Teaching with Intention

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Category: Social Media and Personalized Learning

Learning is Messy: Final Thoughts for 515 and 568

“who has the time.” by GYLo is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 

You know when you are organizing your home or garage and things usually get messier before they get better? I am in the messy stage of developing my research project question. I knew when I started my master’s degree that my goal was to inform and enrich the development and implementation of my Environmental Science 11 class next spring. Over the past six years I have been inspired by the changes in education in BC, and I have taken advantage of professional development opportunities regarding inquiry, indigenous curriculum, assessment, and curriculum development. I am excited to offer a course to students that is guided by their interests and questions, has a positive impact on their local community and environment, and offers authentic hands-on science experiences with local experts. I am bringing all of my learning together in the development of Environmental Science 11, so there seems to be many opportunities for a research project. In the past month I have also been introduced to a variety of research methodologies and been continually inspiration by my peers so that now I feel like a kid in a candy shop that can’t make up her mind.

Thankfully, not everything is messy.

I have learned many things thus far that I can say with certainty I will incorporate into my teaching practice. The phrase “Voice and Choice” has come up regularly, and it has become a focus for me when developing a student centered learning environment. I have appreciated the authentic invitation to contribute and ask questions during and after class, and am reminded how imperative it is that the teacher is approachable and encouraging. Furthermore, I have valued opportunities to choose the pathways for my learning. What a worthwhile experience it is to be a student again and have that perspective when I return to my classroom!

While considering my assessment practices for a student-driven inquiry based curriculum I recognized that I will need to provide my students with choice regarding how they display their learning. Originally, I had it planned out that students would complete weekly reflections on their learning as blog entries and present evidence of their learning in an e-portfolio. My perspective has changed significantly in the past month and my preconceived notions have been challenged. Students needn’t be restricted in how they provide evidence of their learning. I have begun to appreciate the potential roles that technology can have for assessment, but also in project organization (Trello, OneNote), refection (Flipgrid, blog posts), communication (WhatsApp, Slack), and learning from and inspiring others (blog posts, Twitter, and other social media platforms). I look forward to offering and welcoming a variety of ways for students to learn, reflect, organize and present their work.

I have become a more informed user of technology and am grateful that I can implement and pass that knowledge on to my students.  BC FIPPA Guidelines, BC Cloud Computing Guide, and Creative Commons, will be important resources for helping students become informed and responsible digital citizens. For myself, learning more about the responsibilities and repercussions of having an online presence have helped me develop my PLN with confidence and intention and I have begun to tap into an educational community that is rich in experience and knowledge.

Here comes the messy part: Identifying and developing my research question.

Learning is messy, and we have to be comfortable with risk, failure, growth and revision” -George Couros

When I started this program my question was “How can technology be used to facilitate communication and collaboration in the classroom?” Technology will be an integral part of communication and collaboration, I am sure, but technology is no longer my focus. My attention has turned to how I can support communication and collaboration in a broader sense.  This might include teaching specific communication skills, facilitating Scrum meetings, being more(or less) involved in student-mentor interactions, and considering how technology can be implemented for effective communication.

Recently, while writing a blog post for 568, I realized that building positive relationships is my primary goal, and that communicating, cooperating, and collaborating are the stepping stones towards that goal. John Spencer’s twitter post raised the question of whether skills of collaboration can be learned (and taught) as a progression from effective communication skills to cooperating and finally to collaborating.

So I am left wondering, is my question “How can I support collaboration in my classroom?” or “How can I teach communication skills, cooperative skills and collaborating skills?”

Things get even messier when I consider my research method. I began this month really excited to conduct the type of quantitative analysis I am so familiar with in my science classroom. Anaylzing test scores was out of the question, as my Environmental Science class was not going to be assessed through traditional testing methods. Questionnaires with scaled answers from 1-10 could be used to analyze student perceptions of the course, their enjoyment, their engagement, their learning, etc. Alternatively, I could collect data on the type(s) of technology that students chose to use for communicating, and how frequently they used that method of communication. Dr. Alexandra D’Arcy presentation regarding the UVIC Human Research Ethics Board raised some serious concerns for me, and it became clear that I do not want to jeopardize the trust and relationships that I build with my students for my own educational purposes.  Now I am considering a reflective self study or a qualitative analysis using interviews with community mentors that can be used to inform and improve my practice (and hopefully that of other educators).

Learning about research methods, ethical considerations, and watching Kitchen Stories (by Bent Hamer, 2003) have raised many questions about what exactly I will be researching and how I will go about my research. I, the researcher, am interested in researching collaboration with community mentors in the Environmental Sciences.  I am interested in the following questions:

  • How might effective collaboration skills be taught, encouraged and facilitated?
  • How might collaboration influence student interest in Environmental Science?
  • How might collaboration impact student ability to engage in scientific inquiry?
  • Will collaborating with high school students be a valuable experience for community mentors?

Ultimately, I hope that my research will have value to myself and other readers interested in implementing collaboration during student-driven inquiry projects in science.

The article I read for my last blog assignment in EDCI 568, Activity Features of High School Students’ Science Learning in an Open-Inquiry-Based Internship Programme,  has provided me with some structure for moving forward with the 7 key features of activity theory; tools, subject, communication, rules, object, division of labour, and outcome. These features can provide a framework for teaching and assessing collaborative inquiry projects, and they can also provide a framework of learning for students. These 7 key features, when considered within the context of the 5 R’s (respect, relevance, reciprocity, responsibility, and relationships) from A Case Study of the First Nations Schools’ Principals Course, can provide a strong foundation for intentionally teaching and developing respectful relationships that can contribute to effective collaboration.

To conclude, the experience of returning to research this past month has been extraordinary. My ultimate goal is to provide positive and meaningful learning experiences for my students, and I believe that can be achieved through engaging in collaborative inquiry projects. I have been introduced to many valuable tools for communication, organization, networking and reflection that will assist me in designing and implementing inquiry-based learning opportunities in Environmental Science 11.  Further analysis of research will help me discover how I can best support students when engaging in collaborative relationships with community members. Although things are messy at the moment, I have learned two very powerful tools that will facilitate my professional growth and help develop my research project.

  1. Returning to research and developing my professional learning network has inspired me and informed my practice.
  2. Constructing blog posts has been instrumental for processing, organizing, and synthesizing information.

These two activities will be allow me to thoughtfully develop research that will ultimately lead to improvements in my teaching and thereby in student learning.

 

 

“Organization” by Ms.Palania is licensed under CC PDM 1.0 

Collaboration is Key

“learning zone” by biblioteekje is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

I entered into my Masters program with the intent of enriching my pedagogical practices for the implementation of an Environmental Science 11 class in the spring of 2020.  This class will provide an opportunity for learners to participate in authentic inquiry based projects in collaboration with community mentors. I knew I would need to expand my skillset in order to

  • communicate effectively with students using technology
  • assist with project organization
  • model and facilitate effective collaborative relationships with community members
  • assess authentic displays of student learning.

It often feels daunting to embark on such a non-traditional learning experience within the confines of the public school structure, however I have been encouraged and inspired by a recent article I read by Pei-Ling Hsu and Laura Venegas. Activity Features of High School Students’ Science Learning in an Open-Inquiry-Based Internship Programme has offered valuable insight and resources for the planning of Environment Science 11, and reminds me that impactful learning can take place when students are able to collaborate with experts to conduct projects that are inspired by their own interests and curiosity .

Hsu and Venegas outline the development of activity theory, which has had three important stages in its development. First, cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT)

explains how human activities function in the world and how individuals make meaning through ‘social, cultural, educational and historical contexts’  (Postholm, 2015, p.45)

CHAT focused primarily on the learning that occurs when an individual interacts with artifacts.  A subsequent activity theory took into account the context of collective activity. For my intents and purposes I will focus on collective activity between students, teacher, teacher assistants and community mentors. The most recent amendment to activity theory considers the interactions between collaborators and seven key variables that allow the learner to make meaning of the context around them. The seven key variables, features or constructs of the activity are:

  1. Tools: instruments that support and facilitate the activity
  2. Subject: individuals, students, groups, or organisations
  3. Rules: the guidlines which establish normative behaviours
  4. Community: the group or individuals interacting between the object and the subject
  5. Division of labour: how the work is divided within the community
  6. Object: the ‘target’ which is altered into outcomes, ie. curriculum
  7. Outcome: the result of the activity system

These key variables have initiated considerable reflection for me with regards to my upcoming Environmental Science class.

