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Preparing to Teach: Road Warrior Edition

Tools[This is a guest post by Joshua Roth, a physics and astronomy teacher at several Boston-area colleges and community-education centers.--@JBJ]

It’s August, and that means it’s time to knock out some lesson plans, to read a few chapters ahead in what may be a new textbook, and to think deep thoughts about engagement, assessment, and cellphone policies. For those of us who teach as contingent faculty – lacking offices, shuttling between campuses, scrambling to run off copies – it also means making sure that our Road Warrior kits are stocked and ready to go.

What’s a Road Warrior kit?

For me, it’s a medium-size plastic bin (or two) with a tight-fitting lid. In go (in no particular order):

  • a box of sharpened Number 2 pencils;
  • a pack of ballpoint pens;
  • whiteboard markers, erasers, and cleaner (I find baby wipes particularly effective);
  • a stapler (and extra staples);
  • a hole puncher;
  • enough rulers, protractors, and compasses (the arc-drawing kind) to go around, one per small group, in my typical two-dozen-student lab sections;
  • an Ethernet cable;
  • a VGA cable;
  • eighth-inch stereo audio extension cords (both male-female and male-male);
  • several SD cards and USB thumb drives;
  • several permanent markers;
  • Scotch tape and masking tape;
  • an extension cord;
  • a baggie full of rubber bands;
  • my netbook (a Dell Mini 9 running Ubuntu, for those who care about such things);
  • Post-Its of various sizes;
  • binder paper reinforcement rings;
  • index cards;
  • small flat-head and Phillips screwdrivers;
  • needlenose pliers with wire cutters;
  • a few spare AA batteries for remotes and whatnot;
  • a USB/mini-USB charger (or two) for e-readers, cellphones, etc.;
  • a battery-powered laptop/iPod speaker;
  • and a box of paper clips.

Yes, it’s heavy.

The point is, you can’t always count on being able to lay hands on essentials like whiteboard markers when you need them, and when you are looking for parking ten minutes before class starts you don’t have time to anyway. VGA cables, which allow you to project your laptop through the classroom A/V system, are quite often either missing or damaged (their pins are easily bent). Post-Its have too many uses to count. Index cards are great for off-the-cuff surveys or formative assessment. Ethernet cables are lifesavers on campuses where the wireless network is stretched to the breaking point (or where you haven’t yet been given the WEP key). For other faculty members’ take on what supplies to carry, see Billie’s post “What’s In Your Bag?”, or George’s “Academic/Geek Gear: A List of Mobile Essentials.”

Much of what’s listed is for my students’ benefit more than mine. After all, they always ask for staplers and hole punchers, while nothing scores points like an emergency pen supply (after all, students also have scrambled for parking, possibly after rushing kids home from daycare or sneaking out of work five minutes early in order to make it to class on time). It’s great to be able to lend out USB drives with any copyright-free or suitably licensed materials that you are assigning (some of my students lack reliable Internet access at home and live far from campus).

On a somewhat different front, I’m thinking about uploading my PowerPoint files and the like to the cloud in case of hard-drive failures. And the day may come when I use a portable wi-fi hotspot to ensure that campus-wide network hiccups don’t cramp my multimedia-heavy style (I don’t teach enough presently to justify the expense, but the day may come).

Putting a business card (next to free, from VistaPrint.com) or contact information in or on your Road Warrior box isn’t a bad idea. I’ve left mine in a classroom or hallway more than once, and those goodies aren’t cheap!

Road-warrior faculty: how do you prepare for life on the fly? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Photo “All the tools that I brought to Chris’” by Flickr user Nick Johnson / Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0

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