Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Resolution: Get Blogging!

I've been blogging now for a little over a year and a half, and I feel like I almost know what I'm doing now.

Since May 2012, when I began blogging, I have posted 186 posts (this one makes 187, I guess.)

My blog has had over 47,700 views. (That is CRAZY!) I had one post take off in January of 2012, which was my most-viewed post to date--almost 4500 views so far, and it still gets about 200 view per month. And while I've had a handful of others with over 1000 views, the norm for most posts is 100-200 views. So it's not like I'm out changing the world. But I do get visitors from around the world!

My visitors map, as of 12/31/2013...

Monday, December 23, 2013

On Innovation: An Idea from Piaget

The eminent developmental psychologist Jean Piaget has had a tremendous impact on teaching and learning over the past 50+ years and wrote prolifically about child development.

I recently came across this quote from his book Science of Education and the Psychology of the Child:

"Education means making creators...You have to make inventors, innovators--not conformists."

This got me thinking again about creativity and it's role in learning. And while I don't have a lot of answers, I have a lot of questions...

Jean Piaget
Public domain image via Cbl62
What would school look like if we tried to foster creativity?

What would school look like if we gave students room to invent?

What would school look like if we prized innovation over conformity?

What would school look like if we made deliberate physical and mental spaces for students to play with ideas and create contraptions and solve authentic problems?

Would students be more engaged? Would teachers be more engaged?

What structures would have to change? What policies might have to be modified?

How would we assess teaching and learning in this sort of environment?

How do content standards fit into this approach?

What would we be giving up by incorporating more innovation? What would we gain?

Are there places already creating innovative spaces like these? And if so, what are the results? What is working well? What should be modified? Can this approach be transplanted into other schools? Or is it organically situated and contextualized?

So much of contemporary school culture seems bent on conformity. If we made innovation and creativity the norm...would that be trying make everyone conform to innovation?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What Does It Take to Become a Teacher?

"Teaching is not for the faint of heart."

I think I said this at least half a dozen times in Introduction to Education this semester. One of our themes in the course was to get a handle on what the profession really looks like--both the joys and the challenges. Education is often seen as a catch-all major: "Oh, you don't know what to do with your life? Consider becoming a teacher!" or "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." I feel pretty strongly that people who say things like this are basing it on their experiences in school, rather than a true understanding of the requirements of the profession.

So we discuss the professional requirements and societal demands on a teacher quite a lot in Intro to Ed. I want my students to come into the profession with their eyes wide open. So it makes sense--I hope!--that on my final exam for for the course I asked this question: "What does it take to become a teacher?"

It's an open-ended question for sure, with lots of possibilities for an answer. Many of my students included things in their response along the lines of "you have to like kids" or "you have to know your content really well" or "you have to complete the requirements to earn a teaching license"--or even a combination of these kinds of ideas.

One student, however, knocked my socks off. Here is part of his answer:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Tweeting Youth, or "People Under 30 Just Don't Get Twitter!"

I've written many times here about how fond I am of Twitter for my own ongoing professional development and networking (I highly recommend #iaedchat, #mschat, and #sbgchat! Great people there looking to learn and share what they have learned.)

Over the past year or so, I've been mentioning Twitter as a tool for PD to different groups, including workshops I've given lately, and even to my own students--pre-service teachers soon to be entering the profession.

Honestly, I would have thought that my students would be ready and willing to jump onto the Twitter PD bandwagon, but they often are (surprisingly) reticent to start. I suppose I should not be surprised. They are more likely to use Twitter to connect with their friends...sort of the way I use Facebook. (I recently saw a tweet informing me that Facebook is the "mom jeans of social media.") #LOL #ROFL #hashtagging #whousesfacebook? #momjeansareawesomeandstuff

Image courtesy James G. Milles - CC BY 2.0

I was recently at an education conference and met up with a former student.  While we were visiting, the topic of Twitter came up. I asked her if she was on Twitter, and she replied that she was, but she never really tweets.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

This is the Future, and it is Now

My mom recently shared this article on Facebook. Here's a picture that was used to illustrate:

Image came from here, credited to Fisher-Price

So now we expect babies to use iPads? I mean, seriously people...

It reminded me of this clip from the Pixar film Wall-E (which I find a slightly-disturbing, all-too-accurate commentary on our cultural trajectory, cloaked as a kids' movie...)

This is the future, and it is now.

What does this mean for schools? I think we need to take a long, sober look at the way we are using technology. Don't hear me wrong--I'm no luddite and I'm not technophobic. But I think we need to be very, very thoughtful about how we use technology, and why we use technology.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Student Evaluation Surveys: Keys to Successful Implementation

Do we need one more survey?
Hmmm...good question...

This past Sunday night I was able to get in on #iaedchat (Iowa education chat) on Twitter again after having missed for several weeks. It's a great group of educators over there--many from Iowa, but not all--who are passionate and thoughtful and want to talk about things that matter in education today. This week's chat was about the role of surveys in education.

Surveys are a great way to collect information...if they are done right. As we discussed together, we noted that there are several possible failure points in regard to surveys:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

An End-of-the-Semester Blessing for my Students

It is the end of the semester. I have a four-inch pile of papers in need of marking, and I haven't even given any exams yet.

In the midst of the busyness and craziness, I'm also wrapping up teaching for another semester.

