Saturday, November 26, 2011

Some Questions about Student's Course Evaluation

There are many myths and truths about the value of student's evaluation of a course and of a teacher. There has been a long discussion on what can be done with the information given by these evaluations, from the complete dismissal to the partial adherence to the suggestions and criticism given. An excellent article is that of Ken Bain which is summarized in his book "What the Best College Teachers Do." Bain's assertion that comments and ratings by students are useful providing valid and reliable information is based on an extensive literature. But the question has to be re-address to how these end of course evaluations are structured and to the care on design and intentionality that the questions in the questionnaire are addressing. The most important thing according to James Lang (On Course p 277) is to ask the student questions that will help understand their learning advances not about any personal characteristics of the individuals involved, being the student or the teacher.
In this respect it looks like the end of course evaluation forms have to be adapted for individual courses and have to be reviewed periodically to accommodate to new forms of instruction and instruction technologies.

Friday, November 25, 2011

How long does it take?

4 years! This is how long does it take to go through college to get a Bachelor's degree. It doesn't matter if the degree is in the social sciences, humanities, arts, business, or hard sciences and mathematics. The time it takes is independent of the subject of study, the time is (was) established based on the need for the individual to mature from the late teens to the early twenties. It was designed as a post-secondary step in order to get a level of understanding and maturity that allowed the graduate to participate in society as a creative member based on his "liberal arts education." It was about liberating the individual to perform outside of the "being employed" scheme and allowed the individual to pursue a "professional" career through the skill s/he had developed during those four years. That could be "arithmetic" to do accounting, or writing in the varied disciplines of our society. As the amount of knowledge started to accumulate many colleges and universities started to use those four years in a different way. Giving more time to the area of specialization the so called "major" and less time was devoted to the general education core studies, all because there was a time restrain of four years to obtain the degree.
Time has come to re-examine this practice and time has come to re-evaluate the purpose of a baccalaureate degree.
As far as one can define the general purpose of education one should say that the purpose is to prepare citizens that are active constituents and builders of our society. Participants in the self preservation of the human species and means through which our society improves. Of course one is taking for granted that if the individual is performing task necessary for humanity the utilitarian nature of these services will guarantee that his/her own personal survival will be protected and in some cases rewarded with a very comfortable standard of living. This utilitarian nature has made some "majors" more attractive than others and in some cases will determine the starting salary or income as the new graduate joins the career market.
The idea that education will improve the way in which one is useful to society and therefore will be more employable is what is driving many adults to go back to school and this new market is feeding the desire for many institutions and business to get in the adult education endeavor, be it for profit or not.
So as these new programs are being established for these new kind of students the "4 year paradigm" is not longer valid or useful and shorter models have been developed. The question one has to address here is if this new model with less time of study will be good enough for all the disciplines currently being addressed in colleges and universities.
The other question one might address is if these new programs that are working for adults returning to classrooms after some years out of high school is adaptable to students  with much less experience who have just finished secondary education. Could it be that with new technologies and strategies one could have some students getting a bachelor's degree in three or less years for some disciplines while for some others will take more than the standard four years?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Genius Mind at Work

Hope you enjoy looking at this video clip of Richard Feynman explaining the scientific method.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Reviewed Lang's book at Amazon

This is the book review I wrote for Amazon.
"On Course is right on". James M Lang is a straight forward thinker with many practical applications about teaching. As an experienced college professor I found the ideas not only refreshing but insightful. It is good to have a step by step analysis of how to organize a class, how to communicate content, and how to assess performance.
The book is On Course: A Week by Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching.
Highly recommend, not only for those who are going to teach for the first time but also for those of us that have been teaching for a long time (maybe too long LOL) and need a refresher crash course to up date us and review on some of the techniques, strategies, and philosophies of modern pedagogy and andragogy.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Siemens Energy: This is why we care

Multinational companies are working hard to be socially responsible at the same time they are making money. Some of course are doing it more than other especially when it is about the environment. Siemens is and has been a leader in the world in technology and now in environmental technology.

On Course by James M Lang

As the second title indicates this is a book that guides new teachers week-by-week through the first semester. Starting with some advise about planning and general strategies such as how to use Bloom's taxonomy for defining course objectives described in the syllabus, to how to use the taxonomy for assessment. It is a good read not only for new teachers but for experienced ones as well, due to its ample and comprehensive review. Lang goes beyond the traditional idea of paper organization even though he sure gives the traditional methods a solid support but also analyzes the new technologies like online course management systems that are becoming increasingly used at colleges and universities.
This is a video of the book:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Note Taking The Lost Art of Listening

In today's world surrounded by technology and what it looks like an infinite source of information note taking has become a lost art. Even the Ivy League institutions are aware of this phenomenon and have been developing technique for good note taking. Harvard has the Harvard Note Taking System that it looks is based on the Standford University's Center for Teaching and Learning.

