Sunday 30 October 2016

Getting real

I don't see my job in The Institute as imparting information; we are awash with information and we don't have to leave the sofa to get at it. When I was 16, I was studying history, economics&politics and maths for A levels to leave school. That Summer we were each given a research project and I spent several days in the County Library ploughing through the Encyclopaedia Britannica because that yard o'books was quite good on 19thC British politicians. It was a schlep because we lived rural and about 10 miles from the library but I enjoyed those days inside watching the dust dance in the sunbeams. Now, all our students have EncBrit and Google on their smart phones and I've often asked the students if nitrous oxide is N2O or NO2 because I can never remember. My role is more about conveying a passion for science and encouraging a scientific way of approaching data and the world and hopefully decompartmentalising their minds.  This is where mature students are such an asset, they don't know everything - that's why they are in college - but they do know some things really well; they bring something to the table. Their contributions are always interesting and always welcome.

We've almost finished the base-line section of Human Physiology dealing with cells and tissues before we move up a notch and start integrating the various systems - nervous, skeletal, cardiovascular, immune, endocrine - of the body. Last week I was going on about connective tissue and wanted to give them a real-life example. Without much hope, I pointed out that after you kill a rabbit, you have to separate the skin from the under-lying muscle [educational movie], and you can see the white damp fibrous material that, in life, holds the two tissues together. I say "without much hope" because, to the nearest whole number, nobody in a class of 30 is going to have done this. But one of the students helpfully pointed out that it was the same when you skin a chicken and we agreed that was a handy way of reducing the intake of cholesterol and saturated animal fat. It makes the chicken less tasty because so many of the good things in food are induced by crisping up the saturated animal fat in adipose tissue.

Moving on, I was describing how peristaltic [movie! chekkitout] muscular contractions were responsible for the movement of chyme [new word? look it up as my father used to say] along the intestine. I needed an example from 'the real world' and said something like "If none of you have skinned a rabbit I don't suppose anyone has milked a cow, but it's like that". "I've milked a cow" piped up one of the grown-ups "and you're right". New respect from the youngsters for this new revelation. There are only two blokes in the Pharmacy Technician class, one of whom has washed up on our shores from Somalia. This bloke now raised his hand and said "I've milked a camel, it's bigger but essentially the same" Gasps! I'm afraid I couldn't stop myself from blurting out "That's a very boy thing, Mohammed, always having to have a bigger one". Much hilarity, not least from Mohammed.

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