Monday, January 31, 2011

Robots and Teaching

I was interested in robots as soon as the concept became available way back when.....   The idea fascinated me to have a robot that could vacuum a room, answer the door bell, maybe even wash the dinner dishes.  What an idea.  

Later on in the early days of micro-computers I read about a company that would wire your house so it would talk to you.  Now that was something I could get behind in and seriously looked to see what wiring my house would entail.  I even went so far as to try to hook up my Processor Technology 8 K computer to run the furnace for my house, turning the furnace on in the morning and turning it down during the day while we were at work and then turning down the heat for the night.  Cool stuff.  I wrote a program in BASIC to do all that but then realized that we already had a device that could do that called a thermostat.  Why dedicate a three thousand dollar computer to do the job when a hundred dollar device could do it already.  I was learning.

But the idea that a house computer might call me at work and inform me that the south western edge of the roof was leaking and that the house computer had already contacted several roofing companies to get their quotes fascinated me.  Could computers do things in the classroom as well?  Hey, how about a robot that could pick up papers or hand out tests?  As you can see I really didn't have a handle on all of this but still, I was fascinated by technology.

Some years later I talked the Dean of the college into buying for me a Hero 1 robot that could talk, sense different degrees of light, could move a single arm with a claw that could pick up things, could move around the room sensing the walls and furniture, respond to sound.....I forget all the things it could do but it was versatile.  This robot stood about three and a half feet tall when completed.  Yes, that was the catch--you had to put it together yourself, piece by piece and there were thousands of little pieces.

I had a student in one of my undergraduate classes that impressed me--I thought he was going to make a good middle or high school teacher.  He needed a summer job so I found some monies and he started in on building a Hero !.  I helped a little bit but he did the majority of the work.  Each day I'd go by and bit by bit the robot took shape.  It was quite the learning experience for both of us.   

Eventually the Hero 1 robot was completed and it worked! But you needed to program it in machine language.  Not an easy task but we learned.  I put together a small class of education majors who were interested in technology at that time, found them a room and said, "see what you can get it to do."  The group of them succeeded in doing amazing things.  

One evening the custodial staff member opened my office door and turned on the light ready to start cleaning the office when the robot came to life and said, "Please turn off the light and close the door.  I am trying to sleep."  It scared the cleaning guy and he wouldn't go into my office until security had checked out the room.  Security called me at home wondering what they should do.  I had to come up to campus and had to disarm the robot.  Ah, students..

Shortly after we completed the Hero 1 robot and had acquired another one from another department that didn't know quite what to do with it, I was given Petster--a robot cat in gray fur that could move around a room, growl at you if you got in the way, and purr when you petted it.  You could also put it on a leash and "walk" your cat down a hall to different rooms.   Petster had eyes that glowed when turned on and meowed different meows.   It was an ideal pet--no kitty boxes.  I still have Petster after some thirty years.  [you can still goggle Petster and see some web pages and history about the robot]

With the two Hero 1s and Petseter I then turned my small class into developing lesson plans for a grade school class, things we might do in a second to a fifth grade elementary class with the robots.  The students in this undergraduate experimental class did this with delight.  I then divided the class into two teams, maybe four or five to a team.  This I did so as to not overwhelm the elementary classrooms.  I also made arrangements with teachers that I knew that would build on what we might do in their classroom.  

And off we went.  In the first classroom, a second grade, the team first demo'd the two different robots and then suggested that some of the children could come up and learn how to get the robots to do something.  The teacher said the first two rows could start and a fascinating thing happened.  All the boys in the first two rows went to the Hero 1 robots and the girls all went over to Petster, the robot cat.  When I pointed this out to the teacher she rearranged the kids so as to have boys and girls on all the robots equally.  

Each team of college students did this a number of times in several different levels of elementary classes.  My students learned a lot of teaching techniques.  They found out they really needed lesson plans with easy to understand directions for the grade school kids.  They also learned to give the little kids room to explore with the robots.

This was done in the late 1980s and I judged it a success.  We did our presentations in about twenty classrooms near the college.  