For many students the use of a laptop during class for taking notes has become standard, but is it really helping them with note taking? Or is it more likely a distraction? We are in a wireless environment and mobile devises can and normally do connect to the Internet making it almost impossible to concentrate on what is happening during class.

Some of the questions I have asked are:
How can I optimize the use of these devises during class in enhance learning?
Is there a way that technology can help learning during a lecture?
How can the synchronous-asynchronous teaching-learning dichotomy can be resolved with the use of technology?

Let's spend some time clarifying these questions. We know that the technology is here and is evolving continuosly. Some of the devices are short lived therefore developing a strategy based on those might be time consuming and not very efficient. The technology available is diverse so working on developing a strategy bases on a particular platform might not apply to a different platform and might make some students feel that they are being pushed to a side. Some technologies and platforms have so many different applications that keeping track of one is hindered by the presence of the others, such is the case with word procesors in a computer that has also email, and other social media softwar like facebook. At the same time the use of social media might enhance the motivation of the student to be on top of the issues discussed in the class.
The presence of the student physically and mentally in the class is another issue with the interaction between the teacher and the student. While the teacher might be present and focused on a particular topic -the one s/he is teaching the student on the other hand might be mentally far away either day dreaming or through the Internet on her/his computer in front of him/her.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The fourth week

This is critical week when teaching science because students start to feel overwhelmed. In any science class there is new vocabulary and new syntax. So how to you express a chemical reaction as an algebraic equation that has meaning beyond the mathematical solution. How can we see if the result obtained from solving the arithmetic relationship makes sense in "our world" in our language?
So at this moment in our course I pause and take some time to make sure that all are onboard, that we have some homogeneity in the level or degree of understanding, especially important when students come from a diverse background. The three main tools I use for this purpose are: face to face conversation allotting time for a one-to-one 15 minute talk during lab time; online questionaire through our Moodle site where they have to reply to a survey; and thrirdly through a practice or sample test I have posted on our iLearn site and they have access too.
At this time making the enphatic statement that they are in control of their learning becomes the focus of their education.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Benedic Carey in the NY Times

Last May Benedic Carey published a very interesting article in the NY Times about how collaboration in the classroom increases testing scores.
"The research comes from a closely watched group led by Carl Wieman, a Nobel laureate in physics at the University of British Columbia who leads a $12 million initiative to improve science instruction using research-backed methods for both testing students’ understanding and improving how science is taught" said Carey. Today Prof. Wieman is at the Univeristy of Colorado.
It looks like programs such as POGIL "Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning" that are helping college educators and to certain degree high school teachers are the way to go.

Friday, August 19, 2011

eBooks at Google Books

Google has started to put some very good book online. The idea is that you can purchase these eBooks at a low price and can read it on any kind of device but some are online for free! One that I read during the summer is Dexter Chapin's Master Teachers can now be found in Google books at

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Inner World of the Teacher

In chapter 14 in the anthology On Excellence in Teaching [by Robert Marzano (Ed) written by Robert J. Marzano and Jana S. Marzano] we can find a good discussion on how the inner world of the teacher molds the way that s/he behaves as a teacher. Even though the general consensus is that there is no difference between the way we think and act, ontological reality  shows that frequently there is a big gap between the believe system (based on general assumptions) and the way the teacher act based on his/her experience.
and the book at  

Managing Discipline in the Classroom

Any relationship that involves many people will be complicated. This is of course a redundant statement and in many ways you could say a "no-statement". But I think that not only will it be complicated because each individual in the relationship has its own idiosyncrasy but because personalities change with time and circumstances. Maybe not the basic personality but the way in which personalities interact. So when even one is analyzing some-one's basic personality one must take into account that we are only defining gross, broad, fundamental traits that will help to establish a framework of reference. One this is established we can go to the finer detail of individual behavior in that multiple entity relationship, such a a classroom.
With this in mind we can then look at personalities defined in psychology and use the basic needs for these personalities when addressing discipline in the classroom. Basic needs like "being the center of attention" for some, to the "live me alone-I'm not here" students that want to have complete control of what happens in their life.
One problem frequently encountered with any relationship is the idea of compromise. Not that compromising is a sign of weakness or lack of defined values, more than it is because compromising it self needs a set of rules and accepted principles that in general are not agreed before the situation arises. In the classroom rules must be clear and according to Rosenblum in her book "You have to go to School, you are the teacher: 300+ classroom management strategies" It is better to not have rules than have rules that are broken.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Science Channel

