The Death Valley

death valley

I watched How to Save Children from Death Valley.  I definitely agree with the vast majority of the points he made, but I am not sure how manageable his suggestions are.  I think everyone, or at least those who teach, are aware of this problem in modern education.  Teachers have a huge amount of curriculum to teach students, but the way we do it is often criticized.  We have x, y, and z to teach our students, but also are expected to reach out to every student so that their learning is personalized to their needs.  I probably see the importance in the latter more than the first, but doing both is a recipe for undesirable results.  So should we change the curriculum?  Well that won’t necessarily work either, because we want our students to be fully prepared for adulthood in this fast paced world that we live in.  Obviously, I find this situation somewhat frustrating.  Teachers are being pulled at from just about every direction, and everyone seems to think that they know the best way to do it.  My conclusion from watching this video?  Teachers need to be paid more.



Cell Phones in the Classroom??

mobile phones

I read 5 Reasons to Allow Students to Use Cell Phones in the Classroom.  I understand that society is moving, at a fast pace, to a technological future.  I also think it is important, however, that we don’t let this future blind us of the best way to teach children.  The first point that Michael Soskil made, for example, was the fact that we need to prepare students to use the tools that they will be using in the future.   I’m not sure that’s the most convincing article he could have made.  I mean, if that was the case, couldn’t we make the same argument for letting children drink?  But we don’t, because before adulthood, children aren’t able to responsibly handle alcohol, and it can have detrimental effects on their development.   The same arguments can be made for cell phones.  Students aren’t fully mature, and therefore not able to make the best choices regarding their educations and futures.  As far as the economic causes for allowing cell phones in school, I am sure that financially it seems like a wise choice.  The problem with that is that not all students will have smart phones.  What happens when certain students are left without learning resources because they can’t afford them or aren’t allowed to have them.   I agree that we should prepare our students for the future, and prepare them to be productive and useful with the tools they will be expected to use.  I do not agree, however, that fully immersing students into a technological environment is the best way to do this.

Flipped Classrooms- What Some of the Pros Have to Say


Initially, I was pretty skeptical of a flipped classroom.  Students don’t pay attention in class, and don’t like doing homework at home, so what was going to make them want to listen to lectures at home?  Once I read To Flip or Not to Flip, however, my perspective changed a little bit.  I understand now, that when students can learn at home, in their own environment, and at their own pace, that removes the pressure of learning and makes it a more intriguing and enjoyable process.  The writer, Jeff Dunn, described his classroom as a treadmill.  I really liked that analogy and the more I think about it, the more I see formal education as fitting into that analogy.  Students are all paced at the exact same speed, regardless of their abilities and histories.  I still think that flipping probably works better for some students than others, and there will be unmotivated students who won’t participate, however, if a flipped classroom is an overall useful tool (which, according to Dunn’s report it was) , it is our job as teachers to modify our lessons and expectations so that even the students who are choosing not to participate will find a reason to change their attitudes.  

So, what are some basic starting points for teachers who are new to flipped classrooms?  Next, I read Five Best Practices for the Flipped Classroom to answer that question.  Coincidentally, the five practices happened to address some questions and concerns I had before reading this post.  The five best practices are:

1. Need to know- be sure to provide a clear and appropriate reason for why the students are      learning the material.

2. Engaging models- understand your students, and implement models that will engage      them.

3. Technology- what forms of technology will support what you want to do?

4. Reflection- after a lesson, consider ways that the next lesson can be improved

5. Time and Place- Consider the content, and the circumstances of the students, to make sure    this is the most appropriate teaching method.  

I feel like Andrew Miller, the writer of this post, did a great job providing a realistic approach to flipping a classroom, and I think his opinions on the concept come from a  similar place mine do.  Flipped classrooms can be a really awesome tool, but they just need to be modified to properly reflect your curriculum and classroom, as well as to most effectively teach your lesson.  The biggest lesson I took from this?  No two flipped lessons can, or should, be the same.

Technology- a Footprint or a Tattoo?

