Monday, December 31, 2012

Rethinking Math Class

Just came across this one via Twitter. (Thanks, @grantwiggins!) I had to watch it twice. You might too.

Whoa, right? Makes me wonder what else we should rethink from math class? As a former middle school math teacher, I'm a little shaken up. (Though I hope I would be a much better math teacher today--I sometimes feel bad for the kids I taught way back when...)

Philosophy of Education

It was near the end of the semester. Students were busy--and ready for Christmas break. And in Intro to Education, we broke out the heavy stuff: Philosophy of Education. I think it's fair to say that they were not very excited about this topic when they saw it on the syllabus. But also I'm happy to say that their interest increased pretty quickly as we got started.

To begin, I asked them list as many "-ism"s as they could think of. There were a lot:

- Pragmatism
- Constructivism
- Feminism
- Environmentalism
- Modernism
- Postmodernism
- Calvinism
- Catholicism
- Secularism
- Futurism
- Relativism
- Capitalism
- Communism
- Socialism
- Marxism
- Darwinism
- Existentialism
- Realism
- Transcendentalism
- Rationalism
- Polytheism
- Monotheism
- Theism
- Atheism
- Deism
- Dualism
- Stoicism
- Buddhism
- Hinduism
- Humanism
- Terrorism
- Cannibalism (Wait...what?)
- Elitism
- Feudalism
- Paganism
- Intellectualism
- Anti-intellectualism
- Essentialism
- Perennialism
- Reconstructionism
- Progressivism

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Playing with Philosophy

The past few Saturday mornings I've been following an education Twitterchat as I have a cup of coffee.  If you're an educator and on Twitter, I'd really recommend you follow along. The hashtag is #rechat, and we're talking about "rethinking educational practices." (Kudos to John T. Spencer for starting this one.)

Anyway, this week the topic was the importance of "play" in education. The conversation was fairly wide-ranging. I had several things to share...and I sort of surprised my self with how philosophical I was about things. (To be fair, I had been working on a post about philosophy of education the day before. But still...) We got talking about how important it is for students to play--and not just elementary school recess, but all the way on up, and in class as well as out of class. Really thoughtful stuff people were sharing.

Photo gratuitously pilfered from
I have this picture hanging on my office door. I love this quote. Mr. Rogers is--as always--right. Play is serious learning. Play is the work of childhood. 

I think the opposite should also be true: serious learning should always have an element of playfulness present as well. Playfulness is not the opposite of serious work. Play can be a useful element in the midst of hard work. My "create an album" assignment might be a good example--full of playfulness, but also a valid way for students to clarify their own understanding, as well as allow me to assess their thinking at the moment.

(Here's the really philosophical bit:) 
As we chatted, I shared some of my own thinking about how different philosophies of education will probably think about the value of play. Essentialism sees the primary reason for education to ground students in "the essentials," so essentialist teachers will likely have a less playful teaching practice. Constructivism sees education more about students developing their own understandings, so constructivist teachers would likely embrace a lot more play in their teaching: students playing with ideas, playing with materials, etc. 

As I'm reflecting on my own teaching experience--and recognizing the role constructivist thinking has in my own classroom practice--maybe it's not surprising that I'm apt to tell stories, assign my students to build weird contraptions, encourage them to share their thinking, experiment with alternative strategies, around myself. I believe each teacher's personal philosophy of education shapes his or her classroom practice.

The chat was stimulating. I'm still thinking about it more than 24-hours later. I was challenged to think about (and rethink--ha!) the role of play in my own teaching practice. Fellow teachers, what do you think? How do you incorporate "play" into your classroom? What sorts of playful assignments do you give? And if you can't think of playful ways to engage your students, why is that?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Apps for Education in Higher Ed: 1:1 Goes to College

I'm thinking a lot lately about a 1:1 environment in higher ed. I'm going to be teaching in a high tech classroom this spring, and I'm working on rethinking my pedagogy accordingly. I'm debating about whether I should expect my students to come to class with a device every time we meet. At this point, I don't think I'll require it (it won't say so in the syllabus, anyway), but I'm curious to see how many will start to bring a laptop or tablet along anyway on a regular basis.

Photo courtesy Sean MacEntee (CC BY 2.0)
At any rate, I think the day is coming--and probably soon--when a tablet will be as commonplace in higher ed classrooms as they are becoming in elementary classrooms. MacFan that I am, I'm thinking especially about iPads right now. I'm wondering about the mindshift that will have to happen for professors to embrace tablets as a pedagogical tool? Because I'm convinced that tech tools should be able to transform teaching, and not just replace old assignments with newer, shinier versions of the old.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"That Was Easy!"

"Teaching is not for the faint of heart."

I think I said this at least half a dozen times this past semester to my freshmen in EDUC 101. We spent significant time looking at the challenges of teaching: the requirements for licensure, our culture's view of the teaching profession, the curricular demands, the challenges presented by working with a diverse student population, the difficulties of consistently applying a faith-informed philosophy of education. Teaching is not for the faint of heart.

On their final exam for Intro to Education, I asked the following question: "Are you still planning on being a teacher? Why or why not?" (To be fair I should note that this was really just for the interest of our department, and they couldn't get it wrong, per se.) Very interesting to read their responses to this. Most indicated that in spite of the challenges and potential downsides, they still feel called to teach. Others were less optimistic, but still sticking with a major in Education...for now. Several who came to the conclusion throughout the semester that teaching might not be for them even quoted my line above.

Teaching is hard work. Teaching isn't for everyone.

I've been in this profession for almost 15 years. I can admit it: there was a time when I thought teaching wasn't for me either.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Game to Make You Think

In case you are running stuck with things for your middle schooler (or high schooler, or yourself...) to do over Christmas Break, let me encourage you to play a computer game. But this game is serious. It's a serious game--one intended not only to entertain, but also to educate.

The name of the game is Third World Farmer. The goal: survive as long as possible.

On the Importance of Taking Breaks

Ah...Christmas Break! I still have a couple things to wrap up for the fall semester, but I'm looking forward to a week of downtime before I start planning for the spring.

My students furiously finished things up in a hectic week of projects and papers and exams. They are now safely home for a few weeks too. My own kids are enjoying a week and a half away from school right now too.

Teachers need breaks. Students need breaks.

I think breaks can actually help learning happen. In a school culture that is increasingly focused on time-on-task and other measurable inputs for education this might sound outrageous. But breaks are important, and provide times for new learning to "stick."

Breaks within the school day are very important for learning to happen. That's what recess is for, in part. (Of course, teachers will also say it's good for letting kids burn off some extra energy, which might be true, especially if they are keeping their kids chained to their desks "on task" the rest of the time. That's probably another whole post in the making...sorry to digress.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tips for Better Searching with Google

Who doesn't use Google when conducting research these days? (Yeah, I know...there are a few die-hard Bing-ers out there yet...but humor me here...)

I just repinned this from my friend Dawn on Pinterest, but I thought so highly of it I'm sharing it here too. I'm especially thinking of elementary and middle school teachers who need to teach their students how to conduct research. (Okay, and high school teachers, and probably even college professors. Let's just call a spade a spade and admit that many of our students at most grade levels are just not very good at conducting research.)

Dawn shared this great infographic from How-To Geek. It's worth bookmarking, or pinning, or Diigoing, or whatever tool you use to keep track of great resources.

Here's to improving research skills!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Penguin Sex, and Faith amidst Doubt

I went through a really rough patch in my faith-life a few years ago. We were having all sorts of trouble and in-fighting in our church at the time, and it all weighed on me greatly. I was struggling to see God's plan--absolutely bewildered and frustrated and feeling like nothing was going the way it should have been. I felt a little lost, to be honest. Not far from God, exactly, but unsure of whether He cared what was happening.

As much a crisis of faith as I've ever gone through, I think.

I read a LOT during that time. The Bible, of course, but lots of other books too. I read classics by Oswald Chambers and C.S. Lewis.  I read things from emergent folks like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren. Much of it was affirming and helpful. Some of it was schlocky.

A friend recommended Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. Wow, that was a help--just the sort of encouraging thing I needed. So many questions raised in that book about what faithful Christian living really looks like. I love the subtitle: Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality. That was what I needed at that time. I needed to rethink my faith walk without using all the usual "Christianese."

