Wednesday, 6 August 2014

How Higher Learning Can Lead to an Increased Level of Frustration--Rantings of Ed.D Student.

That isn't lightening; it's the sparks that came out of head during one of my new rants (not really but it fits with the theme of this blog post).

Now I knew when I signed up for this program that there was going to be a lot  reading, writing and sleepless nights.  I just didn't comprehend the emotional roller coaster that was involved.  I thought for this blog post that I would give a bit of perspective of the start of this academic journey that I started this summer.

I found out that I was accepted to the Werklund's School of Education's doctorate program on Valentine's day.  I couldn't speak as I read the email; I kept making hand gestures and noises to my husband and daughters as the realization came over me that I was about to start this journey. Overwhelming feelings of surprise and elation washed over me...and then the terror started to creep in. Can I really do this?

As I was packing and getting ready for my trip to Calgary, I read best wishes on social media from not only my family and friends but from current and past students.  I decided to try and explain what it meant to stay in school after school and I posted the following message on my class's facebook page.

For many of you, your summer fun has just begun, but for some of you I know that the jitters are starting about going away to school. On the eve before my first class, I thought I would share some insights about continuing your education. When you came to GRCI, most of you were nervous--it wasn't so much about going to high school but the unknown that it represented. I like to compare it the first time you jumped into a pool of water. Before your feet left the ground, you wondered if the water was going to be cold, if you would swim, if you'd look competent swimming.

Going off to post secondary is like jumping off the lower diving board. You've been in the water--a.k.a. you've changed schools where everything was different, but it's been a while and maybe it feels colder and you're going to go deeper so you question your ability to swim to the surface.
Here's what you need to know--you know you can; you just have to trust yourself. My masters was like jumping off the 3 M board and with my doctorate, it's like jumping off of the tower platform. I have (am) been scared about my ability to succeed at my program; I have had my moments of doubt. Can I do this, am I wasting my money, should I be doing this, but all you have to remember is that there was a reason why you applied in the first place. The water will be fine, you will swim, you will be successful regardless if you take the occasional mouth full of water. So for my recent grads that are thinking that they'll be packing for the new school in less than 2 months, you'll do great. I'll be thinking of you all as I walk into my first class tomorrow morning 9 am central time.

I had no idea what I was about to start, but I was excited and ready to go.  Then I went to my first class and realized just how cold and deep the water was.  I would like to compare my first day to do a belly flop off of the 3 meter board.   The pace was fast (expected) but learning that we were expected to have completed all of the readings before arrive (really, really not expected) left the blood rushing away from my face.  How was I going to catch up?

To be honest, I haven't and with this is in mind I would like to formally and humbly offer my apologies for every opinion I gave about the readings during class.

Why you may ask?  It is because I have started to "catch up" and realize what these articles and books are really saying.  I want a do over as I have something really different to say.   Sadly, I will have to use my blog for this as class is over and I'm back in Ontario.

Once I got back, people were asking me how was it and could we get together?   After I stopped laughing--only a fellow grad student would understand.  I decided to post an answer as I was still off the social gridline.

Some of you have been asking what's it like being a doctoral student? It's taking sips of sleep between sips of caffeinated beverages. We follow the RPTR rule: read, ponder, think and reflect. It's making me reread articles from years ago and realizing that I didn't' really understand the content; it's making me question my teaching practice and adapting new ideas from a lot of thinking. It's learning how critical it is to learn smarter..and on that note:

Why didn't I think of this earlier idea?

Seriously, why didn't I realize this idea before?

One last point, the best part of this program and what I learned this summer is that I'm stretching my learning exponentially but it's also making me question everything about the education system.    From my readings on inquiry-based learning and professional development I have to comment.  Why isn't this preferred and recommended learning style applied to teachers?  What has PD looked like for me in my 16 years of teaching?  It's a stack of manuals, papers and charts that have been placed in my mailbox or distributed at staff meetings with statements such as "you should read this", "we will be adopting these procedures", "the ministry is recommending this."  At best, I only glanced at it at worst it was thrown in a pile of stuff I need to get to on my desk.  Every year I would get to attend a one day PD session.  Was that meaningful PD?  Not really, where was the inquiry or the follow up scaffolding to ensure that a deeper level of understanding was reached?  This summer I got to experience what PD should "feel" like.  I'm finding myself experience informal and non-formal learning experiences from what I learned formally.  I'm questioning, re-evaluating and identifying how I can utilize what I learned.

This is causing me to rant---why has it taken me 16 years as an educator to experience this?!?   My goal is try and facilitate my experience as I prepare to act as a facilitator at a computer ed. camp next week.

Right now I'm going to hit send and enjoy my family.

The most incredible and important invention for education.

I bet you thought it was the calculator or computer.  Perhaps some of you thought it was the modern notebook or fountain pen--those last two items were the beginning of mobile learning. Alas, it was the dusty (sometimes streaky and with dead spots) chalk board.

I never thought very much of chalkboards, after all I'm allergic to chalk dust,  but after hearing about its effect on education I too need to sing about its merits.

For those of you who have never considered what school was (is) like without one of these pieces of technology, ask yourself this.  How did educators draw or write information to share?  Remember those amazing geography maps, congregated verbs, and math graphs?  Now try and imagine trying to learn about them from someone's verbal description.  "So you have this line and it's on a slant, but not a big slant as there wasn't that much change from the first data entry to the second."  I can imagine a room full of confused faces:  visual learners?  They didn't have a chance.

I'm sure some of you reading this are questioning the validity of calling a chalkboard a piece of, granted ancient, technology, but do you know that it came with a teaching manual?  I know for some people the litmus test of identifying technology is an operations manual. Wrylie identifies that following the Education Act of the late 19th century, dozens of teaching manuals appeared that not only identified its purposes but gave suggested uses and teaching strategies for this technology.  These manuals even included diagrams of what to draw on them ( Wrylie, 2012).

