Moving on from Scarcity

A mistake I repeatedly make is believing there is not enough of something to go around. I believe this flawed mindset is easier to see in business settings than in education, but it happens. It’s easy to see how the idea of market share leads to a scarcity mindset, but less obvious how public education can breed scarcity views. 

One way the scarcity mindset showed up for me was in how I wanted to be the teacher kids confided in. I wanted to be the teacher kids came back to visit. I wanted to be their favorite. What I missed was how different kids have different needs. I missed how some of my colleagues were better at meeting certain needs than I was. I missed that I was part of a team. I don’t need to be their favorite teacher, I need to do my best to help students continue to grow. 

My early blogging efforts were also largely informed by scarcity views. I desired more followers, more “likes”, and more retweets. What I’ve found is that if I write what has meaning for me, the likes and followers matter less. A scarcity mindset makes us focus on extrinsic outcomes and turns everything into a competition. Yet, just like teaching is a team effort, I find the community around social media is much better than anything I can accomplish by myself. 

A scarcity mindset also shows up in scholarship efforts. Striving to be the first to make a certain claim or establishing oneself as an authority by attacking others’ work is a hallmark of the scarcity mindset. Indeed, the need to be the first to make claims has led to ridiculously long discussion sections in which authors proclaim grandiose ideas well beyond what their data can support. No wonder the public grows wary of scholars. Clearly, there can be more than one authority in any given area and if we are really scholars, we should be seeking to build our collective understanding and seeking how our work interacts with the work of others rather than trying to establish primacy. 

Chasing accolades is tiresome. While I can’t say that I’ve completely moved on from a scarcity mindset, I know I am a lot happier when scarcity isn’t driving me. 

Posted in Mistaken Mondays | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

4 Strategies to Ask Better Questions

One of the things I focus on when teaching teachers is the role of questions in teaching. To raise the expected level of thinking, the kinds of questions we ask matter. When I ask, “Does anyone know …?”, students can honestly answer that question with “I don’t”. If I ask, “Is this the reason…?”, students have a 50/50 chance with this yes/no question. So, I try very hard to not ask yes/no or dichotomous questions and encourage my students to do the same. Yet, yes/no questions are part of our daily exchanges and breaking this habit is difficult.

When I was a first year teacher, I told my 9th graders that I would buy them pizza if they caught me asking yes/no questions 50 times.  We kept track with tallies and eventually one class got pizza. Then a colleague of mine accused me of “bribing my students to behave” (people suck). After a few weeks of having students try to catch me in the act of asking yes/no questions, I had to stop as the students started paying more attention to the kind of question and less attention to the content of the question. Yet, I made a lot of progress very quickly in eliminating my use of yes/no questions in my teaching.

Below are some strategies I’ve used to move my questions away from yes/no and toward more thought-provoking questions:

1) Start every question with “What”, “How”, or “Why“.  I cannot think of a way to ask a yes/no questions if the question starts with one of these three words. While I can certainly ask low-level questions with these words, at the very least, these questions are likely to be open-ended. Of course, this means I have to actually want to hear multiple responses instead of just a very specific response. 

2) Ask the better question first. Some people claim we have to ask the yes/no question first so we can ask the follow up thought-provoking questions.  This is not true.  One example of asking the yes/no question first is, “Do you think the phases of the moon are caused by the Earth’s shadow?” (Student response). “Why?” The first question is unnecessary. Instead, we could ask, “How do you think the Earth relates to the phases of the moon?” Or “Why can’t the moon phases be explained by the Earth’s shadow?” In the latter question, I am giving the students some information, but am asking them to explain. Even if we asked the yes/no question first, the students could simply be guessing. 

3) Increase wait time. Most teachers only allow for less than a second of silence between utterances. If we are asking better questions, this is not enough time for students to process. Not only are we robbing our students of processing time, but also ourselves. Raising our wait time to 3-4 seconds (after our questions and after students’ responses) will increase student participation and gives us time to think more carefully about how to phrase the next question.

4) Record my teaching and watch it regularly. When I first started recording myself I was shocked at how bad I was at doing the things I thought I was doing. I learned in my preservice education that extended teacher talk and yes/no questions are not best practice. Yet after weeks of student teaching, I was still doing most of the talking and asking way too many yes/no questions. Watching my teaching was a tremendous wake up call. I still record myself regularly to help guard against slipping back into old patterns. 

Is there ever a time to ask yes/no questions? Yes (See what I did there). If a kid looks like they are going to vomit, I don’t need them to explain, I just need to know if they need to go to the bathroom. I once had a mute student who would only communicate with nods and head shakes during verbal exchanges. I certainly expected that student to explain their thinking in writing, but when talking with them verbally, it made no sense to ask them “why” questions. Yet, I think we should tread lightly when looking for reasons to not ask better questions. Perhaps, instead of asking, “Is there ever a time to ask yes/no questions?”, we should ask, “Why should we work harder to avoid yes/no questions?” 

Posted in Strategy Sundays | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

What do we want? 

I spend a lot of time thinking about the purpose of science education. Lots of folks have written at length in academic journals about why students should learn science and how to define scientific literacy. While these arguments are important pieces of the science education literature, most of my thinking about the purpose of science education is more personal and contextual. I start teaching an Physical Science course for non-science majors next week, so have found myself reflecting once again as to what I hope my students get from my science classes.

1) Critical thinking. More than anything else, I hope to help students further develop their critical thinking skills. I think science is particularly good at using evidence to support thinking, even if evidence is not the only factor affecting scientists’ thinking. If students can debate ideas, support their thinking with evidence, and recognize logical flaws in their own and other’s thinking when discussing the natural world, I believe these skills will transfer to other domains.

2) How science  works. In science education, this is related to the field “nature of science”. Too often students leave science thinking that a scientist is someone who recreates investigations others have done. I’ve had students explicitly say this too me. Why wouldn’t they think this when all they do is verification cookbook labs? I want students to leave my class knowing the investigative nature of science, that science requires creativity, and that personal and social factors impact scientific investigations. While such ideas can lead to skepticism of science, I also want them to learn about the importance of the scientific community, consensus building, and the role of paradigms in science. If they learn how science works (rather than just how to plan an experiment), they are better equipped to critique the sensationalized headlines they see concerning science.

3) Science content. Given that I am teaching a science course, I do want students to leave knowing something about the natural world. However, I am not overly concerned about them knowing particular factoids or equations. Instead, I want students to understand broadly applicable ideas in science. I don’t need them to remember PV=nRT if they can accurately picture how particles react to various stimuli. Indeed, a particulate view of matter applies to gas laws, density, fluids, chemical reactions, plate tectonics, weather, and probably some other ideas. My hope is that by deeply understanding fundamental, rather than trivial, ideas about nature, students develop a more accurate intuition about our current understanding of how nature works. 

There are other things I hope my students get out of my science classes (and all of my classes), yet these three seem to be the most fundamental for me right now. For example, I want students to be effective communicators, but we can’t communicate effectively until we can think critically. I also want students to engage in socio-scientific reasoning. However, such reasoning requires an understanding of some content, critical thinking, and understanding the nature of science doesn’t hurt. I also want students to value science, but I don’t think they can do that until they understand some content and how science works. 

Sometimes our curriculum or textbooks cause us to forget what we really want for students. My list doesn’t have to be your list, but I hope you find a way to focus on your list rather than the list that was handed to you. 

Posted in Science Saturday | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Capture the Flag

I originally wrote this post in 2011. I fear the issue has only gotten worse. 

——————-

Right now, the TV is on, but Shelby and I are each working on our laptops – in the same room, but somewhere else. I glance at the TV screen during a commercial (they are designed to be more interesting than the shows and, let’s be honest, the shows are only good enough to hold our attention until the commercials). Anyway, the TV and laptops did not come on until after my son was in bed and I even went on an evening walk. We spent most of the day outside, so this is not a story about how I think our digital tech use is unbalanced (sometimes it is, but certainly not today).

