A week before I went on Spring Break, my principal came in to my room and asked if I had heard of William Glasser (I had), and if I'd read his book, Choice Theory in the Classroom (I had not). She asked if I'd like to read it and at some point talk with her about what I thought about Glasser's ideas on classroom management described in the book. "Sure," I said, "though I probably won't get around to opening it until the middle of Spring Break." Now on the Thursday of my Spring Break week, I've finished and want to get down a few thoughts I had about the book while they're still fresh.
The tl;dr review
Glasser suggests that having students work on meaningful tasks in well-defined groups is an improvement over lecture-based, kill-and-drill, individual work. However, his reasoning as to why this is true border on pseudoscience and his conclusions come across as being obvious and mundane.
The full review
At the outset I was pretty skeptical of what the book would include. The book was pitched to me as being primarily about classroom management and my experience with classroom management books hasn't been all that great. However, after reading the first chapter, in which Glasser convincingly outlines the primary problem he's trying to address (engaging the 50% of students who aren't engaged in class), I realized I had probably too harshly prejudged the content of the book.
Except...well...then there were chapters 2 - 7. I found these chapters especially frustrating because I agreed with the main point Glasser was trying to make, but he seemed to rely heavily on poor, over-reaching, unnecessary, and factually questionable evidence to get there. He should've just said:
Students want to have at least some control over their experiences while at school (both learning and social), but the traditional classroom robs them of almost all control. As a result students often disengage in learning and seek to exert control over their school lives in whatever way they can- often in ways that disrupt the learning environment. Students should instead be given more meaningful work that can be done in groups with the teacher serving as a facilitator instead of a controlling dictator.
That was his main point- and I think it's a good point- but instead he spent six chapters and 86 pages trying to make his case using slippery slope examples (evidently students who wanted to exert control over their lives quickly descend into illegal drug use), direct analogies to schools as factories and plenty of questionable science:
- We have 5 basic needs that are genetically ingrained: 1) Survival, 2) Belonging and love, 3) Gaining power, 4) Gaining freedom, and 5) Having fun,
- Migraines are caused when people choose negative behaviors that then affect our physiology,
- Drugs for depression and ADHD are unnecessary, people just need to choose positive behaviors to fix these.
So, I agree with Glasser's main point, but disagree with how he gets there. Is this a problem? Yeah, I think it is. Even though I agree with his conclusion, I'm not sure I trust Glasser to address the conclusion based on the tortured path he took to arrive there.
After repeatedly mentioning that he'd explain how Choice Theory solves the problem of student disengagement in Chapter 8, I was pretty excited once I actually reached Chapter 8. I would finally find out what he was promoting! Without further ado, let me spoil it for you. What does Glasser's Choice Theory look like in the classroom?
- Have students work in mixed-ability groups (what he called learning-teams) of 2 - 5.
- Give the learning-teams interesting & relevant problems or projects to complete.
- Assign specific roles for each student in the learning-team.
- Make sure students are accountable for both their individual work and the collective group work.
- The teacher should serve as a facilitator and mentor who works with students instead of dictating at students.
OK, so these aren't bad things. These are even good things. Yes, having students work in groups on an interesting project with well-defined roles and clear expectations is much preferable to lectures and worksheets. However, Glasser's tone conveys a sense that this is a wholly original idea that he (along with a couple other contemporary colleagues) have just recently made. Choice Theory in the Classroom was published 27 years ago, and at first blush I was giving it a pass because there has been a concerted push to make secondary education more student-centric since 1986. But then I was recalling a piece on education and schooling that I'd read awhile ago, where the author of the piece says:
I believe that much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative. [...]
I believe that [a child's] interests are neither to be humored nor repressed. To repress interest is to substitute the adult for the child, and so to weaken intellectual curiosity and alertness, to suppress initiative, and to deaden interest. To humor the interests is to substitute the transient for the permanent. The interest is always the sign of some power below; the important thing is to discover this power. To humor the interest is to fail to penetrate below the surface and its sure result is to substitute caprice and whim for genuine interest.
Surely the author of the above piece must have drawn on Glasser's groundbreaking work? Not so much. Those are excerpts from John Dewey's "My Pedagogic Creed
," writing in 18
97. While I don't need Glasser to specifically name-check Dewey, it does concern me that while writing a substantial piece on education reform Glasser seems to have missed 99 years of other people's work in the area he's specifically addressing.