There are today so many good programs that divulge science, one avenue in particular is The Science Channel. The question is how can we best use this documentaries to motivate science students? Through the Wormhole is a series that is worth watching.
They are bringing to public notice, ideas and research that is way out at the frontier of discovery. One idea is to ask students to watch a particular program and then have a class discussion about it and if there are misconceptions either explicit or implicit then these can be addressed by the professor in class and of course can be used to show the students that science is always evolving and new ideas are constantly being advanced. Not always within the consensus of the established scientific community.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dilemmas of Planning Backwards: Rescuing a Good Idea | Coalition of Essential Schools

Good old ideas are here to stay. Dilemmas of Planning Backwards: Rescuing a Good Idea | Coalition of Essential Schools
The question of accountability is difficult to answer as many factors are involved in the process. So the first goal is to find what is the objective of each individual action and what would be the means for assessing if that objective has been met? Traditionally we would be using standards and topics stablished by previous curricula but times change and continuous modifications, adaptations, and reviews have to be done. The accomplishments at the end have to be framed within a context that relates to the students' life and environment.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs - What is Curriculum Mapping

XXI century technology applied to teaching has been changing the way we interact with colleagues within and outside our academic institutions. Curriculum development and assessment can now be done using internet techniques and tools.
The use of YouTube is one example and the configuration of cyber groups with social or professional interests are popping all over the place, including of course international collaborations. This gives us not only an opportunity for professional development but more important an opportunity to solve some of the most pressing problems we face in education today.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Five Principal Practices for the New School Year

As the new academic year begins I found this article very interesting. One idea in particular: "make no excuse" is catching my eye. So now I am thinking what are the main excuses that students in the past have had? How can I understand what is the framework now well into the XXI century?

Friday, August 12, 2011

What the best college teachers do

This is a great book written by Ken Bain, have a look at this video After a very comprehensive study looking at many renowned college teachers Bain gives a great guideline about defining excellent teaching and gives an insight on how to qualify and possible quantify good teaching. All within the framework that the impact produced by learning should should be a sustained influence that transforms student's life and not a temporary accumulation of data or information that will only be used during the final exam. Getting good grades after all do not indicate that the student becomes a useful citizen.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Science Coaches Program

Science Coaches Program ACS is promoting coaching and mentoring of chemical science teachers in high school. 500 dollars are given to support school in the purchase of supplies for this program. Collaboration is the key to success and it is happening at so many levels.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Not blaming the teachers

In today's Oregonian Tracy Groom (Teacher at Wilson High School in Southwest Portland) writes about learning responsibilities and accountability in our schools compared to India where Mr. Groom visited as a Fulbright exchange teacher. The article is a "must read" piece that puts the finger on one the most difficult and sensitive aspects of the situation with the teaching/learning discussion in our country today. This is some of what he has to say: "My Indian students were enrolled in far more advanced classes -- especially in math and science -- and performed far better in school and on exams than their American counterparts. Classes usually exceeded 45 students, the quality of teaching was horrendous, and the books and teaching resources were atrocious. Thin classroom walls were no match for street noise or the nearby Indira Gandhi International Airport, and only the principal's office was cooled during blazing hot summers or heated through bitterly cold winters. Yet students excelled. Why? "

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Teacher pays the price for turning in cheaters

Teacher pays the price for turning in cheaters Read this story about a teacher in New York University that after running homework through the "Turnitin" website he found that students were cheating.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Brains Are Fun

There is what appears to be an universal quest in education. This is: What makes a Master Teacher?
This website Brains Are Fun has some very good insights about the fundamental principles accompanying being a Master Teacher. This website created by Rory Donaldson has good advise clarifying some important principles like: Start on Time,
Keep Focus and Get to the Objectives.
The following list is also included in Rory Donaldson's paper:

"Master Teachers share many common elements. With these elements in place, any lesson can be turned into an effective lesson, all teachers can become masters of their trade:

