Thursday, December 8, 2016

Ethnobotany course authentic assessment

This past week I to see a film that was placed in the Pacific to see the plants. Of course the film had Cocos nucifera, and some well done Artocarpus altilis. I was interested in the details. I saw a fern on the side of the mountain on Motonui and realized someone had done some fern work. Without a Blu-ray disk and screen capture software I cannot grab the screens I would want to grab. There is no doubt, however, that the attention to detail at the programming level bordered on the obsessive.

The enlargement is of the ground cover above the beach berm to the left of Moana in the above poster shot. While the ferns are probably generic, they bear a resemblance to Cyclosorus maemonensis. Not that C. maemonensis would grow in that location, but that such a small detail was intentionally modeled suggests the level attention paid to scene detailing in Moana.

Mitch with Clerodendrum inerme, ilau here on Pohnpei

Cyclosorus maemonensis is often used to scrub dishes and can be used as a wash cloth. On that island behind Moana in the age in which the movie was set - prior to modern foreign invasive plants arriving, every plant had a name and a usefulness. The island gave them what they needed because elders of fictitious Motonui could walk their island and know the use of every plant. Plants that healed injury, warded off disease, provided nutrition, supplied building and boat making materials, and would have been used in traditional ceremonies.

Dannia and Mary-Ann in the field

The ethnobotany class final examination remains structured in that same spirit. A walk across the campus identifying plants by local and Latin names along with a description of the use of the plant.


The students are given a Latin binomial name list of 70 plants found in and around the campus, thus they do not have to memorize 70 some Latin names. The logic behind the inclusion of the Latin names derives from phone calls and messages I have received over the years.

Scaevola taccada, remek on Pohnpei

Calls where a friend, relative, or former student is on another Pacific island and knows they need a particular plant, knows their own name for the plant, and has a local friend who knows the plants on that island by their local names. The communication gap is the absence of a mapping between the plant names of the islands. Latin names bridge that gap - many languages of the Pacific have flora that translate between Latin binomials and local names.

Selfie with Macaranga carolinensis leaf

The students also had to provide the local names for their plants. For students from islands on which a plant does not occur and thus has no name, those students simply note that the plant is not extant on their island. Plants like Scaevola taccada are found on both the high and atoll islands, others such as Ponapea ledermanniana are found only on Pohnpei and Kosrae and have a name only on Pohnpei.

April identifying Ixora casei, ketieu

The local names are a challenge for some of the students. While some students remain botanically knowledgeable, others are only familiar with the names of food plants.

Sasha with Ixora casei inflorescense

For the purposes of the class, the local use can be from anywhere in Micronesia. On Pohnpei Ixora casei, ketieu, is used to make dokia sticks for canoe dances, mark boundaries, and as a structural element for attaching the outrigger to the main hull where strength is a key consideration.

Artocarpus altilis behind the Mary-Ann and Siorine

This last field walk of the course is held during the final examination period and is the final examination, authentic assessment of ethnobotanical knowledge. The walk usually features rain, especially at this time of the year, but after a week of rainy days, the sun was out all day. What is usually a muddy, wet slog was a pleasant stroll on relatively dry terrain.

Yostrick and Mitchell by the Saccharum officinarum

Lienna and LynnJella in front of one of the tested plants: Cocos nucifera, nūū in Mortlockese

The class then returned to the front steps of the FSM-China Friendship Center to finish writing out their work.

Mary-Ann Solomon Henry

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Friends with Latin names seen on campus

Clerodendrum inerme (1)

Ocimum tenuiflorum also known as Ocimum sanctum (2)

Scaevola taccada (3)

Microsorum scolopendria (4)

(5: Morinda citrifolia)
(6: Asplenium nidus)

Nephrolepis spp.

