Top Ten Reasons for Going to Conferences

This blog is a little late, but thanks to Todd's coupon, I still was eligible for the lovely house plant. I send thanks to the horticulture students here at Yavapai College! So here is my excuse  . . . no, the dog didn't eat my blog.  I went to a conference, and I have been playing catch up ever since, but when I post this blog, I think I will have done so . . . caught up, that is.

So why would an English teacher go to TYCA-West in Mesa, Arizona, right in the middle of October when so much work needs to be done on campus? Well, here are the top ten reasons for attending professional conferences that I could come up with after attending this one.

1) Promoting growth in our profession is a must, and what better way to gather than at a conference where we can bring our best ideas and present them to others, gather feedback, and polish them.
2) It is essential to protect the integrity of our profession from state and federal lawmakers who want to regulate and make laws to serve taxpayers and voters. Often these lawmakers do so without understanding the potential impact or the implications of these regulations and laws, and it is our responsibility to stand in the gap for our students.
3) Keeping abreast of new research and development in our profession is another great benefit we receive from keynote speakers and other sessions. Also, at conferences, we gain insight into professional journals and articles that will help us keep up with the latest.
4) Networking with fellow faculty helps us to sharpen one another.
5) Sharing tips on how to engage students in the classroom is another benefit.  Breakout sessions and meal time give us opportunity to do so.
6) Discovering new ways to teach curriculum is always a blessing. No one faculty member, nor no single college has ALL of the good ideas.
7) Meeting lifetime friends with fellow faculty members who have similar interests is so likely.
8) Textbook publishers bring textbooks, catalogs, software demonstrations, and offer suggestions to help bridge areas missing in curriculum.
9) Other vendors bring free book samples, guides, pens, and more. 
10) The conference itself usually gives you a cool bag to carry all of your handouts, flyers, and the guide to sessions.

Okay, besides all of these reasons for attending conferences, one must agree that a change of place, good food, a nice room, and a little out of town shopping is good for the soul.

So I mentioned keynote speakers can be a bonus. At this particular conference, the speaker took me back to college days. He got up and read a report on Paulo Freire, banking vs. praxis, and a lot of other professional jargon not spoken in the community college classroom, but indeed practiced on a regular basis.

So, he reminded us, is the teacher a sage on the stage? Or a guide on the side? According to Strauss, we should always assume there is one silent student in the classroom who is smarter than we are. For me personally, believing this student is there helps me to keep myself sharp and prepared for class. Believing this student is there helps me to call upon students in the classroom with expectation that they will have something essential to share, and often they do, and then we learn from more than Mrs. Luffman. We learn from the best ideas we have in common as a classroom, and that is what education is all about. Maybe I am overstating slightly, but not by much.

Then the keynote speaker encouraged us to check out They Say, I Say, a book that presents templates to help students write various types of prose for different purposes. Students gain help discovering how to write cognitive or narrative, investigative or reflective. And then students insert self into these templates to create meaning inside correct format. Okay, so that last part is all my own interpretation of what was being said on stage.

By the way, did I mention that at this conference the sage on the stage was actually reading his paper. Yikes, I would never do that in the classroom, but apparently this gentleman felt the precision of his prose was worth the risk of losing the audience. Apparently he didn't lose me since I did take voracious notes just in case I could write something about it in my blog.

Anyway, if anyone out there actually reads this blog, please consider going to a professional conference, participating, even presenting. It goes a long way in developing who we are and preserving our profession for posterity.

Sincerely submitted.
Tina Luffman

My Reading Life: Or, When I Forget that I Love Reading

One of the things about teaching, is that it can occasionally turn something that I love- reading and writing- into something that becomes about procedures and rules:  comma placement, topic sentences, MLA citations.  This can be particularly pronounced online, when I don’t have the opportunity to talk to anyone in real time about the stories and essays that we are reading in class.  Sometimes I worry that my students don’t know that I love the things that I’m teaching them.  Maybe they don’t know that I think reading makes us better people, or that knowing how to write helps us become better communicators and more insightful in all areas of our lives.  So, in honor of proclaiming my love for the written word, here is a post originally published on my book blog, The Scarlet Letter, and which is inspired by the “Our Reading Lives” series at Book Riot:

My Reading Life: The Mirror in the Book

In an essay called “Good Readers and Good Writers,” Vladimir Nabokov, somewhat pompously, claims that “the worst thing a reader can do” is “identify himself with a character in [a] book.  This is not the kind of imagination that I would like readers to use.”  While I love Nabokov, and even the rest of this particular essay, I can’t imagine that I would have become the reader that I am today without identifying with so many characters in so many books. In fact, these characters are such a part of me, that I find myself in a bit of a chicken/egg situation.  Which came first: who I was, or the characters that I became?

First it was Harriet the Spy and Matilda, quiet, bookish types like me that ended up going on great adventures or having magnificent abilities. How many young introverts carried notebooks and collected observations, attempting to solve mysteries just like Harriet? And for how many of us were those the sparks of our future careers as writers and readers- professional collectors of details and solvers of problems?

Then there were the Boxcar children, that rag tag group of self-sufficient orphans who inspired me on many a night to pack a couple of shirts in a handkerchief tied to a walking stick, and to “run away” to the woods behind my house for several hours.  And I’ll never forget the way that I saw every closet differently after reading The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, or the way that I saw the whole world differently after my first forays into science fiction with Madeline L’Engle.  But those adventurous new worlds couldn’t replace the pleasure of recognition that I found amongst the girls in the Babysitter’s Club- perhaps my longest love affair- who each had a different characteristic that I wanted for my own:  Kristy’s spunk, Claudia’s artistic skills and Stacey’s fashion sense.  But mostly there was Mary Anne, who was so much like me, I felt like I was looking at myself, finally, in the mirror on the pages of those stories that I loved.

Then in my teenage years I looked to the manic pixie dream girls in Francesca Lia Block’s early YA novels to see the self that I had become.  I was the girl that didn’t quite fit in on purpose; I was a little chubby, wore blue lipstick, cut my hair short and dyed it with Manic Panic.  But in those books, I saw people like me, who also wouldn’t have fit in walking the hallways of my small town high school.

There are so many other specific moments growing up and into adulthood when I found myself in books, and when identifying with characters made me feel less alone. There are even books, like the Great Gatsby, that only get better and better as I understand more fully what their characters are experiencing  –the ennui of the time that stretches between youth and adulthood –and I see my emotions, if not my life, in Nick Carraway’s.

When I went to graduate school, I started to see the writer that I wanted to be in the theorists and novelists that I was reading.  But I never would have gotten there if I hadn’t started by wanting to become, or by already being, those bookish types in the books from my childhood.  As a teacher, I see students who don’t know yet exactly where they are going or who they want to be, and I am grateful that I always had books to show me the way, to show me who I was and who I wanted to become. My greatest wish is that some of my students will see themselves in the books that I assign, so that reading might become meaningful, and might open up other worlds and possibilities.  So, to come back to where I began, with Vladimir Nabokov, maybe it is a bad reader who reads only for the pleasures of identification, but perhaps the good reader starts from there, and then she builds her own future.

How to Start a SMART Workout

Original post is here.

How to Start a SMART Workout

The acronym SMART is a behavioral strategy for goal setting. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based, and I will also add the component of Forgiving. To show how to use the SMART behavioral strategy, I will give an example of how to create a SMART workout.

Initial Non-SMART Goal
“I’m going to start jogging for exercise.”


Specific: Your goal must be specific and clearly defined. For example, “I’m going to start jogging for exercise” is neither specific nor clearly defined. Rather for a SMART goal, you could state, “From November 3, 2104 to November 28, 2014; I will jog 20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting at 6pm.”

Measurable: Your goal must be measurable to determine accomplishment. For example, “By the end of November 28, 2014; I’ll have jogged 20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting at 6pm.”

