Friday, December 30, 2016

Stifling Genius?

I read this article from Scientific American today, entitled "How to Raise a Genius: Lessons from a 45-Year Study of Supersmart Children." The article begins with the story of Julian Stanley, a psychometrician and professor at Johns Hopkins who began a study of gifted kids in the 1960s, and through a series of vignettes explains what this long-term research study indicates about how we should parent and teach gifted children. It's a l-o-n-g article, but if you work with kids in any way--and in particular if you are a teacher--please, please take the time to read it.

I've been thinking for a couple years now about how we teach gifted kids in K-12 schools. I recognize how badly I did this when I was a middle school teacher, so I'm pointing the finger at myself first. I would like to say that I didn't always know whether the kids I was teaching were identified as gifted or not. I have learned a lot in the past few years about what actually makes for gifted learners. One of the biggest misconceptions people have about gifted learners: "high achieving" learners are the same thing as "academically gifted" learners. They. Are. Not. Synonymous. Nope. We have to get over this. One of the problems for the truly gifted learners in school is that they often see the reality of the "game" of school for what it is--not a very good game for the gifted kids either. And, because they understand that school is a game--and a pretty bad game at that--they might refuse to play. Which is why they are not always high achievers.

While I don't know for sure which of my former students were (are) talented and gifted learners, I have some suspicions based on what I've learned about gifted learners. And oh, how I would like to be able to go back and apologize to them!

Number one on my list of apologies: I'm sorry for stifling your genius by requiring the same work of you as everyone else.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Liturgical Christmas

A (belated) merry Christmas to you! I hope it was a happy time of celebrating for you.

I have not always loved the Christmas season. There have been years where the commercialization I see this time of year entirely overshadowed my joy of celebrating Christ's first coming. There have been years when I feel anything-but-joyful during the month of December. There have been years when I dreaded the busyness and stress that all-to-often permeate the American Christmas. But this year? Not so much. I have felt wonderfully joyful and peaceful, and my heart is full to the brim with hope and love, despite the challenges of the time since we last celebrated the Nativity. It's not that everything is perfect, but rather that I am able to see a bigger picture somehow, that I am able to rest in the security of being loved by an infinite God.

I had a tangible reminder of that on Christmas Eve night/early Christmas morning. My brother-in-law and I attended the Christmas vigil service at a nearby Episcopalian monastery. I am not Episcopalian by creed, so it was interesting to note the similarities and differences to other Christmas services I have attended in years past. I enjoyed gathering with seven monks and about a dozen other worshippers to celebrate Christ's coming.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Learning to Be Uncomfortable

My friend, the amazing Alice Keeler, dropped this great quote in an online conversation today.

Alice was talking about the way things sometimes change in a software update; the developers move buttons or menu items to new places, and it causes us to have to rethink, to relearn. But I love the twist here: those small moments of a little discomfort might be avenues to new learning.

I turned it into a graphic, because we should take this to heart, teachers. We should keep learning new things. We should keep striving to get better.

But we also need to recognize that learning new things can be a challenge. Learning new things can be hard.

There is always a learning curve; and a little discomfort in the process of learning should be expected.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

When Your Students are a Blessing

Yes, I own a seflie-stick. No I'm not embarrassed about it. I'm also wearing a Christmas sweater
with a T-Rex on it (wearing a Christmas sweater of its own, of course) I don't embarrass too easily.

This crew.

This was the group of students I was privileged to teach in my "Teaching Science Pre-K through Middle School" course this semester.

We just has our last class meeting, and I am truly, truly sad to be finishing things up with them.

To celebrate, I brought candy canes, and wore a horrible-amazing Christmas sweater, and we made slime, because science.

This group of students was an absolute blessing for me this semester.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Keep Your Eye on the Donut

It's Thanksgiving Day as I write this. I am thankful for many things.

At my church, we have a "Thanksgiving Eve" service each year. It's usually a fairly intimate affair, a time for our church body to gather and reflect on the goodness of our God, and collectively give thanks.

We are currently without a pastor, so last night one of our elders shared a Thanksgiving reflection. She began with an object lesson for the children (which, of course, is also an important lesson for us grown-ups as well.)

She took a donut out of a paper bag and held it up for all the kids to see (both the littler ones up on stage, and us bigger ones still in the seats.) I was hungry--hadn't had supper yet--and it looked delicious to me. Who wouldn't be thankful to be given a donut when they are hungry?

But there is something missing with a donut: there is a hole cut out of the center. Not that it matters, of course; that's part of the joy of the donut. We expect donuts to have a hole in the middle. Honestly, it's odd for a donut to not have a hole in it. Hardly seems like a donut then, right?

We don't focus on the hole when we are enjoying a donut.

And so, she taught the kids--and all the rest of us too--a rhyme about donuts:

As you travel through life, let this be your goal:
Keep your eye on the donut, and not on the hole.  

A simple lesson, perfect for the kids. (Perfect for the grown-ups too.)

How often, in light of good gifts in hand do we focus on what is "missing"--the hole in our donut? Are you thankful for what you do have? Or do you focus on what you don't have?

I think that from here on out, every time I see a donut, I'm going to be reminded to pause and give thanks.

Image by Giovanni Tancredi [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Being a Teacher

Tomorrow in my middle school curriculum and instruction class we're going to be talking about lesson plans. Which means...tonight I was working on my lesson plan for teaching future teachers about how to write lesson plans. (That feels like Inception, somehow.)

Teaching, as I often tell my students, is not for the faint of heart. Under the very best of circumstances, it is incredibly demanding. Just planning a lesson can be daunting, let alone teaching it. And don't get me started on assessing their learning. And then the demands of meeting the needs of individual students--can we really do this? Ensuring that all students will learn? And then there is the management of the classroom. How do we create a classroom atmosphere conducive to positive social interaction and meaningful engagement in learning? And how about fostering moral development in students? And communicating with parents? And keeping up with professional development expectations? And fulfilling other administrative tasks that are required?

As I was thinking about this, I created a quick web graphic to illustrate...

Being a teacher is like trying to do a yo-yo with your right hand while solving a Rubik's cube with your left hand while also balancing a broomstick on one foot, all at the same time. I might add that in the current school culture, it's like trying to do all of this while riding on the back of a 10-point buck in hunting season. 

So give those teachers in your life a little extra measure of grace. Yes, we chose to do this. And, for the most part, we love it--or we wouldn't keep doing it.

But being a teacher is anything but "easy."

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Teaching Freshmen

Sometimes I look at the freshmen I teach and think back to what I was like in the fall of 1994...with my mop of California-blonde hair, and wearing flannel everywhere I went, and listening to Dave Matthews, and Hootie & the Blowfish, and Blues Traveler...and I smile.

I smile because I thought I knew so much then, and didn't realize how much more I had to learn. ("Wise in my own eyes," as the writer of Proverbs so often cautions against...)

It's humbling to serve as a professor, because I think of how very much my professors had a hand in shaping how I think, and act, and LIVE today. I wonder sometimes if I'm doing enough in the service of helping them grow into the people God is calling them to become.

But these students? Wow. What a blessing to teach them. They ask such great questions, they (usually) throw themselves into the weird learning tasks I ask them to try, and most of them truly want to learn. And yet, strangely, I sometimes catch glimpses of the freshman I was coming out in them, the kid who thinks he is so wise, but has so much yet to learn. But I know that it's part of their growing and maturing process too, just as it was for me. In those moments, I feel like the work I'm doing is somehow holy, and nothing to be taken lightly. Makes me wonder if my professors maybe felt that way about working with me too.

Maybe I'm just feeling a little nostalgic today, and maybe I'm just feeling the burden of being a little behind on my marking, and maybe I'm just grateful for the opportunity I have to be teaching at my alma mater, helping freshmen discern if becoming a teacher is part of their calling, just as my professors did 20-some years ago, changing my life in the process.

I think I'm going to go put some Collective Soul and grade papers...

I must have listed to this album a hundred
times in my dorm room during freshman year.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Three Joyful Moments

This week is a busy one. Last week was too. (Lately, they all seem to be, honestly...) It's advising season as we prepare for registration for the spring semester, and this means extra meetings.

But amidst all the busyness, three joyful moments for me:

1. I had a hallway conversation with a fellow professor who was once one of my middle school students. (Yep...I'm getting old...that the kids I taught when they were young adolescents are now colleagues of mine? Yikes.) But the conversation was so fantastic: brief, but deeply reflective about the kind of learning environment we want our institution to be for faculty. I wonder sometimes how many colleges and universities think of themselves in that way: a place for professors to continue to learn, to develop, to hone their craft, to grow?

2. During a group advising session last night, one of my junior (3rd year) advisees and one of my freshman (1st year) advisees were talking across the table while waiting for me to come over and talk with them about their 4-year plans. Both are future middle school teachers. As I walked toward them, I overheard the junior said to the freshman something like, "I'm glad it's been a good experience for you so far in Education...but just wait! It gets better!" This made me feel so proud of our program, and the future we are privileged to have a hand in shaping. We start them off well...and they find it just gets better the further they go in their studies in Education.

3. My Elementary Science Methods course is a little odd this semester: I typically have about 20 students, but due to the foibles of scheduling, I only have 5 students taking the course this fall. This has been a wonderfully weird experience for me, and I find I run the course much more like a seminar than a lecture-based course. Today we went far off topic (we often get a little off topic...) because they were asking such great, deep questions about how to get students engaged in learning, and what we can do as teachers to help support them in this. The conversation was so rich that I totally lost track of time, and when I realized that we only had five minutes left, I exclaimed in dismay: I had only taught about a third of my intended lesson plan! But my students--these amazing scholars!--immediately suggested a solution: none of them have a class after our scheduled block on Friday, and they suggested that we plan to stay late on Friday afternoon, to not only participate in the hands-on activities planned for Friday's lab experience, but also to complete the lesson discussion from today.

I am blessed to be part of this place. I am honored to serve alongside these amazing faculty members and to work with students of this calibre.

I have my moments of stress, for sure. I have moments I am overwhelmed by the challenges of professing.

But these joyful moments were a great reminder for me of just how blessed I am to be here.

The Prairie at Dordt College, September 22, 2016. Image by Dave Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fear or Love?

Stop it with all the fear-mongering already.


Stop it.

Stop posting and reposting that fear-mongering schlock.

I'm about ready to put my Facebook account on hiatus, because of the ridiculous things people continue to post related to this current election. It's making me not like people who I know in real life, and I'm tired of it all.

So many of my Christian friends are posting about the horrible things that will happen if one major party candidate or the other is elected in November.

I get it. I too have preferences. I have my opinions too, and I believe all educated people should.

But the fear-mongering?

Monday, October 10, 2016


I recently came across this quote; like so many, it is attributed to Albert Einstein.
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
 (And this one appears to be a legitimate Einstein quote, from an essay in Living Philosophies.)

This is so quotable, isn't it? I sort of want a poster that says this to hang on the wall of my office.

This has me thinking about my role as a Christian educator. How am I making space for my students to "experience the mysterious?" To wonder? To stand in awe?

Would making space for "wondering"--in every sense of the word--bring life to my classroom? What kind of learning atmosphere would result if I sought to include time to wonder in ever lesson I taught? Would students learn more? Would they be more engaged? Would they be more curious? Would they care more deeply about the content? Would they feel like it was a waste of their time? Would it begin to lose it's luster if we "wondered" all the time?

I wonder...

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Opinions: Evidence of Thinking

"Hey, Professor this an opinion question?"

A few semesters ago, I had a student taking a test raise her hand to call me over with this concern. She was in the midst of of the test, doing her best to answer carefully, and the thought must have struck her that there were multiple "correct" answers to the question I was asking.

Not every question I ask on a test is cut-and-dried. Some are. Some questions are convergent: there is clearly one correct answer. Convergent questions are usually best for assessing relatively low-level knowledge and understanding. Can the students recall the facts? Have they mastered the vocabulary? Do they have an understanding of the basic concepts? Convergent questions are good for these sort of course material. By asking a convergent question on an exam, I am verifying that my students have mastered a particular concept. And this is valuable in it's way; there are concepts that I want all of my students to learn, and a convergent question is a way of focusing in on their knowledge of a particular concept.

However, I don't think that convergent questions are always the best questions, even on a test. I want my students to provide evidence of thinking, not just rote memorization. How will they use the basic concepts they have learned? I've written before about Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive objectives. Bloom's taxonomy is one way of thinking about different levels of thinking. Here it is in a nutshell:

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Problem of Tribalism

A week or so ago, Scott Evans was a guest on the campus where I teach. Scott serves as a chaplain at the University of Dublin in Ireland, and is an author, speaker, thinker, and--by all evidence--a gracious encourager of an authentic faith. (Oh, and he has a pretty amazing beard too.) I was tremendously encouraged and challenged--at the same time, no mean feat--by the message he brought in chapel while was visiting.

It was great having Scott on campus again!

Scott preached on Acts 6-7, which tells the story of the growth of the early church, and the growing pains that they experienced. They didn't always get along well. There were different groups within the Body even then, and it took creative, faithful problem-solving to address the needs of the different groups. Scott challenged us to think about the contemporary church as well, and how we are functioning as a creative, faithful Body. He was far more eloquent than I am making him sound here, I'm afraid. You can watch a recording of his message, if you're interested. (I recommend it!)

Our campus chaplain mentioned that Scott and a couple of fellow Irishmen have a podcast called The Graveyard Shift, and after being so encouraged/challenged (encourochallenged?) by Scott's message, I figured I'd give it a listen.

Oh, I'm SO glad I did.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Tech Tool (Toy?):

File this under the "how could I use this for a lesson" file... (with thanks to my twitterfriend, Kyle Calderwood, for sharing...)

1. Grab your phone and head over to (Seriously, you should do this right now...)

"Hot Ham!" Or, How Our Words Matter

My daughter, who is now a tween, has begun listening to the radio at her own volition. I knew this day would come.

We listen to a lot of music in our house, and many different genres. She gravitates toward pop music, likely swayed by her friends. She recently asked me to change the radio while we were driving someplace to a station that we do not have on one of our pre-set buttons. Now, this is no problem for me, because I actually have a very eclectic taste in music, and I like to talk with my kids about the kinds of music they listen to, and what they like and dislike.

While we were listening, we heard "Wildest Dreams" by Taylor Swift and "7 Years" by Lukas Graham, and then Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars's "Uptown Funk." Now, if you know any of these three songs, you might perceive that there is some potentially problematic content for a tween in any of them. So far as I can tell, much of it is flying over her head yet, at the moment, but we are going to keep listening to music together and talking about the lyrical content.

What makes this listening session notable for me was something she pointed out about "Uptown Funk." With a slightly embarrassed look, she stopped singing along and admitted that there is a "bad word" in the lyrics.

She's right.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Satire is Tricky

I'm sure many of you have watched Hillary Clinton's bit on Between Two Ferns by now. If you've been under a rock, you can check it out here.

This gif helps to capture a bit of the general feeling of the bit...

What fascinates me about this is not so much Zach Galifianakis, or the fact that she actually did the show, or even anything that she said or did. I'm fascinated by the fact that as many of my die-hard-conservative friends posted this as my oh-so-left-leaning friends. Why would both poles be so apt to share this?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I'm Going to Be the Most Mediocre Teacher I Can Be!

I had a less than stellar moment while teaching yesterday. (Oh, what a good reminder that I am still learning even though I am the teacher!)

It happened in Intro to Education. I was explaining an assignment. My students--freshmen, mostly--are about to undertake their first research project, and I was elaborating the expectations for how to conduct good research, as in, "googling for websites is search, not research." We were talking about the library collection, and Encyclopedias of Education, and reference librarians, and excellent academic resources available online. I closed my explanation with an encouragement to be excellent: "Think about it this way: are you in college to learn? Or to just 'get by?'"

I noticed several students turn to a friend seated next to them and mutter: "I'm trying to just get by..." with a grin.

I did not grin.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Value of Struggle

We are ready for the maze!
(We ambitiously took this picture before getting started.)
My daughter and I recently visited the corn maze at a nearby farm. (Yes, I live in Iowa. This is a thing here...) I had gone with her older brother in past years; this was her first time trying out the maze.

A corn maze is very much what it sounds like: a farmer carves a path through a cornfield, creating a maze among the 8-foot tall cornstalks that are beginning to dry out as we head into fall. This particular place always cuts the maze into an interesting shape that must look very impressive when viewed from the air--this year, the image was a train on a track, engine puffing smoke, with trees and hills in the background.

From our vantage point, of course, it looked more like this:

Our view, traveling through the maze. (Remember too
that I am well over 6 feet tall, and this corn is far taller!)

Before entering the maze, we received a map to help us discern our way, which showed the entrance and exit, and every line on the map indicated the dirt path through the tall corn.

And the fun: hidden throughout the twisting path were six waypoints. At each waypoint, a different shaped hole-punch to record our visit. If we could make our way through the maze and find each of the six punches, we would win a prize! Of course we were up for this challenge!

And so, we plunged in.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Understanding the Common Core

It is amazing and fascinating (and a little troubling) for me to see how people continue to react to the Common Core State Standards. The development of these standards began in 2009--that's seven years ago, people!

The troubling part for me is how politicized the whole conversation about the Common Core is. Many people seem to just be parroting things they have heard--for good or ill--about the standards, about how they are implemented, about the government's role, etc. Many times when I hear people singing the praise of the Common Core, I wonder if they have actually read the standards. Even more common, when I hear people demonizing the Common Core, I really wonder if they have actually read the standards. It seems to me that many people are concerned about the Common Core, or--perhaps more accurately--they are concerned with changes that they see in education today, and they lump any and all changes in with "the Evil Common Core." (Sorry, that was a little snarky, wasn't it?)

Friends, particularly if you are concerned about the Common Core, I encourage you to watch this short video to better understand what the Common Core State Standards actually are. This is a very fair explanation from Education Week (a well-regarded and respectable news source for issues related to American education) and lays out a concise explanation of what these standards are about. I believe this is a helpful way to be able to discern untruths or half-truths you might hear about the Common Core.

If you've ever felt opposed to the Common Core, and you've never actually read the standards, I encourage you to look at them for yourself. You can explore the whole body of the Common Core State Standards at

Are they perfect? Certainly not. But are they a good way of articulating what students should learn at different grade levels in math and English language arts? I think they are helpful in this regard.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"Get To" or "Have To?"

Today I had one of those class periods I think all teachers dream of. Every single thing I planned just worked. Students were engaged, interactive, asking questions, collaborating, and--I don't think this is wishful thinking on my part--even enjoying the work.

At the end of class I walked back to my office doing an internal happy-dance-of-joy thinking, "I get to do this!" As in, "this is my job, but I feel like I am completely fulfilling my calling in this work!"

It's interesting for me to think about this. I'm generally a positive person, and I generally love my work as a teacher. This has been true at almost every point in my career. And, honestly, the times in my professional life where I felt like "I have to..." instead of "I get to!" were usually more about the paperwork, or external mandates, or friction with colleagues, or times I had messed up and had to make things right with a person I had hurt. Those things can definitely suck the joy out, for me at least. But working with students? Seeing them master a new concept, or even struggle their way through to developing that understanding is always a joy for me, and it never gets old.

I view my work as a teacher as a calling. I believe that I am called to serve, and the place I happen to be serving right now is the college classroom, teaching future teachers. I believe I have been equipped for this work, and I am fully using the gifts and talents I have been given. And maybe it's because I'm in this place, professionally, where I feel well-equipped because of my background, experiences, and education to serve faithfully--and even successfully. It's easy to feel "I get to!" in this kind of a setting!

Teachers, how are you feeling? Are you feeling like you "get to" work with your students, to help them grow and develop, to support their learning? Or are you feeling like you "have to?"

What will it take for you to move to "get to?"

Friday, August 26, 2016

What Kind of Work?


It's time to have a difficult conversation, teacher friends.

Here goes...

We have to think about what students are doing in your class, and why they are doing it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"I See My Name": To Know and to Be Known

It's the beginning of the semester, and I'm already struggling. Oh, I'm doing all right; I know my content, and I'm reasonably confident in my pedagogy, and I am as prepared as I can be. The struggle? Getting to know all my new students.

I teach Intro to Ed, which is a required survey course for all Education majors. If you come to Dordt College and major in Education, you'll take this course. I want to be clear: I love to teach this course; it is one of my favorites! But, because Education is one of our largest majors, I have a lot of students--about 80-100 each year, between the three sections that we offer. In the fall semester, I teach two sections of 32-35 students each. And here is the struggle: it's hard for me to get to know that many students when I only see them a couple hours a week.

When I was a middle school teacher, I had 40-60 new students every year, but it wasn't so hard to learn all those names. I think it was because I saw them every. single. day. and I was able to connect with them more quickly. With my college students, I only see them a couple times a week (actually, only once a week in Intro to Ed!) and so it takes me much, much longer to get all those names down cold. Last fall, I had most of them by the middle of the semester, but there were a handful of names that were elusive for me--five or six students whose names just wouldn't jump to mind for me.

And I hate that.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Educational Goals: Learning or Accountability?

In my Timehop today was a retweet of something shared this time last year by my Twitterfriend David Hochheiser (who is a wise, funny, generous educator--I've you're a teacher on Twitter, you should be following him.)

Here was the (re)tweet that caught my eye today:

I think he's right.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Being the Body of Christ: A Reflection from Camp

I recently spent a week serving at Royal Family Kids Camp. I was one of 74 adults there working with 38 kids from the foster care system. It's an absolutely amazing ministry, and I am proud to be part of our local camp.

People sometimes wonder what I do at camp. Maybe a strange stretch for a college professor to work with hurting kids?

That's me up in front, leading a silly song as part of our camp training.
Image by Royal Family Kids of NW Iowa [All rights reserved]

Officially, my role is to serve as a member of the music and drama team. We are in charge of putting on a daily chapel time for the campers: singing songs, reading scripture in a way that connects with the kids, teaching a Bible lesson each day, and putting on a drama. We are also in charge of "breakfast club," which is an hour-long time of fun and silliness (and sometimes serious stuff too) to entertain and engage the campers while their guides take a much needed break. (The guides are absolutely amazing, basically being right with their campers 22 hours a day.) role is to help out in entertaining and encouraging the campers, supporting the guides who work with the campers much more closely.

"But what do you actually do, Dave?"

To answer that question, I feel like I should quote Liam Neeson's character in the film Taken:
"I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career." 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

I Am Not Alone: A Reflection from Camp

Did you have a good week at camp??

So many people asked me this question at church this morning. I found it difficult to answer.

I spent the past week serving at Royal Family Kids Camp, a camp for kids in the foster care system. This was my second year with this organization, and the week at camp again stirred up all kinds of emotions. 38 campers were there, being served by 74 adults and young adults. The kids have all been part of foster care for reasons that are far outside of their control; they have been wounded by parents and others. The world has been hard for them, but many are incredibly resilient. That said, every one of the campers we served was hurting in some way, and many acted out.

Was it a good week?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Presidential Politics in 2016: Can You Make a Favorable Argument?

I generally try not to get too political on this blog, unless it's related to the policy environment for education. (And even then, the emphasis on political rhetoric is pretty thin.) But I'm making an exception here, because I use this space for working out my own thinking. So here goes...

Over the past couple of days, I've seen this piece by Wayne Grudem pushed on social media. It is entitled, "Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice." I read it. I am not impressed.

I find myself--like many, I think--unimpressed with either of the major-party candidates for President this year. I feel like I've had the same conversation over and over again with people in the past couple weeks:

"Who are you going to vote for?"
"Ugh...I don't know. Both choices stink..."
"Yeah, but you have to vote for someone. ______ is the lesser of the two evils, right?"

And there is the problem: the lesser of the two evils.

Is that really how we're voting this year?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On Being Yourself in the Classroom

Some time ago, I was preparing for a lesson on digital footprints, and I was googling myself. (C'mon, admit do it too...right?) In the process, I found this image:


Yes, that's the "Ancient Aliens" conspiracy-theorist guy.

No, I did not create this myself.

But I am afraid one of my students might have. (I'm only mostly joking...)

If one of my students did create this--whatever the motives behind it--I'll take it as a compliment.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Calling: Knowing and Loving

This summer, along with many of my colleagues, I am reading Steven Garber's book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. I have enjoyed it immensely, but I find I have to read it in small chunks, because there are so many big ideas, and I need to spend some time chewing on them, so to speak.

It is timely that I am reading this book right now, but perhaps not for the reasons you might suspect, given the title of the book. The book is about vocation--calling--but not in the sense that you might normally associate with the word "vocation." Calling is much more than just your job, your employment, your career. A the very beginning of the book, Garber includes a note explaining his belief about meaning of "vocation," and he suggests we should think about this word as "a rich one, having to address the wholeness of life, the range of relationships and responsibilities. Work, yes, but also families, and neighbors, and citizenship, locally and globally--all of this and more is seen as vocation, that to which I am called as a human being, living my life before the face of God" (from "On Vocation," p. 11).

In the chapters I have read so far, Garber draws upon his experiences working in Washington D.C. as an academic and the leader of a think tank, his friendships with people in powerful positions and lowly ones alike--Senators and students, authors and artists--and weaves their stories together in ways that have brought me fresh eyes to the concept of vocation.

The reading so far has me thinking, "Just what am I called to do?" and this is a little unsettling for me, because I feel like I am just getting comfortable in my work as a professor.

But, as I suggested above, I find the reading of this particular book timely at the moment. If you have been following the news in the United States at all in the past weeks, you will undoubtably know that there is an incredible sense of unrest. Political rhetoric is burning. Race relations are tense. There have been so many shootings across this country in the past week alone, and my heart aches. Protestors and police alike are in turmoil. And all of it is playing out in social media in painful, hurtful, nasty ways.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Thoughtful Homework

My friend, Erik Ellefsen, always has good stuff for me to think about. (If you are an educator, you should really follow him on Twitter.) Today he shared this with me...

Here's the tweet from Daniel Willingham that Erik was retweeting to me...
I appreciated the post by Willingham that is shared here. If you've been following my rant against homework over the past few months, this is a really interesting piece to consider. Willingham starts off with this gem:
There's plenty of research on homework and the very brief version of the findings is probably well known to readers of this blog: homework has a modest effect on the academic achievement of older students, and no effect on younger students...
That's what I've been writing about--homework doesn't do what teachers often think it does. (Check out this post calling for an end to "crappy homework," or this one encouraging teachers to rethink worksheets. And there's lots more, if you want to read them...check out this list of posts tagged with "homework.")

But this piece from Willingham was really interesting to me.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

An Analogy to Help Teachers Understand Homework

I have been thinking and thinking about homework over the past few months--why teachers give it (many reasons), whether it truly advances learning (debatable), what the scholarly research says about it (it's complicated), and what parents can do to partner with schools on this issue (reply hazy, try again). (If you are interested in reading my past posts on this topic, feel free to read through this list of posts tagged "homework.")

I was recently struck with what I think might be a helpful analogy for teachers who are themselves perhaps wrestling with what to do about assigning homework. Here it is...

Imagine, teacher, that your administrator hands down an expectation that you are going to write detailed lesson plans for every single thing you teach. You are expected to do this every single day, and must submit them by 7:30 a.m. every day. If you are late, or if your work is incomplete, you will have to give up your lunch hour as a consequence. Every once in awhile, you get a stack of your lesson plans back from your administrator with "10/10" or "B+" or "78%" written on the top of them, but with no other comments, written or verbally submitted.

How would you feel about this situation?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Homework: Comparing to Finland

Today I had two different friends share this same video on Facebook. It is a video comparing homework assigned in Finland and homework in the U.S. I hope you'll take a minute (literally) to watch it...

If you've been following my blogging over the past year, you'll know that I have a lot of concerns about the way teachers (often) assign homework in the U.S. The short version: I think that an awful lot of the work that is assigned is "crappy homework" that doesn't actually do what teachers think it does. We can do better, and I've been reading and thinking about this as I have time. Here are a few ideas for how we could improve homework.

I really appreciate that people are becoming more broadly aware of what Finland is doing in terms of education, and I truly appreciate the calls for looking to Finland for suggestions of education reforms in the U.S. as well. Finland does many things almost opposite of what we are doing in terms of education here in the U.S.--reducing homework, increasing recess time,  revising curriculum to include more topics that connect to students interests, increasing teacher pay and requiring all teachers to earn a Masters degree.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Technology Self-Efficacy

Imagine this scene, teachers:

You have a colleague down the hall who has been telling you all about this great new educational technology that she has been using in her classroom to amazing results. The kids are so motivated and engaged, and they are so enthusiastic about their learning. "You should try it too," your colleague encourages you.

So, you start to plan a lesson. How hard can it be? Your colleague makes is sound like the kids can just sort of dive right in and go with it. And, hey, your students are "digital natives," right? Shouldn't be a problem for them.

As your lesson rolls out, things aren't going quite so smoothly. A hand goes up, calling you over to help out. Then another hand, and another. While you are looking over one kid's shoulder at his screen, you realize that half the class is currently "stuck," and waiting for help. They start whispering to each other...

"I'm so confused!"

"Why are we doing this?"

"I'm frustrated..."

"This is dumb."

...And about that time you decide you are never doing this again. What a waste of your time--and theirs! Why did you put yourself through this anyway?


People who know me well--and my proclivities to experiment in my teaching practice, and my love of all things techie--might be surprised to hear that I am describing myself in this story.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Planning for Next Fall

Saw this one just a bit ago via Twitter...

Can I get an "amen" from my fellow educators?

I wonder sometimes why some of my lessons really "work" while others feel more lifeless. And, yeah...sometimes they totally flop. What makes a lesson really engaging? What makes a lesson...less engaging?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Writer's Block

It has been a while since I've blogged. I miss this.

It's not that I haven't been writing at all; I've been working other things. I've been working on a couple of pieces for In All Things, and revising a chapter I've been writing with one of my professors. I have an article about half-way done too--still need to wrap up some data analysis before I can finish writing it. But the big one lately has been my dissertation proposal.

I had an afternoon blocked off to write the other day, so I started with a check of where things are. I have a draft of chapter 1 written, and got it back from my advisor with feedback. I'm pretty pleased with where things stand for that, actually, so I decided to go on and draft chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 2 (lit review) was overwhelming me--I have the outline written, and a ton of research already done, but I wasn't feeling it--so I went on to work on chapter 3 for a while (methodology.) I generated about 2 pages...

...and I hit a wall.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Teaching Who We Are

Photo via Dordt College. All rights reserved.
Facebook told me that it was eight years ago yesterday that I graduated with my Master of Education degree. That was an important personal and professional accomplishment! I learned so much about myself as a teacher through the coursework and research that was behind that degree; the professors I worked with helped me to review, rethink, ...and perhaps even redeem my teaching practice. I am the teacher I am today thanks to their work with me.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Doing What Is Best, and Not What Is Easy

Saw this gem on Twitter today...

I am thinking about the teachers that just graduated from our program last week. I am grateful for the chance to work with them, to have deep conversations about what good teaching is all about, to mentor them. But I am also worried for them.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hearing and Doing

Today is, apparently, Soren Kierkegaard's 203rd birthday. (Relevant Magazine told me so.) Perhaps not as quotable as the inestimable C. S. Lewis from a century later, but Kierkegaard has some zingers too.

Here's the one that struck me today:
The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.
― Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

That hits a little close to home. I know I've said things like this before. Perhaps you have too?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Grad School: I'm Headed to Fairbanks

Time for a brief grad school update.

I have submitted my final papers for this semester, and I have achieved a landmark: I am finished with my coursework!

This semester I was taking a research elective (Design-Based Research, which was absolutely fascinating and helpful for my current and future research agenda) and conducting an "innovative experience" (basically an internship intended to help me synthesize the things I've learned in my coursework and begin applying it to a real-world problem in a way that "stretches" me.) Both were excellent learning adventures, but I feel drained--I am definitely at "the end" of this semester, limping my way to the finish line. I think it is because I kicked off this semester with comprehensive exams, which meant a ton of extra reading and preparation during Christmas break (normally a respite from the hectic, 60-hour+ per week schedule of the semester.) Honestly, I am tired...really, really tired.

But despite this fatigue, I feel great, submitting those last papers from this semester!

For my innovative experience, my final paper was a reflection on the things I had done and learned, and when I submitted it to my advisor and our program director, I shared my joy at reaching this point.

In response, one of my professors encouraged me to think of it this way:
The drive from NYC to Seattle is about 2,800 miles. To get to Fairbanks, AK, it's another 2,300 miles. When you've completed coursework for the program ... you're in Seattle. But ... you need to get to Fairbanks. ;-)

Truly, I'm grateful for this encouragement. I have said to a few people that I am now "ABD" (All But Dissertation.) One fellow academic commented to me that I should never say that; ABD is often used to indicate folks who got to this point where I find myself...and then stall out, not completing the degree.

I needed that encouragement too. I am NOT going to end up at "ABD" status. I'm proud of the work I've completed so far, and by the grace of God I'll see this journey through to the end. It's been quite a trip so far; I've enjoyed it thoroughly, but I am not at the end.

So I'm taking a rest stop in Seattle for a few days here...but I'm headed to Fairbanks.

Image by J. Stephen Conn [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Friday, April 29, 2016

On Teaching "Christianly"

It is the end of the semester, and I have students beginning the review process for their final exams. In Intro to Education, this means reflecting on all that they have read and discussed and studied in light of our essential question for the course: "What does it mean to teach 'Christianly?'"

This is a novel concept for some students. Most all of my students would self-identify as Christians, and most all of them are planning on becoming teachers. So they might well wonder, "Why does Mulder make such a big deal about this 'teaching Christianly' stuff?" And I do make a big deal about it in class. While I don't specifically ask that question each week when we meet up, I allude to it often, and I strive to both challenge their thinking through the things we read and discuss as well as model a distinctively Christian approach to teaching when they see me at work in class.

Welcome to Intro to Ed. Image by Dave Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

I don't do this perfectly, of course. I'm still figuring out how to teach Christianly myself. I've been thinking about this for some time now, and I even shared my thoughts about teaching (and living) "Christianly" on this spring. But I am far enough down this path that I am convinced this is the right way to work out my own discipleship within my teaching practice, and I am trying to demonstrate it for my students.

Sometimes I think they are even starting to "get it." :-)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Importance of Modeling

Some days, I know that teaching is for me. And I had one of those days recently.

In a recent post, I was wondering about the nature of teaching, and whether teachers are actually "teaching" if their students aren't learning. I sometimes doubt my own efficacy as a professor--am I really cut out for this work? What really qualifies me to teach someone else how to teach? Am I really that effective at this business?

And then I have a moment where I see things coming together...

I have been visiting student teachers throughout this semester, and I have been so proud of my students--seeing them putting into practice the things they have learned throughout their work in our teacher preparation program is gratifying to say the least!

But recently I had an almost surreal experience on a visit one of my student teachers. She was particularly eager to have me visit for this lesson--it was a science lesson. I teach the science methods course for elementary and middle school majors, so she was right: I am always excited to see student teachers leading a science learning opportunity.

The lesson? Part of a unit she was teaching about states of matter. The third graders had already learned about solids, liquids, and gases, and how it's possible to change from one state of matter to another, and what makes these different states function as they do. And today's lesson was a chance for them to check and extend their understanding.

My student teacher began by asking questions of the students, helping them review the characteristics of the different states of matter. I was so proud already at this introduction; in science methods I had emphasized the importance of asking a variety of different kinds of questions--some basic, recall questions, but also higher-order thinking questions--and here she was, using all sorts of questions to engage her students and help conduct them in to the lesson of the day.

And then: a Magic Question...

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

I have Questions...and Ideas...

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the Q Ideas conference in Denver. "Q" is for "questions"...and the conference was about fostering conversation around those questions. The fundamental question, I think, after attending is this: "What does it mean to be the Church in contemporary culture?"

We convened at the Paramount Theater.
Great venue!
This conference was unlike any other I have ever attended. The best way to describe it is TED Talks for evangelicals. The conference arranged for many different voices on contemporary issues facing the church, and the presenters spoke from their expertise and passions, giving 9 or 18 minute talks, followed by some discussion times. Presenters shared about diverse issues, from race relations, to legalization of marijuana, to transgender issues, to understanding calling, to Christian-Muslim relations, to artificial intelligence, to medical aid in dying, to gun control, to the current political climate in the United States. (And there were many more topics as well!)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Educational Design Research in my Future

I am nearing the end of my final coursework for my doctoral program. That brings up some mixed feelings for me–I am definitely excited to be moving on to the next phase and starting my dissertation, but this does feel like a conclusion to things as well. It has been a joy working with my cohort throughout the past three years, building friendships even though we rarely meet up in person and live on several continents.

A key part of my course work this semester has been practicing peer review. I have found this so very beneficial; we are at a point where the members of our cohort have become real friends, and it’s a pleasure to read each others’ work, and reflect upon, critique, and encourage our classmates to continue to strengthen what we have developed. I have enjoyed getting to know how my friends think about our field, and this is one aspect of the cohort model that I have found so beneficial for me: we develop relationships that are strong enough that we don’t take it personally when we hear the critique; we welcome it, because we know that our friends are looking out for us to help us make our work ever stronger! It is strange to think that we will not meet up online regularly after this course wraps up. And while I know we will continue to keep in touch, it will be different not interacting with them on a weekly basis.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

When Teaching Isn't Teaching

While pedaling to campus this morning I was suddenly struck by a thought. (This happens more often...)
If my students aren't learning, am I actually teaching?

You know what I mean?

I know there are days where I am clearly doing the work of presenting content in class.

I lecture.

I demonstrate.

I assign readings.

I show a video clip.

I ask questions of the students.

I ask students to share their stories.

I arrange materials for hands-on activities.

I ask my students to do ridiculous things--like bring three pairs of socks to Intro to Ed. (Yes, that last one actually happened yesterday...I taught them to juggle.)

I do a lot of things in my work of teaching.

But what if my students don't actually learn anything by my song-and-dance? What if they go through the motions, do the things I ask them to do, play the game...but don't come away having learned something new, made meaning of the materials, found clarity where there was confusion.

Have I really taught?

What if teaching isn't really teaching unless there is learning? And how does this thought impact what I do in my classroom today?

That golden time when I have a few moments to get
centered...helps me to feel fully ready to teach!
Image by David Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Sunday, April 10, 2016

On Being the Older Brother

A few years ago, our small group participated in a church-wide study of Timothy Keller's book The Prodigal God. It was an eye-opening look for me at the cultural context of Jesus' parable that we commonly refer to as "The Prodigal Son" as found in Luke 15:11-32. In the study, Keller notes that this story is traditionally retold to emphasize the grace of the Father to His wayward children--the prodigals, the ones running from His grace, though He is always ready to love them, to forgive them, to accept them into His family.


Keller flips this notion on its head, by pointing out from the very beginning of the story, it isn't all about the runaway son. Keller notes that the story begins, "There was a man who had two sons..."

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Education Design Research: Design, Evaluation, and Implementation

In the current module of the design-based research course I am taking this semester, we have been focusing on three key tasks: design, evaluation and implementation. Design is (obviously!) an essential aspect of design-based research, but these other two tasks (evaluation and implementation) are also extremely important.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the design of a proposed project to address a real problem for the pre-service teachers I currently serve: how can I best help prepare them for the challenges of technology integration? In crafting my design, I have conducted what I think is a thorough review of the literature. Honestly, at least half of the reading I have been doing in my doctoral program for the past three years has been focused on this topic, so while I have certainly read new things this semester, I find I have been revisiting things I’ve read previously, and I find that I am synthesizing from many sources, seeing how the pieces fit together, and designing a way to address this problem.

Image by US Department of Education [CC BY 2.0]

Monday, March 28, 2016

Teaching and Learning Online: A Reflection

I am sometimes troubled when I hear people disparaging online learning as somehow being automatically inferior to face-to-face (f2f) learning. I admit, learning online is often different from learning f2f...but different does not mean it is inferior.

Some people seem to think that online courses are automatically less work or less rigorous than their f2f counterparts. Having conducted doctoral studies in the field of Educational Technology entirely online over the past three years, I can assure you that these courses require plenty of work (I average at least 10 hours per week per course) and they are extremely rigorous (I have been stretched incredibly over the past three years, and I have learned so much about my field, both through the readings, writing, and discussion that is part of the course work as well as tacit learning from learning in the online environment.) I'm sure that there are online courses that are less work, or less rigorous...but to assume that all online courses take this path is naive.

I mean, really: are we going to honestly suggest that every f2f course is rigorous and challenging? That every f2f course demands higher-order thinking, excellent writing, and demonstration of deep understanding of the content?

Come on...has every f2f course you've ever taken been amazing? I would argue that statistically, at least half of them have been awful. Some of them were probably fantastic...but not all of them, right? The same is true of online courses: there are probably some really good ones, and some real stinkers, and quite a lot that land somewhere in between.

Speaking as an online instructor, I think it's important to remember that there are many different ways to teach online. We don't assume that all f2f courses are taught in exactly the same fashion, right? Some instructors lecture, others use socratic seminar, others use case studies, others use field-based learning, and still others use collaborative learning. Some instructors use video, others have students read extensively, others place a premium on writing, while others have students discuss topics to make sense of them. Some instructors use deductive, didactic approaches, while others use inductive, inquiring approaches. Some instructors focus on memorization and rote learning, while others strive to have students develop deeper understanding of the concepts being studied, while still others demand students apply their learning to novel situations, analyze complex situations and issues, evaluate the work of others, or even create their own innovative products to solve real problems or otherwise demonstrate their learning.

There are many different ways to teach a f2f course, and the savvy instructor matches his or her teaching methods to the needs of the students, the needs of the content, the needs of the program, the needs of the institution, etc. The instructor makes all kinds of decisions about the methods employed, hopefully in the intent of creating the strongest course possible to result in meaningful learning for the students.

Teaching and learning online--ideally--is no different.

My dog often keeps me company while I am doing my (online) homework.
Image by Dave Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Monday, March 21, 2016

Online Teaching is Still Teaching

I am facilitating a workshop for a group of my colleagues right now entitled "Introduction to Blended and Online Learning and Teaching." I have led this workshop five times previously--that seems like a lot when I write it down that way! The workshop is designed as an online course with a few face-to-face meetings; this is deliberate: I want my colleagues who may be teaching blended or online courses to have a sense of the uncertainly, the tentative nature, the fear that some online learners have getting started with a course. For some of the participants, this is the first time they have ever taken an online course before...not unlike some of the college students they teach.

So here's the nasty part: in the first module of the course, I deliberately chose BAD PEDAGOGY. I was nebulous about some of the requirements and expectations. I started with a soft open--a general "we will start class on Tuesday" announcement was all I gave them, with no explanation of what that really means. I had a (lengthy!) syllabus, and a (lengthy!) introductory video to give a rambling personal introduction and some expectations for their participation. I even contradicted myself at a few points between the different things I had posted about due dates and times. Oh, and the greatest faux pas of them all: "All of your work is due by midnight on Monday." (Begging the classic question: Wait...does that mean just after 11:59pm on Sunday night? Or just after 11:59pm on Monday night??)

As I say, this was all deliberate. Isn't that horrible? Call it tacit learning: I made it explicit later (I hope!) but I wanted them to have the experience of being unsure if they are "doing it right" as a learner.

Because here's the thing: online teaching is still teaching. We can't be sloppy or doing it half-way, just because we don't have a physical classroom. We still need to be careful, thoughtful, welcoming, encouraging, just as we would in a face-to-face first-day-of-class. And, perhaps even more-so in the online-only classroom environment: we need to be very, very clear about what we mean, and what we expect.

I hope the lesson was taken well by the participants. I promise that I'll make module 2 a better learning experience for them.

"WE" are learning together!
Image by David Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Are Your Students Olfactory Learners?

I recently read this piece: Parents of Nasal Learners Demand Odor-Based Curriculum. It's a compelling piece of journalism! (It is from The Onion, so take it for what it is, okay?) :-)

This has me thinking about learning styles again. The basic idea: because every student is unique, they all have unique learning styles, and if teachers tailor their teaching to use students strongest styles, in theory, they should learn more.

Image by eltpics [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Is nasal learning a thing? Should we strive to make our classrooms a space welcoming to olfactory learners? For students who are strongly in tune with the odorous cues in the classroom, shouldn't we capitalize on these strengths? What are the repercussions of not teaching a child through his or her strongest learning style? Would such a child be able to learn anything at all in the classroom??

Monday, March 7, 2016

Your Worksheet Isn't Doing What You Think It's Doing

A certain middle schooler I know, somewhat disgruntled about doing his homework some time ago, snapped this picture and texted it to me:

This was part of a lesson in his English book about effective and ineffective summarizing strategies. While not a reading assignment, exactly, it prompted a conversation.

His argument went something like this:

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Education Design Research - Analysis and Exploration

Image by Charlottes Photo Gallery [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]
I am currently taking a course entitled "Design-Based Research." Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about how to best create a design-based research project that is both realistic in scope and also helpful for my current role as a teacher educator. Also, I am working on a sort of guided study project concurrently, and I am finding much overlap between these two projects. I have a lot of thoughts swirling around in my mind right now, so as I am reflecting on my work over the past few weeks, I will try to distill them into a few key themes.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Fighting Procrastination

I confess it: I procrastinate.

I think I am getting better at this, but only because I have so many things going on in my life that I can't afford to procrastinate on everything.

On the other hand...I have so many things going on in my life, that there are times things get pushed to the back burner, or even set on a cooling rack away from the heat entirely...and don't seem to make their way back onto the stove.

I've had to learn a few techniques along the way to keep up. Here are my top three tips for fighting procrastination:

Friday, February 19, 2016

Another Six Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography

Those of you who are regular readers may know how much I love geography. I think maps are cool. (I was that geeky kid studying the maps in the back of the social studies book in elementary school...)

I'm always on the lookout for fun geography sites, tools, lesson ideas, and repositories, and I keep stashing them away when I come across them. In case you are interested, a few previous posts of geographic resources...
Eight Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography
Seven More Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography
And Six More Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography

Of course, it seems like there always another new one that crops up. So, in no particular order, here's my latest batch...

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Growing Dendrites

I had never heard of the book before today, but in an email hawking textbooks, I saw one title that caught my eye: Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites by Marcia Tate. I cannot vouch for the book at all; I have not read it, and I don't know the author.

But this title rings true for me.

Dendrites, in case you haven't studied human anatomy and physiology lately, are the branches extending from neurons (nerve cells.) Every thought that you have is the result of electrical impulses traveling from one neuron to another, and it is the dendrites that allow for all sorts of communication to happen throughout the body as they connect the neurons. Each neuron can have thousands of connections to other neurons, and all of those dendrites matter for thinking and moving the body.

Image by The Journal of Cell Biology [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]
Why bring it up? Best we can tell, learning happens as the result of new connections between neurons. The saying (attributed to neuroscientist Donald Hebb) goes, "Neurons that fire together, wire together." And the idea here is that learning is the result of growing new neural connections, new dendrites connecting, "wiring" with other neurons. (Yes, yes, I know I'm simplifying the science here. If you'd like to learn more, you can read this page about axons, dendrites, synapses, and neurotransmitters.)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Getting Started with Education Design Research

This semester I am taking Education Design Research (EDR) as a research elective for my doctoral work. While I had heard of EDR before as a methodology, I really had never learned too much about it, so this course is is a great opportunity to learn more. EDR is also known as design-based research (DBR). This terminology may be more familiar for some, as it is sometimes used in other fields beyond education. I am fascinated by this approach so far, and I am interested in learning more!

The text we are using for this course is by McKinney and Reeves (2012), and I found their definition for EDR helpful; they describe this methodology as “a genre of research in which the iterative development of solutions to practical and complex educational problems also provides the context for empirical investigation, which yields theoretical understanding that can inform the work of others” (p. 7). The basic idea of EDR, then, is to develop an intervention to address a particular problem in education, while at the same time also generating theoretical understanding of the situation. Both quantitative and qualitative research methods can be used, depending on the nature of the research question, and from the reading I have done so far, EDR seems to be one way to make mixed-methods research a reality. (There is some contention about the used of both quantitative and qualitative methods in the same study in education; I can not speak to weather this is the case in all disciplines.)

Taking this as an introduction for the uninitiated into the idea of EDR, I feel that I should say that am not fully certain about just what this approach looks like in practice. I have looked at several examples of EDR studies, and it seems like there is a wide variety among them. So…a few parts are still a bit muddy for me.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

More Homework ≠ More Learning

It's been a while since I've blogged, and it's because I've been working on my comprehensive exams for the past few weeks. I ended up doing a sort of Twitter-fast in the process, because I just did not have the time to devote to those connections and conversations, though I love them so much and find them so valuable for stirring my thinking.

Today, I decided to take a break from other homework and just scroll through my TweetDeck for a few minutes. It felt good to be back, like having a cup of coffee with a dear friend and catching up. (There is probably some commentary about my love of technology there...)

And...wouldn't you know it...? One of the very first tweets I saw was a retweet from my Twitterfriend, Erin Olson (whom you should be following, if you are a teacher)...

The piece that was linked in her retweet here was intriguing to me, since I have an ongoing axe to grind about crappy homework. Here was the tweet:

Friends, if you are convinced that homework is a good thing for kids, you really have to read this.

Here, I'll make it easy...just click this link: "Homework in primary school has an effect of zero."

Okay, I'll make it even are a few quotes from the piece. Just read these:
"Homework in primary school has an effect of around zero. In high school it’s larger. (…) Which is why we need to get it right." 
"It’s one of those lower hanging fruit that we should be looking in our primary schools to say, 'Is it really making a difference?'" 
"Certainly I think we get over obsessed with homework." 
"Five to ten minutes has the same effect of one hour to two hours." 
"The worst thing you can do with homework is give kids projects. The best thing you can do is to reinforce something you’ve already learnt."
These quotes come from an interview with John Hattie, an education researcher who has investigated over 130 influences on education and ranked them in order of the effect they have on student achievement (i.e., measurements of actual learning.) I've mentioned Hattie's list in an earlier blog post, where I noted that homework does make the list; it comes in at 88th place in terms of the effect it has on learning. There are so many other things we could (should?) be doing to improve student learning...why are we still assigning so much homework?

Let's get this right, my fellow educators: more homework does not mean more learning!

Image by David Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Comprehensive Exams

I have not posted much lately because I have been working on preparing for my comprehensive exams, and then writing my exams.

This has been so, so challenging for me. I know, of's supposed to be challenging. And truthfully, I am feeling quite well-prepared for this. It's just trying to write while working around all the other parts of my life...sometimes it has me feeling like...

Those of you who know me well might be able to see this. Those who don't perhaps know me as well might be surprised. (Actually, I'm all dark and twisty on the inside...)

Honestly, things are going pretty well for the actual writing, but I there are times that I sort of hit a wall, so I start reading more to get on top of things, or hopefully break through.

The problem with that is, sometimes I find a new article or chapter to read, and all of a sudden, I'm like...

I'm not writing this for any sympathy or words of affirmation or anything like that. I know that I chose this, and the stress is temporary, if even of my own doing. (As my friend, Tom, reminds me, "I'm not life is rich and full!")

But if you could give my wife and kids a little extra encouragement, I think that would be welcome. They have been amazing, actually, throughout this process, and I'm so grateful for them.

Thanks for reading all. You guys are the best.