Monday, February 21, 2011

Response to Brittany

Brittany asked: Have you ever had a teacher who took a active role in trying to make your education enjoyable?
I had one teacher in high school who was my absolute favorite, and the main reason I am a journalism major. My junior year, you were allowed to take an elective writing course and an elective reading course in place of basic "Junior English". That year I took Journalism as my writing course. That semester, we delved into everything journalism, from dissecting leads, to learning the pyramid format, to producing our own newspaper, complete with advertising from local businesses. I was sent out on my first interview (the senior quarterback, gasp!) , and even bothered the poor lady at the pizza place down the road for advertising money. I think my teacher could have just taught us current events, made us read a bazillion articles, and watched All the President's Men, but she went above and beyond that. Putting us in uncomfortable, new positions actually helped me grow, and of course, when I read my articles now, I'm pretty embarrassed and very aware of how bad my writing was then, but everyone has to start somewhere. Without Ms. Caldwell, I have no idea what major I would be, maybe it would have still been journalism, but she definitely saw something in me and pushed me, helping me find my way and work on my goals very early on.

Response to Jessica: technology and constructivism

I think that technology has a prominent place in a classroom, especially a constructivist classroom. As I've been discussing in my blogs, a teacher should be trying to teach the boring bits in an interesting fashion, and actively involving students.
There are a lot of programs that teach while seeming like a game to the studetns. I know a lot of random facts because of this one game I remember from middle school where you were taught by this talking robot and got to play games if you got certain questions right. I also type really well thanks to Mavis Beacon and her computer game in the 2nd grade. I remember being shown movies in high school that helped me retain historical information thanks to this one teacher who was obsessed with the American Experience movies from PBS. For some reason, I really liked those movies and I still watch them when they're on. I've learned a lot from them.
More recently, McRae shows youtube videos of poets reading their own work. I think all of these types of technology help a student retain information and learn a lot more than if they were just being lectured.
Technology is changing students. It is a part of every student's everyday life, so it only makes sense to uniquely involve it in the main portion of their day in school as well to benefit their learning.

Response to Kim

Kim asked in her blog "How important is it that students enjoy their education? Should this be a goal in teaching?.

I believe that this should be at the center of why teachers teach. I'm sure no teacher enjoys spouting information to a sea of blank faces that don't give a damn. Relaying the information in a way that sparks interest should be a goal of all teachers. Sure, things that are boring still need to be taught, whether a student likes it or not, but a teacher that puts forth the boring in an interesting way, is in my opinion, an awesome teacher.

In her post, Kim said how classroom discussion, versus group discussion, is important to keep to the topic while still actively involving each student. I feel as if classroom discussion often brings forth personal experience, and sure student's might tell personal stories that get a bit off topic, but they are still actively involved and interested. Even if the teacher is teaching about the ins and outs of WWII, which to me, personally, gets boring, but then someone is allowed to discuss, for example, their grandfather's experience which brings the topic to the present. Classroom discussions, versus straight lecture, are beneficial to a students interest in the topic. Although group discussions seem beneficial in theory, I know from experience that 30 seconds of time is spent on the topic, while the other is spent on gossip or something entirely not related to the topic.

While hoping that a teacher can relay information in an interesting way is good in theory, are we asking too much of teachers? We want them to inform, entertain, involve, etc. while also demanding that their students learn everything that is required from the state and pass those pesky standardized tests.
Are we asking too much from teachers, or is that what teaching is all about?

traditional vs. constructivist classrooms

Thanks to the link from Jessica ( ) I delved into this website's understanding of constructivist teaching, which was laid out in a much easier format than the wordy (albeit interesting) essays.

made it easier to understand RC and made me realize that much of what was taking place, according to this site, in a constructivist classroom was taking place in our own PTL class, much like a lot of my other classes here at the College.

In the constructivist classroom the teacher becomes a guide for the learner, providing bridging or scaffolding, helping to extend the learner's zone of proximal development. The student is encouraged to develop metacognitive skills such as reflective thinking and problem solving techniques. The independent learner is intrinsically motivated to generate, discover, build and enlarge her/his own framework of knowledge.
I feel as if in class we do just that. We discuss among ourselves in class, and online, with only slight prompting, or bridging as they write, from Professor Johnson. We also develop concepts ourselves by writing a Q&A.

The constructivist classroom, as laid out on this site, seems to provoke a deeper learning and critical thinking, like we discussed earlier this semester. The classrooms of the past were traditional and straightforward. I believe that classrooms of the present are much more based on constructivist theories.

