Fall 2018 (un)common reads

Please use the UF Schedule of Courses to find times, places, and other course information.

These courses are discussion oriented, one credit seminar courses centered on a book.

Books are listed in more than one category, but please peruse them all.

Full listing of all courses:

Course Class Number  Title Sect Instructor Syllabus
IDH2930 18379 When The Rivers Run Dry 2D09 Delfino, Joe When Rivers Run Dry 
IDH2930 18206  Systems Thinking Made Simple 2024  Court, Christa Systems Thinking
IDH2930 18373  Stranger in a Strange Land 22H2 Stewart, Gregory   
IDH2930 18323  The Secrets of Alchemy 217E Angerhofer, Alexander  Secrets of Alchemy Revised
IDH2930 18314  Deltas and Humans: A long relationship now threatened by global change  22BC Bianchi, Thomas S. Deltas and Humans 
IDH2930 18317  Calculus Gems: The nicest proofs in Calculus 22BF Bona, Miklos Calculus Gems 
IDH2930 18320  The Art of Pop Up: The Magical World of Three-Dimensional Books 22C9 Komanski, Carolynn The Art of Pop Up 
IDH2930 18374  Madagascar 22H3 Tennant, Michele  Madagascar 

When the Rivers Run Dry

Over 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth's water, leaving relatively little fresh and potentially potable water available for over 7 Billion people and the entire terrestrial plant and animal community. Yet, with all of the water on the planet, there are millions of people that have inadequate fresh water for their daily lives and improper or non-existent sanitation facilities to adequately treat their wastes. Added to the usual list of problems is the growing influence of global climate change on water resources and water availability. Climate change as well as various human activities have affected and continue to influence fresh water availability.

The author is a well-known British writer who travels the world looking for stories, and did just that for this book about rivers. Water is abundant in many places and scarce in many other locations. In Florida for example, water is considered so abundant that it is poorly regulated by officials who should know better and is often abused and wasted. Looking to the near future, today’s 20+ million Floridians will eventually have to deal with contentious water issues, be they diminished ground water levels in private wells that no longer produce sufficient water or perhaps municipal water supplies along the coasts that will have to routinely desalinate water for drinking purposes. So-called political “water wars” have been chronicled in Florida in past decades and it is likely that similar controversies will reappear. We already have increased concerns in North Florida about inadequate regulation of ground water pumping, especially for agriculture. The result is that springs and river runs along with private wells will eventually have insufficient water for both human and nature’s needs. 

Pearce’s book covers the global water map with many examples of water-related problems that have occurred and continue to occur. We will use the chapters in the book as beginning points to research what has happened in many of the case histories provided in the book since it was published. We will learn if situations have improved or deteriorated. The book will appeal to students in a wide variety of academic majors in the sciences, humanities, business, natural resources and agriculture, and in engineering and public health. In fact, anyone interested in

Water and its importance, locally, nationally and globally will find the readings and student-originated discussions quite enlightening. A trip to the UF Water Reclamation Plant [a.k.a. sewage treatment plant] may be scheduled depending on accessibility.

The Secrets of Alchemy

Dr. Lawrence Principe is an internationally renowned scholar on the history of alchemy and a well respected organic chemist. His book explores the development of alchemy over the last 1,700 years. It discusses the fundamental ideas that alchemists developed about nature, their world views, and what they actually did in their workshops.  Dr. Principe’s goals in writing this book are to try and answer such questions as: What is alchemy? Who were the alchemists, and what did they believe and do? What were their goals, and what did they accomplish? How did they envision their world and their work, and how were they seen by contemporaries? In reading this book we will follow his search for answers as well as raise our own questions. We will look at alchemy from a variety of vantage points, the most obvious ones being history and modern chemistry, but also include other fields of study such as art history, religion, literature, cultural world views, etc. In the end we hope to come to a better understanding and appreciation of the history and the practice of alchemy as well as the cultural settings in which it was practiced.

During the first half of the semester we will read and discuss the book in student-led discussions. The second half of the semester will be dedicated to students’ own research on an alchemy-related topic of their interest, and each student will have the opportunity to share their insights with the rest of the class with a ~20-minute presentation. As an optional part of the course we will recreate some alchemical experiments in a modern lab environment. Students will be able to optionally participate in five different alchemical experiments such as ‘making gold’ and synthesizing ancient colors. Despite the title no prior knowledge of chemistry is required to enjoy the course.


Deltas and Humans: A long relationship now threatened by global change

Humans have had a long relationship with the ebb and flow of tides on river deltas around the world. However, this relationship has at times been both nurturing and tumultuous for the development of early civilizations. But something else has been altered in the natural rhythm of these cycles. The massive expansion of human populations around the world in both the lower and upper drainage basins of these large rivers have changed the manner in which sediments and water are delivered to deltas. The fate of river deltas around the world is now less stable and more unpredictable. Because of the high density of human populations found in these regions, humans have developed elaborate hydrological engineering schemes in an attempt to “tame” these deltas. While some ventures have worked in the short-term, others have failed miserably. Moreover, with the current eustatic sea-level rise (SLR), coupled with delta subsidence (sinking of land) - due to natural and human-linked reasons, the fate of modern deltas is in even greater jeopardy. Consequently, the future of numerous modern megacities built on deltas is now also in question. The goal of this course is to provide information on the historical relationship between humans and deltas that will hopefully encourage immediate preparation for coastal management plans in response to the impending inundation of major cities, as a result of global change around the world

The Art of Pop Up: The Magical World of Three-Dimensional Books

“Discover the engaging world of three dimensional books as an art and science. Many of us enjoyed pop up books as children and are still fascinated by them as adults. Our literary work provides a refreshing perspective and exhibits the designs of pop-up creators all around the world with some of their most innovative designs and practical examples to construct them. Let us to embark on a journey which will showcase three-dimensional books, from its origins until present-day. This course will proved student hands on opportunities to learn the Art of Pop Up through literature, science, history and hands on experience. Students will finish the semester by creating their own Pop Up book. Artistic experience is not required, only creativity of the mind.”

Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger was written by Heinlein to challenge the mores of the time and to discuss issues such as religion, money, monogamy, and the fear of death.  Heinlein is quoted as saying “I was trying to shake the reader loose from some preconceptions and induce him to think for himself, along new and fresh lines. In consequence, each reader gets something different out of that book because he himself supplies the answers ... It is an invitation to think – not to believe.”

Student assignments:  read the book, and discuss each piece as it is read in the first 10 weeks.  Do a 15 minute presentation in the last 4 weeks of class on some theme in the book of interest to the student.

Expectations:  Participate in the discussions, do a presentation, consider how Stranger presents a different gestalt of life.

Calculus Gems: The nicest proofs in Calculus

We will cover some of the nicest proofs in the history of calculus. For instance, what is the sum of the reciprocals of perfect squares? How many primes are that are not larger than n? Why is pi irrational? 

Madagascar - The Eighth Continent: Life, Death and Discovery in a Lost World

Madagascar is best known in the west for its unique flora and fauna, with over 80% of its wildlife found nowhere else. But this engaging country is also home to 23 million people, comprising 18 distinct ethnic groups, unified by a common language and Malagasy identity. Madagascar - The Eighth Continent: Life, Death and Discovery in a Lost World introduces the reader to the unique fauna, flora, and cultures of Madagascar through the authors’ travels with researchers in herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians), paleoecology, archaeology and primatology. Not only do readers learn about the biodiversity and cultures of this fascinating “eighth continent”, but they also get a sense for the joy of scholarly exploration and discovery in the natural world, what it is like to be a field-based (rather than laboratory-based) researcher, and the rationale for and continued importance of such work. While describing these discoveries, the author interweaves stories of Malagasy history, the mystery of the peopling of the island, and culture (language, music, religion, the written and oratory arts) into the conversation, providing much fodder for discussion. Overall, this book is a celebration of the people, the wildlife, and the culture of Madagascar.

This (Un)Common Read course is perfect for students with an interest in/love for nature, exploration, discovery, and learning about distant lands and cultures. We will read the book Madagascar - The Eighth Continent in its entirety. Prior to some readings, the instructor (or students, if interested) will provide short introductions to the localities, wildlife, people, and customs described in the readings, augmented by photographs (unique species, environment, habitat loss, the local people and cultural activities) from recent trips to Madagascar. One of the unique strengths of the class will be the ability to share first hand experiences and impressions from time in country, providing valuable context to the readings.

 Although Madagascar is the focus of the course, this class will provide students with an overview of field research, and why it remains important in the modern world of science. Students will be able to view Madagascar as a model for research in areas such as conservation and sustainability, and the importance of culture and the buy-in of the local peoples. Students will be graded on class participation and a presentation on one auxiliary reading. Finally, students will complete a class project –academic paper or poster, or artistically creative work related to the course. The last class meeting (or two, depending on class size) will be used for students to present and discuss these final projects. This is an opportunity for students to get creative with class content and what they have learned. Madagascar: The Eighth Continent stands alone as a great read, but this course would also make an excellent primer for ZOO4956: Madagascar – Biodiversity & Conservation in a Developing Country, UF’s study abroad course in Madagascar.