But there was one more...triumph to tell you about.  One school where we had done the robotic presentations asked if some of my students would come and demonstrate the robots at an evening PTA meeting.  Several of my students volunteered and we met at the school on the designated evening.  The program was a hit and the parents remarked how their children had come home all excited about robots.  After the meeting I was talking to parents and a little girl came up to me and tugged on the leash to Petster.  She had to be about five or six and just a doll with big eyes.  But she never said a word but just looked at Petster.  So I handed her the leash and said, "Would you like to give my cat a walk?"  A big affirmative nod and off she went.  She went up and down the school hall several times and even went into the kindergarten classroom.  

It was soon time for parents to head home and I went to retrieve Petster.  Oh no, she wasn't going to give Petster up.  I said that Petster had to go home to my family but tears soon came flowing.  She kept shaking her head, "NO."  And finally she said, "I want Petster to come home with me!"  But the shocker was that this little girl had not talked once since coming to school.  Teachers had tried all sorts of techniques but nothing worked.  But Petster was the charm.  She started talking about Petster.  I managed to get Petster back by promising to come back to the Kindergarten and I would let her demonstrate the cat.  I did and she continued to talk after having the cat do what she wanted.  

Interesting true tale.  I still remember that little girl.  Very much like that French girl but very quiet.  But Petster got her to start talking in school.  

I write all this to make an entirely different point.  One reason for my absence on this blog is that I have been reading Sherry Turkle's new book,  Alone Together, published just this month.   Yes, I'm reading it on my Kindle.  She is one of my favorite sociologist (along with Margaret Mead) and is brilliant perceptive as to how we interact with technology.  I highly recommend her latest book.  It is fascinating information and her first chapter is about the interaction of humans and robots, hence my little kindergarten child.  

Maybe we need more robots in class to push the kids to be more human.  What do you think?

Thanks to all those grade school teachers who allowed my students to bring the robots into their class.  As usual, you were magnificent and the follow up lessons were spot on.  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Little French Girl and Reading

Did you see the video of the little French Girl who makes up a fairy tale?  What a sweatheart!  A perfect doll.  If you missed seeing the video here is one of the web sites' addresse:  .  I've always wanted to learn to speak French and seeing this little girl breathlessly telling a story has pushed my motivation button once more.  She is a cutie.

It reminded me of a story told by Dr. Sam Sebesta (College of Education, University of Washington).  Sam is a specialist in children's literature, chidlren's stories, getting children to read, also an author--a wonderful and amazing guy.  Sam use to give talks about the country at conventions and during his talks he quickly walk amongst the group and give books away.  It was an exciting presentation.

Sometimes he would have some kids from a local school come in and read from the books to the audience.  He knew kids and he knew what excited them and he also knew books so he always had a stack available not to give to teachers but to have the kids read to the audience.   Normally it was a big stack.

One day Sam was giving one of his famous lectures/demonstratons/book giveaways and had a number of elementary and middle school kids sitting on the stage.  And of course, a table piled high with books.

At one point Sam asked one of the intermediate grade boys to come to microphone and handed him one of the books off of the pile on the table and asked, "would you read this book to the audience......"   The young lad opened the book and started to read.  If I remember correctly the story was about a young boy walking through the forest and all the different things he saw during his walk.  As the boy in the book rambled through the woods, the young reader did quite a good job of reading;  smooth delivery, good pace, looked up at the audience from time to time.  But at one point in the story he fumbled a bit and Sam went over to help him.  As Sam tells the story, he looked over the boy's shoulder to see where he was reading.....there were no printed words on the page.  It was one of the picture books without words that Sam was to talk about later in the presentation.  The kid was making up his own story according to the pictures.  When the boy was done "reading" Sam asked the audience if they like the story and of course there was much applause.  "Would you like to meet the author?"   Again, much applause.  Sam leaned down and asked the boy's name and then into the microphone introduce the young lad.  And then Sam explained that a mix up had occurred and how the boy made up his own story.  

But Sam's point was well made.  Sometimes we need to let the kids "read" their own story.  As I watched the other day this little French girl tell her story I remembered Sam's demonstration.  I think Sam would have liked to have the little French girl in one of his presentations of reading and story telling.

A few years later I started to collect pictures of kids doing "things" in magazines.  I'd cut them out, dry mount them, then laminate each picture.  Each a single picture.  When I had enough pictures, probably around fifty or so, I went to a fifth grade classroom that I knew the teacher was into getting kids to write.  And we passed out this pictures to the kids--each student got at least two or more pictures of kids doing "something".  And then the teacher asked the class to write a story about those pictures.  It was all random.

Unofficial data (really just comments from the teacher) indicated that the kids were writing with more enthusiasm, writing longer sentences, writing more paragraphs and seemed to be enjoying the assignment.  This was done before computers and word processing.  I wonder what might happen today with the kids writing their own stories.  Mrs. Smith kept my pictures and used them several more times with different combination of pictures to different children.  

She mentioned that the stories continued to be better quality but she also had some insight into two children who were having problems.  I don't remember what the problems were but that the kids internalized their story from the pictures.  So Mrs. Smith was able to work with those kids to help them out.

I used Sam's technique in another way.  In a fifth grade classroom we showed a 16 mm motion picture entitled "Greenhouse."  A simple story of an old man and his greenhouse and a young boy who throws stones and breaks the glass in the greenhouse.  In a dramatic moment the old man grabs the young boy throwing the stones.  At that point I turned the projector off.  Didn't finish the film.  Of course the class was in an uproar.  "Finish the movie, Mr. Blackwell!"  "Not until you write me an ending."  My oh my did the pencil and paper come out of their desk and the writing commenced.  

Later on when we did finish the film, several of the kids said they like their ending better.  Hey, isn't that the beginning of synthesizing knowledge?  

Don't forget, watch the little French girl.  It is a delight.

And don't forget to thank teachers who come up with different ways to get kids to learn and to read and to think and to enjoy.  Thanks, Sam.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Teacher's objectives for learning

The other day I wrote about goals and objective, trying to differentiate the difference between those abstract ideas.  A goal is broader, more distant, and perhaps most important we should not reach our goals but have new ones to give us new direction.  However, it is with the objectives in a lesson plan that become the building blocks of learning.  Where do we start in teaching a four year old to read?  How do you start in teaching a sixth grader beginning flute?  And a most complex problem--where do you start in World History in the secondary school curriculum?  What sort of objectives do we need to teach?

Although I had outlined (to a degree) this blog, in the process I wanted to refresh my memory on the three taxonomies of objectives, essentially started by Bloom, et. al., around 1956.  I googled "Learning Taxonomies" and was overwhelmed by the material available to the reader.  I will let you do your own googling of the term and let you seek your own information.  What surprised me was how much recent material had been done.  You have to dig to find the original concept of objective classification.  Totally overwhelmed me.  

I have used two (cognitive domain and the affective domain) of the taxonomies in my lectures, on my "Blackboard" web page, in assignments and in lesson plans.  Over the years I have studied and struggled with the psycho-motor domain.  Someday I'll feel more confident with it.  This is strange because for years, I taught sailing which is a highly psycho-motor skill.

Before I proceed, we need to define the term, "Taxonomy". [an aside:  the word, taxonomy is from the Greek word Taxis which means arrangement]  It is a term we educators swiped from the Biologist who spent much of their time classifying their material.  Rather than reinvent the wheel we borrowed the technique for the behavioral paradigm.  But the main task for Bloom and others was to classify the relationship between levels of behavior in learning.  How about that!

We academic educators found comfort in the taxonomies--it was something we could hold up to the light much like the mathematics department having their "proofs", or the chemistry people with their substances and properties.  I think every education professor at one time or another had their students study levels of objectives.  For a time I did study teachers in the classroom looking to see if they had learning objectives for their students. The overwhelming result was that teachers have "objectives", not necessarily written in Bloom's behavioral language, but they do have objectives.  

