Pushing My Brain

Recently, I have been feeling like I have been pushing my brain to do everything. I walk in the store and forget the most important thing I went to the store for (even if I write a list I still end up forgetting something). I have to fight even more lately when having to do academic tasks; staying focused while reading, academic writing, and critical thinking. I have to push, pull and drag my brain to do any of these tasks. Nicholas Carr’s, ” Is Google Making Us Stupid?” made me feel a little better about myself, especially when he states, ” The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing”. Has my brain rejected reading and absorbing long articles due to time spend on the Web and media? Or am I just running into an end of the semester brain blockade? Probably both but I am not intrigued in the research of how internet use affects cognition.  “a form of skimming activity” that is what the internet has taught our brains to do is skim. I can admit that even on my leisure time when I am on social media if something is too long for me to skim and get what the writer is telling me I don’t read it.  Carr discusses a study that suggests that there are “new forms of reading emerging”  and the study also states that “It almost seems that they (participants of the study) go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense”.

I mean this all makes sense to me, today we read often throughout the day. This could be a form of me making an excuse for my end of the year laziness but I do have to say before reading Carr’s piece I was a bit concerned about my attention span and cognitive absorption while reading long academic readings and articles, and just long readings in general.

“Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University…“We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace… Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.”

Though this may ease my mind a little about how I have been feeling lately, at the same time I am truly concerned. If I have to be a human being in 2017 and a scholar is there a way to “fight” back, adapt and do both without feeling inadequate, a bit intimated, and feeling like I am pushing and dragging my brain when reading an extensive document?

The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets.

This blog maybe filled with quotes  but I have been internalizing my abilities lately so the topic this week has simultaneously brought me comfort and concern.

Critical Pedagogy.

Shelli Fowler’s  “Paulo Freire and Critical Pedagogy” had an opening quote that immediately grabbed my attention. It stated,  “Education can function to control and contain students and maintain the status quo . . .Or, it empowers students to be critically engaged and active participants in society”.  Might I add I must admit that I am enjoying these sociological-based readings and topics, now that I have some time to reflect pedagogy and interaction between students and instructors are sociological situations. Especially if the goal is to create an environment where you want the student is able to gain and absorb as much knowledge as possible. This invites my next thought as Fowler’s also discussed critical consciousness, Fowler states that “The formation of a critical consciousness (which allows students to question the nature of their historical and social situation and to effect change in their society)”. Helping students develop and critical conscious also reminds me of another teaching strategy that I watched an instructor use heavily during a graduate teaching assistantship I had here at Tech. It is called Inquiry based learning, or Inquiring By Design, it is basically the practice of instructors leading students with questions and also answering with questions so the students are learning through experience and answering their own questions and teaching their selves for a greater educational experience. The idea of teaching and communicating with students and not at students is also a  component and take away from this teaching strategy. It is also a student-centered teaching strategy. Social sciences use alot of critical pedagogy techniques to teach and create a learning environment and beneficial discussions for students. I see critical pedagogy and critical consciousness overlapping, as far as fostering the idea of “raising awareness of critical issues in society (e.g., environment), and encourage students’sense of themselves as active agents with the ability to shape the world in which they live”. That is the thing i enjoy about sociology is that everyone “studies” or encounters sociology on a daily basis and it can be taught and understood a million different ways.  As I was anxious about having to teach something that is so routine is that everyone has different experiences and perspectives that everyone can learn from -such an interdisciplinary subject, I am grateful that this class is laying a great foundation for my future pedagogical ideas

Hidden Brain

As a social scientist I appreciated this week’s readings. Shankar Vendantam, The Hidden Brain -which discussed the brain on “autopilot” and  children’s absorption through cultural upbringing associations of faces really struct me. the author states that, “hidden associations” of that essentially determine what happens in the unconscious minds of these children. “Our hidden brains will always recognize people’s races, and they will do so from a very, very young age,” Vedantam says. “The far better approach is to put race on the table, to ask [children] to unpack the associations that they are learning, to help us shape those associations in more effective ways.” The author also speaks to the fact of the “colorblindness” issue of the U.S. (it would be nice if everyone were colorblind but in all reality we are not)

I appreciated reading this document as I have yet to teach and being an instructor in Sociology I have been anxious in thinking how I would discuss and instruct topics of race and race related issues to students that already have a positionality. I have been anxious about how I would  introduce “uncomfortable” conversations to students but still constructing an environment of respect of peer option. The author lightly mentions about how to “take back the controls” of our unconscious thoughts but does not go into detail about how to do so -the only critique that I have about this piece but otherwise it is useful to read insight to how our conscious and unconscious mind works. The author states that we us our unconsciousness/ “hidden brain” more often than we may realize.

Diversity enhances creativity. To me that is a clear statement. The fact that there are structure issues in society that is not inclusive and pushes a homogeneous group up in society while leaving others behind in problematic. The fact there is a “Inclusive VT” program in 2017 worries me a little (even though it is a great program and I appreciate the call for inclusion) these efforts should have been put into the making along time ago. “If we are to change, grow and innovate as quoted from Katherine W. Phillips, “How Diversity Makes us Smarter”. The discussion of safe spaces was also a topic in this week’s readings, speaking from my perspective and my identity in society there are a lack of safe space to have conversations in relation to race and social justice, in academia that is another story. As an instructor my hopes are to create a space space for my students especially with having to instruct course that directly deal with these issues. Would that space provide students with enough comfortableness for them to share the thoughts in their hidden brain? Would that be necessary for students in order the feel included and heard (as we all have had different experiences)? These questions maybe answered in different way or not at all, however as I am a still in the learning process I do hope that I learn how to construct a conducive classroom environment for all my students to be able to think like a sociologist.

Finding the Balance

“How do I create a professional relationship with my students? Can I maintain authority and treat students fairly while striving for them to like me? Where should the boundaries be? If I become my students’ buddy, how can I assess them properly (i.e., give them low grades when appropriate) without compromising our relationship?” – these are all questions  that have came across my mind as I have yet and anxious to teach a college course yet. These questions zero in on my mind, especially when I kind of do want to be the “popular professor”. During my tenure as a substitute teacher I was the “cool sub”, when I would walk into the schools that were familiar with me, especially the high schools, the students would bum bar me with questions like “what class are you subbing for?” “Can you sub for my class soon?”, “When are you going to be here again?” As I enjoyed seeing their happy faces and listening to the different confidential adventures they’d go on the weekend prior I was afraid I was becoming a friend instead of a professional instructor. It felt as though I had little authority, the times I did get frustrated some of the “gate keeper” students would see my frustration and yell to their peers “Be quiet! I like this sub and I am not trying to get in trouble!” But I felt like that should have still been my job to find the balance of being the professional authority figure and the “cool sub” and the same time.

Finding out who I am as a teacher and finding my teaching voice is something that I can honestly say I am anxious more than anything about teaching. I want to be able to find that balance being that confidant,, stimulating my students’ knowledge, and having that authoritative respect from my students all at the same time. Is it a process and something that comes with time?

The “Authentic teaching self” really helped me to think and answer some of the above questions. The idea that “teaching is not always about you”, for some reason that resonated with me I was thinking about me and my position in the classroom more than my future students. The handout  suggested to “step outside of yourself” so that you can be attentive to the students and not make the classroom your stage with the students as a passive audience.  This suggestion helped my anxieties calm down a little. Finding the balance is important but recognizing that teaching is about the students is even more important. This was just my Aha! moment.

Learning From Mistakes

During class discussion last night the conversation (from someone’s question) lead to providing feedback from test to students to give them an option to get a better grade and/or learn from their mistakes made during the test. I only had this experience in a classroom once and that was in middle school probably. At the time it felt like an inconvenience but as the year went on I noticed I was retaining more information and even doing better on my test as the the year progressed.

As the discussion went on I thought about how I would be an efficient instructor. To assess students it seems that there are many ways but testing being one. To take a test and get a grade is one thing but to take a test and get feedback and get a chance to learn from the feedback and improve the grade is a new story. As I think about how I will adopt a pedagogy to not only benefit my future students but my self as well this will be something that I will give my students an option to learn from their “mistakes” made on a test and talk through why either answers were incorrect.

The document by Jean Lacoste, “Teaching Innovation Statement” addresses tailoring courses to individual needs as I began the reading I thought “Yeah right that probably won’t work and will not have a big impact as much as she think it might”. but as I continued reading she stated that, ” [she] was concerned that [she] might be giving my freshmen too much freedom; worried they wouldn’t make the best choices. [Her] findings are the exact opposite. Rather than selecting one mode over the other, many students completed tasks from multiple modes; attending the live lecture AND reviewing the video lecture, completing the live activity AND working through the online activity”. Before this she stated that she ‘redesigned the course she was teaching to to offer many options and allowed each student to choose their own path”. (This also reminded me of the Imagination readings we had last week). she also mentions that she deigned the course to incorporate hands on activities, videos and other different stimulants that massaged the process of learning. She provided individualized feedback tailored to the work they submitted she also had suggested deadlines but deadlines were flexible for their own study pace. Each option was to support a specific learning style. This makes sense because people learn with more than one sense or stimulant and in different ways. This must have took alot of work and effort on her part as well.

