Being Chicken

Last Friday, I learned there was a secret club on campus. It grows in numbers regularly, and its members are doing something quite foreign to me.

Just because it is novel to me does not make their activities anything less than unquestionably awesome.

They have free range chickens.

This is not about free range chickens.

What is awesome is that there is a secret group of people on campus who collect lines of chickens from all over the world, who have a chicken of french ancestry and have their children speak to it in french. They also have a chicken of polish origins with a mohawk.

This group is observing chicken social behaviour, and I found it amazing to learn that chickens have a very complex social hierarchy and lifestyle. Chickens have their own language, and it can be understood.

When laying an egg, hens have a song, and they expect a rooster to sing a reply.  In a word, chickens are social. Call and response. Code and counter code. Fascinating!

For me, last week was a long week. The tenth week to me is often rough.

Learning that there was a group of secret crusaders about our campus, serving as some sort of faithful stewards to chickens of ancient lineage, and learning of chicken ways with as much attention to detail as any BBC Nature documentarians brought me a great deal of comfort.

Because it might seem like these employees are just working with chickens. Nothing could be further from the truth. They’re asking questions, watching and learning, creating conjectures, and arriving at conclusions after cautious experimentation.

It is a passion and thirst for learning that these folks are sharing with our students. It is the excitement of trying something new. It is bold, new, exciting, and was just the inspiration I needed. So I thought you ought to know too.  The next time you pass a colleague in the hallway, ask yourself if they have a secret. Ask yourself if there’s more about them than might meet the eye.

It is alright to have a long week. Perhaps you’ve had one too? All the same, this is a brand new week, and it is filled with endless possibilities.

Deb: Matt, why the chickens?

Me: I do not know. Some seem to believe that it is only great assessment that supports student engagement. But that it is not what I’ve found. I’ve found it is the small things, everyday acts of normal folk that nutures the spark of knowledge — frequent inquisitiveness and love of learning. Why chickens? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and they give me courage.

(with apologies to JRR Tolkein & Peter Jackson)



Matt Wiley is a tenured, associate professor of mathematics with awards in both mathematics education and honour student engagement. He earned an assortment of degrees in computer science, business, and pure mathematics from the University of California and Texas A&M systems. He is the director of quality enhancement at Victoria College, assisting in the development and implementation of a comprehensive assessment program to enhance institutional performance outcomes. A programmer, a published author, a mathematician, and a transformational leader, Matt has always melded his passion for writing with his joy of logical problem solving and data science. From the boardroom to the classroom, he enjoys finding dynamic ways to partner with interdisciplinary and diverse teams to make complex ideas and projects understandable and solvable.


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