"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

IWC 100 (P&C): Blizzard Days and Pursuit of Place-Consciousness

7: 32 am.  This morning, I am not in a good place.  I do not feel good.  Most of this is due to the fact that someone in my apartment complex thought it would be a good idea to plow the parking lots with the little backhoe thing that makes the most annoying beep-beep sound when it backs up--at 11:00 last night. He did a lot of that backing up (plowing out the parking spaces, mostly) outside my apartment window and he didn't finish till after midnight.  My alarm goes off at 5:00.  Add to that my inability to read the ingredients on the yogurt I bought two days ago--which contained sneaky artificial sweeteners, which I'm allergic to--and no wonder I've been feeling like crap.  It's dark, it's cold (-12 with -29 windchil), and I'm about to walk into my 8:00 classroom, for only the third time.

Sun Dogs, South Fargo, -36 windchill
Last Thursday, when we would have had class, Concordia closed (which shocked everyone, because it NEVER closes)--because we were about to have a blizzard with very dangerous winds.  Not much in the way of new snow, but ground blizzards are just as bad.  People in town, apparently, were complaining that everything was closed when it was just fine--but once you got out of the wind-protected inner streets, it really was very bad.  I live in South Fargo and I couldn't see the street from my apartment window for most of the day.  But the point is that I'm playing catch-up with this class on a syllabus that doesn't leave much wiggle room.  So it'll be interesting to see how the new class plan I've cooked up for today works.  We don't know each other very well yet, so I'm hoping that we can get talking.  We'll see.

And yesterday, on the way home, we got hit with Polar Vortex #2, which took the windchill down to -35.  The sky was clear and blue, with the wind kicking up enough of the ground snow to make visibility a problem as I was driving home.  As a result of all this, the sun dogs were glorious.  Full sun dogs.  So, I went a few blocks south of where I live and took some pictures.  There's just something about sun dogs that makes me irrationally happy.

Here's the class plan, to talk about some readings from Paul Gruchow's Grass Roots (on the rural world), some excerpts from Emilie Buchwald's anthology Toward the Livable City (this is a change from last semester, when I didn't use very many urban pieces at all, which in hindsight was a ridiculous oversight), with a couple of chapters from our textbook on Fieldworking, and a couple of critical articles.  It's going to be a hefty day.

But here's the plan:  Because we can't talk about each of these pieces individually, like the original lesson plan, I'm going to get them into their groups and get them to do some synthesizing--and to do this, I'm going to have them make some web/bubble charts and get them on the various white boards in the classroom.  I need to get them physically out of their chairs and moving if I have any hope of them doing more than staring at me.

Here is the prompt:

  • With references to as many pieces as possible, what do places require of us, to know them well?  What kind of knowledge is required?
  • How do we come to know a place well?  (Look particularly at the Fieldworking chapters.)  And why should we?  What is at stake if we do not know the place where we are?
  • What kinds of knowledge do these pieces reference?  (For instance, Gruchow mentions breadmaking and tomato canning.)  What kinds of knowledge are valued?
    • What are the differences--and similarities--between rural knowledge and urban knowledge?  Put Gruchow's tomato canning alongside the urban gardening piece--what do they have in commong?
  • What is the larger purpose in coming to know a place?

10:00 am.  Post-class.  Sometimes I need to forcibly remind myself that my freshmen are still not completely college students.  That they will make enough wrong assumptions that I need to be more explicit than I think I need to be.  For instance, they assumed that since we didn't have class on Thursday, we would push everything back.  So half of them did not have their assignment for the day done.  But I had (a bit) assumed that something similar would happen, so this get-out-of-your-seat sort of activity would at least form a composite of knowledge.  

I also underestimated my international students.  I haven't had students with such severe language issues before and this is already proving to be a challenge--in just basic comprehension.  I'm meeting with them (separately) tomorrow, to hopefully clear some things up and give them some tips, but I also set them up with Academic Enhancement, as another resource.  This is going to be a tough semester for them--and a huge learning experience for me.  Right now, the problem is basic comprehension of the reading--and so I worry, greatly, that if reading is this much of a problem and, as they told me after class today, that they can't follow their group-mates' conversation, the writing is going to be even more of a hurdle.  Whew.

So, at various times in the activity, I had them write their bubble webs on the board--and one of the coolest things about the way this turned out is that even though they were all working with the same basic material, the connections and webs they made were completely different.  Love this.

We did this for about an hour--this is a 100 min class--and to bring it together and talk about some of these ideas, I asked them to do a free write.  Make connections, write about things they connected and discovered that they hadn't before class.  And then we used that to talk about some of these ideas and articles--ideas of idea-diversity, mixed realities, even how integral food is to our cultures.  We talked about Paul Gruchow's farming ideals with the article we had read on urban gardening; we connected urban knowledge to rural knowledge and how in certain ways we devalue both.  

To wrap things up, I walked them through one of the chapters in their Fieldworking textbook I had assigned and watched their faces change as I briefly flipped through freewriting (which we have done), bubbles and webs (which we just did) and then introduced them to double-entry field notes, which they will do.  I think this is definitely an activity I will do again.  

On Thursday, we're doing their proposals in class, so I'm excited to hear where they think they might ground their papers.  Last semester's projects were diverse and fascinating, so I'm looking forward to these too!

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