Sticky teaching

In the short time I have been teaching so far, I’ve found that teaching is hard. There are so many things to think about – learning goals and objectives, assessments, grading, assignments… not to mention running the class itself! And yet, I’m very much set up for success. 

Supportive Environment

I’m partially employed by the North Dakota State University Office of Teaching and Learning (OTL), which runs a bunch of programs to make NDSU generally better at providing an education. The purpose of this office is to provide the know-how and resources to the university faculty to make classes as effective as possible, so I’m immersed in a pool of knowledge. That helps as I delve into the other half of my employment, teaching a class about insect pest management.

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I’ve found that teaching is hard. There are so many things to think about – learning goals and objectives, assessments, grading, assignments…

What’s Bugging Me

I primarily identify as an entomologist (a.k.a. bug scientist), and found that insects provide all sorts of crazy biological stories that can illustrate a variety of points. Allow me to provide an example:

I recently defended my dissertation on aphids, which are squishy little pear-shaped bugs whose ideal day includes sitting perfectly still and sucking plant sap.

Image of Soybean Aphid
Photo credit: James Kopco
Soybean aphids and teachers both make a living out of being sticky… but hopefully not in exactly the same way.

Among the entomologically-inclined, the defining feature of aphids are the cornicles, a pair of little tubes poking up off their backs. For decades, scientists were unsure of what function the cornicles had.

As it turns out, the cornicles are glue guns. If a predator messes with an aphid, she’ll wiggle around those cornicles on her back, which ooze droplets of sticky liquid wax that solidifies in seconds on contact with air (Edwards 1966). Predators like ladybug larvae, pirate bugs, or parasitic wasps that are smeared with the wax can be fatally entrapped (Barry and Ohno 2016, Butler and O’Neil 2006, Kopco personal observation).

Video credit: James Kopco
A hunting parasitoid wasp has her antenna glued to the leaf by a defensive aphid. Eventually she escaped, but her antenna did not.

Making it Stick

Much like an aphid that wants her defensive wax to stick, teachers want the skills and knowledge their students develop to stick. But unlike the aphid, which is born with the tools for the job, teachers have to develop effective teaching skills and decide what approaches to teaching will be most effective.

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But unlike the aphid, which is born with the tools for the job, teachers have to develop effective teaching skills and decide what approaches to teaching will be most effective.

This blog will cover a series of tips and tricks that I learn as I develop and teach my class and draw resources from OTL. I plan to cover a wide range of topics, from establishing learning goals and objectives to assessments to classroom management, and beyond.

As I go, I’ll simultaneously tell my own story and help OTL achieve a broader reach for helping teachers – whether you’re college faculty, graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs), or K-12 teachers. The focus is on teaching, but given my background, don’t expect me to get the bugs out!

 


References:

Barry, A., and K. Ohno. 2016. Cornicle secretions of Uroleucon nigrotuberculatum (Homoptera: Aphididae) as the last bullet against lady beetle larvae. Entomological Science 19: 410-415.

Butler, C. D., and R. J. O’Neil. 2006. Defensive response of soybean aphid (Hemiptera : Aphididae) to predation by insidious flower bug (Hemiptera : Anthocoridae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 99: 317-320.

Edwards, J. S. 1966. Defence by smear – supercooling in cornicle wax of aphids. Nature 211: 73-&.


 

Jamie Kopco is finishing his Ph.D. in entomology. Among other pedagogical tasks, he is teaching an undergrad/grad class, doing science outreach, and generally trying to foster a sense of curiosity and discovery.

 

 


Submit a pedagogical question or comment to the Office of Teaching and Learning (ndsu.otl@ndsu.edu) for answers in an upcoming blog post.

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