Putman's maternity leave came about midway through the semester I had with her, but her appearance in the audience of the lecture a few weeks later clearly shows her interest in the class.
She starts the lecture with an "alien of the day", and relates how this alien may or may not be biologically, chemically, and physically able to live in the universe in such conditions as on its planet. Examples included Superman and the alien from Avatar, etc. A kind of silly trigger for the beginning of class, it actually does provide some insight into requirements for life in the universe, which *is* the point of this class.
The material was fascinating; a combination of the three classic sciences point to possibilities for life in the universe. Sometimes it will make you feel very small, but it is this notion which, I think, makes this class all the more fascinating.
Putman uses a multiple-choice card to gauge the reception of basic concepts learned in class. She asks a question on the board, provides 4 possible answers, and the class holds up the letter of the response they think to be correct. This is a great way to get the participation of the students. Additionally, she would send out in-class assignments (usually worked on in groups or pairs) to answer a short list of questions. This would be counted as a participation grade.
Grading was fair; tests were on the material learned in class. Homeworks were occasionally more difficult than the material learned in class, but this was because they were more mathematical than the theories we learned during the lecture.