No, this is a story about a memory I have. I remember playing capture the flag at my friend D.J.’s farm. We would climb fences, army crawl through tall grass, run, dive, trip, fall, get whipped in the face by tree branches, climb trees, etc. We’d camp out by the river on his property, swim in the water at midnight, and enjoy the outdoors. I remember once being in enemy territory when two opponents came around a corner. Taking cover in tall grass, I lied quietly hoping to not be discovered. Then, one of my opponents (standing just above me) noted he needed to urinate (in not so clean terms). I was faced with a decision. Get urinated on, or surrender…

So, what does this have to do with the TV and television commercials? The commercial I just saw had children playing in a field. Yet, this was different, each child was equipped with a digital mobile device and following on-screen directions. Our commercials may be the single greatest cultural commentary available. I don’t wish I had these devices when I was younger, I’m very glad I didn’t.

PS. When telling Shelby the urination story she said 1) I should have used the word “pee” & 2) the decision to be made (get peed on or surrender) could be metaphorical. I think it applies well to questioning technology or jumping on the bandwagon – because criticizing technology in today’s culture can lead to getting urinated on.

Posted in Critical Examination of Technology, Throwback Thursdays | 5 Comments

4 Changes to Schooling without Capitalism

My main research area has morphed into thinking about how the philosophy of technology might be taught in schools. However, I often think about how philosophy of technology ideas might apply to schooling as a technological system. One of the things philosophy of technology tackles is how culture and technology interact. While this interaction is a two-way street, today I’m wondering how the technology of schooling might be different if we lived in less capitalistic society. 

1) Less emphasis on utilitarian goals. Capitalism requires citizens to consider how they will make money. This filters down into schooling with claims that education must be economically advantageous. We hear this rhetoric whenever students ask, “When am I ever going to use this?”. Rather than learning to be educated, students (and parents) want an education that will be lucrative in a very narrow sense. If capitalism somehow never existed, I suspect education would be less focused on economic outcomes. That said, maybe school wouldn’t exist at all.

2) Public schools would be better funded. If we valued education for education sake, there would likely be little need for a private – public dichotomy. While some private schools might continue to exist for religious reasons, I suspect their enrollments would drop. Some parents enroll their children in private schools because of the advantages they suspect the schools provide for later economic gain. If education is valued as an end in itself (see number 1), I suspect funding would increase and not be tied to exhaustingly capitalistic programs like “race to the top”. Furthermore, because school would be about learning and not about “getting ahead” there would be universal support for more equitable funding structures rather than funding based on local property taxes (a system that perpetuates inequity). 

3) Grades would not exist. We should not be surprised that a capitalistic society created a system of rewards for learning. One might argue that in a capitalistic society, something is not worth doing unless their is some reward associated with the task. So, if our society no longer valued such extrinsic rewards, perhaps grades would be replaced by narrative reporting on students’ strengths and weaknesses. Or, maybe no reporting would be made at all on students’ progress. 

4) Greater diversity in all content areas. We know that there are systematic barriers erected for people of color and female students in science and technology fields. Many of these barriers are the result of an implicit (and sometimes explicit) ranking and sorting scheme that discourages non-white and non-male students from pursuing such fields. Without capitalism, these ranking and sorting systems likely would not exist and a greater diversity of students would enter the fields (this would be a good thing for science). Similarly, without the capitalistic drive to go into high-paying jobs related to science and technology, we might see more male students in fields like education (which is typically dominated by female students). 

I recognize that all economic systems have strengths and flaws and that many of the points I’ve made cannot be attributed solely to capitalism. I also acknowledge that I can’t know if what I’ve noted above would actually happen in a non-capitalistic society. I suspect no one could know and I am certainly not a scholar of economics, politics, or history. Yet, I think we can see in our current economic climate – in which the separation between rich and poor continues to grow – an example of systematic injustice. If we can see how schooling might be different without capitalism, maybe we can work harder to ensure our systems of schooling do not further contribute to the injustices

Posted in Nature of technology, Wondering Wednesdays | Tagged , | Leave a comment

3 reasons I use technology every time I teach

I recently co-taught a graduate course for inservice teachers. One of the modules I was leading was about educational technology. So, given the limited time (about 4 instructional hours), I had to do some hard thinking about what I wanted to discuss concerning ed tech. I settled on three main points.