Choice Theory in the Classroom isn't a bad book, it just comes off feeling extremely dated and somewhat obvious in its conclusions- which is notable because John Dewey's work, written over 110 years ago, still feels modern.
The Cheering Section
The official SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief NYC Marathon of Oakdale, CT Support Vehicle.
Note the awesome handmade runner’s bib. My wife- she’s crafty.
About 19 miles in. Being cheered on by my sister, Meika.
The SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief NYC Marathon of Oakdale, CT is complete! I'm happy to say that not only did I finish first in my age group, I also won the overall classification. Let me break down the event by the numbers:
The GPS app I use to track my running (iSmoothRun w/ Runkeeper) listed the total distance at 25.73 miles, but I've measured it using a few different mapping tools and I get distances between 26.1 and 26.3 miles. Maybe it was a little short, but whatever.
Running Time & Pace
3:52:46, at an average pace of 9:03/mile
A little slower than I was hoping to run the official NYC Marathon, but given the hilly nature of the course (not surprising considering 6-7 miles of the course were run on roads with the word "Hill" in their name), it's really faster than I expected.
Total Donations (as of this post)
That's a lot. Much more than I would've predicted when this seemingly hare-brained idea was hatched in an NYC restaurant on Friday night a few short hours after learning the NYC Marathon was cancelled. I can't thank everyone who donated enough. I also appreciate everyone who spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, or word of mouth. It made what might've just been a very disappointing weekend into a extremely positive experience.
Donations per mile run
Donations per minute of running
Average miles driven by the support staff to get from their home to the starting line
836 of which were driven by my amazing sister, who decided to take an impromptu vacation and drove overnight from Holland, MI(!) to cheer me on.
Number of support staff
Consisting of my wife, Samantha, my father-in-law, Gregg, and my sister, Meika.
Number of times the police were called because of the support staff
Evidently they pulled into the driveway of some very suspicious homeowners to wait for me. My sister is pretty sure she overheard one of the homeowners on the phone reporting suspicious activity. Fortunately they were gone before any law enforcement officials showed up.
Pileated woodpeckers seen
I didn't realize Pileated Woodpeckers lived in Connecticut, but I spooked one between miles 3 & 5. It flew along the road before landing in a tree further up the road. When I caught up with it I saw it fly away again further into the woods. It was easily the largest (non-animated) woodpecker I've ever seen.
Reflections on the Event
My wife and I had just arrived in NYC. We'd checked into our hotel, and headed out to catch the shuttle bus taking marathoners from the hotels to the Marathon Expo. We just missed the bus and were standing on the sidewalk waiting for the next bus when I received a couple tweets telling me that the marathon had been cancelled. At first I figured these people were confused. I mean, Mayor Bloomberg had said in no uncertain terms earlier in the week that the marathon would go on. Turns out, they were right. Truth is, because we were without power for a 36 hours, I was busy trying to wrap up first quarter stuff at school, and planning for a run I hadn't been paying very close attention to the level of destruction Sandy had caused in the NY/NJ area. I knew it was pretty bad, but I didn't realize the extent of the devastation.
We eventually caught the bus anyway- we really just didn't know what to do- and attended the saddest pre-race expo I've ever seen. It was striking how many people were there from overseas. We passed a large group from Denmark and then were surrounded people talking French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, and several other languages I couldn't easily identify. Clearly, these people had much more reason to be upset than I did, with my measly 3 hour commute which included a free train ride into the city from New Haven.
I was extremely conflicted: I was mad, but then mad at myself for being upset knowing that the canceling the marathon was the right decision. I was ticked that the decision was made so late, but humbled by the fact that so many people had flown thousands of miles just to have the marathon cancelled at the last minute.
Ultimately, this frustration is what led to the idea for the SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief NYC Marathon of Oakdale, CT. Since the NYC Marathon uses a lottery system, I'd been applying to run for 3 years before gaining entry for this year, and I'd spent the last 6+ months training. I'd made it no secret to those who asked that this was most likely going to be the last time I ran a marathon- the training is extremely time-consuming and strenuous. I do enjoy running, but coming home after school on a Tuesday to do a 13 mile run in the dark or waking up at 5am on Sunday morning to crank out 18 miles isn't so enjoyable. In the end, I didn't want all the preparation to go to waste. I also wanted to do something to help those still suffering- those people who should benefit most from the cancellation of the NYC Marathon.
