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

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

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

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

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...)