In honor of a past employee who's visiting this weekend, Interzone is running as a special the breakfast he liked to prepare for himself when he worked here. They haven't run a special in quite a while, and as much as I love the weekend Super Burrito, I gotta give this a try. I'm substituting an everything bagel for the toast. Should be showing up any minute now...
This post is dedicated to Dana Hunter, who seemed particularly unsettled by my endless questions when we went to Marys Peak and the coast last fall. I'm going to spend five long days with her very soon, and thought she at least deserved to know that my questions are not intended to be "tests." They are, in fact, much more subversive and manipulative than that. Fair warning though: knowing what I'm doing and why will not free you from the effect I describe. ;)
There are two main reasons teachers ask questions: assessment and motivation. Assessment can either be formative (trying to figure out where students are in terms of knowledge and understanding, so one can more effectively and efficiently guide them to your goals and objectives) or summative (trying to determine if they have indeed arrived at the set objectives). Motivation in this case means that students are more likely to mentally engage with a topic at hand if they are frequently and regularly asked questions... and particularly if they expect to be asked questions, and expect to be obligated to answer them.
One of the reasons I left teaching was the disgust I feel with our society's obsession with grades. Is that the only reason we have to learn any more? Well, for some, yes: "You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test." -Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001. BRAAAPP! Sorry, Dubya, you get to start over with grade one. So the idea of questions as "tests," while necessary, an unavoidable component of traditional teaching, important, justified, what have you, is just distasteful and offensive to me. I rarely ask those sorts of questions.
I sometimes ask questions to figure out what I need to clarify. I was going to tell my hipster geology gag about thalwegs to a student in environmental science, but asked first if he knew that term. (he did, and loved the joke). So formative questions can be quite useful to figure out what background you need to cover before getting to the meat of the subject at hand, and I ask these sorts of questions fairly often.
But it's the "motivational" questions I really love. Educational research has consistently shown that it's more about the frequency and expectations students have for questioning than the cognitive level, difficulty or complexity of the questions. Obviously, for advanced learners (i.e. upper level undergraduates and up) some of the questions need to be demanding. But the expectation that there will be questions, and that the learner will be expected to give some kind of response, do the most to keep the mental faculties engaged.
There's also a side issue which I think is best claimed as a matter of personal opinion and educational philosophy- I don't know that I've read the perspective I'm about to present elsewhere.
I view questions as a sneaky, subversive and somewhat unfair- though completely ethical- opportunity to issue imperatives. If I say "Describe that outcrop," and do it often enough, I will come to be seen as abrasive and even dictatorial. On the other hand, if I wave and point at an outcrop, and with a smile, ask "What do you see?" then wait... The student has been given almost no guidance, and is generally not sure what specifics I'm after (because more often than not, I'm not after any particular thing[s], specifically), and may not even be sure where to start, yet there I stand, bemused grin smeared across my mug, waiting... This is a powerfully motivating situation for students. Why? Perhaps it's fear of failure, or the fear of looking diminished in the eyes of an instructor. I'm honestly not sure, but it's a very real feeling that I have experienced myself many, many times. In my own case, I think it's mostly a matter of living up to my own expectations for myself ("C'mon, dude, you oughtta know this one..."). But I recognize that widened-eye flicking of students' minds racing when I see it. I feel a slight pang of guilt sometimes, because I don't like that feeling of cognitive near-panic either. Still, I know that working through it can lead to some powerful learning experiences, so in my estimation, it's worth it.
So when I hand you a rock or point out an outcrop, and ask an innocuous question like "What do you see," or "How do you suppose that might have happened," or "Why is that growing there," or any of hundreds of other open-ended questions for which there is not and cannot be a single "right" answer, I'm not testing you. I'm telling you to look and think. Because questions are an imperative way to do that in a much more effective and much less irritating manner than pointing at an outcrop and saying "Look! Think!"
Or if you'd like the blunt version, I'm messing with your head.
As I've mentioned, I'll be doing some geotripping next week, and the schedule looks as if it's been bumped up a day. Which means it's a day closer than it was when I woke up this morning, and in turn, that I'm even more excited than I expected to be. I have had the itinerary basically worked out for the last two months. By "basically" I mean that in the many, many trips I've done with high schoolers and middle school students, I've found that it's important to plan a certain amount of flexibility into one's expectations. Spur-of-the moment decisions can lead to unexpected and terrific discoveries. So I think of a trip itinerary as a framework to be built onto as needed. On the other hand, for safety (and sometimes communication) reasons, it's nice to have something that someone could point to and say "this is where they're supposed to be right now." A policeman might have some chance of finding a group that's in the neighborhood, but that's unlikely if they are two counties away.
I've also found that it's good to have a conceptual framework that you can tie things to. On Central and Southeast Oregon trips with high school-age students that framework was either how various differences in magma composition and environmental factors interacted to create different styles of volcanism, or how geologic factors (including- but not limited to- the landscape) interacted with the rest of the non-living world to effect the local biota. The conceptual framework I've been pondering for this trip more or less combines those two, and unites them in thinking about the large scale tectonic structure of Oregon: subduction, forearc ridge, forearc basin, arc, back arc rifting, and influences from the Yellowstone Hotspot, which made its presence impossible to ignore in Miocene Oregon. Basin and Range is still a little enigmatic to me, and I haven't seen anything that convinces me that the questions surrounding what drives that rifting have been satisfactorily settled. Nevertheless, it is certainly best explained in terms of tectonics; it's just that there are at least two approaches to doing that, and probably more, in addition to sliding scales of importance of this factor versus that factor.
All that said, here's the outline I just sent to the person sponsoring this volcanic ramble:
Day 1: (hoping we can set off from CVO mid-day/early aft.)
Rt. I-5-> Eugene; Willamette seds, W. Casc. foothills
So skimming over this list, things to bring that you might not think of would include swimsuit/water wear if you're into hot springs, and flashlight/lamp. Bring a large container of water to keep in car (I generally carry 2 liters with me, try to keep at least 4 in the car), and smaller to carry with you. High elevation desert (Lakeview is over a mile in elevation, and it's on the valley floor), sunshine will be intense; hat and sunscreen. (Something I forgot to mention in this note is that the area is REMOTE, and very sparsely populated. Two hours or more between gas stations/stores of any kind is not uncommon, and that's assuming you're staying on main roads. In this area problems that might be minor elsewhere can quickly become life-threatening if you don't have basic supplies. Water is at the top of that list, and knowing places you can top off your supply is important.)
Okay I've spent too much time on this, but I think this is a good overview. Tectonically, we'll see a forearc basin (forearc ridge last fall), the evolution of a volcanic arc (W. Cascades are older, to ~30 Ma; High Cascades younger, <5Ma), and overlapping, complex magmatism related to the arc itself, back-arc rifting (possible early stage continental rift system) and hot-spot influenced magmas. I keep telling people that Oregon is overwhelmingly volcanic; we will see a few other rocks, but those are mostly sediments derived from erosion of volcanics.
I'm planning on taking the ol' electronical difference engine with me, in case we make meal or night stops that have wi-fi, but I make no promises that I'll actually post anything for a while. And even after I get back home, I will likely spend at least a day or few trying to high-grade my way through the better part of a week's intertubal accumulations.