Category Archives: Teaching

First lessons

Today was my first day of giving lessons. It was supposed to be an easy day. My cooperating teacher asked me to jump right in giving 3 lessons (2 preps) to get my feet wet on my 3rd day at my 6-week practicum. Wednesday was scheduled to be a review day since the 3 classes either had an exam or a quiz coming up. Each class is split up into 2 X 40-minute periods and Wednesday was also the day where each class spent one 40-minute period in the computer lab. So I really only needed to prep 2 40-minute lessons. No problem, right? All I needed to do was prepare a couple warmups, some review material for direct instruction, and some worksheets for in-class practice, you know, the drill-and-kill kind. It’s math and skill building, so there isn’t a whole lot of critical thinking involved, the fun stuff. Strangely, the day went pretty much how my marathons go.

The first class seemed to go relatively smoothly despite the fact that my cooperating teacher wasn’t in the room. She had a training session to attend for the first 2 classes, so I was paired with a substitute teacher, an experienced one who taught in the same school and, in fact, the same room. Before class, we chatted a bit and I said to him to feel free to jump in he sees that things are going wrong. He told me not to worry, that I’ll be fine, and all sorts of reassuring words. On the bus ride to school I played out in my head how each class was going to go down. I had this mental checklist of things to do and I visualized myself going through each of the items on that checklist. Then the bell rang and class started. And the checklist went out the window, nowhere to be seen again. Just. Like. My. Marathons. No matter what kind of pace I’m shooting for, things happen (mostly I happen) and the plan gets ditched. Today, by the time I realized I wasn’t going through the items in my mental checklist, it was too late to go back and get on track, so I went with the flow. Luckily enough, that worked for the first class. But that was luck. By the end of that class I was feeling okay about the day. Apprehensive, but okay; the kind of feeling I get during the first 13 miles of my marathons.

The second class. Oh man. Miles 13-20, the middle miles, are the toughest miles for me during a marathon. They are the miles where I begin to think “why am I doing this?” or “this is going to be the last one” or “this is completely stupid”. The second class was miles 13-20. Due to scheduling, we began that class in the computer lab, which isn’t a catalyst for structure. Once the kids get into socializing mode it’s had to reel them back in. So once we got back into the classroom, I’d already lost them and the next 40 minutes were pretty grueling. During the direct instruction, one of the kids asked why they had to take notes on something they already took notes on a previous day. Geez Louise, man, I said this was a review lesson! (I didn’t really say “geez louise”) Later on when the kids were working on a problem set, the same kid couldn’t solve the same kind of problems he balked at taking notes on. Dude, I know you’ve taken notes on the rules for arithmetic with exponents 3 times already, but if you still don’t know the rules, then maybe writing the rules a 4th time might help. That made me realize people are really good at recognizing when they’ve seen something, but not so good at realizing they don’t understand it. And again, everything on that mental checklist went out the window.

The third class is probably the easiest of the three to manage. It’s full of motivated kids taking a high school level class in the 8th grade. They’re motivated, but they’re still kids. And by the time I got them I was mentally exhausted. Two cell phones taken away, both much better than mine. Yup, they were miles 20-26. I’m exhausted, but slogging through it.

At the end of the day, my cooperating teacher and I came up with a plan for my next day of giving lessons. We figured that I need to concentrate on one aspect of teaching, and for me, that first thing is going to be organization. So I’m going to try not to worry too much about management, behavior, etc., and only worry about organization; i.e. making checklists, to-do lists, key points I want to hit, etc. I think that’s a good plan since it’ll help me not to ad lib too much.

The really strange thing about the day was that just like my marathons, I felt kind of exhausted, but energized. Maybe it’s the slight cold I’m getting over? Maybe the jitters of figuring out a new daily routine is subsiding? Maybe I’m getting over the fatigue of that 6-hour ultra? Usually, immediately after a marathon I wonder why I’m doing these things. By the evening, I’m looking at the race calendar and dreaming about the next one and how that one is going to be the Greatest. One. Ever. I’m sort of feeling that way tonight about teaching. Weird.


