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

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