Ah…Able to Learn at Last

My life took a turn a little over a month ago when life sent a message to me and my husband that it was time to simplify our lives and go from a two household family to a one household family. I had reached candidacy in my doctoral program and was not tied to classes, and I taught online. This meant we were no longer bound to Las Vegas so we no longer required two houses (we had purchased the house in Bend, OR as a future retirement property). Retirement was not on the horizon, but the savings that would come from only having to maintain one household was an important consideration. Fortunately some friends were looking for a house to rent and that sealed the deal.

But it did mean some big changes. Our home in Bend is still very much a work in progress. We walk on subflooring, have very little furniture, and half the rooms look like construction zones. Trying to figure out where to put my office was a bit of a challenge. At first we figured the best location was in the room that did have flooring. We had installed this several years ago and never got around to finishing the room…there are so many more fun things to do in Bend when you are just there for the summer. So this is where I set up:

2015-05-15 15.37.02

My desk fit in that back right corner and I had a small book case on the right under the window. The pile of flooring will hopefully be put to use in the next few months. The walls are gray and the ceiling is a dark blue (an idea of my husband’s as this is to be the future entertainment room – he wants it dark). Dark and gloomy it is, and I tried to work here and learn here for the first few weeks of our new lives. And I couldn’t. I simply did not like being in a room that felt cold, not just because of the weather but because of the colors and the darkness. I also need things neat and tidy, this is most definitely neither. I found it difficult to concentrate on the research studies I need to get through in order to write a paper, I could not learn. I finally had enough and figured out a different location and after storing some extra furniture (to be used once the kitchen area is complete), I now have a tidy, sunny work and study area:

2015-05-15 15.37.36

The walls have had wallpaper removed and look yellowish, but they are much more inviting than gray. The floor is concrete and there is an outdoor loveseat facing the fireplace, but it is tidy and organized. This may not be ideal for some, but considering my situation, it works for me and I can finally get back to writing and conducting my research – YAY!!

Which brings me to why I felt the need to share my office dilemma. I’ve read several blog posts and articles on the importance of the classroom environment, not the emotional environment but the physical environment. If you spend a few moments on Google you can come across a number of these: A Comfortable Truth from 2007, How Comfortable Classrooms Lead to a Better Student Community from 2012, and more recently from 2015, Can Classroom Furniture Improve Student Engagement? Clearly our physical environment plays a large part in our emotional well-being and on our ability to focus and think. Yet I know my classroom was not very comfortable and we were warned not to make any changes. Instead we had to teach in an industrial-like environment. And wonder why some students had problems maintaining “proper decorum” throughout the school day. I couldn’t sit in my cold, gray office for more than about 30 minutes before I had to find some light and color. Why do we think students would react any differently?

Now for the twist, I also believe this idea of a “comfortable classroom” applies to online learning as well. Many many years ago a person who will remain unnamed was having trouble making one of his avatars happy in The Sims, a basic sandbox type game where the player creates their own world. The avatar was getting ill because she did not like using the bathroom. I noticed that nothing had been done with the space – no color, no pictures, no reading materials – it was just a white space. My response was that I wouldn’t want to spend time in there either! Color was added, a couple of pictures thrown up, and the avatar increased its happiness level. The digital space had been made more inviting, and I think this should apply to online courses as well.

I know there are instructional design criteria for online courses. No walls of text, certain style and size of font, color palates, minimal movement or transitions, etc. But I think we need to dig deeper and explore ways that would help someone enter an online course and think, ahhh…I am able to learn at last. This site makes me feel part of something special, part of a community of learners. Games like World of Warcraft (WoW) have figured this out and use design to help players feel part of a special community. It is time for those of us in online learning to look at digital instructional design in a new way in order to create more of those ahhh moments.

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This is not my usual blog post, it does not focus on education per se. But education, access to and access denied, most definitely plays a part. I had the privilege to read the following perspective on Baltimore when a friend of a friend posted this person’s words. I have read nothing else like it in the media, the way in which this addresses the complexity that surrounds what some have experienced and most of us have witnessed over the past few days is unique. It is long, but no word is wasted. No one group is recognized as the villain. The author wishes to be anonymous but has agreed that I can share this heartfelt missive. (The only changes I made were to bold the headings).

For over four years, Baltimore was the center of life. For almost 9 years, Baltimore has held people that have loved me when I could not love myself.

Ask me about “peaceful protestors”

And I will respond to you that it is important for peaceful protest to happen. To express through words, and body language– action AND inaction– the message of love- of hope- of change. It is crucial to have walks, sit ins, talks, conversations at the dinner tables and at the pulpit, of peace. It is also important that “non violent” protestors respect in return. IF the family had requested to not protest on the funeral day, then respect would have been to wait at least until the next day so that the family may have peace–to respect the man you are using as a martyr for your agendas. It is important to have outlets for concerns, emotions, and passion. It is also important for those speaking to be heard. Peaceful protestors have so many outlets of social media, of boycotts, of ways to express and passionately convince while still maintaining a means of respect for themselves and their own cause. My ninth grade English teacher let us swear in our poetry- but only if it was merited to emphasize a point. She explained- and it has always stuck with me- that if all you do is yell, then when you really are yelling no one will be able to tell the difference. If your volume is always at 10, there’s no impact upon an increase to level 11. If every other word is an f-bomb in your poem, then the reader will never know when you *really* mean to swear; for the words themselves will become muted. Ever listened to music (or been to a show) where the sound is so loud you cannot hear yourself? You make your own self deaf- and in turn scream your own voice louder just to hear yourself over the fuzzy ringing in your ears. People walk way from you because you are not approachable, not rational, not able to be in a *conversation* with. Peaceful protestors. You can do better. Be. Better.

Ask me about “Baltimore Police” or “Police”

Police lives matter. Firefighter lives matter. Yes. Not “or”, Not “instead of”. Not “opposite of”. AND. Police lives AND Firefighter lives AND EMT lives matter AND so does the accountability of the actions of those lives. We can rant off the psychology experiments (the prison one that helped shape our ‘modern’ ethics board as a start) that explain how power loves power, uniforms create a sense of empowerment and abuse, etc. We can counter with the statistics and personal stories of police and firefighters that have saved lives. Yes, you only need “one bad” to ruin an entire team of “good.” I am NOT blindly, 100% defending the Baltimore Police. There is corruption. There is a broken, sick system. There is this across the nation. If you asked me about police I would tell you that I was in graduate school for emergency responding– I studied modern day police trainings, styles, and mentalities. I stepped away because I could not support most of what now is commonly taught. I can tell you that in Baltimore, racism is very much alive. Street to street, predominately “white” is rich while predominately “black” is poor. I can tell you that I have had my good friends receive DWB (driving while black). That, by being “white.” By being female. By being those two labels combined. When (edited out names as I do not have their permission for public sharing) two “black” male friends and I are together in a mall, the looks I would receive are that of hooker, of whore. Of “having daddy issues.” That when I walk in front of these two men from a diner, police will be likely to pull over between us, and ask if *I* need a ride home, if I am okay, and where am I going. If I am falling asleep in the car while one of these men drives, it will not surprise me to be woken up by a cop that wants to make sure that I was not drugged or held against my will. Yes, Baltimore. Yes, Rochester, too. You both have a real ugly capability to assume based on skin color, and/or gender. And by now, yes, we have video of protestors throwing rocks at police in riot gear– but the videos begin with the police hurling rocks at the unprotected protestors. There is no clear cut victim here. All sides are wrong. I also know the good hearts; strong souls that truly believe in living to serve– in protecting– in being the “local cop” that kids come to when they have no safe adult to talk to. I believe having people that can and will use force when needed are important. I believe “that as long as Heaven and Hell are at war, the Earth will know no Peace.” I also believe that the police, especially Baltimore, can do better. Be. Better.

Ask me about “rioting”

And I will respond that “rioting” can be broken down a few ways:

The young, angsty, mob mentality sparked off by something controversial. Mob mentality is powerful, is addictive, and is lacking a lot of common sense. There is lengthy sociological and psychology information on this. I also concede that I am not spending the time to pull it up- however I will state that it is there, it is in my textbooks by me, and could be found (and not from wikipedia). Take it for what you will, there is a reason we study scientifically mob mentality. Herd mentality. Horde mentality. What is part of the core of an angsty mob? Usually youth, economic problems, potential racial tension, and time. One would not burn down the CVS if the CVS is where your beloved little brother had his prescriptions filled. Youth means physical strength, an “invincibility” mentality, a “it could never happen to me” bubble, and a willingness to ACT. Get a few strong, strategic leaders; characters that people wish to follow- have them aim at “lost” youth, and you have yourself an army.

Take the mentality that we are “not alone”, that we are “empowered”, that we are “Strong”, and you get a mob mentality.

Now. Take this. You have to tell your son, that because he is “black” and you live in Baltimore, so he is more likely to be dead or in handcuffs than graduate high school. High. School. Your young children play “cops and robbers” not because of TV shows- but because they see it every day from their stoop. Talk to your children- give them “The Talk”. No, not the “sex” talk. The talk about how if an officer stops you, put your empty hands where they can see them, where you do not leave this house wearing hoodi, you always have your hood off your head, you wear fitted clothing, you do not walk to or from the corner store at night, you do not speed and you do not argue. Tell them how, because they are “black”, they will not receive timely justice, due diligence, equal treatment. Do this because you live in Baltimore– or because you live in Rochester. Tell them that they must be better. Be. Better. Than any and everyone else if they are to ever had the same “equal” chance. And then tell me, honestly, that you aren’t angry. Go ahead and try. Be a mother that stays up every night until her babies are in bed safe- even when they went to the corner store for milk, even when they went to see a movie with friends- that you legitimately are afraid they will not come home alive. I will tell you that this is one reason why there is so much anger— fear— helplessness growing.