As an adolescent/ young adult in the digital age, I have received my share of warnings about the dangers lurking about in the cyber world.  One of the biggest threats on the internet, I have come to learn, is yourself.  Since my freshman year of college, it has been hounded into my brain- “don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your boss to see on the internet”.  Over time, the internet becomes viewed less as a tool, and more as a trap, waiting to catch you making the wrong move.

According to Angela Maiers, it is time to take the internet back into our own hands, and use it empower us.  I listened to a blog entitled Your Personal Brand, where Maiers was interviewed and discussed the unique intellectual contributions that every person can make to a greater good, and how the internet can be a useful tool in manifesting this ‘personal brand’.  Our personal brands are the skills and expertise we have that makes each one of  us a unique resource to our community.  To be a competitive, and successful member of society, according to Maiers, one has to demonstrate the benefits of subscribing to their personal brand.  She gave a specific example of this, which I found very interesting- Apple products.  They represent a story and a sense of empowerment that people want to be a part of.

The internet is a great way to truly market your personal brand and create a digital footprint, even in high school, Maiers says.  So many people are scared to do it, though, because of the stigma associated with making a mistake online, for everyone to see.  In the span of the podcast, one listener epitomized this attitude when she tweeted “The internet is not a footprint at all, it’s a tattoo”.  The next step in incorporating technology into the classroom is to teach students that how to use the internet to empower themselves, rather than endanger themselves.

I really enjoyed listening to this podcast.  I can really see students being able to connect to the world, and understand how to apply their knowledge to real life through this tool.  Generally, I am the kind of learner who does well when I can listen to something and work on a simple task that keeps me focused.  So for students who relate to my learning style, I can definitely see podcasts being a useful tool.  Some learners, however, may not do AS well with podcasts.  That is not to say that I would NEVER use them.  I just think they need to be incorporated in a manner that allows those who will benefit from them to utilize them, but not force them on other students.  I would probably use them as an option for an assignment, and provide other styles of assignments as other options.  I also think they would make great extra credit opportunities.  Either way, I definitely see them as a useful resource in the classroom.

Some Helpful Hints for Teachers About Student Brains



On Twitter this week I found a link posted by 21st century fluency.  Nine Things Educators Need to Know About the Brain, by Ross Crocket, explains some really interesting facts about the brain and how these bits of info can be applied to learning.  These facts are especially relevant in our age of education where all learning should be specialized to the students, and no one generic method can be successful to a general student body.  As Crocket puts it, the human brain isn’t designed for industrial education.  The supply line style of learning is highly ineffective.  The nine things that educators need to know are listed as;

1. The brain is a social organ.

2. We have two brains. 

3. Early learning is powerful.

4. Conscious awareness and unconscious processing occur at two different speeds, often simultaneously.

5. The mind, brain, and body are interwoven.

6. The brain has a short attention span and needs repetition and multiple-channel processing for deeper learning to occur.

7. Fear and stress impair learning.

8. We analyze others but not ourselves; the primacy of projection.

9. Learning is enhanced by emphasizing the big picture- and then allowing students to discover the details for themselves.

I found all of these points really interesting and I think it is important to take time to focus on the neurocognitive elements of learning is really important.  You can’t ignore science.

 A few of these points particularly stood out to me, the first being that the brain’s attention span is not long and repetiton and multiple channel processing are both important.  As I may have mentioned in previous posts, the traditional style of simply lecturing to a class leaves so much room for learning gaps.  I love the idea of stimulating multiple aspects of the mind (multiple channel processing).  

Teachers can make a huge impact on students, unfortunately, however, I have realized lately that this can be a positive or negative impact.  Structure and respectful authority are necessary, there is no denying this.  Using fear and intimidation, however, is a totally different situation.  In scientific terms, when a child is in a state of fear, amygdala activation interferes with prefrontal functioning.  In other words, there aren’t enough neurons to be spread evenly between the two.  As a future teacher, this definitely makes me self reflect on styles of discipline I will use, and the expectations I place on students.  My goal is to push students to meet expectations which they are capable of, but draw the line when it begins to induce too much anxiety.

