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]