Questions from the court

Basketball Sky
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In November, I was drafted into the service of my congregation’s youth program.  In January we discovered that there would be a regional basketball tournament in March. As the only woman among us who had played basketball competitively (I played varsity in high school), I became the coach.

As I was preparing the girls for the tournament, I began to see comparisons between the process of teaching basketball and the process of formal schooling.  Like school, the basketball tournament is a tradition that predates any of the girls’ lives, and while  not quite compulsory, every girl who attended our congregation’s youth activity nights practiced with the team.

Enthusiasm for basketball, like school, varied wildly among the girls, and every girl gave basketball a try, at least once.    There were no tryouts; if you came, you were on the team.  We held three practices before our tournament, but in those three practices, I learned a lot about how my girls worked in order to learn and how I needed to work with them.  What I learned raised some questions in my mind about our approach to school in this country.

My first discovery involved C–.   I noticed in a scrimmage that C– kept getting the ball in a certain area of the court.  I took her aside and suggested that she  work on one particular shot, from both sides of the court.  The next practice, I was amazed to learn that she had done exactly that.  I continued to point out certain shots that she’d be likely to get in a game and she continued to work outside of practice.  In our tournament, she was one of our most dependable scorers.  Would our students be more likely to do their homework if teachers had the time to “coach” them?  How can we monitor students so that we can tell them individually exactly which skill they need to work on at a particular time?  What difference would it make if we provided them with the context of why it will matter?

My second discovery was S–.  S– participated in our first practice reluctantly, and was happy to have excuses not to participate in the second or third practices.  I coaxed her to participate in the first practice, invited her in the second practice, and left her alone at the third practice.  S– did not like basketball and after three years in our youth program, it wasn’t for the lack of exposure.  She preferred to practice hymns on the church piano.  School curricula often attempt to teach students a little of everything, understanding that children often don’t know what they need and sometimes don’t know what they like.  Adults in general, and teachers in particular, are guilty of trying to make children appreciate things that we know they don’t need and that we know they don’t like.  Would students like school better if we didn’t force them to continue to do things that we know they don’t need?  How different would school be if fewer subjects were mandatory?  What types of electives would students choose?

My third discovery was Y–.  Y– was very nervous about playing basketball.  She one of the youngest girls on our team and had a long list of reasons why she was “not good at basketball”.  I watched her on the court and looked for things to compliment.  She began making shots here and there, she held up her hands on defense, and she tried hard to stay in position.  She was doing so well . . . and then all of the sudden a ball smacked her in the face and cut open her lip.  I ran to her immediately, hugged her, and began administering first aid.  Fortunately, no stitches were necessary.  I set the other girls to work on drills and listened to Y–‘s long history with sports accidents.  I invited her to participate in the drills, but told her it was perfectly OK to sit out for a bit.  When her friends and teammates asked her to join them in a dribbling drill and assured her that there was no chance of being hit in the face this time, she looked at me imploringly.  I stayed quiet, though I’m sure my face expressed my hope that she’d give it another go.  She did.  Before the first game she timidly asked me if she could be a sub.  I told her that she could and tried to limit her chances of getting hurt with careful substitution.  However, at the end of the tournament, I noticed how happy she was to have played with the team with both of her parents watching.  Academic failures can be as painful as a basketball to the face and perseverance in the face of such pain is crucial.  Would students be more likely to try again after failure if we took time to listen to how much it hurt? How can we provide time for students to sit on the sidelines long enough to find strength to go on?  What supports do we need to provide students to help them to recover?

What do you think?

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Contributing to the Creative Commons

Creative Commons: Some Rights Reserved
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I became a heavy user of  images with creative commons licenses when I first started posting content for my students on the web.  At some point, my heavy usage led to feelings of shame.  I realized that I was a free-loader and had contributed nothing.  I didn’t like the feeling, so I began uploading photos to Flickr.  This has assuaged my guilt some, though I am certain that I have used more photos than I have contributed.

Today I learned that someone is actually using one of my small contributions.  The photo (look in the top right corner) has many flaws, but it’s nice not to be a free-loader anymore.  (By the way, did you know that Godzilla had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?)

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The Robblogger


At some point when we were dating, my husband sent me a link to his blog.  I had never read a blog before, so I was a little worried that the blog was a red flag that I was dating a weirdo.  He explained that he was a quiet guy and that reading his blog might give me a chance to hear things that he might otherwise forget to say.  Reading his reflections has often been a good conversation starter.

