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Preparation vs. Winging It

October 12, 2008 1 comment

In an earlier post, I described my worst recurring dream: I am standing in front of a classroom of students without having prepared for class. I know in general terms what topic I’m supposed to cover, but haven’t thought about it and have no idea what to say. What brought this nightmare to my consciousness was the experience of watching Katie Couric interview Sarah Palin.

One thing I learned as a student was that it wasn’t always a bad thing to have an instructor who was not fully prepared. How the instructor deals with the situation can be enlightening. The student gets to see how an expert on the subject works through the issues spontaneously, thereby (on occasion anyway) learning a lot more than might be learned from a perfect exposition with all the real thinking hidden from view. And the student gets to see how an older adult handles real-life stress.

I had an eye-opening experience along these lines in December 1969, the first semester of my freshman year at Harvard. I will describe it below, but first let me give some background on the nutty course I was taking, Math 55. To provide the proper context, I need to say a few words about calculus. Read more…

Categories: Math, Teaching

Whidbey Island Day Trip

October 12, 2008 Leave a comment

We visited friends at their Whidbey Island home yesterday and had a beautiful day. The views of Mount Baker on the ferry ride over were spectacular. After a short drive, we were greeted by our friends and with special enthusiasm by their Australian shepherd siblings Tucker and Maggie. (The cats took their time revealing their presence. Chambon showed up after a few minutes, but Emma kept her distance.)

After a late afternoon outing to Useless Bay and downtown Langley, we returned home for dinner. While Chris began dinner preparations, with Gail keeping her company, I accompanied Judy to the garden, where she picked greens for the salad and I served as the photographer. The pumpkins stole the show visually,

Pumpkin, Whidbey Island

Pumpkin, Whidbey Island

but the mixed greens were the true star.

Mixed Greens

Mixed Greens

Tucker kept us herded in the garden while Chambon was off on the other side of the yard, beyond view.

Tucker at work

Tucker at work

Emma kept watch from the porch.

Emma at work

Emma at work

While Chris cooked, Judy served cheese, crackers, and salami, accompanied by wine from a now-familiar region: a Simi Chardonnay from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. This led into an outstanding dinner. We had a wonderfully-flavored baked, breaded, and seasoned chicken, accompanied by fantastic fettucine in a rich pesto and an excellent loaf of bread. Then came the salad of mixed greens from the garden, a delightful olio. And for dessert, we selected portions from four pastries: a key lime tart, an apricot tart, chocolate mousse, and a raspberry linzer torte.

Continuing conversational themes throughout the day were the election and the economy. (Is anything else going on? Well, the baseball league championship series, but somehow we didn’t talk about them.) A special highlight for us was hearing about Chris’s recent trip to Pennsylvania to help with the Obama campaign.

Suddenly it was 9:14 and we scrambled to leave in order to make the 9:30 ferry. On the drive home, we checked on the radio for the result of the Red Sox – Rays baseball game and were surprised to discover that it was still on, tied 8-8 in the 10th inning. We made it home for the bottom of the 11th, in which the Rays won on a sacrifice fly to short right field with one out and the bases loaded.

Lots of excitement for one day.

Categories: Food, Travel