I have had the privilege of working with a dozen future middle school teachers this semester; I've taught a course entitled "Middle School Curriculum and Instruction." But the course is really about a lot more than just writing lesson plans. We had conversations about all sorts of things related to teaching middle schoolers throughout the course:
  • how uncomfortable desks can be for middle schoolers
  • great books that all middle school students should read
  • what to do with a student who asks to go to the bathroom every day during your class
  • ideas for planning lessons around themes instead of around textbooks
  • what to do when you have an angry parent on the phone
  • the shortcomings of grading on the curve
  • spiritual development of young adolescents
  • what snapchat is for (okay, that was my question, not theirs...I'm still just not seeing the value...)
In short, we learned--all of us, me too--about what it means to teach Christianly. To apply our faith, our ground rules to teaching and learning in the middle grades.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Good Assessment in Online Courses

(Just a note: I asked my friend Tony if I could share the story I relate in this post, and he agreed. He's a great guy.)

I recently posted about "good" assessment, and I mentioned there that I try and use a variety of assessment strategies in the classes I teach, including:
  1. Observation--reading facial expression and body language and students' questions and the kinds of answers they give to my questions
  2. Projects and performances--especially for tasks or skills
  3. Conferences, interviews, and small group meetings--to allow for more personalized interactions and deeper understanding (for me) of what students know and understand
  4. Tests and quizzes--which don't hold as important a place as they once did, but are still present, and still valuable
While this wasn't really specifically about assessment in online courses, I have taught a number courses online over the past few years, and I've been having conversations with several colleagues lately about teaching online. It was in this light that my friend Tony responded with an honest comment in reaction:

"I know this post is about test questions and your focus is probably on elementary and high school assessment but I also noticed that your first three bullets (on non-testing assessment) are nigh-well impossible to achieve in an online setting."

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Is Digital "Real?": A Shift of Langage

My son loves Angry Birds. He plays the game on my iPad regularly. But his digital play often translates into building things--he uses the game as a springboard for his imagination. And so Jenga blocks and other toys and bits of junk become towers and castles for the Bad Piggies to command, and the Angry Birds swoop in to knock them down.

My brother-in-law--duly impressed with the boy's creative endeavors--asked him if he likes the "real" game of Angry Birds better. My son looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, and asked a wonderful, messy question: "Which one do you mean?"

Monday, November 25, 2013

Writing Good Test Questions

I have been thinking and writing a lot about assessment lately. My last post was basically a rant against unthinking assessment practices, and a challenge to all teachers (pointing the finger at myself here too) to be thoughtful in how they assess.

So how do we go about assessing thoughtfully?

In the curriculum and pedagogy courses I teach, we always spend some time talking about how to best assess students' learning. There are, of course, lots of ways to assess students, and the assessment vehicle you choose should match your goals of the assessment. Here are a few options we often discuss:
  • Sometimes observation is all you need--especially while you are teaching. Reading students' body English and facial expressions, keeping aware of the the kinds of questions they are asking, and noting the kind of responses they are giving in response to your questions are all good ways to assess students' thinking while teaching is ongoing, and gives you the opportunity to change course if needed.
  • Projects and performances are often valuable ways of having students apply their learning and demonstrate their proficiency at specific tasks or skills.
  • Conferences, interviews, and small group meetings can allow the teacher the chance to talk with students in an individual or comfortable group setting. This takes some planning and management; what is the rest of the class doing while you meet with the individual or small group? But I've found that hearing students explain their understanding firsthand is often one of the best ways to know what they know!
  • And, of course, tests and quizzes are still a key part of teachers' assessment strategies. In our current high-stakes, high-accountability school culture, outside testing pressures are often pretty significant. Some teachers argue that students need to take tests and quizzes just to practice, so they will feel comfortable and prepared for the high-stakes, state-mandated testing.

Image by COCOEN Daily Photos CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I always want to remind my students that tests and quizzes aren't the only way to assess, so I try to assign a variety of different kinds of assignments and projects to them in addition to tests and quizzes.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Moral Imperative of Assessment

I think this will be my last post from #AMLE2013, but you never know.

Rick Wormeli said something about assessment in the closing session I attended that has taken hold of me and keeps nagging at the back of my mind:

If you know that the child knows something, but the assessment vehicle you've chosen doesn't show it, you have a moral obligation to change it.

The phrase "moral obligation" has me. I totally agree. It's tantamount to malpractice as a teacher if you are sure a student has learned something and the assessment vehicle (test, quiz, project, essay, interview, debate, what-have-you) doesn't show their understanding of the content. We must change our assessment practices.

And of course, the question offered in response is, "How do I know that they know it, if they can't do X?"

C'mon, teacher.

If the first chance students have to show you what they know, understand, or are able to do is the final, summative judgment...you're doing it wrong. 

Get to know your students.

Be actively involved in their learning.

Assess along the way.

Give descriptive feedback.

Stop grading for compliance--or the lack thereof.

Choose your assessment vehicles carefully.

Assess what you most highly value, not what is most easily measured!

To do any less is a moral failure for your students. 

And then you deserve the "F," not the kid.

Friday, November 15, 2013

We Are Really Bad at Grading

Teachers, you really should watch this short spot advertising a Canadian sit-com about a bad teacher. There are two truths I want to draw out of this.

Pretty funny, right? And perhaps a little too uncomfortably true?

Here are the two truths:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Grading Group Work

I confess, I love this picture because it is so completely posed.
Image by Saad Faruque CC BY-SA 2.0
Teachers, do you use group work in your classroom? You should. There is pretty comprehensive literature on the benefits of collaboration and social learning. (Try googling "social learning theory," or "zone of proximal development," or "collaborative learning," or even "problem-based learning" to learn more.)

Over the years, I've used quite a lot of group interaction and collaboration in my teaching practice. When I taught junior high science, I regularly had students working with a partner, or even a small group as they conducted their lab activities. When I taught computers & media classes, we did many different collaborative projects to create media. Now, as a college instructor, I have a whole course that requires students to work as part of a team (we're trying to model what middle school teaching teams look like in practice.) In each case, students may learn from me as instructor, but they also learn from each other.

