Thursday, December 14, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Ending Well

It's been an exciting challenge for me to teach this Geography course for the first time this semester. My students have been fantastic, honestly. As I was welcoming them into our last class meeting today, I was handing out candy canes to wish them a Merry Christmas--a small token of my gratitude for their willingness to play along with all of my "crazy ideas" throughout the semester.

(Funny: a colleague who has also taught many of the same students paused at the door, seeing me with the candy canes. She looked in at the group of students who were getting settled for class, and said something like, "Wow, this is an amazing group of students!" So it's not just my bias here, right? She has taught them too, and can vouch for the fantastic-ness of this crew.)

Last-day-of-class group selfie, of course! 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Blindspots

It is almost the end of the semester--I had my second to last class meeting for World Regional Geography today. I'm pleased, overall, at how the course has gone. Room for improvement next time around? Absolutely! But that doesn't mean this first time through was a bust.

We began the semester looking at different "tools" of geography. We spent some time looking at different types of maps. We learned about population dynamics, and the demographic transition model. We considered different economic systems, and different political systems, and what it means to be a "developed" country.

The middle part of the semester--the bulk of it, really--was spent considering different regions of the world. We began with a region that is "home" for most of my students: North America. And from there we globe-hopped through "Team West" (Western Europe, Australia & New Zealand, and Japan--strange, I know, but they are definitely "Team West") before heading to other regions to learn more about "the rest": Eastern Europe, Russia, Latin America, the Middle East and Northern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and all of the subregions of Asia. It was a busy semester!

And now, we are near the end. Today we spent our class time examining various "hot spots of conflict" around the globe. Some of these were obvious and well-known to my students, such as Israel vs. Palestine, and the U.S.'s involvement in Afghanistan, and North Korea vs. ...the world? Others were less well known, such as the ongoing unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the long-term distrust between India and Pakistan, or Russian influence in former Soviet republics like Georgia and Ukraine.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Arrival of the Underdog: An Advent Devotional

What follows is a devotional I wrote for the Royal Family Kids Camp of NW Iowa dinner and dessert auction. *

The Arrival of the Underdog

Christmas is coming. We are about to enter the season of the year we call Advent. The word “advent” comes from a Latin root, meaning “arrival.” So in this season we are awaiting the arrival—the advent—of Christ.

One of several Nativity scenes we have in our home...
During Advent, we hear the gospel stories about Jesus’ birth, often multiple times throughout the season, year after year. The story of the angel bringing the news to Mary that she would be giving birth to the Son of God. The story of the angels visiting the shepherds to tell them the good news of Jesus’ birth. The story of wise men, coming so far, seeking the newborn king. In Sunday School Christmas pageants, in candle-lit church services, in devotionals and picture books, we hear these stories again and again. And when I’m honest with myself, I know I’ve heard these stories so many times that they have lost a bit of their impact on me.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Stumbling Through

I've been blogging my way through this semester of preparing and teaching a course that is new to me. (If you've just joined us, you can see the whole series here.) Getting my hands around a content-driven course in our CORE program has been a fun challenge for me. Most of the courses I teach are pedagogy-oriented courses in our teacher preparation program, so this feels more like what I did when I was teaching in K-12. Teaching Education courses is sort of weird, because the content of the course is also what I'm doing, if that makes sense? So teaching World Regional Geography has been both challenging and joyful for me.

As I've been reflecting on my thinking, teaching, and learning this semester, I realize that I've mostly been sharing stories of successes from class. And it has been largely successful. I'm so grateful to my students for that! They have been willing to play along with each "crazy idea" I've lobbed their way. I keep soliciting their feedback throughout the course as well, and so I'm learning from what worked well from their perspective, and what missed the mark. Thankfully, most of it has worked well.

But...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Questions

I often tell the students in my Education courses, "Questions are good! We love questions!" This usually comes up in conversations about pedagogy (the how of teaching and learning) and especially related to the content knowledge (the what of teaching and learning) we need to have to be effective teachers. I try to emphasize to my teachers-in-training that questions are evidence of thinking, wondering, planning, wrestling, and--often--growth and development.

But I think the idea of students asking them questions scares them a little too. "Will I have enough knowledge to answer all of their questions?" is a common concern.

I always try to reassure them that as the teacher, you don't have to have all the answers. While you can't say, "I don't know..." every day and maintain credibility as a teacher...you can say, "Let's find out!" at any time, and invite the students in to the learning as they answer their own questions.

But all of this talk in theory came together for me in practice a few weeks ago in class. In my World Regional Geography class, we spent a few class meetings investigating Latin America (Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America) and the often-complicated relationship between the United States and these regions. As an introduction to one lesson, I pulled out an old technique I used often in my middle school teaching practice.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Testing Trials

I am a big believer in closely matching my assessment vehicles to what I want students to know, understand, and do. I think that they way we assess students matter, and I try to use a variety of different kinds of assessments to help me understand what my students understand. This means I use some very informal in-class assessments like quick-writes, Padlet boards to capture their questions, and even monitoring the conversations in small group discussions. But this also means I use a variety of formal, summative assessments that require students to synthesize their learning.

In other words, yes, I give tests.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Semper Reformanda

I've had people ask me sometimes where the inspiration for blogging comes from. Most of the time, it's something that recently happened, or that I recently read, or a recent conversation that sparks a post. Most of what I'm writing here on the ol' blog is just my way of thinking things through, honestly. But once in a while, I have a post that I've been ruminating on for a long, long time. This is one of those posts.

About a year and a half ago, I was in Iowa City at a conference, and my friends and I stopped in to a coffee shop to grab a cup. It was one of those wonderfully hipster places--definitely catering to the university crowd, you know? But I was surprised and struck by the artwork on the walls. In particular, there was a fantastic update to the classic portrait of Martin Luther that I'm sure you've seen before. But in this piece, Luther is decked out in fashion not that different from the barista who served my pour-over that evening. I pulled out my phone to snap a pic:

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Teaching Controversy

I don't generally think of myself as a rabble-rouser, but I wonder sometimes if my students perceive me this way. I know that I do sometimes speak passionately about topics I care a lot about, but I also try to listen at least as much as I speak. The challenge: sometimes the curriculum involves content that is (or could be) controversial, particularly if there are a variety of viewpoints present among the learners.

I had a bit of that feeling in my geography class today. We are examining Latin America right now, and today we were focusing on Mexico. In particular, we were thinking about contemporary issues in Mexico--and, since we are here in the U.S., about Mexico's relationship with the United States. On the docket were things like NAFTA, drugs, and migration. Migration, in particular, has the potential to be politicized very rapidly, so I wanted to handle with care.

HOWEVER...

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Quizzing Basic Knowledge

Over the past 20 years I've served as a professional educator, my thoughts on basic knowledge and skills have fluctuated.

Early in my career, I know I focused a lot on "just the facts." Students in my math classes learned algorithms for solving particular kinds of problems. Students in my science classes memorized a lot of definitions for vocabulary. The idea for me: they have to know the facts! And...perhaps cynically...it's easier to assess their factual knowledge than the deeper understanding that I hope they will also develop.

Looking back, I now realize that about five years in to my teaching career, a shift began to happen. As I matured as a teacher, I began to de-emphasize basic factual knowledge and instead began to focus more attention on ensuring that students could actually do something with that knowledge. Eventually this meant I embraced standards-based assessment practices for my science classroom, focusing on giving students multiple opportunities to both learn concepts as well as demonstrate their understanding of the concepts. I remember having a (somewhat heated) conversation with a colleague during this time in which I said something like, "If they can find the answer on Wikipedia in under 30 seconds, they don't need to memorize it!"

Friday, October 13, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Daring Acts of Pedagogy

Last week I enjoyed attending the Heartland Christian Teachers' Convention held here at Dordt College. They keynote speaker was someone I deeply respect (and...let's be honest...I'm kind of a fanboy) and have followed on Twitter for years: Rick Wormeli. Rick is a gifted presenter, a passionate educator, and an intellectual pot-stirrer. He is unafraid to challenge teachers to rethink their classroom practices, and to not do things just because "we've always done it that way." (Not to say we need to crave novelty...but that we need to be reflective, introspective, and willing to adapt.)

It was great to have Rick here on campus, and I confess, I attended every session he presented. (And live tweeted them...) It wasn't necessarily "new" material for me--I've been reading things he wrote since the mid 2000s when I was doing my Masters degree. But it was good reminders of the things I believe to be true about assessment, about differentiated instruction, about meeting the needs of students, and about teaching for understanding.

As an added bonus, I got to help out with a tech issue, and then took this awesome selfie with Rick:


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Readiness to Learn: A Reflection on the Silage Pile

Last night I had a new experience: I helped cover a silage pile.

You should know that I'm a city kid through-and-through, and even though I've lived in the midwest for quite a few years now, I know next to nothing about farming. But when I had the opportunity to help out with a church fundraiser that involved heading out into the country, I was up for it.

My view from the bottom of the pile, where I was holding down the tarp.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Writing Tests

It's time for our first test of the semester in World Regional Geography. I've spent quite a bit of time over the past few days working on writing it. This perhaps something the non-teachers out there don't realize: writing a (good) test is actually a lot of work!

Yes, I know there are lots of pre-fab tests that come with curriculum materials. In my experience, these vary in quality quite a lot. Some of them are pretty good. Some of them are pretty awful. Most are somewhere in between, perhaps with some great questions and some...less great questions.

I generally prefer to write my own tests though, and in this course in particular--while I do have a great text that we're using--I don't have a teacher's manual the way I did when I taught in K-12. And, honestly, I really prefer to write my own test questions anyway.

I've shared my strategies for writing test questions before on this blog, and I'm putting them into practice as I've been working on this test. It's been a timely reminder for me about the challenges of writing good questions: questions that get at what I most highly value, and not just what is easy to measure.

Image by Alberto G. [CC BY 2.0]
(Funny, because I never use Scantron sheets for tests I write...)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Leading Them to Water

As I continue to reflect on my experience teaching a brand new course, I have come to realize how much pressure I put on myself to be excellent.