Overview of Research

In the study, 36 high school students worked alongside university scientists over 40 classes that spanned across a seven month internship program. Students were invited to discuss and reflect on project design, data collection, and challenges in their investigations and were required to present their scientific research to their families, teachers, and friends. Journal reflections, video-recordings, scientific presentations, interviews and field notes were analyzed over the seven month period and participant perception of the seven key variables were as follows:

  1. Tools: 73% reported that students were equipped with advanced scientific equipment, hands-on teaching methods, and communication tools to learn science
  2. Subject: 86% reported that students were competent, autonomous and perseverant learners
  3. Rules: 47% reported that students followed safety rules, ethics, and communication to practice science
  4. Community: 65% reported that the internship community was supportive, encouraging, and responsive to students’ needs
  5. Division of labour: 45% reported that students developed skills to work on projects collaboratively with others
  6. Object: 73% reported that students were learning scientific knowledge that was in-depth, specific and applied to real-life situations
  7. Outcome: 27%reported that students were able to present their scientific findings and exchange ideas with other community members

Personal and Professional Application of the Research

One of my favorite Ted Talks is given by Rita Pierson. Rita has been teaching for 40 years and comes from a long line of educators, and she expresses the impact of connection and relationships on learning.

Rita claims that significant learning can not happen without significant relationships. It might follow that collaborative relationships with others has the potential to be a powerful teaching and learning tool. In Environmental Science 11 students will experience hands-on learning with community mentors, while engaging in inquiry-based group projects that directly impact their local environment. In order to ensure positive and productive learning experiences for students, I will need to facilitate positive and productive collaboration between students, teacher, teacher assistants, and community mentors. Hence, my research topic is collaboration, and two potential inquiry questions for my masters project are:

“How can I support productive collaboration with community mentors in Environmental Science 11?”  and 

“How will I determine if a community mentoring experience was successful?”

Hsu and Venegas’ research and their seven key variables bring forth several questions when it comes to  facilitating effective collaborative experiences:

  • What method(s) of communication can we employ to ensure that teacher, student(s) and community members work as a team?
  • How can I encourage autonomy and perseverence in my students?
  • How can I ensure that safety and ethics are in place when students are collaborating with community members
  • How can I ensure that community members are supportive, encouraging, and responsive to students’ needs?
  • What collaborative skills are necessary and how will I teach them?
  • How can I support students in the production and presentation of their learning?

Two strategies I can put in place that may begin to respond to the above noted questions are

  1. Prepare a document with students that can be reviewed at an initial team meeting. This document will include a place where team members can agree upon the preferred method of communication, outline the expectations for the teacher, student, and community member, and discuss how team members might navigate unexpected challenges or obstacles. 
  2. Be approachable and available to students and community mentors throughout project development both in person and via technology.

More questions remain than answers when I consider the implementation of community mentoring and collaborative inquiry. How will students prefer to communicate with me, with each other and with the mentor?  Will community mentors be available during our scheduled class time for collaborating? How will I manage being available to 6 or 7 groups of students during project development and implementation? What will my collaboration with mentors look like? What safeguards can be implemented to ensure positive experiences with community mentors? How can the seven key variables further inform my teaching and assessment practices? This list is by no means exhaustive, however I am so encouraged and excited by the possibilities of authentic scientific learning in collaboration with local experts that I believe my efforts will be worthwhile.

 

 

 

“Macroinvertebrate Sampling” by James River Association is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 

 

 

 

Related References

The reference list for Hsu and Venegas’ article is a valuable source of information regarding inquiry, authentic science curriculum, activity theory, public engagement, valid and meaningful assessment, nature in science, and research apprenticeships.

A search of Dr. Gilbert Onwu, of the University of Pretoria reveals a variety of research projects relevant to environmental education, indigenous knowledge systems and science education, and outcomes-based education.

Dr. Gillian Judson, @perfinker, is an author, blogger (educationthatinspires.ca), professor, and Executive Director of the Centre for Imagination in Research, Culture and Education at SFU.  Her research interests include (but are not limited to) online learning, educational change, leadership, and sustainability, inquiry-based learning.

RT Johnson and DW Johnson have numerous publications in the area of cooperative learning.

I stumbled upon Dr. Robert Slavin’s blog at robertslavinsblog.wordpress.com. Dr. Slavin is the Director of Hopkins Center for Research & Reform in Education in Baltimore. His twitter account is @RobertSlavin.

Allyson Hadwin (@AllysonHadwin) is an Associate Professor and TIE lab co-director at UVIC. Her areas of focus include (but are not limited to) self-regulation, collaborative learning, and 21st century learning strategies. Dr. Hadwin’s research site (allysonhadwin.wordpress.com) include numerous publications on the above noted areas of focus.

And of course, @hopkinsjeff, @trev_mackenzie, @ChristineYH and @courosa whom we have had the pleasure of meeting in EDCI 568.