Since we’ve been married, Robb has had several incarnations of the “Robblog”.  The latest is Robblog: Virginia.  The content of the Robblog varies some, but Robb most frequently posts reviews of the articles he reads (sample post).  He also posts musings related to his experiences as a teacher/administrator in a university-level English as a second language program (sample post).  If you or someone you know is interested in second langauge acquisition, TESOL, or assessment (especially assessments of writing in ESL classes), then you should probably check out the Robblog.  I have always found the author to be both intelligent and insightful.

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2009 Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education Conference in Charleston–March 5

site2009Thursday was my second day at the the 2009 SITE conference.  I attended the last part of Lisa Hervey’s presentation, “Lost and Found in Translation: A TPCK View of Mid-Career Teacher Beliefs and Practice.”  I regretted arriving late!  Hervey’s study seemed to be a more qualitative approach to examining Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge.  My colleagues at BYU are working to develop an instrument that measures TPCK using quantitative and qualitative items.  I was curious about how Hervey interpreted the TPCK constructs as she coded her transcripts, so I asked her about it after the session.  At the end of our conversation, she offered me her card (I really need to get cards made up) and suggested that I contact her during the next week to discuss possible collaboration.

After Hervey’s presentation, I attended the presentation of a colleague, Michael Griffiths, “Using Asynchronous Video to Achieve Instructor Immediacy and Closeness in Online Classes: Experiences from Three Cases.”  Mike had asked me to attend, since I am using his model asynchronous model in my oneline course this semester.  Mike’s enthusiasm for asynchronous video is akin to that of a religious convert.  My enthusiasm is more measured.  My section of the course has been plagued with technical difficulties.  The “video blog tool” that we are using has dropped my entire section from the course, randomly refused to record video from myself and my students, and added the wrong date to several videos.  Asynchronous video does allow me to pick up on nonverbal cues and better diagnose student concerns than email alone.  However, I find it inconvenient, so using it actually delays the frequency of the feedback that I provide to students.  I’m curious to see how my students answer Mike’s survey questions about asynchronous video at the end of the course.

After Mike’s presentation, David Byrum and Liz Stephens of Texas State University-San Marcos presented on “Using Wikis for Curriculum Building: Creating a Web 2.0 Course.”  I was very interested in their presentation.  The wiki model that they have created for their course is based on principles similar to the wiki that I use in my course.  They are using student work to prepare materials that future students then use to learn about Web 2.0 tools.  However, they are using a graduate level instructional design course to create modules to teach students about tools.  Being a graduate student myself, I don’t have the same resources.  Instead, students in my course prepare articles on Web 2.0 tools that future students can use a resource.  Also, Byrum and Stephens’ students create web-based projects and post links to them on a wiki.  So do my students, but Byrum and Stephens’ students create a coherent unit plan.  The principles are similar, but I believe Byrum and Stephens’ course has the superior execution.  I would love to see IP&T 286 move towards Byrum and Stephens’ model.

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2009 Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education Conference in Charleston–March 4

Rainbow Row
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I ended up attending the 2009 SITE conference in Charleston almost on a whim.  I didn’t propose a presentation, but my good friend Andrea did:  “Online Social Networking Used to Enhance Face-to-Face and Online Pre-Service Teachers Education”.  The abstract states,

“In this presentation we will share our experiences with teaching a technology course for pre-service teachers using online social networks to enhance the course.  We will begin by presenting three case studies in which two social  networks were used in three different instances of the course.  Finally, we will present our findings and our conclusions about social networks, how they can be used most effectively, and the advantages and disadvantages of the features in each.”

Andrea’s section of IP&T 286 was the first instance. A section taught be the course coordinator, Dr. Charles Graham, provided the second instance.  Andrea asked if I would mind writing up a brief description of my experience using Ning in my online section of IP&T 286 last semester.  Since I didn’t mind, I provided the third instance and was granted third author status.

I learned that the presentation had been accepted months ago, but did not decide to attend until a few weeks prior to the conference and didn’t actually make travel plans until last week.  I’m glad I decided to come, and not just because Charleston is a beautiful city with weather ten degrees warmer than what I left behind.

I arrived at the conference on Wednesday.  The first session that I attended was a presentation by Linda Brupbacher and Dawn Wilson of Houston Baptist University.  The presentation described efforts in technology integration in a pre-service teacher program.  Brupbacher and Wilson emphasized their attempts at a spiral curriculum aimed at developing future teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge.  For me, the idea that I was most eager to try was that of placing the technology course at the beginning of the course sequence for education majors.   Brupbacher and Wilson pointed out that this gave pre-service teachers skills that allowed them to use technology to aid in their own learning, which in turn gave them ideas for using technology to aid their future students’ learning.  I like Brupbacher and Wilson’s approach, but I would go even further.  I believe that all college freshman should take a required technology course that helps them learn how to use technological tools to support their learning.

Since the presentation that I was a part of was a “brief paper” and was presenting at the end of the hour, I managed to catch a presentation by Denise Schmidt, Evrim Baran, Ann Thompson, Matthew Koehler, Mishra Punya, and Tae shin.  The presentation was entitled, “Examining Preservice Teachers’ Development of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge in an Introductory Instructional Technology Course.”  This presentation described the results of a study that attempted to measure pre-service teachers’ growth in TPACK over a course of a semester (the study will continue to measure these teachers’ growth throughout their time in the education program).  Their results showed growth in all seven TPACK components.  I was interested in this presentation because I have been working with Dr. Graham and a few other graduate students to create an assessment of TPACK for use with pre-service teachers at BYU.  I saw some similarities between their instrument and ours.  However, we’ve encountered some difficulties in clearly defining the boundaries between constructs.  The concept of TPACK has some intuitive appeal for me, but I have concerns about the distinctions between the component parts of  the TPACK framework (I have similar concerns with TPACK’s parent concept, PCK– I’ll discuss these in a later post).

Wednesday afternoon, I attended back to back sessions by Judi Harris, Mark Hofer (and a host of collaborators).  The session title was “Operationalizing TPACK for Educators: The Activity Types Approach to Technology Integration” and it was delivered in two parts.  Activity types are an attempt to categorize the activities that teachers think about when planning lessons.  I first read Harris and Hofer’s article about activity types in 2006 and had immediately sat down and tried to create my own comprehensive list of activity types  (which I still have by the way).  My approach was different than Harris and Hofer’s.  They and their collaborators looked at the types of activities used in each content area.  I attempted to look across content areas in an attempt to separate general pedagogies from content or topic specific pedagogies.  It seems to me that for PCK or TPACK to be a useful construct, it should be possible to classify general pedagogical activities as pedagogical knowledge (PK) and content or topic-specific activities as pedagoical content knowledge (PCK).  I asked Mark Hofer about the lack of general activity structure in the taxonomy.  He argued that they felt that the difference between reading text in, for example, a social studies classroom, was different enough from the activity of reading text in a mathematics classroom to constitute separate, content-specific activity types.  I am not yet convinced.  Still, I find the concept of activity types to be a very practical concept for assiting teachers’ planning, independent of the TPACK framework.

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A Whole New Mind

The human brain
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Another of the books that I finished toward the end of last year was A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future byDaniel Pink.  The central argument of A Whole New Mind was that our global society has transformed from a society in which left-brain skills were dominant to one where right-brain skills are, at the very least, equally useful.  Pressure from automation, Asia, and abundance is forcing individuals to adapt their way of thinking in order to stay competitive.

After presenting his argument, Pink suggests a skill set for this new society:

  • Design
  • Story
  • Symphony
  • Empathy
  • Play
  • Meaning

I think the most interesting feature of Pink’s book is that each of the skill chapters ends with a set of suggested portfolio activities.  For example, to read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy as one of the activities under “Meaning” or to attend a session of laughter yoga for “Play”.  Attempting at least some of the portfolio projects is something that I want to do when I stop “wanting” to work 60 hours a week.

My Mind Map of A Whole New Mind

My Mind Map of A Whole New Mind

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The Long Tail

The Long Tail, as in use by the book of Chris ...
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It’s Friday night and my poor, sick husband fell asleep before 9:00 PM.  Not wanting to waste time, but also not wanting to violate my long-standing (dating back to high school) personal rule of no homework (or work-work) on Friday night, I decided that I might tackle an unfinished blog post.  So . . . .

Several months ago, I finished reading Long Tail, The, Revised and Updated Edition: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson.  My husband, when he saw the book on my bedside table, gave me a puzzled look.  A book about selling things?  He didn’t think it fit with my usual reading interests, and in many ways it didn’t;  I’m not particularly interested in selling less (or more) of anything . . . at least not right now.   However, at least some of the book’s themes did fit in with my interests in networks.

Fundamentally, the long tail is another expression of the power rule so common in networks.  The long tail phenomenon is fueled by network effects.  The existence of long tails (and even tails within tails) in music, movies, etc. allow for creation of niches of interest and lead to the troublesome possibilities of echo chambers, tribes, and ego-casting.

My fellow student, John Hilton, posted his (more thorough) review of the book over a month ago.   You can also learn more about the book by visiting  The Long Tail blog.  As usual, I’ve included my mind map notes, mainly for my own benefit.

My mind map for The Long Tail

My mind map for The Long Tail

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