Monday, July 16, 2018

What's Your Brand?

Let's do a little free-association.

What pops to mind when you hear the word "brand?"

Are you picturing a cowboy, marking a cow as belonging to a certain ranch?

Or maybe you have in mind the logo for a specific company?

Or perhaps you're thinking of a celebrity who endorses a particular product?

Or...maybe you are picturing a person, and the way s/he portrays her/himself on social media?

I've been thinking about that last definition for "brand" lately. I recently have seen quite a few people on Twitter responding to this tweet, sharing their own stories of foolishness...

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Teaching Science: Argument and Evidence

This tweet showed up in my Twitterfeed today...

I love this so much, and it sums up so much of the philosophy for teaching science that I tried to embody as a middle school science teacher, and now as I teach future science teachers as well.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Patriotism and Privilege

This past spring, I attended a conference in Washington DC.  It was my first time visiting, so I made arrangements to be able to spend half a day exploring the city and the landmarks. Public transit in DC is great with the Metro system, and even though I was staying in Alexandria for my conference, it was just a quick trip via train to the Mall.

As I was leaving my hotel, I texted my wife...

I'm going on an adventure!
Who it excited for an adventure in the City? 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Social Glue: Celebrating TodaysMeet

Today I deleted a bookmark from my browser that has been there since the fall of 2013. It looked like this:

This was a shortcut to a (semi-)private chatroom hosted by, which I used regularly from 2013 up to the present. But TodaysMeet is no more. If you head to the site, you'll find this message:

TodaysMeet was a communication tool that allowed users to create private (or semi-private) chatrooms that anyone could join if they knew the URL. There are lots of ways such a tool could be used, and many educators used it to get students sharing their best thinking. I used it myself in both online and face-to-face courses from time to time.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Calling Final Exams into Question

Oh. Snap.

A tweet from one of the people I've been following on Twitter since almost the beginning, Dan Meyer:

Calling the grand tradition of final exams into question seems...almost heretical.

But does he have a point?

I guess I'm now thinking about what the real point of final exams might actually be. Are they intended to provide new insights into student learning? Or are they a way to help students summarize and synthesize everything they had the opportunity to learn over the term? Or...maybe...they are a mechanism for compliance, a way to keep the kids (fearfully, stressfully) "engaged" (not sure that this is the right word for it...) until the end?

Is there value in in continuing the practice of final examinations?

Or is this an outdated vestige of educational practice from days of yore?

What do you think?

Image by Shannan Muskopf [CC BY-NC 2.0]

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Enthusiasm: Teaching with My Strengths

It has recently come to my attention that my reputation precedes me: students talk about their instructors, and I am known for being an active (perhaps hyperactive) presence in the classroom. Those of you who know me well will probably not be surprised to hear this. I talk with my whole body, and it's only worse when I'm properly caffeinated.

Knowing this, I try to use it to my advantage: I know that when my own teachers were excited about the content, it piqued my interest in a different way--particularly if it was a topic that seemed like it could otherwise be dry or uninteresting.

Since my natural tendency is towards the energetic and enthusiastic, I leverage this in the classroom. Never fear a little change in vocal dynamics, gesturing, animated facial expressions, clear interest in students' contributions, and genuine enthusiasm towards the content of the lesson...that might be just what "gets" them, or at least hooks them in to following you down the path you've planned for your lesson.

And so, it is probably not surprising that students in pedagogy-oriented classes (like the ones I tend to teach) take note of this, and even comment on it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Breaking Out at the End of the Semester

I had to check my math because I could hardly believe it myself, but this spring was the NINETEENTH TIME I've taught science methods! This course is officially titled "Teaching Science Pre-K through Middle School"--which is pretty audacious--and it is, as they say, in my wheelhouse. I started adjuncting this course in 2007, and have basically taught it 3 semesters out of four since that time. That's a crazy thought!

I've found that when you teach a course that many times, there are three dangers to watch for, and keep in mind:
  1. It's easy to assume that students know what you are talking about, because YOU (as the instructor) definitely know what you are talking about.
  2. It's easy to accidentally tell the same stories over and over...or to think you've already told a story, because it can be hard to keep track.
  3. It's easy to feel like you've got this one in your back pocket, since you've practiced it so much.
I'm continually working against these. It happened a few semesters ago in this course...I was a little too complacent, and because I had other, newer courses I was giving more focus, time, and attention, I fell into all three of these dangers all at the same time. Since then, I've tried to prioritize keeping science methods fresh, because--obviously--while it might be old hat to me, it is new for this group of students.

But one of the fun things about having a course that you feel very confident in teaching is that keeping it fresh means you can continuously tinker and experiment with things that you've never done before. Through out this semester, I tinkered with several lessons, trying new activities or different approaches to my lecturing/storytelling. I reworked parts of several lessons dedicated to teaching controversial topics in science, and invited colleagues to sit in--that keeps you on your toes! And, I decided I really wanted to try something completely new (for me) for a summative lesson at the end of the semester.