“My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought…” Unfortunately for me, those thoughts are half-baked and incoherent right now. I need some mental exercises to get back into this new semester of uncertainty.
I have long abandoned the art of memorization. It is tedious. It mostly doesn’t agree with me. It is an awful way to learn. And I think it might be just the sort of cognitive medicine I need right now.
Accidental Professor Lynda Barry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison always has her students memorize poetry. I’m terrible at memorizing poetry. It turns out I’ve been doing it all wrong. Lynda Barry says we should set the poems to music as an aid to the memorizing process. Hmm, I guess I will have to try that. I have memorized many, many songs over the years.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in our soul,
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.
Hey, it’s working. I just typed that from memory and I have only been working at it off and on since earlier today.
I’m going to try something new this semester. In our Mastering Academic Conversations (MAC) class for incoming freshmen, I’m going to ask everyone to think of a nickname they can use as a handle during the course. This idea is directly borrowed from Lynda Barry (aka The Accidental Professor) but she once said her ideas are open source which is a good thing since I can’t draw like her or think like her.
She always comes up with amazing names for herself like Professor Chewbacca or Professor Mandrake. Earlier this year I used Professor Pandemic for a while just to amuse myself, but I never used it in a class and besides, we are already constantly reminded of the pandemic. So it’s so long Professor Pandemic, hello Professor Robin.
I’m asking my students to think of an actual nickname that someone from the past had given to them. For me, it is Robin. I actually had the nickname Robin for about one year in high school. In my graphic, I drew Professor Robin as Batman’s sidekick. I had done a lot of thinking about a suitable nickname to use instead of Professor Pandemic. Robin is a great sidekick, and I think sometimes I’m a pretty good sidekick too. Lately, I actually enjoy building up and supporting others more than I do seeking attention for myself. I think I’m pretty content being a sidekick figure.
The nickname Robin came to me, not because of this sidekick character, but because of another sidekick called Robin the Frog. Robin the Frog is Kermit the Frog’s unnoticed nephew. Because I was a slight fellow around 85 or 90 lbs as a high school freshman who happened to play the tuba, I was no match for the giant brass tubas our band marched with in marching band. They had to do something with me, so my freshman year during the fall marching season, I was loaned out to the percussion section to play the cymbals. Even the cymbals I played were down-sized, not the full-sized version that a couple of the other percussionists played.
There were three young lady seniors who played the triple-toms who evidently enjoyed having me around to tease and kid. It was Jansy, Jamie and Hannah who gave me the name Robin because I reminded them of the tiny little frog in the new muppet movie that was released that year. I enjoyed the attention and the name, but it didn’t stick because after that first year, I didn’t take band anymore.
But as I was thinking through what I was asking students to think about, I started remembering some of the things I was called as a youngster. Professor Robin, it is, I guess.
I’ve lectured some on Zoom, but our best Zoom classes this spring were when we were working collaboratively. This Slate article I just found tells us that what works well in the classroom also works well online – active learning and engagement is best: