Blog Post, Session 10

How can curriculum mapping assist you?  Do you have one?  Does your school/district curriculum map?  Where would/will you start in creating a useful curriculum map for your classroom? 

 I would love to do curriculum mapping, but we don't have that as part of our school. As I said on the webinar last week, as a student I got a lot out of my History/Literature curriculum map as a Junior. It truly makes sense for a Junior English class to blend with a U.S. History course as the crux of Junior English is based on American Literature. (I guess since Arizona dropped AIMS, it's no longer required but I still do it.) When I taught at AAEC, I tried to get the U.S. History teacher to curriculum-map with me and it didn't go well --he wasn't remotely interested in working with me, probably because he didn't want to have to adjust his curriculum to work in a team. It was kind of a bad experience so I've been a little gun-shy about asking at a new school, but it's something to look forward to.

Another subject I've been thinking about working with is the science department: they have been requiring essays recently and my students have been asking me to proofread for them. I don't mind doing this, of course, but many of the questions center around MLA8, so I've been thinking about setting up a Moodle page just to have MLA resources available to all teachers who may use that citation method. This would help all Humanities courses, of course, but if the science teachers accept MLA rather than APA (as I understand they do at our school), this would help cut back on many of the questions they field so they can focus more on answering questions with regard to critical thinking. That's the plan --now to have the time to work on it ;)

9x9x25: Reflection

I'm busy.

This is usually a line used to decline an invitation. To be honest, it was a line I was tempted to use when I started the 9x9x25 challenge.

"I'm busy" is not a subjective term in my case:
-I'm a full-time high school English teacher at Tri-City Prep, which means I regularly clock 50 hours a week between the clubs I advise (Denobis/Creative Writing, Pep Club, Mock Trial), grading essays, and any extracurricular activities (field trips, science symposia, music concerts, etc.).
-I'm a creative writing adjunct at YC.
-I'm the co-municipal liaison for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), which hosts workshops in November.
-I'm in a writing group that meets at Method Coffee.
-I co-lead a small group at Heights Church.
-I've been auditing Master Chorale to sing in The Messiah for the Christmas concert.
-I'm a full-time student with Rio Salado finishing my teaching certificate for K-12.
-I'm a part-time student with YC working on an Associates in Administration of Justice (classes I started to lend believability and authenticity to my detective novel).
-Somewhere in there I'm working on several novels and short stories.

Can I also just say I hate telling people all the things I do? I heard a quote once to the effect of "Don't tell everyone what a hard worker are: let the evidence of your work be your testimony." I try to live by that rule as much as possible. I suppose this translates into yes-tourettes: I have a hard time saying no, because I have a harder time saying, "I can't because I'm so busy blah blah blah understand my struggle, say nice things because you pity my over-commitment blah blah blah."

Here is how September went for me:
Curtis: You have a blog, right?
Me: A neglected one, yes.
Curtis: Have you heard about the 9x9x25?
Me: Ummm....
Curtis: [Explains the program.] And we give you prizes --like Ben&Jerry's.
Me: Ben&Jerry's, eh?
Curtis: You should do it!
Me: I'll think about it. Maybe.

That said, here is what I have learned about 9x9x25. I've learned that like Nanowrimo, budgeting time for me is a great outlet. I'll be honest: my Nanowrimo hasn't done so hot this year (I'll still catch up. It'll be okay. I think.), and it's nice to at least have something like 9x9x25 with weekly accountability and on-campus conversations about how the blogging is going. Because the thing that both of these writing hobbies shows me is that I need to budget time for me, too, and while it's easy to budget TV down time where I crochet and go brain-dead for as long as that episode lasts, it's also nice to nourish myself intellectually through the written word. (All of you more linear thinkers who see writing as a chore is probably scoffing, but it's true! Writing is my relaxation!)

Anyway, so here's to the 9x9x25 challenge! Woo hoo! Season complete, lessons learned, blog effectively uses as a venting tool, and I hope next year is as nourishing and inspiring.

Are Things Getting Better? Are they really?

At first I ran alongside him with my hands steadying the cold metal bars.  But, all too soon, I realized he was ready for me just to let go, so I did.  Whoosh!  He flew past me and out on his own in one desperate grab at independence.  My five-year-old had learned to ride a bike.

We were proud of him.  He flew all around the empty church parking lot for about an hour until his little legs were tired and we had to load up the bike and head home.  He pedaled so hard for so long, not really getting the hang of stopping yet, that he had cramps that night.  He was thrilled about his new ability and he told everyone he came across for the next week or so.  However, in those ensuing weeks, suddenly I realized that my son wasn’t jumping back on the bike.  I pressed him about it.

“Hey, muchacho, how come you’re not riding your bike anymore?”

“I forgot how to” he said.

“Really?  You did so great on it the last time.”

“I know, but I can’t do it anymore.  I tried and I always fall off.”

This seemed strange to me.  I braced myself for another trip over to the church parking lot and another training session, not a thought I relished, but I was willing to do it in order to allow my son to feel the thrill of the wind in his face again.  So, I grabbed his bike and made preparations.  However, as I did, I noticed something strange.  His bike seat was raised up way too high.  Probably a product of his older brother trying to ride his bike.  I knew that with the seat up that high, my son would have a hard time reaching the pedals and getting on and off the bike.  I lowered the seat to the proper height and had my son give it a whirl in our tiny driveway.  Just like before, he took off without any problems.

My son didn’t need more training on his bike.  He knew what to do.  What was the issue then?  His problem was his equipment.  In education, often we want to solve all of our students’ problems with better training and/or teaching.  “If I just teach them this principle better, they’ll get it.  Or, if I just teach them how to navigate the course better, they won’t have so many questions about what’s due all the time.  They’ll get it.”  We tell ourselves these things all the time, but we seldom stop to think that maybe the seat is just too high for them.  Our students don’t need more training, they just need better equipment.  For example, they need a more intuitive Canvas interface.  Or, maybe they need a better textbook, or workbook.  Or maybe they just need a better way to access the resources that are already made available to them.  How much better might our students perform, not if we teach better, but if our courses were just designed a little bit better or our Canvas shells were set up a little more intuitively?  Maybe there’s no problem with our teaching at all, but there’s an inherent problem with the sequencing, pacing, or sheer amount of content in the course?

Often, today, we change the design of products and practices that work well, just to be ever-changing and never anachronistic.  However, these changes for change sake often adversely affect performance and efficiency.  We constantly dilute ourselves into thinking that things are ever “getting better,” but are they?  Often “improved versions” of textbooks insert multiple images and graphics that really serve to split a students’ attention and provide enough seductive details to distract the student from the learning target.  Are we really getting better and better, or just more and more “fancy looking”?

Maybe I’m just trying to justify the fact that I’m getting older and that I can’t keep up with tech changes, but I don’t think so.  Take our new email client for example.  The UI is riddled with problems.  Well, I should preface this with the fact that I now reluctantly use the web interface instead of the Outlook computer program that comes standard on our YC machines.  Why?  Because when I boot up the program, all of my folders from the older version are gone.  Why?  No idea, but they are.  However, I boot up the web version, all of my folder that I’ve painstaking created and organized and winnowed down over the course of 9 years are all there as they should be, so, I use the web interface.  Multiple problems there though.

  • The “like” button—Seriously? There’s a “like” button for email?  Isn’t that an oxymoron.  (Except for what Leslie sends me, those are actually pretty funny).
  • “Reply All” is the default—This has led to many many replies to a group that probably shouldn’t have been replied to as a group (Al, I’m looking at you).
  • “BBC”—This is really hard to find and very small, yet we use it often, very poor design.
  • Weblinks—When you add a link, it creates this weird image/preview thing that you have to cancel. It disrupts the flow of the email and is totally superfluous.  An attempt to look fancy but with zero real functionality.

I could go much further, but suffice it to say, the new UI is poorly designed indeed.  How much further could we go in what we do here at YC if we had better design?  Would we suffer less attrition if our courses were designed in a more intuitive way?  What if Canvas were inherently more user friendly and easier for us to design with?  For example, how many of you truly understand the difference between the “front page” and the “home page” and how to set them?  Do we truly know what our students are seeing when we update grades, announcements, assignments and what notifications they have access to?  Canvas is fancy and has lots of features, but unless we truly understand what features are standard, mandatory, optional from our end and from the viewer’s end, are these feature then useful?  Or, even, are they impediments?


A book that every Canvas user should read is titled, The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman.  The book talks about design as our one competitive evolutionary edge in the universe and that with smarter design, nothing can stop us.  He lists tons and tons of examples of how we deal with poor design every single day.  He highlights the fact, most frequently, that all good designs are intuitive and not superfluous.  The classic example of non-intuitive and very superfluous design is today’s television remote.  We should be able to do all that we need and want to do without the use of a hefty instruction manual.  Yet, I’m willing to bet that nearly all of us have a TV remote control that is filled with buttons that we’ve never used, nor do we know how to use them—superfluous and not intuitive.  Bad design.  Canvas is the same way—there are lots of features that we don’t know how to use and that we don’t know how students are using.

tv-remoteThe iPhone was so very popular from the beginning because of how well it was designed.  The very young and the very old could pick it up and immediately know what to do.  We knew how to use it intuitively because it screamed at us to tap buttons and more buttons and then more buttons to find what we were looking for.  That’s good design.

Canvas has some amazing features, and much of the interface is amazing, certainly an improvement over Blackboard, but it does fall more heavily into the category of superfluous features, perhaps, than Blackboard, even if it is more intuitive.

I guess my point is, just because it’s newer and fancier looking, it might not be “better” as they would lead you to believe.  I think that MS Vista is the huge case in point on that one.  Another example:  I’ve been very frustrated with my new projector in the room I teach in most often.  The PTSS folks came and installed it and promised “much greater fidelity”.  Great!  I guess that’s nice, didn’t ask for greater fidelity, things were okay, but sure, if the picture is clearer, I won’t turn that away.  However, if I knew all the other features that I would be sacrificing for a little sharper picture, I would have begged them to keep the old projector.  I used to use the projector and doc camera “freeze” button extensively.  This would allow me to freeze the document camera and then pull up something on the computer screen for use directly after the doc camera.  I also will freeze the screen and access Class Dojo which allows me to give class participation points for groups and individuals who are doing excellent work.  Well, with the new projector, all of the “freeze” functionality and multi-tasking that had become essential to my way of conducting class is now “not available”.  When I asked “why?  Can’t this new laser projector do it?  The old cheap LCD projector could”.  The answer came, “I think it can do it, but because that feature has not been widely asked for, we haven’t taken the time to figure out how to activate it on all machines across the board.”

Sweet!  So I have a slightly sharper picture (which I didn’t ask for) and four features (which I did ask for) that I’d like to have, but are now gone because I’m the only one wanting them.  Sounds like a fair trade off to me.

Projectors, email, LM systems, are they getting better?  I’m not sure.  Every “solution” is someone else’s problem.  I’m aware of that, I guess a lot of solutions lately are proving problematic to me, but I can’t help but think that great design could be a solution for everyone.

If you like this post, I’ll send it to you in an email where you can now “like” it.  Thank you.

Thoughts from the Train

I am writing this blog somewhere between Barstow and Needles, CA while sitting in an Amtrak train. (I'm actually writing this on my phone, as the WiFi on the train doesn't seem very reliable. ) I've spent the last four and a half days with the Prescott Student Leadership Team at the Circle of Change Leadership Conference at Cal State Dominguez Hills.  It's been an incredibly wonderful and exhausting experience!

Nonetheless, Olympic size reflection, here we go!

1.  What did I learn?
   *That my colleagues have some really great thoughts (no surprise there).
   *That this kind of reflection is good for me!

2.  Was it tough?
   Yes and no.  Certainly making time to write was a challenge.  But once I got started, it seemed to flow.  For those passionate about teaching and learning, how could it not?

3.  Who inspired me?
   *The TELS team.  Thanks, Thatcher and Curtis!
   *My awesome co-bloggers!
   *My students.  They got excited about what I was writing and always had insightful input.
   *The Student Leadership Council, who each accepted the challenge to contribute a "student's perspective" to this event.  I'm proud of you!

4.  How will I change based on my experiences of the last 9 weeks.
   *I have recommitted to be more reflective about my teaching--and my life in general.
   *I am recommitted to writing more--more of what I am passionate about.
   *I want to continue these important conversations, with a view to seeking the improvement of my/our instruction.

5.  What was frustrating or delightful?
   *Frustrating that I couldn't find time to respond to ALL of the amazing posts!
   *Everything else was delightful!!  Let's do it again next year!  Or even next semester!! 😆

Week 9 – So Good We Can’t Be Ignored

So good that we can’t be ignored

I want to start by thanking the college for being so invested in the development of our staff that they are willing to spend some serious cash to give instructors the means to improve.  Amazing.  After just one day at the AMAYTC conference, I learned about integration of study skills into our dev ed classes, applied problems to enhance pre-service teacher teaching, the difference between mathematical modelling and modelling with mathematics (there is a difference people!) but the most amazing and trans-formative talk was given to the entire group of 1200 of us.  And here is the trick – at 3:30 in the afternoon after we had been sitting for hours listening to various sessions, she engaged us.  Nearly every one of us.  I am in awe of Maria Andersen.  She was the keynote at the AMATYC conference.  She modeled what her classroom would look like (if she still had one).  After some internet stalking of my new math education crush, I learned of her career trajectory: teacher first, Canvas (Infastructure) creative genius, and now educational consultant and full time convocation speaker.  I will forgive her for no longer being in the classroom, because this allows her to spread her message…

Now onto the important stuff – what exactly did she say to get this kind of adulation from me?  Well, first one more background piece.  My best friend lost her job about a month ago and so her and I have had a few conversations about following our passion.  I love teaching at YC, but am I following my passion?  To answer this question, I picked up the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and I see Maria reflected in each word of this book.  I see her blogs, her ideas, her research, and I am inspired to try harder.  Constructively try harder to make my classroom bolder, more innovative, and most importantly the one where they actually (actually!) retain something.  Anyway, back to the keynote.

She started with background – her mother had a tumor at 35 and lost her ability to learn and perform simple tasks, so Maria became obsessed with learning and brain research.  Grabbed us, right?

Now that she had our attention, she illustrated the three main components to actual learning.  What we tend to do in math is fill the brain with knowledge, then practice until the skill is “learned”.  But not retained.  So the challenge was to figure out how to get the students to learn how to struggle, overcome the struggle, thereby making the brain connections to the material.  Finding rich tasks that force students to struggle (and understand that the struggle is going to lead to good things and not bad) is difficult. One of the studies that she referenced – (wish I had a link to the study) – showed the interactions in a group of classrooms at a four year; they found on average only 4 or 5 people per class with multiple interactions.  One of the people, obviously, was the instructor.  So her challenge was to create an environment where students were interacting with each other, the teacher, and the material in a way that is not just telling them and letting them take notes over the material.  And I’ve heard over and over again that engagement is the key to student success, but I was mistakenly thinking that my classroom was full of interactions, but it really isn’t.  Draw straws and call on an unsuspecting individual forces everyone to pay attention, so that is doing the trick right?  Uhhh…no!!  Put them up to the board to work on problems together; this is great if you haven’t already told them all the steps to solve the problem.  Where is the struggle in that?  Having the students write their own definition for something does the trick, right?  Until I see furious writing when I post the definition as they have just been waiting for me to save them.   Practice until you can re-gurge the exponent rules – works great for that semester until I see the same students two semesters later asking them to apply those rules to logarithms and they act as though they haven’t learned the exponent rules (shame on me because they haven’t)

Do I have moments of sunshine in this wasteland of (lack of) interaction?  I can think of a few activities I do throughout the year that really force the students to think, communicate their thinking, and apply their knowledge in a way that will create these pathways.  But it is not enough.

My current read tells me that following your passion is bull.  When you follow your passion, you end up jumping from career to career, thinking what you are doing can’t really be enough.  The author found data to support the happiest employees are those that have been in their profession for a long time, developing the skills and know-how to be an expert in what they do.  In essence, being so good they can’t ignore you, and even better, being so good that you feel good and accomplished in what you do.  You have invested so much in being who you are in work, that you are confident or at least can act confident in your pursuits.

So now I must wrap up this rambling musing and get to a point.  Can I walk away from this experience and actually sit down with some research, materials, and dedicate time to making my classroom a place that students deepen their understanding and gain long term learning?  Can I balance my time to be able to create a classroom I can honestly say is my best?  Now that I know how far short I am falling, can I rise to the occasion?  Most importantly, what am I going to do to extend this to my online students so I can get them involved in their learning?  I ask you all to make me accountable and help me become so good that I can no longer be ignored….


AMATYC Keynote Notes: Interaction and Impasse


Why do professors like to teach?

You know how we as consumers can always use a little more cash?  Well, I too fall into this category and because of it, have had the opportunity to take on extra responsibilities at the college.  Now this seems as though it might have a negative twist to it, but it doesn’t.  The extra responsibility that I have taken on is within the realm of TeLS (Teaching and eLearning Support).  Turns out that I love it!  I recently found myself in the TeLS office on the Verde campus burrowing my way through the intricacies of settings and assignments in Canvas when I had Barb (Interim Associate Dean) enter my office.  She started by explaining some big event that we were to have on campus to celebrate our college, our campus and our veterans.  It all sounded so awesome up until the point where she said, ” … and we want you to make a video that showcases our instructors.”  I was a little taken back by the exact magnitude of the project.  I shot back with many clarifying questions and tried to soak up her responses as best as I could.  Time passed and I acquired a decent video camera (learned that), transferred video clips into a video editing software (learned that), exported the video to various sizes and formats for YouTube and other media sources (learned some there too) and finally determined the best mode for presentation on the equipment to be used (learning there too), it was set!  What a project!  At least it was a project for me, a rather green/new-comer to this sort of thing.  I found that although the technology is important, is is merely a vehicle for the content.  The things that the professorate shared in this video was personal, sincere and important; so much so, that I wanted to share it with you.  So here you go!

What do you love about teaching?

Happy Thanksgiving

Teaching is a gift, and I have been reading about others who share gifts with us in a number of places. For example, in Kisses from Katie, the author says, "People who want to make a difference . . . don't teach grand lessons that suddenly enlighten entire communities; they teach small lessons that can bring incremental improvement to one man or woman, boy or girl. They don't do anything to call attention to themselves, they simply pay attention to the everyday needs of others, even if it's only one person. (Davis, XI) Katie, thank you for your dedication of a lifetime to being a "parent" to homeless children in Uganda as a young college-aged woman and challenging us all.

In "Mushrooms" by Sylvia Plath, we read the simplistic poem of a mushroom and learn the deeper metaphor of heaving, widening, and shoving through. Each of us has the capacity to make a positive change in the little spaces in which we have meaning and influence. I was encouraging my reading class this week that regardless of politics or station in life, each of us can continue being the best person we can be to make a difference in our corner of the world. Students liked that. They got it. Poetry still holds value when we take the time to stop and listen. Thanks, class, for reinforcing my belief!

Another student got me to stop and listen today. He said that in reading through his OnCourse book and practicing by listening to his girlfriend, he is learning that listening doesn't just mean listening so we can make a response, but so we can understand. Wise young man! He is truly listening and getting the message. And I stopped and listened to him, an online student, and gained a deeper understanding as well. Thank you.

And then Tuesday evening we were given the gift of sharing what we do on the Verde Campus with our community. At least 200 community members came to the campus and visited with faculty and staff both from our campus as well as from Prescott who drove over to support the effort. James fired up the grills for the first time, and we had a great barbecue. Dennis and his band played joyful tunes, Roxanne danced the Zumba, and everyone had a great time. Thanks!

My enrollment even went up overnight. Not in a huge way, but I will gladly take any enrollment increase. One of the best moments of the evening was when an online student came by my station. I told her what I taught at the college, and she asked me my name. She told me that I had been her STU110 teacher and that she really learned so much about careers in my class. Priceless! It is such a gift to meet my online students and to have that moment any day. Thank you, YC for sharing this opportunity!

Another gift I received last week was The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, by Parker J. Palmer. This book was a gift for writing a 9x9x25 blog. So far I am loving this author's foundation. He says, "When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the pathway out of a thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illuminated by the lightning-life of the mind--then teaching is the finest work I know." (1)

Palmer goes on to share the difficult days stand in contrast and create that powerless sense inside us. How can it be that teachers can both be filled with immeasurable joy at one time and then suffer through bad times? According to Palmer, there are three sources: 1) our subject area is complex, and we can never fully know it, 2) our students are complex and difficult to respond to wisely, and 3) we ourselves are complex. We must fully know ourselves. When we don't know ourselves, we reflect flawed images of ourselves through the content we teach (2-3). I am now hooked, so I must finish reading the book. Thank you, Thatcher!

Yes, gifts come in many different forms throughout the year. Family, friends, literature, students, co-workers, good health, even material items, the least of all our blessings bless us. As we prepare to go home for a few days next week, let's leave the cares and frustrations behind. Get to know yourself, your loved ones, and come back invigorated to face the days ahead. Yes, we still have two more weeks of Fall semester as well as grading, Winter Institute, and other duties as assigned.

Blessings to you all!


Privileged to be the final baton for 9x9x25 2016.


9x9x25: Standards

“Yours is the only class I try in.”
 “I actually think in your class –like, use my brain and stuff.”
“I didn’t like English before your class.”
Of course I love to hear things like this, but there’s something that also concerns me about it. Because I teach seniors this year I hear more and more about the guidelines of “College Board”, a group that decides seemingly arbitrary standards for achievement. I say that the standards are seemingly arbitrary because students are expected to keep a 3.7 or higher GPA, on top of holding a position in a school club or organization for at least two years, on top of having a job outside of school, on top of having a number of volunteer hours.
My question is this: are we training our kids to have burnout at an earlier and earlier age?
I feel like the community college world has long been addressing the fact that our student seem to be getting dumber and dumber. If our high schools are demanding more and more from our students (and, arguably, if learning standards like Common Core are training students to engage their critical thinking skills at an earlier rate), then why does it seem that community college students are so underprepared?
“Miss Kauffman, I’m so overwhelmed with school right now. The college classes and sports…” She sighs and runs a hand through her hair. “My parents won’t let me quit soccer, but my grade is getting worse in math…” After a pause she says, “I’m so burnt out, I’m thinking I won’t even go to college. I’m so overwhelmed right now and everyone keeps saying that college will be harder. I don’t know. I don’t think I can handle it.”
Maybe I was able to at least convince her to go to Yavapai College (rather than to throw her education away) –but is that why our community college students seem so apathetic –because community college is the last option before completely quitting? Is that the reason why I get so many more excuses for not doing work at the community college level –because smart kids have decided they’re not high-achieving enough to compete with Ivy League-like standards for universities? And because tuition is rising at a staggering rate, demands for scholarships and grants are nearly impossible.
I suppose there is no answer to these questions, merely an observation. Teaching at a college prep high school at the same time as teaching at a community college presents a great opportunity to talk about college readiness, to try and make that transition as smooth as possible. Sometimes at the end of the day, though, we forget that these high school kids are still just kids, that as high-achieving as they are they still just want to laugh while their teacher raps Hamilton for them. If they can laugh and have a good time (in addition to working , of course) they can forget about their goals and standards –for an hour, at least.