Friday, January 16, 2009

Week 1 of the semster -- survived!

No matter how much I prepare (and I must admit that this year I didn't prepare as much as usual) the first week of the semester is always exhausting.

Two new things on my plate have raised the level of hectic-ness a notch above normal.

First is that I am teaching a course that is totally new to me -- HUM203 Survey of Appalachian Studies II. My whole research and teaching career has in some way been connected to study of the Appalachian region, but this is the first time I've ever undertaken and entire course. For at least ten years this course has been taught by a colleague of mine along with HUM202 - the part I. Recently, however, the course descriptions of the two classes were rewritten, and HUM202 was recast as more of a humanities course focusing on cultural elements, while HUM203 was recast to focus on the economy, politics, geography and the environment. Since topics fit my expertise more than hers, we've decided to split responsibility, with Madeline taking the fall HUM202 and me taking the spring HUM203. Madeline is (deservedly) the most popular professor at our campus, so I have big shoes to fill.

So far I'm learning a lot preparing for the class. I hope the students found yesterday's (Thursday's) class as interesting as I did. I spent time researching and gathering fascinating graphics and diagrams to tell the 450 million year history of the Appalachian mountains and the origins of the coal that shapes the economy and politics of our area. The "tactonic" mountains in the graphic to the right, are created by volcanic action generated by the "European" plate bumping into the "North American" plate. These are the earliest backbone of the northern section of the Appalachian mountain system.

The second graphic to the left, shows the Arcadian range that developed from those tactonic mountains, and how the area that is currently the heart of the Appalachian coal region was (385 million years ago) a low lying basin frequently covered by water. This is of course, where the coal comes from -- the flourishing of verdant swamps, whose plant matter was repeatedly buried by flooding, and covered by sand and soil, compressing it over the millions of years into carbon rich coal.

Research, pulling together huge amounts of material and organizing it into a coherent 45 minute lecture/presentation has to count as a "creative" activity, I think!

The second "new thing" this semester is conventionally creative. I enrolled in a creative writing class (taught by my friend Madeline). When I was in school, I took lots of art and painting class that provided lots of creative freedom, but this is not only the first time I've taken a course for creative writing, its my first college level writing course -- period.

From the very first day, Madeline engaged us in "free writing" which for a moment caused me to freeze like a deer in the headlights. But by day two I was loving it. She asks each student to take a turn throughout the semester providing some "prompts" (similar to how One Single Impression works), and then we are turned lose for 5 to 10 minutes of writing. Which we then share and comment upon each other's work. I am bowled over by the quality of creativity among the students in the class.


Leah said...

yes, research is definitely a creative activity!!

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this post! I would love both those classes - especially the Appalacian one. I have no direct ancestral connection to that area that I'm aware of, but it draws me.

anthonynorth said...

You're on a marvellous dual learning and creative process there.

Anonymous said...

That class sounds amazing! It must be exciting to be able to teach something that you are so interested in yourself--I'm sure your enthusiasm is contagious!

Jessica said...

angie - YES! Sue's enthusiasm and passion is VERY contagious - even if you only take her classes online!

Congrats Sue! Undertaking new things can be so very hard! If anyone can do it, and do it well - it's you!

Qaro said...

Learned a lot this post! Those are top-notch graphics. Good for you taking a creative writing course. (Never would have guessed, your first college level course. HeeHee.)