Cyclosorus maemonensis formerly Thelypteris maemonensis

Colocasia esculenta (7)

Xanthosoma sagittifolium

Macaranga carolinensis (8)

Water loving member of Cyperaceae

Clay shelf layer

Ponapea ledermanniana (9)

Centella asiatica (10)

Piper methysticum (11)

Piper methysticum

Piper methysticum

Lycopodiella cernua (12)

Dicranopteris linearis

Cinnamomum carolinense (13)

New wood floor

Cyrtosperma merkusii (14)

Senna alata (15)

Myristica fragrans

Cymbopogon citratus


Coffea spp. (16)

Ixora casei (17)

Ixora casei

Spathoglottis plicata


Artocarpus altilis (18)

Cocos nucifera (19)

Saccharum officinarum (20)

Saccharum officinarum

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Affective domain assessment in physical science

SC 130 Physical Science at the college is an elective course usually taken by non-science majors as a general education requirement. The students in the course this term are primarily in the liberal arts program, pre-teacher preparation program, with a few students each from Micronesian Studies, Agriculture, and Computer Information Systems programs. The course has 27 students enrolled, 26 students completed an affective domain assessment survey. The assessment looked at attitudes towards both science and the textbook.

Student attitudes towards science

A set of three questions examined student attitudes towards science and the course before, during, and after the term. The three questions were asked post hoc, at the end of the term. The three questions asked were:

  • Before I took this class, my attitude towards science was.... Positive, I liked science | Neutral | Negative, I did not like science
  • During this semester... I enjoyed the physical science course | Neutral | I did not enjoy the physical science course
  • After taking this class my attitude towards science is.... Positive, I like science | Neutral | Negative, I do not like science

The shift in opinion in the answers can be seen in the following chart
Before the term 20% of the students had a negative attitude towards science. All of the students either enjoyed the course or felt neutral about the course during the term. At the end of the term a single student still had a dislike for science.

General education courses are intended to broaden the mind of the student. Their intent is to engender the development of the educated citizen. To create a thinking member of a community that can use their knowledge to make informed decisions in their life. Recently there has been a curious rejection of science and of facts in a variety of forms including those who are termed "climate change deniers", those who oppose vaccinations, and those who consider evolution to be a belief system contrary to a faith based explanation. And this is among individuals who have a formal education.

At some level science instructors must shoulder part of the blame. Science is all too often made unpleasant, difficult, and overly abstruse. Worse, science courses can all too easily degenerate into a collection of memorized factoids. Once a field is simply memorized factoids, then any other system of facts can be seen as equally valid. Science becomes one among many possible "belief" systems. Thus one sees phrases such as "I do not believe in climate change" as if this were a belief system to be subscribed to or not.

The physical science course is intended to be science as a process of investigation, an exploration, a journey. Not merely a collection of facts to be committed to memory. And the course is designed to be fun. The laboratory experiences are the core of the course, not an add on to the lectures. Each week focuses on a small area of physical science, avoiding the "1001 facts" in a six hundred page glossy textbook. The textbook is of my design and writing, and centers on a laboratory a week. Activities and demonstrations are guided by those that center on the laboratory for that week. The textbook does not contain many facts - facts are those learnings that arise from interacting with physical systems.

This makes for an unusual textbook, devoid of the broad swath of facts found in most physical science texts. The affective domain survey also looked at how students interact with the text.

Students responses to questions about the textbook

Seventy-three percent of the students purchased the text. The physical science text is also available on line, and some students opt to access the online text.

When asked if they read the text, 70% sometimes (62%) or always (8%) read the text. 23% rarely read the text and 7%, two students, responded that they had never read the text. Thus the textbook is being referred to by the majority of the students. Curiously enough, a larger percentage, 85%, said that the textbook was always or sometimes helpful.

When asked if they could understand the explanations in the textbook, 32% said they always understood. 55% sometimes understood the explanations, while 13% said they rarely understood the explanations. Thus the textbook is seen as helpful but could potentially benefit from better explanations. There may also be interactions, however, between those who rarely read the text and those who find the text less comprehensible.

Ninety-two percent of the students surveyed said they would recommend the text to future students. The text, being locally produced, costs significantly less than a "traditional"publishing house textbook. When asked if the textbook was too expensive, 64% said no. When then asked "Compared to other textbooks, was the textbook expensive?" the number responding no increased to 96%. Only one student thought the textbook was too expensive compared to other textbooks.

