Monday, April 28, 2014

Coaching VS Teaching

Recently I have been exposed to a series of articles, papers, and ideas about coaching. What makes a good coach? and how the attitudes of persistence, resistance, and acceptance are significantly important in the coach's career.

It looks like the idea of coaching started in Oxford in 1830 where tutors "carried" their students through tests. To read more about the origins click here. So the idea of coach as carrier began at that time, now of course is used in several ways from instruction to management. In sports of course is also related to organizing a team to compete and win.

To compete and win in sports is a metaphor for learning today in a competitive environment where testing is used to advance education and to obtain the certificated that allows the student to professionalize his/her life. So here is where I want to compare and evaluate the values of coaching in the teaching-learning environment happening within the traditional classroom setting and its implication in the online environment. How can we be efficient teacher/coaches through online relationships. What kind of substitutes can we find for "body language" and other personal interactions and how can we use these personal interaction in an effective coaching/teaching in the classroom.

When ever I start a new class I go around shaking hands and greeting my students one by one to have a personal touch as I give each one a welcoming letter where I explain the mechanics of the class as well as the context in which the class will develop, including of course expectations. I articulate what I expect from them and what can they expect from me. After this introduction I always mention that the reason I shake hands is because I believe that if you can't touch them you can't teach them. We will have a high-tech high-touch class.
Unfortunately for many students the teacher's role puts the teacher in an adversarial position. Many see the teacher as the enemy and think that the teacher is there to block and stop them by examinations. Testing is seen as a barrier, as an obstacle created and managed by the teacher. Students do not see the teacher as a supportive instrument in their education. They don't see the teacher as a coach that will carry them through the process of learning.

So the question is how can a teacher become a coach? What kind of didactic instruments are there to change the adversarial relationship into a constructive collaborative relationship. How can we create a "trusting" environment where the student feels confident about relying on the teacher that is now seen as a coach?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Keeping current and valuable to your clients or employer

For any professional his/her knowledge, skills, aptitudes, and attitudes are his/her assets. It is important therefore to be current adapting to newer information, knowledge, technologies, and methodologies. As the value of our services depend on how well adapted to the present moment. As with any asset knowledge is time related, and as many things knowledge can get old as groceries in the supermarket or outdated as a ball game ticket of the previous season.
Currently I am reading a book published in 2000 by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas titled "Pragmatic Programmer" (ISBN 0-201-61622-X) and even though it has been several years since the book first appear some of the basic ideas as all good basic ideas have not been outdated. I have to admit that some of the websites, programs, and social media have indeed advanced and other not mentioned in the book have been created. but overall is a great book that I highly recommend even to those not interested in computer programming.
The main argument of Hunt and Thomas is based on the market for stock, where diversification, managing actualization, balancing high-risk-high-gain stock with low-risk-low-gain, and building your portfolio are used to help the reader find how to grow and manage risk at the same time that s/he builds a "personal" portfolio. The book is full of good advise like read a good book every month, a non technical, not related to his/her field so s/he can understand human nature better in order to better satisfy the needs of his/her clients or employer. As one thing is for sure, once one is outdated one will not longer serve the needs of clients or employers.
One aspect of building yourself as a portfolio is the need to network, getting wired the authors say! By this one can understand that belonging to professional networks, one will be able to see what are the current trends, one will be able to explore new and exciting ideas that might be the foundation of new skills. Think of those who learned "Java" when it was in its infancy and was easy to learn and to get onboard. Even though learning it was a high-risk endeavor some did get onboard and now they are at the top of this widely use technology.
So two question I ask now: one, how am I keeping current and valuable to my clients and employer?
two, How can I teach my science students skills that help them to keep current?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Crisis in Science Education?

This month's issue of Scientific American has the front-page: A Crisis In Physics? with a featured article by Joseph Lykken and Maria Spiropulu titled Supersymmetry and the Crisis in Physics. Reading the article reminds us that science is continuously advancing and new ideas are always replacing old ones, even in the case that the old ones are not that old at all! This situation is one to take into account when teaching science. One has to be able to transmit to the learner that ideas, methods, and processes in general can be improved and that even basic knowledge (things thought to be true in the absolute) are in fact ideas that can be improved and in some cases replaced by better models of reality.
The fact that we have now so many of these hypothesis that have been proven to exhaustion and that are the subject of most content in science education makes it difficult to instigate in the student a sense of healthy skepticism. It is almost impossible to provoke the need for inquiry of things that the teacher is showing as tried and true and based on solid evidence without falling off the cliff of complete ignorance and denial. One doesn't want to teach that the theories of gravitation, evolution, electromagnetism, plate tectonics, etc. are false, but that they have many details unanswered and more research has to be done. Some of these "details" can be huge concepts of deep intrinsic interpretation that could at a point change the way we understand the reality of our world. No better example than "String Theory" that is trying to explain what is that we are made of.
My question now is how can I teach basic "principles" that have been proven to work so far and at the same time create a safe environment for my students to ask anything?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Old-school Teaching

Reading this blog reminded me of when I went to school. Those days seem to be simple and not many "politically correct" rules were used. For example if a teacher thought that one student was saying or doing a "dumb" thing, the teacher was free to say so. Now of course you can't say to a student in front of the class: "that is a dumb thing!" We are now using the so called Pygmalion or Rosenthal effect where greater expectations are supposed to enhance the behavior and performance of the student. So instead of saying "that is a dumb thing to say"; we say "that is a great idea but have you consider ....this or that".. It looks like greater expectations are in some way paradoxically working against improved performance because we are not emphasizing "hard work" as a necessary investment in improving oneself. The need to have a "carrot and a stick", a pull and a push, incentives and coercion in order to balance the needs with the outcomes in the educational process.
Do you think that in some ways we should have some punitive measures along the way during the course, so we don't have to wait until the failing grade is given?
Like in the days when a list of the top and bottom students was posted in the classroom?