The question I'm left pondering, I wonder what adults thought about this new technology?  Were students rolling their eyes as they heard an adult say, "when I was your age, we didn't have any chalkboards."  Wait a minute, they probably weren't in school either.  Tongue and cheek aside, was this piece of technology the beginning of students and learners becoming too reliant on technology?  

It's interesting to think of something as basic as a chalkboard as a piece of technology.  Technology can be frightening and frustrating at times in education.  New technology requires careful examination before its introduction into teaching, but it's initial arrival can create excitement--I like to think of it as the "new car smell" factor.

Whereas Skinner probably scared educators in the 1950s when he said that his "teaching machines" would make the teacher out of date,  Papert in the 1980's made computers sound like theses devices would radically transform schools--same technology,  different spin (Sawyer, 2006, p.8). By the 1990's society was pushing for this technology's adoption and integration into the curriculum--the computer like the chalkboard became the essential tool.    If you ask educators who watched this technologies original arrival, I wonder what they thought of it and how did they implement its use into their teaching practice?  Was it a tool or a toy:  did provide real learning opportunities or was it more of a babysitter that was pulled out once in a while?  I say this because one of the most repeated statements I hear at tech teachers meetings is the concerns and challenges of our dwindling budgets and we need to justify every equipment purchase.  Will it be used consistently to facilitate learning?  Can it be used in a multitude of areas or is it "a one trick pony."  Andreiessen identifies that any learning tool has to be examined so as to identify the impact it can have on learning for each learner as well as the tool's impact on other learning tools.  "We need to avoid falling into the trap of which use is correct and which one is not"  (Andreissen, 2006, p. 456-460 ).

I'm sure the validity of the chalkboard as an instructional tool was question when it was first introduced.  I think this is good practice with any addition to the teaching tool arsenal--whether it be a new learning theory or gadget.    It needs to be examined not only on its own but how it works in the context of other tools and more importantly with the learners themselves and learning is both cognitive and social.

I know that there is more to this, but I need to read some more after some sleep and I get to doodle on a chalkboard.  I have the sudden desire to go all old school.


(Andreissen, J.  (2006).  Arguing to Learn. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.),  The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 443-4).  New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.  (Chapter 26)

41:2, 257-272, DOI: 10.1080/0046760X.2011.584573

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Innovations in Education

I actually started this blog on July 16th and it's been percolating in my mind since...  

This week (actually being 3 weeks ago)  it seems my work and thoughts have been centered around the idea of design.  We are working on our learning design briefs, exploring technology design and questioning how all of these items relate.  One of our class discussions has left me  questioning the rationale behind how classrooms are set up-- size,  lighting, temperature, seating, white/blackboard and technology.

Part of this continuing question is based on my own research for my group project.  I was trying to find historical references on how the education system began.  During class, Sharon mentioned "the committee of ten," and I spent hours, which turned into my last few days on campus, trying to find out who these men were (more on this struggle in my next blog).  In the process of my journey what I did find was everything but how curriculum was initially designed.  I found articles and books on expectations of teachers, seating arrangement the purpose of the physical buildings and how it should be arranged, but what I couldn't find was historical reference of curriculum design itself.   It's amazing that curtain design ranked higher than students.  You can see some great schematics in Lindsay Baker's A History of School Design and its Indoor Environment Standards, 1900 to Today.

The irony of this statement didn't escape me

What I discovered was how little the learner was part of design process.  Education had little to do with the learner and more to do with the final product--another obedient worker for the industrial age.  Whereas Plato was one of the great thinkers, school were all about the great doers.  I feel really sad for students during these times.   Nobody wanted to hear a child's original thought but they would praise his or her great regurgitation.

I wonder how this changed?  I know how and by who (Booth, Dewey Vygotsky, etc) but how did anyone dare to be brave enough to question the status quo?  I can just imagine the look on the adults faces of someone, anyone, who question the current thinking/learning model of that time.  Heck, a student could have found him or herself facing corporal punishment for questioning authority--no defiance to authority disorder during these times.

To be honest, in some ways schools haven't changed.  We are one of the only industries, for the most part, which is stuck in a time warp.  I remember when I first read this statement.  I was sitting at the kitchen table reading The December 10, 2006 issue of Time Magazine.  In it was was article that stated that Rip Van Winkle would be very much at home if he woke up in one of our schools.  I'm glad to say that change is happening and what my fellow grad students and I are doing, along with all of the big thinkers that we are learning from, will hopefully lead education into the 21st century. But, change is slow and there are still some people who are in the education system who still say, "that's not the way we do things around here."  I remember hearing that from a few (now very retired) educators and I wanted to bang my head against the wall.  What was so scary about change?  Maybe because I can become easily bored that embrace change, I seek it out--heck, I hunt it out some days.  I love to shake things up.  One of my best lessons had nothing to do with how I arranged the desks or what materials I put on my walls.  I stood with my teaching binders and a large recycling bin and announced to my class that things needed to change....and the pitching began.  My colleagues thought I was a little brave and or crazy  but what took place afterwards was incredible.  I actually asked my students what we should do next--they knew the unit we were covering and their ideas--they were better than what I had just dumped into the recycle bin.  I didn't know it, but I had started to make steps to changing my teaching approach to enquiry base design.  I was starting to follow Dewey's theory of placing the learner at center of learning and I had moved over to work beside.    That was the day I stopped teaching and began facilitating.


Baker, Lindsey (2012). A History of School Design and its Indoor Environment Standards, 1900 to Today, January 2012, National Clearinghouse of Educational Facilities, Washington, DC, USA