Friday, December 5, 2008

Helping a Friend

While working a few weeks ago I found my manager's project for her college level Biology class. It was a bunch of leaves glued to sheets of paper. I recognized a few of them and said their names aloud. My manager suddenly turned to me, "You know what they are!?"

Apparently the project was to identify 50 plants native to New Jersey. This made up something like 25% to 30% of their final grade. Initially the teacher had taken the class out into the woods and pointed out the necessary leaves and small plants they'd need that would be the standard 50 plants to identify. As a rule they could add as many plants as they like and if correctly identified as native to NJ they'd be added to the 50 plants needed to achieve a 100 for the project. The trouble is NOTHING in their education upbringings had prepared them for this project. I don't even think anything in the Biology class itself was geared towards helping with this project. The only resource they had was the teacher himself who would at least tell them if they were correct or not.

To my manager's benefit she'd already ID'd maybe half of the plants but was having trouble with all the others. There I couldn't help her because most of them were trees and I'm not good with those just yet. I know a Birch tree has white bark but couldn't tell you what the leaves looked like. But thankfully she's able to add any number of native plants to her assignment and I happen to have a garden filled with native plants. So I basically showed up to work one day with a trash bag of yard waste. Granted they were all properly labled.

Now you might be wondering why doesn't everyone just go to the garden center and take clippings from all the plants there? Well that would only work if they'd gone to a native plant nursury. Most garden centers get their plants fromt he ornimental indusry which has been importing plants from eveyrwhere but our native forests since America was founded. Almost all of the plants in my garden I had to buy thorugh special order.

Back to my manager's project I was able to obtain for her 22 properly labled and identified species native to NJ. And I could have gotten her more if she'd told me this earlier in the year. Three weeks ago everything in the garden wasn't in the best shape, right now it's all down to a dormant state. I still have to do some yard work too.

So the end result, sofar, is she got an 86 and we're both thrilled about that. Most of the plants I handed in were corretly ID'd but a few I had to just lable as the genus. (e.g. Hyssop sp.). I don't know if he accepted all of these but it makes me feel good for some reason. It's not fair for a teacher to say 1/4 to 1/3 of your grade will be determined with something you've no experence with. At the same time it's not fair that stundents should be so unprepared, the use of species and genus names should have been included in classes all throughout their edgucation. It's as if some sort of propaganda campain of ignorance were trying to erease them form history. Imagen if no one was taught about World War II.

So maybe I shouldn't have helped my manager out but of course I had to ask how well did the rest of the class do. Well it turns out the majority of the class didn't do it. They got a zero! A small minority got 40's and one girl got a perfect 100. That one girl is the hope for all humanity in my mind. Now everyone has the option of rehand in their project to get a few more right. I have every faith in my manager getting a 100 herself. I imagen a great deal of the class will be betting that one girl who got a perfect score for help.

Why so many Fails though? Why did so many of her class mates, (in a BIOLOGY CLASS!) not bother to prove they know what a Genus and a Species are? I recall when I was in Biology class we at least learned what a species was. We learned how they're classafied too. What we never really learned though was taxonomy, we never really had any examples of keying out a species. I believe if more classes had emphases on doing this task students would have a better knowlage of this sort of thing. It would be great if every chapter either started or ended with a key to identifying somesort of organism. Wouldn't that be wonderful?