Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Working Memory

During one of my recent proffesional development seminars, I learned that many high school seniors have extremely short "spans." A span is the amount of items one can hold in their short term memory at one time. The teacher running the proffessional development seminar said that it is usual for her seniors to have a span of 2. The average adult, today, has a span of 5 to 7. Her argument was that young people do not need to memorize things anymore-- they just jot it in their cell phone for later. I am very interested in this phenomena. As a future biology teacher, I know that students must be able to manipulate multiple vocabulary words at once to build complex ideas. If students are only able to keep two ideas in their head at once, how are they to build the connections between ideas necessary for long term memory retrieval? I love that technology has helped people stay organized and have vasts amounts of information at our fingertips. I think students may need some old school practice, though, on how to think about multiple things at once in order to create thinking schemes. I could be wrong, though. If people have access to technology all of the time, could they use it as pseudo working memory? This new information is particularly important to me because I am in a discipline with many new vocabulary words and facts. I believe these terms and ideas need to clumped into categories, a mental schema, and linked or spiraled to many other concepts for full understanding. However, I was thinking of having roughly five over arching categories each time...I think only two categories could be limiting. I definitely need to do more research on the topic.

Proffesional Develpment

Today at Wayne Memorial we had the chance to attend two seminars on the use of technology in our discipline. I went to the science seminars.

The first one that I attended was using the Xtranormal, text-to-movie website. It is a really great tool for students to use technology in a creative manner to communicate ideas. The website is free, http://www.xtranormal.com/. You can determine the characters, setting, camera angles, soundtracks, noises, expressions, movements, and the dialogue. We are using this next week, having students create commercials for organelles. I will post again how it went!

The second seminar I attended was on sequence learning. It was a very interesting project developed by Boston University. The program requires java, a free download, and can be found at http://cns.bu.edu/celest/ug_curriculum/sequencelearning.html. Basically, students play the the program to determine their "span" or how many items they can hold in their head at one time. Then, students develop a scientific investigation to understand possible effects or non-effects on people's spans. For instance, a news article came out that blueberries are a brain power food. So, students had a sibling take the test, wait a few hours, eat a quart of blueberries, and take the test again. They would have to determine controls, dependent and independent variables, repeatability, and sources of error. The curriculum was developed because many students can rehearse the steps of the scientific process but can not actually apply it. So, I thought it was a creative way to engage students in the scientific process while gaining self knowledge on learning strategies. (For instance, while introducing the topic, you can mention anagrams, making pictures, clumping, repetition, short term and long term memory processes.) I encourage everyone to check out these sites to see if you may be able to apply them to your class!

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I am really excited about the prospects of Ning. Thanks to everyone who contributed to making our class aware of it. I really like the idea of drawing in popular culture to teaching. At times, it seems daunting to fit popular culture in with all the standards we have to hit upon during our lessons. I am kind of worried that I will have to spend so much time teaching bits of information laid out by the standards that I won't be able to spend much time connecting what we have learned to the real world. In my subject, biology, there are so many terms and lower level concepts to learn. They are often hard to grasp for students because it can often seem like a foreign language. So, being able to creatively pull in all the standards and popular culture and high ordered thinking will be a major challenge. I wonder how much freedom teachers feel now with the standards reform and if they really are an explicit explanation of what has always been done or a an attempt to squeeze everything in during the year.  I am excited to see how everything can fit together in the classroom.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cynicism and Apathy

I have begun to hear a common theme among teachers that worries me. Many note that cynicism and apathy exist in the profession, but I feel that is common theme in many professions. However, each profession has a different trigger for these feelings. It seems cynicism and apathy are often results of frustration. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines frustration as "a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs. To me, frustration is the desire for something you cannot have. It is feeling like you are banging your head against a wall, like an effective change can not occur. Frustration is a belief that you do not have the capabilities to influence your environment to attain desired results. " It seems if cynicism and apathy are a result of frustration, then we need to determine what it is that we as a profession want but are not getting.

Most teachers have an answer for this. I have often heard that teachers who still care spend so much time preparing, trying to creatively engage students, and giving so much of their time and energy to students who continue to fail. I commonly hear the expression, "you can only do so much," or, "you can bring a horse to water, but..." The problem is, it is our job to help students learn and learn how to learn. So, when teachers try as hard as they can using all the tools they have -theories, books, professional development programs, other teacher's resources- and still do not get the desired results, the finger is turned back on the teacher. But teachers do not know what else to do. There is a disconnect between ideals, effort, and results. I believe apathy is a way to protect yourself from the truth, to survive by not pointing any fingers. I believe cynicism is a way to live in a world that does not work as one would hope. It is a way to seperate oneself as a wise person is a world faulty world. It is a way to point the finger the away from oneself.

Either way, as we learned in elementary school, pointing fingers is bad. So, how do I plan to navigate a profession with cynicism and apathy. I need to take advantage of my time studying education to dig deep and determine exactly what my desires are in eduction. What do I feel the purpose is? How do I see the relationship between students and teachers, among students and teachers? What theory of learning do I believe in? Are these goals or beliefs specific, measurable, attainable, realistic or reasonable, believable, and have a realistic time frame? Finally, how do I create an action plan to arrive at these goals or have my students arrive at these goals? To address a plan of action, one must take stock of where things stand, where they came from, and potential future outcomes ripe with intended and unintended consequences.

The educational system is incredible complex. There are so many aspects to consider when assessing the state of our schools. I think, before I am thrust fully into that sphere, I really need to determine where I stand. I understand and highly value the ability to evolve with the new experience and situations I will face during my first year teaching. However, I think it is imperative to start carving out my own belief system so I have a firm footing my first few years. Although taking a stand before being an actual teacher may provide a skewed or biased point of observation based on incomplete information. That is always the case, though. Hopefully my optimistic attitude and natural affinity to finding the positive parts of things will help me along the way.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Inquiry Learning

I have been able to partake in a few inquiry labs with my mentor teacher this year. They have all been great experiences. I think it is very useful to have one in the beginning of the school year because it sets a precedent for the development of academic character while letting everyone in the classroom get to know each other. It is also an environment to reinforce a safe learning community- especially that there are no stupid questions and mistakes lead to greater learning. It is incredibly helpful to see the type of vocabulary students use, thought patterns, misconceptions, prior knowledge, and motivations an inquiry lab reveals. The hard part seems to be organizing it into small enough time chunks so that students are able to stay on topic, fully dive into the activity, but allow enough time to cover all the material. I think inquiry labs are a way for students to be engaged in an activity that helps develop both cognition and conceptual skills. I plan to continue to investigate these types of experiences are figure out how to use them effectively in my classes.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cell Phones

Cell phones are becoming more and more common in the classroom, despite the best efforts by teachers and administrators. Some believe cell phones do not belong in classrooms because they are a source of distraction and a possible avenue for cheating. I believe cell phones are here to stay. The attempt to rid classrooms of cell phones is futile. So, rather than continue to fight a loosing battle, why not accept that cell phones are now a part of life and embrace their potential for use in the classroom? Liz has explained that more students have access to cell phones than Internet. Why not let students use technology in a technological age? Why not take advantage of a tool many students bring to class everyday? For example, poll everywhere option would be a great learning opportunity in the classroom. Also, many students use cell phones as a calendar. They should be able to use the tools they have and will probably have to use in life post-high school. As far as cheating and cell phones goes, it is an issue that is here to stay. Some students will try to use whatever they have to cheat. If it were accepted that students do have cell phones, teachers would know which students have cell phones. Therefore, on test day or days that cell phones are not required, the teacher can employ methods to ensure cell phones are not misused. For example, they could be put in a basket by the teacher’s desk. Or, hands are required on the desk during assessments. Cell phones are here to stay and I think it is time teachers and administrators use more common sense than authoritarian rules.

Friday, July 24, 2009

An Ann Arbor Porch Moment

The other day I was sitting on my porch with a couple friends, taking in the evening, when the discussion turned to education. I started answering questions, explaining issues and theories, and listening to my friend's opinions. We hit one of those silent moments, when everyone finds themselves thinking and staring across the street at the same time. Then, Mary said, "Meghan, you got schooled!"

These past six weeks have gone so quickly. I didn't fully understand how much we had learned until that moment. I was able to intelligently discuss my future field. What most surprised me was that I actually did use terms from the taxonomy table. It is kind of hard to describe the aim to create critical thinkers without explaining what critical thinking is and how one arrives at that point. I know that the terms are sometimes hard to differentiate, but there does seem to be applicable purpose. At the same time, I just finished a chapter by Jonathan Kozol, in Letters to a Young Teacher, which criticized those terms to no end. So, I have been schooled, but know I still have a long, long way to go in fully understanding the complexities of educational issues. Can't wait for part two of SMAC!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Two Bits and One Rant about ADD

First, I want to say I was wrong about twitter. Since my last blog, I have see twitter come up in everything from Elle Magazine to Business Weekly. It is a valuable resource. Our students would benefit from being fluent in tweeting, so I feel, as a future teacher, I need to be fluent in tweeting.

Second, I love Delicious. I cannot believe it took so long for me to discover such an amazing resource! I live by my saved tabs. I love organizing my list of web resources. So, this discovery is amazing.

Finally, a word about a reoccurring topic.

I wanted to use this blog to elaborate on a topic that has come up a few times during classes. I think a blog is appropriate because people are probably sick of hearing about it, but I feel I didn’t express what I wanted to say fully. So here goes my rant (based on my own experience, opinions and research presented in 649).
I understand that there is research that people who abuse ADD/ADHD medicine are undiagnosed. This follows from research that the stimulants actually cause a normal brain to be less efficient on the medicine than off of it. So, following that logic, people without ADD or ADHD would gain no benefit from those drugs and, therefore, not take them. I know that research is valid, but there is a social element among some groups that taking a stimulant pill is part of studying. I remember some people taking those pills, staying up all night, and accomplishing very little for the time they spent. That became their pattern to get through college, though, despite the glaring inefficiencies. Adderall and Ritalin flew around like Tylenol during my college experience—the abuse of which became a social norm. So, seeing that social element, I am hesitant to believe all of the abusers of stimulant drugs are undiagnosed ADD/ADHD folks.
The second aspect that concerns me is the ease with which students and doctors manipulated the system to gain access to the medication and time considerations. I vividly remember multiple conversations determining how to “pass” a diagnosis test. Whether the tests have changed since (that was eight years ago) is something I do not know. Regardless, there was a time when the tests were easy enough for many people I knew to actually get diagnosed. If those folks really have ADD is something I do not know. On the other end, some doctors encouraged this behavior. Maybe some of these doctors found their niche as the pill dispenser. Possibly, some of these doctors believed there were many, many undiagnosed ADD people. Either way, I know of a few instances of people who saw psychiatrists willing to write most prescriptions for them. As a bystander, the situation seemed unbelievably out of control and unethical.
These two aspects of my experience with ADD and ADHD lead me to believe it has been over-diagnosed among certain groups of people. If I am wrong, however, that means that a huge portion of the population has ADD or ADHD. If that is the case, what happened? Has it always been undiagnosed or did something happen environmentally or culturally to effect brain development? If there are that many people with ADD and ADHD, it seems we should alter our curriculum to account for their needs. By now, I feel I am beating a dead horse because I do not know if people can find the answers to these question without the past information. This issue seems pertinent, though, because there are so many questions, stereotypes, social stigmas, and misconceptions surrounding it.
I know I probably hit on a few misconceptions in this blog. Feel free to correct me. I am just trying to navigate through a difficult issue.

Friday, July 17, 2009


When I first heard about twitter, I thought it was ridiculous. Do I really care if one of my friends is feeling especially witty? Or wants to share that they are having fun shopping, eating jimmy johns, or doing homework? If it was that important, or had any direct effect on me, I figured one of us would pick up the phone. So, I pushed twitter off to the far side of my mind. It was categorized as “for teenagers,” “waste of time,” and “I don’t care.”
Until…I was required to make a twitter account for SMAC. I was shocked. Twitter? For educational purposes? Skeptical as I was, I went along with our professors and made a twitter account. After hearing their pitch, I could see a use for twitter in college classes, but still didn’t see a need for it in a High School. So, I pushed twitter to the side of my mind again. Then, the following week, it seemed like our whole class was twittering (tweeting?) to each other! Even people who initially shared my skeptical view were using it. It seemed to spread like wild fire.
So, maybe I was wrong. Maybe twitter isn’t just for teenagers. People seem to be having fun with it. If it’s bringing people together and helping to maintain networks, it isn’t a waste of time. I am glad I am in the twitter loop, but I still have some hesitations with it. First, I don’t know how I will be able to manage teaching, preparing lessons, navigating life in general, and keeping my blogs and twitter going. Second, I don’t really know how insightful one or two sentences on twitter can be. I am sold on blogs, but twitter is yet to be determined.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Technology usually triggers feelings of trepidation for me. I am very comfortable with the technology that I use everyday. I appreciate the ease and efficiency technology can provide. However, I am always lagging behind the tech wave. I avoided the daily email routine as long as I could, still do not have a digital camera, do not have email on my phone... all of this despite working at an Internet company for a year. Since technology information comes slower to me, I think I have been "just getting by" in the tech realm. However, I have always had a hidden ambition to learn about new technology. I am so excited to finally have a video camera to use! This class will certainly be a challenge for me, but I know the reward of becoming more tech fluent will far and away surpass the frustrations I may have in learning it. I feel so lucky to be in a course about technology by people who also study teaching. Their efforts to engage us in the topic made me feel much more comfortable about the coming course.

My ideal classroom will definitely involve technology. (So I better learn how to use it... or, even better, learn how to learn how to use it.) As a future biology teacher, I want to use technology with two objectives in mind. First, I would like to inspire the students to be curious about the world-- like all of the five-year-old biologist digging up bugs and adults watching the discovery channel. Secondly, technology is also a great way to help me with differential learning. Technology can help make theory more tangible. Also, I believe science is largely action orientated. Technology allows students to create, interact, and to engage all of the senses while learning. I think technology in a science classroom can help students become curious, learn more effectively, and understand its multiple uses in the "real world."

Here's my dream list as of now:

Laptops would be great. An HD projector with surround sound would be key. It'd be great to have it be 3-D... Any kind of lab equipment to make learner more hands on-- spectrophotometer, magnifying equipment, ect... Ecology stations with either an aquarium or terrarium and other things for students. It would be wonderful if they were self-cleaning. I'd also like desks with locking wheels. That way the desks can be in groups or rows depending on what we're doing and the class dynamics. Also, that way they could be rearranged a lot without a splitting headache for myself or future teacher neighbors. I know that idea is much more low tech, but it would be nice. I would like field lab equipment. It would be great to be able to take the kids outside for certain activities. I'm sure at the end of this class I'll have more ideas about my dream class.