Tag Archives: teaching

Book Review: Schooling Beyond Measure by Alfie Kohn

Schooling Beyond Measure and Other Unorthodox Essays about EducationSchooling Beyond Measure and Other Unorthodox Essays about Education by Alfie Kohn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Continue reading Book Review: Schooling Beyond Measure by Alfie Kohn

Book Review: The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, by Jeanne Theoharis

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa ParksThe Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would give this book 5 stars on content, 3 based on the writing style. The author had unprecedented access to Rosa Parks’ writings and records and provides a comprehensive view of her life and her role in the Civil Rights movement and later in Detroit as a member of the staff of Michigan Congressman John Conyers. Continue reading Book Review: The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, by Jeanne Theoharis

Q & A with Science from Scientists

logo2I have been working as an Instructor with the Boston-based educational non-profit organization, Science from Scientists, since the fall of 2013. This was a lateral career move for me after a number of years in the biotechnology industry and as a project manager in academia (more on those in another post–maybe).

Continue Reading –>

Gandalf’s Knock

Starfleet Academy, late 2300s, Sausalito
Starfleet Academy, late 2300s, Sausalito (wikipedia)

When I was 8, i didn’t find a wardrobe to Narnia.

When I was 11, my Hogwarts letter didn’t come.

When I was 12, my satyr didn’t show up to take me to Camp Half-Blood.

Gandalf, Im counting on you to take me on an adventure when Im 50!

Like many of us in “comfortable middle age,” Bilbo Baggins is described in the opening of The Hobbit as living happily in his cute little house in the Shire. He likes it there. He doesn’t want to go anywhere else. That could have fairly described my life here in Belmont, too. We’ve lived here in the Boston area since 1998, for almost 17 years. Both our kids were born here. We have jobs, go to school, have friends and hobbies. Our house in a quiet neighborhood, built in 1929, is a little cluttered quaintly overstuffed. Cup of tea, anyone?

Then, several years ago, Google bought my husband’s employer. That took some of the financial pressure off, and in 2012 I retired from my job as a project manager in a neuroscience lab and began working part-time in science education. Now, in a reorganization, my husband’s job is moving to Google HQ in Mountain View CA. And we’re going with it. I have complicated feelings about this move, but one of the perks of being middle-aged is perspective; I can choose how to respond. This can be a loss for me, an occasion for regret, or it can be Gandalf’s knock on the door. IMG_2664Practically, I think this move has the potential to be a great opportunity for my science education career. One of the organizations that I teach with, Science from Scientists, opened an office in the SF Bay area last year. I’m now looking into a transfer of my own.

California, here we come!
California, here we come!

But I’m also thinking bigger, or at least more broadly. Before I came to Boston for my first real job after training, I lived in California for 10 years, first in the Bay Area when I was getting my PhD in Neuroscience at Stanford, and then in Pasadena when I was doing a postdoc at Caltech. It was a tumultuous time in many ways: a melting pot of decisions and relationships, many of them good, some of them not. I got engaged in California–more than once. I also owned my first car: a beige VW beetle. I skied, I swam, I climbed half-dome. I discovered the internet, and re-discovered the violin. I became a Unitarian-Universalist. When I left CA, back in 1997, I wondered if I would ever be back. Now I know.

Feedback Fatigue

Bowen-knot-in-rope

There is something I don’t know
that I am supposed to know.
I don’t know what it is I don’t know,
     and I am supposed to know,
and I feel I look stupid 
     if I seem both not to know it
          and not know what it is I don’t know.

—Psychologist R.D. Liang, Knots

At the educational conference I attended this past weekend, we received lots of feedback. We gave feedback. There were handouts about how to do so in our binders. There was written daily feedback, oral feedback sessions, feedback on the feedback, and an online survey I still have to complete.

Well, here’s my feedback: I’ve got feedback fatigue.

Although my formal student days are in the past, I know I was a good student, and reasonably compliant in class. I have an Ivy League degree and a PhD. But I also know that underneath the placid exterior, I was not the happy little learning sponge that seems to be how good students are conceptualized these days. And I know I was never asked for this much feedback back then.

I think a renewed appreciation for feedback is mostly a good thing. As an educator, I don’t want to go along, blithely repeating errors or poor practices class after class, harming student learning without even realizing it. I think this happened too frequently in the past. For example, my science teacher in 7th grade spent most of his time sitting at his desk, while we students struggled alone through an incomprehensible student-directed learning workbook. Where was the feedback then? I think we all could have used some.

But these days it goes too far the other way. I can’t even get an oil change without being asked whether the cleanliness of the dealership where I took my car “exceeded my expectations.”

And, for me, there’s the rub: the expectation that I will have expectations.

Therefore I pretend to know it.
     This is nerve-wracking
     since I don’t know what I must pretend to know.
Therefore I pretend to know everything.

The last day of the conference involved the attendees dividing into groups and each group facilitating a shortened practice lesson for 30 minutes. I felt more nervous than everyone else looked, or acted, except for one other person (out of about 25 total), who was the only one who admitted out loud to being nervous. And the fact that we had to not only give each other feedback on our facilitations but also be self-reflective, aloud, about our own performance in the exercise, just increased that nervousness.

When we were not presenting, we sat in the audience, pretending to be the adolescents who will be our students when we go back home to teach the course on our own. Like my real adolescent self, I didn’t do anything very inspired to test the other facilitators’ classroom management skills. I just took out my phone once or twice and played a game on it until the facilitator asked me to put it away. But it was remarkable how quickly I slipped back into my old student mindset anyway. Back then I was a little anxious, usually, about how classes were going to go. I could almost always follow the teacher, and the main lesson, but the student social behavior tended to move too fast for me. Other students would be giggling or laughing or interacting behind the teacher’s back and I wouldn’t understand what was going on. This happened again, even in the present. I started to disengage a bit, as the words started to wash by and around me, too fast, and I had to bring myself back. To my delight, in this time and this place, I could.

I feel you know what I am supposed to know
          but you can’t tell me what it is
          because you don’t know that I don’t know what it is.
You may know what I don’t know, but not
          that I don’t know it,
and I can’t tell you. So you will have to tell me everything.

As a student, I was much like Liang’s narrator, insisting that someone “tell me everything.” But at this point in my life, much of my learning process involves trying to untie one or another of Liang’s knots. Rather than expectations, what I usually have are questions. What am I supposed to know here? Do I know it? Can I know it? If not, can I cope anyway?

The hard truth is that I will never know everything I don’t know. And you won’t either. I’m glad I did this workshop, because it helped me embrace this discomfort.

Looking forward to OWL Training

I’ve been teaching middle school science for about 2 years now, in non-traditional settings. I sort of fell into teaching the age group after applying for a high school AP Biology tutoring position and finding out that they needed someone to teach the middle school ages instead (roughly ages 11-14). Since then, I’ve not looked back.

But it is a remarkable, and unexpected, place to find myself at this point in my life. Even when I made a conscious career change out of research administration and into K-12 teaching, I was expecting to teach high school. I wasn’t sure of the subject–biology or chemistry, or both–but it would high school, preferably Advanced Placement.

And when I was middle school age, I was not particularly enamored of school. (Actually, that’s an understatement.) Based on my experiences, I had written off middle school science as a waste not worth further exploration. It was my wonderful high school teacher, Mr. Webb, who had turned me on to biology. I was ahead in school, and two years younger than my peer group. They were going through puberty and I wasn’t. At least that’s a short, easy, believable explanation of what the problem was. But as I talk to adults now, I have yet to find one who really liked middle school and felt comfortable there. Even in my misery, which seemed so unique and poignant at the time, I wasn’t unusual. Reading about the subject of middle school education can be a little harrowing: this interesting article about middle schools quotes one teacher calling middle school “The Bermuda Triangle of Education.”

While I have to admit, I have had students both break-dancing in the corner and climbing under tables (not at the same time), I haven’t been as daunted as I feared, or as given to hyperbole, even in private moments. I think maybe the fact that I remember that time so well in my own life gives me a little window into what’s going on in that of my students.

It’s in that spirit that I’m approaching OWL training this weekend. In this case, OWL stands for “Our Whole Lives,” it is a sexuality and decision-making program created and run by the Unitarian-Universalist Association.  I will be training to be a teacher of these classes at my UU church.

It’s a long way from science education in some ways, but not in others. My daughter went through it at our church a couple of years ago. I don’t if “enjoyed” is quite the right word for her experience, but I have seen her grow in maturity and thoughtfulness around all those issues. Parents aren’t allowed to teach their own children OWL, which is a good policy. I’m looking forward to being able to help the growth and maturation of other kids in the congregation.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 11.05.24 AM