Tuesday, March 13, 2018

So I Was On a Podcast...

My friend and colleague in education, Erik Ellefsen, recently started a podcast, and he asked if I would be a guest. It took a little time for us to get our schedules in sync so we could actually have a chat, but we finally did, and the episode was just released this week.

Erik and I first met up on Twitter several years ago, mostly as a result of my original #nomorecrappyhomework blog post, which I posted back in 2015, and has had over 3500 views as of this writing. We've kept in touch regularly via Twitter since then, and when he gets to NW Iowa we've been been able to hang out. I always appreciate his thoughtfulness about the role of innovation in education, and the way he challenges other educators to be the best that they can possibly be. If you're on Twitter, give Erik a follow. You won't be sorry!

In this episode, he shares a bit of the story of how we met up, and then we visited about the impetus for my research into homework--including my own dissatisfaction with the crappy homework I used to assign as a middle school teacher. If you're interested, you can listen in here...

Monday, March 12, 2018

Teachers Defending Schools?

It's been a bit since my last post, but I have continued thinking a lot about school shootings, and gun control, and all of the craziness in the media from the left and the right on the topic.

In particular, I've been thinking about everything that teachers are expected to do. It's pretty amazing, really. When I was trained as a teacher...I was trained, well, to teach. I was trained to write lesson plans. I was trained to understand different pedagogical approaches, and how to choose appropriate methods for the content I was to teach. I was trained to assess my students' learning. In my student teaching experience, I had the opportunity to practice these skills, and to learn firsthand about connecting with students, about managing a classroom, and about all sorts of pragmatic requirements of being a teacher...like navigating the line at the copier in the morning, and how to ensure that the custodian remains your friend.

But the profession has definitely changed in the 20 years since I began teaching. And teachers today are expected to perform many, many more tasks than "just teaching." One of these tasks? Apparently, teachers are now also expected to be prepared to lay down their lives defending their schools. No, seriously.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Schools and Guns and Brokenness

I've started writing this post three or four times in the past few days, and I keep walking away from it. I feel like I have to say something in response to the school shooting in Parkland, FL last week, but I just can't seem to sort out my ideas. Here's my best thinking (summarized) for now...
Our society is so broken, that it seem like people on both sides of this debate are talking past each other, shouting their slogans, not really listening, and missing the nuance of the situation. But we have to actually have a conversation about this, and that's complicated, because people have such strong feelings, brute-force logic is not going to change hearts and minds.
A little more I can say to flesh this out...but recognize that these are my opinions, and I'm thinking out loud here, though pretty sure for now...

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Water is Taught by Thirst

(If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may recall my series from last Fall that I entitled "Learning to Teach Again." This post might be in a similar vein...)

I was visiting with my colleague, Abby, this morning. (I should note that she gave me permission to share this story.) This is her first year teaching in higher ed, and while she's an experienced educator, there are some new things to figure out. I remember that feeling so well--while I felt confident in my teaching ability...there are some things that are just a little different than teaching in K-12. One of my favorite differences is the fact that we can take time to think about our teaching practices, and collaborate, and--well, as Abby and I were doing this morning--talk about teaching. It's not that I never did this with my colleagues when I taught in K-12. I did. But it always took a little more arranging.

In our visiting this morning, we were reflecting on how it was for us way back at the beginning of our respective teaching careers. We were thinking together about how it is when you're getting started, and how daunting it is. While I felt well prepared in some ways, I felt woefully inadequate in others. (And...as I recently shared on this blog...I still feel the need to apologize to those former students of mine from way back when...)

In particular, we were thinking of how we started out feeling as if we were somehow "against" our students. Or...at least...that we felt like our students were against us. She shared how it took a few years to realize the difference it makes when we can convince our students that we are, in fact, for them. There are so many things that we can only learn by doing them.

The students I teach now sometimes express to me how they feel a little uncertain about stepping into their own classrooms. I always reassure them that they will be well-prepared to begin their work as professional educators--better than I was, I think! But they will be well-prepared to begin their work...they will learn a lot through the doing!

Abby and I parted ways to get to work on other things. There is always grading to be done; there is always planning for the next lesson.

But a little while later, Abby emailed me a poem. She had come across it while preparing for a lesson for one of her courses, and read it through new eyes in light of our conversation.

The poem is by Emily Dickinson, and it is entitled "Water, Is Taught By Thirst." Give it a read:
Water, is taught by thirst.
Land—by the Oceans passed.
Transport—by throe—
Peace—by its battles told—
Love, by Memorial Mold—
Birds, by the Snow. 

Image by Patrik Nygren [CC BY-SA 2.0]
And maybe teaching is that way too. We learn by doing, by experience, by making mistakes, by the antithesis of what we intended.

Maybe it's a good reminder of how far I've come...and how far I still have to go in my growth towards mastering this arcane art of teaching.

Maybe it's a reminder for my students too...to recognize their false-starts, and missteps, and tentative tries in the classroom as the place where learning really happens--for them, and for their own students as well.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


It's Ash Wednesday.

The beginning of Lent.

A season of the church year in which we traditionally focus on the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf.

And to help us focus...a tradition in the church has been to fast.

To give something up.

To sacrifice something we hold on to, as a means of recalling Christ's sacrifice for us.

I have fasted before, several times. And not always during Lent. There have been days that I have deliberately, prayerfully fasted--forgoing food, so that when the hunger pangs hit, I am driven to pray. The physical demand becomes a spiritual nudge.

It's an intentional spiritual discipline, fasting.

I've rarely fasted during Lent in a way that is truly "painful" for me--something that I would actually sacrifice.

There was one year, when I was a middle school teacher, that I decided to fast from caffeine during Lent. (Those who know me well will recognize the sacrifice this is for me, the perpetually-over-caffeinated...) It lasted about a week. I had a couple of very sweet 7th grade girls come up to me after class one day and say, "Mr. Mulder, we noticed that you aren't drinking coffee anymore...and we understand that there's a good reason for it...but, well...would you please start drinking coffee again? You're kinda grumpy all the time, and it's getting a little scary for us."

And so I broke my fast a few weeks early. For the kids, you know?

Image by waferboard. [CC BY 2.0]

But I'm thinking about fasting again today, because it's Ash Wednesday. I haven't committed to fasting this year for Lent. I have friends who are fasting of social media, or chocolate, or eating meat. But I haven't opted in to any of these this year.

And if I had, I probably wouldn't be broadcasting it in a blog post anyway.

But just now, I saw this tweet from one of my very favorite bands, @rendcollective:


Maybe I'll be fasting this year after all.

And I hope you'll join me.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Tentative Nature of Science

Yesterday in my methods of teaching science class, we took the whole class meeting to wrestle through the nature of science. By "nature of science," I mean trying to understand what makes science...science. How do scientists approach their work? What are the ground rules for doing science? What are the limits of science?

I love this shirt...and, yes...I've worn it to class... [CC BY-SA 2.0]

It's a fun challenge each time I teach this course to try and help the future teachers I serve shift their thinking. So many of them come into this course with strong, pre-conceived ideas about science as a discipline. I'm convinced that partly this is due to a broad cultural (mis)understanding of what science is and how it works...but I think part of it is something that we, teachers, have perpetuated.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Teaching Handwriting?

An experiment: I'm going to make a bold statement here, and I'd like you to notice your gut reaction to it, okay? You'll have to scroll down the page a bit to get to it, because I don't want you to read it immediately. Ready for this? All right, start scrolling...