Frantically rewriting lectures

Aaargh, neglecting the blog again. My big distraction today: as always happens, I looked over last year’s notes and grumped at myself and said this will not do, this is totally inadequate, I need to rewrite the whole thing. The plan for tomorrow was to talk about the pentose phosphate pathway AKA the hexose monophosphate shunt AKA the phosphogluconate pathway because this stuff is important and, weirdly, our textbook doesn’t even mention it, so I can’t even punt and tell the students to go away, don’t bother me, just read Chapter X. As is common in cell bio, all we talk about is how we burn sugar to make ATP, and very little about essential anabolic reactions. And that bothers me.

The PPP is cool beans, too, so I rewrote the lecture from the ground up to cover more of the details, expanding what used to be a short aside into the whole dang talk, and I’m probably going to terrify them all with a peek into more advanced biochemistry (this is a class for 2nd year students, so it’s introductory level) and the way all of biochemistry is tangled and intertwined, but hey, they’re smart students. They can take it.

Unfortunately, it’s stuff that isn’t going to entertain a more general audience, unless you think filling in the details on this introductory slide would get you excited.

Man, I was so into biochemistry as an undergrad, and then I got distracted by neuroscience and development. I need to begin a second lifetime so I can catch up.

Now I have to finish grading, which is far less enthralling.

What do scientists do over summer break?

Well, today Mary and I scrubbed up the genetics lab all morning, I cleaned out a lot of fly bottles and emptied the incubator, and now those bottles are sitting in the autoclave getting a super-sauna. The lab is now mostly sparkling clean and ready for the next class in the Fall!

This is what I get paid to do, and what my degree qualified me for. Mary, unfortunately, doesn’t get paid, although she too has an advanced degree, and helped out so I wouldn’t have to spend all day in the nasty drudgery. So many dead flies and pupae!

This is exactly what it looked like, after we got done cleaning it.

No, I’m not done!

I got out of the house to celebrate the end of the semester yesterday, but it was slightly premature. Next week is finals week. I have to slap myself to attention and buckle down and write the genetics final and post it on Canvas.

It shouldn’t be too bad. I’m planning to take full advantage of the Canvas autograder, so I mainly have to invest time this morning in setting up the problems with discrete answers and plugging the answer key into the software, and then grading next week will mainly involve updating the grade sheet.

I slept in until 7am this morning! The stress is fading already!

Kinda sorta almost done with classes

The end is in sight! Then…SPIDERS!

This week is in a curious kind of limbo. It’s the end of the semester, which means the students have lost focus, and I’ve helped them do that. Here’s my general grading strategy:

  • The final exam is cumulative and optional. Whatever score they get on the final replaces the lowest midterm exam score. The point of that is to give students an escape hatch if they unavoidably missed or screwed up on one of the exams.
  • Their final lab report is due today, but lab scores are independent of exam scores, and the grade they get on it won’t influence their final exam grade.
  • They had their last midterm last Friday. I’ve already graded it and gotten it back to them.
  • They are all smart upper-level students. They have all their exam and homework and lab scores, less this one lab report, and I’ve told them exactly how to estimate their final grade.

They’ve got all the information in hand right now to know whether they need to show up for class, and whether anything they learn will be at all helpful in improving their grade. I also announced that Wednesday will be just for administrative sorts of things — final chance to scavenge a few points by arguing with me, or just to discuss whatever they’re curious about in genetics.

So less than a quarter of the class showed up today, I expect it’ll be even less on Wednesday. I’m hoping it’s a calming, quiet part of the term that they can use to study hard for their other classes.

I’m not quite through myself, though. A pile of lab reports will be thrown over the virtual transom at midnight tonight, and I have to get them all graded by Wednesday morning. Then I have to write the final exam, which I expect only a quarter of the class (again) will take, and which will be due on Thursday the 12th, prompting a final, brief flurry of grading, and that’s it. Really, I’ll be officially done next week, but it’s mainly just coasting along for me. Then SUMMER BREAK.

I have plans for that, too. I’m going to be doing some regular spidering stuff, and I have also vowed to strip all the wallpaper from our dining room and master bedroom and repaint by 31 May. It helps to give myself deadlines for the mundane boring jobs.

My terrible awful horrible no good day

I give up. I’m going home early.

To start the day, we had more soggy wet snow come down overnight. Come on, Nature, I want my spiders to emerge!

I went to teach my class. This involves setting up a little camera to record the lecture for the students who are taking it asynchronously, and then connecting my computer to the video projector, two routine tasks that take only a few minutes.

I couldn’t get the camera to work. It crashed, and crashed hard, and wouldn’t restart. Yikes. I’ve got the in-person students waiting! So I charged ahead sans camera, figuring this means I just have to record a voice-over at home. More work, but I can do it.

Then the evil idiot classroom projection system gets flaky on me. I log in to the class software, which involves firing up the projector and entering a code into the software on my laptop, which then displays my video. Worked fine for about a minute, and then the screen goes blank and I have to reenter the code. I do so, works fine for about a minute, and then the screen goes blank and I have to reenter the code. Works fine for about a minute, and then the screen goes blank and I have to reenter the code. Works fine for about a minute, and then the screen goes blank and I have to reenter the code. Works fine for about a minute, and then the screen goes blank and I have to reenter the code. Works fine for about a minute, and then the screen goes blank and I have to reenter the code.

You get the idea. I was getting nowhere. I finally told the students this wasn’t going to work, go home and we’ll try again Monday. There was much weeping and wailing and tearful moans about really, really wanting to learn about maternal effect inheritance and imprinting today, but I was strong…no, I’m lying. It was all laughter and smiles. I should do this every day.

Except we’re just starting to get into the really fun stuff in genetics! I need to get past this so I can talk about developmental genetics! And signaling! And cancer genetics! Maybe a little bioethics, too!

Oh well. I’m gonna go home and dismantle a camera. Or maybe swap in the backup camera I’ve got. And finish grading. It’s not like canceling class means I get any free time.

Currently on schedule

Deviations will not be allowed, or the whole course train will crumple in a tremendous crash.

So: Mondays I give the lecture I prepared the day before, and get the genetics lab ready, and grade student problem sets. Tuesday, prep the lecture for Wednesday, and teach the lab. Wednesday, give the lecture, compose a new problem set, also work with my biocomm students. Thursday, second lab…also the day the university throws meetings at me. Friday, all spiders. Saturday, run through the next genetics lab, make a video summary. Sunday, write Monday’s lecture.

Can’t stop all semester long. The routine rules me now.

Except this week, I have to write the first take-home midterm, which I’ll then have to grade over the weekend. I’ll cope. Today, for instance, I got up at 4:30 and got the lecture done early, to give myself a little time to put together a first draft of the exam. The trains will run on time, or a head will roll. (I’m a fascist to myself, not to the students.)

I’m also anxious about this stupid pandemic and how it’s going to try and derail me. That’s why I’ve got all these contingency plans in my pocket. I have a timetable. Death and disease must not disrupt it.

You may ask, this is only the third week of a 15 week semester, why a midterm now? One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that if the students don’t the simple fundamentals early on, their train will crash and burn when we get to the hard stuff, so I do an early check on their comprehension.