The response to my fundraising marathon has been more than I would've ever expected. My post announcing the marathon caused a spike in traffic unlike anything this blog has ever seen. Then there's the $1,148(!!!) that's been raised for disaster relief. Here I was thinking that if people donated a hundred or two dollars on top of what we were donating it'd be a wildly successful event. Perhaps it's cliché at this point to say something about the power of social networks but this event certainly wouldn't have been as successful without being connected to awesome & supportive people from all over the world.
The route was a combination of routes I'd used when training, so I was very familiar with most of it- which means I knew it would be a tough run thanks to several long and several steep hills. That being said, the route is also gorgeous. The route is mostly made of narrow backroads through wooded areas, passing small family farms and scenic lakes along the way.
The first 7-8 miles I managed was maintaining a very fast 8:15ish per mile pace. I was hoping to do the NYC Marathon near an 8:30 pace (This may have been a bit ambitious), so I was really cruising. However, I was definitely being helped out by running down a lot of hills through this section. The support staff was stopping every two miles supplying water and cheers. It was fun to come up over a hill or around a corner and see my cheering section and the official support vehicle up ahead.
Just past 8 miles, I started on the only part of the course I had never run before: a 4-mile section that I hadn't actually scouted. It turned out that 3 miles in this section were extremely narrow unpaved roads- I was worried that these roads might not actually go through as they're shown on maps (something that's not all that uncommon in the area), but fortunately they did. At about the half-way mark, I was back on familiar roads- which was good because I knew what was coming- it was also bad because I knew what was coming.
The next 6 or so miles were the hilliest of the entire route, notably featuring a killer mile that included a gain in 280 vertical feet. About 19 miles in, I was thinking finishing this race might not be a guarantee. Fortunately the next couple of miles were more downhill that up, and I felt refreshed (well, as refreshed as one can after running 20+ miles). I was definitely feeling tired- my upper back and shoulders were sore, and my legs were pretty well thrashed.
By mile 24 or so, I was in very familiar territory, but I was also beat. The last mile includes a significant hill. The dread for this hill kept me from having many happy thoughts about being nearly done. I decided to walk up part of the hill since my calves were pretty tight and I was worried I might start cramping up. Fortunately that didn't happen. I got up the hill and ran in the last half mile or so, feeling pretty dern good at the finish. My wonderful support crew even drew a finish line on the street and managed to recruit one of the neighbors to honk his truck's horn as I finished.
I'm glad to have done this race for charity and I'm glad to be done with training. This still might be my last marathon ever- even if it's announced that the 2012 NYC Marathon runners are automatically qualified for the 2013 race. Training for a marathon sucks. For that matter, running a marathon really doesn't go under the "fun" category either.
This weekend hasn't gone quite as planned. The plan was to get into New York City on Friday, meet up with some friends, then cap off the weekend by running the NYC Marathon on Sunday. Unfortunately, the only part of that plan that came to fruition was getting into New York City on Friday.
As you may know, the NYC Marathon was cancelled on Friday. Considering the time and effort that went into training, having the marathon cancel at the last moment was a bit of a bummer. However, canceling the marathon was probably the right decision given the significant number of people in the NY/NJ area that are still suffering after FrankenStorm Sandy.
Since going home and moping about not being able to run doesn't include (1) running a marathon, or more importantly, (2) doing anything to help out those most affected by SuperStorm Sandy, I've decided to create and participate in the first (and last) ever SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief New York City Marathon of Oakdale, CT.
What is the SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief New York City Marathon of Oakdale, CT?
Good question. It's my way of still running a marathon on November 4, 2012 while also helping raise money for disaster relief efforts.
Who will be running?
Just me. My lovely wife will be the support staff, cheering section, course photographer, security, and everything else.
When and where is this happening?
- When: 8:00am EST, Sunday, November 4, 2012.
- Where: On backroads near my home in Oakdale, CT.
How does this help disaster relief?
We're donating the cost of the NYC Marathon entry fee ($255.00) to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.
Can we donate towards this cause in honor of the SuperStorm Sandy Disaster Relief New York City Marathon of Oakdale, CT?
Yes! Here's all you need to do:
- Visit the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Donation page.
- On the donation page, click the box for "Make this Donation in Honor of..." and fill in the following:
- In Honor Of: Disaster Relief NYC Marathon of Oakdale, CT
- Recipient Email Address: email@example.com
- The rest you can fill in however you'd like.
Also, please share this with all your friends and followers using your social network of choice.
How can I follow your progress?
Easy! There are bunches of ways:
- I'll be using Runkeeper Live, so if you visit my Runkeeper Activity Page while I am running, you should be able to see a live updating map with my progress.
- I'll also be sending automatic updates every few miles to my Twitter and Facebook feeds.
What's the route?
Here's a map of the route:
Find more Run in CT, United States
Feel free to come out and cheer me on!
What if no one donates?
Impossible! No, seriously: We're donating, so that's at least 2 people. If that's all we get, it'll still be totally worth it.
As I mentioned earlier, I'm teaching Physics at a new-ish high school this year. I've been spending a large chunk of time designing the curriculum and materials for this class. So far, the year has been a bit hectic (thus the lack of posts here), but the school community is really amazing, supportive, and progressive. A few things that are making what can be a difficult first year much better than average:
- Experts at my fingertips & time to develop curriculum. The curriculum people at my new school were very proactive in trying to connect me to experienced physics teachers. I was (and continue to be) impressed with the level of support they're providing for teachers developing new curricula. Unfortunately, none of the teachers had used Modeling Instruction. Fortunately, I've curated a twitter feed that includes 15-20 active modelers and I've found countless helpful resources from those very helpful people. We've also had dedicated time to work on curriculum development. Besides a (paid) week in June, we've also been given time during our professional development time to simply work on building the curriculum. As someone new to the school developing the curriculum for a class that has never before been offered at this school, this has been invaluable.
- The willingness to help a n00b. Here's a Venn Diagram showing Teachers using Twitter/Blogs and Teachers willing to help out a poor Modeling Instruction rookie who wasn't able to make it to a Modeling Workshop this summer due to his crazy schedule:
Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising- I mean, if someone is actively spending time writing a blog or sharing via twitter they're more than likely into the whole "sharing" thing. I'm sure I've asked (and will continue to ask) more than my share of dumb questions. Amazingly, despite my frequent questions that surely induce heavy eye-rolling on the other side of the Internet, I've continued to receive an amazing amount of help with zero snark (and zero snark when we're talking about The Tweeter is nothing to shake a stick at!).
- The huge resource of online materials. I chose Modeling Instruction as the curriculum for my Physics classes because I believe in the process it supports- not because it's the easiest to design and implement. To be honest, it's a bit scary (especially because I couldn't get to a Modeling Workshop prior to implementation). However, there is no shortage of materials to be found online- and not just general "modeling-instruction-is-great-and-here's-why" materials (there's a lot of that too, though). There are detailed descriptions of labs and their results, handouts, tips for whiteboarding, worksheets, etc., etc., etc.
Here's a partial list:
- The American Modeling Teacher's Association. Yes, you need to be a member to access the resources, but the resources are huge. I shelled out the $250 for a lifetime membership. The materials and support I gained access to for that money is easily worth the $250 by itself.
- Kelly O'Shea's Model Building Posts & Unit Packets. Kelly's an expert modeler. Her posts really helped me first visualize what a modeling classroom looks like. Her materials are also excellent.
- Mark Schober's Modeling Physics. Contains materials and resources for every modeling unit, along with calendars- which was nice as someone new to modeling to get a rough timeline for each unit.
- Todd K's DHS Physics Site. Even more modeling materials and calendars.
- Paying it forward. It's my plan to make the materials I develop and implement for my Physics classes readily available online in some format, at some point. I've gained so much value from the resources others have posted that it is (perhaps with some hubris) my hope that others in the future might gain something from my experience. Obviously I'm no expert- but my hope is that through sharing both the materials and my reflections on how they were implemented will, if nothing else, help me to become a more purposeful and reflective educator.
Perhaps I'm odd, but I really enjoy designing new curricula- which is a lucky break since I'm responsible for designing the Physics curriculum from the ground up. So far it's been a challenge given the specifics of my particular situation (which will undoubtedly be a topic for future post), but as I come to know my students better and gain more experience implementing modeling instruction, I've found the process more and more enjoyable.