Attainable: Your goal must be attainable to be achievable. For example, you should determine if the goal of jogging the chosen 3 days a week for the month of November is achievable. Maybe after thinking about it, you determine that starting your jog at 6pm is too close to the time of your family’s dinner time, and you will feel rushed. So you determine to start it at 7:30pm, after dinner. Now, your SMART goal is “From November 3, 2104 to November 28, 2014; I will jog 20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting at 7:30pm.”

Relevant: Your goal must be relevant to you. For example, maybe the goal of jogging the chosen 3 days a week for the month of November is not something you feel like you can do right now because you know you can’t even walk the 3 flights of stairs at your job without getting exhausted. So maybe after thinking about it you modify the goal from a jog to a walk: “From November 3, 2104 to November 28, 2014; I will walk 20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting at 7:30pm.”

Time Based: Your goal must have a time frame. For example, from November 3, 2104 to November 28, 2014 is your goal’s time frame.

Forgiving: Your goal must be forgiving. In other words, your goal should be allowed for the unforeseen situations that may occur. For example, if your child is sick on Wednesday, you either walk Thursday, which is your day off from the routine, or you just continue back on your schedule on Friday.

Finalized SMART Goal

“From November 3, 2104 to November 28, 2014; I will walk 20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting at 7:30pm.”

To Allow Resubmissions or Not to Allow Resubmissions—THAT is the Question! (William Shakespeare, sorta)

Going to class, studying, reading--TO LEARN.  Not just for a grade, but to actually acquire knowledge and/or skills.  How do I, as an instructor, make that happen?  I’ve been asking that question for almost 30 years of full-time college teaching.  I’ve yet to come up with a fail-safe, satisfactory answer. 

Obviously, “giving As” to motivate intrinsic learning is not likely to work.  (See last week’s blog for my experiment with that strategy.)

Still, I never cease struggling with that question.  If I really don’t want my students to learn, why am I doing this anyway?  (Please don’t evoke the “big paycheck” or “easy job” argument—that will only instigate more inflammatory blogs.)  Obviously we do (I hope) want students to learn, or we wouldn’t still be here.

I have come up with a few conclusions to the dilemma of student learning (some of which are still tentative).  I’ll offer up this one, for what it's worth.

Q:  How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  Only one.  But the bulb has really got to WANT to change!

Students are like these metaphorical light bulbs.  They have to WANT to learn. 

But I can’t “make” learning happen.  No teacher can.  Learning is truly an “inside” job.  I’m not sure I can even “facilitate learning” (although I REALLY like that idea!).  Perhaps it’s safe to say I may be able to “facilitate learning” for those who really want to learn.

I can’t change anyone, nor can I make anyone learn.  So my cynical self says, “Why bother?” 

My idealist self responds, “Because it makes a difference to some!”

One of the challenges of teaching at a Community College (or, in my experience, at any undergraduate institution) is that there is a wide array of motivations as to why students attend.  There are a number of teaching [entertainment] strategies to engage students—for those who really don’t want to be here.  Many of these are excellent.  If students don’t have the internal, intrinsic motivation to learn, by all means let’s do what we can to “engage” them!  But what I want to address here is the “learning” part.

Many  students “don’t get it” the first time around.  We provide reading assignments, lectures, videos and feedback on assignments, but it’s still clear that the lesson we’re attempting to teach, the learning we wish would occur, is not happening.   We assign a grade to that student’s attempt, and that’s the end of the issue.  (“See ya next semester!”)

I've come to conclude that—often—I've been guilty of quitting too early.  Our “traditional” grading system assumes that if they can’t do the paper right, can’t complete the quiz or exam, can’t conduct the experiment correctly the first time, they aren't learning (or don’t want to, or can’t).  [An exception to this is often writing instructors who not only permit, but require, revisions and rewrites.  Why do we promote this for English and not for all the other subjects?]

We've bought into a mindset that learning is a PRODUCT, not a PROCESS.  And we evaluate students based on that belief.  Often this frustrates the students (especially those with “mixed motives” about attending college, but also those who really want to learn).

An alternative is for me to be a PART OF THAT PROCESS.  What this means is not just giving students feedback, but giving those who really want to learn and improve (for whatever reason) the opportunity to do so.

So for the past few years I've given my students the option of redoing almost ANY assignment (within a reasonable time frame—usually a week from when I return it) with no penalty.  I ask them to submit the original, graded assignment with their re-submission (so I can see if the changes were merely cosmetic or substantive).  I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE  them to “think deeper” in their re-do.

This is a totally optional activity.  And I’m very clear to my students this is NOT primarily about the grade FOR ME, but about their learning.  I tell them I’m much more interested in the expansion of their knowledge and skills than I am giving them a bad grade.  Amazingly, not a lot of students take me up on this.  That’s their choice.  But the option is there, on almost every assignment.  In most cases, if students are motivated, I will allow unlimited rewrites until THEY are satisfied with their work.

There is a definite downside to this.   More grading.  UGH.  I LOVE most aspects of teaching, but grading is without a doubt the worst part of my job.  However, more times than not I find that grading re-submissions is quite rewarding. 

Like the metaphorical bulb, it’s definitely FUN to see the light go on.

Adaptability & A Theme Park

Adaptability:park 2

  • (Latin: adaptō “fit to, adjust”) is a feature of a system or of a process. Adaptability in humans is a personality trait, and refers to how long it takes a person to adjust to change over time (as opposed to an initial reaction). Adaptation is about leaving – or being forced from – your comfort zone.

Adaptability is about change. Every second of every day, we are adapting to change – and we must. As Henry Louis Menken … said “Change is not Progress”. You can change and still not adapt to differences to move forward.  Adaptability is always values-based, and yet values can change throughout your life. When you meet a situation for the first time that requires you to adapt in some way, your “line in the sand” is always your values.

So, what does this have to do with a Theme Park? Well, in my FYE 103 class, a lot. In discussing adaptability, I didn’t want to just show a movie or PowerPoint, so I used a “Theme Park” as a way to think about our values – our adapting to others’ views – our adapting to change, which is what college is all about (especially that first year). Here’s how it was laid out:

park 1The Park: Theme Park developers from New York want to construct a theme park on a particular large tract of land in your town, which is a natural habitat for an endangered species of wolf. This tract is also adjacent to other large tracts – one owned by a sustainable timber company, which offers both jobs and recreation for the town, and the other a long-time family farm. Your town has struggled to bounce back from the recession a few years ago, and some businesses have closed or cut back. The town’s population is approximately 10,000, but is on the outside edge of a large metropolitan ‘hub’ with a variety of big-box stores, small business, shopping, hotels, cinemas, and the like with a population of about 55, 000.

The Community Council is meeting tonight. As you can imagine, there is a lot of debate, angst, and accusations in your community. There were basically four groups attending the Community Council to make a presentation on their view:

  1. Three-generation family farm who own the land and are torn between cultivating it and selling to developers.  One of you has a child who wants to attend college abroad; thus, there is pressure for immediate income. One of you has an elderly parent who needs income
  2. Conservationist group who wish to preserve the land for endangered species
  3. A Lumber company that sustainably harvests timber from the land, and has a current agreement for this property to harvest a portion of the timber
  4. Townspeople who want the tourism revenue generated by either a natural preserve or amusement park


Groups were given a Flip chart. They had 20 minutes to determine their position/arguments and address following questions to present to the town council:

  • What would your group like to happen to the land?
  • How does your decision affect the others in the scenario (i.e., people)?
  • How does this affect the environment in the short- and long-term?  What are your interests and priorities?

Each group presented to the town council (the class). A panel of ‘expert evaluators’ critiqued positions by asking questions of each group.

Group #1     A co-op of Family Commercial Farmers who own the land and are torn between cultivating it and selling to developers.

