Hands-On Learning!

How does incorporating inquiry-based strategies help with classroom management and eventual learning in the classroom?

One of my foundational quotations comes from an earlier UoPx text, “Students who are succeeding rarely misbehave.” Inquiry-based teaching strategies help with classroom management by reducing the pressures that create the need for “management.” By engaging students in novel, relevant, hands-on activities, they become fully engaged in the learning. When this happens, the need to “manage” their behavior all but evaporates. I saw this in my lesson in our last (History & Social Studies) class. With Google Maps on the Smart Board, there was ZERO misbehavior. Even with Star Wars or a similar movie showing, there is a certain amount of boredom and acting out. But movies, however riveting the first time, lose their power over time and, more importantly for this discussion, do not involve hands on activities. However engaging a movie, it is passive. Active lessons with interesting content fully engage the learner and eliminate misbehavior.

This leads to the answer to the second part of the question. Engaged learners are effective learners. How is it that a child who can’t remember how to remember the first three Presidents of the United States can remember the entire starting lineup of the Los Angeles Dodgers and their batting averages? Relevance! The students have constructed meaning for the baseball players, but apparently not for the dead Presidents. Inquiry-based education allows, encourages, and even demands that students construct their own meaning. In this way, the learning persists and provides an effective base for future equilibration. In addition, direct contact with the learning situation raises the probability of “perturbation.” The more the activity is student-constructed and open-ended, the greater the chance of creative, problem-solving experiences. Not only is this effective in sticking knowledge into context and long-term memory, it also teaches problem solving itself. This is almost certainly an even greater gift than the knowledge of a particular aspect of math or science. High school teachers may correctly assume the students remember nothing from middle school but the problem solving techniques, confidence, and mentality that the students internalize will serve them forever.

 

Reference

Lang, H. R., & Evans, D. N. (2006). Models, Strategies, and Methods for Effective Teaching. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

 

 

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Authentic vs. Inauthentic Education

Describe the difference between authentic integration of other subject areas into the history state and national standards. How does it differ from inauthentic integration?

The irony of this question is that it is one that doesn’t seem to be asked (or at least taken seriously) too often in many classrooms – or for that matter in the chambers where curriculum, standards, and assessment policy is created.

One of my very favorite quotes on education is from William Butler Yeats, “Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire.” I think this is as good as any way to distinguish authentic and inauthentic. If we are merely “filling the pail,” we are educating inauthentically. On the other hand, with lessons which “light the fire,” we are teaching authentically.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s say there are two levels to this. First, there is the way the lessons are taught. This is the basic stuff of being a “constructivist” educator, making meaning and showing the students how to make their own meaning. Authenticity is about making the lessons “real” and personally relevant, connecting them to other things in meaningful fashion.

Second, there is the subject matter. One of the struggles we have in many areas of education today is the relevance of what is being taught. From the previously discussed two forms of handwriting (aka the “cursive question”) to learning how to do math manually that can be done on any cell phone (and many watches) to teaching college prep material to non-college bound students, we have to wonder what authenticity there is for the students in these seemingly pointless (or at least wasteful) tasks? The challenge for our school structure here is to come to grips with what actually needs to be taught and why, thus re-truing to relevant, authentic material. The challenge for us as teachers, in the mean time, at the tactical end of this problem is to find authenticity in seemingly irrelevant material. This comes in two parts. First, we must find the intent of the curriculum designers and honor whatever piece this instruction is meant to be in the structure of overall knowledge. Second, we must find ways to relate this material to the students in spite of the burden of initial skepticism.

 

How can you encourage students to actively engage in using technology as a tool rather than passively receiving information from the technology?

In a sense, this is a trick question. I would teach my students to never “passively receiv(e) information.” Whether reading a book, watching a movie, or looking things up in cyberspace, critical think in essential.The internet is a wonderful tool. It’s range, simplicity, convenience, and ease of use are magical. It is also the least credible source of information available with no checks whatsoever on what is published. The first lesson for any social scientist is to be a wise, informed, and critical consumer of any information source. To the extent that lesson is internalized, the students simply need to be reminded to apply those same skills consistently in their internet use.

In a second sense too, this is a trick question. Technology is rarely conveying information to passive users. Technology is a tool that needs to be directed and those directions need to be continually refined. In important ways, the user is far more a passive recipient of information from more traditional sources of information, be they the New York Times or Fox News. Most traditional information sources are like a hose: you stand at one end and get what comes out. You can choose which hose, but that’s it for chioice. The internet is more like a vast university. It is full of tools, fellow seekers of information, and many, many libraries full of resources and information. it’s use is rarely passive.

In a more philosophical sense, education will have to make some major decisions in the near future about how much about how things work needs to be taught. We are rapidly reaching or passing the point where we need to know many basic skills. Whether it’s math calculation, spelling, grammer, APA formatting, or many other things, technological tools exist which make low level knowledge obsolete. There’s a truly brilliant TED Talk which addresses this is a powerful way. In this sense, we may increase the amount of passive information we receive (23 * 46 = 1058, for example) while using that saved effort and efficiency to be much more productive at active higher level (critical thinking) tasks.

In short, I think it is unlikely that technology will do anything other than increase the passive processing of low level information to free energy and time for higher level, critical thinking tasks. To the extent that it truly generates passive information, it is most likely due to the automation of traditional processes.

Tolerance

How will you use your local community as a resource for teaching social studies? How will you generalize and connect what the students learned about their local community to the world community?

As has been discussed in prior classes, my community is small, with little by way of significant cultural or social resources. However, being adjacent to Los Angeles, we have many resources nearby. One resource I feel very strongly about is the Museum of Tolerance. This is an emotional stretch for 5th graders, but a valuable one. At this museum, the children will learn about intolerance and its devastating consequences. This museum is local, but its subject is often events far from California. Still, it has exhibits on “Segregation in California” and particular emphasis on the situation of hispanic immigrants. No doubt, for some of my students, this later subject is anything but hypothetical.

What I particularly love about this museum (in addition to the overall message) is the lesson that little injustices can balloon into very big ones, that every little prejudice is a tiny Holocaust and a potential building block for a tragedy. Finally I love that it helps us to see that we are all potential victims and victimizers, that self-reflection and sensitivity is a life long discipline.

There are many less weighty resources as well: community groups from nearby representing particular ethnicities, enthusiasts in particular subject matter (from Civil War reenactors to model plane builders to dance lovers) and museums of many varieties. Everything is local and global. We are unified by the human experience. The challenge for a teacher is to be alert for the themes that tie us to the global community (and them to us) and be quick to share those with our students.

Participatory Citizenship

How will you relay the experience of participatory citizenship in your classroom?

I believe in a student-centered approach to both education and classroom management. The central organizing principle in my classroom would be respect. The first manifestation of that principle is that the students and I will work together to write the classroom charter – including the major principles and rules. Likewise, the students and I together would establish a disciplinary structure based on peer mediation and natural and logical consequences. The process by which these structures would be established would be democratic. Students would work in teams to discuss possible organizing principles, etc. Those teams would agree on their conclusions and the teams would come together as a class to decide which become the classroom’s foundations.

The learning process would be democratic as well. Student-centered learning is inherently democratic. It puts the power and creation into the hands of each student and then into groups of students who work together in the “marketplace of ideas” to produce learning and learning projects. Beyond this, my intention is to have a keen core of focus on training for standardized testing, but also to use that clarity of focus to generate time to pursue integrated units more dense with arts, literature, music, and affective content. I will, as frequently as I can figure out how to, give students a choice in which course or unit or subjects they wish to pursue. I believe that students learn best from novel, relevant materials and methods.

Finally, the integrated units themselves are wonderful opportunities to explore participatory democracy. A unit on slavery or pre-Civil War America could incorporate Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Students could stand in Huck’s shoes as he chooses to be a “good” citizen, “do the right thing,” and turn Jim in, or hold to their own sense of morality, violate the law, and protect Jim from the slave hunters. Literature is an incredible tool for teaching responsibility and consequences, choices and principles.

Intrapersonal Intelligence

Which themes and skills reflected in the national and state standards do you consider to be the most vital to teach? Explain why. In which discipline areas does this occur?
Given the list of Ten Themes of Social Studies (National Council for the Social Studies [NCSS], n.d.), I would pick “Individual Development and Identity” as my highest priority.

My goal as a teacher is to both create relevance in the material to enhance learning and to concentrate my time with my students on material that will be of use in their lives.  While everything on the NCSS list is important, nothing will be as valuable as personal identity.  It is impossible to have stable, resilient self-efficacy in the absence of a clear sense of self.  Likewise, it is terribly hard to interact with other humans in community absent comfort with one’s own identity.  Finally, knowing what we do not know is central to both self-knowledge and effective learning.  By giving my students the tools to understand themselves, I am giving them the ability to withstand more easily many of the traumas of youth.  For example, it is not enough to know that Howard Gardner identified multiple intelligences.  The power of that construct is in understanding that we are all differently gifted and appropriately so.  Knowing our own capacities and proclivities with regard to these intelligences is a wonderful gift that will buffer adolescent angst and clear the way for focus and optimal proficiency in life.

In addition, “Individual Development and Identity” is a wonderful place to begin learning the other nine Themes.  This theme’s description directly references two other themes (“Culture” and “Individuals, Groups, and Institutions”).  It also must cover “People, Places, and Environments” and “Time, Continuity, and Change” by way of creating perspective and context for self.  That is half the list right there.  If I only cover that, I feel like I have given my students an enormous advantage as they move forward with their lives.  If one of the main themes of my teaching is personal power, power to build a mindful, joyful, satisfying life, a strong sense of self and a strong sense of one’s relationship to time, space, people, and change is crucial and nearly sufficient to that goal.

