Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What can we learn about teaching and learning from Randy Pausch?

picture of a brick wall with graffiti flowers painted on it
I found it difficult to listen to Randy Pausch's "last lecture" from the viewpoint of an educator. When you are listening to someone speak about their life while knowing that they only have a few short months to live, it's hard to listen from any other perspective than that of simply a human being who's trying to gain some tiny bit of knowledge about how to better live this life, but I think the point Randy made most clearly that can be applied to all areas of life is to just have fun! No matter what you are doing, have fun!

I think, for him, a part of having fun was doing the "head fake," and I can see why. Isn't that the best way to learn? If you could learn really difficult material and just think you're having fun, wouldn't you want to do it that way? That presents a challenge for educators. How can we make learning fun for our students? I think there are several ways we can do this, but first we need to get to know our students and what interests them. Once you are armed with that knowledge, you can begin to find ways to incorporate their interests into lessons, and before you know it, you're all having fun!

Another lesson we can learn about teaching from Randy Pausch is not to set the bar too low for our students. Like him, I think I'd be blown away by what students can produce by giving them more freedom and not setting limits for them. I am most excited about this theory because I found myself always giving very specific directions about what I wanted my students to produce and that's exactly what I got! Sometimes, I didn't even get that much! What if I hadn't told them what to give me? What could they have done? I'm excited to see!

Finally, I think Pausch's notion of "hitting brick walls" happens to the best of us. We've all hit that brick wall, but that doesn't mean we should stop pursuing our dreams. Brick walls are there to separate those who really want it from those who sort of want it. Brick walls build character and strength, and these are also the kinds of lessons we can help our students learn.

When faced with brick walls, we should spray them with graffiti and keep going! Now, that's having fun and showing that brick wall a thing or two! I think Randy Pausch would have agreed!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What do you think of open ended questions?

Reading through the assigned materials, I found several statements that resonated with me. I would like to share some of them. 

Ben Johnson stated, "The fallacy with this thinking is that sometimes the students do not understand that they do not understand, and if they do not know what they do not know, there is no way that they can ask a question about it." It sounds like something you might hear Dr. Seuss say, but if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. You have to have some understanding before you can ask questions. I have found myself in this dilemma several times this semester, and this will definitely affect my questioning strategy as a teacher in the future. Being the student for a while causes one to reflect on one's own teaching style. 

"Show that you are interested in students’ answers, whether right or wrong. Encourage students when they are offering answers by nodding, looking at them, and using facial expressions that show you are listening and engaged. Do not look down at your notes while they are speaking." This statement is from the article, "Asking Questions to Improve Learning." I believe this is key in getting students to engage in answering the open ended questions that are presented. No one wants to respond to a question when they think what they are saying isn't important to the person asking the question. It's important to show respect for students and a genuine interest in their responses. 

Perhaps the statement that resonated most with me was this by Maryellen Weimer, "1. Prepare Questions – For most of my teaching career, I never planned the questions I would ask. I spent lots of time preparing the content; making sure it was current, getting it organized, finding examples, working through explanations, relating what I shared in class to content in the book, but I never prepared questions. I just asked whatever came to me at the moment." 

This is a very accurate description of how I handled questioning. Sadly, the only time I put real thought into what questions I would ask was when constructing a test.

Dr. Weimer also points out that getting students to ask better questions should be a goal, and when they ask questions that we, the teacher, can't answer, then we have achieved success! At this point, we become actively engaged learners alongside our students!  

While watching the video, "Questioning Styles and Strategies," I cringed several times. I felt a lot of empathy for the students. The instructor was clearly not interested in the response of the students, and it was obvious that they could tell he wasn't interested. It was also apparent that he was looking for a particular answer which was making students apprehensive to offer their answers. I did not find that he was really engaging the students. He was drawing attention to them in negative, uncomfortable ways. This was apparent in their body language and timid responses. Responses to good open ended questions would be more enthusiastic. Enthusiastic students equal engaged students.

After reading and viewing the assigned materials, I did some searching and found a great website that I would like to share. Paula Denton wrote "Open Ended Questions." In this article she discusses, "What Makes Open Ended Questions So Powerful?" Here is what she wrote:

"Children’s learning naturally loops through a cycle of wonder, exploration, discovery, reflection, and more wonder, leading them on to increasingly complex knowledge and sophisticated thinking. The power of open-ended questions comes from the way these questions tap into that natural cycle, inviting children to pursue their own curiosity about how the world works.
Open-ended questions show children that their teachers trust them to have good ideas, think for themselves, and contribute in valuable ways. The resulting sense of autonomy, belonging, and competence leads to engagement and deep investment in classroom activities."
Paula's article is on the Responsive Classroom website. Because I was so impressed with her article about open ended questions, I did a little more investigating to find more information. Here is a wonderful video about the responsive classroom. 

I would like to suggest that it is not only important to ask open ended questions, but to also think about the wording we use, provide a positive response environment, listen with the enthusiasm in which we want our students to answer, and encourage students to ask their own open ended questions. What do you think?  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Project #3 Presentation

Project Based Learning

picture of students working on a project

Project based learning is not a novel idea. Teachers have been using this method for at least 30 years because as a student in elementary school I created projects and learned content during the process. We've all been assigned the solar system project at some point!

However, in the past, teachers assigned projects that usually required some use of materials that could be manipulated by the hands. The biggest difference I can see between the project based learning of the past and today is technology. Technology allows students to research, create, and share faster and more than ever before, making project based learning even more effective than in the past. Technology is such an integral part of students' every day lives using it in such a way allows the projects to become even more meaningful to them.

Watching the interviews with Anthony Capps, I was most impressed with his "scaffolding" idea of introducing and using technology with his students. I think this is an absolute must! This applies to all areas of learning. You wouldn't expect a student to do algebra before mastering addition and subtraction.

My question to Mr. Capps would be along the lines of classroom management. Does he ever experience a student who doesn't seem interested in the project, and how does he handle this type of situation? I might also ask if any of the projects that he assigns have an impact on serving the community in which he and his students reside. Are they learning to become good learners and users of technology, as well as, productive, caring members of their community? In my opinion, this would be the highest level you could reach for with project based learning, reaching beyond the walls of the classroom and making a positive contribution to the community through these projects.

As a fifth grade American history teacher, projects were a favorite way of mine to get standards met. I'm so excited about the advances in technology, for example iCurio, and I can't wait to find ways to integrate more of it into some of my favorite projects, as well as create new ones!

Alabama College and Career Standard:

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: CCR Anchor Standard 7: "Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitively, as well as in words."

Text Types and Purposes: CCR Anchor Standard 1: "Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence."