No More Broccoli

My dad is an Episcopal priest. We moved to a new church when I was about 16. It is a medium sized church in Upstate New York, and one of the first sermons he gave there was about getting rid of “Broccoli Church.”

Sit down. Shut up. Eat your broccoli. It’s good for you.

Church, for many, is a place you go not because you want to, but because it’s good for you, your parents made you, or your parents made you and therefor you’re going to force your kids to go as well. You sit in your pew, sing when required, respond when required, and be quiet when expected because it’s good for you. My dad wanted to change that. He wanted projects and events that people were excited about participating in and that would help the community. The congregation rallied behind this message. Families got involved. They planned and put on events. Ministry wasn’t only coming from the pulpit, it was coming from the congregation as well. For Christmas that year, the congregation gave my dad a bottle of Heinz ketchup and the label read, “Can’t Help Broccoli.”

This class has been about ending “broccoli school.”

Sit down. Shut up. Read this. It’s good for you.

We want education to come from all sides of the room. We recognize that students have the ability to teach each other, and also teach us (the instructors). We want students to be motivated by the projects they are working on. We want students to put forth their best work because they want to, not just because we control their grades. We want students to become the best engineers, critical thinkers, critical readers, mathematicians, soil scientists, landscape architects, food scientists, and whatever combination of whatever else they can be.

There’s no one way to do this, though. You don’t need to radically change the physical appearance of your classroom. You don’t need to have everything done on a computer. You don’t need to do away with lecture completely. You don’t need every single project, activity, or reading to have a direct real world application. Vegetables are gross, but they are still good for you.

My dad didn’t stop giving sermons. He didn’t tear up the pews and place them in a circle. He did, however, engage with the congregation outside of the service. Before the service on Sundays, after the service on Sundays. He met with parishioners on the weekday mornings and evenings. He added more than he took away, and I think that’s an experience we can learn from. Add more to your classroom; don’t just take away. Engage with your students; build a rapport. Jig saws will work some places, and not others. Lectures will work in some cases; and readings as well. The more tools you add, the better prepared you’ll be. Work on perfecting the craft of teaching, not perfecting the application of theory.




Week 12: insert interesting title

I don’t know if Google is making up stupider. I doubt it really. I feel like we are just now openly doing what we covertly did before. Did we ever really deeply read every academic article we came across? Or just skim it for relevant information and move on? I think the latter, now we just don’t lie to ourselves about it. Google just makes it easier to do what we were already doing, and harder to mask it.

The articles about a shorter attention span are interesting, especially concerning the genre of the novel. I think that constantly consuming small amounts of information has conditioned our brain to expect that; thus the not being able to read a single “longish” article or chapter without our brains wandering. If we can condition our brain to ingest short bits of information quickly we can condition it back; if we want to. That really makes me wonder, however, which is more likely. Will we spend the time engaging in “longish” works to recondition our brains to focus for longer? Or will the genre of the novel, and long form journalism start to disappear in favor of new genres that more closely sync up with our decreased attention spans?

Now, what I’m most honestly interested in is people’s opinions about laptops in the classrooms. I design a few activities where I have everyone on their laptops actively researching something. But other than that I ask them to put their laptops away during class (with the exception of the students who use them according to their disability statements. Why? I’ve been a student, still am, and let’s look through a list of things I’ve seen students doing on their laptops during class: Facebook, Pinterest, twitter, instagram, reddit, solitaire, WoW, spider solitare, chess,, shopping, photoshop, math homework (not in math class), chem homework (not in chem class), checking the weather, watching a baseball game, watching surfing movies, watching rock climbing movies, Mircrosoft paint (you know where you make a bunch of circles and fill the circles in with a different colors), message boards,, checking email, writing email… and I’m sure there’s more but I think this list will suffice. They pretty much do everything that isn’t paying attention. Then they ask questions that the teachers already covered, probably just two minutes before. Does closing the laptops make students pay attention? No, they can doodle or daydream or whatever. Does it help? I think so.

Idiot with the Drill

I must be a “schooler” because the parable at the beginning of Papert’s chapter is ridiculous.

I think even worse how pretentiously he presents that there’s pushback against the idea that teachers shouldn’t be able to recognize the future classroom. Of course there is. Talking about the surgical theater brings up visions of a plethora of electronics all used to monitor different vital signs. We don’t need a pulse oximeter in the classroom to ensure that we are safe. Most people don’t need an oxygen mask. No one needs to be under constant supervision because they have been sedated with a drug the potentially could stop their heart. The comparison intentionally leads people in the wrong direction and then tries to use their obvious confusion at why the classroom would ever need to look like a surgical theater to make a clarion call for megachange.

This chapter was written in 1992, why would the classroom need to change so radically that teachers from 100 years before wouldn’t understand what was going on? Video games can be a great teaching tool, but are they necessary to create most of the change he was talking about? We talked in class two weeks ago, about a group of students that were taken outside and asked to walk around barefoot in order to facilitate a more student directed learning while emphasizing critical thinking skills. Is he expecting the classroom to look more like the matrix where we can plug in and experience new things we otherwise never could?  How much of a role does technology need to play in changing the philosophy of the education system?