Finally, the fact that learning is enhanced by emphasizing the big picture.  I don’t know how many classes I attended in high school and college where students were producing work with either far too much information or not enough.  I did this myself on several occasions.  When someone does not understand the big picture how can they be expected to put all of the details in context?  Everything is of equal importance.  Even worse, when the big picture is lacking, students are forced to attempt to encode all of the information being thrown at them and not just the relevant points.  In these situations, they are far more likely to forget all the information.

By understanding the way a student’s brain works, lesson plans and activities can be modified even more deeply to optimally meet student’s needs.




My Take on The Nuts & Bolts of 21st Century Teaching

Shelley Wright’s The Nuts & Bolts of 21st Century Teaching brings to mind various I read in a memory studies class I took during undergrad.  The brain’s ability to encode external information is largely dependent on the different parts of brain that are being used in the process, and the connections that it makes to priorly stored information.  I feel like Shelly guided the students through various online learning tools rather than simply lecturing.  This allowed the students to discover the information on a more independent level, and apply it to various resources.  This more in depth style of research allowed for a higher level of understanding.  The students even took it one step further, by applying the information that they gathered to the exhibits that they designed.

I wish that education had been more oriented towards ideas like this when I was in school.  Expecting students to fully comprehend information by telling it to them allows so many other elements of thinking to stray.  For example, I have noticed that when I keep myself busy by doodling during lectures, I am actually taking the information in more effectively because I am not having to focus on keeping my hands and body still.   If students are exercising various parts of the brain through research, creation, and application, I feel that they are putting a more well rounded sense of focus into the lesson.

Twitter & Teaching

I have chosen to explore Twitter as my social learning site. It not only offers ideas for lessons and activities, but also the insight of other educators. By providing access to a broad variety of educational topics and interests, it also keeps teachers up to date with the important issues in the field. The most unique aspect of this site, which characterizes twitter, is the source of the content. Twitter is not produced by a single company or group of tech savvy experts, but rather by any person who chooses to sign up. This means that, as an educator, you have access to knowledge shared by various educators across the country. I look forward to using twitter this semester and expanding the realm of my educational influences. You can find me and follow me on twitter as GraceThomas1094!


News Learners of the 21st Century: Digital Youth Network

When watching the New Learners of the 21st Century video, I was especially interested in the Digital Youth Network in Chicago. The goal of the school is to support youth in trying to learn how to use digital media in all aspects of life. In other words, students are given an opportunity to branch out from the basic curriculum and supplemental artistic and digital goals. I found the concept behind this school really interesting because through out the years I have heard it questioned time and time again why schools do not prepare kids for the real world and real work force. Teaching basic curriculum is very essential and lays the fundamental groundwork for an education, but schools like the Digital Youth Network take it a step further by putting opportunities in front of their students. Even as a recent college graduate, I understand how difficult it is to narrow vast knowledge down into one specific area of expertise and then break through into that field and earn a position. I feel like I would have been far more prepared for my transition into the work force if my high school and college education had provided more hands on opportunities to develop and pursue my passions.

I was also very impressed by the individual and community growth that this program fosters. The positive opportunities, such as a recording studio, sway students to stay on the right path. Furthermore, they are able to take their new knowledge home and share it with their families and neighbors. So the students are not only becoming deeply knowledgeable about their interests, but are also using this knowledge for service and camraderieship within the community. Once again, I began to compare this to my high school experience and while I received a great education which thoroughly prepared me for my college experience, it was lacking the element of collaborative growth. The students at the Digital Youth Network were able to work together to each reach their individual goals. My high school, and most others in the country I would assume, instill a sense of competition. Healthy competition is important, but it was this same sense of competition that led kids to cheat on assignments and spend hours at SAT prep courses where they learned test taking skills. Should test taking skills really be a standard of achievements? In those regards, I feel as though this model of education is more appropriate for success in the real world.