For those of you who haven't read Bloom's Taxonomies recently I highly recommend that you google those terms and see the difference between the old and the new versions.  It's an easy read.  And also, think about "No Child Left Behind" testing--where on Bloom's taxonomy does it fall (fail?)?

For one thing I asked to see teachers' lesson plans.  Mostly they gave me a large notebooks provided by the school district with two pages for each week and boxes for time and day.  Many of the objectives were cryptic like "p 87".  Nothing more.  Some were more complete, for example, "finish health and summarize--give test."  When questioned about these objectives most teachers knew what they wanted to do and in some cases had other lesson plans stashed away from previous years.  The large notebook was for complying with administration edicts.  Indeed, I remember one teacher saying that their principal made it mandatory that it be on the front left hand corner of their desk before going home at night. 

While I ponder some thoughts about objectives, I wonder how many of today's teachers have objectives for their class on the web?   Now there is a good master's degree research project.

The reason I just wrote the preceding paragraph is that I remember Jo Tillia teaching me how to write lesson plans when I first started teaching fifth grade.  Here was her method.

  • Take a standard piece of writing paper with inked margin.  Fold in half lengthwise.
  • Write what you want your students to learn in the top blank of the page (the objective for the lesson)
  • In the margin write the time for each of the following activity
  • On the left had of the fold, write what you (the teacher) will do.  Read, give instruction, show on the blackboard, pass out material, etc.
  • On the right side of the fold, write what the students will do.  Read, listen, start assignment, watch experiment, write a paragraph, etc.  (it has to be observable)
  • On the back side, on the top, list material that students/teacher will need. Scissors, glue, textbook, pencil and paper, etc.  On the lower back side is space for an evaluation of the learning lesson.
Some lessons might take two or three sheets of paper to complete.  Now I could take my lesson plans and put them on a clipboard and carry them around with me with essentially my notes guiding what I wanted to do.

When I first started doing this method of lesson plans (yes, I did the little boxes as well to satisfy the principal), the kids on the early morning school bus would come to class and some being nosy would take my clipboard for the day to see what they were going to do.  I, of course, said, "hey, those are mine for me to use."  But what i found was that those kids who looked at our assignments for the day were getting organized either in the minds or attitudes.  It didn't take me long to write a simplified set of objectives on the blackboard for the whole class to see.

Another good thing about that type of lesson plan was that I could file it in folders under the appropriate labels--reading, arithmetic, health, geography, etc. and save it for next year.

As I look at Bloom's taxonomy today I realize I did little at the grade school level to get my students to the level of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.  I know a number of grade school teachers who do reach those levels all the time.

Most of my classroom objectives were in the Cognitive Domain.  Knowledge, Comprehension and Application for the most part.  The real skill was deciding which knowledge came first.  You have to add before you multiply.  You have to read words before you read sentences before you read paragraphs.  Some teachers have an intuitive knowledge of being able to present learning to children.  When I see this I think teachers are born not taught.  But I do see teachers who are constantly improving in the skills.  Then I think, we can teach how to teach.

To the professor that made me read Bloom's taxonomy, my grateful thanks.  To those teachers who taught me how to compose a good lesson, my sincere thanks.  And thanks to all the teachers who push their students to learn knowlege and understand it, to apply that knowledge while being analyitical and then evaluating and creating new knowlege.  You are amazing.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Classifying What to Teach..

Some teachers have an intuitive mode when it comes to helping kids to learn.  It makes no matter if they are teaching in the high school or "down" in the grades.  The logic of presenting information and problems seems to come naturally to these teachers and I will admit I have been fascinated sitting in the back of some classroom to watcht this phenomenon take place.  It seems to me that many teachers have a goal in the back of their head (along with those eyes) that acts like a lighthouse to their teaching mode.  What is it and how does one acquire this fine turning of teaching?

My objective today is to review "goals" and "objectives" in teaching and learning.  To paraphrase an old song, you can't have one without the other.   One of the problems for lay people in discussing what should be taught in the schools is the confusion between the term, "Goals" when they mean "Objectives and vise-versa.  Let's define our terms before we go further in the discussion of objectives.

We need to discuss goals beyond that of scores in a game as in "our team had three goals."  Goals are a direction or a desired result.  Saying what you want graduates of your school or school district to be when they do graduate is/are goals.  "I want him/her to be able to become a productive member of society when they graduate from our school system."  That is a goal.  It is broad and gives direction.  It should be something to strive for.  And it needs to change according to the times.  Let me give you an idea of what I mean.

I will use the Columbia River as my example, although what I am about to write will work on any navigable river in North America.  Let me suggest that you are a pilot piloting a large ship up the river before there were dams.  Because rivers offer drifting sands and moving sandbars one needs to know where to steer.   To assist the skipper, there are range markers at different places throughout the course.  A range marker is a very large rectangular dayboard painted white with a dark stripe down the center. This normally is placed near the edge of the river.  Behind this dayboard, sometimes as much as a half mile behind, is another dayboard painted in a similar fashion.  The task for the pilot of the ship is to keep those range markers in line so as to stay in the channel.  With me so far?  The problem for the pilot is to look for the next set of range markers before they reach the ones which they are presently headed for.  Since they are on land, it behoves the ship to turn before it reaches the first range marker.  

Goals are like range markers on the river.  They are for navigation, guidance and you need more goals once you've reached your initial goal.  Goals are broad guidelines given for direction of the school system.  

A school board (I was once a school board member) needs to provide goals for elementary schools, middle schools and high schools in their district.  The state board of education needs to provide even broader goals for the school districts.  We need to allow the schools and the teachers to design objectives to reach those goals.  And within those objectives there ought to tasks to achieve those objectives.  So we have goals, then objectives and finally tasks or learning activities.  

I've seen one school districts goals which included having the students recite the pledge of allegiance while facing the flag each day.  Actually this is more of a task then a goal much less an objective.  Perhaps the goal might have been....  "Students graduating from this school district will show an appreciation of their country and what it stands for."  Now we can have objectives such as "students will know the history and the making of our government.  They will also understand the three branches of the government as well as the symbols that represent our country.  That is probably not the best written objective but you get to see the different between, task, objective and goal.  

Teachers depend upon having insightful goals to teach.  Interestingly enough there are objectives and tasks written as laws of the land by the legislature.  For example there are laws that say that schools have to teach about the holocaust in the State of Washington.  That is an objective not a goal.  A goal might be to have students understand the history of mankind's inhumanity to mankind which would include the holocaust.   Having been on the writing end, I will say that writing insightful goals is very, very hard.  It is something that I do not enjoy.  However, they are essential to the teaching/learning of our children.

Tomorrow, objectives which all teachers have and use.  

Thanks to all those professors who skillfully taught me to differentiate between goals, objectives and task or assignments.  And my thanks to those teachers who without knowing have a good grasp of objectives for each of their students.  Have you thanked a teacher today?

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Change in Subject..

I know I said I would write about objectives in teaching--that collected groan was from teachers who have had it up to here about objectives.  More about objectives in a later blog.

But I need to write about something else today.  Like everyone else, I was aghast at the shooting in Tucson, Arizona.  It is terrible and I cried when I heard that a nine year old girl in the third grade was killed.  Damn, I'm not very good with this type of information.

So like many of you I have been somewhat glued to the television and my computer.  I was interested in that people at the community college knew about the alleged gunman and had finally been able to forbid him to return to the college.  That is a tough go for the college.

Community colleges and universities are a gathering place for people--some want to learn, some want to enjoy the atmosphere, some want a place to put their soapbox, a few live in their own little world of reality.  As far as I can tell, it has always been this way with colleges and universities.  For the most part it is a community of people who want to exchange ideas....   With that attraction also comes the fact that some people have other thoughts that are not necessarily in agreement with society but the university becomes a place to hang out.  Sometimes these people can co-exist and in some rarities dark things happen like in Tucson.

I've already have written about being asked to video tape a university classroom (upper division education course)  with the main focus to video tape a particularly disrupted student.  The tape was eventually used to "ask this student to leave the university."  For all I know, she did.