This isn't entirely surprising to me. I have high expectations for myself as a teacher. I take my work very seriously--even though I don't take my self too seriously. I count it simultaneously a blessing and a burden to be tasked with ensuring that students learn. Yes, I use the word "ensure." This is dangerous, I know--can I really ensure that students will learn? It would be safer to say I "provide them with opportunities to learn," wouldn't it? But that's not how I see it.

One of my professors in my M.Ed. work (the inestimable John Van Dyk, who has had a profound and pervasive impact on the way I think about my role as a teacher) reminded us:


I take that seriously. Yes, my students have to do the hard work of learning. I can't make them drink. But...am I doing what I can to make them thirsty?

The trouble with this is that I start to put a bit of a burden on myself then, you see? I want to do my best to make class for my students; I want to structure the learning environment in such a way that it supports them, encourages them, challenges them, engages them, and--dare I say it?--makes them a little thirsty.

I'm working on it. I know that I'm not the most engaging lecturer. I think I'm better as a storyteller than a lecturer. The emotional engagement from a story gets them "thirsty" in a way that just the fact never will. But it's harder to tell stories the first time you're teaching a class. And there is so much content in this geography course! While I'm confident in my ability to teach it, it's my first time through. Planning a lecture--even though it might be more "boring" for the students--feels safer.

But...

Lecturing (for me) doesn't seem as effective at leading them to water. (It's not that lecture is "bad" as a methodology...but bad lecture is THE WORST.) So even though its a little scary for me, I'm trying to get students more actively involved. I'm asking them to help direct my class presentations by asking questions to clarify what they've read. This has been pretty successful so far, but it's definitely still a work in progress for me. I'm also trying to do in-class projects and collaborative work that gets them more actively involved than just sitting back and listening.

Today, for example, we were exploring intergovernmental organizations, like the UN, EU, NATO, NAFTA, G-8, SCO, BRIC, WTO, IMF, and more...it was alphabet soup! And rather than me lecturing my way through all of these organizations, I figured we could collaboratively generate a database.

So I made a Google Doc and populated it with a list of 20-ish supranational organizations, and shared it with my class. Basically we were seeking to answer three questions about each of them:
1. What is this?
2. Who are the major players?
3. Why should we care/be concerned about this?

The students partnered up and launched in, and after about 10 minutes, we had a solid beginning. I then directed them back to it to read through others' responses, adding to them, tweaking, modifying, updating...trying to get the best responses we could. I read through them too, and made a few tweaks myself, adding some info, correcting a few (very slight) errors. And there it was: a database of organizations, developed collaboratively and vetted corporately (and by me.) They were actively involved throughout, and the "why should we care?" question really worked for them--this was part of the running them around the waterhole, I think.

Can I ensure that they all will know about the African Union, and DR-CAFTA, and the Arab League, and OCED? Hard to say, I suppose. But were they actively involved in learning about them today in class, with a sense of "need to know?"

Yep.

I marked today's lesson as one of the most successful of the semester so far.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Getting Them to Read

I've really been thinking about reading this week. A big part of the prep work for college-level course work is reading. I assign a fair bit of reading to my students--generally at least a chapter to prepare for each class meeting. (This varies a bit, of course, depending on the subject matter or the course.) And I think it's pretty important for students to do this reading.

I mean, if it wasn't important, I wouldn't assign it, right?

But I'm also a little cynical. I know that as a college student, I didn't always do all of the reading assigned. (Gasp! This feels like true confessions...) I suspect that some of my students are in this boat too. It's not like they deliberately set out to not prepare for class. But I wonder sometimes if there are things I'm doing as an instructor that make it less likely that they will do the reading I want them to do?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Trusting Students

I was agonizing about class today.

The title of my geography course is, "World Regional Geography: Peace and Justice on the International Stage." And that's really our emphasis: not just knowing places on the map, but rather, "Who cares?" and "What can we do about the issues in the world?"

So on my syllabus today, the topic was "Developing a Biblical Framework." Since I'm teaching at a Christian institution, and I have the freedom to give full voice to my faith commitments, I wanted to frame the way we're thinking about geography--aiming to emphasize peace and justice--in light of a biblical perspective. But my fear was that it would come off as, "So here's the biblical perspective, and once we have talked about this, we can check it off the list and go on to the next topic on the syllabus." Since I'm really striving to teach Christianly--to live out my faith in all aspects of my teaching practice--this is not what I'm about. In terms of the curriculum for this course, I want to challenge my students to own their faith, and not just parrot back what I think.

Agonizing about class: would they actually discuss things?


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Pre-Assessment

An old gradebook from when I taught middle school...
Time for me to practice what I preach, folks. If I tell my Education majors something is good practice for teachers, I better be doing it in my own teaching, right?

In my pedagogy-oriented courses, I often emphasize the role that assessment plays in teaching. I often talk with my students about the importance of setting objectives, aligning appropriate assessment vehicles to these objectives, and then ensuring that our instructional moves will actually support students' learning of those objectives. When I say "assessment vehicles," students often jump immediately to tests and quizzes, but there are, of course, lots of other possible ways to assess students' knowledge, understanding, and skills.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Day One

My wife calls this my "first day of school"
outfit. (She's not wrong...)
It's the first day of school for me for this academic year. Ah, the beginnings: the excitement, the nervousness, the joy, the fun of meeting up with new students, the even-more-fun of meeting up with students I've taught before who already know me...

