Respect my authoritah

Through my years of teaching, I have often had students who prefer to talk than listen to my (riveting) lectures in class. Of course, eventually, I learned that talking to students was not as effective as talking with, but this is not the point of this post. This post is about humour.

One strespectcartmanudent, in particular, was quite a chatty young man in my class. He was by no means malicious, just testing the boundaries of the classroom. One day, in the middle of a discussion, while he was having a laugh with some other students at the back of the room, I turned to him, face blank and said “Daryl, Respect my authoritah” in my best Cartman impression.

The student lit up, laughed at my joke (a little in disbelief – likely because I, a teacher, referenced South Park), and then turned toward the lesson. I taught this student in 3 classes after this and never had another issue.

My point here is not to reference South Park, but that humour and relationships are the most important piece of a classroom. I am sure this student does not remember most of what I taught in that physics class, but he may remember the day I showed the importance of respect with a joke.

It may be tempting to think of education as a sterile place (with no touching rules being implemented, teachers “being careful” to avoid parents or students being triggered, etc)., but we are teaching people, not content.

What’s in a Degree?

While I believe education, both K – 12 and post-secondary, are vital to society, I wonder if the purpose of these institutions has been skewed – particularly in higher education. This post intends to explore the question: “why take a university degree?”

The reasons for undertaking a university degree are many, but, today, I have noticed a strong emphasis on the belief that it is to “prepare for a job”. While I agree this may be true(er) of some faculties than others (i.e. engineering, medicine, nursing, etc.), I am not convinced this should be the purpose of a university degree; to me, a university degree is to teach you to think, participate as a citizen, and reasonably justify your decisions. Yet, I fear this is not the view of many students in the higher education system today.

I belong to a few university pages where undergrad (and grad) students discuss and share issues from around campus. Recently, a discussion around a required Native Studies course came about. Many students were opposed to this idea but the arguments that stood out to me were a) this is the job of high schools and b) university is to prepare us for our careers. As for the job of high schools, it has been well documented in epistemological literature (see Hofer & Pintrich, 1997 for a nice overview) that it is throughout the university years that humans learn to reason and think. Relegating knowledge to secondary studies robs students of deep thinking skills in any area. Wouldn’t a Native studies course make us all better citizens? How can (as an example) a future engineer claim they don’t need an understanding of these people and the historical issues when there is such an interest in drilling on indigenous land? I digress, the issue here is not a consideration of Native Studies but that a university degree is seen as a pathway to a future “job”.

Typically, people can easily agree with me on the faculty of arts as being a place to “learn to be a citizen”, but have difficulty seeing this in the sciences, and even more so in the professional faculties. Yet, university does not guarantee employment in every area. For example, my university graduates around 1000 new teachers every year, and many of them will not find employment as teachers (despite the fact we have an excellent highering rate). Students feel cheated – they took this degree for nothing! Yet, taking a degree does not promise employment, it promises to teach you the skills and thinking you need to participate in this world.

While I could muse on this topic for awhile, I will leave you with this: What is the purpose of post-secondary education? And for those who have taken a degree, why did you take it and what did the experience do for you?

Educationally Relevant

I wanted to use games in the classroom, after all, the curriculum guide (which I had to follow) called for logic puzzles and games. So, I planned to have “games days” at regular intervals throughout the term. “Great idea” said my colleagues, followed by “but we should have some way to make sure it’s educationally relevant.”

There is something in this phrase that speaks to the nature of education in North America. Is it assumed a student isn’t learning when they are playing a game? I would completely disagree with this point; students have to use logic and follow rules, just like in mathematics, to play most any game. However, I was told I had to have some sort of activity students did to make sure there was learning.

Here’s the rub: the students were learning, we all knew that, but we had to come up with some strategy to make sure we could prove it. But how does one prove learning? Is it done with exams? Can it be done with a successful win? What about if a student can explain how to play the game?

What does it mean to be “educationally relevant”?


Teacher Training

I wonder if we need to reconsider teacher training. There is something in our culture that says to be a successful teacher all you need the are most fun activities and the best resources. There is a myth out there that lesson plans are from a template. For some reason, people think teaching is only about the classroom activity: but is this teaching?

Admittedly, in my undergraduate, I viewed teaching as this myth: I needed to get as many resources as I could so that I could effectively teach. However, after a few years of experience, one begins to see the profession as so much more. Yet, each year we release undergraduates who may not have completely grasped this view of education.

Maybe we need to ask undergraduates what it means to teach? Most colleges will ask this. However, we need to make it more. Maybe it needs to be conversations about teaching with a new teacher, an experienced teacher, and many in between. Maybe it means offering a class with defined objectives and having students create the curriculum with the professor. Maybe it means having teachers return to university to reflect and take time to think about what it means to teach after they have attempted it?

In Canada, we do not offer teacher training – we offer a degree in Education. We do not want to produce teachers who can be reduced to effective implementation of a teacher guide. Yet, there is a myth that teaching can be boiled down to “tips and tricks” of a successful classroom. Maybe we should offer a teacher training prior to the College of Education to get these skills out of the way?

What is worth knowing?

“Good thing I learned about parallelograms in school. They have really come in handy this parallelogram-season.”

I hear jokes like these made all the time; insinuating that what is taught in schools isn’t relevant to daily life so it’s not worth learning. I really feel these statements divide our society into two camps: (1) school should be about preparing for life, and (2) school should be about learning to learn

In the first camp, are those who feel school should be about preparing for life. To be clear, I see this camp as those who want school to be about the daily skills we need to survive in society. This camp wants students to learn to cook, clean, do taxes, and change a tire. (To be clear, all of these skills are taught in schools today, but are undervalued because they are not part of the “core curriculum” of mathematics, languages, social studies/history, and science.)

In the second camp, I would put those that see learning as a process and that we learn to learn is more important than the content we learn. Teaching problem-solving in mathematics (for example), if done in a way that a growth mindset endures, can teach others how to approach problems in daily life. if you apply what you know in new ways, you can solve any problem.

Learning to learn teaches that if you apply what you know in new ways, you can solve any problem. It teaches students to find and evaluate the information they need instead of expecting to learn everything from a syllabus. Isn’t this a more valuable use of learning time than to learn a skill specific to one situation?

I guess I just have trouble with the viewpoint of who has the responsibility when it comes to learning a new topic or skill…


Mulitplicity of Curriculum

Today I reimmersed myself in the writings of T. Aoki (2005), and was reacquainted with the ideals of curriculum as planned and curriculum as lived. His writings particularly struck a chord with my today as a guider of teacher candidates. I am teaching a curriculum class for science majors and minors preparing for their first formal teaching experiences; I absolutely love working with this group. Early on in the course, we spoke about the curriculum as planned and the curriculum as lived (and where these ideas developed from), but reflecting now, I wonder if their education is truly preparing them to deal with the curriculum as lived?

In this course, the students focus primarily on reading and interpreting the curricular documents, planning and executing short lessons, and reflecting on their experiences. There is really no preparation for the lived curriculum, yet they continually ask questions about what to expect in the classroom.

Through reading Aoki’s works, I wondered, is the curriculum as lived inherent for teachers? That is to say, do we, as teachers, have an innate sense of knowing and working with our students? I would arguably say that some teachers do, but for many this is a developed skill through time and experience. Why are we not preparing students to receive and reflect on these experiences?

I wonder if our teacher candidate preparation should focus more on the learners and less on the system? Yet, the system is what their teaching standards will be viewed against (and compared to). Leading to the (currently) age old question, are we focused on the learners or the assessment?

Pinar, W., & Irwin, R. (2005) Curriculum in a New Key: The Collected Works of Ted T. Aoki, Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.

4 days of SMART

This week, I was given the opportunity to attend the 2014 SMART Exemplary Educator summit. I must admit that at first I was a little leery about what I could learn from this camp that would apply to my situation this fall, but I have been pleasantly surprised!

The beginning of the week focused on SMARTamp, a multi-user platform developed specifically to increase collaboration. While I still have to reflect on specific uses for my physics classroom, I DO see incredible uses in both elementary and high school humanities (english, history, religion, etc) alike. SO, that being said, as I’m hoping I may be teaching undergraduate teachers over the next few years, I would LOVE to show them the power of collaboration using SMARTamp. I also have a few ideas for some of my former colleagues… watch for emails guys!

Then the really powerful stuff came: talking about Global Collaborations. Again, I felt “Oh, elementary teachers of course, I guess I could help some colleagues connect” and then a pair of senior math teachers presented. Interest piqued, I keenly listened. Now I am already attempting to connect some of my former colleagues for collaborations in calculus and statistics with teachers from the USA, South Africa, and Italy.

Finally, we finished off the week hearing from the Hackathoner team. Now, while I can’t divulge specifics, needless to say, Notebook 14 has some AMAZING things coming to it! Again, I wish I was still in my tech coach role for the fall, but my former tech coach colleagues will be SPAMMED with emails as the new hacks are released!

I want to say a final thank you to SMART Technologies for everything this week. Teachers aren’t used to two things: being pampered and being heard. Both of these were in abundance this week. From the ketchup chips and chocolate, to the SMART sessions with the CTO of SMART Warren Barkey, we were definitely treated like royalty. Our opinions were heard, and we even saw immediate developments occur over the week. Truly SMART Technologies listens to teachers, yet another reason we all LOVE SMART!

Oh and have a mentioned that tomorrow they are taking us to Banff?