Is Blogging a Good Idea?

As I have watched the daily scroll of entries on the “motherblog”, I have seen a number of people who talk about the dangers or uneasiness of blogging.  I don’t necessarily share their point of view, but am glad that they took the time to share it with me.  I like looking at issues from all different directions.  And with that thought, I want to offer a strange thought.

What if Eve had blogged?

posted by user EVE on Day 1, 11:43 pm.

So today, Adam was taking a nap (something about still recovering from his rib injury) so I decided to take a walk around the garden.  I don’t know the names for half the things I see, but they are pretty.  Especially the flowers.  So there I was, checking it out, when this serpent started talking to me.  Now, I don’t know if  you have ever heard of a talking snake, but I sure hadn’t.  Once I got over the shock, we chatted a while.  Nice enough guy, but I guess I really don’t have many to compare him to.  But, he didn’t sound very snake-like.  He wants to talk again tomorrow, over by the apple tree.  I figure Adam will likely be napping again, so why not?  Well, time for bed.

comment by user ADAM on Day 2, 7:28 am.

Snakes here can talk?  Cool.

comment by user GOD on Day 2, 8:11 am.

Eve, don’t go near the tree.  I warned you.

Now, okay, before the religious among us have a fit, I am not poking fun at your beliefs.  But it is a story that everyone knows and everyone knows the outcome.  But what if she had received these comments?  Would she have still acted the same way?  Or would her interactions with those she didn’t normally see or hear from alter her way of thinking?

Another less known example would be someone like Isaac Newton.  There are rumors that another, a Frenchman, had similar thoughts at the same time, but never published them.  Can you imagine if the two of them had been in contact?  Able to bounce thoughts back and forth at the speed of light and feed off of each other’s ideas?  Would physics have advanced faster?  Would we already have warp drive capability?

Now, I can see that blogging is not for everyone.  And, when you are talking to a friend or your mother or someone you know, a blog is a pretty inefficient medium.  But, what if your thoughts on science or evolution or just life touch something in a stranger?  What if those seemingly worthless bits of data that flowed from your keyboard (kinda like a lot of my posts) actually took root in the mind of another?  What if you can make a new connection that leads to intellectual or personal growth for you both?  Is that chance worth the effort?

I think so.  Therefore, I blog.

Posted in Blogging

Meanwhile, back in the Real World…

So, outside my student life, I actually have time to be in contact with non-students.  Other grad students in the engineering college will know why that is a shock.  But today, one such friend, an English teacher, emailed me an interesting statement.  This is not from some book or “expert” on education, but a front-line participant in the public school system.

“This year I feel like I have finally found a balance of what is making me happy, is researched-based, and is producing well-rounded happy readers.   Only took 15 years.  But the exciting thing about teaching is that evolves through the years, so I will continue to change as well.  Keep that in mind as you create a path to instructing.  I really thought that I would create a formula that I could use over each year.  No year is ever the same because instruction is modified to meet the needs of learners that I have. “

I won’t attribute the quote as I should because that would invade the friend’s privacy more than I already have (and when he/she reads this I may be in trouble).  But the core of the thought is something that resonates with me.  This journey that I am on to learn everything I can about teaching is never-ending.  I can take the classes and get the degree and have the credentials to land the job, but as a professor, I still need to be a life-long learner.  I still need to critique and analyze my own performance within the context of the evolving student to be the best I can be.  Thank you, friend, for your insight.

Posted in Teaching Philosophy

Say What?

In engineering, I have grown accustomed to using highly technical words that sometimes I didn’t even know the meaning of.  Words like exacerbate (to make worse) and efflorescence (that white stuff on Torgerson Hall).  I don’t think engineers do it on purpose, we just like to pick the most appropriate, albeit technical, word to fit the situation.

But I think the world of academia has a conspiracy going to confuse the public.  They throw out words that hit my ears and have me thinking “Say What?”  Let’s look at some examples.  I put this here as a public service to those, like me, who hope to fit into this secret society / conspiracy one day and will need to talk the talk.

“Pedagogy”  Now, somewhere in the back of my brain something tingled and said, “Isn’t that some revered figure that you build statues for?”  I don’t think I was right.  So I had to look it up:

Pedagogy (n) – the art, science, or profession of teaching; especially : education 2

Now, on the same web site, look up “pedagogue”.  I thought it funny.  I also found in the “rhymes with section” the guy with the statue, a demagogue.

The second word was “Rubric”  This isn’t a word that seems to exist in learner-centered teaching, but was used in the TA seminar.  I thought it sounded like one of those cubes with all the colors, and it turns out that has some semblance of correctness.

Rubric (n) – 4. a guide listing specific criteria for grading or scoring academic papers, projects, or tests

Now when I asked a couple professors that live next door to me, they described a rubric as essentially a grid that shows exactly how much each part of each assignment is worth.  It gives the teacher a structure with which to assign grades.  And it gives the student the exact roadmap to how to get the score they want.  This is absolutely opposite of the philosophy in class where we are stressing that we don’t want students to ask how much each little thing is worth.  Interesting.

The third word is “praxis”.  Now just listening to the word and thinking about its parts, it sounds something like “practice” but has an “axis” in it.  So my guess was that it was the axis along which one practices.  I wasn’t far off:

Praxis (n) – 1.  ACTION, PRACTICE  2. practical application of a theory

So essentially, it is how I apply theories in the practice of teaching.  Did they really need a separate word for this?

I am sure as time goes on, I will find more of the secret code of the educational profession.  The more I know, the more ready I will be to attend the cocktail parties in the department of education.  I am hoping that the password that gets you in the door is one of the three words I already know.  And I bet that if I drop one of the others in conversation, I will get some more secret code words in response.  At one word a month, I may be ready when I leave Tech and head out to teach for real.

Posted in Vocabulary

A lighthearted break

Don’t ask me why it occurred to me today.  Maybe not enough sleep.  But I thought about the various jokes I have heard over the years involving “Little Johnny”.  If you google it, you get lots of links, but this is the most obvious address:  http://littlejohnnyjoke.com/

So the thought now is, what is “Little Johnny-Centered Teaching”?  Do we have an obligation to tailor our approach to each student, even the most incorrigible?  Stop laughing at the jokes and think about it…

Posted in Humor, Teaching Philosophy

The path less traveled

One of the most frustrating things about hearing about “learner-centered teaching” is how foreign it is to my experience.  I routinely think of my pedagogy class as “touchy-feely”.  Now, if you were an engineer with a couple decades of experience in practice, you would likely know that “touchy-feely” is not something you ever want to be, especially around colleagues or worse, on a job site.  So, as I hear and read about the various strategies for truly connecting with students, on their terms, I am at war internally with my professional side saying it is just flat out wrong while my personal side says it has a great deal of merit.  Unfortunately, these two sides each represent a path I have walked for a rather long time, and choosing this new path, the one that somehow blends the personal reactions with professional practice, is certainly an example of the “path less traveled”.

Now, I admit freely that my life experiences have affected how I look at things.  I am a cynic about a number of subjects, including not just education, but whether I can truly connect with today’s students.  The concepts being discussed amongst the class seem to focus primarily on building that connection through understanding today’s students, how they think, live, and learn.  Don’t get me wrong.  I certainly want to teach and to connect.  But where is the balance between teaching what needs to be learned (as defined by curricula, certification, etc.) and teaching what wants to be learned by today’s students?  In the extreme, imagine an engineering class of 40 where each student has their own interests and style of learning.  How is it possible to connect with all 40, tailoring my teaching to draw out the potential of each one?  Isn’t that my job?  Or are we standing in front of a classroom using a shotgun approach hoping that with each lesson we touch at least a single student?

In a conversation with a fellow studier of pedagogy recently, I guess our philosophies were somewhat similar, though I suspect he is struggling with this path more than I.  But we talked about an email that used to make the rounds about a little kid throwing starfish back into the ocean.  When asked whether he could really hope to make a difference, the kid answered that he did for each starfish he throws.  As a teacher (or professor, if you prefer, but I want to focus on just the teaching part), is that the best we are to hope for?  That through understanding students in general and applying that knowledge to our techniques and approaches, that we can throw a few starfish while the remainder continue to struggle?  It is a depressing thought.

As I read what I type and consider the words, I am reminded of the various articles and websites we were given about good blogging.  Links and photos and giving the reader an experience.  As with teaching, is a blog to be tailored to the type of person who reads it?  Or is it an extension of the creator with hope that just one reader will connect?  By typing my thoughts and doubts and all the rest, am I just throwing starfish in hopes of making a difference?  I suppose time will tell.

Posted in Teaching Philosophy

Failure… the Final Frontier

In engineering, if we want to know how strong a material is, we test it til it breaks.  Pull and pull and pull and see just how much it can take.  Record what happened just before and you have the answer.

I think this applies to a lot of things in life.  One of my recent quotes that I really should put on some poster somewhere is “We never know just how good we are until we fail.”  Think about it.  We go through this crazy world trying this and that and the other thing and trying to live up to our potential in whatever areas interest us.  And we have no idea what that potential is until we fail.

Education is much the same.  Of course, making my teaching philosophy statement something on the order of “I plan to push these kids harder and harder until they fail.” may not work out so well with search committees.  But as an aspiring professor, isn’t that exactly what I want to do?  To provide an environment where any student can push themselves to the full limits of their potential?  And in that final moment when they can’t take any more, to be there to show them that there is nothing wrong with failing.  That life’s lessons are often much better learned the hard way.  Personally, I will always remember the mistakes in my academic career that cost me the most, as those are the ones I will never repeat.

As I embark on this grandiose journey into the world of electronic thoughts that bounce around at the speed of light, I cannot see its limit.  I have no idea when it will fail me.  I do know that it will help me to continue to expand my knowledge and depth further and further toward my potential.  I look forward to all I will learn, through success and failure, along the way.

Posted in About the Author, Failure, Teaching Philosophy