Tag Archives: education

What I Learned from My Students

It has been an interesting year for a number of reasons. But this post is about what I’ve learned from my students over the past year. Some background information, last year was my first year teaching a regular lecture college course for Central Community College (CCC). This semester I am teaching an online course for CCC. In the past I have taught the early entry courses for seniors taking dual credit courses through CCC. Even though I taught a college course, my everyday teacher life was centered in the high school routine. There is a difference between high school students and college students at CCC. This is what I’ve learned.

Education Matters

Even though I lost students over the year to a wide range of issues (I’ll talk about that in a few lines), students understood that gaining an education was important for them to reach their professional goals. I had one student who used her lunch break to attend my class. She would arrive a few minutes late, in her nursing outfit from work, and was raising a family. Another student had worked construction for almost two decades and loved it. But an accident kept him from returning to that job. He was studying business in hopes that he could return to the company in a new position.

My students understood that getting an education was going to help them reach their goals. But it is not easy.

Life Can Be a Hurdle

In high school, life is school. Football games, dances, school, they are all part of the everyday experience. For many of my students at CCC class was just a section of their life. I had students in class that ranged from 18 to 63 years old. I have a student right now who is traveling the world and taking my course online to get some general education credits handled before he comes back to the States. I had a young man at the age of 21 who had already gone through rehab twice.

I am proud to be a part, however small, of their lives. But life did cause some hurdles that challenged my approach to teaching. One aspect was the workload I expected from them. It made me think about what was really important for them in my course. This was hard for me because I love sharing extra material, to try to foster learning beyond the curriculum. I had to consider what I asked of them regarding assignments and homework. Not that I took it easier on them, but it forced me to align my course work according to importance and expected time spent on it. A simple example is that I used class time to handle small assignments and tried to give feedback on those right away because many of the assignments connect to their essays (which are the major assignments for the course). This allowed my students to work on the essay at home with more confidence in their ability to accomplish the writing.

Education versus Learning

This area is still challenging me, and maybe it always will. But not in the way you might think. I know many of my students only take my course because it is a general education course that all programs require. I actually lean on that idea to emphasize the importance of taking the course. I repeat, over and over, and over, that the number one goal is to help them become better writers for this course, for upcoming courses, and even for life. I present them with a WHY. Many of my students just want the credit, I know this. But their learning is their education which is their life, their goals. My battle is in creating a course, an assignment, or developing content that aligns to that WHY. And yes, I believe it matters.

The student who used her lunch hour to attend my class has two children and she revealed why it matters. During one session on writing with tone/voice, I was discussing how this characteristic of writing was the reason we like certain books, songs, and other media. I continued to expand on how important word choice  was in creating that tone or finding their own voice. Unbeknownst to me at the time I connected the WHY to her life when I lead a discussion on how hard it can be to write a personal letter to someone expressing our feelings (word choice/tone). I shared a personal example of writing a card for my son, and even how hard it was for me to get that card right. I happened to then share that that type of writing was just as important as an essay for my class, which I believe. At the end of that semester, which ended in December, that student sent me an email to tell me that she was excited to write a Christmas letter to her children and husband sharing how much she loved them. She wanted to make these letters a new tradition for her family.

What my students taught me was that education matters, for their goals, for their life.

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Open Letter to Mr. Holt

Dear Mr. Holt,

I wish you were here to see me finally live up to the potential you saw in me way back in middle school (1984). I have self published my first novel. I image handing you a copy and you smiling, your eyes would get lost behind your glasses and full beard, as you hold it in both hands. You would sit at your desk, messy as always, and thumb through some pages, stopping to read a section. You would then say, “I knew you could do this.”

But you passed away in 2001.

I am sorry that it took me this long to believe. Maybe not believe, but to embrace the talent you saw in me as an awkward seventh grader who wrote poetry in his notebooks instead of notes. You let us break-dancers actually have a class to work on our moves during our eighth grade year. You always read my poetry and stories with a caring but honest insight. I still have the book of poetry you gave me from your library because I borrowed it so much. I also have the copy of Dune you let me keep from class. And yes, I still have the “book” you put together of my poetry for my senior year. Giving me my first taste of being published, even if it was put together by hand and was only 25 copies.

IMG_5662As I look at my classroom I can’t help but laugh. My bulletin boards look just like yours did. Even when I didn’t have your class you would allow me to put stuff up on your walls. I remember Scott and I visiting you at your home. You always had time for us. You always had time for me, and I wish I had told you this when you were alive.

I was the kid who was too loud at times. Even Scott’s mom mentioned that to him in junior high. I had to move away a number of times, but you were a stable factor in my life for those six school years. You made me feel that I mattered. You expanded my horizons by suggesting books; yes, Catcher in the Rye is still my favorite book of all time. You let me sit by the window and understood that I heard you even while I wrote poetry instead of grammar notes.

It is teacher appreciation week. The best way I know how to say thank you is to share my talent with you and the world. A talent you helped develop. Writing. I miss you, Mr. Holt. Thank you for being my English teacher.

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I am not Great…

At age 43 I am experiencing Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stage 7 – Generativity vs. Stagnation. In this stage adults wrestle with the idea of contributing to the world through family and careers.

But my struggle is not the idea of contributing to the world, but how well I am making a difference. It has fostered a question that I have considered for a while: is it better to be good at a lot of different things or great at one or two things?

I am not a great father.    IMG_3899

I am not a great husband.

I am not a great teacher.

I am not a great writer.

I am not great at anything.

I am good at a lot of things. I have done some cool things in my lifetime: from hosting creative workshops to coaching a 400-meter runner at Hastings College that ran with the great Michael Johnson at the Drake Relays. But that is the center of the issue, I have become good at a lot of different things but have not mastered any of them.

My struggle is that being good has not allowed me to make an impact in this world. I see so many of my friends and colleagues doing great things. Everyday they are making an impact that builds positive results in their world, and the difference I see is their focus is on one or two things. They are known as the expert, or the go-to person for their field. They are #rockstars. I would love to make such a difference in this world, but I am not a go-to person. I don’t have a focus on one thing that people know me for. I am good at a lot of things, but great at nothing.

Now, let’s back away from my struggle to connect to the idea of school and education.

The traditional school system is designed for our students to be good at a lot of different subjects. Understand, I strongly agree that we need a foundation in our education. But when a student graduates from high school are they great at something? Have they had the chance to start down the path of greatness?

Here is a stat for you: Almost 80 percent of students change their major at least once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In reality, about half of the students will change their major two or three times. So, they are not on the path of greatness until, maybe, their sophomore year in college. Throw in the idea of 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, and it is clear that school is not setting our students on a path of greatness.

So how can we design an environment to foster an opportunity for students to not only find their passion, but the chance to become great at it? First, get rid of the bells. The hardest part of being back in the classroom is the bells. Especially with 46 minute classes. There is no way for students or teachers to become engulfed in anything. To lose themselves in learning. To develop the intrinsic drive to become great.

Another area is standards. I know standards are a part of the educational landscape and will continue to be for a long time. Again, there needs to be guidelines that help schools build meaningful curriculum. But standards should be guidelines, not stone written rules that govern every single lesson we plan.

I know of teachers that will only do things that connect back to a standard. I remember going through the S.T.A.R.S. training and the moment when the person leading the training explained that dinosaur lessons in elementary school would have to be eliminated from the curriculum because dinosaurs were not a part of the standards. Kids love dinosaurs. Even my four year-old daughter will choose a book on dinosaurs for bedtime. How are we to help kids find what they love when we won’t even let them learn about things they like?

