25 October 2009

What comes around, goes around.

Module 2 of the Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction has started at SNU. What does the mean for me as a student in the program? It means that all of the things I have been asking my students to do are now being asked of me. One of the major goals of the Educational Research Module is to "Be able to identify and formulate research questions and hypotheses."  Not entirely surprising  that a graduate level class would be having us do this kind of higher-level thinking.  If the rigor were not in the program, I wouldn't be in it. (on a side note: I was a little worried about it - I mean it's one night a week!)

This week I have to come up with a research question (it probably wouldn't surprise you that I am considering looking at the effect of social media on student learning would it?), decide what I am going to study during our "ethnographic foray at Penn Square Mall, and find 5 citations of scholarly articles from 3 different databases.

Of course I should have talked to my in-house research expert before beginning my homework (@mishelleyb). She has already taken the class and has had a plenty of practice since she is an innovator at her school. Half way through, she suggested that I use every homework opportunity to build my research for the major project. Now why didn't I think of that?!?

So at least I got one resource that will fit nicely with my research question. Oh, did I not mention that? Here goes: something like "Does social media positively affect student learning?" Do any of you have any insight on this project?  The specialist and I discussed (briefly) what I am going to have to cover in my literature review:

  • student learning, i.e. styles and processes

  • cognitive development

  • multiculturalism

  • change implementation

  • staff development

Talk about a daunting task! I have a lot of work to do. Looking at this list, its easy to see how they all need to be integrated (especially the first three). The last two are easily integrated; I have to think about how I will "convince" other teachers and administrators that this type of interaction with students is useful and needed. Not only that, I have to decide how to approach the teaching of the teachers once I have convinced them change is necessary.

My purpose here is multi-faceted. I also am the chair of a sub-committee on the Putnam City Technology Committee and have been tasked with exploring this very subject. I still can't believe agreed to do that!

Now that I have rambled on...the point of my whole post was to say (for myself as much as for anyone else) I am only being asked to do the same things I am asking my students to do: think critically.

18 October 2009

Digital Citizenship

I can't believe it took this long to happen. I had someone post some very inappropriate things on our classroom wiki tonight.  Whoever it was, became a member of  wikispaces about 5 minutes before they started posting to the discussion. This leads me to believe that its someone who knew exactly where they wanted to go and what they wanted to say.  In other words, this was someone who was a part of either my classes or at the bare minimum a part of our school.

So, where do we go from here? I have changed the permissions to only allow members of the wiki to post to the discussion. Its worth noting here that I have no idea how I changed that to allow non-member posting in the first place.  But, beyond that? I don't know what else to do. I refuse to let the ne'er-do-wells win. I could easily make this a research paper, but then how is what I am doing different than anyone else? On the other hand, is it worth exposing my students to inappropriate language? Granted, I have learned the hard way what permissions to set, but I could see that there had already been views by students.

I guess I just have to recognize the fact that there are students who are much too immature to be given any kind of creative freedom. Too much still a child to have their leash loosened. It makes me sad. I made the decision to teach high school because of the maturity level of the students. If I wanted to put up with this kind of thing, I could have taught middle school. Sorry middle school colleagues, no offense intended, but you have to admit there should be a level of maturity at the high school that normally doesn't exist in the middle school.

Will I quit the wiki project? Uh, no. I will not. I will apologize to the students who may have had the opportunity to  read the inappropriate post and try to work with wikispaces to prevent this thing from happening again. I'm doing all I can on my end, so that should be the end of it.  However, I will also work with them to identify the student and then prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

If you have ever had this kind of thing happen, please let me know what you did to prevent/solve it. I'm interested to hear from you.

08 October 2009

The Best Class Period. Period.

Tonight's class in MACI 4 had to be the best class period ever. Period. Each student, except one who had to be absent and presented last week, gave a presentation over a literature review that was the capstone project of the class.

The research paper we were required to write had to be the hardest paper I've ever written. No, it wasn't that it was so long. It wasn't that it was too much research. It had nothing to do with the selection of topics or the time period we were in which we were given to do the project. Have you ever read the APA's definition of a literature review? Yeah, I know. Its supposed to be a dry, impersonal, synthesis of what you have read on a particular subject.  Its really hard for me not to bring my own thoughts, my own experiences into my writing. I think that may have to do with this blog format in which I have become accustomed to writing. Who knows?

It was really interesting, the way presentations tended to build on the previous ones. We went in a totally random order. We drew numbers from a stack. There was a little collaboration between students, but not much.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that we are adult learners. We are better at taking notes during other presentations and referring back to the that during our own. Changing things "on the fly" so to speak.  It was just different. I guess what I have to compare it to is my recent (3 years ago) undergraduate experience.  Maybe that's too fresh in my mind. These folks are adults. They are lifelong learners. They know their content and know how to deliver it. They are teachers. Period.

Starting with last week's first presentation, we heard two people who researched assessment.  This could be the most overlooked aspect of teaching. "Oh let's just get a pre-made test from the book" and just give it about every 3 weeks. Uh, no. I don't think so. According to tonight's presentation, assessment should occur in a classroom on the average of every 15 minutes. Ouch! I know I don't do it that often. I do some formative assessments; I give checks for understanding. But there is no way I do it every 15 minutes. No excuses. Period.

We then moved on to a sequence of building community and critical thinking over and over. We built community and critically thought it all to death! I'm not being critical here (no pun intended), one of those was mine. They were all interesting and I got some great ideas for my classroom, including using a ning to build community in my classroom. For critical thinking, check this out. I think this was where our students began to shine: we built a pretty strong case for the need and the how to teach critical thinking. We also did an excellent job of sharing ideas of how we continually build community in our classrooms. Its a lot more than learning names. Period.

Now, insert constructivist classroom presentation here. One student, who teaches technology, talked at length about this type of classroom. You know, the good kind: "guide by the side" instead of "sage on the stage"? Interactive? Project-based learning? The kind of classroom we all wish we had been a part of when we were kids? The kind in which students feel free to share responses. The kind that encourage thinking! These are the kinds of classrooms that make students want to be teachers. They are the best kind there are. Period.

I have to confess: I worked hard to pay attention. I spent my time taking notes, but I got really tired. I had been a bit stressed this week and I don't think I was sleeping very well this week.

But back to business: We got some really good information about rubrics. These are the best tools a teacher can use in the classroom. I heard information about learning-disabled students. And then there was the co-teaching and LD strategies "joint presentation". It was the coolest idea. Two teachers worked together (co-teaching) to pass on some learning disabled strategies. Talk about modeling! There's no better way to teach anything than modeling. Period.

Cooperative learning: that's a great way to get students learning. I learned something new. I learned that if there is no teacher monitoring the students, it doesn't matter what the students are doing, there's no learning going on.  I learned this through a wonderful anecdote about some 5th graders who started a "mafia" at their school. Literally, they started paying kids to do their work. It was borderline extortion. These kids were working collaboratively, but they weren't really learning; there was no teacher to monitor them. It took two weeks to carry out the investigation and "catch" them. This was the best story by an elementary teacher. Period.

After another community building presentation and  two more about cooperative learning, we got to the final presentation. This teacher/student talked about teaching reading to second graders. Apparently, this is a transition year.  A year when students know how to read, but have to begin to understand how to "read to learn". She had us begin a story. They are in the middle of learning about the "water cycle" in their science unit. (who knew second graders learned that?) So our story was supposed to be written about a water drop as it traveled through the water cycle. Ours started out something like this:

As I had just passed through the gills of a fish, after imparting some oxygen to him I realized I had begun to fly. To fly up into the air. Was I levitating? Was this magic? Or just science? Of course every rain drop knows there's no such thing as magic. There is only science.

Best story ever. Period

04 October 2009

Critical thinking is Critical! aka Teaching Students how to Think

I had to do a little writing this weekend. Writing about literature research I had to do on a particular topic. I chose critical thinking. I like this part of the paper and thought I would share it. Critical thinking is the reason I teach physics: its always relevant to critical thinking.

Why should we teach critical thinking?  Critical thinking is not intuitive. (Schafersman, 1991).  People learn from an early age to respect authority. Almost every child learns that whatever its parents say is the “gospel truth”.  While this can be a good thing for learning to be a responsible citizen, it is of no use in education, at least not a good education. True learning comes by experience and observation, by actually doing something.  Learning without experience is simply dogma (Filson, 2009).  It seems like this is remarkably similar to the situation involving Galileo and the Catholic Church.  Galileo began to have some experiential learning and the Church was threatened by this learning.  It was indeed dangerous thought since it would eventually usurp much of the dogmatic power away from the Church.  Students who are not taught critical thought are no better than the Cardinals of Venice who were shown, via Galileo’s telescope, the moons of Jupiter, but refused to accept this as evidence of a heliocentric Solar System. Instead, they kept “believing” what their own propaganda had told them for over 1000 years: Earth is the center of the Universe and is held there by the “Hand of God”.

According to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (2009), “Accomplished Adolescence and Young Adulthood/Science teachers engage students in active exploration to develop the mental operations and habits of mind that are essential to advancing strong content knowledge and scientific literacy.”   I think the “active exploration” they mention here is critical and scientific thought.  If students engage in this type of thought they will become better critical thinkers, while also deepening their science content knowledge.  Teachers must plan this student engagement and work towards enabling the transfer of these skills to other disciplines.

03 October 2009

Life in Fast Forward >>

From my perspective, it seems that life has begun to move in fast forward.  Other people in my life have told me in the past about this phenomena, but I have only recently begun to experience it.  What is it about getting to an advanced age that causes the change in perception? Is it that you stop wishing for next week? Or next year? Is it that we have nothing to look forward to? Or is it simply that you begin to get bogged down in the everydayness of life and loose sight of the simple things that makes life enjoyable?

My assertion is that it is the latter. Its easy for me to get wrapped up in work and school that I forget to enjoy my kids talking to me about orchestra tryouts or a video game coming out soon. I am taking on more responsibilities in my classroom, in my building, and in the school district. All while I have recently started back to school. It doesn't seem like I had too much free time last year, so where did I get them time/energy to do the things I have added to teaching a full load of classes?  Yes, you guessed it: I get that time from my family.

I am going to have to be really careful because my family is at a crucial point in our relationship: Jess, my oldest, is a junior this year and is involved in student government and AP classes. JC is a sophomore and is beginning to get into classes that require much more of his time than what he has been accustomed to in the past. If I begin to stop listening or appear busy when they want to talk or if I don't make time to have one on one experiences with them, what motivation will the two of them have to come and spend time with us when they leave home in the next few years? Think about when you were in college: did you want to go back home to see your parents during breaks? Or would you rather have stayed away with your friends?  Mindful. I must be mindful. Mindful of what I do, what I say, and how I react.

Do not misunderstand, I take on my responsibilities willingly, but I am realizing there are ramifications to my actions. Amazing that it took this long in my life to realize that, right? I just want to take a second to remind myself what the consequences may look like.

I am enjoying work more now than at any other time in my life. I am being challenged in so many areas. This is my 3rd year of teaching which is mind boggling that its already been 2 years since graduation. My students are constantly challenging me with questions, problems, life issues, and everything else that goes along with being a part of 75 adolescent human being's lives. Technology has begun to take a larger role in my picture of what my teaching looks like. I'm not doing anything differently than what I was doing last year, but it seems that teachers are looking more to me for assistance and guidance in technology usage in their classrooms. That's totally new for me. I don't always see myself as a leader or innovator, but it seems that is what I am beginning to look like.

As I sit here writing this, avoiding writing a paper/presentation for class, avoiding grading (which is normal on the weekends), thinking about time management, I realize that I have to enjoy the small things for what they are: a quick break from "the grind". A chance to take a second to let my son and daughter know they are the most important students with whom I have contact. A chance to spent and hour one on one with my wife, eating lunch at our Friday lunch place, just talking about whatever and enjoying each other's company. These are the times of life that are important. The times that bring me joy. The times that will make the biggest impact on my family.

I hope you will stop and ask yourself: "What is important in my life?" Whatever the answer is, be sure to enjoy those important times. They surely won't last forever.