Systems Thinking

The term ‘systems thinking’ has been used in many academic disciplines, from engineering to management, to describe a variety of approaches to problem solving that attempt to balance holistic and reductionist thinking by taking the whole system into account as well as its parts and examining the relationships and interactions between the parts. It is now widely accepted that systems thinking is the best approach to analyzing and ultimately solving many of the complex problems that we face in the real world such as climate change, global poverty, and the global shortage of potable and clean water. Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems, written by Derek Cabrera and Laura Cabrera of the Cabrera Research Lab at Cornell University, aims to bring the theory and practice of systems thinking out of academia by facilitating public understanding of the research, tools, and technologies related to systems thinking. They argue that, “[t]o save our planet, solve crises, understand complex systems and their wicked problems, we don’t just need better scientists who think more systemically, we need better citizens who think systemically” (Cabrera and Cabrera, 2015 [pg. 16]). Increasingly, federal funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the United States Department of Agriculture are requesting proposals that involve systems thinking approaches as well as interdisciplinary efforts to analyze complex issues such as the food, energy, water nexus and global health crises. The proposed UF Honors course will cover the book Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems in an effort to introduce the systems thinking approach and principles to students from a variety of disciplines so that they are better prepared to tackle the wicked problems associated with the complex adaptive system that we call life. The principles and methods introduced during this course will allow them to not only excel in their everyday lives and their academic discipline but will also provide a foundation for communicating across disciplines and analyzing problems as part of a transdisciplinary team.

Course Expectations

At the end of the course, students should be able to:

Make distinctions and recognize systems, relationships, and perspectives, i.e. understand the four rules of systems thinking
Visually represent the information within and structure of any system, regardless of complexity
Clearly and effectively communicate the principles and applications of systems thinking to a variety of audiences
Student Assignments

Weekly reading assignments of approximately 20-30 pages
Succinct written assignments designed to assess comprehension and application of weekly reading
Final project in which students will identify a problem of their choosing, describe current approaches to analyzing or resolving the problem, and outline how to improve this approach through systems thinking. This final project will involve a brief written report as well as a brief oral presentation.

Design Thinking

While innovation is a term that is often applied to the business sector or to technology, it is not often considered as part of our daily lives.  However, we see problems every day; from homelessness to problems with healthcare, we know our society needs more than just policies—it needs innovative approaches and problem-solving skills.  This course invites students to examine what it means to be innovative through the process of design thinking—a process that can help solve “wicked problems,” and many of those problems are often at the heart of our social fabric. 

During this (un)common read, students will learn how to approach social problems in a new way. They will then be invited to apply to become Design Thinking Fellows in the spring semester where they will help to run workshops. Finally, in order to apply their knowledge of design thinking to solve a social problem, students will be invited to attend a study abroad program.

Pilot Your Life

This course seeks to provide highly inquisitive students with basic knowledge and understanding of general aviation principles, and how they can be applied and utilized outside of aviation in ones' everyday lives. (And yes, actual pilots are teaching this course!) By the end of the semester, students will be familiar with the major areas critical to both navigating in the air as well as on the ground through an understanding of the unique and valuable mindsets of pilots.

The topics covered will include: navigation, communication, meteorology, preflight procedures, medical requirements, airplane maintenance, emergency scenarios,
 and accidents. While these topics may not seem germane to non-pilots, we believe you will be surprised at how overlapping aviation is in fostering successful lives and careers.

Grades will be based on weekly attendance, class participation, and one final project toward the end of the semester.

Insects and Plants

Insects and plants are intimately connected and have been so for 300 million years. During this time, the evolutionary arms-race between the two groups has produced examples of co-existence more fantastic than any science-fiction. During this course, we will use the textbook to stimulate more in-depth discussions of diverse topics linked to insect-plant interactions, including co-evolution, chemical ecology, predator-prey relationships, mimicry, natural selection, camouflage, host-mediated speciation and adaptive radiation. In addition to lectures and discussion sessions, students will have a chance to visit the collections of the Florida Museum of Natural History and of the Division of Plant Industry, in addition to the Natural Area Teaching Laboratory located behind the Florida Museum of Natural History, and the Chemical Ecology Laboratory of USDA. Students will gain an appreciation and understanding of the evolution of two of the most important groups of organisms on the planet, in addition to developing their ability to think critically about scientific research. This course is intended to stimulate interest in the natural world, in which insects and plants form the great majority of species, and there are no prerequisites beyond a fascination in the diversity of life.