Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Thank You!: An End of the Year Boost

I'm a techie, for sure. I love all things digital. But you know what? You just can't beat a hand-written note. There is something about it that says, "I care so much, I'm going to take the time to get out a piece of paper and a pen and devote a few minutes to creating a tangible record of my thoughts about you."

I've been teaching for over 20 years now, and I have a whole file of cards and notes that I've received from parents, students, administrators, and colleagues over the years. These are precious! The work of teaching is demanding in ways that I'm not sure non-teachers fully comprehend. Tangible expressions of gratitude, even in small ways like a card or note, are treasures that give a boost.

In the past month or so, I've received several notes of thanks from students or schools that I've worked with this year.

Getting cards like these never gets old!
Theses are going into the file. These are treasures--tangible ways of recognizing that in some way, the work I did this year with these folks made a difference for them.

School is wrapping up for this academic year. If there is an educator that made a difference in your life, in your kid's life, in your community's life...I encourage you to take a few minutes and let them know. It might seem trivial to you, but this gesture will be appreciated!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Learning Styles (Again?)

I often get requests through the professional organizations of which I am a member to participate in research studies being conducted by colleagues and graduate students. I'm happy to do this, if the topic of the study is germane to my experience, education, or context. It's interesting to see what other people in my field (EdTech) are working on, the kinds of questions they are asking, and the connections they are making. It's also a good way to keep up with developments in the field.

Today I participated in a study about preparation for online teaching. I've been part of several studies in this area in the past; with the continuing growth of online education, there is a lot of ongoing research here. What caught my eye was this item on the survey:

A screen-grab from the survey I was taking...

I was not sure how to respond to this one. Here's why:

Monday, April 29, 2019

Flourishing and Encouragement

At the risk of sounding like I'm patting myself on the back, I'll share this story:

A student emailed me this meme, with a word of gratitude and encouragement for the way I've led class this semester...

I'm so grateful for this. I have a reputation for being passionate and energetic in the classroom, and I try to capitalize on these attributes. And usually, I think I do; I'm able to leverage these to create an atmosphere where learning can happen.

But it's not perfect, you know?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Teaching Controversy

It's that time of the semester in science methods...the time when we are wading back into talking about how to approach teaching (potentially) controversial topics for Christians who teach science. Talking about how to teach topics like the age of the Earth, Darwinian evolution, human sexuality, climate's an adventure, for sure.

I have included some version of this series of lessons as long as I've taught Elementary Science Methods, which goes back to 2006 now...this is my 20th time teaching the course! As I shared with my students in class today, it never gets "easier" for me to teach this content...but it does get "better." What I mean by that is, I recognize that there are a wide variety of viewpoints held by Christians on these topics, and it's always challenging to balance grace and truth. That part just doesn't get easier, and that was true when I was teaching middle school science, and it's definitely still true now that I'm teaching future teachers.

In our last class meeting, I advertised the topic of the day as teaching the age of the Earth, and we did talk about that. But, as I pointed out to my students, we actually spent more time talking about the Bible, than about scientific evidence. I wanted to name this specifically for my students, because I think that so often when (some) Christians ask the question, "So...just how old is the Earth?" the real question they are asking is, "Do you believe that the Bible is literally true, or not?" And I think that's an entirely reasonable question to ask, but it's not the same thing as thinking about the scientific evidence for the age of the Earth.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17
Apollo 17 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Making Connections: Thinking and Learning

This morning, when I was about to get into the shower, I was taking off my watch and I noticed that I'm starting to get get my typical biking-glove-tan-lines. That gave me a bit of joy, actually, because it means the weather has warmed up enough for me to be biking regularly again, and it's sunny enough that my arms are starting to brown (slightly) compared to my hands, which stay covered up by my palm-padded biking gloves.

Noticing this, reminded me of an Encyclopedia Brown story I read (probably around age 10? I was obsessed!) that revolved around the culprit being left-handed, and one of the clues was that a suspect had different colored hands--because he was a golfer, and only wore a glove on one hand.

The concept of only wearing one glove made me think of Michael Jackson, who used to famously wear only one glove, and I briefly wondered if his hands were different colors in the 1980s too.

And that idea of only wearing one glove in the 80s reminded me of a memory from when I was in the third grade, and a friend had gone to a Dodgers game on "batting glove night," and she gave me the glove she got--not because either of us were big baseball fans, but because we were friends, and she thought I would like it. She was right, I did. Because it was the 80s, and people could wear just one glove and be cool. (If we were pretending to be Michael Jackson, I guess.)

