Seeking Time-Turner

A time-turner, for all of you who have not read the Harry Potter book series, is a device that allows the wearer to travel back in time.

(http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Time-Turner)

As you can see it is also very fashionable. Hermione used the time turner to attend classes that occurred at the same time during her third year at Hogwarts.

If I had the chance to use a time-turner regularly, like Hermione, I would use it to research more at the community college level. Since completing my Ph. D. last semester I have missed researching classroom interactions. I find that between teaching full-time and being a new mom, I am stretch pretty thin when it comes to time.

I would love to have more time to improve our students mathematics classroom experience through research. I have colleagues in my department with NSF grants that fund their research and I am in awe of them teaching full course loads and conducting research.

This is where the time-turner would come in handy. I would teach my classes but then be able to turn back time and be in my office hard at work creating and implementing a research study of my design. I would also write journal articles that will help spread my findings to the community college and greater mathematics education community.

The benefit would be the chance to help mathematics instructors improve their teaching and in return help students in their mathematics classrooms achieve a better understanding of the concepts.

Since I will have to live without a time-turner for the foreseeable future, I plan to find some stability in my teaching load and work/life balance.

My current goal is to survive this first year as a residential faculty member with an overload and enjoy being a new mom. In the next year, I am planning to join one of the research groups that is already in my department. This will allow me to dip my toe back into the research pool. Eventually, I would like to be the one awarded an NSF grant to conduct research here at GCC.

 

Dreams Start With Good Habits

Dreams…I want to be a better writer. Thanks to Write6x6, I get to practice. I want to be a better public speaker. When are we starting Speak6x6? Who needs Toastmasters when we have everything we need right here at GCC?!

I have learned that there is no such thing as work/life balance. I would say madness is a more appropriate term than balance. I have been reading Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Habits so that I can continue to function effectively at home and at work. Brendon shares in detail the habits of high performers, and gives clues about how anyone can work on these specific habits to become a “rockstar.”

I can only dream, right?

Well, good thing this week’s writing is focused on dreams!

I have dreams for my students too. We know the data about our students. They arrive underprepared and with no idea how to be successful. But they have a dream…a college education.

Here is what Brendon shares that can help you, me and our students:

  1. Clarity – set an intention for who you want to be and how you want to interact with others. For example, if, in my heart, I want to be helpful and kind, I repeat these words to myself when a student or coworker enters my office. If I am about to enter a meeting room, I decide what kind of energy I hope to bring into the room and how it will effect others. This is a great message for many of our students who often do not see how their demeanor can affect others.
  2. Energy – time to improve your mental, emotional and physical vibrancy! This starts with nutrition, sleep and exercise! Open your refrigerator and your pantry and rate yourself the foods you see. You will eat what is readily available. Don’t like it? Either toss it or take non-perishables to the GCC Food Pantry! Start afresh! Take a nutrition class and learn the basics of healthful eating! Go to bed on time and wake up early so you can do 30 minutes of exercise and stretching! If you stay up late, you tend to eat more junk, wake groggy, and are less likely to want to exercise. So sleep!
  3. Necessity – are you bringing your A-game to work and home every day? You are here to serve students’ needs, right? What is your level of motivation? Are you really giving it the same level of motivation that you did when you started? Or are you just going through the motions. When is the last time you asked yourself “why am I here?” and “am I doing what I am supposed to be doing to effectively serve others?”
  4. Productivity – how is your time management and project planning ability? When do you strategize and actually get real work done well? Are you in offense or reaction mode? Do you check your emails first thing in the morning and start working on other people’s priorities? NEVER start your day by checking emails. Put the phone down! Get out of bed, stretch, exercise, read a good book, spend an hour strategizing and working on a favorite project, THEN check your email in a 20-50 minute time block. Then get up and walk around and chat with students or peers! Bring your good intentions to every interaction.
  5. Influence – let’s face it, nothing gets done if we can’t convince people to take action. If they don’t trust you, they will not go to bat for you. We need to show patience, compassion and availability to others before we can ever expect others to do the same for us. Relationships take time to build. Being a great role model and asking lots of questions is a great place to start.
  6. Courage – are you living your passion? Do those around you know what your dream is? Have you ever taken a step into the unknown even if it scares you? Live your truth, take risks, and share your voice a little more every day! If we live in fear of judgement, we can never expect to grow!