Again, maybe my schooler mentality is obstructing my ability to see the future of the machine.

More to the point, however, why is making bad comparison something we should avoid? Example: me. I’m writing this blog post. We had two really good readings about finding your teaching self, and I’m stuck on this terrible parable. I’m not even talking about the rest of the chapter the bad parable came from.

Maybe it’s a flaw of mine, I should be able to look past the parable to see the bigger picture, right? Perhaps, but story telling is a powerful teaching tool. If you haven’t read some of the research on how well humans learn through story telling it’s pretty interesting. The basic gist of it is that stories help us experience things, not just hear and process. Stories stick with us longer. They incorporate more parts of our brain than when receiving facts. They have been a part of human existence probably from its beginning. Keep in mind the earliest cave paintings are more than 40,000 years old. We are hardwired to listen and relate to stories. I’m sure this is why storytelling was listed as something lectures are good for a few weeks back.

Back to Papert though. If the megachange needs to occur in the mindset of educators and the basic philosophies of the education system. The focus of the parable shouldn’t be on technological tools. Because that’s all they are… tools. And tools are only as proficient and creative as the craftsman that holds them. If the craftsman has new tools, but their mindset, philosophy, and creativity hasn’t evolved with the tool then the tool won’t be used to its full potential anyway.

Let’s end with a story about a man provided with the technology that could change they way he does his job. It’s called. Idiot with the Drill.


25% 25% 50%

One thing that I have been told by a few different teaching mentors is the 25%25% 50% rule. The rule goes something like this: 25% of your class is going to be on board with almost anything that you do.  Another 25% will not be on board with almost anything that you do, whether it’s for lack of interest in the subject, or a heightened interest in another subject, or parties, or WoW, they just aren’t devoting that much time to your class. That last 50%, that’s the 50% that what you do makes all the difference whether or not they are on board. For the duration of the blog, let’s assume this is, at least generally, true.

Looking specifically at the “Case Against Grades”I’m wondering how some of the “effects of grading” and the benefits of getting rid of grades would affect the 25%25%50% rule. Would that first 25% who are totally on board no matter what, produce even better work? Think at an even higher level? Maybe. Maybe their already extant self motivation would be augmented and their creative freedom would result in some amazing things.

That other 25% though, what would be the effect of taking grades away from them? Would they magically care a little more? would that 25% become 12%? and the other 13% join the 50%? Would they all join that 50% and there would be no one focused on doing the bare minimum? Or are grades just motivating enough, to get the students that don’t care about the subject to put in a little effort in order to pass? I don’t know.

Before we go any further with this, let me admit that I’m looking at this from a hugely generalized perspective. I know every individual student has their own motivations, and each will respond differently to different scenarios. Still I can’t imagine that getting rid of grades is going to have the same effect on every student, the same way the keeping grades won’t have the same effect on every student.

That leaves the 50%, or the 63%, How would getting rid of grades alter their education? Personally I think this is where the lack of grades would have the most effect. I think they would be the ones that would relish in the autonomy, and be more focused on the task. They would spend more time thinking about how to accomplish the task than how the teacher wanted them to accomplish the task. They would be thinking more critically, more invested, all the things that getting rid of grades is supposed to accomplish.

All that being said, leads me to the question. What about that 12-25% that just aren’t going to care no matter what? Can we let them not care and give them credit for completing the class? Or would that lead to a decrease in the value of VT degree? Can we grade them more on a gut feeling about how much work they put in, or how much they participated? Or would that create legal issues if they decided to protest the grades, having nothing but the teacher’s opinion to go on? Also, how would that affect the university’s graduation rate? Do the politics or the university play a role in how all of this would go down if it were allowed to happen?


How would you like CPR to be taught?

In the last paragraph of our first reading by Ellen Langer she brings up a scenario where a friend’s seven year old daughter needs CPR after an accident in the pool. She poses the question about whether we would want our training to have been conditionally rather than “mindlessly sequential” and then asked how should we teach CPR? I’m having trouble answering her questions.

Without a doubt, I think the mindful learning as a whole is a great concept. The example she provided about the musicians that were taught “mindfully” performing better and enjoying their practice shows how tasks that are so traditionally rooted in memorization (oh god all those scales… up and down up and down…. now D minor…. up and down) and repetition don’t necessarily have to rely on those two factors.

But, in the case of CPR I think it gets a little muddled. While I’ve never had to perform CPR and hope that I never will, it’s a high stress situation. You essentially have a corpse in front of you, and CPR alone is not going to revive them. Perhaps you’re the only trained person in the vicinity so it’s on you to act as their heart until medical help can arrive. Every step can potentially make a large difference in whether they are able to be revived and also in the quality of life if they are revived.   Would small “mindlessly sequential” methodical steps taught absolutely work in this situation? I think so. I think that could help a person work through the stress. There’s a reason they include easy to recall acronyms-ABC airway-breathing-compression.