Why is greatness important? Our society is at a point that being good at something will not guarantee anything. To be honest, even being great at something is not a guarantee for success, but it improves the chances. I’m not talking about money, but about living a life that is filled with a sense of accomplishment. A life, as Erik Erikson theorized, a life where you feel that you have made a contribution to your family and the world.

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Announcing App Series

When I was in high school our school purchased a new technology that was going to change how the classroom worked.  We could now pause, rewind, and even jump to certain parts of a film.  I don’t remember which year it actually happened, but we moved from film projectors to VHS and Laser disc players.

In college I had a class that covered how to troubleshoot overhead projectors, VCRs and other technologies we might encounter in the classroom.  The objective was to be able to quickly handle situations so that instruction time was not disrupted.

These technologies didn’t really change anything.  Yes, we loved movie day in English class.  It was interesting to see how they changed the story and we would have discussions about how we “saw” the character versus the actor in the movie. But I would often doodle or write poetry during instructional films in Chemistry. Which might explain why I got D the first quarter, but did end up with a solid B by the end of the year. What changed was simply how we watched film.

Jump forward with me to today.  Using an idea from Malcolm Gladwell, I think we are at a “tipping point” in Education.  Mobile devices are the catalyst for this change.  I don’t think this is going to happen today, or even next year, but I sense the change.  And I think it will take one bold school in this area to start the change reaction.  What education might look like after the tipping point is for another blog.

This blog is to announce that next week I am going to do a five post series on specific apps for mobile devices that personify the fun, creative, and educational aspects of mobile devices. If you want to get started on investigating the apps for yourself, below are the days and apps with links to their sites.

Monday: Pic Collage (and photography in general)

Tuesday: SCVNGR (gamification)

Wednesday: Snapguide and Tagwhat (sharing what you know)

Thursday: Coursebook (creating your own course of learning)

Friday: Aurasma (augmented reality)

Join me next week to learn more. You never know what new ideas might be generated.

 

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The American Scholar Today?

I have been thinking about Ralph Waldo Emerson’s speech “The American Scholar” lately.  The speech is a part of the American Literature course I teach in the spring semester, and it is one of my favorite pieces of literature.  I agree with so many of the points he expresses about true scholarship.

I wonder what he would think about the state of education today?   At the beginning of the speech Emerson reveals the three main influences in a scholar’s education. The first is Nature.  Simply stated, being outside.  Emerson goes much deeper in his speech, but the idea is that scholars spend time with Nature, spend time reflecting, as he states, “And, in fine, the ancient precept, ‘Know thyself,’ and the modern precept, ‘Study nature,’ become at last one maxim.”

I have been trying to conduct my DL classes as if I was in my own classroom, and so my CCC writing course went outside to write.  I instructed that they could take pictures, too.  As students will do, they had some fun:

Burwell Students

Then this morning 1011 News reported about Kearney public school’s “Outdoor Days.”  Don’t get me wrong; I think this is a really good idea.  But what does it say about the norm of our education, that having kids outside learning is news? Emerson states this is the first thing that influences scholars. Yet, we set up learning to be done inside, during the best time of the day and in rows.

The second influence is the “mind of the past” that at his time was best reflected in reading books.  We know that today that influence is even greater. I won’t spend time on this point because my thoughts have been on the fist influence, Nature, and the last influence…

Created at PicLit.com

Emerson makes a strong argument that true learning is done in living, “Of course, he who has put forth his total strength in fit actions, has the richest return of wisdom.”  He states that we can only truly understand that which we live, that true scholarship is produced through our lives.  Emerson states, “Character is higher than intellect. Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary. The stream retreats to its source. A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think.”

I show this clip of Neil Gaiman at the beginning of the CCC writing course, listen to what his first piece of advice is for writers.

In my position I am immersed in technology, but I also see our students immersed in technology to the point that I do wonder if they understand the beauty and heartache of living.  Or are they just skimming the surface of life one statues update at a time?  I believe technology and especially mobile devices can enrich our lives deeply.  But that has to be the focus for the use of technology. It should be a tool we use in living. Living is our greatest teacher, “Time shall teach him, that the scholar loses no hour which the man lives” (Emerson).

