August 2016 archive

A Historian’s Perspective: Where Have All the Classes Gone?

DSC_5912If you’re a teacher in elementary, middle, high school, or college, you may notice that the importance of certain classes often evolves with time.

And while change is often important, we may not always be aware of the potentially negative consequences that follow.

A few years ago, one of the schools I worked at was going to do away with required public speaking courses. I honestly didn’t understand why.

I may be biased, but I believe public speaking is one of the absolute best courses you can take at any age; it’s a class where you learn by doing, growing, and facing a fear that will help you over and over again throughout your life as you take on challenges, prepare for job interviews, ask for promotions, and even give wedding toasts. I can’t think of another class that prepares you better for becoming a confident, well-spoken leader in life, business, or any other career field.

Having said that, I’d like to share a new perspective.

As someone who isn’t familiar with what goes on behind the scenes in classes like Western Civilization, World Mythology, and other humanities and history courses, I was able to adopt an interesting new point of view from professor and author, Chris Berg.

It may not be the usual Happy Professor piece, but I believe it’s incredibly enlightening, so I hope you enjoy the kickoff to our Historian’s Perspective series!

Happy reading, everyone.

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In May 2012, an article appeared in the news magazine Perspectives in History, a publication of the American Historical Association, titled “The End of History Education in Elementary Schools?” where authors Bruce VanSledright, Kimberly Reddy, and Brie Walsh revealed that history, as a school subject, had nearly vanished from the curriculum.

The teaching of history had all but ended in most elementary schools across the country, according to survey research cited by VanSledright and colleagues.

Other school subjects are also slowly fading from the core curriculum and, in turn, the public eye, in spite of parents often vocalizing how important these subjects are to understanding the world around them and navigating the complexities of twenty-first-century life.

When did history and so many other important subjects become incompatible with this new vision of public education?

Why would a once formidable subject revered as the foundation of public school education in the United States since the late-nineteenth century be resigned to the fringes of the curriculum as an outcast, or worse, labeled irrelevant?

The fascination with STEM-related curricular objectives has come at a heavy cost—precipitous drops in student achievement and the marginalization of history and other school subjects.  The reinfusion of history and of the humanities in general, one can argue, is a necessary first step to restore equilibrium to public education.

Christopher Berg is a professor of history specializing in pre-modern World history and a historian of education interested in the historical development and dialogue surrounding history and social studies education since the late-nineteenth century.  The author of Small Island, Big History, a book examining British history through the lens of “empire” and “imperialism,” he is also a contributing author for Ancient History Encyclopedia, the global leader in ancient history content online and Historical Quest, a digital World history magazine based in Athens, Greece.

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For more information on the piece and research above, see below:

For a deeper discussion of these events, see Hazel Hertzberg’s Social Studies Reform, 1890-1980, Ronald Evans’ The Social Studies Wars: What Should We Teach the Children? and David Warren Saxe’s Social Studies in Schools: A History of the Early Years.  A book that offers a penetrating analysis of this debate within elementary schools is Anne-Lise Halvorsen’s A History of Elementary Social Studies: Romance and Reality.

The critics of progressive reform included several factions over and above the history academy and the best discussion on this is in Herbert Kliebard’s classic The Struggle for the American Curriculum, 1893-1958.

Hertzberg, Social Studies Reform, 1890-1980, xi.

To read more about this debate and its effects on history education, see Christopher Berg and Theodore Christou’s article, “History and the Public Good: American Historical Association Presidential Addresses and Initiatives and the Evolving Understanding of History Education” in the journal Curriculum History (in press).

https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/dec/07/world-education-rankings-maths-science-reading

https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/dec/03/pisa-results-country-best-reading-maths-science

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-10-smartest-countries-based-on-math-and-science-2015-5

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-02-16/ranking-countries-by-the-worst-students

Why Online Teaching is a Pretty Amazing Life Hack

DSC_4024 copyI went back to the classroom yesterday for the first time in a very very long time (for me, that means it’s been almost a year of fully online teaching).

Oh, how I had missed every part of it.

Printing out my class rosters, putting on actual clothes and makeup to leave the house, the commute, smiles of new students as they walked in the door, writing my name and email address on the dry erase board, doing icebreakers in real time, answering questions when I saw someone had a hand raised, and the general rush of a high energy classroom filled with 30 students- mixed with the goal of getting through everything listed on the course schedule in the limited amount of time provided.