Now maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it. Maybe Langer is saying that there should be a mindful component to CPR training. She specifies that the young girl is much smaller than your average adult at only 50 lbs. So the mindful component would focus on how hard one would have to push to achieve the proper compression. Maybe there is a mindful addition to the ‘assess the scene’ component. A restaurant is  a very different location than a crosswalk. These I will agree should be taught in the CPR class, but I don’t think that they take the place of the small mindless methodical steps.

Maybe a sort of hybrid style would work better in this situation. One that teaches the sequential steps that must be met, but expands upon those steps as well.


Passive sitters: “they make excellent cannon fodder”

The one thing that intrigued me the most from this week’s readings didn’t actually come from the readings themselves. It was, rather, the contrast produced by the first comment following the “Setting Students’ Minds on Fire” article and the article itself (I’d link straight to the comment  if I knew how).

The article painted this colorful picture filled with students that were excited about learning. They were invested in the content, and they were invested in the game. They were so invested it was hindering other students’ ability to party, which as we know is the priority of weekend college nights.

That first comment though, reminded me much more of the reality of my own schooling. The commentor, username richardtaborgreene, described what he learned through his school years, and it was mostly how to sit while being just aware enough to get decent grades. He had learned to be what he calls a “passive sitter.” Which is what the world wants… right? Passive sitters are perfect for corporate jobs, the commentor continues, because “they make excellent low cost machine substitutes… [and] excellent cannon fodder” when wars should arise.  Passive sitters are easy to manipulate and make other people rich. The commentor describes school as a prison forcing students to assume the role of passive sitters while tamping down their excitement to learn about what interests them, and suppressing real learning.

The commentor says that he first experienced a type of inspired learning that more resembles that actual article he was commenting on at a mass research event hosted by IBM 40 years ago.  Where he, along with his team, was able to go “from zero to as good as world best experts in 3 days!!” and said that “NO UNIVERSITY ever exposed [him] to as much learning, as fun-ly gained, and as much educating, as powerfully delivered, in equivalent time periods.”  The commentor seems baffled that universities don’t engage in such events, but corporations do.

My education certainly has looked more like the comment than the article.  Most of my classes were lectures. Some tried to include group work, but it was forced and not terribly effective. I had a few seminars where we the students did most of the talking and were encouraged to “learn from each other,” but that didn’t take much more effort than a lecture. I’ve never felt that inspired learning though. I’ve never been so engaged in a class, or in a portion of a class that I couldn’t switch school off for a while to engage in other activities. I’d like to experience that, though. More than experience it, I’d like to provide my students with that experience. Which raises the question: How do I, having never experienced this ” mind set on fire” learning, teach in that manner? How can I make that transition from perpetuate-or of passive sitters to a pilot light? Where do I find my English classroom equivalent of the IBM mass research event? Or will I have to come up with my own (a daunting task to say the least)?

Gedi Week 1: The Ethos is Strong with This One

When I teach Ethos to my composition classrooms I always ask my students for examples of people, publications or things with strong ethos, and people, publications, or things with a weak ethos. Blogs are always brought up as examples of a publication that possesses a weak ethos. From there we unpack that statement and eventually determine that blogs gain their ethos from the authors that write them. For example, Dr. Peter Cochran’s blog, which is almost universally respected as a great resource for those studying Lord Byron, possesses a strong ethos as it is written by a great scholar on Lord Byron. In contrast, the blog written by kittykat92834784391234897234891 probably isn’t the most reliable source regardless of the quality of content they produce.

With this in mind, I wonder where we fall on the blogging credibility scale. I’m sure it varies widely even within this class. Would the third year PhD candidate’s blog be more credible than my being a second year MA credentials? Probably. Would either of our blogs be accepted as a resource in a college research paper as a reliable source? Probably not. If our blogs are not considered a reliable academic source what worth do they hold in the realms of “facilitating academic collaboration, teaching and public engagement”?  The people Tim Hitchcock uses as examples already have academic credibility. They have that strong ethos I talk about in my classroom, and would then do a much better job at “facilitating academic collaboration…” etc.

Seth Godwin might argue that our credibility or our readership is not what is important, but I can’t buy into that completely. Maybe I could justify blogging about my research as practice for when I do have the credibility. At the moment, however, it seems that I would need to publish my work for it to be viewed as legitimate, and I think legitimacy is needed to accomplish Hitchcock’s goals.

If you are already a well respected scholar, I think that publishing work openly is awesome. It’s academic work in an easy to view, easy to read format that is comfortable for people who are not academics. Personally, I’ve benefited greatly from blogs such as Peter Cochran’s, and even been able to share posts with people who would never actually read a scholarly article I sent their way.