How Each Blog Idea Became a Blog
One Thing I Learned From Each Blog
The third year of this challenge is over, and I must admit that it was a challenge, not the writing part but thinking about what to write. So for this year’s reflection, in one sentence, I will explain how each blog’s idea became a blog, and in one sentence, I will explain one thing I learned from writing each blog.
The idea for this blog was easy because I had this idea since the 9x9x25 challenge last year.
The one thing I learned from writing this blog is that since writing is the main way of online communication, as teachers, we should keep ‘writing, writing and writing’ as the main learning tool in our online courses.
The idea for this blog came up during a phone call I had with another faculty from another college.
The one thing I learned from writing this blog is that there are colleges out there making the costs of textbooks cheaper for students and that there are many great non-textbook alternatives.
The idea for this blog came up when I was sitting at home in a conference call meeting.
The one thing I learned from writing this blog is that from my research I’m not alone in believing one can multitask during a conference call meeting and still have a productive conference call meeting.
The idea for this blog has always been something I wanted to put in my courses’ syllabi.
The one thing I learned from the replies I received to my blog is that there are other professionals who agree that students should learn how to write a professional email, and, now, I have the link to put in my courses’ syllabi so my students will know how to email me.
This idea for this blog came up after I had a few conversations about the flipped classroom model with a few colleagues.
The one thing I learned from this blog’s survey, which is the blog itself, is that for at least one faculty the flipped classroom is more beneficial for the teacher and the student than the traditional classroom model.
This idea for this blog has always been a thought because learning from mistakes in general at a teacher has been a 15 year plus process.
The one thing I learned from writing this blog is that I will probably have three more mistakes to write about in another 15 years
This idea for this blog always comes up around this time of the semester because the last 9x9x25 blog is close to the semester’s end when I start getting emails from students asking for help.
The one thing I learned writing this blog is that my empathy for my students extends from my personal experiences with the emphatic college teachers I’ve had in the past, and this empathy for my students has not wavered because I have a daughter and wife in college, which allows me to see and feel the students’ perspective.
A summary, I explain to my classes, is an explanation of just the author's main ideas in your own words. It condenses a piece of text and gets straight to the point. I would sum up my writing in the last few weeks as a strong start with poor follow-through (how typical of me and my average student!) and more negative than I wanted it to be. When they asked me if I wanted to do the 9x9x25 challenge, I honestly thought it would be simple, not really a challenge at all. After all, I love to write, I already blog and I'm a storyteller by nature. It hasn't been the experience I expected, however. I have fallen short of my 9 posts because I got stuck good and deep in the seventh week. Somewhere 7 or 8 paragraphs into a blog post/rant, I came to the realization that my writing has been overwhelmingly whiny, a laundry list of complaints about the system- from testing, to former teachers, to other professors, to my students- and I didn't know how to dig myself out of that hole. Because that really isn't how I feel. I love teaching. It's not infrequent for me to leave class singing. My students energize me and infuse me and I invariably leave them in a better mood than I walked in with. So why the preachy passages each week?
A quote, I go on to tell my students, is the author's ideas in the author's own words. However, I always warn, quotes should be used sparingly and only when the author's words are so beautiful, powerful, or vivid that you could not say it any better yourself. The latest blog began by explaining my long history of getting emotional about education like this, "When it comes to learning, I've always had what could best be described as an overdeveloped sense of self-righteous indignation." It went on to describe in detail incidents where I have lost my cool at various teachers over the years as a result of letting that indignation win out over my common sense and finally settled into my latest diatribe against a certain large publishing group's online learning program that my students were struggling to use.
I define a paraphrase as all the author's ideas in your own words, clarifying that since this method gives you roughly the same amount of text as the original, it's best suited to writing about short pieces of writing or for supporting details you'd like to use to back up your points. According to that probably never-to-be published post of mine, the mandatory pretests meant to assess students current levels were poorly designed; the content was organized and presented in such a way that is would only overwhelm and bore my students; and the body of material covered was unlike that which is tested on the actual GED. Because of all this, I went on to say, this program should not be mandated for use in our adult education program (which it is.)
Can you see why I got stuck? I just had nowhere to go from there. For two weeks, long after the post was due, I kept coming back to that lengthy diatribe and rereading and editing what I had already written but couldn't seem to finish it on a positive note. Personally, I despise a whiner who complains and complains but has no better solution. Ask my students; I scold them for it. There I was, moaning about a problem, with no solution at all. Finally, I realized I needed to do something more productive about my problem than a blog rant.
