Why I do what I do

This morning I received the following email about one of my preservice teachers who is currently student teaching. Some nice motivation to keep going.

Good morning:

Yesterday I had the pleasure of working with _______ at _____ Middle School. It was only her 4th day student teaching and her cooperating teaching was unexpectedly absent due to a family emergency; I was the licensed substitute in the class.

I am writing to express my my sincere and profound admiration and amazement with Ms. ______’s incredible teaching abilities. I was absolutely amazed at the ease with which she took over the classes, managed the students, taught lessons, engaged the students in discussions, and differentiated her teaching to those students with learning differences or behavioral issues; it was truly an impressive show of innate teaching ability, incredible application of best practices in teaching and a profound passion for her craft. She is a unique and talented new educator.

I have been teaching for over 15 years and never have I seen a new teacher – and neither in some experienced teachers – such a brilliant display of teaching and focus on student learning; it was as if I were in the class of a veteran teacher!

I am not one to write an email like this for the superficial reasons and I stress to you that I have corresponded with you because I sincerely believe that Ms. _____ is a unique and expertly qualified teacher who deserves recognition for what is truly an exceptional development of her teaching craft. 

Certainly, Ms. _____ will be a teacher we will hear about as a outstanding testament to the best that our profession offers.

I thank you in advance for your attention to this correspondence and I invite you to watch Ms. ______ in action in her classes as it is certainly an inspiring experience.

Best regards,

The only part I’d disagree with is that this preservice teacher’s skills are not innate, she’s worked very hard to develop her abilities, and fortunately, she is not unique. I’m regularly impressed with my students’ abilities to enact effective teaching during student teaching. We work hard to get them to that point. It’s extremely gratifying when their (and our) hard work is recognized.

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How do we know what students know?

Learning is context dependent, yet we want students to transfer knowledge from one context to another. For this reason, we often try to include multiple contexts and examples in our instruction hoping students are more likely to transfer knowledge. Yet, if we don’t spend time helping kids construct abstract generalizations, this transfer is likely to be less than robust. However, that discussion is for another time.

Once we have engaged kids with particular ideas, how do we figure out the extent to which they have learned? Berland & Crucet (2016) explored student learning of the epistemology of science (nature of science) and wrestled with how to best determine student learning of ideas. Their main arguments centered on the highly contextualized nature of these very abstract ideas. Not only is the students’ learning of these ideas contextualized, but the ideas themselves will vary depending upon context (e.g. different science disciplines have subtly different epistemologies).

Based on my reading of the study, Berlan & Crucet (2016) first argue that enacted epistemologies provides a more accurate understanding of the students’ thinking than direct questions about their views.  Then, the authors argue that the level of students’ epistemological sophistication should be based on the extent to which the enacted views are productive. Their qualm with this approach is that the “productive” measure relies to heavily on the assessors view of “productive”.

Then, the researchers suggest that students’ awareness of the epistemological approaches may be a strong indicator of student learning of the epistemological ideas. That is, are students aware of the epistemological choices. Yet, gaining access to this awareness would be hard to do and would require more direct questions about their views rather than observing what students do.

Finally, the authors propose that students’ rationales for their epistemological decisions could be useful. That is, if teachers or researchers ask students why they chose various approaches, the students’ responses would provide contextualized and detailed information about the students’ epistemological views.

I’ve always been a fan of asking students why they are making particular decisions as I want students to be more reflective, but I’m not sure I completely agree that asking them more direct questions about their knowledge is always a bad idea. I suppose, as with all things, a little bit of both may be useful.


Berland, L. & Crucet, K. (2016). Epistemological Trade-Offs: Accounting for Context When Evaluating Epistemological Sophistication of Student Engagement in Scientific Practices. Science Education, 100(1), 5-29.

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Is educational technology morally bankrupt?

Like with all things, the answer is probably yes and no.

This question came up while I was reading Nichols & Allen-Brown’s 1996 chapter bringing critical theory to bear on educational technology.

Some ways I think educational technology is suspect:

  • Educational technology represents a severe financial investment. Yet, there are still few, if any, clear benefits to student learning with most educational technologies.
  • Those who promote educational technology often stand to benefit in myriad ways from the use of that technology.
  • Implementation of educational technology typically does little to change the ways in which schools function (curriculum or otherwise). School is still something done to kids rather than with them. Yet, when an educational technology program is put into place, we are led to believe that fundamental change is happening.
  • Educational technology initiatives are often not equitably distributed.

Some ways I think educational technology might (or could) improve education:

  • The interconnected nature of the web better reflects how we think.
  • Educational technology could serve to more meaningfully democratize education.
  • When equitably distributed, educational technology may afford closing of various gaps.

Of course neither list is exhaustive and both lists depend much on specific technologies and how those technologies are implemented. Yet, I believe, as Nichols & Allen-Brown seem to, that asking about what damage educational technology might be doing to our schools and our students should happen at least as often as we consider the benefits.

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What do you create?

I was reading a blog post arguing that creativity is more purpose driven than passion driven.  I think there is a lot of truth to this sentiment.

I am passionate about science. I love to learn about science. I even successfully completed all of the coursework for a doctorate in organic chemistry. However, when it came time to do the research, I lacked purpose.  When I reflected on my purpose, I hoped to teach one day. This started me on my journey as an educator.

