Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Let's Get Excited about Learning

I went to a presentation today by Christopher Emdin that was entitled "Let's Get Kids Excited about Science" -- in fact, Linda Hutchison and I took our freshman class of education majors to the presentation (in other words, we forced them to go). It had been a long day, but I felt more energized after his presentation than when I sat down at the beginning of the speech.

Although Christopher focused on science, and getting kids interested in science, what he said applies across the curriculum. He had a call and response: A stem without a root -- bears no fruit. Roots, to him, are under the ground, dirty, but full of nutrients. The dirt he likened to the lies we hear about kids in school: they are lazy, they don't care, they can't learn. He began his talk by pointing out that all the things that get kids interested in learning [choosing what to investigate, asking their own questions] are not what goes on in schools. It reminded me of a passage in The Courage to Teach when the author pointed out that kids are passive and nearly catatonic in class, but the minute the bell rings, they are suddenly alive, chatting, moving to the hall. It reinforced what I've been thinking -- we systematically seek out and destroy curiosity in kids so that when they get to middle school, they no longer remember what it was like to love learning. His point is that we need to change what we are doing in science [and by extension] in schools across the curriculum.

Another point was that our culture is anti-intellectual, but that behaviors we (teachers) perceive as anti-intellectual can be used to attract kids back to science [and for me, back to learning]. This lead Christopher to a discussion of imagination. In his view, and I agree with him, we focus on things about science (and other content areas) without taking into account what interests kids -- without helping them connect what they are learning in school with their surroundings and their lives. He had used wordle.net to create a "word cloud" illustrating the kinds of things involved in science mindedness: observation, skepticism, anti-authoritarianism, evidence-based, curiosity, creativity, reasoning, analogy, metaphor. It occurred to me that these are not characteristics limited to science mindedness. There is also history mindedness, art mindedness, language mindedness, math mindedness - and these share many of the characteristics he listed for science mindedness. If we can notice student behaviors, for example drawing or doodling during class, and instead of punishing students for not paying attention, point out the kinds of cognitive activities in evidence, for example how the doodling and daydreaming/ imagination are characteristics of science mindedness. There is a big difference between yelling at a kid for drawing in science class and pointing out that the doodle has patterns, and it took imagination to create the doodle - a characteristic of science mindedness.You've got to notice student behavior and connect it to your discipline. 

Another suggestion he made was on I've maintained for years: make believe you don't know an answer to a student question, even when you do. Instead, let the student know what a great question s/he's asked, and take the opportunity to model how to find the answer - coaching the student along in the process.

 He ended his talk with his Reality Pedagogy: the 5 Cs:
 1. Cogens (short for cogenerative dialogues among the teacher and students chosen because they represent different types of students). You begin by discussing how to make the next class better -- seek student input about how to make your teaching more effective. In this way, you and your students can co-create a classroom atmosphere that values everyone.

2. Co-teaching crews: Students become the teachers. He suggested providing students with the materials you have available for your planning and have them plan and then teach a class. Although the teacher may be the content expert, students are experts at delivering the information.

 3. Cosmopolitanism: Creating a collegial atmosphere in the classroom so that everyone is valued. The cogens helps in this regard. Connect students emotionally to your classroom and content.

4. Context: bring in familiar things to class and connect them to what you are teaching. Help students connect your content to their own lives. One great suggestion was to revive show & tell. Instead of 20 problem for homework, why not have students go out and find something in their world, bring it in and connect it to what was learned the day before.

5. Content: content is LAST. If you don't connect students emotionally to your class and to each other, if you don't create a respectful atmosphere in your class, if you don't allow students some control over their learning, then you'll never get to the content.

First you have to address classroom issues to create space for the content. He gave examples from Hip Hop and having students create Hip Hop raps (actually I'm pretty ignorant about Hip Hop and Raps, I'm guessing this is what you call them). Once you figure out what your students are interested in, learn about it -- and remember that learning is a two way street: in a classroom, you have students but they are also teachers. Sometimes, they are better than we are at teaching each other.

 I thoroughly enjoyed Christopher's talk - his book is Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation: Essential Tools for the Urban Science Educator and Researcher, but as I thumbed through it, it is a book for all teachers. Rural students and urban students alike feel alienated from school. We can help them find their way back to the curiosity and excitement they felt as kindergarteners and first graders - and become invested in their own futures - if we leave our egos at the door and focus on students as human beings that all have a gift for us. This gift is a way of looking at the world  that is unique to each student and from which we can learn -- and we can't get this anywhere else.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Its the same all over everywhere

I am so angry right now, and so frustrated. Students have turned in work late - after I've downloaded and graded all the reading logs turned in on time - and when I go to upload the ones I've evaluated, there are ungraded logs turned in days late. I'm not really mad at the students - I'm mad at myself. I'm angry because once again my leniency at the beginning of the semester has landed me here, in a world where I could be grading 24/7 and still not get finished because I can't really set a schedule - work keeps coming in willy nilly, so I can't get other work done - work that the university values far too much for me to ignore. But my problem is that I am too much a teacher to summarily ignore the teaching part of my job. Thus, at the beginning of the semester, I was really lenient with late work, foolishly thinking that everyone would get into a "groove" or rhythm for their work and it would all smooth out by mid-term. I wonder what the teachers in my class do when their students turn in work late? Well, this isn't going to get solved this semester - but I need to remember this, or just quit getting so frustrated by something that I created. Maybe instead of getting so frustrated, I'll just ignore the work turned in late and grade it the next week when I'm scheduled to grade work. Hmmmm - that would enable me to stay on schedule but would also give students a break. Teachers have it hard enough without me being inflexible.

I'm also missing my "Diligence and Responsibility" points. In previous semesters, I haven't taken off the grade of the assignment for late work, but have had a D & R set of points that were used for late work, excessive absences, things like that -- things that indicate diligence and responsibility of students. Well, I'll not make that mistake again. Why must I learn these lessons over and over again???

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Wild Wild West - YES!

I can't believe it has been so long since I last signed on and blogged. I've been busy! I moved to Laramie, WY in August last year and began teaching a doctoral course and conducting a research study back in Atlanta. It's been a big change for me in many ways but I truly love it here. I even enjoy the snow!

Right now, I'm teaching an Endorsement course, a graduate course here in Wyoming that focuses on the research in literacy in grades 6-12. It is taught online through compressed video and I've had some technical problems. Maybe it's me . . . the last time I taught an online course there were problems, too. First, I discovered that I had 52 teachers watching me on a 32 inch TV screen in a huge auditorium. Once I had that remedied, the satellite fell out of the sky. No kidding. It actually fell back to earth! After that, I spent weeks teaching over the phone - you read that right: over the phone. I'd e-mail the power point slides down to the site, then talk on the phone which was on speaker. What a nightmare!! This situation is not that bad, but I always use groups when I teach - I just am not one of those "talking heads" - but the Outreach folks here have had difficulty putting my singleton sites [places where there is only one student tuned into class online] into groups, so I've had to scramble and figure out different ways to get students actively involved during class.

One thing I've tried that has seemed to work is having students do think writes frequently, then share their thoughts with the class. This has worked pretty well, but I still feel that students are missing something by not having the chance to talk to each other. We are almost finished with the semester now, and are online totally for most of this month, so I have some time to figure this out. When we do a totally online week, I always have students log in and participate on an asynchronous Discussion Board. The comments and responses are so thoughtful and thought provoking - I have come to the conclusion that I like the class totally online better than over compressed video. Of course, it's harder and more work for me, but the thing I am most interested in is whether the students feel the online weeks are better for them.

I read about a new Web 2.0 tool the other day, though, that might be the answer to this problem. It's called piazza and is a virtual space where students can ask the professor questions and talk to each other - even anonymously, which is a feature I like. So - another Web 2.0 tool to try out!