and makeup from the inner medulla. My illustration?  The Tootsie Pop. The hard candy shell is the cortex of the pop, and the soft center is the medulla.

Growing up in the 60’s, I loved this commercial (although, strangely, I’ve never been a fan of the candy itself.)

Once I’ve explained the Tootsie Pop analogy, I only need to ask my students, “Which part of the adrenal gland is the cortex?”  They reply in unison, “The candy shell!”

Learning the differences between epithelial tissue and connective tissue is a challenge.  Epithelial tissue consists almost entirely of cells. Connective tissue has cells, too, but not nearly as many, and it owes most of its functionality to the material between the scattered cells (called “matrix,” since you’re dying to know).

To illustrate this difference, I employ a bag of salted peanuts, which are like individual cells in epithelial tissue.  Then I produce a box or can of peanut brittle to represent the connective tissue.  Students are quick to point out that the latter “is all about the brittle.”  Since the matrix of connective tissue has 2 main components (fibers and ground substance), and brittle is primarily butter and sugar, the metaphor is especially apt.

English: Roasted Peanuts author: Flyingdream

Peanut Brittle

How do I know that this nutty approach works? Because later in the course when I ask about the composition of connective tissue, someone always blurts out “peanut brittle!”

The latest addition to my jar of candy illustrations was contributed by a pair of students.  The structure of flat bones, like the ones that make up the top of the skull, is a sort of sandwich.  The outer layers are dense, or compact, bone, and the middle layer is made up of spongy bone, called diploë. Our textbook, Pearson’s Human Anatomy and Physiology, 9e, by Marieb and Koehn, illustrates it like this:Diploe

When I presented this in class, one student noted that it looked like Hershey’s Air Delight.  I wasn’t familiar with that treat, but the next day another student brought a sample for us to dissect.  Everyone agreed that the cross section of the Air Delight looked exactly like a flat bone.  So far, every student has remembered what “diploë” means.

Hershey’s Air Delight Aerated Milk Chocolate B...

Hershey’s Air Delight Aerated Milk Chocolate Bar Innards (Photo credit: theimpulsivebuy)

Why do these food-related analogies work so well?

  • First, learning is always easier when we can associate new concepts with something that is familiar.
  • Activating neurons in different areas of the brain seems to consolidate memories. By using candy metaphors, we are involving the olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) areas of the brain in the process of consolidating new information in long-term memory.
  • Finally, we arrive on the planet with a hard-wired preference for sweet-tasting foods.  The memory of treats that we enjoyed as children is a pleasure in itself, so the new information takes on the sheen of pleasure.

I suspect that the combination of these factors makes candy-coated visuals especially effective.

Do you use unconventional visuals in your classes?  We would love to hear about them.

Where Did the Joy Go?

English: A diagram of cellular respiration inc...

English: A diagram of cellular respiration including glycolysis, Krebs cycle, citric acid cycle, and the electron transport chain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

pleasureteam note: We are pleased to welcome a new writer today.  Derek Sims is Assistant Professor of Biology at our college. He’s known for being a thoughtful, honest, and realistic colleague. We enjoyed reading his perspective, and we think you will, too.

Recently I was teaching cellular respiration in my Biology I classes.  I have two sections of this course this semester.  After completing the topic with the first section, I felt that it really did not go well.  It seemed that there was little student focus and that they did not understand the topic.  After some reflection, I realized that it was my fault.  I was not focused and my JOY was missing.

Cours de philosophie à Paris Grandes chronique...

The last few years have had some good experiences and some not so enjoyable. Those which are not the most enjoyable sometimes start to take away our JOY.  What is JOY?  It is the love of teaching and the enthusiasm and focus required to do the job well.  Life seems to take away JOY.  Workplace turmoil and low job satisfaction are also JOY suckers.  Unpleasant co-workers or bosses, as well as students who do not seem to care about their education are also JOY suckers. The only thing which seems to feed the JOY is the occasional student who really gets it and makes something out of themselves using what the instructor has brought to the table.

depressed.2Many of us struggle with the disappearance of JOY from time to time.  I have had my struggles as well and have started asking myself what it is that helps keep the JOY, and what I can do to encourage that in my personal teaching experience.  When the JOY is there, the students’ educational experience is maximized and the instructor is much happier and more engaged and focused as well.

