Thursday, December 14, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Ending Well

It's been an exciting challenge for me to teach this Geography course for the first time this semester. My students have been fantastic, honestly. As I was welcoming them into our last class meeting today, I was handing out candy canes to wish them a Merry Christmas--a small token of my gratitude for their willingness to play along with all of my "crazy ideas" throughout the semester.

(Funny: a colleague who has also taught many of the same students paused at the door, seeing me with the candy canes. She looked in at the group of students who were getting settled for class, and said something like, "Wow, this is an amazing group of students!" So it's not just my bias here, right? She has taught them too, and can vouch for the fantastic-ness of this crew.)

Last-day-of-class group selfie, of course! 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Blindspots

It is almost the end of the semester--I had my second to last class meeting for World Regional Geography today. I'm pleased, overall, at how the course has gone. Room for improvement next time around? Absolutely! But that doesn't mean this first time through was a bust.

We began the semester looking at different "tools" of geography. We spent some time looking at different types of maps. We learned about population dynamics, and the demographic transition model. We considered different economic systems, and different political systems, and what it means to be a "developed" country.

The middle part of the semester--the bulk of it, really--was spent considering different regions of the world. We began with a region that is "home" for most of my students: North America. And from there we globe-hopped through "Team West" (Western Europe, Australia & New Zealand, and Japan--strange, I know, but they are definitely "Team West") before heading to other regions to learn more about "the rest": Eastern Europe, Russia, Latin America, the Middle East and Northern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and all of the subregions of Asia. It was a busy semester!

And now, we are near the end. Today we spent our class time examining various "hot spots of conflict" around the globe. Some of these were obvious and well-known to my students, such as Israel vs. Palestine, and the U.S.'s involvement in Afghanistan, and North Korea vs. ...the world? Others were less well known, such as the ongoing unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the long-term distrust between India and Pakistan, or Russian influence in former Soviet republics like Georgia and Ukraine.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Arrival of the Underdog: An Advent Devotional

What follows is a devotional I wrote for the Royal Family Kids Camp of NW Iowa dinner and dessert auction. *

The Arrival of the Underdog

Christmas is coming. We are about to enter the season of the year we call Advent. The word “advent” comes from a Latin root, meaning “arrival.” So in this season we are awaiting the arrival—the advent—of Christ.

One of several Nativity scenes we have in our home...
During Advent, we hear the gospel stories about Jesus’ birth, often multiple times throughout the season, year after year. The story of the angel bringing the news to Mary that she would be giving birth to the Son of God. The story of the angels visiting the shepherds to tell them the good news of Jesus’ birth. The story of wise men, coming so far, seeking the newborn king. In Sunday School Christmas pageants, in candle-lit church services, in devotionals and picture books, we hear these stories again and again. And when I’m honest with myself, I know I’ve heard these stories so many times that they have lost a bit of their impact on me.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Stumbling Through

I've been blogging my way through this semester of preparing and teaching a course that is new to me. (If you've just joined us, you can see the whole series here.) Getting my hands around a content-driven course in our CORE program has been a fun challenge for me. Most of the courses I teach are pedagogy-oriented courses in our teacher preparation program, so this feels more like what I did when I was teaching in K-12. Teaching Education courses is sort of weird, because the content of the course is also what I'm doing, if that makes sense? So teaching World Regional Geography has been both challenging and joyful for me.

As I've been reflecting on my thinking, teaching, and learning this semester, I realize that I've mostly been sharing stories of successes from class. And it has been largely successful. I'm so grateful to my students for that! They have been willing to play along with each "crazy idea" I've lobbed their way. I keep soliciting their feedback throughout the course as well, and so I'm learning from what worked well from their perspective, and what missed the mark. Thankfully, most of it has worked well.

But...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Questions

I often tell the students in my Education courses, "Questions are good! We love questions!" This usually comes up in conversations about pedagogy (the how of teaching and learning) and especially related to the content knowledge (the what of teaching and learning) we need to have to be effective teachers. I try to emphasize to my teachers-in-training that questions are evidence of thinking, wondering, planning, wrestling, and--often--growth and development.

But I think the idea of students asking them questions scares them a little too. "Will I have enough knowledge to answer all of their questions?" is a common concern.

I always try to reassure them that as the teacher, you don't have to have all the answers. While you can't say, "I don't know..." every day and maintain credibility as a teacher...you can say, "Let's find out!" at any time, and invite the students in to the learning as they answer their own questions.

But all of this talk in theory came together for me in practice a few weeks ago in class. In my World Regional Geography class, we spent a few class meetings investigating Latin America (Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America) and the often-complicated relationship between the United States and these regions. As an introduction to one lesson, I pulled out an old technique I used often in my middle school teaching practice.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Testing Trials

I am a big believer in closely matching my assessment vehicles to what I want students to know, understand, and do. I think that they way we assess students matter, and I try to use a variety of different kinds of assessments to help me understand what my students understand. This means I use some very informal in-class assessments like quick-writes, Padlet boards to capture their questions, and even monitoring the conversations in small group discussions. But this also means I use a variety of formal, summative assessments that require students to synthesize their learning.

In other words, yes, I give tests.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Semper Reformanda

I've had people ask me sometimes where the inspiration for blogging comes from. Most of the time, it's something that recently happened, or that I recently read, or a recent conversation that sparks a post. Most of what I'm writing here on the ol' blog is just my way of thinking things through, honestly. But once in a while, I have a post that I've been ruminating on for a long, long time. This is one of those posts.

About a year and a half ago, I was in Iowa City at a conference, and my friends and I stopped in to a coffee shop to grab a cup. It was one of those wonderfully hipster places--definitely catering to the university crowd, you know? But I was surprised and struck by the artwork on the walls. In particular, there was a fantastic update to the classic portrait of Martin Luther that I'm sure you've seen before. But in this piece, Luther is decked out in fashion not that different from the barista who served my pour-over that evening. I pulled out my phone to snap a pic: