Lee Gass Interview on CBC Radio

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This is a 20-minute interview with Sheryl MacKay, host of CBC-1 radio program North By Northwest, broadcast on Sunday morning, June 14.  The interview was recorded in the Petley Jones Gallery, where I am currently exhibiting, and covers a broad range of topics including individual sculptures, the materials from which I carve them, the process of sculpting, sculptures and sculpting in general, and the nature of art, science, and education.  I published an article on this interview, In Praise of Sheryl MacKay and the CBC, in my Vancouver Observer column on creativity.  It is a reflection on good interviewing practice and good conversations in general.

Engagement is visceral; the medium is conversation

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It is just a snippet, but it points to something I think is important.  Listen to Engagement is visceral; the medium is conversation.

This short clip is from the soundtrack of a 3-DVD video production, Teaching Large Classes: 115 Ideas from 18 3M Teaching Fellows’ voices (Aline Germain-Rutherford (ed.).  Centre of University Teaching.  University of Ottawa).  At conferences and in our offices across the country, we were asked to talk to the camera about the challenge of teaching large classes.  We spoke from our own varied perspectives, independently, about whatever we thought could be useful to other teachers who face that challenge.  The collected footage was edited later into categories and produced as a DVD set. 

This particular clip is something so fundamental to the idea of education that I can’t even think of learning without it: engagement.  Engagement is what happens when we immerse ourselves so fully in the present moment that magic happen.  With the magic, learning is so powerful, so deep, and so all-encompassing that it is better thought of as personal transformation as of “learning the material”, although material is learned best this way in my opinion.

Stories about Stories: A podcast

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Since winning national university teaching awards in 1999 and 2002, I have done an unusual amount of speaking about education. Usually I am invited to speak on a particular topic, such as teaching for creativity, interdisciplinary approaches to education, or achieving full engagement of students. Conferences often have a theme of some kind, and I am asked to address that. Institutions may be engaged in strategic initiatives and want to hear my thoughts about them. Most of the time, I know from the beginning more or less what I’m supposed to talk about, and can prepare without worrying too much about what to include.

For a national conference at Carleton University in February 2008, however, Tim Pychyl threw me for a loop in inviting me. He didn’t ask me to talk about anything in particular. He said the organizing committee didn’t care. Many of them had heard me tell stories in previous talks, and they wanted more. “Stories about what?”, I asked, and Tim said “Stories about whatever you want. Stories about learning. Stories about teaching. Stories about the evolution of institutions. Anything that will get the participants excited about education.” I asked “Stories about Stories?” And Tim said “Whatever you want.”

Preparing for Stories about Stories was hell because I had no structure to work from. Which stories should I tell, and in what order? If the idea was to weave together a story that was at the same time about stories and composed of them, it was anything but clear how to prepare for it. It was especially daunting because for me, the composition and delivery of a story has just as much to do with my relationship with listeners as with its content, and I hadn’t yet met the audience.

Stories are usually about something. Some of the best of them, however, for example allegorical stories or stories that trap listeners into thinking along particular lines, are not really about what they are about. They are about something else. What would my talk be about?

The bottom line is that by the time I got off the plane in Ottawa, I knew only what story I would tell first. But that’s pretty much it. I had several thousand stories at my disposal, but had no idea how best to structure the talk. Worse, this was still my predicament when I stepped up on the stage the next morning.

It is typical for me to spend the entire night before a performance like this petrified, and that was true in spades in Ottawa. I was sure I would make a fool of myself. I would embarrass Tim and the organizers, and waste the sponsor’s money. I would set the conference program back. I would freeze, and not be able to remember any stories at all, or tell a motley collection of stories that bore no clear relationship to each other, and that carried no clear meaning for listeners. My timing would be off. All of these catastrophic fantasies visited me repeatedly. It was a horrible night of anticipation, and a gathering of fear in my throat and in the pit of my stomach.

That’s pretty much all I have to say about preparing for the Carleton talk, because the proof is in the pudding. Give it a listen.

A decade of innovation in science education

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(MP3; 80 Mb)

In spring 2003 I was invited to give the Vancouver Institute lecture at UBC, and I chose as my topic the new undergraduate programs we had been developing in the Faculty of Science.  Here is the advertising blurb that was distributed prior to my talk:  

Professor Gass has helped to change the way thousands of UBC students learn. A nationally recognized 3M Teaching Fellow, he was instrumental in establishing three integrated and interactive UBC programs: Science One and the Coordinated and Integrated Sciences programs. These programs bring different disciplines together, exposing students to a broader understanding of various subjects. "For example, with assistance from a chemist, a physicist and a mathematician, a biologist can teach students about photosynthesis at a much deeper level," explains Gass. "When students embrace this kind of learning, it can be life changing."

What do hummngbirds feed their babies?

Here (MP3) is a link to a segment of the CBC Radio program Qurks and Quarks (September 29, 2001), in which I was asked what hummingbirds feed their young.

The meanest, nastiest territorial squabblers.

Here is a 3-minute video clip from a Knowledge Network "Leading Edge" television program on hummingbirds, broadcast in 2006.  The clip features an interview about hummingbirds in my Quadra Island garden and also shows me carving on Torso in Motion.  

The 2008 Volvo Environment Prize
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This video was produced to commemorate  the prestigious Volvo Environment Prize that Buzz Holling won in November 2008 for his work on the resilience of ecological, social, and economic systems.  In addition to exploring Holling's ideas through interviews with him and several others, it also includes a short segment of Holling and me with my Trajectory of Resilience sculpture and another of me describing Holling's "thinking with his bellybutton".