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I was recently sent this amazing video made from a commencement speech title “This is Water.” The speech, given by David Foster Wallace, which was hardly known until it was discovered by The Glossary a few years after David had passed away.
In the beginning few lines of the speech, Wallace describes two young fish swimming past and older fish who says, “Good morning boys, how is the water?” The two young fish swim on and eventually one asks “What the hell is water?”
I’ve watched this video about 5 times now, and have discussed it with friends, co-workers and relatives.
Now I ponder to myself, as a principal… if this is water, what is education?
Here are some slides from my leadership presentations. Enjoy!
(Royalty-free background photos from sxc.hu)
Soon millions of school children will be celebrating the last day of school and the start of summer vacation. For many children this will entail family trips, swimming and camping out under the stars among other quintessential summertime activities. Yet for many children from low-income households it will mean summer school—half days back at school for remediation in math and reading in an attempt to thwart the dreaded, but very real “summer slide.”
These types of summer school programs have their roots in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and its most recent reauthorizations as the No Child Left Behind Act. Included in these acts is Title 1, which provides funding to close the achievement gap for students from low-income households. It’s a good thing, too, because it is well documented that there is a direct relationship between household income and academic achievement. Specifically, students from low-income households have lower levels of academic achievement than their more affluent peers. In addition, students from low-income households show a larger decline in reading skills over the summer than their middle-class counterparts. While remedial summer school programs have been shown to have a positive impact on students’ knowledge and skills, a large achievement gap still exists between income groups.
In further addressing the achievement gap, schools would benefit from broadening the scope of their summer school programs to include social and emotional skills. In fact, social and emotional skills become even more important during summer school because it is largely directed at children from low-income households. Research shows that students from low-income households are the very students that need social and emotional skill development the most. Similar to its effect on academic performance, household income is directly related to a child’s social and emotional development. That is, children from low-income households are at a greater risk of having weaker social and emotional skills than their middle-class counterparts. Strong social and emotional skills, in turn, have been linked to improved academic achievement. Therefore, the achievement gap persists because low household income negatively affects not just academic achievement alone, but also social and emotional skill development. Therefore, summer school programs unintentionally maintain the achievement gap by ignoring social and emotional skill development and only targeting one contributing factor of the achievement gap—academics.
If many of our students from low-income households will be spending their summer days in school instead of in ways that mirror our visions of idyllic summer days; let’s at least commit to make their learning as idyllic as possible. To truly make a difference for these students and reduce the achievement gap, social and emotional skill deficiencies need to be addressed along with academic deficiencies. Then, summer will become a bit more ideal.
This was written this past summer when I was thinking about leaving the teaching profession and pursuing a life of academic research. My truest calliing however, has not been answered by scientific research but by science education and that is where I happily remain to this day.
A Little Bit About My Story, Where I Came From, How I Became a Teacher, What I Have Learned
I was born in Orlando, Florida on November 27, 1984. I spent most of my childhood outside, playing sports, swimming, climbing trees, and planting gardens. One of my favorite activities was walking along the beach while watching a magical display of heat lightening. After a few close calls involving car accidents in high school, I moved to Tallahassee, FL where I tried to experience and learn as much as possible. After the finish of 5 years, I had earned a Bachelors of Science in Biology (with minors in Chemistry, Math, and Art), traveled around the world, was acting in an activist theater troop, and spending my free time experimenting on the most efficient and less smelly methods to compost. I also had three chickens, a goose, 2 rabbits, a dog, and a beautiful organic farm where I daily fed the birds.
Florida wasn't supposed to be my home forever though so I moved to California and lived with my college sweetheart who was working there as a teacher through Teach for America. After a long period of searching, I got a job as a lab technician. My boyfriend and I were happy enough for a little while but I didn't have my own life established there and could feel deep down in my bones that it wasn't where I was supposed to be yet.
Upon moving back to Florida, I got accepted 2 two PhD programs with Teaching Assistantships, a tuition waver, and a stipend for all 6 years. I had always shined in Biotechnology, it came more than just natural to me, and it was like a sleeping second nature that only came to life in the sterile lab environments I had worked in since starting college. As a undergrad, I had worked in a plant genetics laboratory and botany lab, performing micro-dissections of freeze dried mutant and wild-type plants that I great and took care of as well. Then, after carefully making tiny knives to cut out tiny cells, I would isolate the DNA in those cells and hand it over the Graduate Student who would then be labeling it for all sorts of wonderful genes that would help make plants grow more efficiently without losing their natural nutritious value.
During my junior and senior year of college, while my friends were out drinking, I spent my Friday and Saturday (or sometimes Sunday nights) in the library doing my own independent research on the infection pathway of HIV, past and present medicines to treat the disease, and hoping that maybe a page would be bent in half that allowed me to read something in a new way, leading to a cure for HIV (which I would not then, and never will now nor in the future take the credit for if one were to unexpectedly show up from a morally conscious researcher who had the passion and dedication to actually bring the infected suffering EVERYWHERE in the world for a cost-effective price.)
Anyways, after coming back from California, I found myself sleeping on a very generous friends couch while working in a Biotechnology Lab funded by the Department of Energy. The lab was in the business of genetic engineering plants to do what we wanted them to do: produce as much bio fuel as possible. I was taken in as if I was another member in the rather funny assemblage of characters. I think out of the 12 PhD and grad students working there, not a single person was from the same country and almost every continent in the world was someone’s homeland. I loved the diversity and the excitement of cloning genetically modified sugar cane, inserting new genes, growing roots, stem, or shoots whenever I wanted to, and taking care of the plants as well.