I hope these six guidelines will help guide you on your dream journey! They are great reminders to all of us!

 

 

Dogs and CATs

I’m a dog guy. I didn’t really know it until later in life. Our family had cats when I was growing up. I remember Frisky and Misty, but those memories are somewhat cloudy as I was fairly young. After I got married and moved to Arizona, my wife and I adopted our first dog, Virginia, named after the state in which we met. She was a beautiful black lab, but cancer took her from us too soon. She did get to both of our kids; however, she was not around long enough for them to have any vivid memories. But, after having Virginia, we quickly became a dog family. Flash forward to today, and we have three wonderful dogs at home. Hero is a loving, carefree Golden Retriever, who we have owned since he was eight-weeks old. We also have two yellow Labrador Retrievers, Ginger and Obi. Both are rescue dogs, and both are incredibly sweet and loving in their own way. Three dogs in the house is “a lot of dog” as we like to say, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

As I reflect on my love of dogs and my tolerance of cats, it conjures up some connections to our roles as educators. First, I believe effective teachers mirror some of the characteristics of dogs. When I come home from work, our three dogs are absolutely overjoyed to see me – a barrage of wagging tails, playful jumps, and flops at my feet. With a greeting like this, the worries and stresses of the day can quickly disappear. With teaching, I am always impressed with those teachers who provide that warm, positive greeting as students enter the room. Granted, I’m not sure we want teachers jumping playfully and flopping on the ground; however, students do respond positively when teachers take those brief moments before class to welcome them and to show excitement and gratitude that the student has come to class.

Second, dogs express an unconditional love and support of you, no matter the situation. I have met many teachers who have this unconditional love and support for students, the belief that all students can succeed. There may be times when students will let us down, possibly with the choices they make or with the effort they give. But, effective teachers have an unconditional and unwavering belief that all students can learn and achieve.

As an educator, I’ve grown to love cats too – but in this case, I am referring to Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs). I was first introduced to CATs over a decade ago while working at the Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction (MCLI). My supervisor at the time handed me a copy of the Angelo and Cross foundational text, Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. To this day, I still refer to this book as I interact with faculty during classroom observations. CATs are quick and easy informal strategies to measure student learning in the classroom. Some instructors at GCC have completely embraced CATs, using minute-papers or the muddiest point strategy to gauge how well students learned the content and objectives for the class session. My personal favorite CAT is the ticket-out. With this strategy, instructors provide students with a brief question or two at the end of class. Students must write their answers on a note-card or slip of paper and that is their ticket out from class. These informal techniques allow instructors to get a sense of what students learned from the class and what students may have missed, with the ultimate goal of providing additional instruction the next time the class meets or to even provide additional content in Canvas to fill in any gaps. These low-stakes, quick assessment strategies are an effective way to measure student learning and an excellent teaching strategy to help students to achieve.

I am a dog guy – there is no question about that. However, there is definitely a special place for CATs in my teaching heart as well.

 

Effective Assessment and Reflection

I think effective assessment has a lot to do with reflection. Writing instructors often ask students to reflect on work they’ve completed. This helps spark insight about existing strengths and which areas could benefit from further development. It also allows them to consider the amount of time and effort they put into the assignment and how that shaped the outcome. I think assessment can and should be the same way for instructors. Assessments, for me anyway, are tools that are fluid and often change between semesters. I think many of us are always trying to perfect each assignment, so it tests the competencies we want students to demonstrate and also engages them enough to facilitate effective writing. If my students fare poorly on some aspect of an assessment, whether that’s an in class activity, or something more elaborate like a 750 word paper, I typically ask myself what I might have done differently. Should I have covered the concepts invoked in that problematic section more thoroughly in class? Are the assignment directions for that part of the paper confusing? Or is this just a particularly challenging concept that students need multiple exposures to across several assignments before they really perfect it? Sometimes I might even make changes to the assessment itself. Is the thing I’m looking for mission critical in terms of the competencies students need to demonstrate or is it something I do just because I’ve been doing it that way a long time?