So, don't expect anymore posts from me for a while. If you need me, I'll be in my office, busily typing away. I'm working on a new project- YC GED classes in Canvas with my own assessments and my own content- an online class that actually aligns with the GED. And you can quote me on that!
Last fall, Todd came to my office to tell me about a project that he called the 9x9x25. Would I be interested? At the time I was neck deep in problems with Blackboard and a new instructor. I thought that it would be too much for me at that time. Stop by next time and I will do it, I said.
This fall, Todd stopped by my office to tell me about this project he had called 9x9x25. I told him yes. I think his jaw hit the floor when I told him. After I said I would do it, I felt unsure. So as any good nurse will tell you, if you do not know… research it.
I viewed the previous Tels webletter looking at the blogs that were posted. My first thought was how can I ever be as good as any of those other writers? I am simply a nurse who is an educator. I found words and phrases that I had to look up with my internet enabled device. I had dictionary.com as a favorite. As I perused the entries I discovered it was not the big words that kept my attention, it was the ideas behind it. I loved looking at what worked or didn’t through the eyes of other instructors.
I never have been good at reflecting. This 9x9x25 encouraged me to look critically and reflect on myself and my teaching practices. There were things that I discovered along the way that I feel I did well and practices that could use some (a lot of) improvement. I have also discovered when reading other posts that students are the same whether they are in Spanish, Math, English or Nursing. My breed of students are like all of the others and we all have basically the same problems. What a relief! I thought I was unique!
Now to move forward, there are many ideas rolling around in my cranium. Teach students how to use the textbook, think critically, improve test scores and most importantly, be caring for their patients and colleagues. I have a lot to do and not much time before the next semester starts. My new goal is to make students life long learners and not review and flush the information.
The title, “I just wanted to thank you for not giving up on me.,” is a sentence straight from a student’s email to me. Here’s the email in its entirety:
As you can see, this student’s email would make any teacher feel great, and I made sure I told the student how great it made me feel. Here’s part of my reply:
For me, the student’s email literally made my day, and it is very powerful because it’s what my entire teaching career is centered around: Don’t give up on my students so my students do not give up themselves. I mean, I’m all about my students learning the subjects I teach – that’s my job, but what’s not my job, technically, is not giving up on my students. But why would I not want to make this an equal part of my job too. Yes, it makes my job harder not to give up on my students, and I was just talking about this with someone the other day. They bluntly said, “Why do I make my job harder?” – giving myself more work in order to help students individually; my response was something to the effect of: what’s more powerful and more lasting than letting students know there are people in this world who will not give up on them? I mean, just read how powerful not giving up on a student really is. Here’s part of the above email to highlight this power. The student states:
As you can see, this student was refreshed, was helped, and was encouraged. So just think, if I wasn’t encouraging, didn’t help, didn’t make this student feel refreshed, it could have made this student give up, quit, and just not finish my course, but why wouldn’t I want this student to finish something the student and I started together, as a team. I mean, when a student signs up for my class, we are in it together; we are a team, and I’m going to make sure the student gets through it.
So why do I try to understand and empathize with my students? Because it is as my student’s email states, “[I do] understand (or remember) that college life can be very stressful and demanding,” and I continue to understand and remember because currently my oldest daughter and my wife are both in college. So I clearly see and feel the students’ perceptive, keeping me in the complete context of where my course actually fits into my students’ lives.
I will explain each one of these individually.
My Personal Experience
Makes me Understand and Empathize With my Students
There are many personal experiences that have allowed me to understand and empathize with my students. But if I had to pick one, the most significant one is when I was in college, years ago. I remember missing an assignment and feeling hesitate to even ask my teacher if could I make up the assignment, but I asked. And like most of my students do, I started off with why I missed it, and after I finished with why, with no hesitation, my teacher said, “Yes, of course.” It was like he didn’t even hear my reason or cared if I was telling the truth or not. So I remember asking, “Do you believe me.” And I will never forget his reply, “Yes.” And through sort of a lengthy conversation he explained why. He explained that he would rather give every student the benefit of the doubt than mistakenly punish that one student who was telling the truth. In other words, he was not the judge and the jury. He just basically said “yes” to every student regardless of their reason. And because of how his response and explanation made me feel that day – that he was on my side, I continue this same approach with my students, hopefully giving my students the same feeling I had that day, feeling someone is on their side.
My Daughter’s Experience
Makes me Understand and Empathize With my Students
Just last year, my oldest daughter accidently missed a college assignment because she got confused on when it was due. It was that simple of a mistake. But what is heartfelt is that she put all her heart and soul into doing her best all semester, and she was now going to get penalized for a honest mistake, and technically, a mistake that doesn’t test her on academic knowledge, but that’s for another blog. She was so disappointed that she cried tears of complete frustration. The cry of when you try so hard but make a simple mistake that just cancels out all your hard work. I remember encouraging her to contact her teacher and tell her teacher exactly what happened, and taking my advice she did. Her teacher let her make up the assignment. But this would not always be the case for all teachers. Some teachers would not have let her make up the assignment. And that’s fine. All teachers differ. But for me, this experience keeps my understanding of the students’ perceptive, where students make simple mistakes, honest mistakes. So when a student asks me to make up an assignment for whatever reason, I let them because that one student is a person with feelings like my oldest daughter.
My Wife’s Experience
Makes me Understand and Empathize With my Students
Just yesterday, my wife was studying for a major exam at Yavapai College’s library, and she called me to let me know she was feeling extremely sick. Long story short, I was on campus, so I went to the library, and she was sick. So I encouraged her to get something to eat, thinking maybe that might make her feel better. We went and ate, got back to campus, and she was still feeling sick. So I encouraged her to lie down in the car and just rest for a little while. But she only had 2 more hours to study until the exam, so she said she couldn’t – she has to study. But she was too sick to study. So I suggested that she call the teacher and let the teacher know what was going on. And without hesitation, she said, “No” – she couldn’t do that. And I must admit, I agreed, not because the teacher wouldn’t understand – the teacher would have, but because for some reason there’s this communication block in the college climate where students do not feel that they can communicate with their teacher, even when telling the truth. Now, I can’t change this climate, but what I can do is make sure my students never feel that they cannot communicate with me as their teacher. So for my classes, I open the line of communication from the start, building a climate of communication between me and my students. Here’s the first communication I have with my students when they sign up for my course:
And hopefully, this initial type of contact that lets my students know they can communicate with me, and that I will not judge them, will allow my students to feel free to ask me for help when they need help.
As we wrap up the 9x9x25 Writing Project, here are a couple of reflections that I would like to share.
Firstly, the project was valuable to me in that it made me focus on the general topic of good teaching. I found myself doing more reading about education and really thinking about educational issues. Regrettably, in the normal everyday pace of education, I find myself in a rut in getting those everyday things done necessary to conduct my individual math courses. While I am continuously looking at ways to improve my teaching, the writing project enabled me to spend focused time on what I view as valuable ideas in the general field of education. Writing about such ideas was challenging in that as a mathematics instructor, I get little opportunity to do writing outside of the normal email communication realm or the constructing of math assignments for my classes. It was good for me to actually write.
What I regret about not doing is reading all of posts from other participants. I felt rushed for time as the semester progressed. I do feel having the week in the middle free of having to post a writing was good for reflecting on others’ writings. I just wish I had taken more time to do that.
The suggestion that I would make for the future project is to make it shorter—such as a 4x4x25. The length of 25 sentences is reasonable. By the middle of the semester, it was increasingly harder for me to write something for the project. Perhaps, I don’t have that creative writing spark. Maybe because I am a math teacher and am not in the habit of creative composition, it was difficult. However, it was really good to sit down and write something. (Maybe I challenged an underused part of my brain. One can only hope I am helping myself to ward off dementia.) I think having fewer required writings would be motivating to more people and then would enlist more participants. It would have made things less stressful for me as well.
Finally, all the goodies that we received from Todd were soooooooo appreciated! Thank you Todd Conaway for all that you do for the project! I found that my participation was rewarding.
I am truly baffled by all of the negative publicity that “Common Core” has received in the last few months. One should note that Common Core proposes three key shifts in mathematics: focus on fewer topics, coherence of topics across multiple grades, and increases in rigor.
The United States has been under much criticism as far as the way mathematics is taught in this country. Our current curriculum has been accused of being a “mile long and an inch deep”. Thus, topics are just skimmed over with little in-depth investigation. Take for instance, the topic of area. Students learn that the area of a rectangle is length times width in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 (maybe even grades 11 and 12). In most cases students are just taught the formula with no development of problem-solving within it. Suppose that in “real-life”, the student has a region that has a corner of rectangle cut off—how can they find such an area? Common core stresses such unique problem situations. It also takes such a topic to new levels from year to next year. So this topic of area would now extend to volume of non-regular shapes in upper grades. Students would develop problem-solving strategies along the way to help them the confidence to approach unique problems.
The amount of rigor in the current math curriculum is a true disservice to students. In this Google society where just about anything can be answered quickly tends to give students the idea that everything can be done easily. A predominant attitude is that if a problem cannot be solved in a single step in just a few minutes, then the problem is not worth doing. This is not helping to instill the idea that true problems take diligence and a willingness to take on chances. Common Core methods emphasize development of student persistence in solving problems. Common Core further emphasizes the pedagogy that students need to share ideas about math and in doing so, students are developing experiences in various math scenarios to draw on for future problem-solving.
The “Common Core” controversy has become increasingly political. What a shame! The concept behind Common Core is wholesome in that student achievement is the motivation. However, as with many things with federal dollars behind it, factions of society have twisted it into something ugly. This is unfortunate because in my opinion, Common Core Standards in mathematics would serve to improve achievement.
Lofty ideas and ideals need to have a landing place.
Words and ideas need to become flesh if they are to have any value at all.
I am an educator. But I am also an innovator. I guess that makes me an educational innovator? Strangely, that label feels right. It’s something I actually want to wear. Perhaps it’s why I feel so lonely most of the time?
Did you know that only 2.5% of the population are innovators? Don’t take it from me. Take it from Simon Sinek, he’s a resident expert on all this stuff and explains well the law of the diffusion of innovation.
You can see his short but insightful teaching here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVXuN2drSpg
Did you watch it? Where do you find yourself on the scale? There are only five categories so it shouldn’t be too hard to find your normal place of residence. Do you see why this kind of exercise is so important? The more you know about who and where you are, the more you will come to understand why you are.
But still, words and ideas must become flesh if the ideal is to become real.
In earlier blog posts I have dreamed large. I have shared an idea, an ideal, a vision for what our world and society might be… actually could be.
The words behind it are these, “I dream of a world in which all people live in freedom and the fullness of their potential and the hope filled power of education to actually pull this off.”
The equation behind it is this,
H = (P * F * Fp) e
Finally, the legend behind the equation is this:
H = Humanness
P = All people, everywhere
F = Freedom
Fp = Fullness of potential
e = Power of Education
But all this pontificating leads to an important question, “How in this world are we going to make it practical? How can we actually “flesh it out” so to say?”
I teach accounting. As an educational innovator who is teaching accounting, how can I create an environment which is a suitable response to what I have shared above? How can I teach accounting with integrity to a vision for what education could be, in view of a future that will be?
Use your imagination, “close your eyes,” and pretend you are a student taking ACC 121. Welcome to my accounting class…
One the first day, you will get what has become known as “normal.” Syllabus; schedule of class assignments, quizzes, and tests; overview of class and how it fits into a larger picture of business in general as well as accounting in particular, and an icebreaker time of mingling and getting to know other students so that a culture of group work can begin. Nothing unusual here.
I share my philosophy of teaching and how I am interested in creating an environment in which competency is the goal. I have flipped the classroom in an effort to move students from an emphasis and priority of content-only to competency. Competency and understanding is what I am after.
All assignments, the way I teach, quizzes, and tests are in response to this larger goal. I want to create an environment in which students have freedom, choices, consequences, and responsibility.
For some this is welcome, refreshingly so. For some this is scary. They have not experienced this kind of freedom before. They are used to being told what to do. For all this is part of what it means to be human.
Where do you find yourself in all of this?
Now it gets fun. I share with you that I want you to pretend that accounting is water. Huh?
I share with you that I am going to do everything I can to present you with the most crystal clear, Lake Michigan version of water that I can. That is my responsibility. It’s something I have control over. Students get this as they know the beauty, the unequaled awe of the waters on which we live. So it makes sense…so far.
I share with the students that some of them will discover that in my attempts to present accounting as crystal clear water, they will find themselves leaning into this. It will just make sense. They will “get it.” It will come rather naturally.
I approach the white board, pen in hand, and say, “For you this class will be this kind of experience,” and I draw a great big smiley face on the board.
Then I share that the reason for this is because there is “fishiness” inside of them and that when they are around water, it is something they will naturally lean into. Fish and water go hand in hand, right?
I turn to the class and almost everyone is “getting it.” Students like simplicity. I am a student.
Then I share that for others, this class in accounting is going to be something you do not like. It will not make any sense, will be incredibly difficult and you may find yourself wondering why you took this class in the first place.
Again, I turn to the white board, pen in hand, and say, “For you this class will be this kind of experience,” and I draw a great big smiley face on the board.
I turn to the class to find a puzzled look upon the faces of many. “You meant to say, frustration face, right? You made a mistake, right?” That’s what they are thinking.
I then share that the reason this will be a great big smiley face is because they have discovered that they have no fishiness in them at all and that perhaps they have “monkey” in them and that all they need to do is find the subject matter where “trees” are being taught.