One potential unintended consequence of building knowledge from experienced activities is that existing collections of knowledge might not be seen as important to the course. When students were asked, "Did you study other physical science books (for example, those in the library)?", 58% responded "Never" and another 21% responded "Rarely."

Student responses to considering majoring in science

The course focuses on the mathematical models that govern simple physical science systems and on communicating the results of laboratory work via laboratory reports. The students engage in doing science, not learning about science. One hope is that students might become interested in pursuing a career in a field of science as a result of the course.

The data suggests an increase from 20% willing to consider majoring in science before taking the course to 46% after having taken the course. Again, both questions were asked post hoc. That said, the course may have encouraged students to see themselves as possible scientists.

In the student attitudes section of the survey 73% of the students responded that they had enjoyed the physical science course. That suggests that the intention of the course to make science fun was met. I would argue that this factor underlies the change in the number of students willing to consider majoring in science.

That the course is enjoyable, perhaps fun, does not mean the course is devoid of difficulty or has no content. The course demands a challenging amount of work by the students with a full lab report due each and every week. Technology, specifically Schoology, makes the work load manageable for the instructor. The course generates content which is still tested in a fairly traditional manner on quizzes and tests. Nor does the enjoyment come from the entertainment skills of the instructor. I have no skill in humor or entertainment. The enjoyment arises from engagement with authentic inquiry into physical science systems.

As noted by Blazar and Kraft in their recent research, teaching is a multidimensional endeavor and factors that impact student success, completion rates, perseverance, and ultimately graduation as thoughtful, educated citizens depends on many factors. Teaching is not just being a content matter expert in your field. To paraphrase Kraft, what you do as a teacher really does matter.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Cultural ceremony with Soulik, Soumas en Kousapw Nan Madap

The road up to Nan Madap is a road test of how well you know where your tires are. I would not want to take an unfamiliar car up that road.

In rainy conditions the shoulder might be soft, this is a one lack track.

A long one lane track up the mountain.

A rare spot where two vehicles can comfortably pass on a rainy day. In the distance ahead a steeper section of road.

Clearance can be tight.

Not apparent from the image is that there is a culvert under the road at the white car. One has to slide past the white car without dropping the left tires into the culvert. How well do you know your car? I can put my tires within a couple inches of where I want them to be.

The journey is worthy. At the end of the road yams are racked up for the upcoming kamadipw en kouspaw.

The nahs of Soulik, Soumas en kousapw Nan Madap. A place that is indeed of an edge, or more accurately a ledge, on the side of the mountain.

The yams are all hung by the side of the road with care - there is a feeling of Christmas in the air.

The yams are a harbinger of the ceremony to come this evening - tonight's session will be run as a Christmas kamadipw.

Sakau ready to be brought in.

Piper methysticum

Soulik, Soumas en kousapw Nan Madap

petitehl: uhpeimwahu

The students arrive at the nahs of the Soulik en Nan Madap

Naoya, Brandon, Natasha, and Yostrick


Sakau enters the nahs, the branches are cut.

Branches cut, the stump will be cleaned and eventually used to power a second stone.

The menindei holds the center post.  The students are seated in the place of honor. Soumas is in his place of honor. The menindei called the four tehn wehd leaves: koaloal adak, koaloal epwel, koaloal leng, pwei koar di, and each was laid in turn. Then the menindei called the four moahl: moahleina, 
moahlasang katau, moahleileng, moahleini. As each moahl was called, the holder of that moahl chimed the stone once. This is something I had never seen before in my twenty-four years on the island. I knew the moahl had names, I had never seen them called nor a team that knew which was which.

Wie sak whose excellent capabilities are audibly evident. One could sense the joy, the happiness in the air. A well led kousapw by a Soumas who is active in his support of his community, a strong sense of tradition and the value of tradition. A strong sense of community, of family.

This was also a celebration of the opening of the Christmas season. The students were treated to Christmas snacks.

Merry Christmas! Gifts from Soumas to each student.

Each student called the menindei by name. Each honored and respected - core values of traditional Pohnpeian culture.

Genrisa captures a picture, Natasha, April, and Mary-Ann on the right


April, Mary-Ann, Siorine

Genrisa, Natasha

After the class left, the uhpeimwahu peitehl was pounded.