Somehow though, fate, as she has been known to do, took me in a completely different direction. I needed a second job to save up before going to grad school. I was informed about a substitute-teaching job that had opened up at a rather unorthodox charter school. I've never been one to turn down an opportunity to fine tune my interpersonal skills and learn about new people and what they are passionate about. It turns out that those to characteristic traits landed me a job teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th graders math as a permanent substitute for the rest of the school year (this was January) and I was to start the day after the interview.
I had never stood in front of a classroom to teach in my life. The school was a perfect fit for me though... the wonderful middle school children there tended to not wear shoes... started the day with some African drumming and Brazilian martial arts, ate lunch outside with me everyday, and grew their own organic garden. Instead of band, they had "ROCK BAND!" where a former rock star taught them how to play electric guitar, drums, keyboards, and some other synth instruments. Then there would be recitals where they did orchestral versions of the Beetles, the Grateful Dead and Earth, Wind and Fire. They produced wonderful abstract plays, read coming of age books, and had names like River, Happiness, Peace, and Oak.
I spent ALL of my free time for the first 2 months figuring out what it meant to be a teacher. (4 years later, I'm still doing that same thing!) At the same time, I had this idea that if I was really meant to be with my now ex boyfriend in San Francisco, that I would be pulled there. I started developing an urge to apply to teaching programs. After being denied by Teach for America, I applied to 6 of the Teaching Fellows Programs ran by The Project for New Teachers (TPNT). I got an interview with all of them. Flying all over the country was not a possibility so I chose the one in Oakland (my hopes and dreams) and one in Chicago a couple weeks earlier in order to practice for Oakland.
There's a long story about to develop here but I want to save that for another time. I got accepted to CTF and not OTF. Within 3 weeks of being accepted, everything fell into place in the best possible way possible. I was horrified of the cold and the unknown. I had only been to Chicago to interview and take certification tests. I knew the training would be grueling but that somehow, I'd make it. (I did, but not because of my own regard but because of the wonderful support of the other fellows and the ALWAYS positive, supportive, and smile directions of the Chicago Teaching Fellows.
I finished that summer of training thinking that my life had changed so radically that I barely knew who I was... Little did I know that I would have that same realization after every single year of teaching while I stayed in CPS; I have learned more from my students and colleagues about the world, other people, and myself than I ever would have traveling around the world aimlessly for 5 years as a Buddhist or in the peace corps (both sincere desires of mine on many occasions). I even learned more, became more mature, wise, and eloquent than the 6 years I would have spend obtaining my PhD for free.
These past three years have been the most formative years of my entire life. They have completely shaped who I am, and if I didn't love my students and the neighborhoods that I teach in so damn much, I'd keep going on and on about how selfish I am.
Every year, I fall in love with about 120 children, the majority of whom have experienced a life far worse than I previous to this experience could have possibly realized. By they came to class everyday, smiled, made jokes, and, despite their academic deficits, struggled with as much energy as their teenage bodies could muster to understand and comprehend complex biology concepts and scientific-based readings.
I'm writing this today, on June 29, 2012 because I am about to do something that makes me sad in the "your children are moving away to go to college" type of heartbreak. Only I'm the one that might be leaving.
I had a particular tough winter and started noticing signs that it was time to go back to school. There is a saying that goes "after first, the universe kindly observes as you walk astray, as you get further from your path, the life-giving force will gentle whisper signs into your life to direct you back towards your destiny. However, I did what I believe many people do, I ignored them and busied myself in unimportant tasks. When you do that.... the universe starts to scream in your ear so loud that you go deaf, and it might take more than just a few months for some people to recover.
The screaming started this winter... I got caught in a tough position trying to do what I believed was rite, even though the person that I would be exposing had more influence and power than me and everyone had recommended I keep quiet. I have never been the type of person that can let injustices and cruelty happen to people I am capable of helping, and this hit close to home, he was one of my students. If you mess with my students, you mess with their wonky biology teacher.
Things at work got awkward. I had been dating a teacher at another school for a few years, and that relationship came to a bitter end. My student loans came due, I was in a car crash, and had payments for a new car I could not afford. I am not ashamed to admit that I was so overwhelmed at the time that I started seeing a psychology (who I am still grateful to have met at that point in my life and always will be). He helped me let go of things I could not control and to focus on those that I could.
My goal to get my PhD after getting a masters degree had never gone away, it merely went on the back burner. And then one day, I found myself at a Graduate School open house at DePaul. It was obvious to me that after the conversation I had with their Dean of Admissions, that I had no choice but to apply and let the universe help me get back on track. I also applied to Loyola and Northwestern.
Well back to a little bit earlier when I eluded that today would be a big day. My application for all three schools are above their admission requirements, completed online, paid for, and have been reviewed by the Biology Department Graduate School Committees at each school. They have been reaching out for me for a couple of weeks now to get my to send them the rest of my materials my application can be considered complete so they can officially make a decision. I know I made a fantastic candidate, and sometimes knowing who I am and what I'm capable of is a little bit scary. But this wasn't the reason that I didn't send in my official transcripts, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation. I didn't do this because I felt bad about leaving my kids behind and starting a new part of my journey.