One has a child who wants to attend college out-of-state; thus, there is pressure for immediate income.  One has an elderly parent who needs income.  One is aging yourself and could use the money for your retirement funds.

Presented information on:

  • Statistics on farm-to-market increased sales
  • Statistics of people who want fresh, organic produce – to buy and at restaurants
  • Farming areas that are changing in the news – stories of developers changing the landscape, but keeping local flavor

Group #2    A group of local conservationists who wish to preserve the land for endangered species and recreational activities, such as bird watching, hiking, etc. This land was given to the City by a founding family who wish it preserved for all wildlife, but did not state thus in the will.

This time it’s wolves but your group has won cases before on other endangered animals as well.

One is the one spearheading this organization, is the former landowner’s great grandson. One is the Club President; most of you are wealthy, powerful members. One  is a hired lobbyist for this group. Most other members are also members of the Sierra Club and other conservationist organizations.

Presented information on:

  • Statistics on conserved land given by individuals; surrounding land of the Nature Conservancy; Sierra Club; Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
  • Statistics on other conserved land developed in a good way – one that conserves land as well as developing for business
  • Stories of land that has been preserved and why; or land that is shared and why

 Group #3     A Lumber Company that wants to harvest timber from the land

Your company harvests the timber sustainably, and currently have harvesting rights with the landowners on the same property as the one wishing to be developed.

One is the company’s right-of-way representative, and believe the developers are encroaching on neighboring land for which harvesting rights have been in place for a 100 years.  One is a landowner on whose property the Company harvests timber. One  is the spouse of a nearby lumber-mill employee whose mill has seen decreasing timber in an increasing population.

Information presented:

  • Company reputation for sustainable timber harvest; you even give away Christmas trees to the local population
  • Growth of population in the area; lack of available housing
  • Cost of construction materials; lack of building materials nearby, thus making new construction and remodeling expensive
  • Statistics/articles on timber companies sharing resources with landowners, developers, and conservative groups
  • Loss of job in the area with loss of timber jobs

Group #4 – A group of townspeople who want the Theme Park and tourism revenue generated by it.

One is the Mayor of the town; under pressure to lower taxes and increase tourism or business. One is a small business owner who would like to see increased business diversity and revenue One is the Chamber One is an unemployed lumber worker laid off because of dwindling timber supply

Information presented:

  • Stats on revenue being generated by tourism development and theme parks
  • Articles on theme parks and types of businesses added because of it
    • Areas like Disneyland and Disney World; 6 Flags, and the surrounding areas
  • Increased jobs from tourism and / or theme parks
  • International tourism

We had “Experts” in our audience who asked questions of the 4 groups:

Expert #1                                                                                                          

A farm1representative from the Family Farmer Co-op member who owns land in the next county, but on the opposite side of land to be developed.  They have been approached by these developers as well; they are torn between keeping and cultivating your land, or selling.

He/she chose to keep your farm because of the resurgence of the farm-to-table movement in recent years, and you have seen a marked increase in sales to local grocers and restaurants. They know that several farmers sell overseas, and it’s been a real boon to the co-op too. Membership has increased to include both grocers and restaurant owners in your area, and you are getting pressure from them to leave it as it is – great farmland.  They also have Co-op members who have given up farming – their kids don’t want to take it over – some went to work in town to send their kids away to college; some have aging parents; some are aging themselves and could use the money.

Expert #2                                                                                                                             

A local Chamber of Commerce Director who would like to see the land preserved, but who also has seen increased tourism revenue generated by either both natural preserves and amusement parks. This type of development could be a real boon to the area, but would like to see it scaled back a little, and understand the mixture of feelings from the townspeople.  He/she has Chamber members and friends who own small businesses or manage some of the big box stores – and some involved with the entertainment industry who have put some pressure on you to increase traffic and revenue in the area.  This person is considering running for Mayor next term, so you want to maintain good relationships with whoever ‘wins’ this debate.

Expert # 3  farm2                                                                                                                         

A retired Lumber Company Executive who understands the needs of population boom in the immediate and surrounding areas and the lack of affordable housing. He/she has seen timber prices increase substantially, but they are also an avid outdoors person who understands that conservation and conservative timber harvest can and do work.   This person has stayed in the area, but have seen taxes increased because of the lack of new business and jobs available, and have considered moving. This person has friends still working at the Lumber Company. He/she knows the Mayor and the Chamber Director.

So, what happened?

Part I: Group discussion and presentation. OK – now the fun begins.  WOW! The discussions were incredible.  Without being told to, they came up with various slogans:  “Adapt or Die”; who needs Timber anyway? Jobs-Jobs-Jobs!  Say No to Development!   Remember, your house is built from our land! Save the wolves – and their friends! What kind of business do you want here? How to have fun with your kids. Progress is coming! 

They had some groups members on the computer looking up statistics and articles on their behalf.  Right away, two of the groups talked about how they could work with other groups to provide “development with a heart”, and would share the property.

Anyway, Part II will explain who adapted to whom and what, and what finally occurred during the Council Meeting…stayed tuned!

Field Trip!

I teach a 100% online Environmental Biology Class. Students often ask, “How will I participate in labs in an online class?” It might be difficult for many students or colleagues to imagine how online science labs are offered. (Quite often a more basic question is “How do you teach science online? Do you like it?” Yes….)

I preface this description by stating that I was on the path to a secondary education degree and had the privilege of the position of “Science Mom” at Humboldt Elementary School when my daughters attended. In addition, I had many years of outdoor education experience and really enjoyed (and saw students benefitting from) creative approaches to learning about nature before I was hired to teach at Yavapai College. Let’s say innovation and adaptation is just “part of my DNA” (see Cross Pollination, October 5).

I recently investigated eScience Labs as an option for what I pictured as robust, professional lab activities. I found, however that many of the exercises were too complex, or repeated labs I had written and was happy with, or contained vocabulary inconsistent with the textbook I like to use. I may reconsider at some point, but at this point, I am staying with my own ideas. Here is a sample of what I do—an invasive species field trip.

In conjunction with our chapter on changes in ecosystem populations, my students work outside on an invasive species lab. For inspiration (I like to think it works this way), students watch a National Park Service video entitled Little Things Big Problems. Students are to take a walk in a favorite area outside. It does not need to be “natural.” A park, garden, agricultural field, edge of a corral or parking lot, or a natural area is fine.

Now the student thinks about what grows in this area and if it is invasive or not. With help from links I supply from US Fish and Wildlife Service and UDSA Plants (out of area students find resources with specifics for their area), the student identifies three non-native invasive plant or animal species in the chosen area or nearby. Animals may be identified by “evidence” like droppings, feathers, carapaces, bones, gnawing, etc.

Next the student takes photos of these species, writes the common and scientific names (properly formatted), describes their appearance (six characteristics), and identifies and describes three structures or behaviors for each species that obviously allows it to be successful. Then the student states the explanation for the arrival of this species, and describes five ways non-native invasive species can alter ecosystems. Sources must be properly cited in MLA format.

The report is posted to the student’s personal blog site on the blog roll on the class site Symbiosis. Finally the student visits the class blog roll and reads some Invasive Species lab reports finding someone who described a species of interest and writes a comment to this student discussing some aspect of their post they connected with.

I can easily assist students with alternatives for the field trip by providing Internet resources and research suggestions.

This is one way online science labs are effective and rewarding for students.

Who Moved my iPhone?

A very wise man by the name of Todd Conaway once told me that we should “avoid things that are easy" and that “we handicap our kids by making things easy for them". It’s very possible that he was quoting some other wise man or woman, or maybe just blatantly plagiarizing their work, but, one way or another, I think that the concept is correct. We don’t do anyone favors for our kids or our students when we make things easy on them. I don’t know if you’ve notice yet or not, but life isn’t easy, it’s hard. This is another reason why, for me, the iPhone is ruining our educational climate. Today’s student makes no effort in searching for answers because, who knows? iPhone knows. They don’t learn anything. Why? Because, why should you learn anything or know anything when it can just as easily be searcher for on the Internet in just a couple of seconds? I think that this easy access to information creates laziness and a sense of entitlement. I’m entitled to easy answers that are perpetually at my fingertips because I have an iPhone. Americans feel that it is our right to have access to cheap products that make our lives easier. I showed this slide the other day in my classes.countires

I asked my students how they would like to live in a country where an iPhone would cost them nearly $1,200. One student immediately said, “Oh, my parents would still have to buy it for me. We can’t survive without our phones." That felt good. I love hearing stuff like that. Makes me have a lot of faith in our country and optimism for the future.

I watched a great little video last week called, Who Moved My Cheese? ( )

In the video it shows a man named Hem running in a rat race with another little man and two mice. When the cheese is moved from the usual spot Hem is furious. He walks around angry and asking “who moved my cheese?" Hem at one point states that he is entitled to cheese, because he’s a little man, not a mouse. Our students sometimes act like they are entitled to easy answers, not working too hard, and everything done for them (easy access to abundant cheese). But the mice, when the cheese is moved, don’t even think twice. They’re instincts kick in and they head out into the rat race, looking for more cheese. When they find it, Hem resents them. Where the mice were accustomed to searching high and low and working for their cheese, Hem had become complacent, entitled and lazy. Since he was a more complex individual he felt like the world owed him cheese.

Do we see this tendency in our students? Because I’m the white middle to upper class, I deserve a good education, and iPhone to make my education come to me easier and I deserve good grades without too much effort. “I mean, coming to class each day has got to count for something, right?"

During the economic downturn of 2008 a lot of cheese was getting moved on folks. I saw Hem’s resentment surface on the face of many of my students and it got ugly. As a Spanish teacher, the class rhetoric would often shift to in-class debates. Many resented learning Spanish when “they don’t make an effort to learn English". The resentment ran deep. Come to find out, people were angry that their Spanish speaking neighbors were thriving with their own construction, landscaping and other businesses, when their dad’s business was going belly-up in the downed economy. They, the traditional Americans, were entitled to have success and the Spanish speaker definitely should be perpetually below them. They had become complacent and lazy and the hard-working and instinctive mice were beginning to pass them up. The social rhetoric, inexplicably quickly moved to hating on the immigrant. Both legal and illegal immigrants alike, as soon as times became tough in our country, were quickly blamed for nearly every ill the economy faced. “If it weren’t for the immigrants" someone would say, or “it’s the illegals and undocumented that cause this" when, just a year or so before, under better economic conditions (plentiful cheese) no one seemed to mind using undocumented workers to grow their own businesses. Now, have you felt a shift again? The veritable wave of undocumented crime spewing over our boarders during the economic downturn is magically gone. It’s not mentioned in the news the way it once was. The funny thing is, during the economic downturn, there was an increase in illegal immigrants returning home, not arriving here in the U.S. and crime rates did not see a spike when compared to long-term undocumented crime rates.

The truth is simple, we want to blame someone when life gets hard, because, just like in the movie, we have grown complacent, entitled to cheese, and soft. This makes us resent and hate when things get hard again and we, unlike others, are no longer fit and ready to run the maze and find cheese. Our economy has changed again and it seems that cheese has once again found us and that it is plentiful, but I don’t think that running the race for us, again, is far off. Hard times are out there and they always will be. If we don’t keep ourselves in good shape, humble shape, when those hard times come we’ll continue to see the mice getting one over on the rest of us. We should get used to it, get off the iPhone, and read a book from time to time.

My friend has an email tag line that reads “less face and more book". I’m trying to make those my new watchwords, but it’s hard, even for me, what with all the super-cute cat videos that are always coming up on my newsfeed! Nevertheless, if we want to always be well supplied with cheese, when the cheese gets moved, we’ll have to be ready! And in case there’s still any question, just for the record, candy crush, and Facebook on my iPhone, are not the ways to be ready.

P.S. – When I feel that my students and I are becoming too entitled, I show this: bedorroms

Ok…Now Go Collaborate!

Even Batman and Robin needed a common foe to bring them together as a team. Each week they faced off against more and more challenging criminals. As they became better crime fighters, their opposition had to step up their game. By the second season, we saw first two…then three or four master criminals working together to pull off some heist or to defeat the dynamic duo one and for all. The message was that they could do more as a team than any one could do alone.

This is my hope my collaborative teams…together they can do more than any one of them can do alone. However, you can’t throw four or five students together and expect them to be productive right away. Ease them into working together and then have them make some decisions together.

This is the idea behind the first project I assign students in MAT 152 College Algebra. Each team is given data for two-year and four college costs in a particular state. The goal is to use the data to calculate the savings a student might incur by attending a two-year college as part of a four year college education. The project letter below describes the task.

Through a series of scaffolding assignments, each student makes a scatter plot of the data and finds a linear model that passes through two of the data points.

two_year_01Here is where it gets interesting…each student in the team picks a different pair of points for their model to pass through. To make sure they do not do the points another student has done, they need to communicate with each other. There are also six ways the pair of points may be chosen and usually four team members. Typically a team leader emerges and either suggests others produce the extra models or does it themself. Either way, a team starts to form that will document the savings from attending two-year college using one of the models.

Once they do create their models, they also need to decide which of the models their team has produced is best. They compare the percent error at each data point to determine which model goes closest to the data. This often requires students to meet together to make this decision. Online students typically work through a shared document containing all of their work and chat online. In both situations, a decision needs to be made from work that has been produced in parallel.

By giving students parallel tasks and requiring them to make a decision based on these tasks, they attack the problem efficiently. Without the team collaboration, an individual would need to check all six possible models of the data and then decide which model is best. Collaboration reduces this task significantly. Once students see this, they often are drawn to the team since it saves them work. They also like the fact that they have a built in support network. If they have problems with their part of the assignment, they can contact the rest of the team for help since they are all working on similar tasks.

In my next post, I’ll look at how a shared document can be used to promote communication and effective collaboration.

Anatomy Goodie Bag

We are close to Halloween so I think it would be appropriate to tell you about the “goodie bags” I have my online anatomy students pick up for class.

Putting together an online course takes quite a while to just think out what you are going to do. Like most things, it is so much easier the more you plan and follow the plan. In a traditional classroom format, it is much easier to ‘wing-it’ when a lab doesn’t work or you want to make changes based on student feedback or learning level. In the online environment, students need to plan too, so you have to have everything laid out from the start. I already knew my online anatomy class was not going to miss out on the smells and textures of an in-person class. Dealing with the smell and feel of dissection specimens is sort of a rite of passage. Far be it for me to allow my online students miss out.

About two weeks before the semester I open up my Blackboard site with all the class videos, notes, study guides, web links, lab resources, syllabus, and calendar. I post an announcement welcoming them but warning them about what they will be asked to do (to allow any squeamish students to back out and a chance for another to be able to get in or ask for an alternative activity, if necessary). To make sure that all my students are aware of the class requirement and to mimic the in-class requirement of ‘attending the first day of class to remain enrolled in the class’ policy, I have my online students complete a syllabus quiz and their lab safety quiz. To answer the questions they have to be aware of the policies of the course including grading, withdrawal dates, exam formats, and locations (some exams are at a testing center, some are online), and email policies. In addition, they have to read ‘lab safety’ information so they are aware of what they will be getting in their ‘goodie bags’. After I know they know the rules and risks of the class, they then have to complete a ‘class introduction video’ by the middle of the first week. I create a blog assignment in Blackboard that each student will have access to but other students will be able to view (if a student prefers not to have their information or face disclosed to the other students in the class, I allow them to post their video to a journal page, which only I can see or they can just email it to me directly). This video accomplishes three things. First, I get to see and hear my student and get to know a little more about them than a name on the roster. Second, they get to figure out how to make a video and upload it; a skill they need to know for their upcoming labs. Lastly, they get to view other student’s videos introductions and feel like they are in a class with others and not just on their own island. Great! Now they know what to expect in the class, they get to know each other, I get to know them, and they know how to use basic technology.

Once I know they have completed the lab safety quiz, students are allowed to come to my office to pick up their ‘Lab Kits’ (a.k.a. goodie bags). I set them outside of my office door on my cart so they can pick them up at their convenience. I let them know when I will be there to encourage them to stop in so we can meet in person. I really miss that part when I teach online so it is nice to be around when they come by. I also noticed that students that make the effort to meet me in person at the start of class is much more likely to contact me or come by for help when they need it (not just when I contact them after they did poorly on an exam). In their lab kits I provide the basic specimens lab activity resources. They get the lab guides and more information on Blackboard. My BIO 201 class gets a sheep brain and eyeball (they are required to purchase on their own clay and a mini skeleton). My BIO 202 class gets a sheep heart, blood typing kit, urinalysis dip stick, and a sheep kidney. Most of my students are really excited, in a geeky way about getting these kits. (I even have provisions for pregnant students that do not want to experience the wonderful smells of anatomy).


This entry focuses on the care in mentorship we professors have the duty to provide students participating in our online courses. From the professor’s viewpoint, starting at the time of the beginning of the course (or before) we can open the roster of grading page and see our list of students. If we have a Discussion Board thread where students introduce themselves, their brief writings about themselves, and perhaps a photo and favorite YouTube music cut (suggestions from one of my colleges), are nice ways to get to know the students beyond the grading page of just their name and grade progress. The grading page is still the place I go to most often in my course pages, as verification of material progress is still a main role of mine even while students go through the materials I have positioned or prepared for them for the basics of learning. So we get to know our students somewhat amid these various means; how then do we mentor, and be about as effective as if we were all together in person?

There are several angles worth exploration. The first I’ll address is “rescuing students;” for online, how to help them finish an online course when they stop participating, which will usually lead to an “F.” The effect is similar to a student ceasing attendance in a brick-and-mortar class, and it takes an equally sharp eye to catch in an online classroom. As you grade others’ weekly or modular work, you realize there’s a short blank line of cells where the indicator of submitted work should be. For some online course pages, you may be able to see the last time the student opened and viewed it. What makes this detection even more complex is in courses where students may turn in work late; it is hard to tell when they have really stopped efforts in your course.

Sometimes you cannot do much; institutions often require a student be dropped if the student did no participation in the course in its first week, among other reasons as a measure to minimize possible financial aid fraud. But if the institution site includes your student rosters with their phone number, you can call them at appropriate hours to speak to them – or, if there are no numbers available to you, an email advisory. If several drop anyway but you save one or two students who were about to drop the class, it is worth the total effort. After the first week, professors can continue to pursue students who “fall off,” though if students have dedicated academic advisors, I email the advisor to ask them to contact the student.

More frequently, students want and appreciate help with only slightly lower stakes; clarification and encouragement that they can succeed in earning a grade reflective of their mastery of the material in the final, end-of-course project, or the overall course itself. We designers of the courses tend to forget sometimes that there will be those who lack confidence and feel for a while that they just can’t do what you have structured for them. Others are not sure why assignments, or even the course itself, are structured as they are. Indeed, the course may make more sense to the scholar who has had a chance to explore associated literature on the topic or field, and for students, this usually has not happened yet, except in other courses. For these reasons, and to effectively answer questions or clarify minor points of all kinds, I recommend the following that I try to do: answer/respond/open a dialogue quickly.

When a student email arrives, I seek to find the answer (it is best to check what you think that is!) and reply in the same day, often immediately so I do not move on to other activities and forget. If an exam malfunctioned, I will not go away from my computer until I have cleared it or otherwise fixed it, and sent a reply – the student may be pressed for time and waiting. For courtesy’s sake in general, I answer queries of all kinds, including career advice if asked. I do the same with calls – my goal is to resolve an issue that I assess should be rapidly, and confirming what I did. These are not novel ideas, but in fact guidance from all my institutions where I work to serve well the students and help them have a fair opportunity at taking on the course’s challenges.

These offerings all pertain to when the course is underway. Of course, before the course’s start date and while preparing, a professor can design professor’s notes, announcements, add videos that carry a point, and sort what is presented to the student on the course pages with the strategy of maximizing the chance of a positive reaction and motivation to explore what is offered within the course. All of these techniques of effort, deliberate or on-the-spot (virtually), support the value that our students deserve the most conscientious learning experience we can provide – we just have had to learn how to do this online.



A student shares this information with me which I thought it was fascinating. It deals with information overload.

The internet is almost 25 years old and already every 60 seconds:

160 million emails are sent.

1500 Blog entries are made.

98,000 tweets are shared on Twitter.

694,445 Google searches are completed.

695,000 Facebook status updates are posted.

6,600 photos are uploaded to Flickr.

600 videos are uploaded to You Tube.

The sheer volume of information which is available to us is truly amazing, but perhaps our technology has surpassed our ability to effectively consume so much information. Researchers tend to agree that it’s not the volume of information that is the problem; it’s our inability to organize and process it all without experiencing “information overload, or what neuroscientists like to call “cognitive overload. In recent years, technology strategists have even compared information overload to physical obesity, dubbing it “infobesity. Just as our eyes are sometimes larger than our stomachs, our interest can be significantly greater than our brain capacity.

I teach both online and FTF classes and utilize Blackboard for all my classes. Students submit all their work on Blackboard and receive responses from me on Blackboard as well. We have students who chose sometimes not to attended regular FTF lectures, but continue to turn in assignments or submit any other work required in Blackboard.  Levels of understanding of the subject matter will obviously will vary and logic should show the FTF students benefit from having a fuller educational experience.

So how can we help prevent students from becoming victims of this notion of infobesity? How do we help students remained focused without getting through college learning  the art of “skimming”, you know, that’s when you just learn enough of what your instructor wants you to know. We skim the textbook, skim the information found on the internet, like the proverbial husband who always is being accused of not reading the instructions on a home project, he’ll just “skim it”, because he doesn’t need all that other stuff, until he realizes he missed something.

We are so easily districted these days with Facebook, Twitter, You Tube videos, and the last goes on and on. Based on research pertaining to distraction and learning, it was stated that today’s students have shorter attention spans than previous years. This recent PEW study found that a majority of teachers (87%) agree with assertion that “today’s digital technologies are creating a generation of short attention spans.”

So the dilemma continues because we as educators rely on those digital technologies. We contribute to this notion of information overload. Presentations become better, more visually interesting. Students stay more interested if there are visuals, especially incorporated in your lecture presentations. It’s about keeping your audience interested and engaging and technology allows for this to happen, but let’s not forget the role of the instructor, the captain of the ship, the headliner of the show, where the buck really stops in regards to teaching. Spending an entire class and having the opportunity to look into your students eyes and speak to them face to face is the ultimate kind of technology, the human kind.

I find that breaking up my class  with one lecture using PowerPoint presentations and then alternating the next class, talking about the subject matter in a much less formal approach with no use of any technology, just an old fashion “chat and share” about the subject matter. This usually turns into more of a forum for questions, because as we all know, no “proper” student would interrupt the professor in the middle of a visual/technological presentation, now would they? Obviously, I’m kidding about the proper student thing, but does shed more truth than not.

The above model works for me and I think for the students as well. There is no getting around technology, but how we affectively use it to enhance learning is the real challenge and perhaps provides the solution as well.

Why ECE?

Across the country, momentum is building for creating stronger systems in early childhood education. In the past ten years, we hear more politicians, business leaders, teachers and families speaking out  in favor of expanding access to high-quality early childhood education programs. In Arizona, we are currently implementing much-needed strategies to ensure that by age five, children are ‘ready for school and set for life’. Through First Things First, the 2006 voter approved initiative, Arizona is committed to improving the lives of young children and families.  With the growing body of research available regarding  the importance of the first five years of a child’s live, this work is critical!

Access to high-quality experiences impacts the lives of millions of children by improving school readiness, which is essential to later academic success and high achievement. The general public may be immune to hearing the term ‘high-quality’…but what does that really mean?  Being ready for school is much farther reaching than knowing their ABC’s and counting to 10. Research shows that trusting early relationships, being showered with rich language, as well as intentional play and exploration cannot be underestimated in supporting a young child’s development.

Criticisms, however, are often based on misconceptions about early childhood education. Because high-quality early learning is exceptionally important to the future strength of our nation, it is imperative that we get the facts straight.

 Child care and Preschool are too expensive?

While the upfront price tag for high quality early care and education might give some people sticker shock, investments in young children pay for themselves over time in the form of reduced costs associated with grade retention, special education, and crime. In fact, studies show that children exposed to high-quality early childhood education:

•Are 40% less likely to need special education or be held back a grade
•Are 70% less likely to commit a violent crime by age 18
•Have better language, math and social skills, and better relation-ships with classmates
•Have better cognitive and sensory skills and experience less anxiety
•Score higher on school-readiness tests.

 It doesn’t really matter who takes care of little kids?

The body of research demonstrating clear benefits from positive early care and preschool experiences are well-established. Two well-known longitudinal studies were among the first to establish the long-term and far-reaching impacts of early childhood education: the HighScope Perry Preschool Project; and the Carolina Abecedarian Preschool program. These studies provided intensive interventions and showed not only immediate academic gains but also benefits into adulthood, such as reduced need for public assistance, lower crime rates, and higher earnings.

The scary thing is, with all of research and knowledge that is known, we are still underfunding undervaluing those that are most effected.  As a start, Arizona is launching a quality improvement/rating system, so that early care and education programs can receive coaching and incentives to improve their programs.  Families will be able to receive financial assistance to enroll their children into the most highly rated programs.  College scholarship programs are also now being made available to caregivers and teachers to support them with the knowledge to improve the daily practice of their most important work.  Many of our ECE students are working for minimum wage, with or without a higher education certificate or degree. We must value higher education requirements for those that care and educate those young minds for it is imperative they are knowledgeable and effective each and every day. They need to feel like professionals, be valued and compensated for their critical role in preparing children for school and life!

The results are in! Early Childhood Education is a critical component to a healthy, thriving society.  Do what you can to support young children and their families……at the least….express your support when you vote!

Humans Don’t Do Optional….

Our Faculty Association President Vikki Bentz sent out a recent email that ended: "If you have time, come, listen, and learn how our college operates at the governing board-level.  I will be there to represent you, but a strong faculty presence lets Board Members and the Administration know that we care about what happens at all levels of the college." At the last campus update forum a couple of weeks ago, very few faculty attended even though someone obviously tried to schedule it at a convenient time for faculty participation.

The mantra among people working with first semester college students is "students don't do optional." We have seen this at Yavapai College. Even though research across the nation has shown that new student orientation, visiting advisers every semester, and student success courses contribute to student completion rates,  most students will not voluntarily participate in programs design to help them succeed. Thus, each institution has to decide what, if anything, is worth requiring of students. What will benefit the students the most? What combination of programs will increase retention and persistence the most?

I have observed that students aren't the only ones who don't do optional; very few faculty do optional either. It must be a common human condition.  Someone said 20% of the workers do 80% of the work. If we look around campus, this same ratio seems to apply. We faculty all participate in one committee, maybe two, but beyond that only a few take up the torch of any given issue. Thus, 20% of the faculty seem to be doing 80% of the faculty representation, including promoting and supporting faculty issues. Although we don't want anyone mandating more participation from us, we don't volunteer for much either.

Trust me, I am not accusing anyone without looking in my own mirror. I think this lack of participation reflects our common humanity, rather than any personal lack of commitment to our job. We all have plenty of work to do within our own classrooms if we want to provide the best learning experience for our students. Going beyond that can be difficult depending upon the amount of preparation and grading required in our disciplines. But I find it interesting that those who have the most to do tend to be the ones who are willing to do more and who are asked to do more because of their diligence and commitment. The same faces are seen at most meetings, and year after year the same people are participating in the Institutes. Meanwhile, almost every semester we have trouble getting a quorum at our Faculty Association meetings, and we scramble to get enough representation on our standing committees.

There will always be the few who rise to the occasion, or the crisis, to contribute personal time and effort. In history, they are the names we admire, such as Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa. The few, even if they remain nameless, are the ones who make an impact, who provide the impetus for change.

But I wonder. What would happen if more of us did just a bit more for the common good of our institution, whether that be toward faculty, instructional, or student issues? Would it make a difference?

Shooting for Buy-in

“We knew they wouldn’t stand a chance,” Student X said.  “The training we gave them was shit.”  
Class was long over and a conversation about total institutions had naturally led to the military, and from there to ISIS and the current situation in Iraq.  Student X was a vet and spoke freely about his time in the Army.

“We’d give them their shiny new M16, aim ‘em at some makeshift target, and say shoot.  They’d then blow through a few magazines and we’d call it good.”

“That’s it?” I was incredulous.

“Yep.  No range.  Nothing about sighting-in or how to maintain the weapon.  We didn’t want them to know too much.”

“Because of deserters?”

“Yep.  Why would I want to train an Iraqi soldier today who might change his mind and decide to shoot me tomorrow?”

“Weren’t you an officer?  What about your orders to train the new Iraqi army?”

“I was an NCO –in the dust with the grunts.  We went through the motions but given the reality of our world, actually filling that boot on the ground, we weren’t exactly motivated. It’s no wonder they’re getting beat so bad.  We didn’t train them at all.”

A feeling of resignation and distant anger took hold of me.  It was top-down thinking at its best and a common failing of any large institution.  Those in charge, in this case remote politicians and generals, conceive an idea and make a decision.  This plan of action is then kicked down the chain of command for actual implementation.  Thus, a strategy devised in Washington by high level officials must be executed in Iraq by those on the very bottom of the totem-pole.  These sad-sack individuals, living the reality of the conflict, naturally have their own ideas and opinions about what needs and should be done.  Given the vast discrepancy in rank, geography, agency, and personal safety, these ideas are often quite different from those of their far-off superiors.  So, as Student X says, they go through the motions.  They do enough to look busy and avoid getting in trouble, then call it a day.  A report then travels up the long chain stating that Iraqi soldiers were trained today.  This is not true, but because it is properly filed and sent back up through the ranks (like some vast game of telephone) it gains a sort of organizational reality.  After a few months of these reports the politicians and generals at the top assume their plan has been implemented. 

Large institutions are predicated on this sort of magical thinking.  A linguistic imperative is made (in the beginning was the word) and physical reality is then expected to conform.  Now, if this change was anticipated immediately, no one would buy in.  However, because the command is uttered by a figure isolated by his/her own authority and expected to be carried out by distant minions, a seemingly efficacious fantasy is sustained:  “I told them to train the troops.  They said they trained the troops.  Therefore, the troops must be trained.”  Sadly, the devil is in the details. 

Given his position Student X can’t really be blamed for this failure.  Nor can the generals and politicians be judged for believing these generally honest and hard-working soldiers.  Everyone involved, including the tragic Iraqis, is simply a victim of institutional thinking.  

So, why am I relating all of this in a blog ostensibly about education?  Because, for better or worse, we teach within institutions.  The stakes are, admittedly, lower, though perhaps no less important when looking at the long-term health and well-being of our nation. As teachers we occupy a unique role in the hierarchy of the institution.  We have administrators above us relaying commands and expressing expectations, and below us are our students, to whom we relay commands and express expectations.  This makes us the fulcrum of the institution and ideally positioned to combat the perils of institutional thinking. 

We do this by seeking to understand the “boots on the ground” reality of the students –what are their challenges, hopes, and fears?  In turn, we ask for them to buy-in to our vision of what needs to be accomplished.  Working in close conjunction (and this is key) we can then pursue implementation together and track results. 

When looking to our administrators, we must demand the same.  Invite them into our reality, share our goals and concerns and then seek to develop an institutional vision together with broad, vertical support.  If a teacher feels understood and believes in a president’s plan, it’s likely to succeed.  But if not . . . well, we might as well just call it a day.        

Four Fundamental Questions Addressed in FYE 103

As I understand it, some faculty and administrators here at Yavapai College question the usefulness of First Year Experience (FYE) 103: Success for College, Career, and Life. There are those who may see it as a “fluff” course (although the homework load is considerable). Others may argue that they got through college without such a course, so our students don’t need one. (Well, yes, so did I, but I certainly wish it had existed when I went to ASU in the late 1980s. My life would have been so much easier, and I would have learned so much more.)

In defense of FYE 103, one could cite the abundance of data demonstrating a clear increase in student retention and graduation resulting for such a course. One could also look to the swelling number of colleges that are putting similar classes in their curriculum. But, having taught this course for about nine weeks now, I prefer to see its value by looking at a different, larger picture.

What fundamental life questions does FYE 103 address?

As a caveat, every instructor teaching this course—and perhaps every student taking it—may well have different questions, since we all have different perspectives and experiences. Two of my questions below come from the excellent science fiction series Babylon 5, and the other two came to mind as we progressed through the course modules heroically developed by Nancy Schafer and Mark Shelly.

1. Who are you?
We spend considerable time in FYE 103 on basic self-awareness issues, including multiple intelligences, habits, drives, learning styles, ideas of self, and notions of emotional intelligence. While a college student can gain these insights in other courses—and I, for one, always encourage everyone to take philosophy, psychology, sociology, and other classes that lead to introspection—FYE 103 provides an introduction to these crucial concepts (which some students may never receive elsewhere).

2. What do you want?
Academic and career goals function as a cornerstone to the course. They learn more about degree options. They gain more understanding of the potential outlooks of the different careers in which they may be interested. We urge them to look at the short-term, medium-term, and long-term. As a college student, I had to learn goal-setting on my own, and, honestly, I’m not a better person for it. In short, we help FYE 103 students acquire a certain binocular vision that will serve them for a lifetime.

3. How will you survive?
Making it through college is not easy for most people. Indeed, those with a weak support network—and those who never had a chance to learn what many educated people currently take for granted—remain at a huge disadvantage in the academic environment. This holds true for life generally. So, we teach our students how to set priorities, navigate bureaucracies, handle money, take notes, do well on exams, and stay motivated in the face of adversity. If your parents or teachers taught you these things before entering college, then consider yourself blessed, for many students at Yavapai College are less fortunate.

4. How will you excel?
Once a student has some level of self-awareness, some sort of plan for the future, and some basic skills of survival in our modern world, he or she is ready to excel at something. FYE 103 uses a book by Jeff Brown and Mark Fenske called The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success (Harvard, 2010). Despite its rather dramatic, even cheesy, title, the book is a gold mine of neuroscience, psychology, and common sense. It sets forth numerous role-models of success and analyzes how they achieved their remarkable goals. Who among us won’t benefit from gaining multiple perspectives, and plenty of advice, on how to excel at our life’s work?
Now the answers to these four fundamental questions will change over time; truly, they remain in constant flux for all of us. That’s the beauty of introducing them to college students early on in their academic careers (and personal lives). This endeavor helps them enter new worlds equipped with some basic (if early) answers to questions that will endure for the remainder of their lives.

Unless our mission as educators at Yavapai College is merely to teach our students how to make a buck (and it’s not), then we would do well to employ every tool at our disposal, including FYE 103, to help them become multi-dimensional and successful human beings.

Don’t Take Your LMS to the Zoo

When you leave the school grounds with students you are out there in the wide open. Anything can happen! And when you take the class to the zoo, there are all kinds of different activities to do and strange and unplanned events can happen. There are exciting and new opportunities! They are zoo things. And some of the tools and strategies that are applicable in the classroom are not so relevant at the monkey cage or the crocodile lagoon. You probably don’t need your dry erase markers. Or your air freshener. Or your document camera. The desks don’t need to be aligned in rows.

Sometimes educators might go to the zoo because the zoo can better explain how playful monkeys are (even in those darn cages) if they are seen swinging around, naked and making monkey sounds. And between the sight, sound, and smell, it is a very different experience than a textbook or what a National Geographic video can offer us.

Yea, I know. Seems self-evident right? After all, that is why they invented “field trips.”

It is why we interview working and professional psychologists in the psychology class rather than just read the book about what psychologists do. It is why we invite guest speakers into our classrooms because they are from “the outside.” It is why we go sit by the river and paint rather than sit by the computer screen with a picture of a river on it and paint. Things like “service learning” come to mind as methods of getting the students “out there.” Apprenticeships maybe? There is “stuff” beyond our classroom walls that is valuable. We know that.

But the walls are pretty thick and they have become even thicker these days with monies for field trips reduced, a deeper institutional fear of lawsuits, more students in the classroom, overworked faculty, and the “coverage” of learning objectives and massive summative testing to gather data being all the rage in Eduland. We need to fix some things.

Nonetheless, all that stuff that happens every day outside of the classroom goes on and all the while we get snappier PowerPoint presentations from textbook publishers along with bigger and more expensive textbooks. And as an added bonus that only costs a little more, we get an additional 2,000 true/false questions to fill our question banks in Blackboard.

(Total side note: My daughter was home-schooled for sixth and seventh grade. For both of those school years she spent from 8 to 9 every weekday morning assisting a kindergarten teacher get the little kindergarten kiddies going for the day. Our daughter, at thirteen, a time when kids are pretty impressionable and amazing, was given a great responsibility. She was in charge of other kids. I could write many sentences about the confidence the experience gave her and how valuable it was to her and all the kids she worked with. She was really fortunate to have that experience and while not every kid can have such opportunities, I think we do a pretty poor job at placing students in those kinds of places. It seems like we only values the things that happen in classrooms because that is sure where we keep them most of the time.)

There is this whole world out there and we reduce it down to a textbook and some PowerPoint slides.

So what are you saying, Todd?

Well, the web is like the big world we live in and the LMS is like the classroom. I know, you are thinking there is no comparison? Well, you are wrong. Just like the big world outside the classroom walls, the web does things the LMS can’t. And depending on the LMS being used, it may be able to do some of the things the web at large does, but like a classroom, it has limitations. There are things to consider.

When student’s come into our classrooms (or LMS) how do we use the bigger world we live in to enhance their learning opportunities and make the coursework relevant to their lives? How often do we use the “outside” to help them see the work in a different light or experience the content in a way that might address a different learning style? I mean, of course, beyond telling them about the outside world in a lecture. Here are some digital options outside the LMS.

I know it sounds like I am comparing digital tools and opportunities to “the physical world” tools and opportunities, but I’m not. The bigger message is that in “online classes” the use of activities that ask students to get away from a computer screen or a textbook are just as valuable as they are in a face-to-face class. Using digital tools outside the confines of an LMS in a face to face class is just as important. The world and the web are big places. Let’s use some of the opportunities that exist out there, digital or otherwise. But whatever you do, don’t bring the limitations of your LMS to the zoo.