Before going through this weeks readings and class discussion I was thinking that I wanted to be an instructor that can be able to provide a learning environment that tailors to every students’ needs then I thought might that even be possible? Am I setting impossible goals for myself? Now after reading this I feel a bit more comfortable with my soon pedagogy and I am inspired. Learning and teaching can be a beneficial learning experience for both the students and instructor. I want my students to know that I will be with them throughout this process going step by step as they are.

Imagination: “Authors of Our Own Stories or Stuckness?”

I really appreciated the reading for this week, Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon really spoke to us social scientists (well I am speaking for myself, I just really enjoyed their document as a social scientist and as a learner as well).  This idea of “Killing of imagination” is so true. Last semester I had a paper to write, the instructor encouraged us to be creative with the paper, we read narratives and poetry the week prior to the paper to inspire us and get ideas.  That paper was so difficult for me to start. Prior to grad school I prided my self in my narrative writing skills and “fluffy” writing concept (as a professor I had in undergrad once told me). But graduate school had conditioned me so much to “scientifically” write straightforward, “get straight to the point”, “no need for all these extra words”,”cite, don’t forget to cite properly” writing that this task that I use to love so much to free flow write was extremely difficult for me to at least start. I thought about it for a week, I sat in front of my computer for hours, nothing. Then I started and it all came back, it was just pouring out on my keyboard, it felt so good to let my imagination and creativity guide my writing. I thanked the instructor after turning in my paper, I told her it was difficult for me to start but as I my imagination shifted into gear I could not stop. Looking back I ask myself “What caused that block?” as mentioned before I once prided myself on the words I was able to put together to describe scenes in my head…my imagination had been kilt as I adapted to the way things are supposed to be, written and read in graduate school.

This brings me to the discussion that we had last week. Someone mentioned that she had never heard the phrase “This is just how it has been done for years” until she came here.  As a society I do have to say we have been conditioned and fixed to operate a certain way..”for years” or “years it has been done” without using our imagination. The reading touched on this concept as well the conditioning of to just operate in the way it is and has been done for years with out using our imagination. I also noticed it earlier. My childhood consisted of barbies, I collected them as well. I had the barbie car, the barbie dream house, the grocery store, the tour bus, the Spice Girl barbie, Pocahontas barbie, anything Barbie in the 90s you name it I had it! (still do). Came up with the best stories to play with them as well, my imagination as a child has great! My barbies had the best adventures, I do have to say so myself!

When went back home this summer and explored all the bins that stored my barbies for all these years and as I attempted to play with them and use my imagination to come up with the great adventures to take my barbies on as a 24 year old adult I couldn’t, it was hard I gave up and put them away. Something I once loved, all the stories, games and adventures my mind was able to create as a child was no longer able to do so. As I read the Imagination First document and the  “either you have it or you don’t” discussion I could not help to think of this experience and at the time I definitely felt like I did not have my imagination that day. The authors state that “the challenge is how to increase the potency and reach of the imagination”. As  learners and instructors this piece really encouraged the students use of imagination. With all this said and after reading this document it all makes sense! As instructors we should challenge our selves and our students to tap in or back into those imaginative spaces.

This also reminded me of the movie Hook with Robin Williams. Last year, someone really wanted me to watch it because I would really enjoy it do to my “imagination” and sense of humor. Long story short if you haven’t seen the movie Peter (Robin Williams) goes back to Never Land as an adult and has to use his imagination to see and even eat the things in Never Land. In one scene Peter is watching the Lost Boys were “eating” Peter couldn’t eat and see the food unless he used his imagination. Peter did he pushed his self to use his imagination and he did he saw the food, he ate, he tasted it and even started throwing it around and caused a food fight and the Lost Boys screamed “YOU’RE DOING IT! YOU’RE USING YOUR IMAGINATION!”

That same someone that told me to watch this movie and particularly this part of the movie told me “Take your imagination to the moon” “share everything you’re learning with others” and that is what I plan to do.

“To see oneself as pursuing a purpose and following a call, rather than merely going through the motion, is itself an act of imagination” pg.35  (act of reflection in action) -fighting the fear of what if

“Why imagination? Because without it, education is utterly empty” pg.30


#WeLearnBy/”Programmed Learning”

Last week, as we did the activity #WeLearnBy…, in and outside my group I noticed a few of my group members and other groups said “repetition”. Because I also learn by repetition and shared that with my group, I then thought to myself, “why do I learn by repetition?”. Then I thought “well maybe because in elementary school when we were given our weekly spelling words we had to write them over and over for a set amount of times and I learned by repeating this notion to this day”…that is how I learning I have to repetitively do the steps or write something down.  Then I thought for the people that said they also learn in repetition if this was their reason why…having been conditioned to repeat write early on in elementary or before.

As I read the “Anti-Teaching_Mindful Learning” piece it started connecting for me. I believe the author mentioned something about programmed teaching or “teaching the basics” but not introducing students to learn and attain information outside those step by step, basic instructions. Is that holding them back? If I would have been exposed different ways of learning spelling words would “repetition” be the way in which I learn and attain information now? Maybe, maybe not but having other options presented to me would have been nice. I remember at the time writing my spelling words over and over seemed so tedious to me and hard to adapt to doing at the time as a 6 year old child. Then I just went with the flow and adapted to it because every year after that each teacher wanted use to write our spelling  words over and over again for a fixed amount of time, so it worked.

I feel like this “mindful” or “mindfulness” concept is a movement, as I learned some mindful skills in therapy and some nutrition and health professionals (my education field) discuss and incorporate Mindful Eating in their curriculum and health education approaches. As I typed in Mindful Learning, just to read a little more on it, I found this quote “Ellen Langer proposes a third approach which she calls ‘sideways learning’. Sideways learning involves maintaining a mindful state that is characterized by openness to novelty, alertness to distinction, sensitivity to different contexts, awareness of multiple perspectives, and orientation in the present”. http://cadres.pepperdine.edu/ccar/ar/c7/Connaghan/MindfulLearning.htm I mean I read this once in the article we had to read for this week but as I read it again in made more sense and connected for me (probably due to my conditioned learning style of repetition learning). But this “sideways learning” outside of the “top to bottom” or “bottom up” approach sound like it is so useful for both instructor and student because at the end of the day a learning style is taught in a way especially at and during the elementary level of learning but every thing does not work for everybody as I believe Langer also subtly argues during the basic learning section.

Technology on the Rise K-PhD

The question of “what kind of educational experience changes lives?” is truly an important question. The goal of educators is to often have high impact on their students so they can go out with knowledge and change the world. However, my self I can only remember a handful of instructors/ classes that really had a strong impact on my learning experience or just me as a person, that is surprising to me as I reflect because I have been in school forever (straight fro high school 2009). It was interesting to find out through Kuh’s article that active learning practices was unsystematic at the undergraduate level of education. But now that I really think about it, it is really not surprising to me at all. I work as a substitute teacher for a awhile. And my GTA focuses on how to teach pre-service teachers science (STEM)  grades K-12 due to the lack of women and diversity in the STEM careers and higher education, this course that pre-service teachers have to take focuses on how teachers can present science in an engaging way. Focusing also on inquiry based learning and Understanding By Design (UBD) model (a backward design model focusing on doing the activity first then talking student through what they just say happening in the activity).

I know I went off on kind of a tangent but this idea of active learning not being systematic at the undergraduate level is not surprising because it is not systematic at the K-12 level (especially in sub filed like science) which is an interesting notion because everyone learns differently and I believe that all 5 senses need to be recognized as instructors teach material due to the fact that everyone attains knowledge and information in different ways.

As I substituted I saw alot of students using internet-based material and technology for learning, such as ipods, ipads, computers (especially for students that were known to act out. Instructions for me as a sub was to just “let them get on the computer”.  I mean yes it made my job easier to handle the rest of the class but to think of all the psycho-social impact that it had on these students that “acted out” is kind of scary. Smart boards are in the classroom there in no more white boards and all fundamental learning games are on the internet or technology based materials for these students. Only one teacher I saw still used and hand blocks and marbles to help teach the students to count. So network learning has taken place in all levels and areas of education. Can this be a good thing to keep society technically advanced? Yes. But I also think there needs to be a balance of networked based learning and the “old school way” of learning as well.