I have seen, thank you Marines, what happens when people lose their minds. When minds “snap.” I also have scene and have studied what happens when you push people into tight corners. A “non violent, peaceful, God-loving woman” may very well physically rip an intruder to shreds if the intruder comes after her child. A “respectable, intelligent, well-rounded man” may very well brutally beat. to. death. the man that raped his daughter. Take a societal mentality that you are helpless. A system that enforces segregation and inequality. Then drop bodies. People reach breaking points. Desperation for change. Desperation to be heard will end in batpoop crazy levels. This is going on now. I spent over five years studying and experiencing psychology and religion, from a hippie campus to being trained to deploy for combat. I, personally, think what terrifies people more than the thought that “these things can happen”– is the realization that “it is not that hard to do.” We talk about abuse, murder, shootings, “how could a soldier ever shoot another man”– and then we realized how easy it is to train the brain to flip that switch. That “fight or flight” kicks in, and if you have taught the “fight” well it wins. So we condemn those that have- or that have been trained to- because we want to distance ourselves from being “like that.”

Baltimore. Rochester. Have been forced into “flight” for too long. “Fight” kicks in. “Fight” is kicking in right now in Baltimore.

“Rioting” has people taking advantage of the situation– looters

“Rioting” has mob mentality of “The way I hurt myself just to get back at you”

“Rioting” also is when “peaceful” flight has had to switch to an aggressive fight.

“Rioting” has “this is fun, everyone is doing it” with no “tomorrow” consequences.

“Rioting” is stupid, because you are destroying your own community, homes, and futures. BUT “Rioting” should not be ignored. If you passively react to the child throwing a viscous, embarrassing, destructive (property and to themselves) tantrum in the supermarket, you encourage the child to act out harsher, you enforce to the child that their life, their actions, do not rate your attention. Rioters must be addressed because there are different kinds of rioters. Rioting must be addressed in that the “message” of the riot, like the overuse of swearing in poetry, cannot be heard when the volume is set to scream. The message is lost in the action. And, when everything you do is on display, if your message is not clear– people will fill in your message for you with their own agendas. I believe you leave your grocery cart full of groceries right where it is, flip the child over your shoulder, and haul them out of the store. I also believe there are conversations with the child– including the parent *actively* listening to the child, to figure out what lead up to such a tantrum, and agree on what to do moving forward.

Ask me about “gangs”

And I’ll tell you that I was on campus when my friends texted to say that the “initiation” for bloods/crips was real. That there were shootings, cops are everywhere. That ramps are shut down, and they are not sure when they can get back to campus.

I’ll tell you that it would be tactically brilliant to use this firestorm as a front to move your force’s team into usually-enemy territory, scorch earth policy your enemy’s home while working together as a “truce” against the police. Why slice firehoses- putting entire sections of the city as risk? Simple. This knocks out two enemies (rival gang, and police/government,) while not being on “my” turf. Remember folks, you have Baltimore, DC, and Annapolis all ripe for this kind of suburban warfare. Slap the label “black man murdered by cops” and you, yourself, can get away with murder– because the issue has become polarized. “Cops are right!” is to say “Black lives don’t matter!” and to say “Black lives matter” has become “Cop lives don’t matter.” So I’ll take my teams, I’ll move in-between this, I’ll bring my rival’s infrastructure down from within, and I’ll leave in the morning to my own city that is now prepping to prevent ourselves from doing the same.

You have protestors that actively try to peacefully house conversation- but may not be actively listening because they are too burned out from being ignored

You have police that are a blend of good souls and corruption, that are grouped together as one unit/interchangeable numbers yet are their own creatures

You have young rioters that are rioting for fun, for prestige, for action

You have rioters that are in mob mentality- breed of crazy of its own

You have looters that loot out of opportunity

You have gangs that are organized, with structure– that have brought back the “police” of their own neighborhood since “cops” are too corrupt/part of the system to trust

You have some people that just want to watch the world burn

You have parents pleading with God for their children to come home safe tonight

You have parents cursing at God for not acting sooner

You have people shaking their fists hoping that this changes things

You have thousands of people, with little left to lose.

You have anger, fear, helplessness, desperation

You have sadness and hope, yearning for love and peace

You have me. That really cannot tell you anything, because I graduated high school. I graduated college. I do not live in the city of Baltimore. I am not afraid of being pulled over because of my pigment.

I *can* tell you this.

I can’t breathe.

  1. Can’t. Breathe.

Because black lives matter.

Because all lives should matter.

I physically cannot breathe because I am helpless. I cannot save, protect, or assist the ones I love that are in this.

Scared, hiding, hoping this battle does not kick in their door.

I cannot hold them. I cannot throw myself in front of them. I cannot beg “take me instead.”

I cannot breathe because they are holding their breathe through the night

I cannot breathe because I am helpless.

And this makes me angry.

And fueled anger becomes motivated anger becomes rage.

I cannot breathe because I cannot imagine living every month that my roommates walk out our front door- neve rmind husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister- feeling like I do right now.

Not being able to breathe until they are home.

I cannot breathe because the police families are on the other side of the door, holding their breathe too.

“Oh God we need you here.

We’re sinking fast, and we don’t care.

The evidence is all around me

On both sides of my door.

Our hearts beat.”

So when you ask me “how could someone slice firehoses in their own community?”,

I think simple.

They reached the point of utter defeated helpless desolation

They believe there is no hope

And so if there is no hope, I might as well take as many of “you” down with me-might as well harm the “enemy” as much as I can–

–might as well “make you feel as broken as I do” as best I can


My dad once taught me that once you have kids, you see your kids in all kids.

Your child may now be 5, but you see her 3 year old self in every 3 year old that is on the news as missing, dead, or abused

Every 12 year old that wears clothing showing skin you deem inappropriate, you see your own child in

Every hungry 16 year old that your child is friends with you feed because you would want the same for your child


Your child is still your child, no matter how many years they have been an adult

So every “black” life that is beaten, hammered in a van, spine severed, with denied medical is one of your family’s– you see your family in every one of those news stories

Every police officer (life) that has a brick whipped at their skull is representing all police officers- all of your military, firefighting, EMT, police officer, ranger brothers and sisters–you see your children in every one of the adults/police

There are no individuals here; only symbols.

But we fight each other’s symbols by only seeing the individuals the symbols represent to ourselves.

Too many units are only seeing “black and white”- literally- in this eruption. Too many units are failing to see that not all cops are the same, that not all blacks are the same, that not all youth, not all men, not all residents, not all unemployed, are all the same. Too many viewers are failing to see the media focus on a directed narrative. Too many people think they have the answers before even asking the right questions.

I don’t have the answers.

I don’t have all the questions.

It hurts to see 3/4 of my newsfeed blow up with people I already miss dearly being in danger close range of what is going on.

It makes me want to throw up having to see the roll call posts go out to check in on everyone.

I wince, because I am far away and in safety, because I am able to think of “tomorrow” when those come “home” to nothing but literal ashes.

I am annoyed with people that keep talking– because I do not see it mattering

I am frustrated at having to then admit rioting and violence is not the proper mode to present the message either

That I do not know how to fix this, but where we are is not okay.

“I can’t breathe, because so many can’t breathe every day. We all need to learn, to remember, *how* to breathe, together.” is the message I should have. This would be rational, respectable, and potentially the start of healthy conversations.

“I can’t breathe because if one motherfucker hurts someone that I love, I will show you what it really means to burn the city to the ground” is where I currently am.

And is also why I am inside tonight. Because I would like a city to be standing when I wake up. I would like to wake up. I would like this city to wake up. We need to Be. Better.

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‘Whoops’ and the learning that can occur…

I have been very fortunate to be part of the group who helped with the development and the implementation of the Henderson Libraries Generation STEAM workshop series. The first workshop was given in January 2015 and they continue through June. These workshops have proven to be quite popular and most are full with long waiting lists. There is obviously a need for more exploratory hands-on experiences for valley youth.

Yesterday was our “Physics Through Rocketry” workshop which was run by Caleb Schmucker. Paper rockets and an air compressor were used to allow kids the opportunity to run through several iterations in order to create a rocket that would fly across the library. The joy the children experienced while conducting this type of exploration was evident in their smiles as they raced to get the paper rocket they had successfully launched.

Not all of the landings were successful. The set of windows that made up one of the walls of the library space offered a lot of obstacles for flying paper rockets. There were lights to crash into, beams to get stuck in, and window framing to land on.

Window frame at Paseo Verde library

Window frame at Paseo Verde library

Rocket stuck in ceiling

Rocket stuck in ceiling

As the workshop progressed, I noticed one young man with a very long paper rocket that had no fins and had a decided bend in the upper section of the body. My first thought was, “that is not going to go very far”. Then I realized he had designed a retrieval device for the paper rockets that had landed on the framing.

Rocket retrieval device

Rocket retrieval device

Many adjustments were made to this device as he had to reach higher and higher for other rockets. Index cards were used to reinforce weaker components, and other children offered advice as to the placement and operation of the device. There were successful retrievals of rockets on lower frames, but the rocket in the above picture was stubborn and the supports were not strong enough for the height and weight of the contraption. I watched as he went back to the materials table several times, never willing to admit defeat. Finally, he turned to his cohorts and stated that “this is not going to work, we have to design something else!” The last I saw of him was when he elicited his mother’s aid in Googling how he could design a better retrieval device. The workshop ended shortly after so unfortunately he was unable to complete his objective.

This experience encapsulated the importance that exploration and the ‘whoops’ factor bring to student learning. This was an informal learning space, but it could translate to the classroom. Rather than providing students with a recipe-style lab on rockets, the teacher could present them with the same materials as this workshop and the ‘Big Question’ of how many ways can you design a paper rocket in order to get it across the room? When the inevitable ‘whoops’ does happen, let the students formulate the next ‘Big Question’ and then find their own answers, authentic learning at its best!

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What I Learned From Quantum Mechanics – How I Learn

Life has thrown a few curves so blogging took a back seat for a bit. I decided to check out my last post before diving in again to get some inspiration. And boy, did that post on grit bring back some memories. Let me end your suspense so that you don’t scroll down to the end of this post – I did pass Quantum Mechanics, barely. And with what knowledge did I leave that course? How I learn.

I know most people would probably write that they now had a deeper understanding of the Schrödinger Equation and harmonic oscillators. Both are true for me as well, but what I truly learned was I tend to be a shallow learner in subjects that prove difficult. Having taught in high school, and currently working towards a doctoral degree in education, you’d think I would have a solid grounding in metacognition and thus by default already ‘know how I know’. Apparently not so. I found I have different strategies based on my level of interest in the topic and my own perceived skill level at learning the subject.

My education courses have been relatively simple for me, but that is because I am deeply passionate about education and have been given the freedom to follow my interests in that field. I crave deep learning and understanding so that I can both share what I learn and am able to apply that knowledge to improve my research and teaching. I did not go into my Quantum Mechanics class with the same agenda. Rather I had two reasons for enrolling; 1) to be able to add “science education emphasis” to my CV, and 2) to develop an understanding of what it is to learn science. I had taken many many science credits during my time as an undergraduate but I had never explicitly reflected on the processes I used to learn the subjects.

I chose this course because my husband, who is much more gifted in matters of science and mathematics than I am, had promised to be my tutor. (Side noteperhaps the topic of spousal tutoring could be the focus for a future blog post). I had misgivings as my calculus was a bit rusty and I had not had to concentrate on actual science content since I last taught science. But if I were going to answer the question ‘how do I learn’, this was certainly one way to find out. What I found when I did employ this explicit reflection was that I did not like to learn deeply when I was not very vested in the subject. I pulled out old strategies such as memorizing different ways to solve problems rather than putting in the time to understand the content at a level that would guide that problem solving. What I learned was that science can require a large time investment from me if I expect to truly learn rather than merely survive.

Unfortunately this insight did not come to me until about halfway through the semester, and I was able to keep the subterfuge of learning up long enough for my poor husband to think he was helping me actually understand what he was trying to tutor. Of course exams will tell in the end (this course did not have homework, only 3 exams). Easy test questions that required true understanding for them to be seen as easy are what shed light on my fraudulent methods. The tests were open book/open note but if you did not have a deep understanding of the content it did not matter.

Which led me to reflect on my time as a science teacher and how I would apply what I learned about myself to a future course. I have a much deeper respect for formative assessment than before. Not that I thought it wasn’t important for student learning, of course I did and I used it in my classroom. I understand now that I did not use it as effectively as I thought I had. I knew that I had to identify student misconceptions but now I would probably look to fellow science teachers in my Twitter and Google+ PLNs for better questions and strategies. I also know that true understanding takes time. This can be a problem in a typical science classroom. Elementary classrooms certainly do not have time given the focus on English and mathematics and, based on my experience, many high school science classrooms do not have the time as well. Ego aside, I consider myself to have above-average academic abilities – if I need time for deep science learning then how much time do average students require? How much time are they given? How can we address this need for our students? These are the questions that came from my experience and I hope my fellow science educators can help me find the answers.

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Am I Brave Enough to Model Grit?

Growth Mindset. Drive. And of course, grit. These terms and the concepts behind them have become all the rage in education. If our students just have determination, grit, drive, know they can learn, then they can move mountains. It feels uplifting to read those books, hopeful. We have a prescription, so to speak, of what needs to be done for our students to succeed. But it also calls for some serious self-reflection. If I expect my students to demonstrate grit in their learning, what about myself?

I would hazard to guess that most of the people I have come into contact with at my school, if asked, would say I most definitely display grit. I am advancing through the program at a decent rate, I have developed as a researcher and writer, received 2nd place for the Outstanding Graduate Student Teacher award, have presented as a first author at several national conferences, and am a member of committees created to advance the education field. But this semester is calling my ‘grit level’ into serious question.

As part of my science education emphasis, I must take two graduate level science courses. I chose Quantum Mechanics as one of those courses in order to experience what it is like to learn a difficult science subject. It has been about 20 years since I last used Calculus on a daily basis and I have a civil engineer’s understanding of physics, which means not a lot in the way of modern or quantum physics. Part of the plan was to really reflect on what it took to succeed as a science learner, thereby informing my own later research. But what I am learning instead is that grit takes a lot of courage.

Yes, I do recall this is discussed in both books. That fear of failure is something that holds some back from developing a growth mindset or to continue on with a difficult subject. But I did not realize the stress level that could be reached! This blog post follows the day after my first exam in the course – one which I woefully bombed because I misinterpreted the second of two exam questions. And there is this feeling now of insufficiency, of doubt, of – well – being a poser. After all, when we wait as a class outside the door for the professor to grant us access to the classroom, I can hear the Sesame Street song “One of These Things is not Like the Others”. I’m an “ah hem” older woman enrolled in the Education College. With the exception of one younger woman, my peers are 20 – 30 year old males who are majoring in physics. The word ‘poser’ crosses my mind often. Fortunately I am not in this alone. My husband took this course a couple of years ago from the same professor when he was enrolled in the Master’s program in Physics. He now serves as my personal tutor and is doing a very good job given the material he has to work with. We struggled together early in the semester but I have gained some basic knowledge and was beginning to feel confident in my understanding of the content.

Until yesterday. I felt like a complete and utter failure when it was time to demonstrate my understanding. And now fear has set in along with the feeling that “I just can’t do this”. The desire to drop the course and fulfill the requirement with much easier subject matter is overwhelming. “I have a dissertation proposal to work on”, “I have other classes to consider”, “I have a class to teach” all crowd my mind. But what does it say if I give up on myself because something is difficult? What can I say to future students when they hit the wall with that ‘one class’ that could help them grow as a student? Would that not make me a poser as a teacher if I cannot live what I try to instill in my students? So now I must ask myself, am I brave enough to model grit? Can I put aside the feeling of inadequacy and replace it with pride of accomplishment? Can I be the student that I want my students to be?

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#DotDay and the Challenge to Blog

Life has gotten a bit crazy, mainly because I have completely forgotten calculus. Well, that’s not exactly true. For my science education emphasis I must take 2 graduate level science courses. Rather than choosing the easy way out (there are some pretty lame courses that can be used to satisfy this requirement) I decided to take Quantum Mechanics and Evolutionary Microbiology during the same semester. But it’s my last semester of coursework so why not go out in a big ball of flame, right? Interestingly, it’s not the calculus or science concepts that are giving me trouble, it’s the 7th grade Algebra…

So there it is, my excuse for lack of blogging. Until last night during the #caedchat. #DotDay and blogging came up, as in the importance of, and how the lack was felt when it came to making one’s mark, so now my commitment to blogging has been renewed. It helps that there will be a challenge soon, at least according to these Tweets (nothing like putting fellow caedchatters on the spot).

Which started my thought process towards why I haven’t blogged in a while, and why did I blog in the first place? Looking over my earlier blogs made me realize I used to do a lot more reading, uh, well let’s call it ‘non-school related’ reading. And I hung out on Twitter and Google+ more back then. I was able to easily find and learn about educational topics I was passionate about. Things I wanted to blog about.

I lost that habit while preparing for my comprehensive exams and I did not realize until last night how much I missed that feeling of passion. Instead I was caught up in academic reading. Important, but it just does not fuel that passion. And without that passion it is impossible to leave my mark in this world, or to help others to do so. But it’s time to remember why I decided to enroll in the PhD program in the first place. It was certainly not to spend all of my time reading research articles. Rather I hope to make my mark by conducting research with the intent of improving the teaching and learning experience. I would like my mark on education to be improving access for all.

I have read many pro and con arguments on Twitter and elsewhere when comparing online learning to the face to face experience. Whatever you beliefs on this issue, there are those who cannot, for various reasons, attend face to face courses. Therefore effective online methods must be understood and implemented if we hope to allow educational access to all. Ah, the passion is back J. So on #DotDay I make a promise to myself to read outside of academia more, to help fuel the fires of my passion on education for all, and to blog with my new blogging buds!

