A View Inside a Coordinator's Thoughts
Diana, the editor of The Lark, asked me to write about some of the "innovations" I have been using in LLC Courses over the last two years. I will humbly admit that rather than innovations, I have gathered ideas from others in LLC and pushed those ideas out a bit in our Science related classes. Some of my concepts also evolved from self-interest, and even a minor disability, as in our New Yorker Fiction Podcast Classes.
Some of the first memorable classes I took at LLC were Short Story themed. The format was simple, the homework not too onerous, and the classroom discussions lively and interesting. Participants revealed themselves, sometimes in intimate ways, expressing their perspectives.
Due to vision related problems, I have tended towards Audiobooks and Podcasts. The New Yorker has published short fiction by noted authors for many years. In the last 20 years, they developed two related Podcasts. Though I do not find all of those stories memorable, I have found many exciting and have selected them for presentation by classmates who research the authors and lead the discussions. In the course schedule, I include links not only to the audio versions but also to the text versions. Finding readable text versions of stories that are 50-70 years old is an occasional challenge! Both the author and the "performance" of the audio version’s reader are critical to my selection.
In our Science related classes, starting with Astronomy last fall, I took some gambles and asked Ph.D's from MIT, Harvard and Brown to Zoom into our classes. Who would think that internationally renowned Astrophysicists that I admired would want to hang out with 20 oldsters for an hour? But they did and still do, as in this fall's Best Science & Nature Writing class that I co-coordinated with Merle Krueger. Perhaps this distance availability is one benefit of the pandemic.
High on that list: MacArthur Fellow and MIT Professor Sarah Seager. She's been a leader in Exoplanet research (planets that revolve around distant stars) searching for other potential life-sustaining worlds. When I first contacted her, she told me of her soon-to-be-published memoir, The Smallest Lights in the Universe, which deals more with her inner emotional life as a struggling female scientist and grieving widow with two young sons as it does with her astounding career. Highly recommended.
Last spring in Science Now with co-coordinator Kathleen O'Connell, Francesco Turco, PhD, offered the class a virtual tour of two research Fusion reactors. Dr. Turco, a young Italian-born physicist, now lives in San Diego and oversees the reactor there. Fusion offers the potential to save our planet: unlimited energy with low risk. However, containing the extremely high temperature of "A Star in a Bottle" has been the effort of 70 years of work, and we have not attained that yet.
Many other experts have taught us about Micro Chip manufacturing, Sea Ice and Ocean Rise, and pending NASA projects that will take us back to the moon. That in no way downplays the spectacular presentations given by fellow LLC classmates, who really did their homework and emerged with gems. In some cases, the visiting guests came into class to hear our students' presentations to get context. Q&A's with guests and students were exciting for all. The professors later sent me emails complimenting our students.
Other members in LLC have incorporated guests; most notable, Jane Adler in her Brown Bag (now webinar) series has exposed us to a wide variety of fascinating speakers. Kathy and Mike Webster in their Theatre classes brought in actors, directors and set designers. And I am sure there are others, unknown to me, who have preceded us. Podcasts are a rather new Media format, but other LLC coordinators have used film, opera and theatre as a basis for fascinating courses. So thanks to all those who preceded and mentored our current efforts.
Perhaps one idea I have introduced that I don't remember being used in previous classes is "Flash Memoirs" as a method of class introductions. Example: on the first day of Astronomy Class, folks were encouraged to write and then read to the class a short story about an event that inspired their interest in the night sky. Rather than the usual "Hi, I am Mickey, a retired Doc and been in LLC 5 years," this activity inspires a unique way to get to know fellow classmates.
- We heard from two sailors who shared identical experiences of being out on a Great Lake or the ocean with the Milky Way not only overhead, but surrounding them in the sea's reflection.
- One woman shared her experience as a four-year-old city kid on her first night out in the wilderness, aghast, saying, "Nobody ever told me about the stars.”
- In Science Now, asked to share a memorable science experience, a classmate told of an elementary school class trip to a NYC cosmetics company; the top floor was filled with live rabbits in cages used to test for side effects of the company’s products.
So many good tales, I wish they had been recorded.
BOOK TALK: MEMBER RECOMMENDATIONS
CASTE by Isabelle Wilkerson
The Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.
SMALL GREAT THINGS by Jodi Picoult
With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers.
“Small Great Things is the most important novel Jodi Picoult has ever written. . . . It will challenge her readers . . . [and] expand our cultural conversation about race and prejudice.”—The Washington Post
THE FOUR WINDS by Kristen Hannah
The Four Winds is a rich, sweeping novel that stunningly brings to life the Great Depression and the people who lived through it—the harsh realities that divided us as a nation and the enduring battle between the haves and the have-nots. A testament to hope, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit to survive adversity.
THIS LAND IS THEIR LAND: THE WAMPANOAG INDIANS, PLYMOUTH COLONY, AND THE TROUBLED HISTORY OF THANKSGIVING by David J. Silverman
A new look at the Plymouth colony's founding events, told for the first time with Wampanoag people at the heart of the story.