Thursday, November 24, 2016

Keep Your Eye on the Donut

It's Thanksgiving Day as I write this. I am thankful for many things.

At my church, we have a "Thanksgiving Eve" service each year. It's usually a fairly intimate affair, a time for our church body to gather and reflect on the goodness of our God, and collectively give thanks.

We are currently without a pastor, so last night one of our elders shared a Thanksgiving reflection. She began with an object lesson for the children (which, of course, is also an important lesson for us grown-ups as well.)

She took a donut out of a paper bag and held it up for all the kids to see (both the littler ones up on stage, and us bigger ones still in the seats.) I was hungry--hadn't had supper yet--and it looked delicious to me. Who wouldn't be thankful to be given a donut when they are hungry?

But there is something missing with a donut: there is a hole cut out of the center. Not that it matters, of course; that's part of the joy of the donut. We expect donuts to have a hole in the middle. Honestly, it's odd for a donut to not have a hole in it. Hardly seems like a donut then, right?

We don't focus on the hole when we are enjoying a donut.

And so, she taught the kids--and all the rest of us too--a rhyme about donuts:

As you travel through life, let this be your goal:
Keep your eye on the donut, and not on the hole.  

A simple lesson, perfect for the kids. (Perfect for the grown-ups too.)

How often, in light of good gifts in hand do we focus on what is "missing"--the hole in our donut? Are you thankful for what you do have? Or do you focus on what you don't have?

I think that from here on out, every time I see a donut, I'm going to be reminded to pause and give thanks.

Image by Giovanni Tancredi [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Being a Teacher

Tomorrow in my middle school curriculum and instruction class we're going to be talking about lesson plans. Which means...tonight I was working on my lesson plan for teaching future teachers about how to write lesson plans. (That feels like Inception, somehow.)

Teaching, as I often tell my students, is not for the faint of heart. Under the very best of circumstances, it is incredibly demanding. Just planning a lesson can be daunting, let alone teaching it. And don't get me started on assessing their learning. And then the demands of meeting the needs of individual students--can we really do this? Ensuring that all students will learn? And then there is the management of the classroom. How do we create a classroom atmosphere conducive to positive social interaction and meaningful engagement in learning? And how about fostering moral development in students? And communicating with parents? And keeping up with professional development expectations? And fulfilling other administrative tasks that are required?

As I was thinking about this, I created a quick web graphic to illustrate...


Being a teacher is like trying to do a yo-yo with your right hand while solving a Rubik's cube with your left hand while also balancing a broomstick on one foot, all at the same time. I might add that in the current school culture, it's like trying to do all of this while riding on the back of a 10-point buck in hunting season. 

So give those teachers in your life a little extra measure of grace. Yes, we chose to do this. And, for the most part, we love it--or we wouldn't keep doing it.

But being a teacher is anything but "easy."

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Teaching Freshmen

Sometimes I look at the freshmen I teach and think back to what I was like in the fall of 1994...with my mop of California-blonde hair, and wearing flannel everywhere I went, and listening to Dave Matthews, and Hootie & the Blowfish, and Blues Traveler...and I smile.

I smile because I thought I knew so much then, and didn't realize how much more I had to learn. ("Wise in my own eyes," as the writer of Proverbs so often cautions against...)

It's humbling to serve as a professor, because I think of how very much my professors had a hand in shaping how I think, and act, and LIVE today. I wonder sometimes if I'm doing enough in the service of helping them grow into the people God is calling them to become.

But these students? Wow. What a blessing to teach them. They ask such great questions, they (usually) throw themselves into the weird learning tasks I ask them to try, and most of them truly want to learn. And yet, strangely, I sometimes catch glimpses of the freshman I was coming out in them, the kid who thinks he is so wise, but has so much yet to learn. But I know that it's part of their growing and maturing process too, just as it was for me. In those moments, I feel like the work I'm doing is somehow holy, and nothing to be taken lightly. Makes me wonder if my professors maybe felt that way about working with me too.

Maybe I'm just feeling a little nostalgic today, and maybe I'm just feeling the burden of being a little behind on my marking, and maybe I'm just grateful for the opportunity I have to be teaching at my alma mater, helping freshmen discern if becoming a teacher is part of their calling, just as my professors did 20-some years ago, changing my life in the process.

I think I'm going to go put some Collective Soul and grade papers...

I must have listed to this album a hundred
times in my dorm room during freshman year.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Three Joyful Moments

This week is a busy one. Last week was too. (Lately, they all seem to be, honestly...) It's advising season as we prepare for registration for the spring semester, and this means extra meetings.

But amidst all the busyness, three joyful moments for me:

1. I had a hallway conversation with a fellow professor who was once one of my middle school students. (Yep...I'm getting old...that the kids I taught when they were young adolescents are now colleagues of mine? Yikes.) But the conversation was so fantastic: brief, but deeply reflective about the kind of learning environment we want our institution to be for faculty. I wonder sometimes how many colleges and universities think of themselves in that way: a place for professors to continue to learn, to develop, to hone their craft, to grow?

2. During a group advising session last night, one of my junior (3rd year) advisees and one of my freshman (1st year) advisees were talking across the table while waiting for me to come over and talk with them about their 4-year plans. Both are future middle school teachers. As I walked toward them, I overheard the junior said to the freshman something like, "I'm glad it's been a good experience for you so far in Education...but just wait! It gets better!" This made me feel so proud of our program, and the future we are privileged to have a hand in shaping. We start them off well...and they find it just gets better the further they go in their studies in Education.

3. My Elementary Science Methods course is a little odd this semester: I typically have about 20 students, but due to the foibles of scheduling, I only have 5 students taking the course this fall. This has been a wonderfully weird experience for me, and I find I run the course much more like a seminar than a lecture-based course. Today we went far off topic (we often get a little off topic...) because they were asking such great, deep questions about how to get students engaged in learning, and what we can do as teachers to help support them in this. The conversation was so rich that I totally lost track of time, and when I realized that we only had five minutes left, I exclaimed in dismay: I had only taught about a third of my intended lesson plan! But my students--these amazing scholars!--immediately suggested a solution: none of them have a class after our scheduled block on Friday, and they suggested that we plan to stay late on Friday afternoon, to not only participate in the hands-on activities planned for Friday's lab experience, but also to complete the lesson discussion from today.

I am blessed to be part of this place. I am honored to serve alongside these amazing faculty members and to work with students of this calibre.

I have my moments of stress, for sure. I have moments I am overwhelmed by the challenges of professing.

But these joyful moments were a great reminder for me of just how blessed I am to be here.

The Prairie at Dordt College, September 22, 2016. Image by Dave Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fear or Love?

Stop it with all the fear-mongering already.

Seriously.

Stop it.

Stop posting and reposting that fear-mongering schlock.

I'm about ready to put my Facebook account on hiatus, because of the ridiculous things people continue to post related to this current election. It's making me not like people who I know in real life, and I'm tired of it all.

So many of my Christian friends are posting about the horrible things that will happen if one major party candidate or the other is elected in November.

I get it. I too have preferences. I have my opinions too, and I believe all educated people should.

But the fear-mongering?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Wondering

I recently came across this quote; like so many, it is attributed to Albert Einstein.
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
 (And this one appears to be a legitimate Einstein quote, from an essay in Living Philosophies.)

This is so quotable, isn't it? I sort of want a poster that says this to hang on the wall of my office.

This has me thinking about my role as a Christian educator. How am I making space for my students to "experience the mysterious?" To wonder? To stand in awe?

Would making space for "wondering"--in every sense of the word--bring life to my classroom? What kind of learning atmosphere would result if I sought to include time to wonder in ever lesson I taught? Would students learn more? Would they be more engaged? Would they be more curious? Would they care more deeply about the content? Would they feel like it was a waste of their time? Would it begin to lose it's luster if we "wondered" all the time?

I wonder...



Saturday, October 8, 2016

Opinions: Evidence of Thinking

"Hey, Professor Mulder...is this an opinion question?"

A few semesters ago, I had a student taking a test raise her hand to call me over with this concern. She was in the midst of of the test, doing her best to answer carefully, and the thought must have struck her that there were multiple "correct" answers to the question I was asking.

Not every question I ask on a test is cut-and-dried. Some are. Some questions are convergent: there is clearly one correct answer. Convergent questions are usually best for assessing relatively low-level knowledge and understanding. Can the students recall the facts? Have they mastered the vocabulary? Do they have an understanding of the basic concepts? Convergent questions are good for these sort of course material. By asking a convergent question on an exam, I am verifying that my students have mastered a particular concept. And this is valuable in it's way; there are concepts that I want all of my students to learn, and a convergent question is a way of focusing in on their knowledge of a particular concept.

However, I don't think that convergent questions are always the best questions, even on a test. I want my students to provide evidence of thinking, not just rote memorization. How will they use the basic concepts they have learned? I've written before about Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive objectives. Bloom's taxonomy is one way of thinking about different levels of thinking. Here it is in a nutshell: