Thursday, September 10, 2009

Church Garden Best Practices

So after a fairly successful summer, the church garden has now been sufficiently harvested that it would be difficult to get amounts of anything worthy of preservation. So last Sunday we opened the space to gleaning (there were some amounts of basil, dill, and stray tomatoes, fennel, and some bolting greens).

At first when we would get a harvest of lettuces that really couldn't be preserved I conceded that we ought to give them away a little begrudgingly, but after I gave away summer squash, cabbage, lettuce, and tomatoes at church, I was hooked. I suppose I liked giving food away to the food shelf well enough, which desperately needs fresh produce, but I LOVED giving food away at church. It was so satisfying to go up to the fringe folks who were sticking around and say "hey, would you like some potatoes?" Then they would take them, and leave happy, and if the few data points I have are indicative a trend (and I'll have a few more data points after this coming Sunday), then the folks who have received food as a gift from the garden have a 100% return rate. Hm. :)

As I think about what we would plant for next year, I'm drawn towards thinking about the things which preserved well, were relatively easy to harvest, or which lent themselves to recipes that people knew (e.g. Who knows what the heck to do with fennel bulb?).

The veggies which excelled against these criteria were:
potatoes - they keep so well
carrots - keep well, and we made an awesome soup and made for awesome church-time snacks
plum tomatoes - SO much sauce!
basil - who doesn't love pesto? (only i might make it with some other nut besides pine nuts, cause, well, you can and pine nuts are like THE most expensive nut at the coop).
onions - again keep well, easy to harvest
squash - wow, so prolific, easy to give away, easy to shred and freeze
kale - blanch & freeze in bags
green beans - good thing my mom has a pressure cooker, so we canned a whole bunch of beans
celery - good in the carrot soup

Veggies which I would probably not do next year:
cherry tomatoes - so labor intensive
dill - I don't think we ever harvested this
fennel - what do you do with fennel?
parsley - unless i grew it specifically for companion planting, we didn't harvest it like at all

Somewhere in the middle:
big tomatoes - sure they're big, but I don't think they produced the volume of the plums/juliets

Other things I would do differently:
trellises - basically our trellises sucked. They almost all fell over
string - I think we tied up the tomatoes with like some throw-away string from the ReStore, and it got all stretched out and ineffectual. Next year I'll invest in some twine.
logging the harvest - We were pretty good about recording what went in, but not so good about recording how much was taken out, so we have no real sense of the value added from this project.

Running a church garden has been really good, I'm glad we had people sign up for particular weeks to take care of it so the burden was more spread out. *whew*
Even so I'm not entirely sure if I'll be doing it again next year. We'll see.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Honesty and Humility

So it's 4:30pm on a Friday and I've decided that grading papers is still my priority to lighten my load for next week. You would think that would be a gritty, unsatisfying decision, but among the stack there came one paper which caught me completely by surprise, and made my extra time entirely worthwhile.

For obvious reasons I can't disclose anything about the student, but I can describe the assignment. It was a graphing practice. It provided several sets of data with the task of determining the function that best described it based on a handful of functions I set out earlier in class. One of the six data sets was a little sneaky: it didn't completely conform to any of the functions I had described. I planned to give full credit for a "quadratic" solution, as that was the closest match that I had provided. But this student came up with the actual solution: that it was y=kx^(1.5). And then he wrote a paragraph about this problem as follows (I don't think it's illegal to share this - besides I was delighted to have read it):

"The graph of data set ____ looks like a parabola or a straight line. I also though that I might have made a mistake drawing it and that it was a square-root. None of these worked, so I asked my father for help. We determined that it followed the equation y=kx^(1.5). Although I worked hard on this problem, the solution is not mine."

Here's what I wrote on his paper:
"Indeed it is also Kepler's solution to the relationship between the orbital radius and period of the planets, more commonly seen as radius^3=period^2, which gives period=radius^(3/2). Your honesty and humility are truly remarkable. Thank you :) "

I will probably be glowing about this kid all weekend.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Soooo... now what? Transitioning into the curriculum

This the part of the year where I pause a little bit and wonder how the heck do I start the real stuff? I'm perpetually tempted to solicit from students even the most mundane of details, just to prove to myself that they are thinking. But the kinds of questions I'm prone to asking during lecture could be most accurately described as "fill in the blank" for which the context makes it painfully clear what the answer should be: This is not critical thinking.

Today I had a brainwave and since I didn't have a class until half way through the day I had time to make it happen, much to my relief. After setting up the concept chart and supplying them with details about position, displacement, and time, it was time to start thinking about velocity... since there's really not a whole lot you can do with those fundamental measurements (besides perhaps discussing their origins, the nature of the smallest increment, and personal applications, e.g. the length of one's stride or the time it takes to start & stop a timer).

So on to velocity we plowed, and here were the questions I posed in a ppt slide with instructions to work on the questions in groups:
1) What is speed in terms of the items on your concept chart?
2) In what units do we measure speed, and what do those units tell us about what speed is composed of?
3) Write an equation for speed based on your answer to the above.
4) Is this equation always true? When is it not? What are its limitations?

As far as I can tell all the groups came to the correct conclusions, but now I'd like to know which question was most helpful for the creation of the equation which they created?

I'm inspired to ask such a question because of my recent reading of The Teaching Gap, which describes (among other very interesting things) the value Japanese school place on multiple methods. They don't require that all students use the same method to solve a problem, but observe, rather, that statistically speaking certain percentages of students will be prone to solving a problem through a handful of methods. So, of course, I'm very curious to see the distribution of methods the students used to come up with the equation... or perhaps since they worked in groups, I'll have to frame it more like, "Which question helped you personally understand what the equation ought to be?"

Update on the Women in Engineering: We're about to start our first project, so I'll see if I can put together a post-survey regarding their enthusiasm. I'll let you know what I find. :)