I love this about teaching: the rhythm of the year with beginnings, middles, and endings makes it feel like a new journey each time. Today was stepping out at the start of a new expedition, and it was a joy, honestly.

The first day of class is a challenge though. How deep can we go on the first day, when they haven't read anything, or written anything, or prepared anything? Do I just have introductions and go over the syllabus? And who wants to do that for 75 minutes? (Ugh!)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Learning to Teach Again

Tomorrow morning I will enter the classroom again, beginning my 20th year as a professional educator. I am excited! And...I have the jitters again, as usual.

This fall I'm teaching a new course. I'm adding World Regional Geography to my repertoire, and I'm really excited for this! I love geography, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to help my students expand their view of the world.

But I'm anxious about it too.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I'm Not Superman

Facebook is a weird partial record of parts of my life that I decide to show online. It's always a little interesting to see what pops up in my personal "this day in Facebook history" each day. For instance, this one was today, six years ago:


The comments in response to this post (there were 20 of them!) were pretty funny to read through. Some were encouraging, like a former student who said, "People ask you for help cause your AWESOME!!!"  Some were a little more pointed, such as the family member who said, "Build a bridge and get over it..." Others were empathetic, along the lines of a friend from church who responded, "I had that too!" And still others were just a little weird, like a college friend who suggested, "Just duct tape your thumbs down and explain it can't be down without opposable thumbs." (I love that last one...)

I'm reflecting back, trying to remember exactly what the context was. I know I was serving as Technology Coordinator in a K-8 school at that time, and given that it was nearing the first day of school, I suspect this was in response to a whole slew of, "Hey, Dave...can you help me a minute with ________?"

There were a lot of those kinds of questions, honestly. And it's in my nature to try and be helpful. This comes out of a sense of obligation to doing excellent work at my professional commitments, sure. But, when I'm honest about it, it's also partly out of a drive to want people to think highly of me, to see me as some kind of Superman who can swoop in to save the day.

That's insidious, isn't it? But, as I've written before (here and here), the challenge for me is that if I can do something, it's often a quick slide to I should do something. When people come asking for my help and I can help, does that automatically mean I should do the thing they are asking me to do?

I'm not Superman. I cannot do all of the things. I should not do all of the things.

And yet...there is this awful pull for me that somehow I feel like I'm letting people down if I don't.

So this year, I'm practicing saying "no." I am working on making my default response to requests a kind, gentle "no." After four crazy years of grad school while working full time, my hope is that I'll be able to better prioritize in my life. By saying "no" to most things--even the good things--I'll be better able to say "yes" to things that I really need to devote my attention toward, and be excellent at those things. Call it a year of Sabbath...or a Year of Jubilee, even.

So, if you ask me to help out and I say "no," please don't be offended. It's not you. It's just that I'm not Superman. :-)

Image by Cia Gould. [CC BY 2.0]

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Worry and Trust: A Reflection from Camp

Last week I again had the privilege of serving at Royal Family Kids Camp, an annual, one-week camp for kids in the foster care system. Each summer I've served--this was year 3 for me--I feel like I need to process the week in writing, to make sense of the things that I've experienced, felt, and learned through my service. This summer is no different, though it's taking longer for me this time around.

Image courtesy Royal Family Kids of NW Iowa. All rights reserved.

We returned from Camp on Friday afternoon, and I was wiped out. I suspect most of us were, actually. We had 53 campers, and almost 100 staff members working with them both in 1-on-1 roles as Guides ("counselor" often has a different connotation for kids in foster care) or, as I was serving, in a supporting role. It's a demanding week, no matter the capacity in which you serve. Our goal is to lavish love on the kids who are there, being fully-present, nurturing influences in their lives for a week. But that kind of "always on" takes a toll, and by Friday I was wiped out.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sending Work to School?

Oh. Man. My twitterfriends Matt Miller and Alice Keeler recently published a book called Ditch That Homework: Practical Strategies to Make Homework Obsolete. (I still have to get my hands on a copy...hoping to read and review it this fall...)

Here's the zinger of a tweet Matt posted earlier today...


I have plenty that I could say about this, but I think I'll just raise a few questions to my colleagues in the teaching profession...and anyone else who wants to chime in on the comments section...

What do you say in response?

Is this fair?

Is this any different than teachers sending work home with kids?

And if so, what's the difference?


Friday, July 21, 2017

Teaching and Ramen Noodles

Seeing the title of this post might make you think that it's about teachers' compensation packages. While that is definitely a topic we should discuss sometime, that's not the point of this post.

Instead, a story in contrasts, and a thought I had in response to it.

Earlier this summer, my wife and were vacationing in Hawaii. (Yes, it was fantastic.) We enjoyed every part of it, including the food. Near our hotel, there was an area where there were many food trucks parked, and we had lunch there a couple of times, trying different cuisines offered through the window of a mobile kitchen.

Here was my favorite:

When the signs on the truck are in both Japanese and English, it's a good omen.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

American Division?