Welp...a second EdCampCT has come and gone. EdCamps are always a great time for learning and meeting people you've only interacted with online. This EdCamp was special- as a co-organizer, it still amazes me that I had a part in bringing 100ish educators together to learn from each other. As an organizer, the day of EdCampCT was a bit hectic, but I was able to attend several sessions, talk to lots of people, and think a little about who attended and what was going on at EdCamp.
It's great that EdCamps are conferences where 100% of the attendees actually want to be there. I've been to several education conferences where the majority of attendees were required to go by their administration. Some of those conferences were good, though most weren't. When the attendees want to be there and have a personal stake in the content of the conference it makes for a much happier conference culture and more involved attendees.
We don't have exact counts, but based on the simple number of hands that were raised when we asked participants if this was their first EdCamp, it looks like it was the first time for about 50% of EdCampCT 2012 attendees. Though I have zero actual data to support the following assertion, it seems like many newcomers heard about EdCampCT through word of mouth recommendations from participants of previous EdCamps.
Things to consider for future EdCamps
- First, there seems to be demand for future EdCampCT events. Let me lay everyone's worries to rest and let you know we are planning on holding EdCampCT 3.0 in 2013. Keep an eye on the official website and twitter feed (@EdCampCT), though we probably won't be announcing the date for the next EdCampCT until early 2013. If you'd be interesting in helping organize next year's EdCampCT, drop us a line.
- It's exciting to introduce so many educators to the EdCamp movement. It does make me worry that we might not be meeting the needs of first time EdCampers as well as we could, however. In general, I think the whole ideology behind EdCamps helps include newcomers, but there's always room for improvement. Did we explain the EdCamp ideology/format in a way that made it clear to those who are unfamiliar with EdCamps? What more could we do to encourage first time EdCampers to lead sessions? If you have any ideas or insights, I'd love to hear them in the comments.
- EdCamps are definitely becoming a thing that happens more and more frequently. The only EdCamps that were held in New England prior to the first EdCampCT in 2011 were EdCamp Keene, EdCamp Boston, and EdCamp NYC. In between EdCampCT 2011 and 2012 there were eight EdCamp events in New England- and that's only counting the recurring EdCamp BHS & RSD6 events as one each. Before 2012 is over another four EdCamps will be held in New England. I love that there's such a high demand for EdCamp-style professional development. I wonder, though, what effect the increasing ubiquity of EdCamps will have on attendance at any one EdCamp:
- Will average attendance decrease because educators can attend EdCamps closer to home?
- Will attendance increase because more people will be exposed to EdCamps (and obviously love it) and thus want to attend more events?
- If more and more schools adopt EdCamp-style professional development as a regular part of the school year, will the demand for "special event" EdCamps (like most EdCamps held to date) decrease?
While I'd miss the "special event" EdCamps when they're gone, I think it'd be a major feather in the hat of the EdCamp movement to have had a major effect on professional development all over the world. In this hypothetical future, I'd bet there'd still be room for a few "special event" EdCamps if for no other reason than because it's always fun to meet with people from outside your school and district. I'm sure EdCampCT would be one of those that'd still go on even after we've totally revolutionized PD across the world- after all as the EdCamp Foundation Chairman of the Board says:
- Overly technology focused? Personally, I'd like to see a little less of a focus on technology and a greater focus on effective teaching & learning in general. Maybe this is just a somewhat selfish hope from someone who has been paying attention to the EdTech world for several years now. The conversations & sessions I've really enjoyed at EdCamps have focused primarily on some aspect of teaching other than explicitly on technology (on Standards-Based Grading, for example). That said, there's no doubt that the technology-centric sessions are extremely popular- and I recognize that these sessions are great for teachers who are getting started with technology in the classroom.
- Better outreach & publicity. We (the organizers of EdCampCT) tried pretty hard to spread the word about EdCampCT to as many educators as possible. There's no doubt, however, that Twitter is how a lot of people hear about EdCampCT. This likely means there's a bias in who attends the event towards educators who are already at least somewhat tech-savvy. I wonder what else we might do to spread the word about EdCampCT to those who might not use (or even heard of) the Tweeter. Certainly these teachers could benefit from the EdCamp PD model as well.
