A Learning Goal

I’m requiring students in my technology course to keep a blog.  I think it’s an excellent way for them to learn about the technology and hopefully develop habits of reflective practice.  One of my course goals is to teach students to use Internet tools to develop their personal learning networks.  To help them focus their networks, I want them have a learning goal, so for their 1st post, I am asking them to answer the following:

  1.  What do you think is the most important thing you need to learn right now in order to be an effective teacher?  Why?  What actions are you pursuing to learn it?

Since I’m asking students to create learning goals and develop habits of reflective practice, I think it is only fair that I set the example and create my own learning goal.  The students that I will be teaching are primarily pre-service elementary education candidates while my experience is primarily in secondary and post-secondary settings.  To best serve my students, I feel it is important for me to improve my understanding of teaching in the elementary school setting.  I am teaching in a pre-school co-op and am also teaching a Sunday School class for older pre-school aged children, which does give me some insight into working with early elementary aged children, but not as much with older elementary aged children.  I’ve done quite a bit of reading on child development, which also helps some, but I think I need to spend time talking with, and possibly observing, some of my friends who are elementary school teachers.  Also, I may be able to contact some additional teachers when I attend the local elementary school’s School Community Council (I’m a community representative).  I’d love to hear from any elementary school teachers out there–what do you wish you had known before you stepped in front of your 1st classroom?

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What a Difference a Year Makes

Tomorrow, I’ll be in front of a classroom again!  I’ll be teaching 1 section of a 1-credit technology course for teachers and later in the week, I’ll be teaching 2 sections of a 3-credit science methods course for elementary school teachers.  I’m excited and nervous.  It’s going to be a busy week for me, as I’ll also be teaching my older son’s pre-school group on Tuesday and Thursday.  We’ll see how quickly I can change gears.


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An End

Six years ago, I applied for a PhD program.  I wanted to further my ability to make a difference in the lives of children.  Also, I was comfortable in the university environment and didn’t want to leave.   I loved my coursework, I loved teaching college courses, and I loved working at the university’s Center for Teaching and Learning.  I was eager to do research.

Things changed a little when my son was born.  As I spent more time with him, I became less eager to do research, but I was still interested.  I plugged along and made slow, steady progress.  Then, when my daughter was born and died shortly after; I lost all interest in research.  Now it’s a year later and my interest in the kind of research I was doing for my dissertation hasn’t come back.  I’m interested in plenty of other things, but I no longer care about being a university professor.  I have finally admitted this to myself and officially ended my career as a doctoral student.  This decision is not without regret, but on the whole, I feel better having made it.

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On Topic

I am fascinated by the Internet’s ability to expand personal learning networks and create opportunities for self-directed learning on an almost infinite number of topics.  One of my original motivations for blogging was to observe the impact of blogging on my personal PLN firsthand.  My passionate interest in PLN made it a natural choice for my dissertation topic, but as it turns out PLN won’t make even the slightest appearance in my dissertation.  Instead, my dissertation deals with pre-service teachers’ ability plan technology-enhanced lessons.

Over the past few months, I’ve occasionally wondered if I would have found it easier to work on my dissertation if I hadn’t changed my topic.  During the past week, I’ve decided that it really doesn’t matter.  I’m interested in how people learn and in the efforts people make to help learning happen; from that perspective, either topic provides plenty of interest.

This week’s progress

In the past week, I’ve read and outlined seven articles related to my dissertation.  Two of the articles related to a specific problem I am trying to solve.  Specifically, my conditionally approved prospectus states that I will use a rubric to score student responses on a pre- and post- assessment.  One of the conditions of approval is producing the rubric that I will use.  Two of the articles I read this week will help me craft my justification for a particular rubric.  (At the time of my defense, I was waiting for the release of the results of the study containing this rubric.)

Two of the articles were literature reviews that I wish I had read before designing my study.  I feel that these literature reviews provide perspective on the larger field of teacher education related to technology integration.  Someday when I am advising graduate students, I will require them to read literature reviews related to their area of interest before selecting their topic.  If they can’t find one, then I believe they have prematurely narrowed their topic.  In my case, I feel that (as of December 2009–I’m currently playing catch up) I had read most of the literature  related to technological pedagogical content knowledge (also known as TPACK or TPCK), but I should have looked for literature reviews on the broader topic of teacher education and technology integration in order to better understand the context of my study.  I may have made some adjustments to the design of my study or framed my questions differently.  If nothing else, I would have had a stronger defense.

The remaining three articles were reports on various attempts people have made to teach teachers how to teach with technology.  Some articles provide useful citations for my literature review, some are of note for methodological or contextual similarities to my study.

As I’ve read, I’ve remembered that I like reading articles, which has been helpful for regaining motivation and momentum.  I met my dissertation progress goals last week and got to enjoy my reward.  I’m currently waiting on four specific books from the library, so while I’m waiting, I’ll start transcribing the interviews from my study.  I expect transcription take most of the next two weeks.

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Coming back to work

Some important facts:

  1. The data for my dissertation have been collected.
  2. My son (pictured above) is now 5 1/2 months, takes regular naps, and sometimes sleeps through the night.

My conclusions based on the above facts:

  1. I need to devote time to analyzing my dissertation data.
  2. I have time to devote to analyzing my dissertation data.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been half-heartedly trying to re-dedicate myself to the work of being a PhD student.  It’s been tough-going as half-heartedness and dedication are antagonistic concepts.  (Besides, my whole heart is already devoted to the pint-sized person pictured above.  He really is a sweet baby.)  Still, I’ve recently decided that finishing my dissertation and being a good mother are not mutually exclusive goals.  I just need to manage time differently than I have in the past.

To help myself reach my dissertation goals, I mapped out deadlines for the completion of important dissertation steps and placed them on my Calendar.   I brainstormed a list of all of the required tasks and sub-tasks related to my dissertation, and I decided that I will devote two hours each weekday to dissertation tasks and will read and outline at least one article daily. Each Saturday I will summarize my progress in a blog post, to try to hold myself accountable for meeting my goals.  As a reward for meeting my process goals, I will earn time that I can spend on my hobbies once my son is in bed for the night.  When I complete tasks from my to do list, I will “earn” a small financial reward (really, give myself permission to spend money previously earned).  The rewards for this upcoming week–knitting time and the registration fee for an event in which I want to participate.

Check back next week to see how the plan is working.

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A Quick Update

My son, day 1

Last year, blogging took a back burner to other priorities in my life.  I was working at multiple jobs for most of the year, I was PhD student, and I was pregnant.  I am no longer pregnant, and I’ve stopped working outside the home, but blogging will still be on the back burner.  The little guy pictured above is priority #1 and will be for the foreseeable future.  I managed to defend my dissertation prospectus the week before he was born, and am still plugging away at collecting and analyzing my data, but I have to admit that educational technology isn’t as relevant in my life as it was even a few months ago.  My son is nearly seven weeks old.  He’s learning some important things right now, like how to hold up his head, smile, and use his hands.  The world of bits and bytes has very little to offer him right now, and I’m OK with that.

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A Scientific Approach to Teaching

Yesterday, at an educational training, I sat down to lunch with a woman in charge of a large Head Start program in the Pacific Northwest.  Through our small talk, she learned that I had been a secondary science teacher for six years, and then informed me that her program was going to focus on science during the next school year.  I was excited to think of the possibilities of an early-childhood education program with a science focus and listened as she expressed concern that she hadn’t yet managed to convince her staff of the value of a science-focus.  Lunch ended before we could finish our conversation, but I’m still thinking about it a day later.

Obviously I am biased, but I am a strong advocate of a scientific (in the sense of “occupied or concerned with science”) approach to teaching at all levels.  My reasoning for a scientific approach is not because I have complete faith in the primacy of the scientific method as a way knowing, but because I believe science (in its broadest sense as “systematized knowledge in general” or “knowledge gained by systematic study”) to be an interdisciplinary study.  Art, Music, Language, Literature, the various Social Sciences, and Mathematics would benefit from what I would term, a scientific approach to teaching, or perhaps, a scientific approach to curriculum.

Below I share what I believe are the crucial components to a “scientific approach to teaching”.

1. Foster a sense of wonder

I would challenge all educators to become familiar with Rachel Carson’s short work, The Sense of Wonder.  All science, all true knowledge and understanding, begins with a sense of wonder, an intense curiosity about “why” and “how”.  Too often, our teaching at all levels focuses on the “who, what, and where” of the world around us and treats the potentially awe-inspiring matters of “why” and “how” as simply another “what” to memorize.    A scientific approach to teaching encourages learners to wonder about “why” and “how”.

2. Encourage observation

A sense of wonder is grounded in a keen awareness of one’s surroundings.  Scientific knowledge is based in empirical data, data gathered from experience and observation.  Encourage learners to attend to details and use their senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell whenever appropriate.  Challenge learners to record these details qualitatively and quantitatively.  A scientific approach to teaching gives learners many appropriate opportunities to use their senses and record their observations.

3.  Push for analysis

Wonder grows with understanding and understanding comes of analysis.  Quantitative analysis is the heart of much of what we traditionally consider the realm of science and mathematics.  Quantative analysis also reaches deep into the realms of the social sciences, of economics, psychology, sociology, and many others.  But qualitative analysis is also valid; it has a place in the sciences, the social sciences, and is especially important in the arts and literature.  Provide time for learners to revisit their observations and search for patterns, in whatever form they may take.  Push learners classify, connect, and count.  A scientific approach to teaching pushes learners to seek for patterns.

4. Require communication

Like most things in life, wonder is best appreciated when shared.  Our languages provide us with means of communication, but human language is far from our sole source of expression.  Prod learners toward precision in their descriptions of the world around them and the findings of their analyses.  But also instruct learners on the use of ambiguity in the creative expression of emotion and personal experiences.  A scientific approach to teacher requires learners to communicate their learning.

I see a scientific approach to teaching as a way to guide learners in the process of transforming the concrete objects and artifacts in the world around them into the abstract concepts that inhabit the human mind.  Each step in the process is crucial.  Without a sense of wonder, the learner will have no desire to continue the journey.  If a teacher fails to take the time to sufficiently ground the learner in concrete observation, the learner will be lost in unrecognizable terrain.  The skills of analysis are what will enable learners to chart future courses for independent learning, while the powers of clear communication and creative expression are what will bind the learner to the rest of the human race.

So how about it?  Do you agree, disagree?  What would a scientific approach to teaching look like in a Pre-K science lesson or  a college art history class?  I’d love to know what others think.

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