Monday, January 31, 2011

Class 4: 1/31- Back of the Envelope/Students with Disabilities/Math Quiz

Today Dr. Petrosino began class by showing a video from CBS Sunday Morning called “Finding their voices: Overcoming Stuttering.” This video depicted youth with stutters and how they were working to become more comfortable with themselves. Afterward, he discussed with the class that as teachers, we do need to think about these kinds of issues that students may have. Typically, when a student has some sort of challenge or disability, there are two options: special education or mainstreaming. Many students who need more attention to help with their needs do not get it, and as teachers we need to be sympathetic to their challenges in the classroom. It is important for UTeach students to recognize that beyond any kind of moral or ethical responsibility they feel toward meeting the needs of individual students, they also have a legal responsibility to carry out accommodations provided by the district as best they can.

There is a lot of talk about differentiated instruction as a tool to meet the individual needs of students ranging from special education to gifted and talented. Some of the talk about differentiation is based on the pseudo-science of multiple intelligences and it does not have a great basis in science, but the idea is worth discussion so long as we avoid the popular press depictions.

Differentiation is based in the fantasy that we can make accommodations for all students, and that a teacher can orchestrate this type of classroom where all students are learning in an ideal modality. This places a large responsibility on the teacher. Many teachers approach gifted education in one of two ways- either giving the students more work, or giving them work of the next grade level. Many of the things we will talk about in PBI have been shown to have great efficacy in a gifted classroom and are not debated as strategies for advanced students, but the issue of whether or not it can be done with “normal” students is a hot-button issue.

Dr. Petrosino noted that it is in some ways difficult to help successful university students learn to be good teachers because to a large degree school was easy for them. Even if it wasn’t easy, UTeach students have likely bought into the idea that education is the route to success. This is fine when teachers have students like themselves, but most teachers will also be teaching students who for whatever reason have not been encouraged and welcomed by education, and who harbor negative feelings about school. It is difficult to deal with that tension when you are not from that background.

Today we also did two activities. First, we did “back of the envelope” problems (also called Fermi Questions) that require students to perform quick calculations based on rough estimates to answer a question. The class was split into three groups, and each group had a different question: How many golf balls fit into a school bus? How many years would it take for McDonalds to sell a mole of their hamburgers? How many miles of roads are in the US? The groups struggled initially with their inability to use any resources, but ultimately each group arrived at a reasonable answer and presented it to the class.

Dr. Petrosino discussed afterwards that these kind of questions call upon many different strategies on the part of the student, and could be very frustrating if done on one’s own. The students observed that these types of questions could be very illustrative of critical thinking skills, but would not make good standardized test questions. Dr. Petrosino shared with them that Bill Gates asked these types of questions to potential employees when staffing Microsoft, and raised the idea of what true 21st century skills are. There is a great deal of rhetoric about teaching these skills in schools, but these are not the types of things we are assessing. There is an inconsistency between the rhetoric of 21st century education and the reality of the classroom.

Before leaving, the students took a short ten question quiz over basic mathematical and astronomical facts, the results of which will be used in the next class meeting.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

Class 2: 1/24- Defining Project Based Instruction

Sara began class by having the students introducing themselves briefly, giving their name, major, why they want to teach, how likely they think it is that they will teach, and some other interesting fact about them. Most students reported that they are very likely to teach, though some are still uncertain as to when they will be in the classroom.

Next, she asked the class how they would define Project-based Instruction, and many students found they had a hard time articulating what exactly is meant by this and how it is distinct from a classroom where the teacher assigns projects. Through some discussion and with help from Sara, the class decided that PBI is when all the content that is to be transmitted for a project or unit is embedded inside a contextualized problem or scenario that students must solve. The class then brainstormed potential pros and cons of teaching with PBI, drawing from their own experience, things they have read or heard about PBI, and some critical thinking. Students felt that some of the positive aspects of PBI might be that it affords creativity for students, students may be more engaged, it brings in real world questions, and that it caters to different learning styles. They brought up concerns about planning time, TAKS performance, and difficulty developing projects as potential disadvantages to PBI. At the end of this discussion, Sara urged them to keep these pros and cons in mind as they do the reading and move through the course in order to see if some of their ideas are confirmed or refuted by the literature.

The class briefly discussed the field experience, and Sara gave some of her impressions about previous semesters and what students have gotten out of the interactions with high school students.

Sara also briefly mentioned the Legacy Cycle project that PBI students will complete at the end of the semester, and directed students to to look at examples of Legacy Cycle projects and get an overview of what they will be asked to do.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Class 1: Jan 19- Introduction to Project Based Instruction

Today was the first day of the Spring 2011 semester of Project-Based Instruction. Dr. Petrosino began the day by telling students today would cover the background of the class, the syllabus, some basic expectations and the layout for the semester.

The PBI class is intended to be a capstone course that is the culmination of the UTeach experience. In this class, we will assume a basic background in learning theory and technology. Though all students have had a slightly different path through the program, with different instructors, we will assume that everyone is at a point where they are about to student teach and we will leverage the theoretical background and applied experiences.

In this class we will look at many original source materials, including theory behind learning. There is also an intensive practical aspect centered on designing and implementing instruction. That said, Dr. Petrosino is committed to “minimizing the drama” and keeping balance in the class. He takes a common-sense approach to the course, appreciating that students have other courses and commitments, and asks that students treat this course as equal to others. This class will go in cycles, with periods of relatively low work load, and periods of more time commitment.

Dr. Petrosino then gave some information about his background, highlighting his history in the high school classroom in New Jersey, his research background at Vanderbilt as part of the cognition and technology group, his post-doc at Wisconsin and how he came to be part of UTeach and the University of Texas. He mentioned his prominent role in developing the PBI course.

Prudie Cain, the UTeach mentor attached to this course, passed out an availability form to the students that will be used to make assignments for the field experience portion of the course. Students took a few minutes to fill it out, and it raised some questions about scheduling the field experience that will need to be resolved on an individual basis.

Dr. Petrosino then went through the syllabus and encouraged students to take some time to read through it over the next week. He highlighted some particularly important aspects of the syllabus, including:

-The course has this blog, and students should check it to find out what happened in class if they our out.

-Blackboard is used as the primary method of communication and document transmission.

-Work outside the class is assumed to be approximately 7 hours a week. Students should use this time by doing the readings, posting on the discussion board, observing courses, lesson planning, etc.

Dr. Petrosino finished the class by making some statements about the overall nature of the class. He described many of the tasks as “engaging, fun activities that are founded in theory,” and also stressed the importance of the metaphor of “teacher as designer.” As teachers, we work with constraints and affordances, such as students, resources, schools, administration, testing. It is very easy to cede control of your curriculum to someone else, but instead we should try to design within those constraints.