Additional relevant twitter feeds include @TrevorMuir and @spencerideas

Inquiry, PSII, and Environmental Science

“Trello” by Brian Dys is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

What a week! I was able to dream and make connections to my upcoming Environmental Science class that left me inspired and invigorated. Two leaders in the field of inquiry and personalized learning visited our class this week. Trevor Mackenzie came to speak with us about Inquiry and Project Based Learning, and Jeff Hopkins shared some of his experiences as an educational leader at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry(PSII) in downtown Victoria. The work of both of these speakers reminded me of the film “Most Likely to Succeed” by Ted Dintersmith that introduces viewers to High Tech High in San Diego. The founding  principles of High Tech High are equity, personalization, authentic work and collaborative design. These principles are evident throughout Trevor MacKenzie’s book Dive into Inquiry, in the design of the PSII, and also in the new BC curriculum.

The new BC curriculum aims to achieve curriculum competencies by equipping learners with the core competencies of

  • Communication
  • Creative and Critical Thinking
  • Personal and Social Awareness and Responsibility.

The core competencies and revised curriculum allow teachers and learners to dive deeper than knowledge acquisition and retention so they can apply their skills in exciting new ways. I am reminded of the visual from Trevor MacKenzie’s book Dive Into Inquiry:

The goal for the teacher is to facilitate students progression from structured inquiry through to free inquiry. There are real challenges in introducing guided and free inquiry in the context of our current public school system. A few such challenges include the physical structure of our schools, schedules, assessment practices, class sizes and teaching students according to grade and course subject. Jeff was able to design an independent school that addresses these limitations, however, I am hopeful that I can provide similar meaningful learning experience in the current public school system.

I will be teaching Environmental Science 11 for the first time in the fall of 2020. I have a variety of goals for this class, but in this blog I want to focus primarily on promoting inquiry and personalized learning in the wake of this weeks EDCI 568 lessons.

Early Learning Models as an Educational Foundation

Jeff strongly recommended that all educators familiarize themselves with early learning practices. British Columbia’s Early Learning Framework is currently being updated to respond to the challenges and possibilities of the 21st century, just as our K-12 curriculum has been. The pages of the draft framework mirror many of the curriculum competencies, however the role of play and emergent learning is prominent in the early learning framework. Specifically, the StrongStart BC resource emphasizes the importance of play-based learning environments that foster discovery and creativity. In his visit to our class Jeff spoke of being disappointed with his high school experience even though the opportunities seemed endless with great teachers and plenty of resources. Perhaps it was the absence of emergent learning, or the ability to follow one’s own interests in order to create and solve one’s own questions that limited his engagement.

Inquiry-Based Learning

At PSII they help facilitate emergent learning with inquiry learning tools found on the Human Learning Institute site which includes

  • Inquiry Guide
  • Inquiry Process Flowchart
  • Competency Assessment Framework

Before educators ‘Dive into Inquiry‘, it is important to acknowledge that many students approach inquiry with uncertainty and trepidation as the freedom to guide their own learning is unfamiliar. Jeff mentioned the following questions were useful when helping students ‘unlearn’ the traditional school structure and embark on learning based on inquiry and innovation:

  • What do you know?
  • What are you interested in?
  • What would you be doing if you weren’t here?
  • What do you learn when your doing that?

Jeff also mentioned that when students participate in inquiry based learning, there is a prerequisite that the teacher let go of a certain element of control. The new role of the teacher is not to control the information that the learner is introduced to, but to facilitate the discovery of that information. Often that includes leaving the confines of the school, and this is an experience I hope to offer my Environmental Science students next year.

Opportunities for Collaboration

Resources in our community for environmental education abound, and by engaging in partnerships with community members my students can experience positive collaborative interactions that will enhance relational skills that are paramount in so many 21st century jobs.   I have lined up almost a dozen local experts in environmental restoration that will share with students some of the projects already underway in our community. To my delight many of these community members are not only willing but excited at the opportunity to mentor high school students and influence a future generation of environmental stewards. Students will pose inquiry questions that will guide their own exploration from questioning to learning activities and projects that have a positive impact on our local environment. This leads us to the next important stage of inquiry and project based learning: Assessment.

