Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Most Effective Educational Technologies

A friend of mine is studying to become a teacher. (But she's not one of my students.) :-)

She reached out to me recently, asking a question for an assignment she's working on for class. She was to reach out to practicing educators to get their input on some issues related to student development, and teaching adolescents. Here's one question this assignment raised:


What technologies are most effective to facilitate learning in adolescents?


Great question there, I think! Probably I love this question because it gets at the intersection between several of my loves in the field of education: educational technologies, teaching adolescents, and effective teaching techniques.

After a little thought, here is how I responded:

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Flickering Flickr

In my field of Educational Technology, we sometimes talk about what actually makes a particular tech tool an "educational technology." Some tools are deliberately designed for teaching and learning; I'm thinking about educational software packages for example. Those of a certain age will remember games like "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" or "Number Munchers" or "Reader Rabbit"--all games ostensibly developed to help students learn particular educational content.

But what about a game like "SimCity" or "Civilization" or "Rollercoaster Tycoon?" These weren't really developed to be educational games...but as a games, they definitely have some capability for providing interesting learning opportunities for students. And so there is this tension about educational technologies: sometimes technologies developed for other purposes or contexts are co-opted into becoming educational technologies, because educators find interesting ways to use them for teaching and learning.

Because, if nothing else, great teachers are resourceful, and use the tools they have at their disposal...often in creative ways.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Paper Bridges and Teaching STEM

I'm teaching a new course this semester: Methods of Teaching STEM in K-12 Schools. This is not just a new course for me, but a new course for our program entirely, which brings some joys and challenges. I have 14 years of experience teaching in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) in K-12 schools, so I have ideas about what this looks like. But the truth is, we're thinking here about the intersections of these disciplines, which is what makes this course both fun and demanding.

I have four students taking the course, and they are all in, which makes it fun. The thing is, they all have different backgrounds and different majors in education (various STEM-field interests) and that makes it a little demanding. But the flipside of that is that we have already had some really rich discussions, as they are bringing the habits and heuristics of their different disciplines to our work. The main thing I'm realizing is that we are all going to be learning together and from each other this semester, including me. I sincerely hope this is a good way of modeling "always learning, never arriving"--which has become one of my mantras for the way I think about my work as an educator.

One thing we're trying this semester: a series of design challenges. This is often where the STEM disciplines will come together in natural ways, I think, and not just for the future teachers I'm serving this semester. In my experience teaching integrative units as a middle school science teacher, I regularly collaborated with my colleague who taught math, and we would come up with projects that would demand students to use science concepts and math reasoning, leveraging technology, as they would engineer a solution to the project we proposed to them. I'm tapping into this spirit for the design challenges we're going to play with this semester.

And so, our first challenge began: the paper bridges.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Beginning Again, with Trembling

I've shared before on this blog how much I love the rhythms of the academic year, with beginnings, middles, and ends. We are at the middle of the 2018-19 academic year right now...which means a new beginning as well. Today is the first day of the Spring semester here at Dordt--the last semester of "Dordt College" as we will become "Dordt University" as of May 13 of this year.

I love new beginnings. They also scare me a bit, as I confessed to my students in Introduction to Education this morning. I'm always anxious about meeting up with new students, but in a positive way--I think--if that makes any sense at all? The newness is so full of possibility, of promise. And I'm anxious that I might screw it up somehow, I guess.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A Few Thoughts on Intentionality

It's been over a month since my last post. I'd like to say that it was an intentional break, but that's not really true--at least not entirely.

I usually try to write at least one post a week, which keeps me actively writing. And, as one of my friends has repeatedly reminded me over the past year, writing is thinking...and a big part of my job as a professor is thinking. So in this sense, blogging is almost a professional responsibility for me, or at least thinking about my teaching, and what I'm reading, and how I'm connecting with my field is, and that's primarily what I try to do here on the blog.

But as the busyness of the end of the semester and the Christmas season swelled, I just didn't make time for writing. And then I was out of town over the holidays and I intentionally left my laptop at home, to have an intentional break from all things work-related. And now that I've been back in the office for the past week or so, I've been preparing syllabi for the new semester, and working on a new course that I'm teaching for the first time, and making plans for some additional courses for the EdTech track in our Master of Education program.

I feel like I'm making excuses for why I haven't been blogging. The reality is that I have not been intentional about creating space for it. I haven't felt inspired to write lately, and even though it gives me a lot of joy, it has felt too much like, well...work.

It's funny: while I was in grad school, I was blogging actively...and I was busy all the time between work and class and homework (and trying to keep up as a husband and father and church member) and yet I kept writing. I think partly it was because I was in the habit of reading and writing ALL THE TIME in grad school, and blogging was writing "just for me," which made it a joyful, life-giving thing. And honestly, I had to be intentional about it, because I had so many other things going on in my life, that if I wanted to keep writing on the blog, I had to carve out 20 minutes here or there to work on a post.

And so I'm thinking now about carving out some intentional time each week just for blogging. If I put it in my calendar, will I be more likely to stick to it? Probably.

I'm a little late for making New Year's resolutions, so we'll just call this an "intention" instead.

So here's my intention for this spring semester: I'm going to intentionally carve out space a couple of afternoons a week for reading and writing, and I'm going to intentionally work on at least one blog post each week.

That's my intention, anyway. We'll see how this goes.

Image from Pixabay. [Public Domain]

You know what? I discovered something I find funny and odd: there's an awful lot of photos of laptops and coffee mugs if you search for "blog" on Pixabay. Seriously...you should check it out for yourself.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Pausing to Worship

One of the things that I love about teaching at Dordt is that we deliberately pause, right in the middle of our week, to spend time together in worship.

Chapel is not mandatory. No one compels students to attend. And yet, most weeks 600-800 people (or more) gather at 11:00 a.m. to spend time together in song, in the Word, in reflection, in worship. No classes are scheduled for this time. All the offices on campus close. The Library closes. And so we gather.

Our institution is not a church, and we do not seek to replicate churchiness, really. Chapel is not intended to be a church service either. But, as members of the Church, Christ's Body here on earth, students, faculty, staff, and even friends from off campus come together to focus on the Author and Perfecter of our faith in a communal-yet-personal way.

It's Advent season as I write this, the season of the liturgical year when we consider the lead up to Christ's first coming, and experience the longing for Christ's second coming. It's an appropriate time for reflection on just who Jesus is. Today's chapel time was an excellent example of this, and perhaps best exemplified through one of the songs that was part of the worship time today: "Is He Worthy?" by Andrew Peterson. The worship team was joined by members of the chamber orchestra and the choir to lead us into God's presence today as they played and sang this song.

If you're unfamiliar with the song, or with Peterson's music in general, I urge you to take five minutes to listen to it, to reflect, and--I hope--to worship.


True confessions: this is one of my favorite songs anyway (the whole album Resurrection Songs is fantastic, in my humble opinion) but hearing it played and sung live today got me all choked up, and literally brought tears to my eyes. And I've continued humming it throughout the rest of my day ever since chapel.

And that's the gift that chapel at Dordt is to me: the opportunity to pause to worship, to refocus, to get re-centered in the midst of the busyness of a work week, and to carry that on throughout my day. Pausing to worship shapes the rest of my work as well.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Thoughts on Seriousness


I had the opportunity to see Rend Collective in concert last night. I love this group! After the show my daughter said something like, "It's like we went to a concert and it turned into church, but in the best way." She's right about that--these folks are out to worship, and invite those gathered for the show to shift from "watchers" into "participants." You can't hardly help yourself when you see their infectious joy and celebration!


I don't know what my favorite part of the evening was. We talked about it on our drive home. Here are a few things I love about this group: