First class done!


It’s going to be a l o n g semester. 8am is rough; I provided hot water and tea, and we had a mid-class break so anybody could run out for coffee or just slap themselves awake. Then, to ease them in, we talked about an easy topic. We talked about Italy! I would love to visit Italy someday — it’s number one on my list of desirable travel destinations that haven’t visited yet. I also saw an opportunity to get all liberal artsy and talk history and philosophy and art, as well as science, because these are all related.

Here’s my cryptic whiteboard at the first half of the class. Can you guess what we talked about, and how it was at all relevant to developmental biology?


The students weren’t particularly responsive — I think they were regarding this as something like a dental appointment. But it is the first day, and I’m going to be hammering on them that they need to be alert and interactive and contribute, so they’ll warm to it eventually. Or they won’t, and it’ll be a really long semester.


  1. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    A wild guess. How a piece of marble developed into a world class piece of art, from quarry to its exhibition.

  2. says

    Huh. Take a class from world famous PZ Myers and fall asleep in the middle. Check off another accomplishment?

    Anyway, your whiteboard isn’t all that cryptic, since it includes a very nice and short rant against the just-so stories of evolution. I’d have loved to have heard how you connected the multiplicity of Michaelangelo’s Davids to the Carrera marble quarries. :-)

    Now if only someone were to beat on Dawkins for perpetuating the watch maker analogy.

  3. Owlmirror says

    Marble sculpture, being the art of removing everything that doesn’t look like the (desired) final form,
    contrasted with
    biological development, where the form arises from the hugely complex interaction of cells dividing and secreting different proteins?

    Top down vs. bottom up?

  4. cartomancer says

    I’m not sure if the BBC are making these available to all you foreign freeloaders who don’t pay the Queen’s Own License Fee, but here’s the link anyway:

    It’s a set of three 3-D mapped models of major Italian cities, including their underground secrets (Naples, Venice and Florence) to go with Alexander Armstrong and Michael Scot’s travel / light history documentaries.

    Also, shouldn’t there be some classical Apollo statues in David’s developmental history?

  5. says

    Here’s a simplified version of the big question: Where did “David” come from? What is the cause of “David”?

    I probably stunned them with too much philosophy and art history.

  6. blf says

    The box in the upper right corner(-ish) labeled “David?” is clearly the TARDIS, so it’s the storyboard for some Doctor Who tale: “The Sniny David Squid”, perhaps?

  7. says

    Here’s a simplified version of the big question: Where did “David” come from? What is the cause of “David”?

    Did you eventually hit them with the four causes or something like that? I notice the “four causes” wikipedia page even has a section specifically for biology!

  8. Snarki, child of Loki says

    IF you get to Firenze, and you should, the museum that houses “the David” has several of Michaelangelo’s unfinished sculptures nearby:

    They are rough blocks of marble, with an exquisitely finished arm/leg/etc protruding.

    It might not help your teaching, but it’s definitely worth a look.

  9. emergence says

    Hey PZ, as a biology student, I’m worried about something; I’m scared that I’m not retaining the information I learn in my biology classes as well as I should. Is it normal that a student can’t immediately recall everything they learned in a given class? What strategies would you recommend to help keep what I learn fresh in my mind?

  10. Owlmirror says


    What strategies would you recommend to help keep what I learn fresh in my mind?

    The first idea I had was the Memory palace. I’ve never used it myself, but then, I’ve not had a problem with retention in the short to medium term (months to a few years). Longer term stuff, alas, has faded somewhat.

  11. Owlmirror says

    Where did “David” come from? What is the cause of “David”?

    Ah. The intersection of many different threads: The idea of a David as a subject to be sculpted; the art and techniques of sculpture in general; the geology of Italy and its marble deposits; the economic and political milieu that resulted in marble being used as a building material and sculpting material; the use of art to display power and wealth; one individual sculptor inheriting sophisticated techniques and having the skill and genius and time to improve upon and refine those skills; one particular individual human having the physique to serve as a model for the sculptor. . . and so on and so forth

  12. freemage says

    emergence @11: First rule of retention–take notes. Lots of notes. Write everything you can down, as fast as you can, in as much detail as possible. Don’t sweat making it neat–you’ll be straightening it up later, just get it down in a legible format that you’ll be able to translate later on.

    If the professor allows you to take a recording, do that too, but still take notes as he’s speaking. Then go back and listen to the recording, and take notes on that. Then take the big mass of notes you have, and re-organize them, fleshing them out, and so on. By the time you finish this process, a good portion of the content will, in fact, have drilled itself into your brain.

  13. carlie says

    I spent almost an hour getting my students to disprove spontaneous generation. It was fun. :)

    emergence – are you talking about from semester to semester? Some of it you will eventually get by repetition – it will come up so many times you will get it down sooner or later. Another thing you can do is make a notecard file of the big ideas as you go. Then you have a tiny “cheat sheet” for any given topic, so when you get to physiology and your teacher says “I know you all learned cell membrane structure so I’m not going to go over it”, you can run back later and find your “cell menbrane structure” card for quick review.

  14. jrkrideau says

    Is it normal that a student can’t immediately recall everything they learned in a given class?
    Remembering you have taken the class is good. Remembering the prof’s name is outstanding. It also is good if you remember what university.
    Detail are for small minds.

  15. karellen says

    Huh, looks like I guessed the wrong turtle.

    Given the clues of biology, Italy, history, philosophy, art, and science, I figured it just had to be Leonardo.

  16. emergence says


    Yeah, I’m talking about remembering stuff from classes that I’ve already passed. I’m worried that I might forget material from classes that I took a while back, even if I pass the class. Would it also help to hold onto my old textbooks and re-read them?