I try to ensure my approach to student learning is evidence based. Certainly that means I like to try to keep up with current literature on teaching and learning, but that also means looking at the evidence from the students themselves. My experience with GCC students has been that, on the whole, they are quite hardworking and, if you give them a sufficiently stimulating assignment prompt, they’ll put in substantial work despite the many outside pressures they and most other community college students face (work, family obligations, etc.) — I once had a student that rollerbladed to my 10 am class because his car broke down, but that’s another story. Given that experience, I tend to look for alterations and improvements I can make if a substantial portion of students are struggling with a certain aspect of an assessment. Please don’t read this as “dumbing things down” or “making the assignments easier.” That would be an awfully reductive interpretation of what I’m trying to get at here. The competencies are the competencies. The rubric is the rubric. Effective teaching is about finding ways for as many students as possible to find success in demonstrating those competencies so they can find success here at GCC and beyond.

 

Lemon Lavender Cookies…

Last fall, I found myself teaching on campus for the first time since Spring 2010. As prepared my lesson plans for the semester, I searched my old files and sent the online course I’ve been developing for over a decade back to its beginnings. Reincorporating all the in-class activities and instruction that are lost in the online format reminded me just how much online students are missing out on.

Yes, online courses offer students opportunities that didn’t exist when I started teaching. They can work full time and still attend classes. They can stay home with their kids and attend classes. They can care for sick loved ones and attend classes. Online classes offer students with certain challenges, like PTSD, the ability to learn without fear.

Yet, our online students are missing out. They are missing out on getting to see us face to face. On seeing examples worked out in front of them. On being able to work with groups in class–to gain understanding that might be explained by a peer just a slightly different way that finally clicks. On the hands-on activities that illustrate concepts that are difficult to explain online.

Likewise, we are missing out, too. We are missing out on getting to know some amazing students. If they don’t feel connected to us, they might not feel safe sharing what is going on in their lives. We miss out on getting to be a part of the campus culture with our students–to hear what is important to them. And we miss out on things like lemon lavender cookies made by a longtime chef who is studying to become a nurse.

While we find ways to bring more connections to our students–connections with each other, with us, with the course content–we can acknowledge both the benefits and the frailties of online learning. And, hopefully, that knowledge will help us to mindfully create a better experience for our students.

What’s In a Name? What I Wish, Part II

What is in a name? Connotation weighs more than denotation. My son is currently in middle school, and any child in his school will tell you that words matter. It’s about at that point in life that we humans learn that lesson if we have not learned it sooner.

I struggle with the word ‘assessment’ mostly because it seems to call attention to something that teachers are doing all the time, and in calling attention to it, it suddenly feels weird. It’s like how normal teaching can be until you realize that you have had a string of mucus laying alongside your nostril for the entire class period. That happened to me last week. It was such a good class until I got back to my office and met my horror. Suddenly, it wasn’t a good class at all, all for a lack of self-knowledge and a tissue. I wondered why someone hadn’t told me that I needed to wipe my nose. Then, I realized I hadn’t asked. With assessment, it’s true you often have to ask to see if you’re getting the results you want.

Notice that I don’t say that I struggle with assessment. I don’t. I only struggle with the word, and, since I am a word person,  that matters to me.

I would say that when I’m teaching I’m assessing every moment. I am reading my students’ faces, their body language, I am listening to what they say and what they don’t say — every gesture and utterance can be a clue when you are teaching for determining how the moment/the lesson/the material can be done better. Then, of course, you can also ask, and oftentimes, I do.

I wish assessment could be called ‘what we are all learning with some specific details’. But I expect that’s too long a phrase. I wish it could be called “overt questions with answers about learning.” I wish it could be called, “check point of understanding.”  I wish it could be called “measuring student growth.” Or, “measuring instructor growth,” as it’s that, too.  I wish it could be called anything but ‘assessment.’

 

 

A Fly on the Wall

     In my previous classroom, I kept a fly swatter in the shape of a flip flop. The students loved it and often volunteered to take out any annoying, flying anything that happened into the classroom. And there was much excitement and cheering and relief at the death of these little creatures. So I know to wish to be a fly on the wall on campus is a potentially dangerous risk. I would be willing to take on the risk, though, because the benefits would be great. Note: This scenario assumes I could then switch back to myself as teacher and not have to live out the rest of my life as a fly.

     I know that "fly on the wall" usually has connotations of wishing someone could observe something secretly, that there would something scandalous gained from listening in on a private conversation or watching some tantalizing situation. I am not using the phrase in that sense at all. Were I to be a fly on a wall, it would be purely to observe and gather an intel of sorts. I would be more like a tiny thief. In fact, if I could, I would choose to be a fly on the wall of every classroom on campus.