Are you familiar with the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? You've probably experienced it, even if you don't recognize this name. It's that feeling that happens when you encounter something new, and then suddenly you start seeing it everywhere. For example, when we got my wife a new car a few years ago, I suddenly started noticing that make and model of vehicle absolutely everywhere we went. Weird, isn't it? (If you want to learn more, go a-googlin' and I'm sure you'll find out plenty about this.)

I bring it up because I had a bit of this feeling just this week. I'm still thinking about how impossibly divided the American public seems to be along political lines. Every time I check my Facebook I see some political posts either decrying our President or defending him. It's bizarre to me how divided things are.

And then, I had two very different media experiences in short succession that have me thinking about the implications, and possible causes for this division in a new light. (And a little Baader-Meinhof feeling, because I encountered these things back to back...)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

QR Tour: A First Day Experience

In my last post, I challenged my fellow educators--and myself--to consider making the first day an experience for students. Rather than just going over the rules and expectations, to consider how to draw students in, get them engaged from the very first day, and help them understand how we care about them and their learning.

Well, this idea resonated with a couple of my former students who are now teachers, and a few of them got in touch with me, either asking questions about how to do this, or--in the case of one passionate elementary school teacher--suggesting an idea for how she would like to take this approach.

In her own words (with her permission to share here):

Monday, July 10, 2017

Planning for Day One

This one came across my Twitterfeed today (thanks to @justintarte for sharing!)...

Image by Jennifer Gonzalez @ Cult of Pedagogy. Used with permission.

Oh. Man.

What if every teacher took this approach?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Importance of Considering Perspective

Happy Independence Day! (To my fellow Americans, anyway...)

Actually, that's the point of this brief post...

I've been thinking a bit lately about the importance of perspective, about the way our own experiences shape the way we perceive the world, understand things, and interact with the "other."

My Twitterfriend, Doug Robertson (@TheWeirdTeacher - if you're an educator, you definitely should hang out with him online) shared this one on his Instagram earlier today:


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Gender Bias: Girls Who Code

It's summer camp week, and we have 300+ middle schoolers who have joined us for Dordt Discovery Days. It's an "academic camp"--designed to give kids a taste of college life, living in the dorms, eating in the dining hall, taking a couple of exploratory courses, playing all-campus games and activities, and meeting kids from across North America who have come to spend some time with us on campus. I'm co-directing, again, which I love, because it means I get to visit all the classes kids are taking, and talk with them about what they are doing and learning.

It's amazing, honestly. Every time I step into a classroom, I have kids shouting at me...

"Dave! Come see this cartoon character I created!"

"Dave! We're dissecting sharks! Come see what we found in the intestines!"

"Dave! Can you stay for a minute? Our a'cappella group is working on an arrangement of 'Africa,' and we want you to hear it!"

"Dave! Check out the pillow I made! I sewed it myself!"

"Dave! My group has been creating this awesome marble roller coaster--come try it!"

"Dave! We're playing improv games--come join in!"

"Dave! ..."

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Access Isn't Enough

I just read this piece from Education Week entitled "Data Dive: Devices and Software Flooding into Classrooms." I think that the subtitle on the article is telling: "More access hasn't meant better use."

It's a good piece on the current state of affairs in K-12 schools. Many of devices available for students and teachers. Fast (or at least acceptable) internet access. Lots of technology use, but much of it low-level. Teachers who don't feel adequately prepared for teaching with digital tools and resources.

It's interesting to me how many people seem think that having more access to educational technologies will automatically make things happen for teaching and learning. Both the research I've been doing for the past four years in the field of EdTech, as well as my own anecdotal experience as a PreK-8 Technology Coordinator convince me that this is simply not the case. Who cares if you have a stack of Chromebooks in your classroom? Who cares if you have a 50-gigabit ethernet connection to the internet? Whoopie-ding, you have a Google Drive account, and a SMARTBoard, and an iPad! So what? What difference does it make? You have access to the technologies...but how are they being put to use? (Are they being put to use?)

Access isn't enough.

Sure, access is a factor. Teachers and students obviously need access to these technologies if there is a hope that the technologies are going to somehow transform teaching and learning. But access isn't enough.

Teachers need training--or at least time and encouragement to explore, investigate, and imagine--if they are going to incorporate tech tools into their teaching. I believe this is also true of students; modeling technology use can go a long way for developing their technological knowledge and skills. I've said before that just because students know how to use cellphones and social media doesn't mean they know how to leverage these tools, or others, for learning. I believe the same thing is true for teachers. Tech support, ongoing professional development, and just-in-time trouble-shooting are all necessary as well!

So, yes, teachers and students need access to educational technologies, if we hope to use them to change the teaching practices, to adapt the learning environment, to shift the curriculum materials. But access isn't enough.

Public domain image from Pixabay.com

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

On Liking and Learning

It's definitely summer-mode for me, and as I said to someone recently, this is the first time in five years that I'm neither taking courses, or teaching a course (or both) during the summer. Don't worry, I have plenty of other projects to work on, but I definitely appreciate the change of pace of being able to work a bit more on my own time-table.