Purpose as the driving factor for achieving goals makes sense, but I am not writing to simply rehash what A.J already said the the blog post above. While I don’t think he intended to make this point (perhaps he did), I found myself thinking about what is considered to be creative acts in today’s world. I began to look around my own life and wonder, what do I create?

I suspect many of us are in awe of the folks who write books or create new apps and might even say, “I wish I were that creative”. However, as I reflected on my own purpose and the things I do to achieve that purpose, I realized that I am engage in creative acts of design all the time. My creative acts just are not meant to be mass consumed. Many of the greatest creations are not meant for public consumption.

So, I’m going to continue to pursue my passions and create my heart out for my small audiences. I hope you’ll do the same.

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Time may change me, but I…

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Change* is hard, but it happens – sometimes imperceptibly.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to see the change around me.

Yet, change is hard to notice when it takes place via revolutionary rather than evolutionary processes. Sometimes we are fooled with new labels but old, very old, substance.

Foster (1994) laments the lack of change as technology education tried to commandeer industrial arts. I was impressed that industrial arts education had for nearly a century noted the importance of helping students understand the socio-cultural implications of technology. Of course, the author made clear that noting the importance of something is very different than actually doing it.

Foster also noted that some scholars argued that the reason technology education needed to separate itself from industrial arts is to make a clean break, to start fresh. Yet, we are several decades into these efforts and over a century if we combine the two efforts (industrial arts and tech ed) and I’m not yet convinced we’ve made much progress – other than the infiltration of engineering into the science curriculum via the Next Generation Science Standards.

Perhaps separating itself from industrial arts was not enough. Maybe technology education should have separated itself from the K-12 school system altogether. Maybe some of that is starting to happen with the professional learning programs and community partnerships we’re seeing. Of course, the utilitarian perspective in that context is sure to crush any sociocultural connections we hope might be made.


Foster, P.N. (1994). Technology Education: AKA Industrial Arts. Journal of Technology Education, 5(2), 15-30.

*I am not a huge Bowie fan, but I recognize the significance of his passing. While this post was not initially inspired by his lyrics, I do hope you’ll “turn and face the strain”.

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Ed Tech, Tech Ed, & Industrial Arts

In 1994, Kirkwood, Foster, & Bartow replicated a 1983 study about the history of industrial arts. In their study, the authors concluded that industrial arts and technology education share a rich history. Given that technology itself comes out of the practical arts, I suppose this should not be surprising.

What is a bit surprising is that the authors seem to imply that the technology education movers and shakers at the time were trying to separate themselves from industrial arts education.  Perhaps the technology folks wanted to claim their ideas as new when they were just putting new skins on old wine (nothing ever changes, does it?).

I am a firm believer in using historical perspectives to guide our decision-making. Yet, we have to avoid using historical perspective to view any new ideas as simply a pendulum shift.  Instead, look for the funnel effect.  While new ideas might look like old ideas, they should be circling ever closer to the target.

The article also made me wonder about if our continued focus on using technology for learning (educational technology) might be causing us to miss the long-held goals of industrial arts and technology education. Sure the kids are using technology, but are they thinking about technology?


Kirkwood, J.J.; Foster, P.N.; & Bartow, S.M. (1994). Historical Leaders in Technology Education Philosophy. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education. 32(1). Online.

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Should Technology be a Separate Discipline?

This post is based on some work of Thomas Erekson way back in 1992. I assume that Erekson is working in a context in which scholars and educators are trying to figure out if technology should be a part of all courses or as a separate course.  I also assume that Erekson and his colleagues were not all that pleased with the keyboarding courses I was required to take.  I imagine he wanted more for children. We still desire more for children, don’t we?

Borrowing from DeVore in 1964, he notes that technology has a history/tradition,  an organized body of knowledge, and is significant to society. Therefore, technology deserves a place in the curriculum as a separate discipline.  That is, technology has the same elements as science, language arts, math, etc, so why should technology not have a place in the school day?

Just as educators have long argued the need for two sides of science literacy (most recently identified as core ideas and practices), Erekson recognizes that the content of a technology curriculum should be informed by both the body of knowledge we call technology as well as the processes through which that body of knowledge is created through what he and others call “the technological method”. Of course I hate the fact that anyone would try to limit the manner through which technology is developed to a single method, but I will recognize his point that we want both process and product to inform technology education.

What I found most interesting about Erekson’s article was that he recognized how difficult defining the boundaries of the technology curriculum would be. Indeed, I doubt that Erekson would have thought the programming of apps for the mobile platform would have potentially been a course of study back in 1992.  Maybe he was a better futurist than I was, but hey, I was only 12. Yet, the dynamic nature of technology will make any curriculum decisions extremely tentative.  Perhaps this would actually require districts and governments to trust teachers to make decisions instead of trying to standardize the curriculum. 

I tend to agree with Erekson, but would want to include a strong philosophy of technology component, but that view is probably influenced by my interest in the philosophy of science being part of science education. Yet, most of our students are not going to be technologists, but they will need a strong philosophical (as well as practical) knowledge on which to base their technological decision making.


Erekson, T. (1992). Technology Education from the Academic Rationalist Theoretical Perspective. Journal of Technology Education, 3(2), 6-14.

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