  1. Teacher behavior is recognized and accepted as the critical variable to student success.
  2. Master Teachers have stopped confusing teaching with learning.
  3. Placement tests assign students to appropriate skill groups.
  4. Behavior is established before academic instruction.
  5. Rules for behavior are taught and drilled to mastery.
  6. The curriculum is recognized as a critical variable in effective instruction and is continually evaluated against results.
  7. Skills and information to be learned are broken down into their component parts and the component parts are drilled to mastery.
  8. The teacher accepts responsibility for student learning.
  9. Lessons follow a prescribed format and are explicit about what is to be learned.
  10. Reading mastery is recognized as the core academic competency.
  11. Teachers and students are required to perform quickly and accurately.
  12. Errors are corrected immediately.
  13. Good behavior is regularly rewarded (rarely with candy.)
  14. Low-performing students are never ignored, and are never tricked by questions to which they haven't first been taught the answers.
  15. Phonics and sound blending skills are the basis for reading.
  16. Computation is the foundation of mathematics.
  17. Carefully rehearsed scripts keep teachers and students on task.
  18. All students are regularly tested to insure mastery of the material.
  19. The class does not move on until proficiency or mastery is achieved by at least 70% of the class. Appropriate interventions are developed for the remaining 30%
  20. Mastery is evaluated by specific, regular testing.
  21. Quick and easily managed interventions are readily available.
  22. There is a principal who has the time and resources to devote to being the academic leader of the school.
  23. Teachers receive ongoing training, in and out of their classrooms, and regular evaluations.
  24. Classes are not allowed to be disrupted by students who choose to sharpen pencils or engage in other "off task" behavior."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Interactive Workshops at

There is so much information related to good teaching practices that is impossible to absorb it. But here and there one find websites with knowledge and information that is succinct useful and entertaining. This one is one of those. In one of the tapes (I got the tapes from O. F. Linn library at Warner Pacific College) they show how teaching in a way runs parallel to the way science works. And that it is better to cover a few topics with greater depth than a lot of topics in a very superficial way. The metaphor used is the one about building a bridge across a river; one could throw stones in some kind of foundation until they are a few inches above water and then use them to go across, or one could build a suspension bridge by burying two pillars deep down making them strong supports to where the bridge is going to be suspended. The question is: which bridge will be better to resist a flood? A study made by the Harvard group looking at college physics students showed that those students that learned a few topics (but with a deeper understanding) outperformed those students who in high school went through the whole book chapter to chapter but having to skip some questions posed by the students for lack of time and moving on to the next chapter in the book.

Confronting the Inequality Juggernaut: A Q&A With Jonathan Kozol

We are facing a dramatic and dangerous situation in our country with school segregation at the K-12 level. Have a look at this dialog with Jonathan Kozol a champion of education desegregation in America.
Confronting the Inequality Juggernaut: A Q&A With Jonathan Kozol
At the college level the problem becomes obscured as many of the problems in high school stop students to continue to college but under the surface there are many issues to be addressed that have been caused by the lack of a consistent, integrated education that allows the student to mature in a way that he/she sees the relevance of their studies to "the real world" that they live in. In many cases schooling is not part of the "real world" that they live so it is hard to make the connection and to have a nurturing relationship with others.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Jonathan Kozol

Great teacher involved with children of diverse backgrounds. Have a look at this video

Igniting the Fire (and Tending the Flame): Teachers on Works That Inspire

One of the main differences that I see between a pre-college teacher and a college professor is the fact that "teachers" will be focused on teaching while professors might have a focus on their individual research. But of course if you have any teacher with an interest beyond the classroom that inspires students that will help the teacher to be effective and engaging. In the following article this point is emphasized Igniting the Fire (and Tending the Flame): Teachers on Works That Inspire
Summer offers the opportunity to recharge and reflect—and for many teachers, it's the ideal time to gather helpful resources. With that in mind, I asked accomplished teachers in the Teacher Leaders Network to share the literary, cinematic, and musical works that sustain them (and help inspire their students). —Braden Welborn

So What Do They Really Know? - Stenhouse Publishers

So What Do They Really Know? - Stenhouse Publishers
Assessing student performance and the way in which teaching and teachers in particular affect the learning process is and has been a major issue in education. There is deep divide between what the student perceives and what is really happening as later on many things will become aware to the student. Life experiences during time will help the student realize what has been learned at the time and how his views have been modified and matured over time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Teaching Science

Do we learn science in the same way that we lean anything else?
At first sight it looks like what ever it is we learn, we learn it in the same way. It will only depend on our motivation and in the opportunities provided by the teaching environment. It will depend on our personality and in the relationship of the student with the topic. As we look at how can these opportunities be created and reinforced one has to focus institutions that have been well known to produce scientist of great caliber. One thing we can notice regarding the possible difference between teaching science and non-science topics is the use of laboratory time. Experimentation or better labeled demonstration is an integral part of any science course. Even those sciences such as geology were field trips are part of the course and plays the role of physical observation of phenomena similar to what is done in a laboratory.
There is one place where one can start looking at what kind of environment is nurturing of the learning process by looking at what makes a teacher successful. This article by Dr. Dennis Plies is a good place to start: Dr, Dennis Plies Sabbatical Report In this publication Dr. Plies states that three qualities of a good learning environment are (1) The professor is overflowing with his passion for the subject, (2) He cares about our learning, and (3) The class is interactive. I would add that the reason the class is interactive is due to the individual student recognizing that there is a relationship of the topic with his/her own life!