Other Items of Note
- EdCamp Food. It seems we've become known as the EdCamp of tasty food. This is not a bad thing. We're pretty lucky that our host, The Ethel Walker School, has a food service crew that is also used for special events held at the school (weddings, alumni events, etc.). They know how to make super tasty food. I'd have to say that although the potato chips- which earned international acclaim last year- were still super delicious, the rest of the food was also wa-a-a-a-ay above average. I realize the food isn't what makes an EdCamp great (it's the learning & sharing, natch), but if we're lucky enough to be in a position to also provide tasty food it ain't gonna hurt the learning that happens.
- The second time around. Last year I can remember being seriously worried that nobody would sign up for the first ever EdCampCT. I remember worrying that we wouldn't have enough people who would be willing to lead sessions. This year- the second time around- I wasn't nearly as worried. In fact, the whole planning & preparing for EdCampCT 2012 involved much less all-around anxiety- not because it was necessarily less work the second time- but rather because we already had the experience of organizing one EdCamp under out belt. Something I need to work on is taking time to talk and connect with people a little more at EdCampCT. As an organizer I wanted the event to go smoothly for everyone so I found myself leaving conversations to go check on this or that. While there are a lot of things that I do need to help with as an organizer, it's probably well worth taking a little extra time to make connections and have conversations.
- Session/Conversation Trends.
- iPads were again a hot topic: There were five individual sessions that focused specifically on iPads. That seemed a big increase from last year, but it turns out there were four iPad sessions last year. So, the trend continues.
- Evernote and Symbaloo seemed to be hot topics on Twitter. Each tool had its own session, but it definitely seemed that the sharing went beyond just the participants in those sessions (Unless the people who attended those sessions were just tweeting like crazy). While I've been using Evernote for awhile now (mostly for recipes, actually), Symbaloo was new to me. It's now on my short list of things to check out before school starts.
- A few tools from the SmackDown (see the full list of tools shared here) that I really like and fully endorse:
- DarkSky App: An iPhone/iPad app that gives very detailed forecasts one hour out. For example, it'll tell you something like, "Moderate rain will start in 10 minutes and last 35 minutes." It's already been useful helping me decide when I should go out for a run and mow the lawn.
- Caffeine: An app for Macs that does one simple thing- it keeps your computer from going to sleep. If you ever use your computer to present or watch longer form videos, it's a great thing to have. It's also free.
- Waze: A mobile GPS navigation app (available for most smart phones) that uses community information to determine the best routes. What's great is that it uses information from Waze users to update traffic conditions. If there's a slow-down on the highway that will automatically show up on the map with the average speed of traffic. It'll also look for faster alternative routes. I've been using Waze for a couple years and it's saved me from getting caught in nasty traffic many times.
And not least
Finally, it was great to work with such a great group of co-organizers to help put this event together. Thanks Sarah, Jen, and Dan! It takes a good bit of work to pull off EdCampCT, but everything always goes smoothly because of the dedicated work of all my co-organizers. I also want to give a special shout out to Sarah- who as a result of working at The Ethel Walker School (in addition to being amazingly awesome) always gets stuck with putting in more work than any of the other organizers.
I look forward to helping plan EdCampCT events for many more years!
While it's not exactly news at this point, I'm happy to announce that I'll be teaching Physics at the Connecticut River Academy, a public magnet school located in East Hartford, CT. I've been subbing and helping out at the school quite a bit since I was hired, and I'm pretty dern excited to teach there next year. While I haven't been around the school community much as of yet, I think it's safe to say there are a lot of good things happening at this school and I'm excited to be a part of those things in the years to come.
Here's where you can help: The CT River Academy is about to wrap up only its second year as a school this month. As a result of the school's newness, there's no Physics curriculum yet put together. While this means it'll be a lot of work for me this summer, I'm excited to help build the class with my colleagues from the bottom up. Earlier via Twitter, I shared this Google Doc that lists some ideas and thoughts I have for designing the instruction and assessment for Physics classes. If possible, I'd greatly appreciate some additional help from any teachers using Modeling Instruction to teach Physics. Namely, I'm interested in (1) what units you go through and in what order, and (2) what textbook (if any) you use with Modeling Instruction. If you could complete this really short survey on these topics, I'd greatly appreciate it.
