Saturday, March 1, 2014

How to Make a Baby (and other strange things I teach my students)

In one of the courses I teach, there is one highly anticipated class session each semester.  Students hear about it from their peers and look forward to it for two years until one day they walk into the classroom and hear the words: “Today you are going to learn how to make a baby.”  I don’t teach Biology and we don’t discuss the actual act, but I use this as an example to help students learn how to build a process model.  Students are free to develop their own steps in making a baby which range from the traditional such as dating then getting engaged then getting married, etc., etc.  Some choose more creative methods: go to frat party, meet girl, wake up the next morning, “What’s your name?,” nine months later get a phone call, “Surprise!” Ultimately, I don’t care how they get their baby, so long as they understand how to develop a process model.  I have never once had a student fail the process model question on the final exam.

In Resort Development class we talk about rubber duckies.  Since many resorts are beach resorts, the environment and sustainability are crucial to success.  If the beach is full of pollution people won’t want to visit and the hotel will lose money.  Students have a hard time understanding the complexity of beach pollution.  They always ask, “Well, if we keep the beach clean it’s not a problem, right?”  Not quite.

Many people don’t realize beach pollution is only partly to blame on people who are on the actual beach.  A lot more of the pollution originates in the water.  On any given day between 5 and 6 million containers are transported by ship.  Did you know that 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea?  Well, not all of those containers reach their destinations safely.  On Monday a ship lost more than 520 containers due to 30 foot waves and wind upward of 60 knots.  Apparently most of those containers carried millions of pounds of cigarettes.  “Sorry Mr. Marlboro.  We know where your cigarettes are.  It’s just that you need a wetsuit in order to come pick them up.”

Perhaps the most famous container-overboard incident occurred in 1992 when a container full of 29,000 rubber duckies fell off a ship in the Pacific Ocean.  Leave it to a Ph.D. to make the best out of the situation.  Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer began monitoring where the “friendly floatees” washed up in an effort to study ocean currents.  The most recent reported sighting was in August of 2013.  That’s 21 years tracking lost rubber duckies!
Living in Botswana has given me so many unusual things to teach my students.  I’m not quite sure how I will be able to squeeze all my new found knowledge into only one semester.  But I am definitely up for the challenge.

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