     I would take notes on a tiny pad of paper with my tiny mechanical pencil. Additionally, I would listen to every word uttered and then watch the reactions of the students, studying their faces to gather data on how they perceive the information or tasks. I would visit all classrooms regardless of discipline, and I would listen to the voices of hundreds of teachers.

     Ideally, at the conclusion of my life as a fly on the wall in classrooms across campus, I would be able to return to my previous life as a teacher. But I would be a new and improved teacher, a beautiful pastiche of all the best of each teacher on campus.

What I Learned from QM

Last fall, I had the opportunity to submit a course for QM certification, and I learned that the course was approved for certification yesterday. Since our topic this week is evaluation, I thought I’d take a moment and reflect on my experience with the process.

Though we all have access to the QM standards, and we are supposed to be using those standards as guidelines for our courses, actually submitting a course is an intense process. It is not enough to know that assignments connect to course learning outcomes, for example, you have to be able to articulate how they connect to folks who may not even be familiar with your discipline.

At times, I found myself fighting the process. I mean, how many students actually care about which course outcome an assignment connects to? Ha! Even so, as I finished the process of my course review, I found that I had a new appreciation for this intense sort of evaluation.

Seeing my course through fresh eyes also gave me several ideas for making the course easier to navigate, more interesting visually (adding tabs and using Canva for fun module and weekly navigation links), and less cluttered. It also forced me to think through accessibility issues, like having alt tags and video transcripts.

Overall, the process was a great learning experience, and I’m looking forward to applying what I learned this go-round as I begin the process of certifying another of my online courses. 🙂

Karen

 

2 P’s of Inspiration

Sometimes I have to self-start inspiration. These times come near the end of semesters, week four of the semester, and other times based on life circumstances. I remember one point last semester when I busily ran from day to day and desperately needed something to inspire me.

It was late November, and I had not planted my fall/winter/spring flowers. I wondered why, but I couldn't come up with a reason other than being too busy. So one weekend, I headed to my favorite nursery, picked out some flowers--bright red petunias, lobelia, a couple of rose bushes, and dahlias--and potted them all in one day. I felt instantly better. I really did. I repeated this the weekend after in the back yard. Planting and nurturing those plants drew me outside, away from the distractions that don't really feed me to a quiet place where I can think and plan. Even though I was busy with work, I put that work aside to have that meditative time. Those couple of weekends with my hands in the soil (gloves are for suckers) really fed me.

And now those plantings are still bring me some joy. When I sit outside and watch them grow, my mind opens to new ideas. When I periodically get my hands busy, pruning the dead from the living, I prune the old from my mind to make room for new thinking.






Please let me know if you hate this.

 

 

I feel like everything is inspired by something else. There is no 100 percent original thought                                                                                                                                                                                     ~Ne-Yo

From Best Selling Author  Steven Pressfield’s blog regarding a new project:

“The book is about writing.

I don’t have a title yet but the premise is that there’s such a thing as “the artist’s journey.”

The artist’s journey is different from “the hero’s journey.”

The artist’s journey is the process we embark upon once we’ve found our calling, once we know we’re writers but we don’t know yet exactly what we’ll write or how we’ll write it.”

I lifted the lines above from Steven Pressfield’s website http://www.stevenpressfield.com. I decided to share them with the 6X6 writers because I loved how honest Pressfield was…he admitted he doesn’t know exactly what to write or exactly how he’ll write it. He’s a professional, best selling author and he was brave enough to admit that on the world wide web. I LOVE THAT. I never thought I was really allowed to admit to things like that out loud, let alone in a professional community. But now I realize that by sharing his uncertainty, Pressfield just endeared himself to me as a writer and fellow human being. I admire him. I’m now more likely to read his blog and books…he offered a way to make a sincere connection. And now I’m quoting him and passing along his info in hopes that someone else might gain a spark of inspiration.

Since I’m on a roll about stealing and being honest, two topics that make good writing, I have to give credit for the title of this post. I stole that from Pressfield’s blog too. This line encouraged me to be brave. It’s like Pressfield is saying, “What do you think? Be honest… I can take it…”

So, let me know if you hate this. But, please be kind. I’m not as tough as I will be someday. This is my first day at being fearless…sometimes every day feels like my first day…

Check out Oprah’s interview with Pressfield: