On our way! (From the China Faculty blog)

11 June , 2013

On our way! (From the China Faculty blog)

New effort coming?

10 September , 2012

I need to make better use of this space. So, I’m adding a post to say there is more coming soon.

A post about using a mix of old and new technology in a class is in the works.

I’d like to try to write at least weekly here. We’ll see if I can do it. But not this morning!

Great expectations

3 June , 2012

I spent my morning at the 24th commencement of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, at the lovely Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora, Illinois. I was invited as a member of the charter class, the class that had the very first commencement, in June 1989. I received the invitation as a member of the IMSA Alumni Association Cabinet — with this being the 25th year of IMSA, there was an attempt to get representatives from every one of the 24 graduating classes.

IMSA is a pretty special place. They draw students from the entire state of Illinois, and put them together for three years. What happens there is a lot of academics, a lot of challenges, a lot of opportunities, and a lot of interactions. There’s something about belonging to a place like that… there’s a connection between anyone who is or was there, kind of like the elite colleges, but perhaps even more so, since this takes place during the last three high school years.

Graduation at IMSA is full of lofty ideas. There are high expectations. With a principal who is succumbing to ALS, perhaps someone in this year’s class will be inspired to find a cure, or at least a treatment that allows people to survive in meaningful ways for longer beyond the diagnosis than most currently get. There are alums who have succeeded in nearly any aspect of life that you can think of. And there are alums who have found success in raising a family. One of the speakers today, a young man named Kyle Glasper, spoke of a dream in which he was sitting in the audience 25 years from now, watching as his daughter walked across the stage. I’m not sure that he knew that a few rows out, there sat Melvin Bacani, class of 1990, and his daughter, who will likely walk across that stage next May, as a member of the class of 2013. And I thought of my eight year old son, who will already talk about wanting to go to IMSA, and who is on track as of second grade, as much as such things can be measured in one so young. And I noticed two (or was it three?) sets of twins in this year’s class, and wondered about my three-and-a-half year old identical boys, who seem to be taking after their big brother.

Nobel laureate and IMSA founder Leon Lederman is officially retiring this year. I remember 23 years ago, when he addressed our class (as he had several times previously, but his first time as a Nobel laureate) and told us to move to Paris and fall in love with two people at the same time. I think we were advised to have lunch there with a Zen Buddhist, as well. He didn’t speak today, but he was in the audience. And I think I inadvertently followed the advice to fall in love with two people at the same time, too. Haven’t been to Paris yet, though I have done Berlin, Amsterdam, and Zurich. And if I haven’t had lunch with a zen buddhist, I’m pretty sure i have some as friends now… I also remember attending a lecture he gave at UIUC when I was an undergraduate. A number of us (IMSA alums) hung around to say hi before the talk began, and he either told us then that he would be on his toes knowing we were in the audience, or he might have actually said something to that effect at the beginning of his talk… (yes, this sort of thing is part of what it is, being an IMSA alum…)

Herr Dr. Stark is also retiring this year. He was there when I started. I never took German, but remember being taken to dinner by he and Sra. Lopez with Liz Doyle as a thank you for work service we had been doing. As I recall, we went to Fuddruckers…

Principal Eric McClaren was the commencement speaker this year, but he was unable to attend the commencement. (He was going to attend the reception afterwards on campus.) A video was put together using bits and pieces of other of his speeches and pictures of him at various events. The editing was superb. The sound was originally not functioning, which may have added some needed levity to the situation. It was absolutely wonderful to hear his voice again…

After graduation, I did not go to the reception, but went home to change so I could see part of my oldest’s first baseball game of the summer. He’s not much of an athlete, but he does enjoy team sports, so he plays in the rec league. I only saw one at-bat — he did not hit the ball, but he did a good job of not swinging at the many balls lobbed his way. He and his dad are spending the night at Waterfall Glen with the scout troop, so I haven’t heard how the rest of the game went.

I spent the rest of the day with my twins. Interesting transition — from a lofty graduation, to being with the very here-and-now preschoolers… But, I do have mommy’s boys, all three of them, so it was a good day, all in all.

Spring is sprung

22 April , 2012

One of my classes is being taught at the Morton Arboretum. It’s offered through ACCA (Associated Colleges of the Chicagoland Area) and the Arboretum’s College Botany program. The class is Plant-Animal Interactions.

There’s a post that will come that looks at some of the assignments the students are doing (a mix of high and low tech), but that’s not what this post is about.

Today I was there with students to look for herbivory. Given the early spring around here (blooms are at least a month ahead), they found a fair bit from the reports I heard. (They have a week to write up and submit the lab report.) I was armed with a digital SLR and a macro lens (105mm), and spent most of the lab time looking for things to take pictures of (mostly birds and flowers), and continued for a few more hours.

Some pics are below. More are on Facebook, if you’re there and have friended me. And yes, this is an excuse to post something to this blog again… (I did post some of these to the class blog as well.)


26 March , 2012

This was shared by a friend who spent some time in a similar-sized school to mine (but then left for a tech job at an R1):

Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?

Krugman already wrote a short response.

I wish my hours looked anything like what Levy thinks they do.

Magic and the mind

5 March , 2012

I’ve started to read the Davidson book. I’m still in the introduction (hey, the discussion is next week, I have time!), but this was all over my Twitter feed last week and I think it’s worth a look:

Teller Reveals His Secrets

Neuroscientists are novices at deception. Magicians have done controlled testing in human perception for thousands of years.

I remember an experiment I did at the age of 11. My test subjects were Cub Scouts. My hypothesis (that nobody would see me sneak a fishbowl under a shawl) proved false and the Scouts pelted me with hard candy. If I could have avoided those welts by visiting an MRI lab, I surely would have.

But magic’s not easy to pick apart with machines, because it’s not really about the mechanics of your senses. Magic’s about understanding—and then manipulating—how viewers digest the sensory information.

I think you’ll see what I mean if I teach you a few principles magicians employ when they want to alter your perceptions.

It’s worth reading… cool stuff!

eTexts and Changing the Classroom

27 February , 2012

I just found this in my Facebook feed:

Five Best Practices for the Flipped Classroom

Ok, I’ll be honest. I get very nervous when I hear education reformists and politicians tout how “incredible” the flipped classroom model, or how it will “solve” many of the problems of education. It doesn’t solve anything. It is a great first step in reframing the role of the teacher in the classroom. It fosters the “guide on the side” mentality and role, rather than that of the “sage of the stage.” It helps move a classroom culture towards student construction of knowledge rather than the teacher having to tell the knowledge to students. Even Salman Khan says that the teacher is now “liberated to communicate with [their students].”

We were talking about this in our discussion today: how do we get students to use their strengths to help them to become effective learners? Well, if you can spend time in class working with students individually, or at least in smaller groups — instead of one big lecture — you can start getting there.

So, how does this relate to eBooks? Well, I moved to an eBook in Ecology at least two years ago. It’s a unique eBook — it’s not a PDF, it’s actually software, with embedded questions, interactive models, and more. (Link: SimUText Ecology, by Simbiotic Software.)

My class isn’t in a computer lab (at 40+, it wouldn’t fit). The software won’t run on an iPad, and I can’t exactly require the students to bring laptops. So, they have to do the work in the text outside of class. In fact, the assignments are due 3-4 hours before class starts. This gives me time to look over the answers, and adjust what I do in class accordingly.

So, what do I do in class? Well, today I did lecture. We’re covering Competition, which involves mathematical models that are more complex than most of my biology or health science majors have seen (and they’re mostly seniors). They didn’t begin those for homework today — they went over basic concepts of competition, and the models are part of Wednesday’s homework. But, after 5 or so years of teaching this, I know that they understand the book better if I’ve walked them through it in class beforehand. The interactive models in this text make it far superior to a static text — I actually told them a few things to try when they work through the unit in the next two days. (Some of the results appear to be counterintuitive when one doesn’t fully understand the model.)

In class next time, I’ll review if needed, or if requested, and then they’ll get a problem set. I like this one: it’s built using data from a lab I’ve used a few times in the associated ecology lab. So the students get real data, and get into building the equations. (Here’s the lab: Exploring the Lotka-Volterra Competition Model… ) The students work in small groups, and I can walk around the room and help them work through it. Even with 42, in groups of 3-4, I can visit with every group, and make sure that everyone is staying on task.

wasps (No wasps are used in the problem set. And when they were in the lab, these wasps are smaller than the fruit flies from genetics lab…)

I’ve flipped the classroom. I don’t lecture every day. I can see where students are — and will give them a homework assignment to take home next time to practice yet more. (And the problem set will be fully worked out and shared on D2L later in the week.)

This is possibly the unit that used to cause the most trouble for my students, and it’s now the one that is most predetermined long before I get here. But, more students seem to be understanding the concepts now. Not all — some will skip the homework, or the pre-class work, or class — and those are the ones I can’t help much. Yes, if they come to office hours, I’ll help, but we know they won’t…

Reluctance for Classroom Technology

24 February , 2012

Our discussion group discussed the topic of the Reluctant Technologist earlier this week. We were asked to collect information from some members of our department in advance of the meeting. THe timing of the request made it difficult for me to ask colleagues that I know are reluctant, but I had had prior discussions with them. So, I went to my social media and posted a request for feedback to Facebook.

Now, I have a lot of friends on Facebook, and a lot of them are academics somewhere. Two colleagues from Benedictine responded, as well as a science professors from a small school downstate and another out east, and a college professor turned IB school instructor overseas.

I think the most common comment I’ve heard, and the most common thread both online and off is:

I don’t use technology just to be using technology. If technology enhances what I do with/for students, I use it. If not, then I don’t.

The problem with this is that it’s not clear what is needed to demonstrate enhancement. I’ve seen studies that show that clickers increase engagement, and learning — where a novice instructor with clickers is at least as good as the expert instructor without. But clickers are on this campus, and used by a very small subset of people, mostly in the biology department.

How do those of us who use technology “sell” the effective tools to others? Of course, what’s effective in my discipline or situation may not be in yours — this semester, I have a class with a blog. It only meets once a week, and has students from at least five different Chicago-area colleges. It works great for getting them to “talk” to one another and get to know what others are thinking before they get to the class session.

I’ve presented technology in our college’s Science and Sociability sessions — in fact, I’m doing another one soon… I’ve presented about clickers during Faculty Assembly once, and in front of a large group of faculty about digital portfolios once. Do more of us need to make a habit of doing this more often? Do we need to become evangelists on our own campus?


13 February , 2012

My husband sent a link out this this article, and I thought it had at least tangential relations to our topic of discussion today in NMFS: Retro Design Is Crippling Innovation. It is introduced with this question:

When we get to the last week of this month, open your Google Calendar and choose the month view. You will see the previous three weeks are greyed out. Only the next few days will be “active”. If you want to see what you’ve got planned for more than the next couple of days, you’ll have to flip forward to next month.

Now ask yourself this: why does Google Calendar — and nearly every other digital calendar, come to that — work in this way?

It’s a valid question — and a good one.

Is this part of what makes apps more appealing — and more useful — than the web? Is the web more tightly bound to the traditional ways of thinking about things, while the act of creating an app makes it more likely that a new approach will be taken?

Food for thought…


3 February , 2012

For a discussion earlier this week, we read Is Google Making Us Stupid? by Nicholas Carr, as well as a number of responses, including some by Clay Shirky. One point of argument was that the internet is changing the way we read — making us read more as skimming, and not as deeply. Carr equates deep reading to deep thinking, and suggests that the internet is reducing our ability to think deeply.

There are at least two paths I’d like to travel in responding. One is my recent trip to Cuba. For ten days, I talked on the phone a grand total of 5 or so minutes, and spent zero time online. I had brought along my iPod touch and my digital SLR, but no other electronic devices, and I never tried to access the internet while I was there. What did I do? Well, the middle of the day was filled with our tour activities — really, from breakfast through dinner, at least. And if I found myself back at the hotel early — too early for bedtime — it was easy to find a companion to either sit and chat in the lobby, or to head out and wander the streets of Habana Vieja (old Havana). So, I used real-life conversation to fill the spaces — and it was a refreshing experience! I did also keep a journal — my husband gave me a blank, bound book with butterflies on the cover, and had my three boys (7 and 3-year-old twins) autograph it for me. I wrote at least two pages every night — often beginning to drift off as I wrote. I brought some colored pencils, but didn’t draw — I took so many pictures while I was there that I was more concerned with getting the words down. I actually brought books with me, but didn’t really find time to read — my down time was spent either writing, reviewing pictures, or sleeping. (I even brought — and didn’t use — knitting… of course, it wasn’t a compelling project, since I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t have to leave it behind at some security checkpoint.) I think I did more free thinking on this trip than I do on the average day — there was so much to explore and wonder about and learn. And, indeed, more deep thinking.

Nighttime view down a Habana Vieja street

Habana VIeja at night

I don’t necessarily think I need to be unplugged to think deeply, though. To some extent, I think it takes deep thinking to write a good essay exam…

As to the other path I wanted to go down… we seem to be successful at instilling a love of books to our three boys. The younger two are still in the picture book stage (though I think they’re starting to sample chapter books) — our oldest is a reader. A voracious reader, at that. He’s in second grade, and at this point in the school year, he’s read the entire Harry Potter series, and the Hobbit. (I can distinctly remember trying to read the Hobbit in 3rd grade and not being able to get through it. That said, I’m pretty sure my husband helped him get through it by reading aloud the boring parts…) While reading the last two HP books, it wasn’t unusual for him to retreat to our bedroom to cuddle with the book for an hour or two after school… just warms a mother’s heart!