And that reminded me of an episode of 99% Invisible I just listened to on a bike ride this week that was all about the history of how the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and how the city displaced a Mexican-American community from the area that would become Dodger Stadium. Listening to this podcast has helped me to make all sorts of interesting and strange connections between so many aspects of contemporary life and good design (that's where the title comes from: if it's good design, it is "99% invisible"--you only notice it if the design is bad.)

I suddenly realized this weird cognitive loop, and it made me smile

And all of this happened in about 30 seconds, as I got into the shower, closed the curtain, and turned the water on.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Okay Facebook, It's Getting Creepy

Some of you may be familiar with Clifton StrengthsFinder? I like this tool--and the whole psychology behind it--quite a lot. (I've written about it here on the blog in the past too...check out this, and this, and this for a look into the past.)

My wife works in the Career Development Center here on our campus, and they use StrengthsFinder as one tool to support discerning students trying to figure out "What should I do with my life??" It's helpful for that sort of thing. And, like many couples, we sometimes wind up talking about work at home. And so it happened that last night, we had a conversation about Strengths, which isn't wildly out of the ordinary, but it also isn't something that we talk about all that often.

And I know I haven't looked up the StrengthsFinder website on my computer or phone anytime recently--probably for a couple of years, actually, until today when I searched it up as was writing this post.

But here's why I'm thinking about this right now. Earlier today I had this ad show up in my Facebook feed:

Hmmm...this feels a little (lot) bit creepy, Facebook.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Classroom Atmosphere: Music Matters

Any of you educators out there play music before class? This has become a norm for me since teaching in higher ed; I always put something on at the beginning of class. In my former life as a middle school teacher I used to play music in class from time to time, but this is different. This is just about creating a particular classroom atmosphere.

Sometimes it's music connected to the lesson for the day. In my World Regional Geography class, I often use to play music from the region we are considering. In my science methods class, I often put on Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants. Occasionally, I'll choose a particular song that connects strongly to the lesson for the day, such as when I play "Cool Kids" by Echosmith to introduce a lesson on social and emotional learning in my middle school curriculum and instruction course. Or it might be a commentary on the fact that many students submitted an assignment late at night by playing "Who Needs Sleep?" by Barenaked Ladies. (They don't always appreciate that sort of humor...)

Often, it's just music that I happen to enjoy, or something new that I encountered recently. My students are quick to learn that I have eclectic taste; one day might be pop/folk/hiphop from Judah and the Lion, the next class meeting is ambient rock from Explosions in the Sky or Balmorhea, and the next time they come to class it could be Rend Collective, or Paper Route, or Josh Garrels, or Modest Mussorgsky, or Jars of Clay's old stuff from the 90s, or Adam Young's scores project. Or it might just be my feel-good Spotify playlist that I call "Just for Fun" that has a weird combination of Blue Swede, DNCE, Bobby McFerrin, Sonny & Cher, Kelly Clarkson, Pharrell Williams, the BeeGees, Katy Perry, and more. (Can't miss with that one--something in there that will get your body moving a bit no matter your decade or genre preference.) It's a running joke for some students that I listen to music that they don't listen to...because I'm so hipster. (Note: sarcasm here.)

Image via Pixabay

Why do this?

I'd like to say it's about setting an atmosphere that is warm and welcoming, and I think this is the truth. I like the music, sure. But I think there is something nice about coming into a room that isn't awkwardly quiet with everyone looking at their phones. Students seem more likely to have conversations with each other when the music is just loud enough to provide a background level of noise so it doesn't seem like everyone is listening to them. It means I try to intentionally get to class early enough to put the music on while students are just coming in, and that also encourages me to take a few minutes to connect with the students individually as their classmates are coming in. And having a soundtrack for our beginning of class time loosens me up, and gives me freedom to share a bit about myself, my tastes, my interests...maybe it's a way to show that I'm a real person.

I'm sure some students think it's kind of weird. Some are probably ambivalent about it. But the fact that students regularly--positively--mention the music on end-of-term course feedback makes me think there is something here. It's just something I'm trying to do intentionally to create a classroom atmosphere that reflects my personality, and is inviting for the students as they come in.

What do you think? Crazy? Or is there something to this approach for setting an atmosphere?