# yes, and…

When a learner asks a question, I often hear their peers and teachers respond in a way that suggests “don’t ask that question; learn something different”. I see the same thing occurring on Q&A support boards all the time:

Questioner: “I was wondering how to cook an egg in the microwave.”

Supposed answerer: “Don’t use a microwave, use a pressure cooker.”

Supposed answerer: “Why would you want eggs? Go vegan.”

As an educator myself, I find it’s better not to say NO to someone interested in learning and instead say, “yes… and…….” to find out what interests them and connect the topic to their interests.

It’s a lesson I draw from the improv and acting communities: “no, but…” (or even “yes, but…”) stops conversations. “yes, and…” encourages them.

# Compact Guide to Classical Inference by Daniel Kaplan (or: How to Teach Stats)

“Both students and instructors perceive standard-error statistics as a confusing collection of specialized tools. To improve student learning, instructors long for a reduction in the number of topics needed to support statistical thinking. This book is a roadmap for instructors who wish to simplify inference while continuing to teach using traditional tools.”

“I hope that this little book can help instructors see that statistical inference can be handled as one topic among the many needed for modern statistics. Inference, important though it be, does not need to be such a sprawling set of methods and details taking up so much of the introductory course that other essential topics get neglected.”

https://dtkaplan.github.io/CompactInference

# Yes, and…? Inviting People to Take the Next Step

As an educator who advises students working on theses and dissertations, there’s a standard question I ask—I refer to it as “the PhD question”: So what? It’s a shorthand to challenge students to consider the question: If everything you’ve just said is shown to be true, what will that mean for changes in our understanding of the world or how we engage with it?

I found myself using So what? again recently at ICER 2019, a community of education researchers that values openness and community building. I heard myself saying it, and I realized I didn’t like the tone of it at all. So what? is confrontational. It’s a conversation stopper, not a starter. It’s a blockade, not an invitation. Yes, I learned it from my graduate advisors way back when, and I think it’s time to put it to bed.

Continue reading Yes, and…? Inviting People to Take the Next Step

# Richard Hamming on Teaching

Teachers should prepare the student for the student’s future, not for the teacher’s past.

~ Richard Hamming, The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (1991)

# What Students Say

A note to myself

I believe that I can be a better educator through reflection and active engagement. I believe that I can better serve my students and colleagues by being honest with them. I believe that reflection, engagement, and honesty can help other educators improve their praxis, should they feel so inclined.

It has always been about the students

A note to students

# Why are Teachers Leaving Teaching?

The Washington Post— and many other outlets— recently reported on the resignation letter of Gerald J. Conti, a social studies teacher at Westhill High School, Syracuse, New York. Mr. Conti has 40 years of teaching experience, but feels that teaching has been marginalized in the increasingly aggressive drive for standardization of curricula, instruction, and assessment.

With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliche with me, I’ve used it so very often) that “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings.
Gerald J. Conti

# Oppa Adjunct Style: How Schools are Cheating Teachers and Students

“Adjuncts are not regular members of the faculty; we are paid an hourly rate for time spent in the classroom. We are not paid to advise students, grade papers, or prepare materials or lectures for class. . . . To ensure that we remain conscious of the adjunctification of CUNY, we ask that you do not call us ‘Professor.'”

# The Calculus of Friendship

When a close friend sent me a copy of this book, his inscription read, in part

it has always been about the students

In this short video, Dr. Steven Strogatz— a Cornell Mathematician— reminds us that the student-teacher relationship is complex, dynamic, enduring, and often unpredictable; far from the Brave New World-style cold, isolationism espoused by the so-called professionalization of education that the United States has experienced over the past 100 years.

# Bret Victor Speaking on Inventing on Principle

Bret offers some interesting insights into the importance of immediate, direct feedback while learning to program—really, while programming at all in his CUSEC talk from early 2012.

# Storytelling, which I take to mean teaching

This 70-minute lecture by Charlie KaufmanEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich— on screenwriting applies equally well, I think, to being an educator. Consider the following excerpt, but replace screenplay with learning— for the student perspective— or even teaching!

A screenplay is an exploration. It’s about the thing you don’t know. To step into the abyss. It necessarily starts somewhere, anywhere, there is a starting point, but the rest is undetermined, it is a secret, even from you. There’s no template for a screenplay, or there shouldn’t be. There are at least as many screenplay possibilities as there are people who write them. We’ve been conned into thinking there is a pre-established form.

While I sometimes found it difficult to distinguish quotations from his original thoughts, I found both to be engaging and inspiring.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/45290206″ iframe=”true” /]

# The Law of Unintended Patterns

For any matched pair of non-trivial examples
there exists (n == 1) pattern that the creator of the examples intended to highlight
but there also exist (1 < n <= infinity) unintended patterns that students will find.

It’s difficult to live-code programming examples… the conventions we use by habit often invite students to find the unintended patterns.

As an instructor, how do I get students to see the single pattern in which I’m interested, rather than the possibly infinite patterns that exist? Or, is that even the best goal? Should I, instead, be encouraging students to look beyond the first pattern they detect in order for them to appreciate the inherent complexity of interpretation?

