Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Origins of the Name of the Blog, Plus a Wordcloud From Class...

Quick post on two topics....

First, why the blog title:  "All Creatures Great AND Small"?

Yes, the wonderful James Herriot novel comes to mind, though I am not writing about the experience of being a veterinarian (the book and its sequels are very enjoyable, if you have not read them).  In fact, the title comes from a 19th Century hymn.

And I find small creatures to be great, indeed!  Anyway, that is the source of the name of the blog.

On the first day of my microbiology class, I asked the students to consider a "Microbial Minute."  This is an exercise where I ask student to think about a question I project up on the screen, and then write a few words in response (sometimes after discussion with their neighbors).  

In this case, I asked the students to write down---in no more than two or three words---what the word "microbiology" meant to them.  Below is a "word cloud" of the result of that exercise: 

As you can see, there were many similar answers, mostly relating to size, disease, and microbial interactions with humans.  Some of my favorites from this particular "first day of class" word cloud?

  • "need microscope." (true enough!)
  • "microscopic warfare." (impressive, since interactions among microbes---positive and negative---are integral to my course).
  • "enslavement of mitochondria." (nicely said...I would have written "free the organelles!")
  • "my gut." (a bit personal, huh?)
  • "invisible world." (I thought this one was nice)
  • "tiny friends." (nothing wrong with anthropomorphizing the Small Masters, am I right?)

It's very easy for a microbiology class to seem like rote:  lists of organisms, traits, phenotypes, disease characteristics, biochemical tests, etc.  I hope to instill in my students the five principles that Elio Schaechter outlined, in my earlier post.  

And to never, ever lose their sense of wonder at the microbial world all around---and within---us.  It's a broader, deeper, more interrelated, and an endlessly surprising microbial world than I expected as a student.  Which is why I love to teach the subject, naturally.

A short week ahead because of Labor Day. Next time, I will post a bit about the water bottle experiment, and some information about history and microbiology (a topic I love!).

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I am happy to hear your comments and suggestions. I hope to avoid spammage. We shall see how that works out!