I had even missed that familiar dry throat and sore back from standing and talking all day long (that might sound strange to some, but that had been my normal for 7 years).

However, as I drove home in silence (too tired to listen to my audiobook) and flopped on the couch out of pure, but still happy, exhaustion, the thought that online classes really are the most amazing life hack started creeping in.

Then when my very extroverted husband laughed and announced, “And this is what an introvert looks like after a long day of talking to people,” it confirmed that I needed to write about this. As much as I love the classroom experience and what it does to inspire me, fulfill me, and scratch that itch to help others, I can’t help but admit that there’s a much better way to accomplish many of the same tasks that we accomplish inside the classroom.

Some college instructors may wholeheartedly disagree, but I can’t deny that online teaching is a pretty amazing life hack. Here’s why:

  1. Online teaching can save you up to 30 hours of work a week (no joke, maybe even more, I’ve done the math):

As someone who currently teaches at 3 different schools as an online adjunct (and can compare that to teaching at 3 different schools as a traditional instructor), I can accurately say that I save between 20 and 30 hours a week due to a number of different things: You don’t need to “get ready for class,” print papers, prepare lessons every class period, commute, go to meetings, get to class early and stay late to answer students questions, discuss materials for the class, and generally spend so much time lecturing.

As an online instructor you prepare your class one time (ever, when you’re brand new), and you never have to do it again. Sometimes the school and instructional designers even do it for you. You can record your lectures (optional), so you can provide students with a link (which takes just a few seconds), rather than giving the lecture repeatedly for every new class (and I know most of my lectures are around the 30 minute mark). Add on the time it takes to commute to 3 different schools, and you can see where I’m getting those 20 to 30 hours from.

Like I said, once you’ve seen both sides, it’s hard to deny that online teaching really is where we’re headed as a society that seeks education, flexibility, and efficiency.

  • Online teaching saves mental and physical energy (in a big way):

Extroverts and introverts will both benefit in similar ways in this category, but introverts (like me) will feel a type of relief/relaxation from the online classroom that I can’t quite put into words (but I’ll try).

As an online teacher, there’s no need to think on your feet when answering questions (all conversation is conducted via email), or engage with 100 people face-to-face in one day (which can make an introvert feel like they just ran a marathon), or just generally “be on.” When you teach online, you can sit comfortably behind your computer, in your own home, and work/answer emails at your own pace.

This might be an accurate way to put it: After working 4 hours in the classroom, I feel like I’ve been awake for 72 hours. So much has been coming at me, from so many different people, with so many different opinions looking for so many different answers, that I just crash when I get home (although it’s a very satisfied, “Wow, I helped a lot of people today” crash). However, after I put in an 8-10 hour day working online (in leggings and a sweatshirt on the couch- always), I honestly feel like I’ve had a lazy day, and I’m generally refreshed, have quite a bit of pent up energy to spare, and I’m ready to go see real people when I’m done.

As for the extroverts, you might not feel the same contrast I mentioned above, but I guarantee your body will thank you, nonetheless. You can eat, drink, and use the restroom whenever you want, and you won’t ache from a long day of standing and walking around. Those are some benefits every personality type can appreciate.

Again, I’m not saying the traditional classroom isn’t worth the effort (like I said, I still love it, and I think I’ll always be torn over between which is the winner in this ongoing battle between old and new- for many reasons), but I am saying that online teaching is clearly much more streamlined with many of the same benefits to students, and even more for instructors.

  • Online teaching offers flexibility and freedom:

While online teaching is still is a job, most schools just want to see that you log in at least 3 nonconsecutive days each week, check emails within 24-48 hours (except on weekends), get all your grading done within 7 days of the assignment deadline, and make a few comments in class discussion boards during the semester. All of this means that you can mix it up however you’d like. For instance, if I want to just log in to check emails for 1 hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and save all my grading for the weekend (for one reason or another), I can do that. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to physically be in a certain place at a certain time, and that I can make my own hours, for the most part.

  • Online teaching can generally make you more money (especially if you’re an adjunct):

I honestly almost forgot this point, although I realize it’s a big reason people want to teach online. With all the time and energy you can save teaching online, you can easily work at a few more schools and make quite a bit more money in this new arena (for instance, I’ve doubled my adjunct salary within the last 3 years while simultaneously cutting my work hours from around 50/week to 25/week at a maximum). Since many traditional and full time instructors are more comfortable in the classroom, this means that online instructors are in demand, and each school you work at is willing to give you plenty of online classes to teach each term (which is not the case for traditional adjuncts, who may start out with a full load of classes, only to get most of them cut at the last minute due to low student enrollment).

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All in all, online teaching just makes more sense.

It might be uncomfortable for people to get used to this new way of learning, and maybe you feel that we should all be rightfully exhausted from head to toe after a good hard day of work, but I don’t know if I agree. 

Having said all that, if you’re looking for pretty amazing life hack, try your hand at online teaching.

Happy living :).

Short Videos to Simplify Your Life as a College Instructor

IMG_0337During the past few weeks, I’ve been a student in an online faculty development course to prepare myself to teach an upcoming International Business Communication class.

The course focuses on global learning, but much of the material discusses the basics that college instructors need to know (and potentially share with their students) about simplifying the classroom experience- for everyone.

Below are some videos that I plan on sharing with my students next term through a Course Announcement. They may not be the most entertaining 5 minutes of your life, but I think they might do a better job of letting students know what teachers are looking for.

For those of you that feel like you’re completely misunderstood by your students, or constantly repeating yourself via email or announcement, go ahead and copy and paste these links to your students instead!

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy- Do students ever misunderstand you when you ask to see connections between the material and real life in their assignments, rather than regurgitation? Bloom’s Taxonomy might help.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LZhid-STbo

Authentic Assessment– This video is awesome. This is the perfect video to show when students wonder why you insist they evaluate and create, rather than simply listening to lectures and assigning multiple choice questions for homework.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlHUqHTxgLc

What is a Rubric?– Many students (in my experience) forgo reading the rubric, and instead just read the direction sheet for the assignment. I’m hopeful that this video can finally convince my students of the importance of reading the rubric ahead of time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vEldvPK6rc

5 Reasons to Use a Rubric– One more valuable video that discusses rubrics.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zrLUM5CWWE

Happy teaching :).

What’s Going on in This Picture? How to Use Visual Thinking Strategies in the Classroom

DSC_5885

Although Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) have been used in the classroom for decades, and I feel fairly well-versed in different teaching methods, I can honestly say this was a new one for me until I learned about it in a recent faculty development course.

VTS tends to be used in more artistic or visually-reliant fields, rather than areas like communication (which is what I teach), but it’s still a method I’d like to learn more about, and one that I think all teachers should learn to use in some way. 

I’m intrigued.

VTS was created by Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine, and its primary purpose is to use art to help learners improve their communication skills, thinking skills, and their ability to express themselves.

Although it’s controversial, it helps students feel that they are part of an experience. I think it could be incredibly valuable in engaging students, encouraging them to contribute to a discussion in a very low pressure way, and prompting them to look within themselves and make connections.


In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

  • Show the class a picture on the projector
  • Then ask, “What’s going on here?”
  • Then, “What do you see that makes you say that?”
  • Then, “What else can we find in this picture?”

Be neutral in your responses as the instructor, simply let the participating students express what they see, paraphrasing each comment after it’s given. Be sure to point to the area on the picture that each student talks about.

To give you an example, in a Public Speaking class I could show a picture of a nervous student waiting for her turn to speak in the classroom, to get my students to see and evaluate what the pictured student might be thinking or feeling, in order to potentially delve into a discussion of relaxation techniques.

As you go about practicing this in the classroom, observe how different perspectives are expressed by your students without being considered right or wrong, how these perspectives are clearly a result of each individual’s previous life experiences or personal beliefs, and how some participants might express that their beliefs have changed during the discussion as a result of hearing so many different views.

Give it a try! Happy teaching :).

Getting Into Flow

DSC_3987 copyI had an epiphany last week (ask anyone who knows me well, many of my sentences start with the phrase, “You know, I have this theory..”).

So let me rephrase that, I have this theory that there are certain things that help us or hinder us when trying to get into ‘flow’ as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would call it, or ‘into the zone’ as others might refer to it.

I had three very different days that all had a different vibe, a different outcome, and different moods to them, and although I haven’t yet read Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, I’m going to venture a guess that these different ‘days’ and different states of being in tune with my work (or lack thereof) can be attributed to some environmental factors.

Again, we’re all different, so the way that I get into the zone might be totally different from your process, but then again, maybe not.

