Day 2: Trial by Fire

It turns out that my mini-lecture at the beginning of lab was the least stressful part of the whole class.

I was so prepared today. I read the protocols in detail. I had my presentation all set to go. I viewed all the online tutorials on how to use the spectometer and associated software. I'm feeling prepared.

Then I get to lab, and I walk around, looking for the spec, wanting to connect and try it out before the class arrives, to make sure all is set.

Only I can't find a spectrometer. Anywhere.

Also, the installation discs for the software that the students need to run the spec and do today's lab? Nowhere to be found.

A couple of the students are there, having arrived extremely early, and they are familiar with spectrometer's from chem lab; so they start looking too; we look throuh all the cabinets, on all the shelves, under all the benches, but we definitely don't see one. I find one in the back lab, the research lab, but I'm very certain that isn't the one we are supposed to use. It's not portable, and it doesn't require the software and program file that we all have to install, and it's a really nice one whose owner would probably not appreciate it being appropriated for use by 16 clumsy and inexperienced undergraduates.

I ended up calling the coordinator. It turns out that the spec is a tiny thing wrapped in bubble wrap sitting on the bench... but it isn't the one described in the lab manual or online tutorial. And the software is in a lab down the hall, locked in a drawer in the far corner of the room. Where I would have never in a million years found it. This makes me feel better; it isn't unpreparedness so much as it is inappropriate preparedness.

Phew. I don't have time to test anything out, but it is a relief to get rolling. I give my little presentation, and I give them the Perspective talk. I can't tell if they think it is interesting or if they think it is boring. It ends up taking only a few minutes, and I feel good about it, so if I ever teach this class again I'll probably re-use it. Then we get to this week's assignment.

Everyone installs the software without major problems. We figure out how to hook up the spec and how to calibrate it. Then they get started with preparing the samples. People are looking for the potato extract that they need for their experiment. Only it turns out that the "extract" they left for me was... a big honkin Idaho potato. Just sitting right there on the bench. I look around and see a blender. OK, I figured, we'll just puree it with some water. That results in a nice chunky suspension of pureed potato. Chunky potato puree equals not potato extract. Puree's don't work in a spectrometer.

The coordinator just happens to call at that moment to check up on me and I joke about this potato puree. He mentions, "Oh, yeah, don't forget to strain that."

I see the cheesecloth sitting on the bench behind the microscope. Doh. Of course! That's what it is for! I pour the puree through, and end up with a brownish liquid, which looks exactly like the potato extract is described in the text. Success!

This is not the way to inspire confidence in your students that you know what you are doing.

However, at the end of it all, we got it done. And I figure if I can get through that SNAFU, then I can get through anything.


Lisa said...

Ha ha ha ha ha!!! Welcome to the world of teaching!!! I can't even TELL you how many time I'm expected to teach something and I don't have any of the materials so I am left scrambling to find things or create things! It happens ALL the time!
I LOVE these stories!
Crap, it's 6:30, I have to get dressed!!!