The Universe has been whispering to me though, sending me signs here and there that this is the path I need to go in. Of course, as always, I've been ignoring them. Well, I am starting to hear the clearing of a throat before a loud, reprimanding scream and I agree, I am ready.
So today, just moments after I finishing typing this paragraph in fact, I am going to the post office and sending the materials I have, which were already in piles waiting to be sent for the past two weeks. I'm ready. It is time for me to continue of the journey of my life and experience new adventures.
I will never forget the names, faces, and life stories of each and every student that I taught, I will never forget they lessons they have taught me, and most of all, I was always be a better person for having taught on the South-West Side of Chicago for 3 years.
This is the syllbus for the class that I designed and taught this past summer for Northwestern's Center for Talent Development Summer Program for gifted kids. It was an amazing experience that forever changed me.
Course Title: Introduction to Biomechanics
Instructor: Robert Thollander Jr
Teaching Assistant: Aimee Frank
Ever wonder how divers, gymnasts, skaters or skiers flip so effortlessly in the air? The laws of mechanics apply to our bodies and affect the ways we are able, or not able, to move. Through sports and physical exercise, students study anatomy and Newton’s Laws of Mechanics to learn about the physical structure of the human body and its movements. Students also explore developments in sports medicine that have resulted from the study of biomechanics. Discussions, experiments, guest speakers and field trips teach students about this important and exciting area of study.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Henry David Thoreau
For millions of years the human body has been evolving, yet it still presents many challenges and mysteries. The industry of biomedicine is growing rapidly as scientists research how to understand disorders and cure diseases. Through laboratory work, readings and discussions, field trips and individualized scientific research students are introduced to the fundamentals of this specialized branch of science and critical and analytics thinking skills. Examination of essential biochemical reactions that occur in the body acquaint students with topics in chemistry; physics is included in the form of investigating biomechanics; and areas of biology such as evolution cell biology are explored. This course is an excellent introduction for students interested in the study of exercise sciences, medicine or advanced scientific investigation courses.
How do genes, cells, organs, and systems work in concert to keep the body working correctly?
What happens when there is a malfunction at one of the above levels?
How do researchers design studies to learn about how the body works? What questions do they ask?
How do medical professionals translate research study results into the medical practice?
What careers are available in biomechanics? How do you get there from here?
How does society decide what types of research and treatments are ethical?
How can you be an informed consumer of medical, news, and sports information and practices?
Is “skill” and “ability” inherited or a consequence of environmental factors?
Upon successful completion of this course, students will:
This course strives to give students with diverse learning styles multiple opportunities to access and demonstrate mastery of the material. Specific strategies include open answer tests (ie short answer), flexible groups, research projects, tiered assignments, creative projects, student-driven discussions, student-interest based teaching, in-class structured work time, primary document analysis, among others.
Resources and Materials
Biology Coloring Workbook (Princeton Review)
Anatomy Coloring Workbook (Princeton Review)
The Magic of Reality, Dawkins
Biomechanical Basis of Human Movement, Hamill
Introductory Biomechanics, Keer
Comparative Biomechanics: Life’s Physical World, Vogel
Flash drive for saving information
Notebook/loose leaf paper
Internet accessible computer
Binder/Folders (to organize Handouts)
The pre-test is designed to gauge students’ understanding of basic biology, chemistry, and physics principles as well as their ability to analyze, think critically, and express their thoughts in writing.
A+ 100-97% A 96-93% A- 92-90%
B+ 89-87% B 86-83% B- 82-80%
C+ 79-77% C 76-73% C- 72-70%
D+ 69-67% D 66-63% D- 62-60%
F below 60%
Participation – 10%, In-class work/Homework – 20%, Quizzes – 10%, Writing/Tests – 20%, Final Project – 40%
The final exam will test the depth of students’ understanding of the material presented and experienced over the three weeks. It will ask students think critically and apply their knowledge to solve new problems.
Monday, June 25
What is Biomechanics?
Scientific Method & Research
Characteristics of a Scientist
Characteristics of a Scientists
Expectations and Group Norms
Biology Family Photo Album
The Evolution of Biological Complexity
Letter to Self
The Basics of Cell Life Reading
Cell Structure & Function Review
10 Research Questions Related to Biomechanics
Tuesday, June 26
Homework Review & Quiz
The Magic of Reality introduction and preview
Bias in Research, Fact vs. Fiction, Objectivity vs. Subjectivity
Models, Diagrams, and how we come to understand the world around us
Evolution and Recognitional Characteristics of the Complex Brain
Anthropocentrism and Antropomorphism
Reading: Group and Individual: Ch. 1. What is Reality? What is Magic? & Ch. 2. Who was the First Person?
Diagrams, Figures, and Graphs to depict information in the sciences
Reading: Are Animals Property?
Creation of Origin Myth using Metaphorical Representations of the Scientific Rationales for Natural Phenomenas
Wednesday, June 27
Nature vs. Nurture
Role of Brain in Abilities and Talents
Good Research Questions
Thinking outside of the box
Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Anatomy, Physiology, Psycology, Philosophy, Economics, Demographics… Wait, I thought this class was called Biomechanics?
Group Research and Presentations
Computer Lab Research
Collaborating with other scientists to evaluate scientific research
Applications to Solving Human Problems
Personal Opinion Response: Role of Brain in Atheletic and Academic Ability
Chapter 3: Why are there so many different kinds of animals? Questions and Notes
Three Refined Research Questions
Notes on Peer Presentations
Thursday, June 28
The Makeup of Matter
Overview of Physics:
Forces, Gravity, Inertia, Potential and Kinetic Energy, Speed, Velocity, Acceleration, Mass, Matter, Weight, Resistance, Movement, Dynamics
Falling Objects Lab
Current Events in Biomechanics
Chapter 4: What are things made of?
Lab: Experimental Design
Position Time Graphs
Velocity Time Graphs
Discussion: Is there always a correct answer?
Reading: Devils Gardens
Electrophoresis Lab Report
Design a Creature: Form and Function
Physics of Racecars Problems
Physics Terminology and Diagram Quiz
Friday, June 29
Field Trip Brookfield Zoo
Underwater Dolphin Observations
Identify topic from exhibit for observational field studies
Finish Field Trip Notes
Reading: Chapter 1 Comparative Biomechanics
Monday, July 2
Hydrodynamics of Dolphins
Ecological Relationships, Interactions, Vulnerabilities
Wild Reef Tour and Exhibit
Oceanarium Show: Dolphins, Penguins, Beluga Whales, and Training Aniamls
Shedd Aquarium Notes
Chapter 5: Why do we have night and day, winter and summer?
Chapter 6: What is the sun?
Reading, questions, predictions, summarizations, diagrams.
Re-read Chapter 1 and Create Questions from Reading
Tuesday, July 3
Homework Review and Folder Organization
Movement, Axisis of the Body, Planes, Movement of Planets, Sports Movements, Frames of References, Anamatomical Locations, Degrees of Freedom, Applications for your own Sport
Test (2 hours): Choose 5 of the 10 Essay Questions
The World Without Oil Movie
Review Discussion and Questions, Group/Peer teaching
A Bee Dance: Reinacting the Communication of Bees in a hierarchy of community organization and application of axis, body planes, and biomechanical definions of Movement
Use websites to find and review 10 scientific current events involving Biomechanics
Who, what, when, where, why, how?
Create a scientific NewsBrief!
Wednesday, July 4
Homework Review & Quiz
Deep Space Homer
The Evolution of Biological Complexity
Designing a Robot
Final Project Individual
Final Research Proposal
Activity: Rock Climbing
Conferences with Instructor and TA
Concept Brainstorming and Refinement
Biomechanics 4th of July News Special! Achor People, Telling the world what is new and relevant! (10 minute videotaped presentations)
Chapter 7: What is a rainbow?
Chapter 8: When and how did everything begin?
Final Project Proposals Due
Thursday, July 5
Homework Review & Quiz
Fireworks and Biomechanics Review
Na/K pumps and eating a banana after a long run
Cellular Chemistry: ATP, simple sugars, storage molecules, proteins, DNA, RNA, the life and machinery of a cell
12 Body Systems and Anatomy Introduction
Using Multiple Sources to Synthesize information into a lesson plan and then delivering the information to your peers in a classroom setting (teaching others about the body systems)
Case Study: Devil Gardens part 2
Activity: Assignment of the 12 body systems and anatomy introduction, independent research
Review planes and axis of body,
Notes and Examples from Peer Presentations
Movie: The Body! And Alien Life Forms
Chapter 9: Are we alone?
Chapter 10: What is an earthquake?
RAFT and DIAGRAM 2.0: Connecting all the body systems… working together to complete a task!
Mythbusters Epidode Review
Continue Independent Research for Final Projects
Friday, July 6
Homework Review & Quiz on body systems
Cellular Energetics Part 2
The Brain/Body Connection
Scientific Sources and Independent Research in the Library
Vitalism vs. Mechanism
Skeletal Muscular Suystem
Psycology and Philosophy in Science
Muscular-Skeletal System Lab!
Psycology Introduction and Conditioning Lab
Refining your research topic and question
Peer Review Game
Chapter 2, 3, 4 from Biomehanical Basis of Human Movement
Ch. 2: Skeletal Considerations for Movement
Ch. 3: Muscular Considerations for Movement
Ch. 4: Nurological Considerations for Movement
Research Outline and Evidence
Peer Review and Classroom Academic Integrity
Monday, July 9
Homework Review & Quiz
Museum of Science and Industry
SMART home exhibit!
Field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry
SMART home exhibit!
Observational Field Studies at the Exhibits of your Choice
Work on Final Project
Study for Final Exam
Field Trip Follow Up
Chapter 11: Why do bad things happen?
Chapter 12: What is a miracle?
Tuesday, July 10
Homework Review & Quiz
The Mind Body Connection
Chapter 5: Functional Anatomy of the Upper Extremity
Chapter 6: Functional Anatomy of the Lower Extremity
Chapter 7: Functional Anatomy of the Trunk
Alternative Medicine Group Presentation
Movie: What the bleep do we know!?!
Work on Final Project
Biomechanics New Brief Part 2: 20 current events on new and upcoming technology!