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I’m not sure how or why, but I passed my Praxis II mathematics subject exams. There were two tests I took a little over a month ago, the mathematics content knowledge exam and the mathematics proofs, models, and problems exam. The former was a multiple choice exam, kind of like the math sections of the SAT or Praxis I, only it covered algebra, trigonometry, geometry, statistics and data analysis, and calculus. The latter was what you would call “essay problems”, only for math.

I scored high enough on the content knowledge exam that they gave me a “recognition of excellence” certificate. Yes, they even gave me a chintzy certificate suitable for framing. Supposedly, I scored within the top 15% of the previous years’ test takers.

I’m not sure how I passed the proofs, models, and problems exam. I only completed one out of four problems, got halfway or less through two others, and didn’t get to the fourth. And I scored less than half of the total amount of points available. It’s a standardized test so the scores are scaled to how difficult the problems are. Those problems were difficult, but they were supposed to be. I’m actually toying with the idea of taking the proofs, models, and problems exam again because I know I can do better. That’s pride talking. My rational side is thinking I have better things to do with an hour of my time on the weekends.

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I just got my scores for the ORELA. A passing score is 240. I got a 285 on Subtest I and a 295 on Subtest II. Nice! Now I just have to worry about the Praxis math exams. Yikes!


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Vision of students

I’ve been sick with a cold for a couple of days. Since I don’t have a TV that means I’ve spent a lot of time wandering around various blogs and YouTube. I stumbled on this video, A Vision of Students Today, from Andrew Gelman’s statistical modeling blog.

The video was produced as a class project for a cultural anthropology class Kansas State University. The original post introducing the video is worth a read, as well as a follow-up post, both written by the professor of the class.

A lot of the comments, both on YouTube and on the place of origin for the video, the Digital Ethnography blog,, seem to spin the video into a students versus teachers/professors or technology versus anti-technology dichotomy. But I don’t think that’s what’s being portrayed here. I tend to take it for what it is and that’s an expression of a frustration the students see in the education they’re receiving, and in many instances, they themselves are paying for. I don’t see it as anything particularly new. Students have been complaining about the relevancy of their education for, I’m sure, a long time; at least as long as I’ve taken notice. Indeed, if I didn’t question what I was learning as an undergraduate I would have been the engineer I always wanted to be. Instead, I learned there are more answers and more interesting questions out there than what I was seeing in the classroom. And that’s a lesson I’m still learning 15 years out of college.

That’s not to say that their frustration is invalid. I think questioning what you’re getting out of life is healthy. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not going to college right after high school. If there are too many questions, too many doubts, then maybe committing 4+ years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars just isn’t for you.

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Webquest: invasive species in Oregon

I did a webquest … my first one. Let me know what you think. I went ahead and made it before reading the rubric. Yup, I’m one of those guys who shoves aside the instructions before tinkering with a gadget. I targeted it to high schoolers but I think it could be done by middle schoolers.

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Very short introduction to copyright law

Here’s my part of our EDU533W group presentation on copyright issues as they relate to teachers. My part started out as history and background. Then I realized only nerds would care about the history part. The slidecast below is a very short summary of current copyright law in the US. For the nerds out there, you can download a short PDF with more details here.

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Book review: Last Child in the Woods

Last Child in the Woods

About a month ago I was pointed to this book by Richard Louv titled Last Child in the Woods (2005) after reading this article from the San Francisco Chronicle I seredipitously stumbled upon after reading another article from the same newspaper. I was so struck by both that I wrote one of my journal assignments for EDU532 Learning Theory with Trish Lichau on both. In another seredipitous event, I was in my boss's office when I noticed the book on her bookshelf, which was odd since the subject of Last Child in the Woods has nothing to do with our work. We had a brief discussion about the book and she loaned it to me. That was weeks ago and I finally had time to read it on the plane to San Francisco and back this week.

