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 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?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Scrounging: Designing a Course

Image by Marcin Wichary
CC BY 2.0
I had a professor in my teacher education program who once told us, "Great teachers are scroungers. They are always on the look out for materials, curriculum, and techniques that they can scavenge and bring into their own classroom."

I didn't appreciate this as much at the time as I do now.

I've been participating in an online workshop this summer for faculty teaching online courses; it's been a great experience, and I've learned a lot already in the weeks we've been working together. I'm excited that I have the opportunity to put my newfound learning immediately into practice. I'm teaching several online courses this summer, and they start today! One of these courses I've taught several times online before (whew!) and the other, in two sections (high enrollment is a blessing!), is brand new, which is exciting and a little terrifying at the same time.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Summer Vacation?

Okay, fellow's a question for you: What is summer for? I mean, how do you use the summer break from school?

Image by The Consumerist
CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I know teachers who spend the summer completely away from school. They walk out the door a week after the students leave and they don't come back until a week before the students arrive in the fall. They head to the pool, they head to the lake, they head out of state. They use the summer to unwind from the hectic school year and rest up for the coming year.

I know teachers who work all summer to supplement their (perhaps meager) income from their chosen profession. I know teachers who paint houses, work in construction, clean carpets, work in restaurants, and write webpages during the summer months to earn a few extra bucks. They use the summer to ensure that they can make ends meet each year, because they feel so strongly called to teach that they are willing to do what it takes to support themselves so they can carry out their professional calling despite the low pay it might afford.

I know teachers who try to enrich themselves intellectually, to become better teachers. They spend the summer reading, reflecting, taking courses, participating in workshops, and generally trying to develop into more professional teachers. They use the summer to encounter new ideas and methodologies, to develop their understanding of pedagogy or content, and to seek to improve their teaching practice.

I know teachers who do a variety of these things each summer. They try to get away for awhile, they try to work a little, they try to do a little professional development, all at the same time. And suddenly, the ten weeks of summer vacation are gone in a blink!

What do you think? How should teachers use their summer vacation?

Monday, June 3, 2013

So Many Things!

I'm part of a...course, I guess you'd say...this summer aimed at supporting professors in shaping their online teaching practices. Sort of a workshop, since I'm not really getting credit for it, but it's valuable nonetheless, and I've really enjoyed getting to know my colleagues in the course.

Unfortunately, I'm a little behind on my work for this course. Even though we aren't really being "graded," we have deadlines built in to help keep us all together, working as a group. This post was supposed to be completed by this time last night, I am, typing away.


I have a bunch of excuses--and in my mind, they are valid!--but really, that's all they are. Excuses.

I had a busy week last week with other professional concerns: participating in an Android app development workshop (which made me busier than anticipated, but it was a fantastic learning opportunity), and preparing for two online courses I'm teaching myself (which begin very soon), and preparing for three presentations for a workshop I'm helping to present to a cohort of teachers today and tomorrow. All good things. All good things. But there are so many things...

This is a really good reminder for me about how my students in online courses have "so many things" in their lives as well. And while I won't exactly lower my expectations for their work, it was--I think--an important thing for me to keep before my eyes for my students' work this summer.

We are all busy people. While I hope that the graduate students I'll be teaching this summer will put their academic work near the top of the pile, I'm also trying to be mindful of the fact that they have other commitments (professional or otherwise) even during the summer months.