Wednesday, July 11
Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and Anatomy Review
Chapter 8: Linear Kinetmatics
Chapter 9: Angular Kinematics
Chapter 10: Linear Kinetics
Chapter 11: Angular Kinetics
Final Exam Review
Work on Final Project
Take home test and essay for The Magic of Reality by Dawkins
Study for Test on Biomechanical Basis of Human Movement textbook by Hamill and Knutzen
Thursday, July 12
Review of Physica and Anatomy
Course Review in Pictures
Making Models, Scientific Presentation Diagrams and Abstracts
Introduction to Biomechanics: Peer Teaching Part 2
Chapter 1: Fundamental of Force
Chapter 2: Gravity, mass, and stability
Chapter 3: Force Analysis: Graphs and Maths,
Chapter 4: Forces and Motion,
Chapter 5: Work and Machines
Chapter 6: Stress and Strain
Chapter 7: Composition and Mechanical Properties of Connective Tissue
Chapter 8: Flow
Chapter 9: Energy and Movement
Chapter 10: Therapeautic Application of Force
Test on Chapter 1-10
Teaching Each other the Review Chapters from the Introduction to Biomechanics book by Andy Kerr
Test on Chapter 1-10 (B.B.H.M.)
Followup on The Magic of Reality
Final Project Due tomorrow!
Friday, July 13
Have a great rest of the summer!
Continue Learning for the rest of your life!!!
Robert Thollander Jr. has always observed the world around us with a sense of wonder and amazement. His enthusiasm towards and passion for the living planet is contagious and if you walk into his classroom you'll find his students working hard on projects that share their newly acquired knowledge. Along with his experiences of researching in the rainforest and bio-genetically engineering sugar cane to make biofuel, he brings Biomechanics alive for his students at CTD. Robert was born in raised in Florida and attended Florida State University from 2003-2008. He moved to Chicago to obtain his teacher certification through Northwestern University and in September of 2009, he began working for AUSL on the West-Side. During the school year, Robert teaches Biology and Anatomy at Collins Academy High School where he combines inquiry-based science learning with literacy and content-based reading to ensure success for all of his students.
“I want to show you that the real world, as understood scientifically, has magic of its own – the kind I call poetic magic: an inspiring beauty which is all the more magical because it is real and because we can understand how it works…The magic of reality is – quite simply – wonderful. Wonderful and real. Wonderful because real.” Richard Dawkins
Robert can best be reach by email at email@example.com.
CTD Statement on Third-Party Web Sites
Instructors are required to thoroughly review any third-party web sites they intend to use in their courses for inappropriate content. However, because web content continuously changes, CTD disclaims any responsibility for any of the content contained on third-party web sites used in course materials. If you become aware of anything that may be inappropriate, please notify CTD staff immediately.
Course Content Breakdown
Main Focuses of Animalia Architecture
Multidisciplinary Branches of Science
Organizing Principles (Themes)
Class Format for CTD
Historically Important Peoples and Institutions of Biomechanics
I spend most of my time teaching online to students in a brick-and-mortar school, so I also spend a great deal of time clarifying what it is and isn’t (or at least, what it can be and shouldn’t be). Since we have all come to grips with the foremost misconception, that online learning is a thing of tomorrow, and recognize that it is upon us immediately and for all students, I thought I would share my other observations on the biggest misconceptions in online and blended learning.
Misconception #2: It’s (Emotionally) “Distant” Learning
Online or blended learning does not have to be physically distant, and it most certainly is not, by nature, emotionally distant. I often hear questions like, “How do you get to know and talk with your students?” The truth is we do a great deal of “talking” in today’s world without ever seeing each other so that the lack of the latter does not preclude the opportunity for the first. In fact, I was admittedly fearful of not being able to connect with my students online, but I have found the opposite to be true. I actually feel more connection with several of my students in the online environment than I have in a traditional classroom. I think this has to do with the frequency of individual communication I have with them in chat, Skype, or email. There are simply more ways to talk once we have removed time and space boundaries. Additionally, I have found that many students who would refrain from raising a hand to ask for help will very easily send me a private chat message.
Misconception #3: It’s Busy Work, Canned Curriculum
I’ve taken some online classes which were completely comprised of transactional busy work. I was delivered the assignments, and I subsequently completed and delivered them back to the instructor. Ideally, this is not the case, and the more online and blended environments come to resemble virtual versions of live classrooms, what we should see (and have already seen) is the opening of real-time interactive learning spaces and the presence of true discussion and collaboration. The work is still somewhat transactional, except that it can be accompanied by screencasts and videos ala the “flipped model”, and even live discussions.
Misconception #4: It’s Delayed
Real-time class collaboration is sometimes prevented by geography, but the notion that we cannot learn in the same space at the same time, and through interaction, is a thing of the past. Just in the last year, I attended a handful of virtual conferences. While there were a few lacking in interaction, the best ones involved a presenter leading a discussion, soliciting and answering questions, while simultaneously a chat took place between attendees commenting and expanding the discussion. I can recall the last traditional class I sat in and listened to a speaker talk without interacting with him or the audience. It was boring. I found that in the last RSCON3 sessions, I was constantly trying to pay attention so as not to miss anything. It was overstimulating because so much was happening at once, but it was great! In my classes this year, video chat, IM, and group chat within Docs and Facebook have proven valuable tools for generating discussion, and just last week we set up our first Google+ hangout in my senior English class. I used to consider five days to be a reasonable response time when I took an online course, but my students expect one within five seconds!
Misconception #5: It’s Easy for Kids
Some students may know how to use some technologies with more proficiency than some adults, but assuming that students will know how to interact within an online environment when they have to do so in college or beyond is fallacious and irresponsible. Students know how to tweet and tumble...but barely. They have no idea how to create, share, and organize a document, nor do they really ever read anything, especially directions. And as we all know, they have little idea of the nuances of social interaction online, including how to engage in academic discussion and collaborate in a virtual environment.
In a recent post by Adam Twyman, “Facebook: Are we creating a Lord of the Flies?”, Twyman compares the world of Social Media to a kids-only island where we have allowed children to set the standards while we refused to set foot on the island ourselves. Last year, we made a decision to open up Facebook and other media usage to students so that we can inhabit the space with them, and now we are working to restructure an existing, somewhat chaotic mode of being. Students may know how to gossip, post pictures, even complete impressive tasks like teaching themselves how to photoshop or contribute to a writing community, but saying that these are indicators of online communication and collaboration skills mastery is akin to saying a student knows how to scuba dive just because he has been swimming in the ocean. Similarly, we cannot hope to teach digital citizenship skills without forming a digital community of which we are all a part. I would echo Twyman’s sentiments and ask, if we do not create environments with structure for students to learn the mores and responsibilities of interacting and learning online, how will this happen and when?
Cross-Posted at http://1teachontheedge.blogspot.com/2012/01/online-blended-learning-5.html & http://www.teachhub.com/online-learning-myths
I had a busy morning today. I observed a student teacher for her final observation, and I made it home in time to participate in the weekly noon #Edchat on Twitter. As I participated in the #Edchat I was struck by the fact that it had a great deal to do with a conversation I had with my student’s cooperating teacher in a high school that morning.
The conversation that I had with this high school teacher took place in the school’s computer lab. It was a very relaxed session, as all of the students were involved in a Web Quest in support of their recent reading of Inherit the Wind. They were now learning first-hand about the “Scopes Monkey Trial”. I observed that the computer Lab had an Interactive White Board installed on the wall. I remarked to the teacher that it struck me that this is not the most effective place for an IWB, since every student sat at a desktop computer. A simple, less-expensive digital projector could serve as well, and that would free up an IWB for a classroom. That started the conversation ball rolling.
The teacher told me that the school received a grant for the IWB’s and Boards were placed in many of the classroom’s two summers ago. There was little regard for where they were placed in the rooms, or what rooms were to receive them. Since, according to our discussion, it was not evident that teachers were consulted in the planning stage, or the implementation stage, so the teachers had little to say in what rooms or where in those rooms boards were to be installed. That is why the board in this teacher’s room is not at a focal point, but on the side of the room. No one ever asked! The teacher continues to be upset over this every time she uses the board. Students must be repositioned or redirected to use the IWB.
Of course, professional development always at the top of my list, I asked if the staff received adequate preparation before using the IWB’s in the class. The staff received an overview workshop was the answer. There was a second training workshop later in the year for those who attended. Obviously, someone must have thought that just the mere fact the district is installing technology in a classroom should be incentive enough for a teacher to self-teach him or herself in order to use that technology. Could you imagine the airline, or medical industries using the same strategies for their people to learn and be incented to use the technology in their respective industries? Here’s a 747 pilots. Aren’t you excited? The overview will be next week. Here is Robotic Laser, doctors. Be careful when you use it. You can sign up for a workshop at our next training day.
So, here is what seems to have happened. The district got a grant for IWB’s. It had to move quickly to install them, since they arrived in the summer. They put the IWB’s where they could be easily installed in classrooms that gave good visibility to the public. Professional development was either not part of the grant or too expensive to pay for in addition, so they settled for the overview provided by the manufacturer. There is little time during the year to provide Professional Development, so teachers had to wait for a conference day.
The result could have been predicted. Teachers were never on board or even consulted. Teachers begin to resent the entire effort. They use the IWB’s as projectors and cite this as another example of wasteful spending at the expense of larger classes. The administrators say that they are providing cutting edge Technology to the teachers, who refuse to use it. Of course the New York Times could pick up the story and say Schools are spending too much on technology that teachers fail to use with any positive outcome for student learning.
Of course, there must be more to this than I was able to get from a brief conversation. I do know that I have heard many similar stories from many educators from all over our country. I do not think this scenario falls too short of the mark even with my liberal use of poetic license. As you read this, I am sure many similar cases are speeding through your head. Of course, I will get comments from some IT people and administrators who just don’t get it. That is to be expected since they view things through a different lens.
When I participated in the afternoon #Edchat the topic was: What changes could be made to the present management structure of education to make it more effective for educators? Of course this topic had my head swimming with the ideas from the earlier conversation. Administrators need to lead, not mandate, or dictate initiatives and policy. They need to engage their staff. Education has the highest percentage of educated people in its industry. They are education experts. They have degrees in education. Why not consult with them on affairs of education? The more that we involve teachers with the development of policies, the more they will buy into the success of those policies. The more teachers point out flaws and misconceptions, the stronger the policy becomes in consideration of those shortcomings. Administrators should not view teachers as a problem. They are not the enemy. Teachers have much to offer as education experts. Lead and work with them as consultants. Education administrators need more staff consultation and leadership and less control and reactive policy directives.