There are different strategies that can be employed to make students' learning more integral this way, but the problem always crops up for me with how to assess collaborative work. How do I fairly grade group work? Do all the students get the same grade? Is each graded on their individual contribution? How do I know who contributed what to the final product?

At the recent Association for Middle Level Education conference I attended, the idea of students learning collaboratively came up in several sessions, and in one session I gleaned this gem of an idea:

Don't grade group experiences...grade the takeaways from the group experience.

I'll just leave you to think about how that might look in your teaching practice. I know I'm reconsidering how I've thought about group work!

Monday, November 11, 2013

What Assessments Can You Tolerate?

In my last post, I wrote about a session I attended at the recent AMLE conference that was all about assessment, and how we can do it better by giving descriptive feedback, allowing students to act on this feedback, and to provide for (or at least allow for) multiple means of showing that they have met the standard. Rick Wormeli was the presenter, and he both challenged and affirmed my thinking about these topics.

Rick had quite a bit to share about what research indicates makes for effective assessment. (Hint: more formative assessment--not graded, but rich-in-feedback--and less summative assessment--which would be graded.) And, truth be told, since I've read quite a few things Rick has published, I wasn't at all surprised to hear him talking about this, and I really agreed with him.

But there was one thing Rick shared in this presentation that really resonated with me, and I've continued rolling this around and around in my head:

The question teachers need to ask is not
"What is the standard?"
It is "What evidence will we tolerate
for students to show their learning?"

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fish Climbing Trees: Assessment, Feedback, and Differentiation

One of the best sessions I had the chance to attend at the recent Association for Middle Level Education conference (#AMLE2013) was a session on formative assessment, summative judgment, and descriptive feedback presented by Rick Wormeli. In the session, Rick shared this cartoon, which I had seen before:

"For a fair selection, everybody has to take the same exam:
Please climb that tree."

The argument usually made by folks sharing this cartoon is that we should have different standards of assessment for different students, because the students are clearly unique individuals with different strengths and weaknesses and it isn't fair to hold them all to the same standards. Because it's not going to be any problem for the monkey to climb the tree, right? But how is the fish going to get up there? Or the elephant? Or even the dog?

Saturday, November 9, 2013


I've spent the past three days at the Association for Middle Level Education's annual conference. What a great time to connect with other educators who care deeply about excellent practices for teaching young adolescents! A colleague and I took ten of our students along on the trip; it was a great learning opportunity for them as well. As future middle school teachers, they had the chance to hear from other voices speaking the same things their professors are telling them: good confirmation!

I was privileged to present a session as well--my first time presenting at a national conference--and it was a great experience. I was also privileged to attend many sessions about topics near and dear to my heart within the realm of education: educational technology, differentiated instruction, formative assessment, teacher teaming, conversations about pedagogical practices, talented and gifted learners, and shifting school culture. Also, I got to meet several of my Twitterfriends face-to-face for the first time, including Rick Wormeli, who is actually kind of a big deal (not to mention a fantastic presenter!) but is also incredibly wise, humble, and personable, both in the large group and one-on-one.

I'm sure I'll have more posts in the coming days as I reflect on the new things I learned or had reaffirmed for me in the past few days. For now, just a couple of pictures...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Always Reforming...

By Lucas Cranach [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
Today is October 31st. In Protestant circles, it's a big day: Reformation Day. On this day we celebrate a German Roman Catholic priest and professor who went rogue back in 1517. On this day, almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther kicked off a domino rally that began another whole branch of the Christian Church. Luther wasn't the only one...folks like Zwingli, and Calvin, and Huss, and a host of others were part of this reaction to the practices of the Roman Catholic Church

The very name "Protestant" indicates a mindset for these early reformers. They were protest-ant; they were boldly speaking out against things they saw as needing change. The history of Protestantism is full of protest of injustice and against heresy. The Reformation is all about reforming--not replacing, mind--what is broken.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Multiple Intelligences are Not Learning Styles

Image from Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.5]
Last week I wrote some of my thoughts about learning styles--and how they probably don't actually exist. I was pretty stunned when I originally read the research about this, but as I'm thinking more and more about it, I'm finding myself in agreement.

But my next question is about Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, which I have closely equated to learning styles, in practice at least, and when I'm honest, in my thinking as well.

Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, in a nutshell, expresses that intelligence is not a unitary trait; that is, intelligence is not something you have or don't have. Traditionally, this is how intelligence was described: either you are intelligent (you smartypants, you) or you are unintelligent (hey, dummy!) (That's pretty nasty, isn't it? Sorry.)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Limiting Creativity With the "Correct" Answer

My friend and classmate, Susan Shannon, shared this with me the other day. She was at a session presented by creativity guru Ken Robinson and he shared this video with the group. It is stunning, and I think the video speaks for itself...so I'm not going to say any more. If you are a teacher or if you have kids in school, please watch this.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bad Advice from Yoda and the Power of "Yet"

I love Star Wars. (Waving my geek flag proudly here...) One of my favorite scenes from The Empire Strikes Back is a moment between the aged Jedi master, Yoda, and his young apprentice, Luke Skywalker. Luke is training, doing his best, struggling to get it figured out. He is faced with a tremendously difficult task--lifting his huge spacecraft out of the swamp where it is crashed--and expresses his willingness to give it a try, his diminutive-but-powerful teacher makes this audacious statement:

Image by Blacren CC BY 2.0
Do, or do not. 
There is no try.

I love that line. It sounds so truthy, and it's so quotable. It speaks of resolve, and determination, and not settling for less than your best. I think it's likely that teachers might be tempted to follow Master Yoda's lead and challenge their own students this way.

