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Weekly round-up - John C. Kirk

Feb. 3rd, 2007

10:37 pm - Weekly round-up

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Well, it's been quite a busy week. I wound up going to bed at 10pm last night and sleeping until 11:30 this morning!

I did my SJA class night on Tuesday, and I think it went quite well overall. I always seem to wind up thinking that I should have done more preparation and worrying that the others will be annoyed with me for wasting their evening, but lots of people said they enjoyed it so that's encouraging.

I do think that I'm getting better at putting a structure on the session, e.g. giving info about fire exits at the start, and listing the SMART objectives. SMART is an acronym for "Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based", and these normally fall into four categories: State, List, Perform, Demonstrate. By contrast, "understanding" isn't a SMART objective, because you can't quantify or assess it. I have mixed feelings about this style of teaching in general, particularly at university level: I think that the whole point of attending lectures rather than doing self-study is that you can ask the lecturer questions and properly internalise the knowledge. On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed by last week's Turing lecture; the speaker said a few interesting things, and had some funny stories, but he also kept making irrelevant points about US politics, and he hardly addressed the topic of the talk at all. Anyway, I'll follow the approved SJA methods while I'm working for them.

In this case, my objectives were:
1) State an important point about laburnum seeds.
2) List five routes of entry for poison.
3) List five types of drugs.
4) Perform the appropriate treatment for bee stings and snake bites.

The "answers" to the first three are:
1) They're poisonous!
2) Inhaled, splashed into the eye, absorbed through the skin, injected, swallowed.
3) Painkillers, nervous system depressants and tranquillisers, stimulants and hallucinogens, narcotics, solvents.

When I was doing Statistics at school (part of A Level Maths), I remember one of the other boys saying that you could probably teach it by just staying one chapter ahead in the textbook. Similarly, I've seen various subjects where each pupil will have their own textbook, and the teacher will either have the same book or an expanded edition. I've never objected to that, but as a presenter I feel guilty if I'm blatantly reading out of the first aid manual. One way I deal with this is that I try to add in extra information that the manual doesn't include. For instance, since I know quite a bit about bees, I can explain why it's necessary to brush the sting away (i.e. that the bee was ripped in half, and the muscles around the sting are still pumping venom into the body). As for snakes, the manual says: "The only poisonous snake native to mainland Britain is the adder, and its bite is rarely fatal." That's true enough, but I elaborated on this by saying that the adder is also known as the viper, due to a marking on its head: it either looks like an A or a V, depending on which direction you're looking in. I grew up in a relatively rural area, and I probably read that somewhere like the Cub Scout Annual 1981, but lots of the city dwellers weren't aware of that. I tried to illustrate this by drawing a snake on the whiteboard, although I had to abandon my first attempt half-way through when I suddenly realised how phallic it looked! (This made everyone else laugh.) If I repeat that class in the future, it would make sense to take along some photos for people to look at.

Overall, I'd like to be in the position of knowing a subject inside out before I teach it to other people, so that I have more material than I could fit into the time allotted, and I can answer any question that comes up. This is probably unrealistic (at least for first aid), but I'll do the best I can.

I was back on SJA duty this afternoon, for another football match. I have to say, the first half of the match was remarkably pleasant, since the weather was surprisingly good: I sat outside, chatting to a colleague, and enjoyed feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. The second half was a bit more chilly, but still pretty quiet, so that all went smoothly.

This evening I watched You, Me and Dupree, which turned out to be much better than I expected. I saw posters for it when it was out at the cinema, and it looked like a fairly basic plot: two newlyweds have an annoying houseguest who they can't get rid of. In fact, there's a lot more to it than that. I'd say that most romantic comedies end with the couple either getting together or getting married; this one starts with them getting married, and then shows how they adapt to married life, which is quite interesting. Similarly, the film-makers avoided the lazy option of making the wife into a shrew who stops her husband from having fun with his old friend. There were plenty of scenes that made me laugh, so that was good too. (You may be wondering why I watched it at all if I wasn't expecting to like it; one of my SJA friends lent me the DVD, as part of the ongoing exchange program we've got running at the moment.) So, I'd recommend it, although I'd also recommend that you avoid the trailers, since the jokes will be funnier if you don't see them coming. There's a short scene after the end credits, but nothing significant.

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