Okay, well, you know what happens if you assign a big genetics problem set, give students a lot of time to work on it, encourage them to work together and ask you for advice, and eventually collect it? You have to grade the dratted thing, that’s what happens.
Results of the genetics unit: Some students did not do nearly as well as I would have wished. Even on the test — short, with most of the questions pretty straightforward — a startling number of students looked at the question asking “What kind of gametes can an Aa individual make?” and selected the answer that offered “AA, Aa, or aa.” In other words, they did not know what a gamete was. Even with BIG ARROWS on some of the powerpoint slides saying “GAMETES HERE” and pointing to the top and side of the Punnett Squares, and a huge amount of practice setting up Punnett Squares while saying things like, “GAMETES GO ALONG THE TOP AND SIDE. LOOK, GAMETES ARE HAPLOID. INDIVIDUALS ARE DIPLOID. Even with all that, more than half of the students picked the (same) wrong answer for that question.
So that was disappointing.
However, the problem set was a good solid boost for many students. I made a five-page key, spread that out on a big table, and graded the problem sets student-by-student rather than page-by-page, and though it took a while, it wasn’t quite as time consuming as I feared. I listened to Vixy and Tony’s cds while I worked on this, by the way, which also helped.
Not everyone really understood this material, but some did. Of the rest, not everyone took my advice to come see me if they needed help, but some did. Not everyone who felt insecure worked with another student who knew what they were doing, but some did. Overall, the majority picked up a lot of points, which bounced a couple of them to the next grade up, which is nice to see.
We’re now doing evolution and natural selection, and now that it’s come to the point where I have to decide what to do, I’ve chosen to depart from the syllabus I was handed at the beginning of class. That syllabus covered evolution, selection, population ecology, community ecology, and biomes. While I like all this, I’m not keen on covering the biome chapter. Most of the students this semester have not demonstrated any ability to memorize stuff, so if I hand them a test that depends entirely on rote memorization (“What are the basic characteristics of taiga and where is that biome found?”), I’m afraid that wouldn’t go well.
So I’m doing evolution, natural selection, speciation, behavioral ecology, and probably community ecology with a little population ecology added to it. There’s more to understand, but a lot less rote memorization, and all of these are topics I love, especially behavior. But did mean that I spent a good deal of time last week rapidly creating or modifying powerpoint presentations for these chapters.
That also means I had to think of lab activities. We’ve been watching videos from time to time, and if the other Bio teachers can pick out videos for lab activities, so can I, so I found a great video by Steve Brusette that goes with his new book The Rise and Reign of Mammals, which is a book I’ve barely started, but already think looks just outstanding. The video is about an hour long, perfect for this purpose, and we’re going to watch it tomorrow. I watched it last week so that I could create a worksheet of questions to go with it, and yes, that took more time, but thank God we are on topics that are not cellular respiration or whatever, so I can actually enjoy working on course materials. Come to think of it, I had better write a couple tests over all this too.
I’ve cut 38,000 words from Tasmakat in the last week.
I mean, back in August, I cut 30,000, so overall, I’ve now cut 68,000 words, which is not really like cutting an entire novel’s worth of words, but you know, it’s getting close. I’m not quite finished cutting either. I need to go through the last five chapters and then I will go back to the beginning and look at some of the slower chapters there, because I would like to cut another 30,000 words or so. (I know!)
How many actual scenes have I cut? Hardly any! Please don’t worry! Almost all this has been at the sentence level. BUT, we now do get from Avaras to the country of sand faster, and then once in the country of sand, I combined two oases. I mean, you know that the country of sand looks a lot like the Sahara, right? Maybe I’ve mentioned that the people there almost all live in oases, mostly very large oases strung like chains of lakes through the desert. These oases are, of course, made and maintained by magic. The Lakasha-erra, the jackal-headed people, don’t make oases. The Ro-Antalet are the ones who make them. Those are the giant lions with the heads of men; in other words, sphinxes. They are very neat. I really like the Ro-Antalet.
Anyway, Aras and Ryo visited one oasis, then a second oasis, then a third oasis where they finally learned various important things. I was still figuring out Lakasha architecture and clothing and society when I started this section, so there was unimportant stuff in the first oasis, stuff that wasn’t helpful in moving the story forward. I combined the first two oases. I don’t think this will make the story feel too rushed through that section. I think it will just smooth the story out.
For a while there, I was in danger of presenting a society that was too nice compared to Lau OR Ugaro society, but as soon as I realized that, I drove a stake into the heart of the niceness, so readers can’t all say, “Oh, ooh, I’d definitely pick being a Lakasha!” Nope; all three societies have definite minuses as well as pluses. One of the things I’ve also been doing, along with cutting, is smoothing out those details, so that elements of Lakasha society appear smoothly rather than out of nowhere.
Someday, when Tano probably travels through the starlit lands and we get a much, much better look at that country, I’ll have to do something similar there. The Tarashana, what little we’ve seen of them so far, look really nice. They probably are, but I will drop a serpent or two into that garden. While I would like every single society to improve over time, I do not want any of them to start off with too massive a moral advantage over the rest.
But back to Tasmakat. What’s next?
After finishing the basic cutting process, I will still need to go over my notes and fiddle with the manuscript just a bit. THEN I will send the thing to first readers. I’m now expecting to be ready for that in early December.
Rather than taking a break as such, I will immediately pick up a different manuscript and start to knock it into shape. OR, depending on what I feel like doing, I might pick up Tano’s story and write that, aiming for something short. Either way, I’ll have time to finish up at least one project while first readers are wading through the monster that is Tasmakat. I may well have time for TWO projects before I hear back from first readers! No rush! That’s why the release date is eight months away.