Assessment

How will I capture the moments of learning through this inquiry process and collaborative community engagements? I really appreciated the personal approach that Jeff outlined with regards to assessment and the continuum of engagement with the learning.  Scheduling weekly discussions with students to discuss goals, progress, and challenges will be an imperative tool to monitor and facilitate positive learning experiences. This will be complemented by the use of Trello, a tool for organizing and prioritizing tasks and projects. As students will be working in small groups, I am intrigued by the idea of Agile Scrum meetings, which can be conducted daily or weekly to encourage student independence and organization. Quick Scrum meetings can be used to review what has been completed, what the tasks for the day or week are, and what obstacles need to be overcome to continue working. Additional resources for Scrum meetings include

The final evidence for learning will be determined through conversations conducted throughout project development.  The expectation and requirement to provide evidence of the acquisition of relevant knowledge and skills seems like a much more authentic means of assessment than traditional testing. Referring to the above noted Competency Assessment Framework used by PSII will be a valuable tool in constructing competency-based assessment in the following areas:

  • Ecological Literacy
  • Critical and Creative Thinking
  • Personal Planning and Responsibility
  • Information and Media Literacy
  • Cultural Awareness and Understanding
  • Collaboration and Leadership
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening

Predicted Challenges for Implementing Inquiry and Personalized Learning

During Jeff’s visit to our class, it became clear that two of the greatest challenges I will face implementing inquiry-based learning will be class size and the restrictive school schedule. I will have a class of 28 students that will have limited experience in self-directed learning. It will be crucial to develop strong relationships with my students, and encourage a team dynamic in the classroom. I can also overcome some of the challenges of a large class size by

  • working in small groups
  • modeling and encouraging regular scrum meetings
  • using Trello to facilitate student organization and teacher-student communication

The obstacle of our existing school schedule will be a little more challenging to navigate. My vision of a successful experience for my students will be one where they are excited and able to meet with their community mentor during class time (or certainly outside of school if they would like). This level of student autonomy rarely exists within our public school framework. If this vision is to become a reality it will require

  • Parental involvement (and permission for excused absences)
  • engaged and invested students
  • a clear plan for daily and weekly progress with a focus on providing evidence of learning
  • strong trusting relationships

There are many more details to be considered in the development of my course, but I am confident that with the resources and literature provided by experts in the field, such as Jeff Hopkins and Trevor Mackenzie, I can overcome existing obstacles and participate in enjoyable and meaningful learning experiences with my students.  Stay tuned!

 

Trevor MacKenzie on twitter: @trev_mackenzie

Jeff Hopkins on twitter: @hopkinsjeff

 

Other interesting school designs and ecological learning opportunities can be found at

 

Decolonization

The last few days have been quite a ride.  The three assigned readings;

have taken me through such a range of emotions, I am hoping that blogging about it might allow me to put some of my thoughts to rest tonight for a good nights’ sleep.

I hope I’m not alone when I admit that “Idle No More” left me frustrated and agitated.  I wondered if my reaction was simply a mirror of the spirit in which the chapter was written (as Dr. Pete was transparent in her writing regarding her frustration teaching pre-service white teachers). I am a very willing learner when it comes to Indigenous experience and ways of knowing, and in my experience my agitation simply signals that I have more learning to do.  And so I jump into the second reading.

I thoroughly enjoyed the second reading, and appreciate the insights that Dr. Pete had with respect to her readers.  It was brilliantly written and provoking, and I appreciated it very much.  Storytelling is so incredibly powerful. Furthermore, I appreciate Dr. Pete’s call for action for non-indigenous educators to educate themselves.  Resources abound, and I have echoed the sentiment that we (settlers) do not have an excuse to be ignorant.  That being said, I still have so much to learn. I am grateful for the respected authors noted in Dr. Pete’s work.

To finish my readings tonight, I had the pleasure of considering the Five R’s for Indigenizing Online Learning. I found the approach and foundation to the research welcoming and inspiring.  I am shocked that a new category for evaluation had to be created in order for the course to be accredited. This framework reflects so many of my goals, and I wonder about implementing a similar guiding foundation to my Environmental Science course, and allowing these critical R’s to penetrate my teaching practice throughout all of my teaching assignments.

I also am also considering the research methodology of the third article and how a similar approach would be beneficial for the implementation and evolution of my upcoming Env. Sci class.  I will certainly be revisiting this paper for further inspiration.

 

Informal Blog Post: Take One

I woke up this morning really excited to dive into my goal of interacting on social media and building my PLN. In particular, I wanted to follow some blogs that have been introduced to us in class, and take some time wandering around Twitter to find people that will inspire me professionally.  This is my first informal post, one that I will not submit for grading. I am consciously refusing to edit and re-edit, and just want to journal my experience navigating this new realm. Will it be as interesting and rich as promised?

I started by re-reading Christine Younghusband’s blog post titled Evolution of My PLN and love the idea of making new friends on Twitter.  I am part of a facebook group of fitness enthusiasts that has over 50 members from across North America, and I have had the pleasure of meeting a few of those individuals after first establishing a friendship on facebook. I wonder if participating in Twitter and reading blogs can offer me the same inspiration and sense of community.

I then looked up Christine Younghusband’s blog. Within 5 minutes I was reading about a course Christine taught in the Summer of 2018 called “Quantitative Approaches to Environmental Education”.  Crazy. Taking my masters was a decision I made to inform and support the implementation of Environmental Science 11 in our School. I thoroughly enjoy math, and look forward to using quantitative analysis with my students to evaluate our marine and land environments. Now I am repeating a sentence from Christine’s blog in my head: “It was very serendipitous”. Yes it is. Listed in the required reading for Christine’s class is a book by Judson, Gillian (2018) titled “A walking curriculum: Evoking wonder and developing sense of place (K-12)”, which appears to fit in beautifully with the ideas I have for my class next spring so I promptly ordered it through Amazon.  I watched Gillian Judson’s Tedx Talk  titled “Engage Emotion, Engage Imagination” and followed her on twitter.

She has 18.1K followers and is following 14.2K twitter accounts. I’ll checked them out later:) I also made note of the fact that she offers workshops to school districts…perhaps a ProD opportunity I can suggest. Thirty minutes in and this has already been so fruitful. I could stop now, but I haven’t even read a blog or dove into twitter! This will likely be time consuming, but I am already assured it will be worth it.

I commented on a blog post from Christine, noting our similar areas of interest and thanking her for directing me to some valuable resources. This is easier than I thought! One hour in and I am switching gears to check out Ian Landy, AKA Technolandy.  Second blog in and I am reading his post regarding his chat with #TIEgrad. He recommends some hashtags, handles, and blogs, and I have followed Katie White @katiewhite426 (I really appreciated her positive, inspirational tweets) and Dean Shareski @shareski. Wondering what to do next I looked up a friend and respected colleague (also a twitter enthusiast) and checked out who she follows. I added Ted-Ed, Elisa Carlson, Ally Hoffman (who I did my practicum with way back when), Daniel Pink (I have read and thoroughly enjoyed his books!), Chris Hadfield (he has such an endearing personality), TomWhitby, Alan Clark (colleague at Spectrum), Ramy Gerber (VP of our neighboring elementary school where I have helped create a shared garden space), UVIC, Bruce Bidney (my principal) and Greater Victoria SD. I’m losing steam, so I’m going to close by updating my twitter profile as this influenced who I followed greatly.

Not bad for my first day.

 

Posting with Intention

I’m very nervous about this post. I am a pretty private person when it comes to my personal life and growth, especially online, but this week I have been faced with some challenging questions. Why am I so quiet on social media?  Why do I resist putting myself out there? In order to reflect on these questions, I am going to review the week of classes for EDCI 515 and 568 chronologically, as my progression of thinking has been guided by our daily discussions and guest speakers.

The assigned reading for Monday included Twitter Use and its Effects on Student Perception of Instructor Credibility, by DeGroot, Young & VanSlette (2015).   This article brought out all the insecurities I have when it comes to social media. Will I sound simple or uneducated? Will I make a spelling mistake? Will peers that are reading it judge me? Will some peers judge me on the fact that I am trying to further my practice (yes, I know this would be driven by their own insecurities, but it still impacts my engagement on social media). Do I have significant contributions to professional discussions? At the end of it all, I am left to ask myself why am I so worried about what others think and why am I lacking the confidence to participate? I spent a fair bit of time considering these questions, and the answers are fairly personal, but I am confident that they are not unique experiences so I will risk being vulnerable and just go for it.

As far as worrying about sounding simple or uneducated, my passion drives me in all areas of my life and my passion often supercedes my abilities. I regularly find myself in arenas that I don’t feel comfortable or confident in.  When it comes to my teaching practice, I am aware that although I have been teaching for more than 20 years, I only have 10 years of full time service to draw from. I have not stayed in one subject area for very long, therefore have not become an expert in any specific discipline. I started my career in a junior high school teaching math and science for 3 years, then taught Home Economics for almost 10 years while I had our three children. I swallowed my fears and jumped back into high school math 8 years ago, and embarked on teaching senior biology and science only 5 years ago. That’s not very much time in any single area to form much expertise, and someone with more experience could easily disregard what I have to say.

When it comes to peers judging me for going back to school and diving into research, technology, and 21st century learning, I think this is a big influence that limits my use of social media. Where I work, many teachers are quite verbal when it comes to disrespecting the ‘ivory tower’, and professional development in general.  Five years ago I helped start a committee that considered collaboration time for teachers in order to help with implementing new curriculum, provide an avenue for meaningful professional development, model lifelong learning for our students, and encourage a sense of community among a divided and often isolated staff.  Four years ago, we were able to have collaboration time included in our instructional time. Since then, there has been a significant portion of the staff that has been very public in their dislike of collaboration. Out of our initial group of 4 teachers that started the committee, 3 have moved to other schools or the school board partly due to this conflict. This is where my mantra of  “Go with the goers” comes from, but it is challenging sometimes.

Why am I so worried about what other people think? This question goes back a long way to when I learned to really value my privacy. In junior high and high school my family went through some very difficult times when our family business burnt down and my dad succumbed to addiction. Our struggles were often very public, and at one point all my teachers were given photos of my dad to help keep me and my sister safe at school. I did not handle the pressures very well, and drew a lot of negative attention to myself. This negative image seemed inescapable until I moved from Vancouver to Victoria in my mid-twenties. I really valued having a new identity and the opportunity for a fresh start.  Significantly participating in an online community scares me. I have valued flying under the radar for over 20 years, and engaging in social media feels like I am willingly putting myself in a vulnerable position by opening myself up to the public.

Two subsequent readings, Public comment sentiment on educational videos: Understanding the effects of presenter gender, video farmat, threading, and moderation on YouTube TED talk comment, by Veletsianos, Kimmons, Larsen, Dousay, & Lowenthal (2018) and Women Scholars’ Experiences with Online Harassment and Abuse: Self-Protection, Resistance, Accpetance, and Self-Blame, by Veletsianos, Houlden, Hodsen and Gosse (2018) pushed me to consider my absence on social media further.  I have experienced being dismissed and ridiculed for my contributions several times in my career. I am confident it had more to do with the other individuals’ insecurities and arrogance, however it still requires courage to put myself out there. Drawing from the categories of coping presented in Women Scholars’ Experiences with Online Harassment and Abuse: Self-Protection, Resistance, Accpetance, and Self-Blame, I certainly subscribe dominantly to the strategy of self-protection by eliminating opportunities for harassment altogether. I compartmentalize my professional and personal online identities, I choose privacy options that significantly limit who can see my posts, and regularly draft a post that I delete immediately when I consider how they may be interpreted or what responses they might elicit.

For a long time, it was easy to refrain from social media as my husband is a police officer and worked undercover for many years.  Jesse Miller’s presentation on Safety, Privacy, and Professionalism on Tuesday afternoon reinforced all my reasons for minimizing my engagement with social media. For our safety and anonymity, my husband and I both delayed becoming engaged in any social media at all until a reunion brought me to facebook only 6 years ago, and my husband signed up for facebook only 3 years ago. When I recently discussed privacy setting choices with my husband for this progrem, Trevor surprised me and said there was no reason to limit myself to posting with regards to my professional growth. It has been easy to remain silent and disengaged on social media so far, however now I have some choices to make for myself.  I would like to get to a place of resistance and acceptance (coping strategies outlined in Women Scholars’ Experiences with Online Harassment and Abuse: Self-Protection, Resistance, Acceptance, and Self-Blame), however, I am sensitive and admit to sometimes being emotional. The time it takes to rebound from negative interactions is time that I don’t wish to donate. Will the benefits of putting myself out there outweigh the time and energy it will take to digest potential negative responses?

The assigned reading for Thursday was Scholars Before Researchersby Boote & Beile (2005). This article reminded me of the richness of research and information available that can inform my teaching practice, and I had to admit that social media is a valuable tool for sharing relevant, interesting, and applicable scholarly writing and educational practices.  I was reminded that I am embarking on my masters degree to improve my teaching practice, and to enable me to facilitate a richer and more engaging learning environment for my students. Although sitting on the sidelines might feel safe, it is neither fulfilling, inspiring, nor of much personal benefit.

In conclusion, I realize that fear is driving my resistance to engaging in social media for professional development.  I have not let fear stop me from doing anything of value in my life thus far, and now that I have identified my obstacle I intend to conquer it. The benefits associated with connecting with a larger community of professionals and the conversations that could result appear to far outweigh the cons of disengaging and remaining a consumer of online content rather than a contributor.  I would love to hear about the benefits of social media that you have experienced in the comments! Thanks for listening, and I look forward to our online conversations.

 

 

Resisting the Path of Least Resistance

My “fight or flight” response was alive and well when I read both articles: Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not  Work and Teaching for Meaningful Learning: A Review of Research on Inquiry-Based and Cooperative Learning.  I struggled with the black and white nature of both pieces and the perceived predetermined pathway for my thinking. I was uncomfortable with my immediate conclusion that effective teaching and learning lies somewhere in the middle. That was too simplistic, and because of its simplicity it was dismissive.  I was missing something. If I stopped there I would be robbing myself of deeper understanding, change and growth.  In my experience, that feeling of unrest and the “fight or flight” response ( rising heart rate, fidgeting, anger, and wanting to shut down and disengage) is my cue to dig in and  unearth my discomfort. I have learned that by doing this I will likely be rewarded with a change in my thinking and understanding. It is my cue that I need to dive deep into the material, and discover why the experience is unsettling to me.  In this process, I find my purpose for teaching. My purpose for teaching is to support students as they work through their discomfort and anxieties, so they can experience the liberation and satisfaction of learning.

Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark’s article on Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work highlights the importance of respecting human cognitive architecture in the learning process. Studies suggest that problem solving places a huge burden on working memory (Sweller, 1988). This burden puts such limitations on our working memory, that acquiring new information becomes ineffective.  I wonder why (or even if) it has ever been suggested to teachers that they throw students in to a learning situation with minimal guidance.  At it’s very roots this seems to be shirking the responsibilities of the teacher and is not good teaching practice.  Teaching is so much more complicated than this.  A familiar teaching progression for me is:

  • Introducing the learner to the content by tapping in to previous knowledge and experience
  • using a wide range of activities and teaching methods to introduce students to the necessary first level knowledge
  • modeling and implementing processing strategies
  • problem solving, synthesizing and implementing the acquired knowledge to new situations.

Costa and Bloom have been celebrated for  their work on levels of thinking and questioning, and I have implemented this progression of learning in my teaching, but this also simplifies things greatly as it negates the importance of personal connection and the many factors that contribute to supportive learning environments.

On the other hand, Barron and Darling-Hammond’s article: Teaching for Meaningful Learning: A Review of Research on Inquiry-Based and Cooperative Learning suggests that complex projects involving problem solving and inquiry are necessary for developing the higher level skills that are required in many of today’s jobs.  I certainly agree that these skills are highly valuable, but our students need to be proficient in the process of gathering and acquiring knowledge so they can graduate to a place of thriving in the less structured environments of higher level thinking. Here is where I have to pause.  What are the conditions needed for students to thrive in the less structured environments of higher level thinking.

I want to make an analogy between learning and our autonomic nervous system.  The two branches of our autonomic nervous system involve the familiar “fight of flight” system and the “rest and digest” system. When it comes to teaching, I believe that it is imperative to change the mindset of students during times of discomfort, anger or fear (the “fight or flight” response) and encourage them to embrace these times as opportunities for learning. This is the place where meaningful learning,  innovative and creative solutions can develop.

The two complementary systems of our autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system responsible for unconscious body functions) are the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems.  The sympathetic system prepares the body for intense physical output, and is implemented in times of stress (the fight or flight response).  It increases heart rate to provide extra oxygen to muscles and the brain, and provides an infusion of glucose to the blood for extra energy.  In contrast, the parasympathetic system slows the heart rate and allows the body to do the primary functions of digesting, fighting infection, and growth.

I often find myself in a state of “fight or flight”, and have learned that although this may not be a comfortable place, it is here that I need to plant myself and not give in to the urge to dismiss, disengage, or resist.  It is here that I need to “rest and digest”. It is a signal that some of my assumed knowledge is being challenged, and an indicator that I have a lot to discover.  I propose that learning happens in the space in between “fight or flight” and “rest and digest”.  So back to the question of “What does effective teaching and learning look like?” Is it guided instruction? Project-based learning? The multitude of answers to this question swirl around in my mind.  It is a guided and supported progression through the levels of knowledge and questioning.  It is an environment in which my students can process information through reflecting, journaling and  discussing their learning with others. It is seeing their learning through to a place of new understanding and a meaningful application of knowledge. Personally, this excitement for learning begins with the “fight or flight” response.  I have learned that if I embrace that unnerving state, and engage with the information that challenges me, I will be rewarded with new ideas, perspectives and experiences.

It is this process of resisting the path of least resistance and embarking on the new and unfamiliar where the most learning will take place.  And yet we see in our schools that anxieties and feelings of being overwhelmed are debilitating our students. Can we change the mindset of our students to accept those feelings and proceed with confidence knowing that on the other side is meaningful learning and personal growth?

If I can engage and support my students and give them the tools and safe environment necessary to navigate the ‘fight or flight’ response, they can experience the satisfaction of  “resting and digesting” with a new level of understanding.  But now I struggle with new uncomfortable questions…” What are those tools? And how can I contribute to that safe and supportive environment?”