Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Gender Bias: Girls Who Code

It's summer camp week, and we have 300+ middle schoolers who have joined us for Dordt Discovery Days. It's an "academic camp"--designed to give kids a taste of college life, living in the dorms, eating in the dining hall, taking a couple of exploratory courses, playing all-campus games and activities, and meeting kids from across North America who have come to spend some time with us on campus. I'm co-directing, again, which I love, because it means I get to visit all the classes kids are taking, and talk with them about what they are doing and learning.

It's amazing, honestly. Every time I step into a classroom, I have kids shouting at me...

"Dave! Come see this cartoon character I created!"

"Dave! We're dissecting sharks! Come see what we found in the intestines!"

"Dave! Can you stay for a minute? Our a'cappella group is working on an arrangement of 'Africa,' and we want you to hear it!"

"Dave! Check out the pillow I made! I sewed it myself!"

"Dave! My group has been creating this awesome marble roller coaster--come try it!"

"Dave! We're playing improv games--come join in!"

"Dave! ..."

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Access Isn't Enough

I just read this piece from Education Week entitled "Data Dive: Devices and Software Flooding into Classrooms." I think that the subtitle on the article is telling: "More access hasn't meant better use."

It's a good piece on the current state of affairs in K-12 schools. Many of devices available for students and teachers. Fast (or at least acceptable) internet access. Lots of technology use, but much of it low-level. Teachers who don't feel adequately prepared for teaching with digital tools and resources.

It's interesting to me how many people seem think that having more access to educational technologies will automatically make things happen for teaching and learning. Both the research I've been doing for the past four years in the field of EdTech, as well as my own anecdotal experience as a PreK-8 Technology Coordinator convince me that this is simply not the case. Who cares if you have a stack of Chromebooks in your classroom? Who cares if you have a 50-gigabit ethernet connection to the internet? Whoopie-ding, you have a Google Drive account, and a SMARTBoard, and an iPad! So what? What difference does it make? You have access to the technologies...but how are they being put to use? (Are they being put to use?)

Access isn't enough.

Sure, access is a factor. Teachers and students obviously need access to these technologies if there is a hope that the technologies are going to somehow transform teaching and learning. But access isn't enough.

Teachers need training--or at least time and encouragement to explore, investigate, and imagine--if they are going to incorporate tech tools into their teaching. I believe this is also true of students; modeling technology use can go a long way for developing their technological knowledge and skills. I've said before that just because students know how to use cellphones and social media doesn't mean they know how to leverage these tools, or others, for learning. I believe the same thing is true for teachers. Tech support, ongoing professional development, and just-in-time trouble-shooting are all necessary as well!

So, yes, teachers and students need access to educational technologies, if we hope to use them to change the teaching practices, to adapt the learning environment, to shift the curriculum materials. But access isn't enough.

Public domain image from

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

On Liking and Learning

It's definitely summer-mode for me, and as I said to someone recently, this is the first time in five years that I'm neither taking courses, or teaching a course (or both) during the summer. Don't worry, I have plenty of other projects to work on, but I definitely appreciate the change of pace of being able to work a bit more on my own time-table.

For instance, yesterday morning, my colleagues in Education had an impromptu coffee time because one of our colleagues who had been out of the country for a few weeks was back, and we wanted to hear stories of her adventures abroad.

Through the course of our conversation, we wound up talking about different educational settings of which we have been part, as both students and instructors. We agreed that classroom atmosphere makes such a huge impact on students' learning, and even on their willingness to learn.

In response to this, I asked a question of my colleagues: "Do students have to like you to learn from you?"

They had a few initial responses to that wondering. We talked a bit about the difference of being liked and being respected. We talked a bit about the importance of caring relationships--that students have to know that their teachers care about them as people. But is caring the same thing as liking? (As in, can I care about my students even if I don't like them? Perhaps that's an entirely different conversation!)

We also talked about teachers that we liked very much but didn't learn much in their classes. So perhaps "learning" does not automatically result from "liking."

But I do wonder about this.

Can students learn effectively if they don't like their teachers? Is "liking" a prerequisite for "learning?" I'd love to hear what you think about this.

Public domain image from

Friday, May 19, 2017

Social Media: Curating Our Lives Away

Confession: I love social media. I am probably an addict. Strike that...since I'm confessing...I know I am addicted. Have a "spare" couple of minutes? My immediate reaction is almost always to pull out my phone: "Hmmm...what's up on Twitter today...?"

And I'm an adult.

How is this for tweens and teens and young adults today?

A friend shared this article with me this morning: Instagram Worst Social Media App for Young People's Mental Health. It's worth a read, whether you are a parent, or an educator, or a social media user yourself. I hope you'll reflect on it, and perhaps see yourself here...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cell Phones: Tools for Learning? Or Weapons of Mass Distraction?

The other day I received an email from a recent graduate of our Teacher Preparation Program. He was helping out in a school at home, since Commencement is long past for us, but classes are still going in K-12 schools. He saw this sign hanging up at a high school teacher's door:

With thanks to my (anonymous) (former) student for allowing me to post this...

Knowing that I am fascinated by educational technology, and the way we often use consumer technologies as educational technologies in schools, this prompted a question from him:
Hmmm...I use my phone to find a lot of information, more than my computer even. Maybe though in study hall high school kids "waste" too much time on it? Or should study hall be their choice of time once in high school? Your time, use it as you want without disrupting the class? 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Climate and Culture

One of my interests in the realm of education--as noted in the tagline above--is school culture. I think about culture in education quite a bit: the culture of my classroom, the various institutions I've served, and American education broadly. I am interested in how culture takes shape, and how individuals can contribute to the development of a culture.

And then, every once in a while, I see something that sort of knocks my socks off, and causes me to rethink what I have believed about the culture of education. I had a good example of one of those moments the other day, when I saw this tweet from my Twitterfriend, Justin Tarte (whom you should definitely be following, if you are a tweeting teacher!)

This challenged me--in a positive way--because I think I had previously been conflating climate and culture, and seeing it painted this way helped me differentiate between the two in an obvious way.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Doing Hard Things

This past weekend I had a new experience: I participated in a triathlon.

I say "participated," because I wasn't really in it to "compete." That would have been a whole different experience, I suspect. I was part of a trio; we had a swimmer, a runner, and I was the biker for our team. We said from the outset that we were in it for the experience; we were sure we weren't going to win, but as I said to my friends, "I feel like I'm winning because I'm doing this!" (Cheesy? Yes. Trite? Definitely. True? Well...yeah, I think so.)

Team 3 Amigos! Go! Fight! Participate!

Team 3 Amigos: that was us. We were not out to compete, really. We were participating. We were trying something out, and learning by participating. And I definitely participated--I put myself out there to try something new that challenged me, and I learned a couple of important things through my participation, by getting in there and doing a hard thing.