Saturday, September 15, 2012

Meet Some of my Students

The first actual day of my short course in Ecology was Last Thursday September 13th.  I had spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to teach the content of Ecology to students, many of whom would be attending my class mostly to gain an understanding of some science vocabulary in English, and had little interest in or experience with Ecology. I wanted to make it fun and conversational and, in my heart, hoped that I could in some way tap into their sense of place and place knowledge to get them to see the value of having a bit of ecological knowledge...
So, after getting my own girls going on their schoolwork (hats off to homeschool moms!!!) I put on my running shoes and headed out into the busy streets with a 1/2 liter milk carton sawed off in the middle and full of water. My destination was the path by the river where i had found a beautiful plant a couple days before.  Let me give you some hints to see if you can figure out what I had found..... The plant was located along the banks of the river.  It had beautiful (this will not be familiar) inch and 1/2  dark pink, two lipped flowers.  The stems grew in clusters to height of about 1+ meters tall and were easily 'squished' and full of juice.  When the flowers were finished, the seeds were encased in a pod (OK, if you were lost before now PSC students, pay attention) which when fully mature, dehissed and shot the seeds every which way upon the slightest touch. You have it now, right?

Impatiens glandulifera
Actually the ones I collected were more pink than this internet image I found and plenty of ripe pods hung off the tops of the stems next to the flowers.  I tried to get as many as I could.  I imagined that the 'touch-me-not' characteristics of the flower would be familiar to a number of these students since most children play by the river and in the woods when they are young.  As an aside, as I collected my bouquet of Impatiens, I was stung by nettles that look for all the world like those that grow in the adirondacks in the same types of places, likely alongside jewel weed much of the time.
Elsa, Willa (my daughters), and I walked the 1/2 hour to the University and arrived at about 3:10 for my 3:30 class in room 409.  I had incorporated the image above plus an image of our jewel weed (Impatiens capensis) into the power point and using the bouquet to get us started I intended to use this as a way to start a discussion about all the reasons the plant may grow where it does, and why it was  that I knew something about that plant growing so far away from my own place.  Well, the answer is Ecology, and having some ecological knowledge.. I was pretty excited about the approach.....
BUT, turned out that there was a big performance that had started at two in which several of my students were participating with their school clubs AND a young woman from California, Lucy, who headed the Snow Leopard Conservancy (an NGO based in Petaluma CA.) was meeting with the students at the same time as my class... So plan B.... We did play with seed pods and talked about the plant and the young woman in the back of the picture below know them well. The common name in Russian also has to do with 'gentle touch' or something similar to our common name 'touch-me-not'.
After that many students showed up, apologizing for their other committments and I assured them it was fine, we would just start on Monday (tomorrow).  We spent the next hour talking about movies, books, art, where the students lived while they were in school and where they were from. In every way,  they remind me of my students back home.  Thoughtful, earnest, hard working..... really nice!
These 'devchata' (girls) are both from Gorno-Altaisk.  Their majors are Language and Journalism (in the front) and English and German (behind).

This young woman is from Kurgistan.  She is a chemistry major and will return to Kurgistan when she is finished with her education to help the people in that country.
They all speak quite good English!

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