I have a love/hate relationship with professional development. I like getting better at teaching. I like hearing from people who are smarter and/or more experienced than I am. Unfortunately, my experience with "official" school-district provided professional development is too often...um...less than stellar.
This less than stellar PD is one of the main reasons Twitter has been an amazing resource. It allows my professional development to be self-directed: focusing on what I want help with when I want help with it. As great as the Twitter was (and continues to be) for this, I missed the face-to-face interactions that can't happen over the Twitter.
Fortunately, EdCamp is a thing. It combines the just-in-time, self-directed professional development I enjoy from Twitter with the great face-to-face conversations I value so much from traditional professional development. It also happens to be free (which is a bonus, because it's worth my hard-earned money).
What makes EdCamp different?
Well, quite a lot, actually.
- It's democratic. At the beginning of the day the participants propose sessions and design the schedule for the day.
- It's participatory. Sessions at EdCamps are encouraged to be conversations between the session leaders and participants. No hour long terrible comic-sans slide decks with one person droning on. I promise.
- It's organized and run entirely by volunteer educators. Sure there are sponsors to help pay for lunch, prizes, and so on, but there's no exhibitor hall with salespeople hawking their wares or sessions that are just sales pitches. In fact, if such a sales-pitch session did happen you would be encouraged to...
- ...vote with your feet. If you find yourself in a session that just isn't the topic you had hoped it would be, you can leave. It's not just okay to walk out, it's encouraged. We don't want you to waste your time sitting through a session you don't find applicable to your needs. In fact, you can wander in and out as you please. Or skip a session if you simply need time to organize your thoughts or even take a break.
If you're free August 10, 2012 and in the New England region, you should attend EdCamp CT. It'll be a great day of professional development with passionate educators from all over the region. You can register for EdCamp CT here. I hope to see you there!
I found myself thinking a lot about what schools are doing and what they should be doing to prepare students for their lives after formal education while attending EdCamp Boston this past weekend. During a session where Katrina Kennett and her students were sharing about how they create a learning environment based off the EdCamp model I found myself wondering what it was like for Katrina's students to hear their teacher discussing how she designed the system and has addressed specific issues.
My mind wandered back to a discussion at an earlier session discussing ways the training/education of pre-service teachers could be improved. During that conversation the idea of encouraging pre-service teachers to employ a "growth mindset" came up- mainly because we thought a growth mindset was something we desired for our students and as a result it's something desirable for teachers so they can encourage it in their students.
Teaching students to be resilient, creative, and independent thinkers is hard. It's not something that can be done with a "good" textbook or curriculum and is essentially impossible to assess using the current regime of standardized testing. It's not simply about having students take lots fine arts classes (though that's not a bad thing)- it's something that should be an integral part of the school culture. But how do you do that?
Personally, I think we should model it for our students in our classrooms. When Katrina was discussing how she designed and implemented EdCafés in front of her students, they were able to get a behind the scenes view of how she addresses problems that come up and how the process was changed and tweaked over time. This behind the scenes view of the teaching process can model how problems and failures can be jumping off points to future success. Often classrooms are places where both teachers and students are afraid of failing. Instead we need to model how failures today can lead to some of the best learning opportunities tomorrow. I've heard it said that the biggest challenge for science graduate students is the transition from undergrad- where information is taught like we know everything- to research- where the best place to work is in the unknown.
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...'
In today's manic "Ed Reform" environment, there's plenty of talk about preparing kids for the future. But the future is uncertain and what knowledge they'll need in the future is uncertain. What we do know is that students will need to be flexible. They'll need to be able to adapt and change to new situations. While a good background of knowledge in science, math, history, etc. is important, it's more important we help students lose their fear of failure and help them learn how to be resilient. These are things I'd like schools to be doing explicitly.
In no particular order. And I reserve the right to be driven crazy by things excluded from this list.
- My example "bad" slide deck (from this post) has been viewed on SlideShare over twice as often and downloaded 4+ times as often as the new, improved, better version.
- The number one route people on the internetz take to get to this post in which I lament the poor quality of worksheet labs is by searching the Google for, "Worksheet for Hooke's Law," or some variation thereof.