Most professors have had a "disrupting student" in one of their classes at some time during their careers.  Because university campuses by and large are a public place it is difficult to remove people from the environment....more difficult to enforce that order.  But perhaps more troubling is the fact that once I detect a troubled student I have few recourses to advise me or be able to send the student to get help if indeed they agree to this action.  Case in point.

Toward the latter end of my career I was scheduled to teach a 3 credit evening class in Instructional Technology in education.  Basically designed to teach education majors on how to use and the merits of technology in the classroom, it was offered on Tuesdays from 6 to 10 pm for nine weeks.  It was generally a fun course to teach and was heavy on computers, CDs, DVD, and television.  The assignments included things like to prepare a three-fold folder for students to take home, several examples of spreadsheets (grading and budgets), posters of different sizes, lesson plans that included DVDs or film with assignments for the students in that class, different types of letters to be sent home, and several versions of assignments to be handed out in class.  Lots of hands on. Oops, almost forgot--a power point presentation to be use in a classroom.   

At that time of day it was common for a number of experienced teachers to take the course to gain knowledge and credit for pay raises.  I could count on about twenty to twenty-five students signing up.  The mix of seniors and graduate students was what I enjoyed the most--a lot of helping each other.  The younger students might have a good concept on the use of the computer but the experienced teachers knew what would be useful in a school setting.  Lots of helping each other.

My normal teaching style was to introduce the subject starting at 6 pm in a lab setting and then demonstrating rather quickly at first the assignment for the evening.  Once that was over, I would then go over the same assignment having the students in the class do the work at their computer while I would explain steps, techniques,  and then remind and assist around the lab and help students.  

The last hour of the class (from 9 to 10) was considered lab time and they could work on their project or they could go home--I was there to help those that wanted the assistance.

On the first evening of the class, we were about half way through (around 8:15) when a woman of about forty came into the lab and said in a loud voice, "You could at least put up signs telling me how to get to this classroom."  A most unhappy individual.  The fact that everyone else found the classroom did not escape me.  I had her sit down at a computer and I went back to helping students telling her that I would try to bring her up to speed in a moment.  Not good. She demanded instant attention.  My, she had a loud voice.  I was not happy, she was not happy and the class was upset.  At nine I told most of the class they were free to leave and I intended to help my newcomer.  But she got up to leave too.  If they were leaving, she was leaving.  I gave her the course outline and told her she had an assignment to turn it next week--she would have none of it.  It was my fault that she couldn't find the classroom therefore I would have to excuse her assignment.

Dear reader, things went downhill from there.  While she came mostly on time she could not get a computer to run like the rest of the class.  She was sure I was giving her computers that were broken.  If I stood next to her and told her to push this key or that key she sometimes was able to accomplish that task.  But I had to sit next to her to get her to do any of the assignments and when I said she had to do the work she complained that I had not taught her anything.  

Several members of the class tried to help her but she was abrasive and they gave up.  One of my seniors was rather rude to her saying something like, "if you paid attention you might learn something."  I almost had to separate them physically.  

I remember saying by the second or third class session that she might like to drop this class in favor of one that she might find more interesting.  She totally disrupted the class until I told her to leave.  But she left only to find security to say I had assaulted her.  At one point I was puzzled why she could not hit the right key on the computer even when I would say, "Press the keys labeled shift, command and 3"  Almost impossible for her to do so.  So I asked her if she was ever diagnosed as a dyslexic?  Once again, she came unglued and really yelled at me.  Really yelled!  I had hit some sort of a nerve.

To shorten this story, it was a bad, no, make that a terrible class.  The other students did well but I dreaded working with this one student.  I really came to dislike her.  At the end of the quarter, students turned in their completed assignments in a folder and/or on a disc.  My "favorite" student's work was barely acceptable....mostly done on my telling her what key strokes to do.

I spent the quarter break doing grades for my courses and when I came to this woman's work I ponder whether to give a "B" or a "C".  She was a graduate student in Student Personnel and was working toward being a Mental Health Counselor--a "C" grade was equivalent of an "F" at the graduate level.  I reluctantly gave her a "B-".  Yes, I know, some of you reading this will say I should not have acquiesced to her pressure and in hind sight you are correct.  But as I have said before I find grading a person very difficult.

Didn't make any difference that I gave her a "B-" I could hear her coming down the hall yelling at me.  She wanted an "A" and told me in no uncertain terms that she deserved an "A".   I was astonished.  Still am.  She went to the Dean and complained about me--he asked for my grade sheets.  He said change the grade but I wouldn't.  She filed charges against me through the faculty/student process and I had to sit and explain my side of the story.  Everyone voted to support me--all twelve on the committee.  She then went to the president of the university who told her that she had no more options.  

She then went to the State Attorney General and filed charges that I was teaching medicine without a license.   Are you as surprised as me?  Remember my asking her if she was a dyslexic--yup, that was the complaint.  The university and I had to get the local attorney general's office to write her a letter saying to quit this harassment.  She did with me but she transferred her aggression on to other professors in other classes.  I believe the university should have asked her to leave but the lawyers said there wasn't enough evidence to support that action.

Somewheres near the end of all this, I decided on my own to see what might have started all this.  So I got her file and found out that she had graduated and received a BA degree from a California university.  She had been in a master's program but apparently had left abruptly.  Why?

So I call the university and asked to speak to someone in student services about a previous student.  They, of course, were decidedly reluctant to talk about any of their students even to a professor from another college............UNTIL, I mentioned her name.  I was immediately transferred to the Dean's office AND the Dean.  

It appears she was as disruptive at that school as she had been with me.  So much so that she was given a mental evaluation and finally told that she was forever barred from going to any of the California universities.  Any of them.  I asked the dean of the California college to call my Dean which he did.  Finally my dean and I got on the same page.  But I could have used a little help earlier on in the course.

There is another sad part to this story.  Near the end, I received a letter from the Department of Social Services of my state stating that I was to refrain from giving massages in my classes.  I beg your pardon?  What was this all about.  My favorite student had gone to the DSS and said I was giving medical advice.  It appears that the office printed up the wrong boiler plate message and sent it to me.  They would print up the correct one and get back to me.  When I mentioned I was a professor and had the right to suggest learning problems for students, they backed off.  It was poorly handled at the state level.

Did I think this student could come to the class with a gun?  Yes, in fact several students in the class mentioned this to me.  Could I get the campus police to help me out?  Not until she committed a crime.  Yelling at me wasn't a crime.  Also the office of student services could not assist unless she asked for help.  She didn't.

Somehow I think I needed to video tape the class and use the tape to ask this woman to leave the university.   I don't believe she learned a thing in my course although I had hopes.  But universities bend over to help students and removing them from the campus doesn't fit the mission statement.  I don't know what we should have done.

I do worry that this person might go on and cause problems elsewhere.  We need some sort of mental health policies to assist and to control those that are having problems.  We need to protect the individual but we also have to protect society.

Thanks to all those teachers and instructors in Tucson that tried to get help.  I know your feelings.  My best to you. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Another year...

It is January.  Happy New Year.  Two years ago I started this blog about teachers and teaching.  As I said in that initial blog teachers are extraordinary people wanting to get students to learn.  Indeed, one of the characteristics that I have observed in teachers is that they HAVE to teach.  Many of the teachers I have seen in classrooms could have other careers.  At one time a major store chain told our career and job placement department that they would take any of our educational graduates and place them immediately in management training at about the same salary they would be getting as teachers.  I don't know if any of our students ever took them up on their offer.

So in my best teaching manner, let's review.  I know that we have a number of readers who have just recently started reading these blogs.

My philosophy is based upon the idea that education is necessary for our species to exist and to move forward (whatever that means).  As a species we have one of the longest periods of time to train or educate our young so they can survive on their own.  Other species have a few days to several months to a year or so before the young are adapted at living on their own.

As human kind, we are a social animal, i.e., we need each other to survive. Unlike some animals who only get together to mate, we need each other to live and to enjoy life.  This is an important point in which you may wish to debate me--however, as I have watched children and young adults grow up to become responsible adults, this process has made me more focused on the idea of the human as a social group.

Like John Dewey, I firmly believe that if we didn't have an educational system the human population would slowly fad, go backwards, become less civilized. And to have an educational system we need teachers of all sorts.  Yes, we could have home schooling--quite frankly we have many examples of excellent teachers at home.  But it is hard work and not as efficient as an educational system.

So there!  I believe in an educational system, in the most part, public schools. Within an educational system I have two guidelines.  After all these years peering into public and private schools, I can only find two guidelines.  One, Success breeds success.   I've seen students bullied by the teacher, spanked by the principal, punished by the school for not learning, made to repeat a grade or more, hit on the palm of the hand with a ruler, and various other negative type reinforcement.  None of these aforementioned punishments hold a candle in motivation to a "Hey, nice going.  A perfect paper--give me five!"  When you see a smile on a face of a student after being successful at a learning task, I don't care what age or grade, you know they are learning.  And we teachers know how to accomplish that success for the student.

My second guideline is simple:  time on task.  It takes time to learn things.  Reading, mathematics, geography, or how to play kickball.  There may be "aha" moments but only after time on task.  Some kids need more time then other on different subjects.  But all children and young adults can learn.  

So, for the benefit of some who have recently started reading this blog, let me state that I think there are only three ways to learn.  For those who have been with me for a while, this will be a good review.

One way to learn is by the expository method...simply a method to describe or explain something.  By writing this blog I am employing the expository method of transferring a message from me to you.  If you were to write me condemning or praising me on a point, you too would be employing the expository method. Reading a book is an expository form of gaining a message(s).  So when the teacher writes something on the Smart Board and says to the class, "This is one method of diagraming an English sentence," this teacher is using the expository form.

Parents use it all the time.  "Have you done your homework?"  Talk is expository and listening is part of the process.  By and large we have a sender of the message (in voice, print, pictures, sound, etc.) to a receiver(s) who takes in the message.  They may not understand it but they have received the message.  Expository.   We use this form much of the time.

A second way of learning is through the investigative method.  Give a small child a cooking pot and they will bang it on the ground making a noise.  Watch closely as they investigate how hard to hit, where to hit, when not to hit and so on.  We adults use the investigative method much of the time.  "Can I park in that small spot at the store?"  "Can I get up earlier and still feel good?"  "Can I eat this cake and not have my sugar count go high?"  Much of our learning is through the investigative method.  I will admit that mistakes can be made but we learn from our mistakes.  I think "mistakeful learning" is powerful.  

The third method of learning I call Performance.  The football team doing something special is learning.  But I have had marching bands learning from their performance that I doubt if I could have taught in any other manner.  I am quite convinced that my method of having fifth grade students stand on a podium with their book on a music stand and read aloud to the class was a performance.  Yes, you could say it was expository but by making them stand in front of the room up on that podium--it was a performance.  I can't explain why the kids read so much better after that exercise in reading.  

There may be other methods of learning but I have not discerned them as yet.  Maybe you can help in this area.  Write me if you think you have some other ideas.  Let's talk (write).  

But here is an interesting point.  How do you teach children or young adults to pass those standardized test?  The method that teachers have to employ is the expository method--they have to talk to the student. And the student has to recite back.   You have to leave out both the investigative (which has mistakes) and the performance (which needs time). No wonder teachers as well as the students don't like testing as a motivational method.  All expository and no performance or investigative makes Jack a dull boy.  (Sorry, had to write that).

Teachers decide on what method is important in teaching for each child.  How do you connect with twenty to thirty students each day--or that many students in five classes each day?  That is why I think teachers are extraordinary in every way.  

Did you read that article from the New York Times that good kindergarten teachers are worth $400,000 per year!   Somebody is agreeing with me.

Now that we have the rules of the game established and the three methods of teaching/learning, in the next blog we'll talk about objectives.   I want to put another nail in the coffin of testing.

Thanks to all you teachers for hanging in there and making sure your class is learning.  Nice job, teacher.