Final Reflection – MSUrban Stem Summer 2015 – Edward Kania
“In that titanic cosmic explosion, the universe began an expansion which has never ceased. It is misleading to describe the expansion of the universe as a sort of distending bubble viewed from the outside. By definition, nothing we can ever know about was outside.” – Carl Sagan, Cosmos
I believe it is appropriate to begin my reflection on our work this summer with a quote from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. After all, this master work served as the springboard to get our collective creative and inquisitive juices flowing. Furthermore, with an expansive text such as Cosmos, in seemingly chapter after chapter, page after page, one can find words of inspiration. This was evident in our group’s work, A Teacher’s Guide to Cosmos. Even now, the quote above serves as my guide for this reflection.
This summer, I sort of experienced my own “cosmic explosion” with the vast amount of input from colleagues and teachers. This came in many forms: discussion, reading, videos, photos, music, websites and even movement, to name a few. Some of the formats or content I was familiar with, others, not so much. I opened my first Twitter and Facebook accounts. I learned to become comfortable with discomfort. Nonetheless, the numerous web tools, readings, tips and tricks were always there around me, I simply did not notice or was unaware or did not know how to use them. This is where my classmates and teachers come in. The idea of the collective group sharing tech tips, worlds of wonder and thoughts on the readings essentially maximized the talents and creativity of the entire group in an efficient way. This supports the concept of using learner differences as resources as presented in our reading from Day 1 (Wilson and Peterson, 2006). All of the teachers in our cohort come from an array of cultures, experiences and content areas. Each of us has our own perspective. Hearing and learning from each other helps paint a fuller picture of how individuals see the world.
This leads me to what I believe is a central theme of this course: balance. A straightforward example of this was the formation of our own small groups in which we were asked to mix the teacher content areas. This kept the discussions and perspective lenses from leaning too far in one direction; this led to richer discussion and creativity. Another clear example of balance is the daily agenda. Our instructors were careful to provide a structured, yet varied schedule, with the occasional, spontaneous “quickfire” thrown in. Planned breaks, individual work time, lecture, discussion, video creation, photo taking, and “play time” kept the flow moving and maintained energy in the room. I could not help cringing thinking of the alternative, something akin to the experience of Alexis Wiggins in the reading from Day 10, “…students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90 percent of their classes" (Strauss, 2014). Simply put, a varied work day kept our attention.
The theme of balance is also evident when evaluating TPACK (Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge). Following a recipe that calls for a combination of all three components will often yield a more effective lesson (Mishra and Koehler, 2009). Again, no one area should completely dominate the other. For example, technology use should not be the focus, but rather, an enhancer of the content, perhaps in an innovative way. Immediately on Day 2, my partner and I put this idea to work by reimagining a typical math question by using our surroundings outside the building as our inspiration and making a short video posing the problem. This instantly made the question more real, personal, interesting and fun!
In a final reference to the opening quote, summarizing another major aspect of this course, I exist in a world where there are countless resources. There are innumerable people willing to share their knowledge of those resources, fifty-something of whom I met this summer. I have learned to embrace this fact and to take part of the sharing, no longer as an outsider watching others’ universes expand.
As the start of the school year nears, I have begun thinking about this summer’s course and its implications for my classroom. There are a few items that I have classified as “must do’s.” Some might seem a bit silly, but I must insist. For example, my students will take more breaks. This can be a stretch break, water break, or a sit and do nothing break. The school day is a long one; lunch/recess is nice, but it is bookended by 3 hours of sitting in class. Another simple takeaway: for my algebra students, I will require a “tech tip” where a student explains a particular function of the graphing calculator. I might toy with the same idea with seventh graders and a scientific calculator. These are just a couple easily applied lessons from the summer.
In keeping with the balance theme referenced earlier, I plan on mixing up classroom activities to 1) reach a wider audience (multiple intelligences) and 2) to maintain interest/motivation. Of course, this should be done with a watchful eye on the big idea of the lesson. At the same time, I will allow for small group, large group, and individual work time.
Technology will play a bigger role in my classroom. There are simply too many incredible high and low-tech resources to ignore. If tech can be used as a tool to heighten content, then it will be used. I will need to continually evaluate the usefulness of the technology to answer the questions: How does this make the content more meaningful? Is the technology a distractor or a supporter?
I will make mistakes. But in the words of Punya Mishra, “and that’s okay.” From those mistakes, I will rethink, retool and adjust. The idea is that I will try new things and will not expect perfection on the first try.
Finally, I will share. I will share with my students, my classmates, my colleagues and school and in teacher institutes. With social media and my website, I suppose I might be sharing to a much wider circle than that. I have seen and experienced a million new things this summer that are too stimulating to keep to myself.
Wilson, S., & Peterson, P. L. (2006). Theories of learning and teaching: What do they mean for educators? National Education Association
Strauss, Valerie. 'Teacher Spends Two Days As A Student And Is Shocked By What She Learned'. Answer Sheet 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/10/24/teacher-spends-two-days-as-a-student-and-is-shocked-at-what-she-learned/
Mishra, P. & Koehler. M. J. (2009). Too cool for school? No way! Using the TPACK framework: You can have your hot tools and teach with them, too. Learning & Leading with Technology, 36(7), 14-18.