References

National Council for the Social Studies. (n.d.). National curriculum standards for social studies: Chapter 2—the themes of social studies. Retrieved January 21, 2011, from http://www.socialstudies.org/standards/strands

Excitement then Peace

Discuss some problems within your individual team members’ work settings that could be addressed in a research project. Analyze various methods of data collection that might be appropriate. Discuss issues related to validity and reliability. Write a 300 to 400 word summary paper stating the problem and explaining your data collection plan.

The problem is the children in my kindergarten class don’t settle down quickly enough after music is playing during station rotations. The music is played to refresh their concentration between stations but the cost in increased difficulty in settling in is daunting. I want to try various methods or transitioning out of music or into stations to reduce the lost settling in time. Here are some things I want to try:

  1. Discuss the problem with the students and ask them to settle in faster or risk losing the music between stations.
  2. Deep breathing at the end of the music, then move to stations.
  3. Move to stations after music, then do deep breathing to begin the station.

There is no simple way in a unified class to create different test groups and/or a control group. So my only choice is to run the experiments sequentially, using both the summative assessment for the previous experiment and the pre-test to track success. In terms of tracking success, I see no easy way to quantify the results under real classroom pressures. My solution is for all the adults in the class to journal the experiment and do a qualitative assessment at the end. This wouldn’t be publishable in a Journal but, with any luck, it will give me the information to decided on a solution to my problem.

Other notes: I would run the experiments in the numerical order because my hypothesis is that that is the order of effectiveness, which would make the differences easier to track. Also, a fourth experiment would be cutting music out completely. I am disinclined to do that because I believe that is a positive contribution to the children. However, should I wish to test that hypothesis, I would need a whole different Action Research study, comparing learning w/ and w/o music during rotations.

Arguments, Too

I spent a good part of today talking to a Ph.D. with whom I am involved on a research project. She said something I thought might be useful here. She said, “If they want to attack you, they will assail your methodology.” I don’t know if this is better or worse, but what I take that to mean is there’s a second level of “argument” which skips the content and works only in the minutia, like a lawyer trying to get a case thrown out because of failed Miranda warnings or other procedural grounds. I suppose it is also a sobering reminder to so that we can construct the least assailable studies.

Arguments!

What elements make a statement arguable? Why is this relevant to action research?

Hmmm. Well to begin with, our books says, “postmodernists argue that truth is relative, conditional, and situational, and that knowledge is always an outgrowth of prior experience.” So, if you’re a postmodernist (or arguing with one) everything is arguable. To some extent, this is universally true. There is nothing in science beyond questioning, beyond argument – at least in principal.

The only things that aren’t arguable are factual statements. I can tell you how many people clicked which answer in my survey. That number in response to that question is not arguable. That is why the famous “hanging chads,” from the 2000 Presidential election were so significant. People’s intentions in voting suddenly became relevant. The convention is a vote is a vote. Nobody says “Well, they voted that way but they didn’t mean to…”

This is also why observable and valid become so very important in research. Researchers desperately need an unassailable factual basis from which to build their argument. The data need to be observable and measurable to be “facts.” They need to be valid (to measure what they proport to measure) to be relevant.

One side note, in qualitative research, the “facts” are the varying stories of experience. The constraint of “fact,” of what is “true,” is relaxed to include conflicting data from which a subjective pattern is woven. This is not dissimilar to me proceeding on the results of my survey, knowing the “science” is weak, the arguability is high, but also believing valid information exists in the data that was collected.

I suppose it should also be said that facts and arguability become particular important when group action is needed. Individuals, like classroom teachers, to a large extent, can adapt their behavior based on an intuitive belief in truth, a lower standard of proof. groups tend to want more safety and the safety comes in knowing the “facts” and acting based on inarguable knowledge. This has various good and bad implications, beyond the scope of this response. So the relevance to Action Research is less than to Academic research, but the relevance remains that the lack of arguability is critical when persuading other people to believe you is important.

Representative Surveys

Survey respondents self-select along lines of motivation or interest. That is to say, unless there’s a mechanism to oblige participation or to incent participation independent of the topic (e.g. being paid), the most likely respondents are not representative. Many of them come from a subset who are motivated enough on that subject to take the time to reply.

I am used to surveys where the implication is to make your voice heard, you need to fill out the survey. This could be a PTA or school survey or a neighborhood development survey. In all these surveys, the dynamic is “Respond if you want your voice heard. If you don’t, tough for you.” This is different from a scientific survey where you want to hear from a representative sample of your target population. I see now that this is MUCH harder to achieve.

As an example, my survey of ‘movement in the classroom’ was sent to a subset of the population, my friends on Facebook. They are far from randomly chosen. They have been bombarded with my posts about education and are mostly moving in similar experiences to mine. Then there’s the self-selection on the ~10% who chose to respond. While the cumulative response “feels” reasonable to me, in truth, I have no science to support my conclusion. Also, I have no idea whatsoever whether these responses are generalizeable nor do they help even my intuition in this regard.