Curly vines growing on a mulberry tree

This is the personal website of Jeffrey Gill Pittman. Here you will find educational pages about science, computer programming, open source, photography, nature recording, and other interests. Contact me at geojeff@geojeff.org with questions.

 

The "Course Materials" section of this site was made as a resource for students, including some enrolled in online courses I taught in the early 2000s.

 

It is 2016 and this site has been motionless for years, despite some actually interesting things I could have blogged or written about. Topics to catch up on include details of a parade of computer languages and new concepts encountered, clips of video and audio of birds and other animals I should share, commentary about learning the guitar (fledgling, I remain, but at least I can play a few short songs now), a backlog of academic projects and interests, and new experiences in learning 3D software and programming.

 

Although the last time I taught was 2009, and I have forgotten some details from various courses taught over several decades, there are topics for which I could add sections in "Course Materials," especially for favorite lecture "routines." Or perhaps they will fit as blog posts. Doesn't matter really. I've had the luck and pleasure to teach a variety of courses, and can share treatments of topics that stick in my mind as important, or fun, or really interesting. There are approaches I never tried or even imagined, and that could at least be described. There are also topics that relate to growing up and discovering science, to developing intellectually as a person. The following list has a few of the interesting lecture subjects, ideas explored and unexplored, and other potential discussion topics. They were randomly recalled, and are listed in no special order. They should serve as fodder for writing and presentation here:

 

  • Drawing global ocean and air circulation on a world map, including the Coriolis effect, which I did many times in oceanography, meteorology, and related courses.
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  • Dovetailing from that explanation for the modern world to comparison to ancient configurations of continents and oceans where the same concepts apply. This comes from a favorite graduate course in Paleo-oceanography, which I developed further.
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  • Drawing temperature and pressure profiles of the atmosphere to explain how and why clouds form, how thunderstorms operate. This is also a great way to teach absolute and relative humidity and other concepts in a less abstract way -- the diagrams are something you can "hang your hat on" for remembering what happens on any given day in the atmosphere.
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  • Moving from the 2D world of that profile into the 3D explanation of tornado development. This involves the simulation of movement of air at different horizontal levels within the atmosphere, and how energy of this motion gets translated and concentrated into the incredible forces of a tornado.
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  • Drawing cross sections and 3D sketches of the progression from tropical storms through hurricanes, and explaining the development. This is preceded by a general treatment of high and low pressure systems. I was most directly impacted by Hurricane Rita, in more ways than one! And also Hurricane Ike. These two were like a double-whammy for southeast Texas, where I lived at the time, and of course, fell on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, which indirectly affected me (and all were occasions of intense coverage in courses I was teaching at the times). Ugh! Hurricanes!
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  • Describing the history of coal and oil and gas deposits and the "shock to the system" we are essentially delivering -- driving home the need to think on the one hand over 10s and 100s of millions of years, and on the other over the last few million years of the Ice Age, and of just the short span of the current Interglacial period, and of the massive changes within the past few hundred years -- within the blink of an eye, relatively speaking. Global warming and climate change are complex subjects that can overwhelm a nonscientist person. Small pieces of the problem can be covered adequately to build up a broader knowledge, but a few "obvious" things such as the natural state of coal, oil, and gas, vs. what we have done artificially, can be driven home.
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  • Comparing world views and the way a person's psyche and outlook determine policies they favor. This comes from a first encounter of this treatment in an environmental textbook, where world views were outlined and compared across the succession of US political periods from Nixon to Reagan to current times. This is a classic case of the teacher having a "Eureka moment" when learning material in a textbook they have picked for a class (not just that "teachers learn by teaching," but that teachers can really gain fundamental understanding). This happened also, in a more technical sense, in coverage of some of the other favorite subjects in this list.
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  • Outlining the case for climate change, keying from the previous topics, moving into coverage of important discoveries. I am really interested in developing graphics to convey impacts, for issues that are generally addressed. I would also like to describe a few things that I have learned about or debated. A commonly discussed topic in hallways, at least with some colleagues, is the comparison between carbon dioxide levels during previous interglacial periods. Another is the advance of the Texas shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico, and the submerging of an old railroad, of the disappearance of ponds that can be seen on old maps and aerial photos,  and the disappearance of beach houses, with this discussion tempered by awareness of the phenomenon of local subsidence. Another is the subject of changing bird migrations and ranges along the Texas coast. Another is the retreat of glacial ice in the American West. I have also experienced the so-called denial phenomenon, and can describe the world views involved (this could be part of the topic dedicated to outlining world views also).
