Remember a while back, that deer anatomy seminar with Charlie? We dissected two deer? Well, a couple of weeks ago I bumped into Charlie carrying the bones across campus in boxes--he has this wire mesh cage he uses to let bones rot clean without larger animals being able to steal them, and he'd cleaned both deer. He uses bone for a lot of his artwork.
I asked him, conversationally, if he had plans for these bones and he said not at the moment. I thought a little about the bones being like a puzzle, and then I got an idea. I asked if I could borrow the bones, and he said yes.
My idea was to do a seminar--that is, a mini-course with two meetings--around assembling the skeletons. Actually, my idea was to do the seminar with Rick, since he and I have done things like that before, mostly the tracking workshops, but Rick isn't here. So, I figured why not do it myself? So I talked to Charlie and Sharon about it.
I forget if I've mentioned, but anyone can teach anything here--whether any students show up to learn is another matter. Also, there's no guarantee the masters will decide something a student teaches carries credit. In my case, Charlie usually speaks up for me and my mini-courses do carry a little credit. And a few students usually do show up.
Now that classes have started up, there are many fewer workshops and seminars and things--there's no rule against scheduling something in competition with a full class, but hardly anyone would be available to show up. But we do have optional class blocks in the evening and on Saturday, and sometimes there are events then.
What I did was I brought all the bones into the barn in their boxes and then laid them out on a blue tarp, with the two skeletons mixed together. I insisted participants wear fitted clothing (not school uniforms, with their wide-ish sleeves, that they were comfortable getting dirty, and I gave everyone nitrile gloves to wear--even cleaned, pathogens could still cling to the bones. Then I challenged the participants (there were eight of them, mostly yearlings) to reassemble the skeletons and I let them go.
I stood around, answering some questions but not others, making occasional suggestions, and providing food for thought, now and then. Or, trying to, anyway. They did well, organizing themselves around an initial sorting process without my help, and got the bones sorted into two animals and all the major functional groups. Then they got stuck. There were bones they could not sort, some they sorted wrong, and they were unclear how most of the bones within each category fit together. That was ok. We brain-stormed about how they might go about getting farther along, what kinds of resources they might use to learn deer skeletal anatomy, and then I assigned homework and let them go.
The homework was a kind of manual I'd put together with the help of a Xerox machine in town explaining what all of the bones were and how they fit together.
When we met again, they were all better informed and had their manuals with them and so the assembly went much better, as expected. I'd unsorted their bones, which bothered some of them but couldn't be helped (I could hardly leave them spread out all over the barn!) and it didn't take long to get the bones re-sorted. I again answered questions, but this time I also made occasional corrections if I saw people persistently getting something wrong. They got the bones all in the proper order (we didn't glue or wire them, just laid them down next to each other) by the end of the class.
I didn't have them try without instruction first in order to make them feel bad--and I tried to be clear about that--but so that when they finally got the information, they'd be looking for it. They'd know the significance of the answers because they were already asking the questions.
When I turned in my evals to Sharon--basically I just have to affirm that everybody passed, it's a required formality if your event carries credit--she asked how it went. I said it had gone ok, and then I said something about really feeling like a senior student now, or enjoying getting more involved in my final year, I forget my exact wording.
"You're not really acting like a senior student," she told me, smiling. "You're acting like a candidate."