Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Retail therapy

Spent way more on shoes during my lunch break today than I should have. But aren't they pretty?

Monday, September 22, 2008

If you ever wonder. . .

. . .what it's like to share a house with a 3-year-old boy, a 1-year-old largely untrained 50-pound puppy, and Mr. Trillwing, this video should give you a fair approximation:

(video via The Edge of the American West)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Matt Damon on Sarah Palin

I'm not a huge Matt Damon fan, but what he says below really nicely sums up my feelings on the Palin situation.

(as seen at ClizBiz)

Friday, September 12, 2008

How to frame college for first-year students?

Steve Greenlaw has a very thought-provoking post about engaging students early in a first-year seminar up at Pedablogy. I started to leave this post as a comment there, but it became too long, so I'm posting it here instead.

Sounds like a very interesting course.

My first year of being in a Ph.D. program was at the University of Iowa, and I was assigned to instruct two sections of my own course (with no prior teaching experience--eeek!) in the university's General Education in Literature Program. They had a pretty good mentoring program set up, and one of the faculty told us that our primary job was not necessarily to teach literature (even though we had to cover four genres in the class, teach one Shakespearean play, etc.), but rather to re-instill in students the love of reading they probably had as little kids. So in my class we talked about what they read as kids, why they liked the books they did, and at what point--and why--they stopped reading literature for fun. One student from Michigan had last finished a book in eighth grade: Lord of the Flies. The conversation was eye-opening for me. But taking that little walk down memory lane really helped the students reconnect with words and the place (I felt) literature should have in their lives.

Connecting students with their high school experience is trickier because there's such a wide range of experiences. I don't think it will backfire on you, but to be honest, one of the reasons I left the University of Mary Washington after a single semester is because the classes I happened to take didn't challenge me a whole lot. They were easier than my high school classes. Like your student, I was one of the last to register, and so I ended up in classes that weren't my first picks. I was interested in the topics, and became more interested in them as the semester progressed, but they lacked intellectual rigor and opportunities for self-reflection. They felt like general ed classes. (I wish I had taken one of your classes instead!) My point is that comparing college to high school would have been (a) difficult for me because I was still learning what college was all about--for example, I didn't know that college students only attended class for 12-16 hours a week; I thought it was going to be more like high school, with class all day, and (b) even if I did have some college experience under my belt, my high school classes were more thought-provoking than the college classes I was taking, so the comparison wouldn't have been a favorable one. That said, the questions would have helped me better frame my experience and think earlier rather than later about what I was supposed to be getting out of college.

The college I finally did graduate from--Grinnell--eschewed general ed requirements in favor of trusting students to choose their own paths. We weren't allowed to overdose in any one department (I think 48 credits was the max allowed per department) or division, but our only requirements were a first-year tutorial (which I didn't take because I entered as a sophomore) and whatever requirements were required for our major. And because of the type of student who attended that college, most of us took a very broad range of classes. The stats--and my memory is a bit fuzzy about these--during my tenure there were something like 90 percent of students took math courses and 95 percent took literature courses.

If I were teaching a first-year seminar (and I hope to do so for the first time this spring), I think I would feel compelled to provide the students with a critique of the university system of which they were a part. At my current institution, we have a boatload of general ed requirements--of which first-year seminars are not one. But I would want to ask students why the general education requirements are in place, what is the meaning of a liberal arts education (and can you really get such a thing at a university with class sizes as large as 750)?

My big question for you is this: Are you going to lead students away from a discussion on personal responsibility and move them toward one about possibility and social responsibility? Grinnell framed this nicely for us as incoming students by explicitly framing our experience and privilege as training for community service of all stripes or, as the college calls it in its mission statement, "the common good." That was an awakening for me. I wish someone had told me earlier that my college education was not really about me. Yes, my college years were an excellent time to reflect and grow, but that reflection and growth was in service of a higher ideal--not to get a job, not to get a degree, not to please my parents, not to be recognized as the graduate of an elite liberal arts college, but rather to figure out how best to serve people. I chose education. When I read my class's alumni newsletter, I'm thrilled to see how many people, even 11 years after graduation, are teaching or working for nonprofits or for the government or as doctors or who performed service abroad or who practice law in the public interest.

At our commencement, our speaker, David McCullough, told us that within a week some jerk would say, "Welcome to the real world." He reminded us that the liberal arts endeavor, with its intellectual challenges and cultural critiques and ethic of service, was the real world. I don't think enough undergrads at my current institution share McCullough's view.

Steve, you're a very reflective teacher, and I'm sure whatever path you take with your students, the course will be one they look back on with fondness. Thanks for the invitation to share some thoughts!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dressing dogs for parades: a lesson

(Cross-posted from BlogHer)

This post is only obliquely about dressing dogs for parades.

Rather, it is a post about teaching and learning, albeit illustrated a bit too profusely with examples of dogs in costume.

