Thursday, May 24, 2018

Calling Final Exams into Question

Oh. Snap.

A tweet from one of the people I've been following on Twitter since almost the beginning, Dan Meyer:



Calling the grand tradition of final exams into question seems...almost heretical.

But does he have a point?

I guess I'm now thinking about what the real point of final exams might actually be. Are they intended to provide new insights into student learning? Or are they a way to help students summarize and synthesize everything they had the opportunity to learn over the term? Or...maybe...they are a mechanism for compliance, a way to keep the kids (fearfully, stressfully) "engaged" (not sure that this is the right word for it...) until the end?

Is there value in in continuing the practice of final examinations?

Or is this an outdated vestige of educational practice from days of yore?

What do you think?

Image by Shannan Muskopf [CC BY-NC 2.0]

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Enthusiasm: Teaching with My Strengths

It has recently come to my attention that my reputation precedes me: students talk about their instructors, and I am known for being an active (perhaps hyperactive) presence in the classroom. Those of you who know me well will probably not be surprised to hear this. I talk with my whole body, and it's only worse when I'm properly caffeinated.

Knowing this, I try to use it to my advantage: I know that when my own teachers were excited about the content, it piqued my interest in a different way--particularly if it was a topic that seemed like it could otherwise be dry or uninteresting.

Since my natural tendency is towards the energetic and enthusiastic, I leverage this in the classroom. Never fear a little change in vocal dynamics, gesturing, animated facial expressions, clear interest in students' contributions, and genuine enthusiasm towards the content of the lesson...that might be just what "gets" them, or at least hooks them in to following you down the path you've planned for your lesson.

And so, it is probably not surprising that students in pedagogy-oriented classes (like the ones I tend to teach) take note of this, and even comment on it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Breaking Out at the End of the Semester

I had to check my math because I could hardly believe it myself, but this spring was the NINETEENTH TIME I've taught science methods! This course is officially titled "Teaching Science Pre-K through Middle School"--which is pretty audacious--and it is, as they say, in my wheelhouse. I started adjuncting this course in 2007, and have basically taught it 3 semesters out of four since that time. That's a crazy thought!

I've found that when you teach a course that many times, there are three dangers to watch for, and keep in mind:
  1. It's easy to assume that students know what you are talking about, because YOU (as the instructor) definitely know what you are talking about.
  2. It's easy to accidentally tell the same stories over and over...or to think you've already told a story, because it can be hard to keep track.
  3. It's easy to feel like you've got this one in your back pocket, since you've practiced it so much.
I'm continually working against these. It happened a few semesters ago in this course...I was a little too complacent, and because I had other, newer courses I was giving more focus, time, and attention, I fell into all three of these dangers all at the same time. Since then, I've tried to prioritize keeping science methods fresh, because--obviously--while it might be old hat to me, it is new for this group of students.

But one of the fun things about having a course that you feel very confident in teaching is that keeping it fresh means you can continuously tinker and experiment with things that you've never done before. Through out this semester, I tinkered with several lessons, trying new activities or different approaches to my lecturing/storytelling. I reworked parts of several lessons dedicated to teaching controversial topics in science, and invited colleagues to sit in--that keeps you on your toes! And, I decided I really wanted to try something completely new (for me) for a summative lesson at the end of the semester.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Being Appreciated

Today marks the beginning of Teacher Appreciation Week. This is both wonderful and weird.

My day began with one of my students dropping off this envelope at my office, right after I arrived...

Large envelopes are always wonderfully mysterious, aren't they?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Transition Time: Celebrating our Student Teachers

Tonight we had a special event for our Teacher Preparation Program. Our club for pre-service teachers, the Future Active Christian Teacher (FACT) Club put on a banquet. This was a first time event, but I hope that we'll continue to have this in the future! The FACT Club leadership is pretty incredible, and a few months ago they proposed hosting all of the cooperating mentor teachers, the student teachers, the Education faculty, and--of course--all of the FACT Club members for an evening of celebration.

Wow, this was fun! Good food, good conversation, good opportunities to get future teachers, practicing teachers, and Education faculty together in a "not school" setting. Dessert was delicious too, of course...

Thank you, Dordt Dining, for always having my favorite chocolate lava cake...

And we had an inspiring speaker--the superintendent from a Christian school in our area--and several of the students offered words of thanks to the different groups represented there tonight.

I was asked to give a share some words of congratulations for our seniors who are in a time of transition: wrapping up this stage of their journey, and preparing to move into the next adventure...a classroom of their own!

Knowing I'm likely to go off the rails if I just ad lib, I wrote out my thoughts. What follows is what I shared as a blessing and send off for our seniors. This is one of those times when I feel like, "I get to do this!"

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The People are the Work

It's a crazy week for me.

I was out of town last week, so I'm playing catch up on marking papers.

I've had a bunch of extra meetings for different committees and commitments.

It's registration season for the next semester, and advisees are coming out of the woodwork to ask me to weigh in.

Visiting student teachers, keeping up with my two students working on independent study projects, and--oh yeah--I have classes to teach(!) means it's a full, full week.

And then, a student stops by, and just asks if I have a few minutes to talk.

So, with a bit of an internal sigh, I put a smile on my face and turn away from my laptop, gesture toward the ramshackle little couch I have in my office, and turn in my chair to give her my full attention, even as I think to myself, "I have things to do..."

This junky little couch moved in to this office the same day I did.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Facebook is Weird

I.

A month or so ago, I presented a session at the annual Day of Encouragement held here on our campus. The session was entitled "Ministering to 'Digital Natives'" and I was pleased that quite a few people showed up. As folks were coming in the room, I was surprised and amazed how many of them I knew: one of my best friends in the world, a couple of colleagues from here at the college, several of my former students (both from my days teaching middle school, and my current prof life), a young woman who used to babysit our kids when they were little, church friends, and even my former youth pastor from my high school days in southern California. It was a weird mash-up of different parts of my life, all in the same room. I joked that this was a little bit like Facebook.

Image by Jo Alcock [CC BY-SA-NC 2.0]