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."