- Grade grubbing. A couple weeks ago we got back the scores from the second exam in my Organic Chemistry class. I lost 10 points for making a small silly mistake in a reaction's mechanism. I wasn't very happy about receiving 0/10 points when I clearly showed more that 0% understanding of the topic (I'd've given myself a 7/10- proficient, but with room for improvement). The professor was overwhelmed with grade grubbers after passing back the exam who were quite clearly simply looking for extra points to improve their grade. I couldn't bring myself to ask for partial credit because I didn't want to be associated with the grade grubbers.
The first two especially bother me- most notably because they have this ironic quality of juxtaposing things I've posted about moving away from "traditional" instructional models and people looking for resources to use teacher-centrically. Today I changed the description of the poor slide deck in SlideShare to, "Please don’t use these slides to teach. Really. I only posted this as an example of how I used to (poorly) use PowerPoint." Let's see if that helps.
What are "hackerspaces?"
Hackerspaces are "community-operated physical places, where people can meet and work on their projects. Essentially, it's a community workshop: Some have wood or metal-working equipment and community tools, others have welding equipment, others focus on computing and programming. Each hackerspace is different. To become a member generally you'll pay an annual fee which gives you access to the equipment and the space. Many hackerspaces will offer classes given by members to the general public and have drop-in days when non-members can pay a small fee to use the hackerspace.
A hackerspace is a large, self-directed learning environment. Maybe you want to make your own Geiger counter or build a sidecar for your bicycle. A hackerspace would provide you the space and tools to get it done. On top of the space, the best thing about hackerspaces is that they encourage collaboration. It's a place where you can walk around and see what other people are working on, ask questions, and get some help from smart people if you need it.
Why Hackerspaces in Schools?
I first starting thinking about how schools and hackerspaces fit together after listening to CBC Spark's segment on Hacking the Library, featuring several libraries that are teaming up with hackerspaces to provide additional learning experiences for their patrons. That piqued my interest. Libraries are community learning spaces. Schools are community learning spaces. If hackerspaces are popping up at libraries, why not in schools?
What are the benefits of having a hackerspace at a school?
- Real-world application of content. I recently took the Praxis II Physics exam. I spent a lot of time studying content related to electricity & magnetism. Why? Besides not having taken a class on the topic since 1999, I lacked a deeper understanding of the topics- primarily because you can't see magnetism and electricity the way you can see a ball flying through the air. Inductance? Capacitance? These are tricky concepts that I know I struggled to understand deeply. However, if you provide the time and space for students to build things like USB chargers for their iPods, or super-capacitor flashlights- where students can harness inductors and capacitors to build useful objects, then there's a much better chance they'll gain a deeper understanding of what capacitors and inductors are and how they're used.
- Student choice. There are amazing communities like Instructables or Make Projects where students can find ideas for projects. Even if you wanted students to all build something related to a specific topic (i.e. electronics with capacitors, for instance), there is such a huge variety of projects available online this would still allow students to pick something that interested them personally.
- Giving students agency over their "stuff." Making stuff is empowering. Taking apart and restoring a trashed bike gives you a sense of pride about the bike that wouldn't exist if you had just bought it from the store. If your remote control for your TV breaks, you might just go buy a new one- but if you recently built your own solar battery charger, maybe instead you'd take apart the remote control and fix it yourself.
- Connecting the school to the community. Ideally, I see schools as centers of community- a place open to all community members as a place of learning beyond just the school day for students. I envision a school hackerspace run very much like any hackerspace: open to anyone in the community who would like to become a member, available to community members during school hours and students after school hours, providing classes for the community (ideally some classes being taught by students), and providing a place for the community to share their expertise with students and students to share their expertise with the community.
- Not just a wood shop class on steroids. I wouldn't want to see the hackerspace used as its own class- like wood shop classes might have been in the past. I think it'd be much more powerful if the school day were arranged so students had independent time set aside to work on self-directed projects (a là Think Thank Thunked). Not just for hackerspace projects, mind you, since not all topics and projects would be hackerspace appropriate, but certainly the hackerspace would be available.
If I was in charge of building a new school, I'd work my butt off to try to get a hackerspace as part of my school. I realize there would be a lot of potential details and issues to work through to get it done, but I think the learning and community that would result from such a space would be well worth the effort.
Note: I've never actually been to a real hackerspace. Unfortunately there don't appear to be any hackerspaces in Connecticut (according to Hackerspaces.org). If someone would like to get on that as well, I'd be on board.