Philosophy of Teaching and Learning

In honor of Computer Science Education Week, I’d like to frame this assignment with a quote from computing pioneer Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (as cited in Engel, 2013):

“One of the most damaging phrases in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way!’”

Now while Hopper may have been referring to data processing and computing innovations, I don’t think any of us would challenge the applicability of this statement to education. We are creatures of habit, and education (in practice and policy) can be slow to change. There are certainly solid 20th century pedagogical theories that come into play in our classrooms, necessary moments of behaviorism and cognitivism. And many of us find that our modern teaching styles align well with constructivism and its role in active student learning (Ally, 2008, p.30). But I also want to keep an eye on the horizon for new, innovative discourse about education. It’s important to play around with new pedagogical ideas, throw them against the wall and see what sticks; remembering that part of our job as academics is to promote progress in our field. As I move forward in my career, I believe I should be striving for flexibility of thought in everything from my pedagogy to the layout of classroom seating.

Being open to change has been especially important in my realm of Career & Technical Education. Preparing students for ever-evolving industries is a moving target that requires reflection and the constant revision of content. The assessment model that fits neatly into CTE, and most appeals to me, is Fink’s (2003) educative assessment, specifically the development of forward-looking assessments. With contextualized and authentic assessment strategies, students put their skills and knowledge to use in a way that is realistic to how they would do so in the real-world (Fink, 2003, p.84). Committing to the educative model assists in making my curriculum relevant and applicable to the modern work environment.

I hope that my willingness to try new things is an attribute that rubs off on my students as well: that they will jump right into a new programming language, or say “okay” when I suddenly enroll them in Canvas with 10 days left in the semester. It’s all gravy, but only because we’ve built a class culture where they feel comfortable stepping out of routine. A strong understanding of the class’s situational factors certainly helps achieve this goal as it’s essential to the development of a curriculum and environment tailored to their needs and personalities (Fink, 2003, p.68). If I weren’t meeting their needs in this way, then I would have no right asking them to jump into something challenging.

I wholeheartedly believe that blending my classes was the best teaching decision I’ve made to date. Implementing online education tools in my classroom more accurately reflects the possibilities of modern learning even if it’s on a small scale. I love the flexibility of having course shells hosted in an LMS, both for me and for students. Going blended has also recently pushed me to try more self-paced lesson plans, in which I’ve tried to give more opportunities for student control over learning and self-reflection (U.S. Department of Education, 2010, p.xvi) Students have become more internally motivation and engaged with the content as I’ve given up some control.

I’ll wrap this up with another Grace Hopper quote that I may like even more than the first one; remembering her time teaching students in a classroom she said, “They come to me, you know, and say, ‘Do you think we can do this?’ I say, ‘Try it.’ And I back ’em up” (as cited by Engel, 2013). Yes, this is exactly the student attitude we want to foster in our own classrooms: active, engaged and curious. But I think the real take away from this interaction is that, sometimes, students just need someone to “back ‘em up.”

 

References

Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In Anderson, T., & Elloumi, F. (Eds.). The theory and practice of online learning. (2nd ed.) (pp. 15–44). Athabasca, AB, Canada: Athabasca University.

Engel, K. (2013).  Admiral “Amazing Grace” Hopper, pioneering computer programmer. AWH. Retrived from: http://www.amazingwomeninhistory.com/amazing-grace-hopper-computer-programmer/

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. (2010). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: a meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. Retrieved from: https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf

Tool Review #3 – Remind

Disclaimer: I’ve been using Remind for about a year in my individual classes, but there’s been a big change in how we’re using it this semester at our school that I wanted to review.

Remind solved two huge problems for me: 1. I really do not like talking to parents on the phone; 2. I wanted two way communication with students and still protect my privacy. Last year, I had all of my students sign up and sent home handouts for parents who wanted to join. Students and parents who texted the class code to a specific number would be added to my Remind roster (organized by class). When sending a message I could push it out to the whole list of students and parents, or select an individual. You have the option of opening two way communication for whole classes, but not for individual students, so you have to make a decision about whether or not your class is mature enough to not abuse the privilege (ex. spamming your message inbox). I decided to keep my two way communication open and haven’t had an issue thus far. It’s been the easiest way to get a message out to students after-school since they rarely check their school email and may not be getting notifications from Google Classroom. Remind pops up just like a text message. It’s super slick to hit both students and parents with the same messages so everybody is in the loop.

Teachers can also decide how connected they want to be (respect the work/life balance!). You can turn off two way communication. You can have the app on your phone but turn off notifications. You can have it push to your work email so you don’t get messages at home. Or, just check it in your browser while you’re at work. Our staff members all use Remind differently; it’s important to find a way to make it work naturally in your own class or it’ll just be another tool you sign up for and never use.

So, I started this year all ready to use Remind, codes posted on my website, all my students signed up. It worked great per usual. Then a month of so in, we signed a school-wide contract with Remind. And at first it sounded really good; Remind would take all of the school registration information and make accounts for students and their parent/guardian. Then using our class rosters it would auto-enroll them and they would populate our teacher lists. But it’s never really that easy. What worked so beautifully on the classroom scale was a nightmare to roll-out for the general school population. It was the worst for those of us already using Remind because the tool itself has no flexibility between how it managed individual accounts (and the collected data) and those attached to a contracted school account. I had to merge accounts and start the student phone registration process again (because school-wide Remind only grabbed their school emails, which were useless). Students and parents also had to merge their accounts, and it took hours out of instruction to get everything lined out. So painful.

And yet, I’d still recommend it to all the phone-shy, hyper-connected teachers out there. There is some clear work to be done on their contract transitions, but for individual teachers it’s a life saver.

Tool Review #2 – Bubbl.us

When concept/mind mapping, l find that flexibility and customization features make or break the tool. Especially when you’re trying to express an individual brainstorm (versus a collaborative one), you want to create something that in flow, color, and functionality reflects how those ideas are connected in your own head. Bubbl was uninspiring on this front. I used Bubbl.us to create a concept map to break down necessary components of an app I’m building for ED 659. Remember the browser game my middle school coding kids are making? I’m developing the app version as an end of semester present for them.

I like the idea of mind mapping tools in theory but rarely in practice. My brain doesn’t naturally map ideas in round webs and that is generally the template shape. I like linear progression, hierarchy, and lists. Lucky for me, Bubbl offered both “tree” and “grid” templates which were helpful for what I was trying to convey. I realized too far into the project that a storyboarding tool would have been more appropriate for what I was trying to do, but I made it work by putting numbers in the bubbles to indicate sequence and “listing” components underneath their parent bubble.

Bubbl doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of features. While you can create hyperlinks and attach files there is no opportunity to embed photos, video, or commenting like you can in MindMeister. There are also few aesthetic customization options beyond color of the bubbles. It was limiting to the point of not being fun to use.

Overall, I think there are stronger/more interesting mind mapping tools out there. While the minimal interface may be a place to start trying digital mind mapping for younger students, I don’t think it would be enough to keep their attention for long. Older students would be better off with more complex mind mapping tools, or even Prezi. Of any point in the creation process, I think brainstorming is one of the most exciting. When you’re scribbling and drawing lines out on a whiteboard it’s easy to see that energy, but it’s much harder to recreate digitally, which is where flexibility and customization really come into play.