I have been thinking about Emerson’s speech, “The American Scholar,” lately. I wonder what he would think about the state of our educational system?

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The Why

There has been a kind of running joke between my students and me about how I deconstruct Disney movies with my kids to reveal the “deeper” meaning of the film for them.  Actually, I do that, but that’s not the purpose of this blog.

I love to hear, “My brain hurts.”  I think I do a good job at creating lessons that reach a deeper level for the students.  Many times my students do better on their Literacy Skills AR test than the Reading Practice test.  But, at some point a student will ask, “Does everything have to be so deep?”

Yes, yes it does.

OK, maybe not so deep but I think we have to have a serious WHY to what we do.  Teachers have to answer that question all the time, but maybe it is something to really consider.  And not just for a lesson, but for our lives.

In school, sometimes we have to practice a skill, like math or welding.  Sometimes we have to learn new vocabulary so that we can look at a subject on a deeper level.  And sometimes a lesson is just fun or relaxed.  Many times in school the WHY is based on test scores or grades.  A look at those parameters and learning is for another blog.  But schools have to have some measurement and we will leave it at that for now.

Let me give you a stat: “Thirty percent of college and university students drop out after their first year. Half never graduate, and college completion rates in the United States have been stalled for more than three decades,” from US News and World Report.

Is the WHY of school to prepare students for college?   Or should it be to help them live up to their greatest expression of their talent and dreams? WHY are we doing what we are doing?  I know that I am in a unique situation that lets me investigate education from a different aspect while also being in the “classroom” dealing with the real world of teaching.  Being at this intersection is frustrating and motivating.  I would love to change education, but in reality I am not much of an influence.  But like you, I have a classroom, students, and a life to live.

This year I had one of those great teacher moments when a former student tagged me in a photograph on Facebook.  The photo was of a slide that had graffiti scratched into it, the worst kind.  This former student is a father now and was spending time with his son at the park when he came across the graffiti. Part of his post, “Made me think of the book The Catcher in the Rye. Kids and their innocence.”

What we do in the classroom matters.  What we do in life matters.  It might make your brain hurt, but I ask you to answer your own WHY questions this summer.

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Red light! Green Light!

“Red light!” Jill looks over the kids. Jason is… falling.  He is out.

You are frozen, waiting for the “light” to change.

“Green light!”

You take off, but not too fast, so you can stop with the light change.  But your feet want to run, the light is still green.  You are torn between letting your feet go, reaching the end before she turns around to change the light, or keeping your pace in control so you can freeze when the light turns back to red.

What color is the light in your classroom?

I recently showed the Ted talk, “Why Videos Go Viral” by Kevin Allocca, from a TEDYouth event.  The main point of the talk is about why videos become popular, but Kevin makes an interesting point toward the end of his talk, “No one has to green-light your idea.”

Kevin was talking about creating content on YouTube, but the idea goes way beyond that.  I would love to be a student during this time.  The opportunities to create and pursues activities that ignite our passions are at our disposal.

And that is where I think educational reform needs to take place.

It is not in technology.  It is not standardized tests.  It is in turning around and hollering, “Green light!”  The underlining paradigm of education needs to change.  Students are creating projects and pursuing their dreams without us.  They are finding their own way in this world, finding their own success.

Without us.

And I think that is the most important aspect of all of this.  School should be the place that empowers students to be able to live their life to the fullest.  School should be the place that strengths our society by build community and cultivating our culture values. And one of our most traditional values has always been the idea of success.  It is the heart of the “American Dream.”  And at this moment in time, we have a greater opportunity to pursue our dreams then ever before.  But is school matching the possibility that is present in our society?

We need education to change the light to green.

I would love to hear your stories about how you have been changing the light in your school.  Share your stories with me in the comment section.

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