Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Day One

My wife calls this my "first day of school"
outfit. (She's not wrong...)
It's the first day of school for me for this academic year. Ah, the beginnings: the excitement, the nervousness, the joy, the fun of meeting up with new students, the even-more-fun of meeting up with students I've taught before who already know me...

I love this about teaching: the rhythm of the year with beginnings, middles, and endings makes it feel like a new journey each time. Today was stepping out at the start of a new expedition, and it was a joy, honestly.

The first day of class is a challenge though. How deep can we go on the first day, when they haven't read anything, or written anything, or prepared anything? Do I just have introductions and go over the syllabus? And who wants to do that for 75 minutes? (Ugh!)

I'm thinking especially about my new course, World Regional Geography. We had our first meeting a little earlier this afternoon. It was a new experience for me, teaching more than only Education majors. (Though, to be fair, the class is mostly made up of Education majors--many of whom I've had for one or more courses.) I want my students to like me, and to like the subject, but more than that, I want them to like learning the subject. The nature of World Regional Geography is such that I can't actually teach them everything about everything--we are studying the whole world in one semester!--so I want them to come away with enough of a geographic awareness and the tools of geography that they will be able to continue to learn more in an informal way once this semester is over.

So, how to begin? Well, we tried a few different things, some more successfully than others.

I began with a little personal introduction--about me, my interests, my professional background, my own love of geography.

We played with Google Earth a bit--and I learned a few things about what works and what doesn't work so well (note: in the newest version of Google Earth, we need to use the Chrome browser.)

I decided that in order to teach this course most effectively, I needed to get a sense of my students' current level of geographic awareness. So I gave them a quiz about geography with a variety of different kinds of questions, such as...

  • "What is the capital of the United Kingdom?" (London) 
  • "What Canadian province is this?" (showing them an outline of Ontario) 
  • "On which continent would you find the Nile River?" (Africa)
  • "What is currently the most populous nation in the world?" (China) 
  • "Which of these is not a real country?" ("Latveria" is not a real nation, but Azerbaijan, Timor L'Este, and Montenegro are.) 
I'll be interested to go over the results, and get to know my students a bit this way.

We did spend a little time at the end going over their syllabus and talking about assignments. This course has the shortest syllabus I've ever written. It's only four pages long! I explained that I want their input into several of the assignments and projects, and students seemed interested in that. We'll spend a little more time doing just that next time we meet up.

I am a little concerned about my choice of a textbook for this semester. I am using The Plaid Avenger's World as my main text. It's a really engaging textbook; I dare say that most students will actually look forward to reading it. (No, really! It's that good!) The problem is...the author writes in a..."saucy vernacular," shall we say? It's not your typical textbook, for sure. Now, my students are adults, and I would hope and expect that they can handle a little language with the trade off being a really excellent text by an author who clearly understands the issues in the various regions he is writing about. I did explain this all to my students, but we will see if they push back against the occasional innuendo and off-color language choices the Plaid Avenger has made in his excellent, engaging exposition of World Regional Geography.

But with that concern aside, I think it was a really good first day of the semester, and I'm excited to see where we will go on this learning adventure. Time to work on lesson plans for our next class meeting!


  1. Just for your information, there is a Nile (okay, it's Creek, not River) on Vancouver Island (just so you can mess with your students' minds).

  2. Don't forget to play Geoguessr with them! It's a fantastic game that takes you around the world and forces you to look for clues to figure out where you are in the world (simply being aware) https://geoguessr.com/

    1. It's on my syllabus for next week! :-) Thanks for the tip.

  3. Hey Dave! Please please create awareness about South Africa...it is a country and not just the south of Africa...you can play them clips out of almost any movie/series such as prison break where they make such errors. You would be making every South African happy!

    1. Hi Joyce! Great to hear from you, friend. Definitely will address misconceptions we have about different geographic regions. Last Thursday's lesson was on the way maps distort our view of the world. Many students were bemused to find that Africa and Greenland are not actually the same size. (Ah, Mercator Projection...you've misled so many of us...) I will be in touch when we are talking about southern Africa--I'll need your expertise on South Africa!