Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Geographic Literacy

I don't usually post a lot of political stuff on the blog. But today I'm going to get a little political, in the interest of promoting geographic literacy.

Today our President tweeted the following map:

Screenshot from Twitter.com

Boy oh boy, there is a lot of conversation on Twitter about this. And it's spilled over to other platforms as well--I saw at least two of my Facebook friends share a post that included an image of this tweet, and one of my favorite Instagram accounts, TerribleMaps shared it with a caption that I found pretty funny.

There has been a lot of commentary on Twitter about just what this map illustrates, both by supporters and detractors of the President. I find it interesting because this map is potentially misleading, particularly with the "Try to impeach this" text overlaid. This map is assumed to be an election results map from the 2016 Presidential election. (Though even that seems to be in dispute, if you do the slightest digging on Twitter.) The idea here being that the red on the map represents counties that voted for Trump, and the blue the counties that voted for Clinton.

The implication is that far more of the country voted for Trump than for Clinton. The further implication being that impeachment flies in the face of the voters' wishes. And, if one doesn't pause to think about what is actually being communicated in this map, that might be the quick take away. Cynically, I wonder if that is what Trump expects from his supporters: to not pause and think about what is actually being communicated in this map.

The problem with this map as a proxy for voters' wishes is, as someone said on Twitter (and I wish I could find the tweet now, but it's lost to me, unfortunately)...

dirt can't vote.

The point being, in an election results map, the number of counties in a particular color does not matter...the population of those counties matters. An awful lot of those counties in red have relatively small populations. And an awful lot of those counties in blue have relatively humongous populations. (Seriously...basically every large city in the U.S. is in one of the blue areas on the map.) "Dirt can't vote" means just because there is a large geographic area that happens to be "for" a particular candidate doesn't mean that there is a larger number of people there (or even an equivalent number of people there) who would support a particular candidate.

So what I'm really thinking about is how people don't often slow down enough and think about maps. As a geography teacher, of course I'm concerned about this. I would love it if people were more geographically literate in general.

Friday, September 27, 2019

How Are You Feeling?

I gave the first test of the semester in my World Regional Geography course this week. I've started marking them, but I'm not done yet. So far, so good, overall.

For many of the students taking the course, this is the first time they are taking a test with me. And there is a little bit of a learning curve there, I think. This is something we talk about quite a bit in the Education courses I teach: every teacher has his/her own preferences, quirks, and foibles that come out in a myriad of ways in our teaching practices. But one place this happens specifically is in the assessment vehicles we develop.

Students have agreed with me when I have asked them about this. Different instructors have different ways of putting tests together, for good or ill. And until you've taken a test with a particular instructor? You just can't be 100% of their assessment style.

I've said before that I take my work very seriously, though I try not to take myself too seriously as a teacher. Perhaps this is one way this shows up in my teaching practice in the assessments I write: I often ask my students how they are feeling at the beginning of a test. Here's what the top of the test paper looked like for this first exam of the semester in World Regional Geography:

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Mythical Multiple Intelligences?

I've been wrestling with the idea of multiple intelligences for some time now.

In a nutshell, the idea behind multiple intelligence theory (first proposed by Howard Gardner in the early 1990s) is that intelligence is not a unitary trait that you either have or do not have. Rather, there are multiple ways of being "smart"--multiple intelligences. Gardner originally suggested seven types of intelligence, and later expanded the list by adding an eighth:

  • Linguistic intelligence - "word smart"
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence - "math smart"
  • Visual-spatial intelligence - "design smart"
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence - "body smart"
  • Musical intelligence - "music smart"
  • Interpersonal intelligence - "people smart"
  • Intrapersonal intelligence - "self smart"
  • Naturalist intelligence - "nature smart"

These descriptors above are my own, not Gardner's. This theory is appealing to me for several reasons. It does seem that there are different ways to make sense of the world, and people do seem to have various strengths and relative weaknesses in these different ways of being "smart." Used car salesman? Definitely "people smart." Nuclear physicist? Probably has "math smart" in spades. Concert violinist? I'm thinking "music smart" is an apt description. Add to this fact, my students have always had preferences for the kinds of assignments I asked them to do. And further, I like to think of myself as a unique individual with my own areas of strength to celebrate, so it's probably no wonder that parents see their kids that way, and teachers too, and likely even the kids themselves!

Early in my teaching career, I put a lot of stock into giving my middle school students self-assessments related to these multiple intelligences, with the intent of helping them understand their own gifts and talents, and helping me as their teacher to understand more about how they see the world. But more recently, I've wondered about whether this was worthwhile. Did I really use enough different teaching methods to help my "body smart" students learn science? Was I tapping into the strengths of "self smart" students in the learning opportunities they had?

And now, thinking about those quick self-checking surveys I had my students complete...how well did they actually indicate students' actual intelligence? Were they "good enough?" Or did they misdiagnose students' intelligences? Or worse, does this just give one more label to use--or an opportunity for excuses, because "I'm just not that 'word smart,' but I am 'people smart,' so if you would just teach me that way..."???

And then, I come across things like this tweet from Dr. Daniel Willingham...

Friday, September 20, 2019

Grading and Feedback

Yesterday, I received an email from one of my amazing and thoughtful students. She is currently in a field experience placement where she is practicing the "real work" of teaching, including providing feedback to her students. The subject of her email was "Grading and Feedback," and I'm sharing it here with her permission (edited slightly for confidentiality):

Hello Dr. Mulder,  
I have been doing my field experience practicum in a sixth grade class and have been learning so much. One thing that I have been recently faced with is grading and giving feedback and you came to mind. I gave the students a summary exercise in which they had to write a summary paragraph. I am now reviewing these and am realizing my inexperience with grading REAL kids’ work! 
I don’t want to kill their joy for learning, but I also want to give the valuable feedback that will help them grow. How do you strike this balance (especially in middle school)? 
Thank you for your time in considering this.  

First off, how great is this? A pre-service teacher who is in transition to the work of a professional teacher, and she is beginning to realize the challenging nature of our work as educators. But rather than just foundering, she is soliciting input! I'm honored that she reached out to me--not that I have this all figured out, of course--but the key thing I'm thinking about here is the importance of mentorship and support for novice professional teachers.

Here is what I shared with her in response:

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Developing Your Teacher Voice

One of the things I love that I get to do in my role as a teacher educator is coaching student teachers. It's just such a pleasure to see students at the end of their studies in our program pulling together all of the things they have learned and putting into practice! That's not to say that they all have it all figured out. Most have growth areas--which is normal, when you are just starting out in a profession. Often I've given them specific coaching on particular aspects of their teaching: using their physical presence as part of their classroom management, strategies for making groups, tips for facilitating discussions, and the like.

Sometimes we have to work on their "teacher voice." My fellow educators probably know what I'm talking about here: there is a way of using your voice as a teacher that we don't use in many other settings. It's not just about being the loudest person in the room, it's more a quality of how we use our voice to command authority, to facilitate the discussion, to draw students in to the learning.

Some teachers seem to learn this very naturally, while others need to practice it, but most highly effective teachers have a very real sense of "voice" that they use as a key part of their teaching practice.

And today, I'm made acutely aware of this fact, because I've lost my voice. I have a cold, and with it, my larynx is failing me. I can whisper, but with some difficulty, and that only seems to make things worse, honestly. I'm struggling and straining, and it's making me realize just how much my voice is part of my teaching practice overall.

At the moment, I'm wondering how tomorrow's classes are going to go, and the meetings I have scheduled with students as well. It's difficult to communicate in the classroom when one of my most important tools is inaccessible! Can I plan other ways to communicate? Certainly. But will they be as effective? Well...maybe...but I feel like I'm going to be struggling to do my best teaching if I have to rely on body language, facial expression, writing on the board, and strained whispers to get the point across. Particularly because we're in the first days of the new school year, and I'm still doing so much relationship-building with students...and I am finding just how much I depend on my voice to do this work. This is requiring me to think creatively about what I can and should be doing to connect well with my students!

The real lesson for me is this: the teacher voice, once developed, is an effective means of keeping students "with you" in class. And now that I've come to rely on it so strongly, I'm really struggling without it!

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Beginning Again

Man, you guys...I just love to teach!

I mean, it's terrifying, you know? Stepping into the classroom at the beginning of the year, ready to meet new students, and sort of hoping that everything doesn't come crashing apart in the first 10 minutes, but then you meet the students and find out how great they really are, and find your groove, and launch in to the new school year...

I love this work so much.

It's the first day of the new semester, the new academic year. This is my 22nd year as a professional educator, and my 8th year teaching in higher edu. That's crazy to me! It went so fast.

Right before Intro to Ed this morning, I tweeted...

I remembered how to do this. It was a good first day of class.

I love beginnings. I love the rhythm of the school year. I love that we get to start fresh every year. I love the newness of it all: new students, new schedules, new takes on the things I've done before.

Here's to beginning again!

Image via Pixabay [used with permission]

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Overcoming Writer's Block

I have written so very little this summer, and that pains me in some ways.

Writing is so often cathartic, and a key part of my reflective practice as an educator.

I enjoy writing, most of the time.

But this summer has been...well, my life is rich and full.

And my rich, full life means I have not been able to prioritize some things that I really enjoy, including writing.

I have had some great adventures this summer, things that I've been mulling over how they might become blog posts: the story of getting stung by a stingray, the things I learned as a 40-something on a high ropes course, my typical post-Royal Family Kids Camp reflections, how my dog and I are both turning into curmudgeonly old grumps on our morning walks, how my faith-life continues to develop, my son and I enjoying a sushi lunch, new approaches I've been trying for live meetings in online courses, a hilarious Bob Ross themed gift from a dear colleague...I have a lot I'm thinking about writing.

But, somehow, I haven't been able to prioritize the writing.

Sure, it has something to do with the preparations for the new academic year, which starts next Tuesday for me.

And it definitely has something to do with a very busy (joyful!) summer of teaching.

And I'm sure part of it is is that I'm having a hard time with a writing project I have to do, and despite my generally-positive disposition, I haven't been able to make the turn yet into making this a "get too" instead of "have to" proposition.

But I'm wondering right now if the underlying thing is actually that I got out of the habit this summer, and I'm just struggling to get the writing wheels turning again?

All of this to say, I'm hopeful that this post will help me overcome my writer's block, and get back at it!

Image via pixabay