For instance, yesterday morning, my colleagues in Education had an impromptu coffee time because one of our colleagues who had been out of the country for a few weeks was back, and we wanted to hear stories of her adventures abroad.

Through the course of our conversation, we wound up talking about different educational settings of which we have been part, as both students and instructors. We agreed that classroom atmosphere makes such a huge impact on students' learning, and even on their willingness to learn.

In response to this, I asked a question of my colleagues: "Do students have to like you to learn from you?"

They had a few initial responses to that wondering. We talked a bit about the difference of being liked and being respected. We talked a bit about the importance of caring relationships--that students have to know that their teachers care about them as people. But is caring the same thing as liking? (As in, can I care about my students even if I don't like them? Perhaps that's an entirely different conversation!)

We also talked about teachers that we liked very much but didn't learn much in their classes. So perhaps "learning" does not automatically result from "liking."

But I do wonder about this.

Can students learn effectively if they don't like their teachers? Is "liking" a prerequisite for "learning?" I'd love to hear what you think about this.

Public domain image from Pixabay.com

Friday, May 19, 2017

Social Media: Curating Our Lives Away

Confession: I love social media. I am probably an addict. Strike that...since I'm confessing...I know I am addicted. Have a "spare" couple of minutes? My immediate reaction is almost always to pull out my phone: "Hmmm...what's up on Twitter today...?"


And I'm an adult.

How is this for tweens and teens and young adults today?

A friend shared this article with me this morning: Instagram Worst Social Media App for Young People's Mental Health. It's worth a read, whether you are a parent, or an educator, or a social media user yourself. I hope you'll reflect on it, and perhaps see yourself here...


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cell Phones: Tools for Learning? Or Weapons of Mass Distraction?

The other day I received an email from a recent graduate of our Teacher Preparation Program. He was helping out in a school at home, since Commencement is long past for us, but classes are still going in K-12 schools. He saw this sign hanging up at a high school teacher's door:

With thanks to my (anonymous) (former) student for allowing me to post this...

Knowing that I am fascinated by educational technology, and the way we often use consumer technologies as educational technologies in schools, this prompted a question from him:
Hmmm...I use my phone to find a lot of information, more than my computer even. Maybe though in study hall high school kids "waste" too much time on it? Or should study hall be their choice of time once in high school? Your time, use it as you want without disrupting the class? 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Climate and Culture

One of my interests in the realm of education--as noted in the tagline above--is school culture. I think about culture in education quite a bit: the culture of my classroom, the various institutions I've served, and American education broadly. I am interested in how culture takes shape, and how individuals can contribute to the development of a culture.

And then, every once in a while, I see something that sort of knocks my socks off, and causes me to rethink what I have believed about the culture of education. I had a good example of one of those moments the other day, when I saw this tweet from my Twitterfriend, Justin Tarte (whom you should definitely be following, if you are a tweeting teacher!)


This challenged me--in a positive way--because I think I had previously been conflating climate and culture, and seeing it painted this way helped me differentiate between the two in an obvious way.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Doing Hard Things

This past weekend I had a new experience: I participated in a triathlon.

I say "participated," because I wasn't really in it to "compete." That would have been a whole different experience, I suspect. I was part of a trio; we had a swimmer, a runner, and I was the biker for our team. We said from the outset that we were in it for the experience; we were sure we weren't going to win, but as I said to my friends, "I feel like I'm winning because I'm doing this!" (Cheesy? Yes. Trite? Definitely. True? Well...yeah, I think so.)

Team 3 Amigos! Go! Fight! Participate!

Team 3 Amigos: that was us. We were not out to compete, really. We were participating. We were trying something out, and learning by participating. And I definitely participated--I put myself out there to try something new that challenged me, and I learned a couple of important things through my participation, by getting in there and doing a hard thing.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Getting Better

I was recently reading the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John. There is a famous story in this passage of scripture; Jesus here heals a paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda.

In this story, Jesus is in Jerusalem for a religious celebration, and stops by the pool, where there is a crowd of people with a whole range of disabilities. My study Bible tells me that the tradition of the day held that an angel would stir up the water in the pool from time to time, and that the first person into the pool after the water was bubbling would be healed from whatever infirmity they suffered.

It's here that Jesus meets up with the man. He is paralyzed, or lame, or has some other problem that prevents him from easily getting up. Until Jesus, comes along, that is. Jesus commands, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." And, of course, the man is miraculously healed! He jumps up, takes his mat, and heads off.

There is more to the story as the chapter continues. Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, and this brings up a whole exchange between the man, the religious leaders, and Jesus. But I want to go back to one small detail that I had always glossed over in this story.

When Jesus first meets the man, he asks him a question:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Observation as Professional Development

I've had the opportunity to visit several colleagues' classes this semester. It was a privilege for me to sit in on a variety of different disciplines that are not my direct area of expertise across the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences.

I've volunteered to serve as a peer mentor, which means I sit in on another professor's class to help him or her think about the teaching and learning happening there. There are a small team of us who are doing this. We began by visiting each others' classes and practicing some techniques for providing feedback. We explored different things we can look for, such as tracking the level of questions being asked, mapping the interactions taking place, capturing student engagement (check out their body English--it speaks!), or even just the gestalt "what's-it-like-being-in-this-class?" from an outsider's perspective.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Back to Writing

It's been almost a month since my last post.