Engaged, dedicated students are the first source of JOY.  It seems that the average student quality has dipped in recent years, reducing the automatic JOY.  If the instructor maintains JOY, student engagement will increase, converting some students into sources of JOY.  It will also encourage the students who were already going to be inspiring to shine even more.  I have discovered that when I am enthusiastic and focused on the topic the students become more engaged and understand the material more completely.  We all leave the classroom feeling better and more satisfied.teacherwithstudents.2

A second source of JOY can be workplace/job satisfaction.  Some days are better than others when considering this category of JOY. Workplace policies, events, and other background issues in the workplace can either be a significant contributor to or detraction from our JOY.  It seems like the old adage “When it rains, it pours” is appropriate when considering this area.  It is helpful to remember that these types of things will come and go, but the mission remains the same, help students learn and better themselves.  I have made a real effort to institute this thought into my every day existence.  My personality is not one to ignore these sorts of things, so I often struggle in this area.

MP900387715Home life detracts from JOY because it takes time and energy away from teaching.  There is a strong pull exerted on each of us to be at home with family and friends, especially on days when JOY is missing at work. I do not have any pearls of wisdom or suggestions to add in this category, so any ideas are welcomed.

After the experience mentioned at the beginning of this post, I realized that I needed to bring more focus and enthusiasm to the topic.  I did not really change the information that I presented, but rather presented it with more enthusiasm and energy.  The students in the next section of the course, which met the next day, responded much more favorably to the lecture and we all left that day with a greater sense of accomplishment and purpose, with significantly fewer blank stares and expressions of confusion. I am sure there will be many more days in the future which will be lacking in JOY, but simply thinking about the causes of JOY and the real purpose of teachers and teaching, can help bring the JOY back and help in achieving inspiring and useful teaching and learning.

There are other factors which influence JOY that I have not covered here.  Feel free to send me your thoughts on JOY and additional posts may spring forth with your input.

Tech Tuesday: Screencast-O-Matic

Each Tuesday, pleasureinlearning brings you Tech Tuesday.  Come back each week for more ways to become efficient and effective in your use of technology. 


As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words.  I often find myself typing very long, wordy emails to students and colleagues telling them how to do or find something on their computer.  Sometimes I’m able to come up with a (YouTube.com) video that demonstrates it, but not always.  In the case of students, they sometimes need a detailed explanation of what they did wrong on an assignment.

Frequently, when I’m stuck without a video I will make one of my own.  I use a cool website called www.screencast-o-matic.com, which lets me record my own videos.  Once recorded, videos can be uploaded to their website, uploaded to YouTube, or saved as a file.  I usually use the first option.

Watch their demo video here.

Just as a note, you can make videos of your screen, but I find that having a microphone for narration is exceedingly helpful.

Teaching Someone to Make Coffee

B picLet’s look at Marlena. Her husband, Otis, depends entirely upon her for his coffee. When the alarm goes off in the morning, he saunters into the kitchen where Marlena puts a cup of coffee down in front of him with cream and sugar according to his liking.

She wants to teach him how to make coffee. First she shows him how to hit the on button so that the next morning he will be able to do it. She shows him where the cream is in the frig, and where the sugar is, and she points him to the spoons and napkins. That goes well. Otis is on his way.English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

Now Marlena wants to stretch Otis a little more, so after he beams a few days over making the coffee, she shows him where the coffee filters are, how to put water into the coffeemaker, and how to set the timer before he goes to bed. Otis realizes that things have changed, but Marlena assures him that it is about learning something new, and Otis is for that.

An used Coffee filter

After a few days of new success, Marlena takes another dare. She leaves the grounds from the morning in the pot, and in the evening, gives Otis a lesson on emptying the grounds.

Her biggest dare is yet to come. When they run out of coffee, she has him be the one to notice it and go to the store. She coaches him on keeping up with the cream and sugar supplies as well.English: A 500 gram bag of coffee beans purcha...

The pinnacle is almost here. It arrives when he gets into the habit of bringing her coffee in the morning. My brother-in-law does this for my sister. Marlena gets the master-teacher award because not many students get this far.

Black coffee in a white cup served on a saucer...Learning is about not needing your teacher anymore while understanding your teacher in a new way.

Ending on an Up Note: Chicken Stress

It seems like the term just began, but already we are tasked with supplying multiple documents.  This chicken, product of the talented Doug Savage of www.savagechickens.com, has the same problem.  My psychologist pal Anne agrees with his diagnostic assessment.