I listened to a lot of music at that time too. Relient K's "Getting Into You" was popular for me--I think I hit 200 plays in my iTunes for that song in one year's time. Another with a high play count was a pretty powerful song by Andrew Peterson on the City on a Hill album, The Gathering. The song is entitled "Holy is the Lord" and it basically tells the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, the child of the promise. That song really resonated with me; I felt like I was being asked to sacrifice so much of what I loved and knew and understood about the church during that time.

I was still hurting. I was still confused. And, of course, it was my turn to lead staff devotions at school in the midst of all this heartache.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Another Gem from Sir Ken

Here's another brilliant bit from creativity expert and educational theorist Sir Ken Robinson. (See this prior post for another great piece of Sir Ken's work...)

What do you think? Are students ambivalent about technology in education? 

Monday, December 10, 2012

How Has the Internet Changed Education?

Just came across this infographic via Twitter...thanks to @K12Learn for the tip.

Pretty interesting to note the statistics they include. The one that really stood out to me is that "90% of faculty are using social media in courses they are teaching." Frankly, that number seems a little high to me. Of course, I suppose it depends on what you call "social media." My mind immediately jumped to Facebook, Twitter, and the like. But blogging is social by nature, as are wikis and moodles...and I've used all of these in my teaching. So I guess I'm in their 90%.

And I definitely agree with the basic principle exhibited in this infographic: I know that my own teaching practice has evolved over the 15 years I've been in the profession as internet access has grown more dependable and online tools become more flexible and varied.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Raising Standards, and Other Ridiculousness

I regularly read of the impending doom of public education in the U.S. if we don't raise standards. As Sir Ken Robinson says, "Of course we want to raise standards. Doesn't do much good to lower them!" But Sir Ken is also a proponent of tapping into students' innate creativity and curiosity and not making them march through school in lockstep. (See my previous post, A Gem from Sir Ken for some more of his thoughts--pretty thought-provoking stuff, in my humble opinion.)

Basically, I don't think "raising standards" is a real solution to the many things happening in schools that ought to be addressed. "Raising standards" is rhetoric--something that politicians and school boards like to say, but one not many people have a real handle on.

What do we really mean by "raising standards?" Do we want teachers to teach better? Students to learn more? Grades to improve? Harder standardized tests? Do we just want everyone to work harder? What are we really talking about here anyway?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Shifting from "Digital Natives" to "Digital Citizens"

I just read this blog post from Education Week...and I agree. I'm quick to label my students as "Digital Natives." This term comes from a now-classic 2001 article by Marc Prensky. I've been using the term digital natives to describe my students for at least the past seven or eight years since I encountered Prensky's piece, because it is a helpful metaphor.

Even more helpful is his idea of digital immigrants. In my previous role as Technology Coordinator, I sometimes thought of myself as a translator--perhaps an "immigrant" by age, but one well-integrated into the culture and with very little lingering accent. Interesting to see how some teachers--like other immigrants--can cling to the old ways and long for the old country. Their accent can be very, very pronounced.

I worry a little, as I get older that this may happen to me as well.

That's why I like the idea in this piece: all of us, students and teachers alike, are digital citizens. All of us--regardless of our level of comfort working with technology for teaching and learning--have a responsibility as citizens in this culture, whether native or immigrant. And for teachers (even immigrant teachers), we have a responsibility to teach students to be thoughtful, productive, law-abiding, constructive, self-aware citizens.

At my last school, as I served as Technology Coordinator, I took very seriously the role of teaching students to become good digital citizens. From my predecessors I had inherited a great project: the Internet Driver's License. Clever analogy, but one that the students got excited about. And the basic idea is sound, I think. They need to learn the "rules of the road": How to be safe, how to be responsible, how to play well with others online.

Just because they have a natural facility with the technology does not mean they automatically know how to be wise. And that's the point of digital citizenship, right?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ghoti, and the Treasures of the English Language

Whenever an oddity of English spelling or grammar comes up in class, I have a mini-lesson in my back pocket about "Why I Hate the English Language." (I don't, of course...but English does have some twisted spelling, grammar, and conventions...which can make it difficult to learn the rules.)

I happened again this week...I can't remember the exact context anymore, but off I went on my rant...

"How do you pronounce this part of a word?" as I write -ough on the board. The students usually respond in chorus:

"Uff." "Ooo." "Owe." "Off."