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]