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  • Describing subtle chemical signatures for human impacts. A recollection that would tie in with climate change, at least as an example of the impact of humans, sometimes unappreciated, is the description in an oceanography textbook of the CFC "front" in deep ocean water, sweeping along the Atlantic ocean floor across the decades since initial use by humans. A related topic is the chemical signature of atomic bombs and tests in the sedimentary record. And still another is the stain of pollutants in river bottom muds, buried away but still there, recording times before and after the Clean Water Act.
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  • Describing ignorance about habitat destruction. On a related depressing note, as the case can be made that climate change "denial" or soft-pedaling or hedging on the subject can be tied to underlying world views, a similar treatment can be done for habitat destruction. Climate change can be viewed as an "over-the-top" insult added to direct effects of habitat change, already cringe-worthy in the extreme for humanity. Terrible news on top of terrible news. It brings on the feeling of the surreal -- the realization that we have indeed erred so badly can be a shock to finally confront. One aspect of denial can be an underlying psychological difficulty in acknowledging bad news, aided by fundamentalist refusal to see humans properly as they lie within the scheme of things. Climate change denial is right in there with habitat destruction denial. I am imagining 3D graphics to go along with discussion.
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  • Exploring different ways to present the development of the geologic time scale. The geologic time scale has been the DNA for a number of courses, not just for historical geology. Naming of the time scale units (Jurassic, Cretaceous, etc.) is typically covered in detail in historical geology, but is painted with a broader brush in other courses. The basic principles of logic regarding identification and correlation of sedimentary layers is also covered, along with the importance of fossils. These routine elements can be described, but I am also interested in an attempt at explaining what makes a time unit seem real to the student. It would be great to explore the effect of virtual field trips and outcrop visits and fossil collection in a 3D world, for example, on the psychological imprinting for the student. Further, a student must do this for multiple time units in succession. In historical geology I tried various ways of dividing up the time scale, and how much classroom time to devote to different parts of Earth history. Undoubtedly some groupings make more sense for context and similarity, and for learning events that mark boundaries, but it could be fun to add different approaches. The random time machine trips we have seen so often has an appeal. So does a succession of increasing or decreasing "zoom levels." And so does a single content focus moving through time -- carnivores through time, comparing all the warm intervals, dwelling only on post-mass-extinction recoveries, etc. Perhaps a set of possible approaches could be described with examples. I wrote software to create full color renditions in full detail from primary time unit databases, so have a leg up on that part of the problem.
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  • Comparing the skull bones, and openings between them, in different living and ancient animals, with comparison to apes and humans, and ultimately driving home the evolutionary history of tetrapods, and the demystification of humans, not as a separate life form above all others, but as normal animals that are part of the web of Life. I wonder how many 3D models of skulls are now available?
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  • Reviewing presentations between embryology and evolutionary history. On a related, and more specific subject, historical geology textbooks often use the example of the bones of the middle ear in humans and apes, and in the embryology of living animals, to compare to the fossil record, to the identification of small bones at the back of the skull and jaws of early tetrapods, and the reconstructed evolutionary history to mammals. The subject of "ontology recapitulates phylogeny," with its attendant warnings about care needed, is fascinating. I'd love to do a 3D animation, and this is a great area to use some.
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  • Outlining a way to teach in highly structured progression of handouts on which students write and draw their own illustrations in prescribed blocks or empty maps and graphs. This comes from the paleo-oceanography course I took. I adapted this for certain subjects that seemed more technical, but really it can be argued as a general method. The method takes away a bit of the variability in student note-taking ability, prompting or even forcing the student to pay attention and take good notes. This could be contrasted with the merit of letting students kick back and soak things in. I lean toward recognizing the need and benefit of the more structured approach. I suspect that my professor for the paleo-oceanography course came onto it from teaching short courses, but perhaps he took the approach from some teacher. [Hmmm... something could be lurking here for a general approach to how these topics could be written up here -- might take some web scripting. :)]
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  • Rounding up the latest information about the origin of Life on Earth. This was a common lecture topic in courses, and has been getting so much attention lately, with our increasing (and direct!) knowledge about Mars and its history, to various moons in our solar system, to the search for exoplanets and remote-remote sensing for the chemical signatures of Life. It is so cool to be alive now, to be able to watch all this, much less attempt to write something on it. However, there are points to be driven home. I want to compare the growth of minerals to the inevitable (but not necessarily exhaustive) happenstance combination of all that could be combined, and the possibilities for molecules taking on function and interaction to become "alive." When I was a beginning PhD student, one of my advisors noticed that I had not taken genetics, so he had me add that to the course list. I was never comfortable even with this level of exposure to the nitty gritty of the mechanics of evolution, and much later, starting at the age of 45 while teaching geology, I took graduate courses in biology, including molecular biology and its prerequisite, organic chemistry. I loved taking herpetology, ichthyology, limnology, ecology, and other courses, but it was molecular biology that had the most impact -- I could finally say, for at least a short time, that I had a top-to-bottom understanding of all that goes on in an organism (well, for the mechanics in the cell and such, I could). A review of current work on the origin(s?) of Life would be much fun.
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  • Running trough the development of geology and biology from the late 1700s through the 1800s. This critical period is stressed in historical geology, a course I've most often cited as the "most important" one I've ever taught. This period has so many critical jumps in human understanding -- a coursing through "isms" such as neptunism, plutonism, and uniformitarianism; the recognition of fossils as remains of ancient life and not fancies of the gods; the realization of change and evolution in all things, not just biological, vs. the stasis of creationist explanations; the voyages of discovery by Alexander von Humboldt, Lewis and Clark, Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace and others and the coalescing of big picture descriptions of the world; the development of the geologic time scale through "boots-on-the-ground" work in stratigraphy and mapping...
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  • Discussing fundamentalism and related thinking at different times during American and world history, comparing the events and phenomenon of the Scopes trial to more recent trends in education and popular understanding, in the rollover of creationism, intelligent design, and crazy politicians of recent years (This one ties in with the world view topic). The more general interest here is the background signal, an undercurrent stemming from psychological and biological factors, that is always there, but manifests occasionally when economic and social trends allow. I am remembering a little paperback that covers this well, and remembering a lecture series about it.
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  • Developing effective cladogram / anatomy teaching methods. When reposting the sections of "Course Materials" that have phylogenetic history diagrams called cladograms (when moving this site to a new server system), I saw quite long lists of anatomical characters and their descriptions, and questioned the way I taught using this method in an exhaustive way. Although I could console myself with a justification that for the more important bits, lectures were slowed down for emphasis. Software could help here, as the excellent CD that comes with "The Age of Dinosaurs" attests. As I write this, I am having a flashback to being a guinea pig for some of the first efforts to teach biology via computer in the late 1970s -- I remember the repetition aspect, drilling on learning diagrams and processes. Now that I try to remember, there must have been a "drill" component of the CD software. Regardless, this kind of interactive cladogram / anatomy explanation could be done for the web too, if it hasn't already. I used the d3 graphics library for javascript and liked it -- I can visualize a graphic treatment for the web, with cladograms and animation, and anatomical diagrams.
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  • Sketching long timelines of differing duration, for discussing the Big Bang, cosmic chemistry, stellar evolution, black holes and galaxies, and our own solar system (and I've been watching many great new science shows, so can improve this treatment a lot, if accessible resources in the primary literature can be found). I was always fuzzy on the timing of the supernovae over time in our neck of the woods, but I've seen that we know more about this now.
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  • Explaining stellar evolution and cosmology via the Hertzsprung-Russell and related diagrams and sketches. I only got to do this in a few courses in decent detail, mainly in a course for teachers that is the closest thing I got to teaching "Earth System Science" in earnest. Earth System Science is a course that combines a bit of astronomy and solar system science, with geology, oceanography, meteorology, and environmental science -- an integrated course.  The textbook used for this course, "The Blue Planet," has a good section that pushed me to scramble to learn the basics about what I would have learned in an astronomy course. The same science TV shows, with many new fascinating details, help here of course.
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  • Examining the effect (or not) of great local geology on the occurrence of creationism. The most striking disconnect is between in-your-face geology of many places in the American West and the ease with which some people can maintain creationist thinking despite the readily available information and stimulus. This can be contrasted with the need in some areas (Louisiana!) to look harder to find outcrops and to deliver a compelling case for acknowledging and wanting to learn more about geologic history (and don't forget the subsurface, where so much oil and gas has been produced -- this is the main way people hear about Earth history in Louisiana). On the one hand you have "Hey, look at this tremendous cliff or tall road cut on the side of this mountain," and on the other you have "Hey, in this ditch here, or along this roadside for a little ways are precious little outcrops that..." (Or, "Look at the squiggles of the lines on this well log -- they represent different stata going down to the Jurassic and..."). Regardless of the in-your-face vs. harder-to-see stimulus differences, the "Oh Wow that's cool" experience gets blocked or diminished for some people. Is there at least anecdotal evidence that it is "easier" to be a creationist where local geology is obscure, and vice versa? For some people, you could be standing on the lip of the Grand Canyon, looking down at a great fossil in the rock, and it wouldn't matter. But for people with mainstream tendencies, isn't it easier to convince that Earth history is real, if there are such large scale features or great outcrops? As I write this it just so happens that I have been looking at Eocene rocks in northern Louisiana, starting an effort to describe them, in part for this very purpose. Turns out that even heavily iron-enriched strata have plenty to say.
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  • Explaining the quelling of curiosity caused by fundamentalist religion and anti-intellectualism. I am thinking about the American South where I grew up, but it is certainly present elsewhere. This topic would be somewhat related to the previous. I suspect that, for whatever reasons, a given person may become predisposed for developing a skeptical attitude toward anti-science indoctrination (and ignoring or down-playing science is certainly against it) or toward indoctrination to accept what may be deemed "mysterious" supernatural explanations. An attendant benefit of such skepticism is developing an openness and eagerness toward learning, but if you grow up where science learning resources are limited, the sparks of curiosity can be extinguished or quelled, even so. Think of a small town high school with barely a general science class, compared to a large suburban program with dedicated science classes -- at least there are choices for primary learning where available, and the effect of scientific enlightenment for some students rubbing off on others could be an important factor. I am assuming here that there are many places where high school science classes are lacking. And even where there are good classes available, do they hit key topics, such as the origins of science from the late 1700s into the 1800s, and with discussion of important principles discovered (uniformitarianism, evolution as a new way of thinking about more things than Life, and the continuation into the 20th century with plate tectonics, genetics, climate change -- there is so much, but is there a solid presentation)? One way of understanding how some people find an appreciation for science and other intellectual interests while growing up, would be to interview people with similar histories, looking for patterns. In my own case, there were critical psychological transformations during high school, rejecting religion as a way of explaining things, and having a dramatic revelation about the relationship of humans to Nature, as part of it, and not "above" it. Both transformations were influenced by observation that people have a very strong tendency to go with the flow of local society, for behavior and value system development, even when practices are legitimately challenged. I developed a desire to avoid the status quo routines of local life, but was starved for what to do instead. There was so much waste of time, with a wanting to know more, but what, and how? The pent-up frustrations finally found a release when I took biology and geology classes as a sophomore in college, but it was tough to make up for a poor foundation. What if I had learned more about the topics mentioned above (plate tectonics had not made it to textbooks, but so much more could have been covered in good science classes)? I would love to explore how kids today, even those in small southern towns without much science education, can discover information. There is so much more to learn about now! When I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, before the proliferation of TV shows on cable and the Internet, it was so common to have a question about something, without finding a channel for curiosity (literally!). There was Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom for at least some TV for Nature on land. There was Jacques Cousteau's TV program for the oceans. But today, with Nature and science programs on PBS, the Science channel, science blogs, and even sitcoms featuring science, surely even kids in fundamentalist households should learn much more, more easily, right? For a good while there, big mainstream bookstores were common, but now with books offered online for shipping, how often do kids get into science books (e.g., all those dinosaur books, but so many others now), even in non-fundamentalist families? For kids getting access to some of these sources today, wouldn't anti-science indoctrination appear more glaring, with an even stronger contrast to the good sense and coolness factors of science? I hope so, but would like to know more.
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  • Investigating high school science education, developing some ideas. This could be done by directly finding out what schools offer, and by finding good literature sources in the field of science education. What are the top-notch offerings, and exactly what is contained in the curriculum? I know people who stay up on this, and have indirectly become aware of the general state of things, but I lack direct knowledge about what actually happens in high school teaching. As mentioned in the previous topic idea, I assume that there are places, I dread that the extent is wide, where science class offerings are very weak. But how bad is it? My assumption is that even the best high school offerings will come up short, compared to my own design, if I could have one. This is because in my view the college science system falls short. I'll leave that for the next topic. For high school, it is likely that, given traditional ways of doing things, administrators and teachers have a challenge getting satisfactory coverage, because of competition with other subjects deemed essential. For the science classes that do get offered, are the textbooks used good ones, along the lines described in the previous topic idea? I am confident that the college courses I taught in introductory geology, oceanography, meteorology, Earth system science, and environmental science could be taught just as well to high school students, so if I were to see watered-down content, I would deem it lacking -- quality over quantity would impress me more, but to be rated top-notch, a curriculum should hit some essentials. I am open-minded about new teaching approaches, including integrating online teaching, different durations and focus -- one subject at a time, instead of multiple simultaneous courses, and the like. Here's an idea. Call it "communicating across time." This would have students do the research needed to perform role playing -- someone (a team is involved) plays Darwin transported in time to ask questions of modern scientists, and for the opposite, a team of students could prepare an actor to play a modern biologist going back to Darwin's midlife days, to explain discoveries. That would be such a challenge to get the proper scientific context for either direction. Here is another idea, call it "arc of discovery." If we had free reign to move the pieces of the curriculum about, it would be easy to design trajectories for a set of subjects targeting some present understanding, and key discoveries along the way.
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  • Comparing college science major curricula, with a salute to a universal capstone course. I was always a bit sad about the elective nature of science requirements for science majors, feeling that a year of each traditional discipline should be required (two courses each of biology, chemistry, geology, and physics or something exhaustive and meaty). Are there colleges or universities that have this kind of requirement, full-on? Are there curricula that have innovative -- and integrative -- freshman and sophomore level courses that insure a whole view? And, while the prerequisite question is important, so is a question about "pulling it all together" before getting out the door. As I've said, historical geology seems to me a most important course. But Earth system science rates right up there, where it can be pulled off. A required capstone course for science majors, saved for the senior year, could be of this flavor. It would offer catch-up opportunities. It would present challenges to think broadly, and outside the student's chosen specialty. It would feature a timescale backbone that includes the whole shebang from the Big Bang, the scale of 100s of millions of years for Earth and planetary history in our solar system, and finer scales for the Ice Age and the modern world. Do all this while melding a cross-discipline treatment. Somehow we should not let super smart _____ majors out the door with a woefully narrow scientific  understanding (fill in the blank with any scientific discipline). Science, especially modern science is so integrative!
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  • Comparing teacher preparation approaches. The topic above deals with the specifics of current high school curricula. But what about the tough problem of teacher preparation and specialization needed -- a depth vs. breadth problem that I've been concerned about. I have tended to solve this problem, in my view of a better world, by imagining that teachers are rewarded financially for fully qualifying to teach specialty classes, and that a simple scheme would be to flip teacher education around and add a 5th year of high-graded essential education methods and coursework -- e.g., a teacher would get a biology degree first, taking just a few traditional teacher prep courses for the biology B.S., and would use the 5th year for more heavy teacher prep and practical classes, perhaps along with a few specialty electives. I argue this primarily for what it does for the teacher's depth of knowledge, and the strengthening of their confidence and raw ability. As things currently go, teachers without specialized degrees have qualified for teaching a specialty by taking a slug of courses deemed adequate for a discipline, while taking the full suite of required education courses. Like many college teachers, I presume, I got advanced degrees and developed as a teacher by emulating professors I enjoyed and admired, and by scrambling to expand my knowledge and teaching methods as I went (and some of the good methods I adopted came indirectly from education programs). High school teachers have to do the same thing, but there are differences in preparation. I've had discussions with education majors over the years, and with college teachers, about the contrast between high school and college teachers. On the one hand, in the college teacher you usually see a greater depth of knowledge, but not as much (or anything) about the psychology of learning, teaching methods, and similar subjects, and not as much (or anything) in the way of dedicated practical teaching evaluation and feedback. On the other hand, for high school teachers, there is more help for developing classroom methods, but as there is only a subset slug of specialty course work, it is more of a scramble to master a given teaching subject. There is no guarantee of success, regardless of preparation for any type of teacher, because it mostly comes down to a person's drive to become a good teacher on-the-job. I am sure that the 5th year of high-graded content from the traditional education program imagined above, could be required for starting college teachers to great benefit. Some parts of this should be part of a recurring program, notably the practical evaluation and feedback elements. Call me content-biased, but I can envision cramming essentials into a six month saturation experience, leaving the balance for recurring programs during a teacher's early years.