# "Will this be on the test?"

Students reasonably need to understand what is expected of them in a course. Educators need to make clear what is acceptable and unacceptable student engagement with a course. The syllabus is the natural place for this to happen, as long as both students and educators recognize it for what it is.

Students shouldn’t approach the syllabus as the maximum they’ll do… education is about expanding your horizon! The syllabus is the absolute minimum you should expect to do; the engaged and interested student will use it as a lower bound, not an upper bound.

# “It’s the model that matters!” — Eric Mazur

At the ICER 2011 keynote, Eric Mazur reported that when students see a demonstration and either do or do not engage in a discussion of the demonstration, they adjust their memory to fit their model[1. Mazur, E. (2011) International Computing Education Research Conference (ICER) Keynote. Providence, RI. Slides available from http://mazur.harvard.edu]. In other words, they retain their prior (possibly non-canonical) mental model and mis-remember the facts of the event to fit that model, rather than updating their mental model to account for the new facts[1. The keynote is also discussed by Mark Guzdial on his blog at http://computinged.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/eric-mazurs-keynote-at-icer-2011-observing-demos-hurts-learning-and-confusion-is-a-sign-of-understanding/].

In physics education, given the following modes of instruction

• No demonstration
• Demonstration to students
• Student Prediction without discussion
• Student-to-student Discussion (similar to peer instruction)

students do equally poorly on a standard instrument intended to assess students’ understanding of Newtonian mechanics.

So, if we assume that we can’t skip demonstration altogether, and if we can’t just demonstrate, and if demonstration followed by discussion all suffer this fate, then what can be done? Engage students directly.

It’s not the act of predicting or discussing a prediction that triggers changes in student mental models, but rather confrontation with confusing experiences: staking ones intellectual ground so that one knows what one believes, then being confronted by a confounding example, and finally needing to substantially defend and explain the new experience.

Confusion seems to be an essential part of the learning process, or at least the ability of students to reflect and express their confusion[1. see the Dunning-Kruger effect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger_effect]. In a physics class where students were asked to report on what they were most confused about each week, those who expressed confusion did much better than students who claimed no confusion. Willingness to express confusion positively correlates with understanding[1. forthcoming from Mazur, E., et al].

So, in a peer instruction environment, we teach by questioning, not by telling or showing. We facilitate students’ engagement with the material rather than their obedience while in our classroom.

There is work on students’ use of mechanistic reasoning (i.e., trying to articulate the underlying entities, entity properties, activities in which entities engage, and the mechanism by which those activities give rise the the phenomena of interest) in physics and math education by David Hammer (now at Tufts), Rosemary S. Russ[1. Russ, R. S. (2005) A Framework for Recognizing Students’ Mechanistic Reasoning. A dissertation available from http://drum.lib.umd.edu/handle/1903/4146] (now at Northwestern), Andrew Elby, Ayush Gupta, and Brian Danielak that relates to this… how students express their understandings of and reasoning about mechanisms underlying physical phenomena.

In short, if we’re not changing students’ mental models, than any learning that may occur is shallow and fragile. Some modes of instruction have a better chance of engaging students and changing their models, but unfortunately not the most popular modes of instruction, currently.

# My Classroom Rules

Recently, several students commented that I seemed to have a lot of classroom rules. This is an old refrain in my life, and, in a sense, it’s true. However, the rules I have are all just special cases of my basic three rules, which I share on my About Me page.

1. If you are going to break the rules, don’t be obnoxious about it.
• If you can’t be engaged, don’t distract others. It’s unfair to both you and them.
2. Don’t disappoint me.
• Don’t promise to focus, but fail to do so. Instead, acknowledge whatever is distracting you and address it.
3. Be aware.
• Recognize which questions are related to tweaking the solution and which are related to a different problem context.

A full sized version of my rules diagram

I think my biggest failing in the classroom is that I’m uneven in the application of the rules, which is perceived as me being arbitrary. Inconsistency and randomness seem very similar to the outside observer.

I sometimes let feature creep take over the problem statement, which can lead to unintentional complexity or student confusion as the problem changes. I need to spend more time up front specifying the problem completely with students so that it’s clear to them and me what the invariants are.

I also find it difficult to ask a student actually to leave the classroom. I’m forever optimistic that the unfocused student will find moments of clarity and engage with the course material. Often, they do, but unfortunately, while I’m waiting for that to happen, the class as a whole is affected and, generally, material isn’t covered as concisely, clearly, or completely as might have been the case otherwise, thereby disadvantaging the other students who could have gone further, faster. Such is the nature of a set of random people with diverse metacognitive skills and needs. Still, I’m certain that I could serve better both ends of the spectrum.

# The Last Lecture

One of the most widely watched videos about teaching, learning, and life, Randy Pausch’s talk– The Last Lecture— offers lessons from which we could all benefit.

I find Dr. Pausch’s creativity and joy of teaching to be inspiring. In the last months of his life, he managed to share with the world his love of a life well-lived.