- Is there any merit to teaching traditionally as laid out in the chart on that website?

dykstra's against realist teaching

While home for the weekend, life imitated exactly what we are learning. My youngest brother, a freshman Computer Engineering major at UMass, is struggling in his foundation course, oddly enough, Physics. He is probably the smartest kid I know, yet he's barely squeaking by with a C, which is, according to him, thanks to his TA.
He said to me that his professor is "old" and it's a large class, so his professor just spouts out the equations and collects labs, never explaining why they are learning something, or even why it works or is true. Now seeing as this is a college course, students should be able to formulate these concepts themselves and absorb the work since they are more mature students, but that's not really happening for my brother. He basically uses this ridiculously fancy calculator and googles the equations hoping he can piece together a lab response.
As Dystra writes
"Having the students read a standard text or the teacher present the canon, not only is a waste of time; it stifles the process of developing new understanding. In standard instruction there is a text to be read and relied upon and most class time is taken up by instructor lectures, yet we see no useful change in understanding. Instead, most of the class time needs to be occupied with students explaining to each other their conceptions, discussing how well the various conceptions fit the experiences with the phenomena, planning with each other what adjustments might be called for when the fit to experience is found lacking, and discussing the results of tests of these accommodations against further experience with the phenomena."
Enter the TA. This TA has actually helped my brother with other classes, so he's also a friend. When discussing the concepts, Sam retains more of the complicated equations and whatever else happens in physics (it's super confusing to me, at least).
I think that's a simple concept and since the professor is probably swamped, the TA is there to step in to further understanding for the students, and even if they won't get As, at least they'll pass.
In this physics case, and in all teaching, it seems as if RC teaching is the way to go. Straightforward "learning for the test" teaching does not allow for retention. Understanding of the concepts and why they work means that (hopefully) the student will understand and be able to apply those concepts in "real" life.

1) Should college professors not be concerned with anything besides putting forth the information, since they are teaching mature adults? Should these college students be responsible for their own retention and understanding, and form study groups or seek out a tutor or the TA?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Response to Jessica: The Importance of Multicultural Classrooms

Although it is widely known that different cultures learn differently, like Jessica said, a segregation of students based on their culture in order to help them learn is definitely not the answer. Not only would that harbor inequities and insecurities, it just doesn't make sense on the most basic level.
I think students within each culture learn differently from each other as well, making individual attention imperative. For example, my brothers and I are all of the same background and we have the same parents. I have one overachieving brother who is a computer and math whiz majoring in computer engineering or something and never struggles with anything. As for myself, I suck at numbers and computers, but I can write really well and I thrive in the humanities. My other brother is just a terrible student overall, and he is hobbling through college, barely passing, and hating every second of it. We all received the same attention from my mother, who is really into reading and read to us often. She did everything a parent should do, and I do credit her for the success in school my brothers and I have achieved, all at a different level.
I think lumping students into culture categories based on assumptions of their learning style is detrimental. Like Jessica said, each student requires individual attention. Most stereotypes do not hold up in all cases, for example, ( and not to buy into a stereotype, or offend) but there probably is an asian that is horrible at math somewhere.
Although individualized attention is definitely difficult to extend to each student at every point due to a multitude of unfair reasons (like money, staffing, politics), teachers should strive to do their best with their resources to ensure that the student is gaining all that is possible from their education no matter their background.

This seems like a pretty common sense take, so am I missing some point? Or is it really this simple?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

the whole truth and nothing but the truth

I believe that the basis of a "universal public education" that was defined in the beginning of the essay essentially calls for an equal, accessible education. Education is usually governed on the state level, and that education should be universal as described. I do not think that certain "touchy" subjects should be left out or glazed over due to the demographics of the state.
There was a comment in class that said that learning about slavery could be/is uncomfortable in class if there are African American students present. It was also brought up that perhaps learning about the segregation and the racism, etc., reinforces negative views.
I think that that is completely off. I believe that students nowadays deserve more credit than that. Learning about the stupidity of our ancestors in certain areas teaches students to not repeat those actions and work diligently to not let them happen. Like David said that old saying goes: "if you forget history, you're doomed to repeat it."
I think that if certain things make you feel awkward in the classroom, theres a problem. I believe that the racist issues in America, at least in Massachusetts and at MCLA, are better, but not ideal. We're slowly improving, and yes, racism still exists, but learning about past mistakes can teach tolerance and acceptance of differences.
Racism happened. Rosa Parks existed. Native Americans were mistreated. It's a part of our not so shiny history, and it needs to be taught to everyone.

Does learning about the gritty parts of the past reinforce old views, or does teaching students about past mistakes reinforce tolerance and a will to not repeat those mistakes?


Textbooks always seem to be such a headache.
Currently, not only are college students fighting for textbooks to be more affordable in higher education, there is also necessary reform at the most basic schooling levels to ensure that students are learning the proper curriculum.
I think that textbooks are definitely written on a slant that is pro-American. Although that is not all bad, I do believe that more of the truth needs to be portrayed.
I remember having a fresh out of college young World History teacher my sophomore year of high school that loathed my textbook. She often "psshd" at the blatent pro-American propaganda it contained and the convenient facts it often left out.
Public schools are often in a bind to buy the most affordable textbooks from the textbook manufacturers that give the best deal. If these textbook companies cannot reform their practices and include more thorough information, teachers should work to amend this gap themselves.
In order to combat this slant, these textbooks need to be supplemented. Like was mentioned in class, primary sources is a good way to do this. If teachers are steadfast in teaching the curriculum that is required, but doing it properly by providing additional information, they're not doing anything wrong. Isn't this the definition of "democratic education" anyways?
When I personally realized that textbooks were not gospel and that they could be not telling the whole truth, I was pretty shocked and devastated. I felt pretty naive to not question it before high school! Students deserve to learn the whole truth, since they are the future leaders of the country. Amending the truth does not help anyone.

1) Am I wrong? Can textbooks be trusted or do they need to be supplemented so that students get the whole truth?