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  • Identifying special moments during education that bring fundamental change. For instance, I crisply remember the field trip stop we made in my Freshman geology class to a very small spot in the piney woods of north Louisiana, where a salt dome had pushed up Cretaceous limestone -- just a few minor blocks of rock to see, but with oyster and clam fossils! That was a "Wow" moment for me, not just for the fossils but for the teacher's prompting to visualize the salt dome and deep strata and structure. It was a big jump in my spatial reasoning, adding 3D to the 2D I had already been obsessing about with love of maps. Generally, I had been deprived of Natural History teaching and was burning for more. And don't get me started about the experience of field trip stops in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma, and on the flanking outcrops of fossiliferous Cretaceous sedimentary strata -- well, actually do get me started -- that's the point of this bullet point! Before I forget, here is another big one for me. A year or so later, I was on a field trip to northern Mexico, an unusually awesome opportunity for an undergraduate student. We went to the area around Monterrey and Saltillo where mountainous terrain exhibits an extension of southern Rocky Mountain rock deformation. There were dramatic folds in the strata, with huge dips carrying outcropping limestone beds along anticlinal folds on the surface deeply down through adjacent synclinal folds, only to crop out again on the flanks of the next anticline (See the section of course materials on folds). We visited the anticlines, which stood up as long ridges, and we examined the limestone beds (Jurassic), and then the field trip leader took the bus out onto the flats of the desert nearby. We got out of the bus to see an arm-waving lecture for which arm-waving actually meant something -- he pointed to the outcropping limestone strata along the ridge to the west, then he pointed straight down, explaining the depth of the limestone layer beneath our feet (a mile or so), and then pointed to the east at the next anticlinal ridge where the same limestone beds were back to the surface, completing description of a Rocky Mountain style compressional fold. That was "Oh Wow!" territory for an undergraduate student for sure. I could draw a nice illustration to go along with this topic item. I should try to think of biological examples, also, as when the light bulbs went on about how genetic change happens during evolution, or about how RNA works (and developed), or when I first understood phylogenetic analysis and its improvement over previous methods. The one about phylogenetic analysis remains fundamental to me for realizing the nature of proper scientific thinking, period. There is already something on this in course materials, about morphology and cladograms. It would be fun to interview chemists, physicists, astronomers, mathematicians, and others outside my wheelhouse to see what they list as memories of fundamental enlightenment "moments" or "thresholds."
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  • Doing a how-to presentation on molding and casting. I've done a good bit of this, all-told, from learning techniques from professional preparators, to assisting in large molding and casting in fiberglass of glyptodont carapaces and full dinosaur mounts. I visited a few foundries and saw that end of the process. I could at least show how to make somewhat challenging latex and multi-piece plaster mold sets of 3D objects such as dinosaur bones.  I'm sure there are resources available now, but I could review and see if the basics are covered well.
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  • Drawing and explaining the phase diagram of water, which I did many times in oceanography and meteorology lectures. Water is so special, and so special to use here on Earth, that learning how it changes from liquid to water vapor, or from liquid to ice, and in all possible paths of phase change, is fundamental. This lecture routine is similar to a few others listed here, where the order of delivery and focus, while referring to the diagram, is key to effective explanation.
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  • Describing the geologic history of the Gulf Coastal Plain. My research focus has been on the Cretaceous Period and the Gulf Coastal Plain across Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. There is a wealth of information I could prepare for maps, cross sections, fossil descriptions and the like. This will tie in with some of the subjects mentioned already, but individual, seemingly disconnected blog posts or articles about this and that could build up to a good geologic history.
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  • Describing plate tectonics with special attention to the origin of the Gulf of Mexico, to the development of the Appalachian and Ouachita mountain ranges. This would fit as a supporting article for the previous idea for a Cretaceous focus. Like geology teachers all over, teaching plate tectonics became a fundamental lecture topic repeated in many courses. Covering plate tectonics for the geology teacher is like covering DNA and genetics for the biology teacher.
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  • Making a showcase for Dinosauria, a group I know well from teaching "The Evolution of Dinosaurs," many times, and from my education and research. There are so many books on the subject, but an online graphical treatment could be easy enough to construct, if the dinosaur sketches were only silhouettes. I've done this before several times, and could probably dig up the graphics files. It would be fun to tie in footprints, which would also be limited to small silhouette animations.
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  • Highlighting phylogenetic analyses published as papers in the primary source literature for broader-brush case study treatments. Several times when teaching paleontology courses I used an effective method to assign single papers to students to write synopses that featured their favorite anatomical characters described. This worked better for those studies that included more accessible examples that showed good contrast in the variation observed (when a character changed once, and in some distinctive way, for example). This accomplishes several very nice things. It teaches the way science gets done in biology and paleontology (most of the papers used were for living animals -- for a class on Dinosaurs, for example, I would find phylogenetic analyses on ducks, wood warblers, and such). It offers an exploration of a few given characters in more detail. It presents discrete discussion of variation of those characters across taxa involved, and on the resulting cladograms. If it worked so well for student assignments, it should work well in case study treatments here.
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  • Considering the merit of the "term paper." I learned early as a teacher about term papers and how they should be assigned. Eventually I came to dislike any open-ended or loose assignment, favoring more focused, even mechanical treatments for specific scientific publications. At issue is the expertise of the student. The exercise should foster an increase in the student's understanding, and it doesn't have to be grandiose. It was uncomfortable for me to feel I had put students in over their heads, as I often did, regardless of method. I've heard arguments that the exercise prompts the student to synthesize, and that is indeed good, but if they are so hampered by a lack of understanding, it falls flat, and the student's procrastination is not from laziness, but from their own discomfort. I experienced this feeling as a student, so started out as a teacher with a good measure of concern. The previous topic idea is one example of a scoping down of the "synthesis" aspect, and I could describe others. Perhaps I can also find similar approaches used by teachers, and similar expressions of dissatisfaction on the subject of the traditional term paper.
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  • Reviewing methods used in phylogenetic analyses. This is already broadly presented here, but there could be a more historical treatment, with description of the methods used over the years and in current favor. I was interested recently to hear a call by editors of a journal, for authors to include a parsimony analysis, even if the primary methodology was some other approach (which didn't go over so well, to the authors who don't favor parsimony-based analysis, but I personally see the reasoning). This general subject is one I and others in biology and paleontology have spent so much time on, and so much energetic discussion. The computer programming gets heavy pretty quickly, but describing it in more general terms would be fun for me, as a challenge to understand things well enough. I read the literature, and attended seminars and presentations which I could follow up to a point, despite a little training and much self-teaching in computer science. Mostly I've written graphical tree programs, but even this can come in handy in a methods description treatment. I also remember writing routine scripts to help a colleague get genetic data prepared for analysis -- scripts not for the analysis part, but interesting and useful for explaining the data-handling part of the process.
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  • Drawing "cabinet" diagrams for presenting surface geology. I saw one in a paper about the geology of Parker County, Texas, from years ago, from back when pen-and-ink and draftsman's tables and geometric swing-arms were the mainstay of illustration preparation. Now that I have all of this great 3D software, it would be an obvious thing to even repeat the diagram used in that paper, if only to suggest such treatments. A cabinet diagram is like an exploded block diagram view, where you can see profiles along several crossing directions at once.
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  • Drawing stream profiles with surface geology in the fashion used in my dissertation would be fun. Someone I looked up to said to me, "I wish I'd thought of that," but I have a faint memory that I adopted this from something I saw in a physical geography textbook. I also knew about the cabinet diagrams mentioned above, and similar types of illustrations. These profiles were drawn across the streams and rivers of the Texas hill country to show both the lay of the land, as you would see if you were able to look sideways along a stream axis to the crest of the dividing ridge to the adjacent valley. In the projected "sidewall," in the profile "panel," the geological strata are shown. This is the sort of thing you might see in simplified snippet form in a structural geology book, in a section describing the relationship between dip direction and stream flow direction, but the goal here is to present the stratigraphic profile exposed in the valley wall, projected back to the stream axis. I could make some of these diagrams for streams in North Louisiana and up in Arkansas -- it may help to tie together small outcrops along roadsides.
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  • That's a-plenty to spread over years to come, but I'll keep adding ideas, and will mark them as in-progress or finished, with links...