CEC’s and ME

As a fitness professional, one of our greatest gifts is the joy of continuing education.  CEC’s or continuing education credits can be  as beneficial as they are fun.  Right now, I’m in the midst of taking an online  Personal Health and Wellness class.  This class is bringing it all back to square one.  We are learning the basics of being healthy on every level.  Did you know that being healthy involves more than just being physically healthy??

The whole picture on health includes mental, emotional, social, spiritual, and finally, physical health.  If any of these components are lacking, our wheel of life will out of round. combined wheels

And when we go about town with something  out of round  it can be a bumpy ride.  This bumpy ride can effect not only our own well being, but everyone around us.  Our friends, family, workmates, classmates, those in the service industry of our frequently visited spots, all can be effected by our full or flat health wheel.

I love this stuff.  I could read and study on it for hours.

The continued learning and expanding of our wellness, activity, lifestyle, fitness; it’s infinite~

I’m also in the midst of an additional yoga certification.  This is a 6mo, 8weekend course.  Again, I am enthralled with the study!

The body is the body is the body, right?  We are all basically the same machine.  Eat, sleep, move, repeat.

de-grey-body-is-a-machine 1 Our way of moving, breathing, & expressing is unlimited.  The joy of discovering new ways to guide this movement is my passion.  Continuing Education is a tool that I use to enhance my knowledge & skill level.   This, in turn, will ultimately empower my students and give them simple, effective ways to get moving in the world! What are your favorite ways to participate in the joy of movement?

Student Success

We hear a lot these days about Student Success. It is almost as if this is a buzz word used to “WOW” the crowd. I don’t know if any of you remember my rant on buzz words from a few years ago. This was one in which I went on and on about pedagogy and andragogy, and how these two words are used, in my opinion, incorrectly. The latter hardly ever mentioned in academia and the first used too often. You can find more information => HERE <== Now we see this new set of words…Student Success. What is this Student Success? How does one achieve Student Success? Could it begin with Teaching Best Practices? Think about that for a moment. Teaching Best Practices which leads to Student Success. Yep. I think it could work. Imagine the possibilities. By bringing Best Practices into the development of courses, Instructors could achieve this one component that everyone speaks of, this Student Success. Some of our own faculty have stepped up to the plate and worked with Quality Matters to start this process. I am very happy for them. It is a daunting task to creating and delivering a course. It is a task that never ends; a continual progression.

This is not something that can be completed on the first run. We as educators must continue to ask students what works and what does not. This is the only way to achieve this benevolent Student Success.  If the teacher forgets the student, then all is for not. We must remember to check ourselves with our students. There are areas in a class which can be improved upon each class. There are some that must stay as they are. Let your students guide you into what is best for them.


Someone mentioned Active Learning before. I love this. This is Student Success. Teach students to become Active Learners. This, connectivism (love this too), and a little Quality Matters can go a long way in achieving this buzz word of Student Success. Anywhooooooo….. That’s my rant for the week.

Name the Disorder Game

I’m not a psychologist, but I like to play one, so I want to know the name of the disorder for people who spend their energy blaming others and ducking responsibility. I’ve had students like this before, maybe one or two a year since I started teaching.

My current is a returning student, maybe in her 40’s. She’s also in classes with two of my colleagues, and she is not happy with any of us. (The student is also working with the Learning Center, but according to her, they are not doing what they are supposed to either.)

When she started complaining to me about Ms. X, I suggested she go talk to the instructor herself. She refused, so I attempted to answer her questions. What a got was an earful about how Ms. X wasn’t doing anything right. I let her vent a bit, then I redirected her and got her working.

Now I know Ms. X to be a great teacher, so I figured that there was some disconnect in the communication chain, and I decided to talk to Ms. X and see if I could get some information that might be helpful to the student.

The talk with Ms. X was instructive. Apparently, in a previous discussion, my student told Ms. X what a bad teacher I was: I didn’t answer questions and wasn’t helpful at all. And the student complained about yet another instructor, Ms. Y, who wasn’t doing her job.

Her problem isn’t just with YC. The K-12 system let her down; all of her English teachers were just there to get a paycheck.

She is a supreme victim. When I ask her what she’s working on and how I can help, she gives me a litany of problems that she’s encountered, through no fault of her own. I let her blow off a little steam, then I redirect her and ask again what she’s working on and what she needs help with.

A conversation with her is like playing tennis: she lobs a problem at me; I lob a possible solution; she lobs it back with, “Yes, but (A) hasn’t done (B), so I can’t do what I need to do.” The match goes to the perfect victim.

According to her, she’s working hard, but since her instructors are not doing their jobs, she’s unable to be successful. OK. What do we do with a student who is angry, defensive and full of blame?

On the one hand, I would like to say to her, “Stop. All you’re doing is blaming. What do you need to do to be successful this week?” I just read Charles Lohman’s blog about no excuses; I think I’d like to pass that on to her. I wonder what her response would be?

I’ll admit that I’m not a perfect instructor, but I’ve done what I am supposed to do in the class. What else can an instructor do?

Are there people who are never satisfied? Are there people who always find someone else to blame? (Am I turning into one of those people?!) Seriously. Is there a diagnosis and a method for working with students who accept no responsibility?



The Facebook post was from a former student of mine from back when I worked at a high school. Now in her 40s, she posted: “My 9th grader has a career day at a local college. She got to choose a field of study and then attends a seminar-type event. Teaching kids that you need a college degree to have a career? Outrageous.”

After a friend of hers chimed in with: “I am so sick of government schools. Depending on what you want to do, a formal education is a huge waste of money.”

My former student then added: “The internet has every piece of education a person could want.”

Of course, she’s right, in a sense, about the internet.  It is extremely easy to find countless reports about the correlation between education and income. For example, there’s this graphic:

ed pays

Some people (especially those who haven’t gained strong critical thinking skills) aren’t inclined to believe statistics (because they know of someone with a master’s degree who is unemployed and someone who dropped out of high school who is successful).  Personal experience is definitive and trumps all research – especially if you have no personal experience with research.

So I am giving my former student some latitude with the belief that the internet is an amazing tool for discovery of information.  It is. It is definitely not, however, a resource that offers “every piece of education a person could want.”  I would not want to live in a society that hired self-taught people to design our bridges.

Without a populace with critical thinking skills, our society should consider the internet a pretty dangerous place.   It was, after all, on the internet that I found this person spreading the idea that schools should not be promoting higher education.  Again, she is correct to suggest that you don’t have to go to college to have a career. In fact, nobody says you have to have a career at all. Forbes recently ran a story on the 10 best-paying jobs of 2014. I found it on the internet.

Here’s the list. Remember: Use the internet to teach yourself and save thousands!

  1. Surgeon
  2. Physician
  3. Psychiatrist
  4. Orthodontist
  5. Dentist
  6. Petroleum Engineer
  7. Air Traffic Controller
  8. Pharmacist
  9. Podiatrist
  10. Attorney

To be fair, the source that Forbes used for this list,, also lists the top ten things you can do without a degree.

That list looks like this:

  1. Administrative Assistant
  2. Appliance Repairer
  3. Automotive Mechanic
  4. Bookkeeper
  5. Carpenter
  6. Computer Service Technician
  7. Dental Hygienist
  8. Electrician
  9. Hair Stylist
  10. Medical Records Technician

Noble professions, all and, indeed, people still today find a way into these professions without a degree. But for the average 9th grader heading into Career Day, I suspect his/her skills as a medical records technician are a little weak. And while one or two of them may have an older cousin who can pave their way, the overwhelming majority of people seeking these careers would find the most direct route to be a college degree. In fact, since equipping yourself to become a skilled auto mechanic or carpenter is exceptionally expensive (without a cousin in the business), the college route is likely the least expensive avenue to a career.

All that said, though, the most important reason to track our children into college is to give then the critical thinking capacity to make informed decisions, to give them options, to make them whole and maybe, just maybe, to reduce the outrage on Facebook.