I'm a big fan of summer. I still have the same "back-to-school" nightmares I experienced as a kid as the days get shorter each August. I think that "Back-to-School" sales before Independence Day are a form of child abuse. I believe that casual neighborhood play, family vacations, scouting and organized camps produce powerful learning experiences unrivaled by school.
When I hire new teachers, I look for people who worked at a summer camp. These are teachers who love kids and know how to engage them in meaningful (and fun) activities without coercion or a scripted curriculum. In 2007, I took issue with then Senator Clinton's call for more tutoring and suggested that the federal money allocated for tutoring children in "underperforming schools" be spent on summer camp (My Plan to Fix NCLB). The richest nation in the world can afford high-quality summer activities for even its poorest children.
Also in 2007, I published When the Jumbotron says, "Read," You Read! That article addressed the folly of forced summer reading assigned by schools, the outlandish claims made on behalf of the practice and the punishments meted out for non-compliance. I marveled at the quality of books assigned as summer reading when compared with the standardized drivel "read" during the school year and mourned the absence of meaningful discussion accompanying the reading.
When I was a kid, the only time you heard the combination of the words, "summer" and "school" was if you misbehaved or failed a course during the school year. How I long for the good ol' days.
Just when I think that schooling can not get any more punitive or heavy-handed, things get worse. Schools no longer feel constrained by the impulse to ask kids to read Homer Price, Holes or Because of Winn-Dixie for pleasure under a tree on a balmy summer day. Now, school leaders view children as their serfs and every waking minute of a child's life as their property. Such megalomania may be rooted in the paranoia created by the testing uber-alles policies of NCLB and Race To The Top. Whatever the motivation, robbing children of summer is irresponsible, ineffective and malicious.
Wow! Those are strong words, Dr. Stager. What are you talking about?
My "niece," let's call her "Miss Summer," just completed eighth grade in a Northern New Jersey public school district. Miss Summer is an excellent student with perfect attendance and a great many interests she looks forward to pursuing during the summer. They include swimming, playing with her brother, developing friendships, practicing the trumpet, fishing, genealogy, reading and doing nothing at all but staying in her pajamas on rainy days and watching cartoons. When I was a kid, our society valued those activities and embraced childhood. That is no longer the case.
At the end of eighth grade, Miss Summer received a substantial packet of work to be completed before she sets foot in her new high school. The transition from primary to secondary school is stressful enough, but now a mountain of homework hung over a carefree summer like a rain cloud ruining your beach vacation. Miss Summer's school district is no longer content with suggested summer reading for parents interested in supplementing a child's education. Hell no!
Miss Summer has assignments in nearly every subject, is expected to read Dickens' Great Expectations alone and without teacher support, write a thesis or two and submit the work by assigned due dates via a Web-based plagiarism site, Turnitin.com.
This mountain of homework is not only cruel, it is irresponsible, miseducative and profoundly unfair for the following reasons.
I do everything I can to combat to the misguided federal education policies turning schools into joyless test-prep factories. I'll march. I'll write. I'll speak out. I'll organize. I'll donate. I'll provide educators with alternative strategies and help them improve their practice. I will challenge the plutocrats who threaten teachers and children.
What I will not do is defend educators who transfer their misery to innocent children. It is unconscionable for teachers to outsource their corpulent curriculum to children. You have no right to surveillance when a child is at home. If kids cannot count on you to stand between them and madness, who will protect them?
For more arguments against homework, read Alfie Kohn's book, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing or watch his DVD, No Grades + No Homework = Better Learning.
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Everywhere we turn society is going through a fundamental discussion about paradigms, the assumptions we make about how we live, learn and work in which we frame our lives: government, news and information, communication, education, and so much more. Pick a topic – any topic – and become immediately immersed in a sea of impassioned points of view. Dive down deeper, through the layers of experience and perception, and you realize whatever your frame of reference it is currently undergoing a major sea change; we are all swimming in it.
The question rising to the surface is: are we experiencing a significant adjustment in our world view, or is this the onset of a major shift? The distinction is important. If this is a dip in what is otherwise a sturdy set of assumptions about life in our 21st century world, we will hold on to many of those assumptions we bring with us. If this is a complete shake-up in how we view and experience the world, then we will let go of many of the assumptions that have served us well in the past.
As we listen to the current national discussion on education, this seems to be the major disconnect among invested stakeholders. If we simply need to make adjustments to our education institutions as they emerge from an imminently successful 20th century paradigm, then we need to agree on that and move forward with what those adjustments will be. If, on the other hand, we need to transform the entire system because it does not map what we are seeing on the ground, then a larger shift will take place. Listening to Michelle Rhee and Randi Weingarten go back and forth this past weekend, we have yet to agree on this fundamental point.
It’s not really a matter of opinion. Somewhere underneath all the hyperbole and posturing lies the reality of education in 2010. So….what is it in reality: a paradigm dip or a paradigm shift?
The summer of my first-grade year, I flunked beginning swimming twice! I could not master the final test, which was to swim the length of the pool. I would swim halfway across the pool, and panic would set in. I never did master swimming, but, through some unconventional coaching, I did conquer the diving board. I was small and timid as a child, but, hard as I tried to fade into the background, my fiery-red hair would tell on me. As I stood in line to jump off the board, I continued to weave backward, toward the end of the line. My goal was to completely avoid the humiliation of failing yet another swimming-related task. Despite my efforts, I felt a pair of hands lift me from behind. These hands carried me to the front of the line and placed me at the edge of the board. Then, I felt a gentle nudge. I had no choice but to land in the aqua-blue water. I went down screaming, but, as I began my return to the surface, something overcame me. I could not help it—a smile emerged. I had a blast! I scurried up the side of the pool and pushed past everyone to make my way to the front. I jumped off the board again and again without assistance. My experience in the world of professional learning easily parallels the lessons I learned while jumping off the diving board. As a participant and a presenter, I have discovered three basic approaches following a professional development experience – those who willingly jump in, those who need a gentle nudge, and those who either intentionally or unintentionally never get wet.
When I was a campus-level administrator, I expected to see evidence of professional development. I yearned to see teachers who willingly jumped in and took their learning for a “swim.” However, I seldom saw a full implementation that extended over a significant period of time. Don’t get me wrong. I saw glimpses of it. I saw teachers passionate about providing dynamic research-based instruction to their students. Yet, I have become keenly aware that the “learning-doing gap” is alive and well in today’s classrooms. We are often rich in relevant professional development, yet poor in implementation. Last year, in response to this “gap,” our district explored a capacity-building model of professional development. We began a journey with ASCD faculty through Differentiated Instruction (DI). Several of our campuses are currently working with ASCD coaches to implement DI campus-wide. In practice, DI involves offering several different learning experiences in response to students' varied needs. Basically, DI is about providing quality first-time instruction; it is about meeting learners where they are at and taking them where we need them to go.
We are in our second year of DI implementation. Two days each month, the ASCD coach at each campus works with a core of ten teacher leaders to help them gain an in-depth understanding of DI, while assisting their learning in planning, leading, and implementing DI within their content areas. The coach will work alongside the teacher leaders, observing and modeling lessons. Over the course of the next year, I’ll be writing about these experiences and some of the challenges and successes involved in implementing DI in our district. I hope to share the joys of seeing teachers jump off, with students in tow, into the waters of differentiated instruction. Yet, I know from experience things don’t always run so smoothly – while some teachers will dive right in, others will only edge cautiously toward the deep end, at least in the beginning. Hence, what I hope to share from this blog is a realistic view of implementing DI in a school in hopes others can see the potential to change their schools as well.
As I write, I would love to hear your comments or questions. Also, feel free to connect with me on my ASCD EDge Wall or on the differentiated instruction group. For some of you, these waters may be unfamiliar, but I hope you’ll take the plunge with me as I know I’ll learn a lot from what you’re doing as well.
Glenda Horner is the Coordinator for Staff Development in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston, Texas. She’ll be blogging about her district’s journey in implementing Differentiated Instruction with ASCD coaches during the 2010-2011 school year.
To learn more about ASCD’s On-Site Capacity Building Services, go to www.ascd.org/oscb .
Academic language is a lot more complicated than it sounds. It consists of content-specific words as well as non-content specific words (not to mention a host of other grammatical and cultural nuances that most of us never consciously learned, but effectively acquired). How do students acquire academic language? How did you? Under what circumstances do you continue to develop academic language? How did you learn the meaning of the words like aghast or to signal? Consider this: "Words like aghast, signal, cluster, furiously, lash, churn and froth, might all be considered academic type words, and all are found in the following excerpt from James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl, 1961). 'They all watched aghast. And now at a signal from the leader, all the other sharks came swimming in toward the peach and they clustered around it and began to attack it furiously. There must have been twenty or thirty of them at least, all pushing and fighting and lashing their tails and churning the water into a froth.'" (The Language Rich Classroom, Himmele & Himmele, ASCD, 2009, p.26). High-interest fiction provides effortless access to non-content specific academic vocabulary.
So, how do we help our students access this great vocabulary if they haven't developed a high-enough proficiency to read them on their own? Well, many English language learners who are conversational can understand more than they can linguistically produce or read. So, think about using audiobooks as a great way of developing academic vocabulary in an enjoyable way. Think about skipping the traditional homework assignments for an age-appropriate audiobook experience. Combine it with a Quick-Draw (Chapter 7), where students illustrate the most important parts of the story, and you've got yourself a quick assessment of comprehension. By the way, your local library may have a great selection already, or have access to a downloadable audiobook subscription that may be absolutely free to you.
So, exposure through leisure reading (or, even audiobook listening) is a biggie in developing academic language. And intentionally planning for academic language development is also a biggie. Use CHATS, our five-part framework aimed at creating access to content and language development together. Here are what the five components stand for:
C= Content Reading Strategies (which includes Teacher-Mediated and Student Mediated Comprehension of text)
H= Higher-Order Thinking
A= Assessment that informs instruction
T= Total Participation Techniques
I think that you'll find that CHATS will help all of your students, not just your English language learners. "No one got left... By using the framework, or looking at lesson planning through this lens, we're allowing access for all students" (Keely Potter, K-6 Literacy Coach, Manheim, Central). "If you use the framework, you can't go wrong in planning a stellar lesson" (Judy Berg, Literacy Coach, McCaskey High School).
So, post some comments/questions. We’d love to share some neat stories and experiences of schools that have implemented the framework.