The basic premise of the book is well encapsulated in the first Chronicle article I mentioned and the subtitle is a dead giveaway: "saving our children from nature-deficit disorder". Here's a couple of exemplary quotes from the Chronicle piece.

"Nature is increasingly an abstraction you watch on a nature channel," said Richard Louv, the author of the book "Last Child in the Woods," an account of how children are slowly disconnecting from the natural world. "That abstract relationship with nature is replacing the kinship with nature that America grew up with."

"Anywhere, even in Colorado, the standard answer you get when you ask a kid the last time he was in the mountains is 'I've never been to the mountains,' " Louv said. "And this is in a place where they can see the mountains outside their windows."

Reading a few chapters in Last Child in the Woods left me reflecting on some of the things we've discussed in EDU533W Educational Technology that have bothered me, namely, that somehow, we're doing good by emphasizing technology in the classroom. I understand that it's a good thing to prepare kids for a future in the workplace. But is that really the primary goal of education? Isn't that setting the bar a bit low? Did I decide on being a teacher so I can help a child grow into a Dilbert or a Da Vinci? I've been a cubicle drone before, emailing the coworker down the hall instead of going over and actually talking to them. I still do that. Is that the connectedness the Internet is all about?

Here's a paragraph that especially struck me regarding technology (emphasis mine). Let me know what you think.

Frank Wilson, professor of neurology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is an expert on the co-evolution of the hominid hand and brain; in The Hand, he contends that one could not have evolved to its current sophistication without the other. He says, "We've been sold a bill of goods — especially parents — about how valuable computer-based experience is. We are creatures identified by what we do with our hands." Much of our learning comes from doing, from making, from feeling with our hands; and though many would like to believe otherwise, the world is not entirely available from a keyboard. As Wilson sees it, we're cutting off our hands to spite our brains. Instructors in medical schools find it increasingly difficult to teach how the heart works as a pump, he says, "because these students have so little real-world experience; they've never siphoned anything, never fixed a car, never worked on a fuel pump, may not even have hooked up a garden hose. For a whole generation of kids, direct experiences in the backyard, in the tool shed, in the fields and woods, has been replaced by indirect learning, through machines. These young people are smart, they grew up with computers, they were supposed to be superior — but now we know that something's missing."

I suppose when your angioplasty, the operation that's supposed to clear up the clogged arteries caused by lack of exercise from sitting in front of the computer for 12 hours a day, is done by an outsourced doctor in Bangalore directing the corporate drone in scrubs we'll really see the advantage of technology.

Here's another paragraph relevant to educational technology (again, emphasis mine).

The problem with computers isn't computers — they're just tools; the problem is that overdependence on them displaces other sources of education, from the arts to nature. As we pour money and attention into educational electronics, we allow less fashionable but more effective tools to atrophy. Here's one example: We know for a fact that the arts stimulate learning. A 1995 analysis by the College Board showed that students who studied the arts for more than four years scored 44 points higher on the math portion and 59 points higher on the verbal section of the SAT. Nonetheless, over the past decade, one-third of the nation's public-school music programs were dropped. During the same period, annual spending on school technology tripled, to $6.2 billion… Meanwhile, many public school districts continue to shortchange the arts, and even more districts fail to offer anything approaching true hands-on experience with nature outside the classrooom.

That last sentence reminded me of a quote from Cliff Stoll's outdated but still relevant High-Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian (2000). Stoll described his visit to a school in the Bay Area in which the administrator was proudly showing off the brand spanking new computer lab. When Stoll asked what the room was used for before being refurbished into the computer lab the administrator answered "the library." Imagine if that $6.2 billion was spent on hiring music and theater teachers.

These passages from Last Child in the Woods don't get at the true heart of the book but I think you can see where Louv is going. I haven't finished reading the entire book and I'm eager to get at the chapter titled "The Spiritual Necessity of Nature for the Young". Nonetheless, this book is going to be very influential to my teaching career and to my person.

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