Monday, December 20, 2010

Teaching 101

This isn't a post about how to teach, but rather a quick glance into preparations for my first class at Drexel.  I have never taught an introductory course to undergraduates before, so I am excited and anxious.  The course is an introduction to biomechanics, focusing on the mechanics of deformable solids, a.k.a. mechanics of materials. 

Even before preparing this course, I've been exposed to a number of ideas on teaching.  The new faculty orientation at Drexel, and another symposium two weeks later, were filled with new ideas about teaching.  I sometimes forget that it has been 10+ years since I was an undergraduate student, and many things have changed.  Here are some of the ideas I am bouncing around in my head for this course:
  • Lots of in-class quizzes: This is partly to encourage attendance, but it also provides feedback, both to me (about how well I am conveying the concepts in class) and to the students (about how well they are learning said concepts).  "Frequent low-stakes grading" is the education-speak term for it.
  • Lots of assignments: I want to keep the assignments short, and intersperse the traditional problem sets with short reading, research, and writing assignments.  This is an unorthodox approach for a mechanics of materials class.  Why am I doing it?  Because I want to engage the students and get them thinking about the applications of what they are doing.  I will also be grading relatively leniently -- the students will get minimum 75% credit for attempting the homework (what constitutes "attempting" is a bit subjective).  This is another example of frequent low-stakes grading.
  • Every example will be from biomedical engineering: This is the hardest part of the class.  All mechanics of materials textbooks use civil or mechanical engineering examples.  A few biomechanics textbooks have mechanics of materials content, but it is too conceptually simple, and even in those texts, some of the examples are abstracted far away from biomedical engineering.  One of the things I noticed when I was an undergraduate bioengineer was how poorly professors integrated biology into our engineering courses.  That is one thing I really, really want to succeed at.
  • Writing on the blackboard versus Powerpoint: I don't think Powerpoint is a good medium for this type of class, and I like the blackboard because it makes you pace yourself.  At the same time, students often complain (and rightfully so) about the inconsistency and illegibility of hand-written text.  This is something I am really thinking about.
I am sure I will continue to post about this class.  Since it is a new course, one of my own design, though covering a traditional topic area, I really want it to go well and enrich our students.  We shall see!

A Christmas Miracle

They're already calling it the "Miracle at the New Meadowlands" or the "New Miracle at the Meadowlands," but any way you slice it, yesterday's Eagles-Giants thriller was amazing.  It featured the most flawlessly executed onsides kick I have ever seen (the Saints' onsides kick to open the 2nd half in the Super Bowl was better because of the situation, but not in its execution) and the second-greatest Eagles play I've seen personally (not from highlights or NFL Films), in DeSean Jackson's walk-off 65-yard punt return.  Incredible.

Wait, you ask, what is the greatest Eagles play you've seen?  Eric Allen's 94-yard interception return against the Jets in 1993, hands down.  If anyone can find a video for this play, I'd love to watch it again. 

I am still smiling about this game :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010


That is what chef Marc Vetri's tasting menu at Vetri is called.  My friend and I went there on Saturday night, and what an experience it was.  To preface, Vetri is in the very top echelon of Philadelphia restaurants; I would hazard to guess that most critics, and people familiar with the Philly restaurant scene, would place it in the top five without a second thought.  I have been wanting to go for several years, and this dinner was a celebration of sorts -- I hadn't seen my friend in two years, and she and I both recently started our first real jobs this September.

The degustazione is a multi-course meal, prepared using seasonal ingredients, and in our case, complemented by a selection of wines paired with each individual dish.  Below is a picture of the menu; we were given a copy of the evening's menu, along with two huckleberry muffins for breakfast, which is pretty awesome if you ask me:

We did not have everything on the menu, just almost everything.  Again, nearly each dish (not course) was paired with a different wine (all from Italty).  Here is a quick rundown:
  • Prosecco as an aperitif
  • Three amuse-bouche: burrata wrapped in Kindai tuna; purple cauliflower dressed with olive oil; and brussel sprouts cooked with brown butter
  • Shrimp a la plancha on zolfini beans -- paired with a 2006 Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco (Alto Adige)
  • Persimmon and scallop crudo -- paired with a 2009 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner (Alto Adige), a Riesling/Trollinger hybrid
  • Sweet onion crepe -- paired with a 2008 Paitin Dolcetto d'Alba (Piedmont)
  • Smoked pork shank, barley, and cabbage soup -- paired with a 2008 Tenuta Luisa Cabernet Franc (Friuli)
  • Spinach gnocchi -- paired with a 2007 Bramosia Chianti Classico (Tuscany)
  • Farfalle with lentil veloute and kale -- paired with a 2006 Iuli Barbera del Monferrato Superiore (Piedmont)
  • Cardoon risotto with castelmagno cheese -- paired with a 2008 Germano Ettore Nebbiolo d'Alba (Piedmont)
  • Pork belly ravioli with apples and brown butter -- paired with a 2008 Farnese Pecorino (Abruzzo)
  • Venison (cooked sous vide) with pear crema -- paired with a 2004 Bussola "L'errante" (Veneto), a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend
  • Dover sole alla mugnaia ("miller's style") with spinach -- paired with a 2009 Niedrist Sauvignon Terlaner (Alto Adige)
  • A mango creme brulee as an intermezzo, pre-dessert!
  • Chocolate polenta souffle and butterscotch pudding with chocolate and streusel -- both paired with a 2009 Elio Perrone "Bigaro" frizzante rosato dessert wine (Piedmont)
So, if you include the amuse-bouche, we had 16 different dishes and 12 different wines over a three hour dining experience -- that borders on ridiculous (your borders for the ridiculous may vary).  My favorite dishes were the pork belly ravioli (ldo), pork shank soup, the spinach gnocchi, and the shrimp.  My favorite wines were the Germano Ettore Nebbiolo d'Alba and the Bussola "L'errante".  But I enjoyed every dish and every wine.   

Fantastic dining company, wonderful food and drink, a very knowledgeable, friendly, and sometimes quirky staff, all resulted in one of the best dining experiences I've had.  And now I feel ready to make a top-10 Philly restaurant list -- watch for that post soon!