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“Why Aren’t More Teachers on Twitter?”

(Link to study documentation and survey)

This is a question that seems to get posted at least once during the education chats I participate in each week. After having discovered how easily one can connect with and learn from passionate educators, and give back as well, it is one I have asked myself. I remember how lonely I felt when I started teaching physics at my high school. At the time none of the other science teachers had taught the subject and I had to figure things out on my own. Knowing about the education community on Twitter would have greatly benefited both me and my students.

Fast forward to today, where I now teach preservice teachers. I was excited to introduce my students to the group of connected educators I have come to know and whose input has been invaluable to my teaching. I did not want any of them to experience the isolation I had felt so I implemented Twitter as part of my curriculum. The first two semesters Twitter was met with enthusiasm; a few of my students, some of whom were currently teaching, were amazed at the community they found and at the help they had received.

However, not all of my classes greeted Twitter with enthusiasm. Last semester I had thought to conduct a study involving students in my course about their experience with Twitter. Given that the majority of the students were not happy using Twitter, those plans quickly changed. I also found that some in the research community were not particularly sure of the value of Twitter as a teacher professional development tool. This road block presented itself during one of my graduate educational technology courses (one I take, not teach). A guest speaker, one held in high regard in the educational technology community, commented she found it odd that some teachers mentioned Twitter as an important part of their personal learning network. That is when I realized the focus of my research on Twitter had to change. I had gotten ahead of myself by deciding to focus on the results of using Twitter. Instead it seemed there needed to be a study which demonstrated WHY an educator might consider using Twitter in the first place.

Thus my current study was born. The primary objective is to identify characteristics of those educators who currently use Twitter – is there something special about those who participate in educational Twitter chats or can it appeal to all types of educators? Do those who use Twitter now find it useful? Plan to continue? These are the questions I hope to answer with the first phase of my study. For the second phase I will delve into past Twitter chats and look for evidence of learning and communities of practice. Based on my own experience, I do believe this evidence exists. Ultimately I hope to provide reasons for those who are currently hesitant about Twitter’s value as a professional development tool for all educators, as well as bring awareness of its use to those in various areas of the field. Of course to do so requires the help of current educators who do use Twitter. If you would like to help advance the cause, click on this link: bit.ly/RHwley  Your time and input will be greatly appreciated.

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The Power of Technology in the Classroom

It’s been a tough few weeks and it feels like the semester will not end soon enough. Taking three grad classes, teaching two teacher prep courses, deciding on comp questions, serving on a couple of committees, and conducting independent research is starting to take its toll. There are times when I begin to wonder if all the work is meaningful, especially when the voters of one state decided their children’s education is not worth a little extra money. Will working towards an understanding of the best uses of technology matter in the long run? When it seems public sentiment is against practically everything public education? Why am I spending my time trying to find and implement methods that I hope will help all children succeed in the educational setting that is considered irrelevant?

Then a student turns in an assignment about creating a unit that contains technology implementation. The story is heartbreaking. A 5th grade class that no teacher wants, that everyone seems to have given up on as “bad kids”. Kids who are discussed with horror in the teacher’s lounge. Their teacher was leaving this Title 1 school and the principal needed a volunteer to take the class. No one raised their hand, no one that is except a first year teacher who was willing to take a chance.

The description of the classroom she encountered was as heartbreaking as the description of the students by the teachers. Nothing on the walls. Rows of desks and few learning materials. The kids see something in this first year teacher, though, and a few run up to her and give her a hug, saying that “she will save them”. Of course. Kids can tell when someone has given up on them. This teacher knows she must save them and immediately starts by enlisting their help. She asks where their interests lie and the theme of traveling and knowing the world prevail.

She decides that a research project is just what these students need, and assigns groups based on the area of the world each student has picked. Quickly desks are moved to allow for collaboration. This teacher also understand the power of technology. As she puts it, “it is enjoyable, interesting, interactive, patient, and non-judgmental”. Based on what those children have had to endure from the powers that be, those last two characteristics speak volumes. As she further goes on to relate, the project allowed the students to work to their own ability level, with the special needs students using the same tools as the rest. They were able to work on what interested them, yet with the understanding that they were contributing to the big picture for the class as well.

At the end of her story she includes pictures of the students standing in front of their presentations. You can see the pride they have in themselves and in their work by the big smiles on their faces. Yes. It IS worth is!

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Education and Technology/Oil & Water – and HOPE!

As a doctoral student who specializes in educational technology and science education, meaning I work with a lot of preservice teachers and as a result inservice teachers, I have witnessed how the established education community mixes with technology. And that would be about as well as oil mixes with water. It can be done, but it takes a LOT of effort. However, this knowledge did not prepare me for what I have experienced at my own campus.

This academic year included an office move for me, to a space where I could productively pursue my classwork and research interests. Meaning I am on campus for a more extended time than in the past. I am a social person so this has been a pleasant change as I now have the opportunity to interact with faculty and my fellow grad assistants on a more consistent basis. But this proximity has also brought into disturbing focus the fact that not a whole lot of technology is being utilized to conduct business. Other than the occasional reference to our LMS WebCampus, which right now is invariably a complaint as we have updated our version of Blackboard Learn, it would appear technology has not advanced since Microsoft introduced their office suite (or whatever term Apple uses to refer to their office software as apparently almost everyone but me uses Apple products). Sometimes I feel like the red-headed step child, the family is amused by my use of tech toys but these toys appear to send the signal that I am “different”.

Having come from two different industries, banking and engineering, this is extremely confusing. How can a productive person NOT want to use a tool that can help him/her create and work more efficiently and effectively? If I were still in engineering and using the same type of tools as many of my fellow grad students, I would be using an abacus and drafting design plans by hand. It is a mystery to me why those in education perceive technology to be an “extra” as opposed to a necessary component of “getting the job done”. I understand that technology changes quickly and it can be difficult to keep up. However Google Docs has been available for quite some time, and YouTube’s closed captioning ability combined with Hangout On Air or recorded Skype sessions should be part of the repertoire of anyone conducting interviews. I may be misinterpreting the signals, but it seems there is almost a disdain for technology, that it is not worth the effort as the “old ways” work well enough. Maybe that is one of the reasons it is taking time to spread from higher education to the K-12 classrooms. If preservice teachers do not see technology used as a matter of fact in their classrooms, why should they make that extra effort?  

But I do believe there is hope. Recently I presented some information about student-centered technology to a group of student teachers at a local high school. Of course I would have preferred the session to be more hands-on, but the time frame did not allow for that opportunity. The up side is I will be returning for a real workshop, not merely a presentation. However, I did see their eyes and hear their comments as I demonstrated some of the interactive features of a SMART Board. None of these student teachers have had the opportunity to use the Notebook software. The excitement was palpable as they began to brainstorm how they could guide student learning in their own classrooms, and they began listing all of the ways SMART Boards could help students for their content areas. These student teachers realized the value of technology and the implications for its use in their future careers. That moment made me glad I have chosen to specialize in educational technology, and more importantly, I did not feel “different” in that room.    

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Getting Crushed at the Bottom of the Pile

Sunday is the day I take to read the Education section of the New York Times. This is my “me time” reading and is one of the ways I keep up with what actually goes on in the trenches in the world of K-12 education (another way is hanging with current teacher friends during happy hour)! I’ve been stewing over a few quotes in one particular article, and I’m pretty much reaching critical mass when I think about their implications for our students. The article was titled “At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice” so I should have been forewarned that my mood would not be particularly good after perusing.

Let me share three of the more ominous quotes that appear rather quickly in the article (by paragraph 4) and where they led my thoughts. The first was, We have this highly motivated, highly driven work force who are now wondering, ‘O.K., I’ve got this, what’s the next thing? Yes, because you can obviously know all there is about teaching in 2 to 4 years and you are no longer motivated by the fact that you have the supreme responsibility of molding young minds, helping them to achieve full and rich lives. Plus I’m sure parents love the fact that these highly motivated individuals are focused more towards their own future than they are those childrens’ futures.

Next, There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever. This makes sense. As the article informs us, scripted teachers developed by Teach For America are a prime source of bodies for these types of charter schools. If you have a teacher who has been in the classroom for 4+ years they may, *gasp*, develop ideas of their own on issues such as classroom management and best teaching practices. This can certainly cause problems for administrators when teachers start to buck the system and begin to advocate for their students.

Finally, Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers. Wow. Seriously, Wendy Kopp, the best thing for our students is instability in their schools? Do you REALLY believe that? My reaction, yes, was this…

mushroom cloud

The complete lack of respect for teaching as a profession encapsulated by these (and more) statements in this article is mind boggling. Teaching is NOT something to be used to bide your time and build your resume/CV until a better opportunity comes along. For true teachers it IS the opportunity. It is time for us to put teachers back on top of the education policy decision making pile. They are the ones observing firsthand the effects generated in the classroom by policies set by politicians and businessmen. Human growth and development does not follow a set algorithm. We need caring, experienced teachers to help lead the way in order to provide the best education possible for our children. Administrators should be evaluated based on how well they help their teachers develop, not based on how many teachers they fire.

Somehow the world is upside down where education is concerned and it’s time to set it upright. It is time to start trusting our teachers, their experiences, their caring, their abilities to help our children learn and to give them the power they need to accomplish that very important task.

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