I won’t go into each of the 3 days, but I will list the different environmental factors that I think affected my flow state, and ultimately helped me get into the best mindset that I’ve experienced in a while, on Day 3:

  • If you have to do something that could potentially take you out of flow, do the bulk of it on a different day, so it doesn’t become a way to remain out of out of sync with what you’re trying to accomplish. You can take care of those annoying items the day/night before, or do it the day after you enjoy your flow state. I graded a ton of papers and checked all my emails the night before Day 3 around 8 pm, so I knew I would have very few to look at the next morning, which meant I could wait quite some time to check them again. Check that off my list. My mind was free.
  • Cut out distractions immediately when you wake up. No TV, no phone or text messaging (put it across the room if you have to, that’s where my phone always ends up anyway), and no big breakfast that might cause you to linger. For me, if I don’t get to my projects right away, I feel like I already wasted time and then I end up feeling bad and wasting even more time (type-A problems). For ultimate flow, grab something small for a quick breakfast (I grab dark chocolate and almonds to snack on.. it’s kind of weird, but I love it!) while you get to work on whatever it is that will make you feel amazing and accomplished for that day.
  • Save your water consumption and meals for later in the day. I know this goes against conventional advice, but Malcolm Gladwell recently admitted in a Tim Ferriss podcast that he eats very little in the mornings (I guess that’s just what works for him, I can’t remember if there was a more legitimate reason behind it), so I feel okay saying that I do the same on my more productive days. I wait until about 1 pm to guzzle water (I drink tons of water throughout the day, but on my ‘get in the zone’ days, I wait until the afternoon), that way I’m not making frequent trips to the bathroom early in the day, which might start hindering my progress. I also eat a decent meal at this point, although I resist the urge to ‘take a little break’ with a quick YouTube video or TV, because we all know how that turns out (6 hours later, you’ll wonder where it all went wrong). Instead, I’ll read some inspiring, but luckily not addictive, articles on Success.com. If I go to news websites or other sites that don’t keep me in the right mindset, I’ve broken the spell and then I’m pretty much done for the day.
  • Find music that helps you find your ‘flow rhythm.’ Yes, I just made up the term ‘flow rhythm.’ Now that I’ve discovered endless jazz music on YouTube (I honestly didn’t think I liked jazz until I paired it with working at my laptop), I find that it helps to keep my fingers, eyes, and brain tapping away at my project in total bliss and complete efficiency.

 

  • Get comfortable. Find the right clothes and the best spot for you to get into the zone. My spot for the last 6 years now is reclined with a blanket on my squeaky but oh so comfy couch, hair braided (to avoid the distracting ponytail headache every girl knows about), dressed in leggings and a sweater. I sink into the couch just enough that I’m kind of settled there for a while, and so that I feel like I’m relaxing even though I’m getting a ton of stuff done.

Here’s what Day 3 ended up looking like for me after taking care of the 5 things above:

I only had a handful of easy emails to check when I woke up (I checked them in bed this morning, which I know is awful, but it works for me), so it allowed me to be ‘done’ with distracting tasks for the day before I headed downstairs. I grabbed a bottle of water, chocolate, and almonds to munch on while I sat on the couch with a blanket, my laptop, and papers surrounding me. Then I got started on an online faculty development course I’m taking that I absolutely fell in love with. As I progressed through the online modules, parts of the course inspired me to stop periodically and write a total of 5 different blog posts (I can tell you, I’ve never been inspired to write that many posts at once). I also took breaks from the course to start figuring out the sections of my next book, and organized those in Google Docs, which spurred me to watch a webinar about how academics can make ebooks using their past research (on TheScholarpreneur.com- I highly recommend it!).

Phew. It was a whirlwind of productivity and excitement.

That was my 9 to 5 today (actually, I just looked at the clock and that’s pretty accurate). I feel unstoppable at the moment, and to be honest, if I didn’t have to go out into the world and see real people and loved ones later tonight, I could be a true ‘arteest’ (another word I’ve made up that I use when in the flow state), working until late in the night, relishing the inspiration I’m feeling, the pace of my work, the beat of the music matched to the tapping of my fingers, and the effortless flow of thoughts.

Ah, but the outside world calls.

I urge you to attempt really getting into the zone, and staying there for a while. On the days where you can get away from it all, work on your own personal projects, do the things that inspire you, and explore your own mind, re-read this post, or ammend it with the things that help you get into your own flow rhythm.
Happy learning and living.