Friday, February 21, 2014

Homework and Responsibility

Ah...homework. Staple of childhood today...
Image by apdk [CC BY 2.0]
I'm thinking about homework in K-12 education again. I've had several exchanges via Twitter lately about the value homework, what it is for, how it is used in school today, and some of the problems.

One of the ideas that often seems to come up when discussing homework is that of "teaching responsibility." As in, "I assign homework to my students to help them learn to be responsible!"

Folks, despite great intentions, I think this is a pretty rotten purpose to assign homework. Often times, this kind of homework really only burdens the parents, and doesn't actually help develop responsibility in the kids anyway.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How Can We Expect Our Students to Cite Sources if We Don't?

A couple weeks ago I was doing an EdTech workshop with some 4th grade teachers and the topic of teaching kids to cite sources came up. How should we do this at the 4th grade level? How should we do this at any grade level?

While it is important to have explicit instruction in how to cite sources, I'm convinced that we have to model this. All. The. Time. This will make it a "normal" part of kids' culture--an expectation that they have to give credit for the work of others.

Thank you, for
allowing me create things like this...
And--honestly, teacher--you can't in good conscience admonish your students to cite sources without also doing so yourself!


Let's be real about this: we are busy people. Most of the time we want to do the right thing, but we are in a rush and figure, "what harm can it do?"

It's not that skipping citing one source is the end of the world. But a pattern of not citing your sources is a terrible model for your students. Getting yourself in the habit can be a great chance to point it out to your students later when you are teaching them (and requiring them) to cite sources themselves.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Filling Buckets: The Impact of Positivity

Image by Kathy Cassidy [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]
Have you heard of the idea of "filling others' buckets?" (If not, you can read to find out more.)

The basic idea: look for ways to build others up. Their "bucket" is a person's emotional self. Filling buckets happens by making a positive impact on that person. I think this is a great metaphor! Once your bucket is full, you can't help but overflow--splashing and pouring out positivity into other people's buckets too!

I tend to be a positive person by nature, and as a teacher I look for ways to build my students up and celebrate great things I see in them. But it's great when my bucket gets filled too.

I had a great "bucket-filling" moment recently. A colleague was talking with on of our mutual students and the student shared this with her about my class:

"If you have to have an 8:00 class, Prof. Mulder is the professor you want to have. He is so energetic and is like, 'We’re going to learn this and you’re going to love it!'"


I feel humbled and honored when people share things like this with me. My bucket is filled! And I feel more inspired to make that statement even more true!

And maybe that's the real impact of positivity? We can make a difference in someone else by taking the time to brighten their day. Not through false praise--that would probably have the opposite effect. But when we see good things, don't be afraid to point them out, to encourage someone, to celebrate excellence. This sort of positive influence might stir your students on to greatness as well!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Questions are Good!

I am a fan of questions.

Questions are good. When people are asking questions, you know they are thinking.

I much prefer that students ask questions in class than that they just nod along with whatever the teacher is saying. In fact, I get more worried when no one is asking questions.

Sometimes I think it's our fault (lumping myself in as part of the problem here), by shutting down students' questions. Maybe it's because we're afraid we won't know the answers.

But what if we would embrace questions as a key part of teaching and learning? And not just teacher questions, but students' questions?

Would school look different if teachers actively encouraged students to ask questions?

What would school be like if we expected five or ten or thirty answers every time the teacher asked a question?

What if we encouraged divergent thinking rather than convergent thinking?

What if we used students' questions and wonderings and curiosity as a launchpad for their learning?

What if we took students' thinking seriously--would they ask more questions and be more willing to express their ideas?

And what if, when students asked questions, we didn't immediately try to answer them? What if we asked questions in response? What if we would respond with, "Interesting! How could we find out? Where could we get more information about that?"

It's not that the teacher has to be the "knower-of-all-things" to transmit knowledge to the students. So often this is the way direct instruction happens. Nothing against direct instruction--there is definitely a time and a place for it. But let's also consider the value of indirect teaching methods. Maybe this would invite students to take a more active, experiential role in their own learning? Maybe we need to talk less and ask more? Maybe we need to wonder along with our students?

I challenge you (and myself!): Let's embrace questions. Let's embrace wondering. Let's embrace thinking, pondering, innovating, interacting, and creating!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Confusing Technology with Content or Pedagogy

I recently saw this graphic via Twitter. I love it! Such a great reminder...

Image by William M. Ferriter [CC BY 2.0]

I love this, but I want to disagree ever-so-slightly with that last comment at the bottom...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Teacher? Or Technician?

I recently presented a webinar on teaching hands-on science in K-4 classrooms. It was developed especially for Christian teachers teaching in faith-based, non-public schools, so it was advertised as, "Teaching Hands-On Science with Christian Perspectives in Grades K-4." (Isn't that a wonderfully loaded title?) Over 100 teachers and administrators attended--I was gratified that so many people are interested in this topic, because it is near and dear to my heart as a former science teacher and current science methods instructor.

Overall, the webinar went quite well. I worried that I was "lecturing" too much, but I also gave a bunch of suggestions for hands-on activities (with photos to illustrate!), so my hope was that this would balance out all the philosophical talk.

After the presentation and the Q&A time was over, the facilitator asked the participants to complete a short survey in response, and he told me he would send me the feedback. I was glad to hear this--I always am interested in what connected with an audience and what I can rethink for next time.

As I looked through the comments yesterday, I noticed that they basically fell into three categories.

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Everything Is Awesome": A Lesson from The Lego Movie

Image by TooMuchDew
[CC BY-NC 2.0]
I took my kids to see The Lego Movie over the weekend. Truth be told, I was as excited to see it as they were! And it did not disappoint: the kids loved it, and I loved it too. Partly I loved it for the nostalgia--I was a Lego Maniac back in the day--but partly I loved it because of the message of the film. (Here's a solid review of the film that doesn't give anything away, but might convince you to go see it: I Really Wanted To Hate THE LEGO MOVIE.)

The film tells the story of Emmet, an average, happy-go-lucky guy living in Bricksburg. He lives what might be considered a boring life: he follows "The Instructions" to a T. (Get it? Lego? Instructions?) He loves his job as a construction worker, building things according to The Instructions. His life's credo is summed up in the movie's theme song, "Everything is Awesome" (I can't help but love it--it's so infectious!) everything is long as you are a team player, and get along well with others, and follow The Instructions.

But despite his by-the-book life, Emmet may be more than he first seems! Could he be a Master Builder? Can he learn to build without following The Instructions? Could he be The One? (Okay, so the story is a bit of a knock-off of Star Wars, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, or any other average-person-might-be-more-than-s/he-seems-and-is-in-fact-going-to-save-the-world film. But truly, it works on a lot more levels than that!)

With the possibility that he might be a Master Builder, Emmet begins to think that not following The Instructions might actually be the real way to find that "everything is awesome."

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Teaching and Leading: Focusing on Our Strengths

One of the courses I'm taking this semester is about leadership in the field of Educational Technology. I'm very interested in this--it looks to be a great semester!

Our first assignment was to read the book Strengths Based Leadership, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. It's a quick, easy read and give a good overview to the idea of leading with your strengths, rather than focusing on overcoming your weaknesses. Along with the reading, we were to take the StrengthsFinder assessment, created by the people at Gallup. (Yep, that Gallup.) They have a history of helping organizations and individuals understand their strengths.

This was an interesting assignment for me, but it wasn't the first time I'd taken the StrengthsFinder assessment. About six years ago, along with the rest of the staff at the school where I was teaching at that time I took the test as a part of reading Teach with Your Strengths. It was intended to be a team-building exercise, I think, but we never really did much with the results beyond a one-and-done "professional development" workshop. That might sound more cynical that it actually is; I found the exercise to be very helpful for me to understand my own strength areas.