Yesterday I had the pleasure, along with two colleagues, of speaking to around 50 university faculty from around the world on lesson planning, course development, and interactive learning.

After first describing the usefulness of concept maps in teaching and learning, we asked each faculty member to create a concept map while she developed a lesson plan on dressing dogs for parades.

Put aside any stereotypes you may have about staid professors--these faculty took to this task with vigor, arranging and rearranging sticky notes on paper and drawing connections among the notes. Faculty included concepts such as weather, dog behavior, and dog breed on their maps. They shared their maps with each other and developed their maps further.

At this point we pulled out our secret weapon: L. Dee Fink's simple concept map explaining the elements of instructional design. On this map, learning objectives (goals), learning activities, and evaluation form the three points of a triangle.

We asked the faculty to take another look at their concept maps. What were their learning objectives? What might their learning objectives be if they were teaching this dogs-in-costume lesson within their disciplines? What activities were they going to use to guide the students toward these learning objectives? And how would they know (evaluate) when their students had met these objectives?

The faculty discussed these issues among themselves and came up with some interesting learning objectives, including

  • students will explore contemporary issues in animal rights and welfare

  • students will learn the advantages and liabilities of textiles commonly used in pet and human fashions

  • students will consider whether costuming, along with other observations they have made in their own lives, provides significant evidence that pets have replaced children as repositories of American affection in an age when real incomes are decreasing.

Among activities faculty brainstormed were:

  • having students research the symbols on specific dog costumes to determine their cultural meanings and origins

  • mapping the locations of dog parades in the U.S., and then overlaying the map with data on residents' educational attainment and income levels

  • encouraging students to role play by assuming the perspectives of stakeholders: dog owners, dog behaviorists, dogs, animal welfare activists, local business owners, et. al.

  • taking a field trip to observe a dog parade and interview participants.

Depending on the learning objectives of the course, evaluation methods might include:

  • whether the dog finishes the parade wearing the entire costume

  • a paper exploring Americans' cultural assumptions about and projections of race, class, gender, and sexuality vis-a-vis our pets

  • an essay exam on the thought processes students used in designing costumes for their dogs.

The faculty began our lesson on course development and lesson plans by thinking solely about content: What topics do I need to cover? In what order? And how are these topics related? Many faculty came up with far more topics than could be covered in a 50-minute course period.

By the end of the workshop, faculty began to emphasize teaching and learning processes over content. It's easy--whether you are teaching a university course, an eighth-grade science class, or software training for a business client--to let yourself fall prey to what others have called "the tyranny of content." When you focus less on covering the material and more on processes of teaching and learning--and specifically on learning objectives, activities, and evaluation--you increase the quality of learning and encourage lifelong learning.

There are, of course, some fabulous edubloggers out there who write very thoughtfully about issues just like these. Here are some of my favorites:

On which blogs do you read good stuff about teaching and learning?

image credits: Yoda dog, superhero dogs, lobster dog, hot dog, all used under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Survey on sustainability

A former student of mine is doing market research for a company that is looking into making bioplastics from animal byproducts. She'd like sustainably-minded folks to take her survey. It's short but, I think, important. Would you mind filling it out for her?

Many thanks!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Happiness is. . .

. . .a successful potty-training boot camp. We're on the road away from diapers. Woohoo!

. . .new shade plants in the garden.

. . .a dozen broccoli plants in the ground.

. . .big tomatoes (finally) ripening on the three tomato plants, with indications of tomatoes for at least the next month.

. . .an honest-to-goodness ear of corn growing in my sad, stunted little plot of corn. (More than half the seeds I planted were discovered by scrub jays, so I'm lucky anything grew at all.)

. . .lots of baby watermelons.

. . .baking chocolate chip cookies for an almost 3-year-old who is wearing big-boy underpants instead of diapers.

. . .a weekend of 81- and 85-degree days after a Thursday and Friday hovering around 105 degrees.

. . .strong, but not fierce, breezes to accompany these spring-like temperatures. My favorite weather!

. . .a sprint through Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft (to replace my favorite pair of Ann Taylor pants, which Obi chewed up) during a sale, coupons in hand. ~$350 netted me five pairs of fabulous pants (a real achievement for me), three shirts, a lovely green cardigan, a barrette, and a necklace. Plus I now have six coupons--which I can use all at once--for $25 off each $50 I spent at Ann Taylor Loft during the next six weeks or so. Yes--that means if I can scrape together $150, I get $300 worth of clothes from a place that seems to make slacks just for my paunchy belly, flat butt, and longish legs. W00t. (Lest you think I'm a big spender on new clothes, I tend to shop twice a year and buy everything I need to fill the holes in my wardrobe for two or three seasons.)

. . .a nice BBQ with friends--at their house.

. . .seeing Lucas play without fear in the bounce house at our friends' BBQ.

. . .a weekend where Obi didn't destroy too many things. I think he's going to be a puppy for a long, long time.

. . .reconnecting, however briefly, with a couple of creative pursuits.

How was your weekend?