I've thought about writing something, and I've even started a few "pieces of string"--just capturing a few rough thoughts as a pre-write for a post--but I just haven't had it in me to write anything of any substance lately.

It just hit me: I think I had some writing fatigue.

Duh?

I've written so much over the past four years during my doctoral work, and especially this past nine months as I've been working on my dissertation, that maybe I just needed some time not-writing.

Friday, March 17, 2017

I'm a Doctor

"Do you feel different?"

One of my colleagues stopped by my office, and after a quick word of congratulations, this was his question. It was interesting to think about this. I successfully defended my dissertation earlier in the week. I am now "Dr. Mulder." Do I feel different now that I have the title?

A photo of me with my committee immediately after my dissertation defense.
We were in three different cities for the defense meeting...ah, online learning!

I guess my honest answer is...a hesitant yes.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Why Science Education Is Essential

I stumbled onto this great image online earlier today...

Thanks, someecards...

As a former middle school science teacher, I heartily agree. In a society that relies more and more on science and technology, I find it fascinating (and disheartening) to see such an anti-science, and even anti-knowledge sentiment so prevalent in our culture. It's perfectly acceptable to be seen as ignorant, and in some cases it's even lauded.

Don't believe me?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Finishing Well

The end is in sight!

For regular readers, you will likely know that I am currently studying in the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program in Educational Technology at Boise State University. I cannot tell you what a phenomenal experience this has been for me over the past four years.

I recently submitted my dissertation to my committee, and my final defense meeting is scheduled. This is the culmination of my studies, and I can hardly believe that I am at this point! In fact, as I think about it, I'm now curious how many of my friends and relatives don't actually know the process I've been working through in my doctoral work. So, here it is in a nutshell, for those who are interested...

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Learning from Students

My Twitterfriend, Maggie Bolado (@mrsbolado) shared this image the other day. I love it! She gave me permission to use it for this blog post. (Thanks a bunch, Maggie!)

Image by Maggie Bolado. Used with permission.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Feedback: Timely, Specific, and Actionable

It has been an incredibly busy season of writing for me lately. My dissertation is coming together, and in fact, I have finished writing all five chapters! That doesn't mean the work is complete, however. There are ongoing edits, and then the preparation for the defense when there is a "final" document ready. But it feels really, really good to be at this point.

The best part of being "finished" is that there now is THE THING that can be addressed for the edits. My advisor has been fantastic throughout this process: he gives me feedback that is timely, specific, and actionable, and the turn-around for his comments on each draft has been amazing. I am able to see the strengths and weaknesses of different sections of my writing, where the ideas are solid, and where I need to rethink things. Each draft I work through is a little better than the last, and I am confident that the next draft is going to be even better than the last one I submitted. (At this point, it feels like there is always a "next draft"...but I know the time is coming when it's going to be good enough.)

My writing desk...it's getting worse, but the writing is getting better...

This experience has me thinking about the way teachers provide feedback to their students.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Unteachable

I had a former student--who is now in graduate school herself, and serving as an instructor--message me today with a fascinating question:

Is there such a thing as a student that is unteachable?

My immediate, almost instinctive reaction was, "Of course not!"

But after thinking about it for a few moments...I wonder.

Here's my tentative, pretty-sure-for-now-but-open-to-revision response:

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Truth and Facts

In my Science Methods class today, we spent much of our time discussing the difference between "facts" and "truth." This feels so germane to so many issues in culture today that it was really something I wanted to talk about--and, serendipitously, it was on the syllabus for today anyway.

I'm using a text by John Mays entitled Teaching Science so that Students Learn Science, and chapter 2 of the book is entitled "Truth and Facts." In this chapter, Mays is really talking about science as a way of knowing about the world. And there are definitely different ways of knowing! Mays emphasizes that science is about developing an empirical understanding of the world--the facts, we might say.

Here are his working definitions for "truth" and "facts": (from p. 17 of the book)

Truth: A proposition that is true for all times, all places, and all people. Truths never change. We know truths by revelation or first hand testimony.
Fact: A proposition that is supported by substantial experimental or observational evidence (data), and which is correct as far as we know. Facts can change as new data and information become known. We know facts by observation and experiment, or by making inferences from our observations and experimental results.

How does that sound to you? Are these helpful definitions?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Concerns About the Future of American Education: Betsy DeVos

Senate confirmation proceedings for Betsy DeVos--the nominee for Secretary of Education--are underway. DeVos is a polarizing figure, it seems. I have talked with a few people who think she is an amazing choice for Secretary of Education. But, from others, I have also heard grave concerns about her potential to lead the U.S. Department of Education. Honestly, the hearing has left me with little to be excited about. I see so much political theater in the questioning, and too little substance in her responses to questions, and some of them were downright troubling to me. One example (I'm paraphrasing): "Guns might be needed in schools in case of grizzly bear attacks." (No, I'm not kidding.)

Betsy DeVos
Image by Keith A. Almli [CC BY-SA 3.0]

The trouble is that it's pretty easy to push a video clip of an outrageous statement (like the one I've linked above) through social media, and that is likely to get people chattering. And, WOW is there a lot of chatter, in response to the bears comment, and quite a few others she made in the hearing.

I am not sure what to think about DeVos yet, actually. And so it's with great interest over the past day that I've been following some of my fellow tweeting-teachers whom I deeply respect. I have seen a lot of comments along the lines of, "She's never taught in public schools. She's never taught at all! And her kids went to private schools, and she went to private schools--how can she possibly understand public schools?" I want to tread lightly here; I think that these are real concerns, and these are questions that should be asked. 

But...I also want to push back, ever-so-gently on one point.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Science as a Story: Promoting Cognitive Dissonance

I have to confess, I really like messing with my students. I mean, I really enjoy getting them to think about things in a new way, to reframe their previous thinking, to not just think-outside-the-box but knock-it-to-pieces-and-build-a-new-box.

I had one of those moments in my science methods class today, which was a joy this early in the semester. We are right at the beginning; today was our second class meeting. Science methods is a course for future teachers where they learn about how to teach science in the elementary or middle school classrooms they are preparing to enter in the near future. We are at the part of the course where we are thinking about foundational questions, such as, "What is science?" and "Who is a scientist?" and "Why do so many elementary teachers fear (or at least dislike) teaching science?" and "Why does Professor Mulder ask us to do so many weird things in this class?" (Okay, maybe not that last one...at least, not yet. They will be asking that in a couple weeks...)

As part of today's lesson, I asked them to start thinking about the story of science.

Here was part of my presentation, the part where I challenged them to remember what "science class" was like, and gave them a different way of thinking about what "science" could be.


Science Stories? - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

At the point in the presentation where I asked them to think about science as a story (the third slide here,) I had them turn to a partner and take a minute to discuss how "science as a story" fit with their experience with science in school.

It was interesting to see them turn to their partners and sort of shrug as if to say, "Yeah...so...science as a story..." I wandered around the room to eavesdrop a bit, and one pair caught my attention when they said something like, "You got us, Mulder. There's no "story" in science."

And that was the moment when I knew I had them. They were trying to find the connection, trying and failing. But I could tell from their expressions and body english that they wanted to believe it was true, even if just because I was bringing this idea up.

After their minute to discuss was up, I called the class back together, and we talked about how the idea of science as a story would change the experience of science class. What would the students' role become? How would the teacher's role shift? Would the content be experienced in the same way? What would be the same? What would look different?

From there, we turned the corner to their first major assignment for the course: writing a science autobiography--telling their own science story, or perhaps finding themselves in the story for the first time.

---

It was a great class meeting, from my perspective at least. I was able to promote some cognitive dissonance for my students. Cognitive dissonance is just what it sounds like: a "clash" between two ideas in need of resolution, because they can't be held simultaneously. Sort of like playing a white key and a the adjacent black key on a keyboard simultaneously: the sound is dissonant, not harmonious, and is in need of resolution. In my students' case, some of them have negative views of science as a subject--for a variety of reasons--but after our first two class meetings, they are already starting to see that science can be playful, and intriguing, and engaging, and--dare I say it--even fun. This is a conflicting pair of ideas for them. And the idea that "science" can be explored as a story...well, let's just say that I think we are going have to keep working on resolving these ideas, because they are still clashing a bit for some students.

I'm hopeful though, seeing how my students were learning into the playful, hands-on investigations in class, and their level of discussion, and their willingness to explore new ideas--even ones that conflict with their previous experiences--gives me a lot of hope that this is going to be a semester full of learning for us all.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ending Up Where I Need to Be

I recently saw this quote on Twitter. It's a good one from science fiction writer, Douglas Adams:


This resonated with me. The quote comes from Adams' book, The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul. (I'll warn you off of reading it, unless you like quirky, British sci-fi.)

This captures my current state as a professor pretty neatly.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

It's About the Outcome

One of the fantastic future teachers I have had the privilege of teaching this past fall tweeted this to me just after Christmas...


I love this so much, because this is just the kind of stuff we talk about in Intro to Ed. My often-stated comment that students often wind up quoting back to me is, "Teaching is not for the faint of heart." We talk about how the teaching profession is simultaneously elevated and denigrated in our society. We talk about how hard it is to be a teacher today, but what an incredible opportunity it provides for those called to work with kids, shaping the next generation.

It gives me great joy when they get it.

I often make a New Year's resolution, and since I'm at the end of New Year's Day as I write this, I'm thinking about what I should resolve to do this year. So often my resolutions end up being about things I think I should change, like "I should get more exercise," or "I should read the Bible more," or "I should take my wife out more often," things like that. And, I probably should do those things.

But is it weird if I want to resolve to keep doing something this year too?

I resolve to (continue to) keep focusing "on the outcome" with the pre-service teachers I serve.

I resolve to (continue to) make my classroom practice a model for them of what an engaged, enthusiastic teacher looks like.

I resolve to (continue to) have those challenging conversations with my students who are struggling to discern their calling--should they become teachers, or should they look for something else?

I resolve to passionately live out my calling as an educator, because it's about the outcome, not the income.

Image by Dave Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]