1) Technology can be used to promote the goals we have for students. If we want students to collaborate, perhaps a shared google document will do the trick. Want students to connect ideas rather than memorize descrete facts? There are many online concept mapping tools available. To help students communicate, I can have them engage in various social media platforms.

2) Technology can account for learning theory. If I want to represent some content more concretely, a YouTube video might help. To determine students’ prior knowledge, I can use any number of online formative assessment tools. When designing an assignment, I can use MS Word to ensure that any readings I’m using are grade-level appropriate.

3) Technology is not just digital. This was, for me, the most important point to be made with my class. When trying to make something more concrete in math, base ten blocks might be better than any digital tool. When helping kids work on editing their writing, a piece of paper might illustrate things a software program can’t. If I want to teach kids about shadows, the educational technology I need is a lamp.

Because of this third point, I can say with certainty that on any given day I am using technology in my teaching. Some days we are using laptops, others we use whiteboards. But to say one lesson benefits from educational technology and the other does not demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of technology and a shallow rationale for using educational technology. 

When my class redefined educational technology as “tools for learning”, many of the teachers felt liberated. While we shouldn’t actively avoid using digital technology, forcing ourselves to use digital technology is equally problematic. Many of the teachers felt our definition of technology helped them reframe the pressure they were getting from administrators. They felt emboldened to fight for best practice and worry less about meeting unrealistic and short-sighted digital technology demands. Digital technology does not need to be the constant in our classrooms, learning does. 

Posted in Critical Examination of Technology, Technological Tuesdays, Technology in the Classroom | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

I yelled at my students, now what?

We’d like to think that we will always take the high road when dealing with K-12 students. We hope that we will always remember that they are children and we are adults. We plan to stay calm. Using logic, we will diffuse the situation. Unfortunately, we are human, we make mistakes. I certainly do. Teaching and learning are emotional endeavors, it is not surprising that emotions bubble just below the surface. So, while we should do all we can to remain calm, what can we do after we’ve lost our temper? Below are some strategies that have worked for me in no particular order. 

1) Take a moment to breathe. If there is one thing my wife’s yoga practice has taught me, it is the importance of breathing for both physical and mental well-being. When I take a few deep breaths, I regain my composure and begin thinking more clearly. I need to regain my rational thought because, having lost my temper, I am clearly not using my reasoning capabilities.

2) Apologize. This one sucks, but I would argue is absolutely necessary. I don’t think the apology has to be instantaneous, but I think it does need to happen.  For example, I was growing increasingly frustrated with my 5th period class one day. The bell for lunch (which happened in the middle of the class period) rang and they instantly stopped paying attention. We were far enough along in the year, that they knew the bell does not dismiss them, and that was the last straw. I yelled and told them to “get out”. When they came back from lunch, I apologized. I told them that it was not ok for me to lose my temper and that I hoped they could forgive me. Then, we went on with class. If we value the relationship we’ve built with students, we have to actively maintain and mend that relationship when necessary. 

3) Reflect. What set you off? In what way did the students’ behavior make you feel inadequate? What in your past might you connect to the episode? Whenever I’ve reflected on myself, I have come to the conclusion that the behavior of the students in that particular moment had little to do with why I lost my temper. By helping identify my triggers, I can work to avoid losing my temper in the future. 

4) Reflect with students. I love having very open conversations with students. I learn a lot about them and myself. Depending on the incident, I might reflect with the whole class or just one or two students. I remember one student who was pushing my buttons. After reaching my breaking point, she and I met one-on-one to problem solve. During our conversation we learned things about each other that we had not known. This shared understanding of each other was what we needed. The student became one of my favorite students, a class leader, and we didn’t even need a plan, we needed understanding.

Defending our anger is easy, but understanding and making amends for our anger is necessary. Instead of feeling defensive or claiming that our angry outburst was justified, I think there are better ways forward. When we admit our mistakes, we build relationships and model important strategies for our students. I am not perfect. Admitting and making amends for my mistakes does a lot more good than trying to justify the mistakes. 

Posted in Classroom Management, Mistaken Mondays, Reflection | Tagged , , | Leave a comment