But I'm afraid that might be a mistake.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nine Things Schools Should Consider When Creating a Technology Plan

I recently received an email from a friend who is on the school board of a smaller Christian school. Knowing that I have a lot of opinions about educational technology, he asked me for some advice: their school is developing a technology plan for the next five years and want to plot things out well so it will be successful.

I was really glad to hear that. I think many schools just go blundering into the realm of technology and don't have a well-reasoned plan for how to design how technology will be infused into the classrooms.

So after some thought and reflection, here's my advice: nine things schools should think about as they create a technology plan:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wait...Learning Styles Don't Exist?

"Each lesson should appeal to auditory, kinesthetic, and visual learners. Appealing to all these preferences deepens the understanding of alll students."
Image by Ken Whytock CC BY-NC 2.0

Have you heard statements like the one on the above graphic before? If you are a teacher--and even if you aren't--I'm guessing you've heard this argument. Because it's pretty clear that people learn in different ways, right? I mean, some kids learn best by seeing it (visual learners) while others learn better by hearing it (auditory learners) and still others learn best by doing it (kinesthetic learners.)

I've basically believed that idea and taken it as a fact into my teaching practice for...pretty much my entire teaching career.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Web 2.0 as a Platform for Formal Learning?

Image by Gavin Llewellyn CC BY 2.0
Do you remember the first time you were on the World Wide Web? I do. It was 1995, and I was a sophomore. A friend at the University of Michigan emailed me, “Hey, check out my webpage!” And I responded, “What’s a webpage?” (It was 1995, okay? The WWW was basically brand new...) He gave me some instructions, and after finding a suitable computer, and typing in a ridiculously long URL, I was greeted by a picture of my friend Jon in a tie-dyed shirt (as always), playing his guitar. I was totally enamored with this new technology! I can say with some honesty that I spent a lot of time "surfing"--as we called it then--from one page to another.

Of course, this was Web 1.0. In 1995 the World Wide Web was still in its infancy. There was no such thing as Google. (Can you imagine?) "Jerry and David's Guide to the World Wide Web" was only recently renamed "Yahoo!" and was still being managed by hand. (Can you imagine?) Mark Zuckerberg may have been dreaming about Facebook, but he was only 11 years old. The World Wide Web was a very different place.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Billion Dollar Educational Gamble

I had a really interesting assignment for one of my courses this week. We are discussing diffusion of innovation--how ideas spread through culture--and in particular, how technologies spread through educational institutions. My professor hit upon a very practical example for us to explore: the Los Angeles Unified School District's recent decision to provide an iPad for every student in the district. The project is tremendously costly (estimated at one billion dollars!), and despite initial enthusiasm, LAUSD is currently catching quite a lot of negative attention in education news for some of the project's unintended consequences.

Image by Robert Scoble CC BY 2.0
Our assignment was to read quite a bit of background on the situation, and then apply what we are learning about diffusion of innovation theory to the LAUSD iPad project, and write an Op Ed piece for the L.A. Times in which either attack or defend the District's decision. (Actual submission to the Times is not a required part of the assignment.) I confess, I was a little torn on whether to attack or defend, as I see both sides of the situation, and I actually love my own iPad. But I'm not sure about the way the LAUSD has handled this particular situation so far.

What follows is my first draft of this assignment, which I will refine in consultation with classmates this week.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tablets in School: The Challenges of Diffusion of Innovation

Image by IntelFreePress CC BY-SA 2.0
This week for one of my classes we are reading--a LOT--about diffusion of innovation. I was assigned to write a reflection in response to a chapter from the book entitled Gaining Momentum: Managing the Diffusion of Innovation by Joseph Tidd. The chapter I read explained the foundations of different models of diffusion, and some of the associated problems.

I found the examples given in the beginning of this chapter to be a surprising variety from a great many fields. This is a good reminder that “technology” is much broader than just computers and other electronic devices. And certainly, diffusion of innovation isn’t limited to the realm of technology alone. The wide variety of innovative ideas the diffuse through a culture were even more intriguing to me as I think about the ideas of cultural acceptance of different approaches to teaching and learning--including online education or other technologically-mediated methodologies--that I hope to learn more about through my work in this program.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

One. More. Worksheet.

Parents, when your kids come home from school and unload their backpacks, what do you find? Creative, thoughtful, individualized projects? Or a stack of completed worksheets?

I want to be a little careful and gracious here lest it sound like I've never given worksheets to my own students. Because I have. There was a time in my teaching career that I assigned quite a few worksheets. 

Pages of math problems.

Science lab sheets.

Whole packets of Bible worksheets.

The longer I taught, however, the fewer worksheets I assigned. I decided I would rather have students do more authentic tasks, more realistic work than just filling in blanks to answer questions, or completing another set of exercises.

Friday, September 27, 2013

When It All Just...Works

I just had what may have been the single best class of my college teaching career so far. There are times when it all just...works.

I work with future teachers, and one of my big goals is to always try and connect theory and practice--if I say it's "good teaching," they should be able to observe it in my own teaching practice. I recognize that I will never be able to do this perfectly. But sometimes it all just...works.

Today's lesson in my Middle School Curriculum and Instruction course was like that.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Improving Testing

My students in Introduction to Education had their first exam today. The class is mostly freshmen, and for many this was the first exam of their college career. Some came in very confident, others very nervous. One student admitted to me, "I just get so anxious every time I have to take a test!"

Image by wecometolearn [CC BY 2.0]
I thought that was an important comment--very honest! Many students are fearful of tests. Test anxiety is a real thing.

I'm thinking about how teachers write tests, and how we administer tests. I wonder if many students' anxieties about writing a test stem from previous bad experiences. And I wonder if there are ways we can improve testing.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Internet Changed Everything about Education

I recently came across this site, and I was pretty amazed by the perspective shown here. It's worth taking 30 seconds to check it out: One Second on the Internet.

It got me thinking about how much the Internet has changed education. I've been teaching for 15 years. In my first classroom, the extent of educational technology at my disposal was an overhead projector and a chalkboard. (CHALK! The kind that got my pants all dusty--remember that?)

I think about how much my teaching practice has evolved over the years; I recognize that I rely heavily on my computer for lesson planning and preparation and so many of the other "behind the scenes" tasks of teaching. Could I still teach without a computer? Yes...I think so. But the habits of mind I've adopted for my planning and prep have been fundamentally altered by the technology available to me. And it isn't really about the computer itself anymore.

It's about the connections to all the other computers out there. More than that...connections with all the other people using all the other computers out there.

Ah, network cables and switches. This is the Internet, people.
Image via jerryjohn CC BY-ND 2.0

Friday, September 20, 2013

Reflecting on Research in EdTech

I'm four weeks into my doctoral program now. I can confess that I’ve been struggling throughout the first weeks of this program with feelings of inadequacy. Mostly this is due to comments made by classmates in our discussion forums in which they refer to their impending research designs. I have only very rudimentary ideas about what I might like to research, so this has been stressing me out (thanks to my professor for assuaging my doubts via a Skype conversation this week!) But tonight I read a chapter that gave me further confidence in my beginning inklings of research plans.

One of the big themes that stood out to me here was the emphasis on action research, case study, and contextually-relevant studies. Most of my ideas at this point relate to my position as a teacher educator: I want to find ways of helping the pre-service teachers I’m teaching to prepare for the technological expectations of the profession today. I would love whatever research I wind up conducting for my dissertation to have strong application to my current setting, and thus action research reported as a case study, or a contextually-relevant study are very appealing! 

I've heard of the "community of practice" model before (the idea that groups of practitioners--teachers? researchers? business people?--have particular ways of conducting their work), but this reading introduced me to the idea of "constellations of practice": large groups in a given field in which there might be many communities of practice that deal with similar challenges but respond in ways unique to their peculiar contexts. I think the “constellation of practice” model is healthy for me to keep in mind: the research I conduct will likely have limited immediate application to other contexts, but it will (probably) still be able to inform educators in other similar-though-not-identical contexts.

I really appreciated the emphasis in this piece on relevance. Research in educational technology must be relevant--both to the context of practice and to the practitioners. This is exhibited in many ways, but I found some of the examples particularly useful explanations. Two I'll share here:
  • The relative failure of “One Laptop per Child” initiative is a great example of the problem of lack of contextual relevance. The shortcomings of this project were (are?) largely due to the very different social and cultural settings in the nations where this project has been attempted. 
  • Technology used at home or work doesn’t always transfer well to an educational setting. For example, students ability to search for and find a particular video on YouTube at home may not be a skill that translates into academic research in school. Teachers need practically applicable research that works in their particular teaching contexts.

It's important for me to remember that much educational research focuses on new tools or cutting-edge approaches. It’s not that these aren’t useful studies--they surely can be--but other kinds of educational research certainly also has value. These “proof of concept” studies might not do justice to existing research educational technology unless a deliberate connection is made. This is a good reminder for me as I begin this program; I want to avoid falling into this trap!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Eight Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography

I love geography. I was that weird kid in 7th grade who would not be reading along with the class because he was looking in the back of his social studies book to find the fun place names on the maps...

Map via CIA World Factbook


Ulan Bator.

Lago Titicaca.

French Lick. (Yes, for real. Check it out...)

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. (Google it!)

Sometimes I think I should have been a geography teacher. And I suppose I am, after a fashion, because I can't help but talk about people and places and politics...which are all parts of understanding the geography of this world.

Over the past couple of weeks I started cataloging some interesting geography resources I've stumbled across via Twitter. Here are eight good ones you might find helpful in your own teaching practice:

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Broken Pencil: A Metaphor for Tech Integration

This past week in one of the classes I'm taking we were discussing the Law of Unintended Consequences and how it relates to educational technology. In particular, we were discussing how there are always unanticipated changes that happen pedagogically when new tech tools are introduced.

I shared the example of PowerPoint, and how so many students no longer think of taking notes as, "I will try and write down the key ideas the lecturer is presenting, so I will better remember them later on." Instead, most students now think of taking notes as, "I will quickly scribble down whatever is projected on the screen." While PowerPoint was (and is) applied to lectures as a visual aide, the visual aide has become the object of instruction. The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Story of Carl: Are You Too Comfortable?

This is Carl.

Carl is a weird bird who has decided that living on our deck (under my chair) is a really good idea. My kids named him Carl after a long discussion. (Don't ask.)

You can tell by the amount of bird droppings in the picture that Carl has lived under my chair for quite a while now. It's odd, he seems perfectly content to hang out there, even when people come out onto the deck. He even kept me company while I was grilling burgers the other night.

Carl prefers to walk than to fly. It's not that he can't fly. One of the first days I saw him there I half-heartedly tried to scare him off, and he flew into a tree in the yard. But he came back as soon as he could. And he tends to just waddle around. It makes me wonder if he's sick, or just too comfortable.


I'm thinking about Carl because I think he might be an object lesson for us.

Often, we prefer to hang out where we are comfortable, places we know are safe. It can be scary to fly off into the unknown!

But...if you only stay waddling around in the same area all the time, what opportunities are you missing?

I wonder about teachers who keep doing the same thing, year after year after year. Sure it's comfortable. But do you ever feel like you're missing out on things?

Sure, it might be comfortable for Carl to hang out among his own mess on the deck. But if he was meant to soar...he's missing out by staying too comfortable.

Teacher, you were meant to soar! Get out of your comfort zone! Try something new! Maybe you'll find a new flock heading in a direction you've never considered traveling before.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Hooray for Trivia!

I love trivia. Random facts are just good fun!

If you feel the same way, may I suggest you check out Mental_Floss? I've been getting their magazine for about a year now (it is amazing) and I follow them on Twitter (@mental_floss) for the fun facts, quizzes, and odd lists they share regularly.

But none of this prepared me for the Most Interesting and Amazing Fact Generator! You must go check this out right now. Please.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Great Language Game

A screengrab from Wictionary.org

I will not pretend to meet the above definition of polyglot in any way. I am effectively monolingual; I only speak English fluently.

After three years of high school Spanish, and opportunities to practice it on service projects and working in a restaurant, I understand most Spanish so long as it's spoken at a slow enough rate, and speak it passably...still thinking in English, translating in my head, speaking haltingly, and certainly making enough errors to cause native speakers to snicker.

I know a smattering of Dutch, mostly because of my cultural heritage. I know how to say the words, but I have no real sense for how to spell them, or grammar, or how to string them together in coherent sentences.

I'm thankful I had a semester of Latin in the 8th grade, because it helps make sense of French and Italian, plus a surprising number of English words with Latin roots.

I had a Korean friend in high school who taught me several phrases in Korean, but I'm afraid to use them, because I don't know what I'm actually saying, and I don't want to wind up accidentally insulting someone's grandmother.

An Admonishment to Teach Social Studies: The West and the Rest

Image by johnantoni CC BY-SA 2.0
In 2004, Meic Pearse published a book entitled Why the Rest Hates the West: Understanding the Roots of Global Rage. I have to confess that I have never read the book (yet), but the title has always stuck with me.

I was reminded of this book somehow when my friend, Sherri, recently shared this video clip with me. It is from the BBC and it shows a historical view of the relationship between health (lifespan) and wealth (per capita income) in 100 nations of the world. Not surprisingly, many Western nations are at the top of the heap, but the gap between the West and the Rest might surprise you. It's worth the 5 minutes to view the clip:

If it's true that most nations of the world aren't as "far behind" the West anymore, why do so many nations have such animosity toward the West?

This has me thinking about the importance of teaching geography, history, economics, languages, international relations, and peacemaking as integral parts of school. If it's true that the "Rest" really do hate the West, we need to do a better job of collectively working towards greater understanding!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Manners Matter! (Even Online...)

The topic of helping students develop good citizenship (especially online) came up in one of the discussions in a class I'm taking. I've thought quite a lot about this--especially when I was teaching middle schoolers how to be safe online, how to conduct research online, etc. Somehow, many students--even well-mannered, well-behaved kids--simply don't act nice when working and playing online. Kids need to learn that manners matter--even online!

In general, I think schools need to do a better job of this, but I also think some of the burden lies with parents. In the same way that parents should influence their children's citizenship habits in face-to-face settings, parents have a responsibility to foster good online citizenship habits as well.

I came across the infographic below the other day. It's from Know the Net, a pretty fantastic group in the UK with lots of resources to support parents and teachers in helping kids learn to conduct themselves well online. I hope you will give them a look, and consider using their resources for your own children or students.

Here's a great summary of what kids should learn about being well-mannered online. What do you think? Are there things they missed? What would you add?

Image from educatorstechnology.com

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Connecting with Other Educators

Teaching can be a lonely profession. That sounds odd, doesn't it? We spend all day with other people! But there is often an isolation that can form unless we are deliberate about making connections with other educators.

In my opinion, connecting with others is where the most growth, the most professional development occurs.

So how do you connect with other educators?

Check out this video from my Twitterfriend and fellow graduate student, Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler). She's as much a Twitter geek as I am (and probably more so, if I dare to characterize her that way...)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


It's the beginning of the year. This is my 16th year of teaching, and my second year teaching in higher education. From preschool to the present, I've had 33 first days of school. You'd think that the idea of a "new year" wouldn't still bring on anxious feelings, but it does.

I love the rhythm of the school year.


Lather, rinse, repeat.

This year, for the first time, I haven't had the nightmares. Usually I have a nightmare a day or two before school starts: I have THE CLASS FROM HELL, the kids scream at me when I try to talk to them, I've forgotten to plan lessons for one class, all of my science lab materials have mysteriously disappeared...you get the idea. If dreams are a window into the subconscious mind, my subconscious mind must be a pretty fearful place, because it dreams up all kinds of scenarios that are very, very unlikely to actually come to life. (Of course, now that I've said it, I'll probably have the nightmare a few days late...)

The thing is, beginnings--for all their joy and wonder--can be stressful.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

You Can Fix Your Computer! (part II)

I recently posted a helpful graphic for fixing your own computer.

I admit, I'm geeky, and I love technology, and people often comment on my supposed ability to magically solve their computer problems.

It actually happened in a meeting last week--tech problems for the presenter, and I knew what the issue was. So I "wave my hand over the spot" and it magically works, and everyone applauds. A friend said afterward he thinks I'm a cyborg.

I really do like to help people out with their tech woes, but one of my shortcomings when I used to serve as a Technology Coordinator was that I was too quick to just do things for people. It would have been better if I would have taken the time to teach them how to solve problems themselves.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Minecraft: Boosting Creativity in Education?

My kids love Minecraft. Have you played it at all? I put the "pocket edition" on my iPad, and now they fight over who gets to play it. You can download the free version (there are iOS and Android versions) to at least give it a whirl.

The best description I can give for the game is virtual Legos, generated in blocky, pixelated graphics, with zombies. (Who wouldn't want to play that??) The game can be played in two modes: "survival," in which the goal is...survival (the zombies are coming!), and "creative," which is all about creating your own unique world. The name comes from the two main tasks you undertake in the game: "mining" for picking up resources, and "crafting" structures and objects from those resources. The game has been around for a few years now--there are PC/Mac and Xbox versions too--and the folks who create the game are always adding updates. On the pocket edition my kids play it's a one-player game, but the other versions allow for multi-player interaction, and you should see some of the amazing things teams of players build!

A few screenshots from my kids' games, so you get the idea of what it's like:

In creative mode, players can fly over their world to see it from many perspectives.
Out on the boardwalk...Notice the treehouse on the tiny island.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Just Change One Small Thing...

Feeling overwhelmed? All the challenges seem too big, to daunting? Don't know where to begin?

Start small.

Choose one thing that you can change.

Change it.

You don't have to move the mountain all at once. Start with a pebble. Or even a grain of sand.

See what happens from there...

Check out the original at senorgif.com

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Laptops in Class? What Shall We Do?

I recently had a conversation with a friend and colleague about how many students come into class with a laptop. (Or tablet, or smartphone...) He finds it distracting as an instructor, and was asking my opinions about the subject, since he knows I'm a technophile. We later talked more about it, and he shared with me this blog post that raises the question "Do Laptop Computers Inhibit Learning?" It's a thoughtfully-written piece, and I'd encourage you to read it for yourself. In the post, the author shares a link to a journal article about a study some Canadian researchers conducted regarding students' struggles with remaining attentive when they had technology at hand.

Image by luc legay [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Monday, August 19, 2013

You Can Fix Your Computer!

I used to serve as a Technology Coordinator in a K-8 school. I loved it. And...I hated it.

I loved helping people integrate technology into their teaching practice in a way that really helped kids learn.

I hated fixing problems that people could have definitely solved themselves.

I wish I had this sign back then:

Original image here.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Classroom Management: Don't Smile 'Til Christmas

Fellow educators: what was your number one growth area during your first years of teaching?

I know what mine was.

As a beginning teacher, I felt pretty confident in planning lessons. I knew my content. I believed myself to be a competent assessor.

But classroom management? Not my strongest suit. To be honest, I had a lot to learn. My first year, I was too easy on the kids, which made for a rough year. Sharing my struggles with a colleague, I got this nuggest of sage advice: "You want the kids to respect you? Don't smile 'til Christmas."

I resolved that I'd be much tougher on the kids my second year, that I'd show them I was in control of the class. I wouldn't smile until Christmas; let them sweat a little, let them wriggle uncomfortably under my heavy glare if they took a toe out of line.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What's Wrong with "Managing" a Classroom?

I've participated in a couple of Twitterchats in the last week or so about the first days of school, and I've had a lot of ideas percolating with no time to blog about them. Lots of ideas about classroom management were floated in those chats (I may have another post or two coming, as time permits) and I'm thinking a lot about classroom management as my own new school year is impending.

But then I came across this gem from my Twitterfriend, Dan Krutka:

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Easy to Use iPad Animation Creator

So you want to have your elementary or middle school students create short, narrated animations on their iPads? I just came across a nifty app to do just that.

Check out Tellagami. This free app is ridiculously easy to use. After downloading it, I handed the iPad to my 7-year-old and told her to check out the new app. First use, she had figured it out in about one minute with no coaching from Dad.

Easy to animate. Gestures added automatically and the mouth
movements sync to the audio (or text-to-speech) quite well.

Experience: The Best Learning

I'm a big believer in experiential learning--experiencing things firsthand to really learn them. I'm not saying you can't learn things by reading, or by viewing. You certainly can. But often times, the actual sights, sounds, smells, and atmosphere of the experience are part of the context of the learning and you miss something by not actually being there.

My family took many road trips in my youth. We drove through every state west of the Mississippi river, and a few to the east as well. I've visited so many tourist traps and National Parks and roadside attractions in the Western U.S., I sometimes joke--like the old Johnny Cash song--"I've been everywhere." This was a blessing for me that I didn't necessarily understand or appreciate at the time. Actually stopping and visiting all these places is different than reading about them or even seeing pictures or video of them. When you experience them, you remember them differently.

And now I have the chance to take my own kids on these kinds of trips. We recently visited lots of great places around the southwestern U.S. for fantastic firsthand experiences! Here is a sampling in photos:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Four Stages of "Getting" Twitter

My good friend @DanBeerens asked me to tag-team a presentation in his Issues in Education course last week. We shared some of our ideas about educational technology and trends we see and a little future-casting for where education is heading. Both Dan and I are fans of Twitter for free, personalized professional development, so of course we talked about Twitter.

I've blogged about this several times before--a visual introduction to Twitter, some introduction to Twitterchats, and ideas of how to use Twitter for professional development.  I've come around to the idea that Twitter might not be for everyone, but I really do think educators should consider signing up for an account.

In our session last week, Dan shared the infographic below. I'd seen it before, but it maps out my own Twitter experience pretty perfectly--maybe you feel the same way? If you have joined Twitter and aren't "getting it" yet, hang in there. You might be surprised in six months to see how much Twitter is benefiting you!

Credit where credit is due: This infographic came from andfaraway.net
Please pardon the language on that page, should you visit.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Backwards Is Better

Mutemath is one of my favorite bands. These guys are quirky showmen, but they have a ton of heart behind their music. The videos they have released for some of their songs illustrate their odd sense of humor. I think this video for their song "Typical" (released back in 2007) might be the best example I can provide. It's worth the four minutes to watch:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Technology Sabbath


I was camping with my family this weekend. Actually, with quite a few of my wife's relatives. Which is great, really. (My in-laws are pretty fantastic.)

By design, I left my iPad and laptop at home.

This was, I confess, a challenge for me.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Misconceptions: A Jumping-Off Point for Understanding

I taught middle school science for quite a few years, and I've been teaching a science methods course for half a dozen. It's definitely true that students hold a great many misconceptions. And, frankly, it's often their teachers' fault that they develop these misconceptions. (Pointing the finger at myself here. Guilty as charged...)

The good news: misconceptions can be a great jumping off point for developing understanding! The bad news: it's fiendishly difficult to change people's minds once they have learned something wrong.

An example: Heavy things do not fall faster than light things.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Education Is About Learning

Sir Ken Robinson is brilliant. I love the way he explains things--he's hilariously deadpan, but he gets you thinking about very important things. The TED Talk below is a great example. It's full of great ideas, challenging ideas. But at the heart of his message, there is a very simple truth:

Education is about learning.

If there is no learning going on, there is no education going on.

People can spend an awful lot of time discussing education without ever discussing learning.

I highly encourage you to watch the whole talk, especially if you are a teacher, or if you have kids who are currently in school. Imagine what education would be like if schools would put the ideas he's dreaming up here into practice!

Friday, June 28, 2013

This is What School Should be Like!

I'm teaching a couple of courses for a summer camp this week. Every summer, the college where I teach hosts a camp for middle schoolers. Great experience for the campers: they get a sort-of feeling for college life (staying in the dorms, eating in the dining hall, etc.) and it's a great social opportunity as well. And, hopefully, they learn something too.

I teach a course called "Geek Squad." The kids sign up for the courses they are most interested in before coming to camp, so the dozen or so I had in this course are self-identifying as "geeks," which is interesting in and of itself. Yes, we played with computers. Yes, we did some science and engineering. Yes...we talked about comic books and sci-fi movies and argued whether Star Trek is actually superior to Star Wars. (C'mon...that's not even an argument! Wait...showing my geeky hand here...) In it's essence, though, the course is about exploring, and trying stuff, and collaborating, and celebrating successes. We built all sorts of contraptions: paper gliders, tiny straw rockets, marshmallow shooters, desktop catapults, junk robots with tiny motors to make the buzz across the floor, marble runs, and we captured video of the whole thing to edit and share online.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Resistance is Futile

The forward march of technology is relentless. When I think of educational technology, it sort of reminds me of the Borg from Star Trek: "Resistance is futile...you will be assimilated..."

Image from Wikipedia

Thursday, June 20, 2013

7th Grade Police Officer

I ran into a former student last night. He was in my 7th grade homeroom 12 years ago. Sharp kid: smart, hard-working, great sense of humor; he was the sort of student that makes teaching a joy. I was leaving the grocery store and he was on his way in...wearing his uniform.

He's now a 25-year-old, and serves as a police officer here in town.

He smiled as soon as he saw me: "Hi, Mr. Mulder!" with a wave.

I said my hello in return, and got into my van with my peanut butter and aluminum foil and potato chips and memories of this former student.

And this realization: he still calls me "Mr. Mulder."

I haven't been his teacher for more than a decade, but I'm still "Mr. Mulder" to him.

That was a bit of an eye-opening experience for me. I wonder what would happen sometime if I rolled through a stop sign, and he happened to pull me over? Clearly, he would have authority in that place, and I would surely get the ticket I deserved.

But this was a good reminder for me of the Office of the Teacher. Teachers have a high calling; we have a tremendous impact--for good or ill--on the lives of the students we encounter each year, each day, each class period. And for distinctively Christian teachers, this takes on an even deeper role, perhaps: are we being Christ to our students? Maybe this is why James admonishes the church: "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." (James 3:1)

Teachers, remember your Office!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Into the Deep End of the Pool

My kids had swimming lessons this morning and it got me thinking about how much I used to dread swimming lessons when I was young. As we were heading out the door, I had a strange pit in my stomach, and I am pretty sure it was just that feeling of remembering my fear of having to jump into the deep end of the pool, which is still a strong association for me with the whole idea of "swimming lessons"--even 30 years later.

Which is silly, I know...I'm a grown-up now, and I know how to swim, and I actually enjoy making a big splash off the diving board and all that.

But there's an analogue here...

Image from VentureofFaith

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Why Students Don't Read

I saw this online yesterday (thanks to @jedipadmaster for sharing!) and I thought it was interesting. It's worth the five minutes to watch it, I think...

Interesting points these kids raise, don't you think?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Struggling Technologist

I'm teaching an EdTech course for our graduate program this summer. I've taught versions of this course before, and I thoroughly enjoy it! I've again assigned the class to read Technopoly by Neil Postman.

I love this book.
I hate this book.
This book is such a great help for me in
critiquing our culture and thinking about 
how we use technology in schools.
This book makes me feel rotten about 
where our culture currently stands
 in regard to technology;  how 
technology has seeped into every 
corner of our lives, including schools.
This book gives me hope that 
hands-on, face-to-face learning 
is still important and valuable.
This book reminds me that I'm teaching 
an online course to teachers--some of
whom I've never met face-to-face--and 
we're all somehow okay with this...
Technopoly reminds me that there is still
a huge need for good pedagogy, and that
technology should not--and truly cannot--
replace a heart-driven teacher.
Technopoly makes me wonder about the
future of our culture (most broadly) and
school culture specifically. Where are we 
headed anyway?