A slight laughter begins to bubble throughout the room. Everyone knows exactly what I mean. No one knows, including me, who does and does not have fishiness in them. But this serves to create a culture for the entire semester together.
During group work in the weeks ahead, students will constantly turn to me and share their own perception of their own fishiness.
Some will look at me with a smile and say, “There’s fishiness in me!” Most will look at me and share, “There’s no fishiness in me at all.” For all students a common ground, or should I say, “water,” is being formed.
Accounting has become a class in which an environment of discovery has been shared. Shame, fear, and competitiveness are gone. Freedom, responsibility and discovery are the pillars on which our time in class is being built.
An educational incubator environment is taking shape.
I have been doing this for three years now. The results have been very interesting. Words have become flesh and now have names and stories behind them. Janelle, Nora, Nick, Riley, Courtney, and Nick. These are some of the students, people, who have discovered their fishiness within.
This is so fun to watch and be part of. I can only equate it with being a midwife; less bloody for sure but being an integral part of birthing something.
Perhaps the distinctions between education and parenting are not as far away as we have been led to believe.
This is what drew me into education. This is what education can be. The Latin is educere and it means to draw out; to pour on. The implication is that something is already present inside a person. The true educator, like an artist, is then in search of that which is already present, inside, needing awakening, wanting to be released without.
Sounds an awful lot like good parenting to me.
If I were cool, I would say, “Hey, it’s how I roll in accounting.” I am not that cool.
Rather, I like to wonder. I wonder if other subjects could be approached in similar vein? Surely this cannot be limited to accounting. Is this same approach transferable? Are there transferable principles just waiting to be appropriately applied in all disciplines? Could it be thoughtfully applied to any area of study as long as we have a common, larger picture in mind? I believe it could.
What would it be like if an entire system of education where built around this kind of thinking? Hmm…
Imagine all people, everywhere, with this kind of vision for education “unplugged.” I sense something big and much needed could be on the horizon.
Howard Gardner, in his book Five Minds For the Future, (A CIE “classic” which can be found in their lending library!) writes, “Education is inherently and inevitably an issue of human goals and human values. … I wish that this statement were mounted prominently above the desk of every policymaker…One cannot even begin to develop and educational system unless one has in mind the knowledge and skills that one values, and the kind of individuals one hopes will emerge at the end of the day.”
Does a two year community college have any business collaborating with the likes of Howard Gardner? I mean, he’s an icon on the campus of Harvard!
When push comes to shove, what kind of individuals do we hope will emerge at the end of the day? Whether Harvard’s Cambridge or NMC’s Traverse City, the real goal is humanness, right? We want all people to discover and simply be…themselves.
Much easier said than done.
Imagine the impact in a community if a college were to get this right. Imagine the impact in a community if a college were to become intentional about this. Imagine the impact in a community if this were to become the operating system, the “how we run” (maybe I am getting cooler?) of a college.
Some stumble into this by mistake. Perhaps fate has smiled on them. What could happen if all were intentionally “trained up” or educated this way? I believe our world would be much more…well…human!
We are all reaching the doldrums of the semester and students (and some faculty) are getting bored with the same ol’ song and dance. So, time to bring in some song and dance :)
To begin with, I start the first day of class with music as students are coming into the room. Most don’t know each other, so it is a way to break the silence. It also sets the mood of the room, especially because I choose music that is upbeat and happy. I also start the first day with some sort of math movie – which depends on the course level. But I find the use of video to be helpful in connecting with the students.
I am also in the process of finding music to try to connect concepts in math for students. I have found fun songs about factoring, completing the square, logarithms, solving equations, circles, and geometry. In my own life, I joke that I know a crazy number of songs – every note and lyric. And many of us are like this – auditory learners are not the only students that learn well through music. Our brain connects rhymes and cycles of notes to words, so songs can be a great way to memorize. So my theory is to create put many of the things students have trouble remembering to song.
I discovered a couple of years ago that students in math classes have a lot of work time – practice time – activity time in which they are working or discussing on a problem. And the room was so quiet. So I started thinking of ways to liven things up a bit. So I started a guest DJ spot in the class. Whenever students are working on a problem, we get to have someone in the room choose a song to listen to. I think about my own personal study habits and I know that music makes tasks seem so much more pleasant. The downfall is that some students need quiet to think and work, but I have found those with that mentality begin to believe the music helps them study and live with some distraction.
And finally, activity also helps students learn, so I encourage them to get up and move around and dance to the music whenever they need a brain break. Even dancing in their seat increases the circulation of blood to the brain and helps students increase focus and attention. So…Boom….Get going with the song and dance.