Category Archives: teaching

Second Day of School

I teach a technology course for school leaders seeking a master’s degree. Most will become school or division leaders such as principals or curriculum specialists. Normally, the course is fully face to face during the fall semester.

This year, I am implementing a blended, mostly online approach, with weekly synchronous meetings.  We will have three face to face meetings. Last week, we met on campus to get to know each other and make sure everyone was comfortable with the tools we were going to be using to do our work during the semester. More on those tools in another post.

Tonight was our first online meeting using Zoom as our interface. There are 7 students in the class, which seems like a good number for an online meeting, particularly because I wanted to use video and audio. It was good to see their faces, and I think it facilitated conversation. My face to face class is very interactive. My students have a variety of professional experiences related to educational technology that can inform their understanding and provide diverse perspectives to their classmates. We talk a lot about how our work connects with standards and research and practice.

And, we did that tonight. We spent time making sure everyone was comfortable with the Zoom room. We used the text chat and then video discussion to explore the topic of technology transformation. My one technology glitch was that they couldn’t hear the audio on a video. I’ll explore that more this week as I do want us to have some communal viewings.

At the end, I asked what they thought, as many of them hadn’t had an online course or even used Zoom. I got positive feedback and am excited about exploring the possibilities. There are some drawbacks that I will explore in another post.

For now, I am a happy teacher: I had an engaging few hours with some thoughtful, smart educators that allowed me to be closer to my base while they could go home and relax a bit before we connected.

I did do one thing to make sure we would be successful: I am renting office space in the small town next to my farm. The internet at my house is problematic: our potential cable provider has refused to provide us with broadband so we are stuck with DSL, and it is notoriously unreliable. I didn’t want to take any chances with losing connectivity during class. It was the right decision.

I had honestly forgotten what good internet was like…I’ve already messaged the landlord about creating a co-working space. I don’t need daily access but knowing I had a place to go for important meetings and large file uploads would be reassuring.

Teaching To Learn

In The Quantum Labyrinth: How Richard Feynman and John Wheeler Revolutionized Time and Reality, author Paul Halpern paints a mostly loving portrait of two leaders in the development and exploration of quantum physics. My scientist father loaned me the book, and it took several tries to get through it. I finally convinced myself that I could appreciate the story of two incredible thinkers without completely understanding the science.

Both men were passionate teachers and used teaching as a way to learn themselves. When John Wheeler, for example, realized that, in order to solve a particular problem, he would need to better understand general relativity:

The best way to learn a field was to teach it, Wheeler had found. he had acquired the habit of assembling meticulous lecture notes for each course, which could double as an excellent resource whenever he continued to research a subject. Often in his notebooks, he scattered speculation among his course notes. He might ask those questions of his students, consider them himself, or both. Learning begets teaching, which begets more learning, in a marvelous spiral of rising knowledge. (p. 173).

In fact, Halpern writes, because physics is “built from the ground up, based on fundamental principles that might be stated or interpreted in many ways…Even concepts typically addressed in the first weeks of an introductory physics course, such as force and inertia, are nuanced” (p. 22). According to Halpern, working together on Wheeler’s classical mechanics course at Princeton led to conversations about Mach’s principle of distant stars causing inertia and how it might still be relevant when we know the universe is expanding. These conversations spilled over into the classroom as they challenged their students to think hard about the concepts.

Feynman, of course, became known as the great explainer. Here he is at the Esalen Institute in 1983, just five years before he died. The video opens with bongo drums, Feynman’s instrument of choice:


Why I Pursued ISTE Certification

After the conference in December, I posted a public commitment to being more connected, whether it was blogging or tweeting or pursuing my own professional development. In fact, “walking the walk” is my theme for 2019.

I had already made a private commitment earlier in 2018 when I signed on to participate in one of the first cohorts to complete the ISTE Certification.

I am not a full time educator, but I teach School Technology, a graduate course, for University of Richmond each fall, and I have been experimenting with that course to make it more student centered and exploratory than a typical graduate course. Testing my syllabus against the ISTE Standards for Educators intrigued me.

I am pleased to announce that I have successfully completed the certification process and am now an ISTE Certified Educator. As I had hoped, the process, especially the portfolio, allowed me thinkdeeply about my practice in all aspects of my work both in and out of the classroom.

But, the work doesn’t end with the portfolio and the certification. My video reflection was called “Walking the Walk,” and I professed my commitment to connecting online and with my local community. I live in an underserved community and have been looking for ways to connect. The local 4H director introduced himself at the library Halloween party where I was demonstrating Makey Makey. Now, we are working together to sponsor a STEM special interest group. We start next Tuesday. We will be using some of the activities included in the coding curriculum developed by 4H and Google and also exploring Makey Makey and robots.

I am excited but a little nervous as it has been awhile since I have worked with kids. The group will meet six times, and our first meeting is next Tuesday after school at the local community center. I spent the break doing lesson planning. We will be creating LED-lighted name tags as our first activity. I figured it was an engaging and quick way to assess their existing knowledge. We are also going to do an unplugged activity using cards to code a dance and share it. I will let you know how it goes…wish me luck!

Just Because You Can Look It Up, Should You?

I saw a comment on Twitter recently suggesting that teachers should never tell students things that they could look up. It struck me as one of those zero sum statements that are not helpful as we try to navigate the changing relationship between teachers and students. Teachers have expert knowledge to share that can help students move forward with their own learning more efficiently. Finding the balance of when to share and when to encourage students to explore on their own is, in my humble opinion, part of the art of teaching.

I think the spirit of the statement was probably related to teachers telling students lots of stuff the don’t need to know to move forward efficiently, and the balance must include some consideration of how much knowledge students might need to get started and the best way for them to gather that knowledge. For instance, I observed in a project-based learning high school for several years where ALL direct instruction was banned. A math teacher shared that, as she worked with her 9th graders on a three-dimensional construction project, she realized that many of them did not know how to use a ruler. She felt that she could get everyone up and running pretty quickly with a short full group lesson but was worried about violating the pedagogical rules. Of course, they could look up how to use a ruler and helping them learn how to learn might be a valuable lesson for them, but in the context of the project, she could move things along in ten minutes of instruction.

Rather than imposing rules, we need to trust teachers to make good decisions about the needs of their students. Strict pedagogical rules–whether conservative or liberal–do not help anyone, serving only to create frustration and even fear in professional educators. As connected educators, we recognize the value of community and shared expertise as part of the learning process and often ask questions of our colleagues that, theoretically, we could have looked up ourselves whether we are doing so on Twitter or around the lunch table.

Perhaps we should start thinking of our students as those colleagues. That changes the dynamic, and those quick questions between colleagues can help keep them on track with their larger project.


Sitting with Students

I am a teacher of teachers, having spent time in both undergraduate and graduate classrooms at several Virginia universities. I teach online and face to face and recently wrote about my preference for face to face experiences.

I have been able to keep up with some of my students through social media but, as with most teachers, it can be hard to keep track of many students as they head into the world. So, one of the pleasant surprises at the conference this year were the former students who came up to say hello and let me know the influence my class had on their work.

And, I had the added pleasure of sitting next to a current student during Sarah Thomas’s digital equity session. He teaches in the underserved county where I live, and we have connected over this shared understanding of the real impact of the digital divide.

He spoke eloquently about how the lack of connectivity impacts expectations about out-of-school learning and the importance of working towards equity for his students. I felt a little pang of joy that I was able to nurture this leader as he moved into the next steps of his career.

Teaching is a “side gig” for me but it informs my other work in powerful ways as I think hard about the skills and dispositions my students will need to work and lead in the future.