Friday, April 29, 2011

Student Research Symposium

The Royal Wedding was not the only thing happening today. It was also the annual Student Research Symposium at St. Michael's College in which students present to the public the research projects and assignments they have been working on during the preceding semesters. There is no better way to show one's respect for a student's, or colleague's, research than to attend a public presentation of it. Knowing that others have an interest in what one does is one of the joys of the academic endeavor.

Merriam Webster defines research as "studious inquiry and examination". Another way of looking at research is that it is not complete until it is shared with someone else. In fact, much of what we do in our lives in terms of learning is not complete until we share it with someone else. This sharing validates not only the work we do, whether we be student, teacher or professor, but who we are as learners. Much of what we learn in college enables us to go on after graduation and earn a living wage but nothing quite matches the surge of accomplishment we get when we present our work in public.

The array of presentations on tap today at St. Mike's was awe inspiring from the scientific research that included words I couldn't even pronounce, to those from the History Department that show how sincerely our student revere the past to Ben Miller's remarkable presentation of his skills with the Scottish Highland pipes. Congratulations to everyone who presented and to everyone who watched and listened and validated the good work of so many.

Now I think I'll go and research the history of royal weddings; or maybe not.

Monday, April 25, 2011

New Assignments; A Risk Worth Taking

Whenever I introduce a new assignment into a course I run the risk of failure or an unmitigated disaster especially if the assignment is quite unlike anything I have ever done before.

When I started teaching the introductory course Schools and Society last semester I decided that I wanted to include a stronger educational theory component. The course would still address the required content but the students would come into closer and deeper contact with what I call the Great Educators. I asked my colleagues for names of Great Educators who had influenced them and so consequently influenced their teaching at St. Mike's. The resulting list included 25 Great Educators.

I then created a two part assignment in which the students and I would first create a web-page with 3 links to informative websites for each of the 25 Great Educators. The students, for the second part of the assignment, would then take notes on each of the 25 Educators and select the 5 which most impressed them. Much to my delight, two of the students handed in their papers before it was due. It is clear from reading these papers that the assignment is going to be a major success. The students really enjoyed being able to choose the 5 who really "spoke" to them as well as the idea of being at least familiar with the main thoughts and ideas of the other 20 Educators.

As first year students they will have plenty of opportunity to develop and change their philosophies of education but at least they seem to have started with a passion and caring for educational theory which hopefully will last them a lifetime.

The picture is of a Rubber Band Roller, an assignment I created many years ago in my science ed class that has also proven to be very effective in assessing my students problem solving skills.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Laugh With Your Students

"Tewks", a wonderful teacher at the Sustainability Academy , in Burlington, VT, told me many years ago that she makes sure she laughs with her 5th grade class at least once a day. This, amongst many other wonderful teaching skills makes Tewks one of the many outstanding teachers we work with in the public schools that host our students in the courses they take as part of their teacher licensure program at S. Mike's. Tewks also teaches in our grad program and was one of my daughter's favorite instructors as she went through her Special Education courses. The Sustainability Academy is one of two elementary magnate school in the inner city district of Burlington Vermont and focuses the curriculum on science education and the idea of a sustainable environment. The other school, The Integrated Arts Academy has a focus on developing the arts.

Yesterday, was the first science class in my Elementary Math and Science course and for some reason there was much laughter throughout the afternoon. One of the topics that generated so much laughter was the students relating tales of the joys and perils of having live animals as an ongoing feature of the elementary school classroom.

Caroline shared her experience of when all the crickets escaped from the aquarium at the back of the room and were hopping, flying and chirping all over the classroom including in some students' hair. Someone else also shared the story of the unfortunate demise of one of the newly hatched Easter chicks the third graders were allowed to take home for the weekend. I also shared the time when the two gerbils I kept in my fourth grade class got out of their cage and one student tried to catch one of them by stepping on its tale as it fled through the door for freedom. Yes, science education can certainly be fun at times.

The picture is of Whitby in NE England where Bram Stoker is reputed to have written Dracula. The ruins of the church of St. Mary on the hill certainly evoke images of sinister events. Perhaps inducing laughter or perhaps not.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's Your Degree

We've just been through advising for the semester and the accepted students day that all colleges go through when accepted students and their parents check out St. Mike's. The two events are important to me because I can talk with students, and future students, about what being a student at St.Mike's is all about.

One of the things I always tell my advisees when we first meet is that it is their degree and they must exert control over it. As an advisor I can give them advice about which courses to take and when but the bottom line is that my students have ultimate control over how they put everything together. They can choose courses that interest them as well as courses that are required. They can choose courses for the minute and courses for the future.

For example, one of my students, Laura, a math and Elementary Education double major came to me last year to say that she was interested in getting her middle level licensure as well as the elementary licensure she will receive at the end of this semester. Since she is from New Jersey I suggested that she contact the New Jersey DOE, let them know what she was doing and ask them what she needed for the dual licensure. She discovered that she could take Adolescent Development and a Middle School grad course during her senior year that would get her really close to her dual licensure.

In today's job market, anything you can do to increase your employability especially free while at College is a real bonus. But, you can only do this if you take control of your degree and make it fit what your want out of life.

Talk about fit, isn't that a cool train made of bricks; even the smoke is made of bricks. It's a heritage site in Darlington in the north of England.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wait For Me, I'm Your Leader

The topic in my Schools and Society class today was Technology in Education. I shared some of the software that is available for the SMARTBoard such an interactive 100 square and protractor that can be used by K - 6 students in public school classrooms lucky enough to have SMARTboards. The Williston schools where the students have been doing their field placement this semester is one of the most tech-savvy schools in New England so they've had plenty of opportunities to see technology in action.

At least five of their classes have SMARTboards and all the students have email accounts from kindergarten onwards. Seymour Papert, the father of technology in schools was instrumental in setting the school on its path many years ago.,

We also spent time in class discussion a really interesting on-line article that addresses seven different aspects of the use of technology in schools. Each point was supported by research which really helped the students see the the value of it all.

Not that I think I need to convince them. They seem so tech-savvy that I think many of them could do a better job of teaching this particular class session than I do. They seem to just naturally see the useful and beneficial applications of technology as opposed to something that is superimposed on the system. I do my best to keep up with the developments in instructional technology but it's something I have to work at; it's just not a natural disposition for me. I'll be taking, hopefully, a workshop this summer which will introduce me to the wonders of the IPAD2 and the use of instructional APS etc.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Signs of the Times

One of the things about being super aware of the mathematical environment in which we live is that I worry a lot about things I shouldn't. This sign on a railway platform in Durham England worries me a lot every time I see it. I wonder how long the sign makers thought about whether it should be "1,2,3" or "1 - 3" or 1, 2 and 3" when directing travelers to the first 3 platforms. Did someone ever say "How about "1, two, 3"? Maybe it never occurred to them, or the other 5 million people who pass under the sign every year.

The other big math event of the week was my students completing their Math eNotebooks in my Math and Science Ed class. There were some great topics this semester including Hilary's new Bernese Mountain dog puppy-math and Heather and Katie's wedding-math e-notebooks (they both assured me neither are planning to get married soon). All the Math e-Notebooks can be viewed on the Math-Ed Page.

Yesterday I attended the Accepted Students day event at St. Mike's to answer prospective students' (and their parents') questions about the Education programs. One of the differences this year was the number of questions about graduate school opportunities after graduation. There were several students interested in special education which I thought was really interesting especially as they had really thought about why they wanted to pursue that particular field. There were also several students who were still exploring what they wanted to do at College. This is also a really good disposition for an 18-year-old and St. Mike's is a great place to continue this exploration. Now, if we could just get on with Spring and stop all this snowing and blowing, life would be really wonderful.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Connections, Connections, Connections.

Two great emails and a great experience today started me thinking about the importance of making connections as we learn new things. Making connections is the essence of the constructivist approach to teaching which is what I use and advocate for in all my courses.

The first connection came in the form of an email from my colleague, Professor Kristin Gehsmann who teaches the language and reading education courses in the Education Department at St. Mike's. Kristin sent me a message to say that one of the students who is taking a class with her as well as a class with me was making incredible connections between the two classes. Kristin wrote that Molly L. had quoted the Hiebert book that I am using in my math class in a paper she had written in the reading course. This is wonderful when this happens because you know the student really understands the material and has taken ownership. A couple of weeks ago another of my students quoted Prof Gehsmann in my math class by saying "teaching is not telling"; something she had heard Kristin say.

The second connection was an email from a professor at New Brunswick University in Canada to let me know that he had been checking out my My Math Counts Too website. He suggested that I check some of the facts I have included regarding language and math education in Nepal. I love it when this happens because the information I gain from my research is ideographic which means that it is derived from interviews with individuals. This means that it may not be as accurate or generalizable as it could be because individuals often have unique experiences such as living in several countries before coming to the US. So it's great when I get added information from experts who have lived abroad and know the cultures more intimately and accurately than I. Although it is important to have the facts straight it is also important to have the personal stories because we work in schools, after all, with individuals and not whole cultures.

The third connection is with the past as in the photo of the Callanish Standing Stones in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland where my brother lives. I think it is always important to be connected with the past through reminders such as these.

The great experience today was attending the end of season banquet for the St. Mikes women's basketball team for whom I am the academic advisor. Well done coaches Jen, Shannon and all the players; a memorable season indeed with the first playoff win in 22 years.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Math and Laughter

Every Monday evening after I finish my graduate math ed. course at 7:30pm a small group of students from my undergraduate math ed. course bursts into the classroom to complete their weekly lesson plan assignment. Their task is to come up with a Bridges lesson plan based on the topic of the previous week's class. For example, this week the topic was how to teach Measurement concepts and skills to K - 6 students. The Bridges math program is the one used in most of the local elementary schools where the students complete their school classroom experience. As I leave my office to go home for the night I can hear the students chattering excitedly and laughing as they complete the activity. As a teacher, it's a great feeling to know that a) they are really meeting as a group to complete the activity as required, and b) that they really appear to enjoy what they are doing. One of my goals in the course is to demystify math education and make it as user-friendly as the other subjects children learn in the elementary school. I would love to call the course Teaching Math Arts so that it paralleled the Language Arts course but I think that would probably be too radical. In the meantime I try to accomplish the goal of making math user-friendly through assignments such as the Math eNotebooks where the task is to find and celebrate math in the real world. Look, for example, at all the math on the Vermont Statehouse plaque in the picture above.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Get a job at Hogwarts

April the first is always a fun time to be a teacher; the students get you and you get the students. Many years ago I taught 4th grade at Sefton Park School in Bristol, England and every April 1st the students would do something neat. One year they turned my wonderful antique kneehole teacher's desk around before I arrived at school so that I couldn't open the drawers. Another time they all started stroking their chins when I walked into the classroom in the same way I stroked my beard. I would always get them back of course. One of the more memorable Tricks was to give them a thirty minute lesson on how spaghetti grew on trees. I would draw a tree with the spaghetti hanging down in large clumps and tell them how it had to reach a yard long before it was harvested. I would draw a harvesting tool on the board that looked like a piece of wood that turned up at the end where the spaghetti would rest when it was ripe and the right length. It was then cut with a large pair of shears. We would talk about the right climatic conditions for it to grow in Italy and other Mediterranean countries. A the end I would write April Fools on the board and the students would laugh and throw their papers at me.

Today, School Spring, the organization that helps people get teaching jobs, sprang a wonderful April Fools stunt by advertising a job opening at Hogwarts, the school attended by Harry Potter.