Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Incremental Andragogy

The principles of andragogy, covered well by the writers over at Open Education dotnet are important to keep in mind, even when running a teacher-centered or content-centered lesson plan.

My experience at work lately has been increased misunderstanding among students of the importance of CIL (Computer & Information Literacy) in their university careers. They don't see the point, so they are immediately disengaged from any learning, treating the tests we give as hoops to jump through rather than a learning opportunity. Thus, they become very frustrated when they can't pass the tests right away, since they're trying to pass the tests without learning anything. A key principle of andragogy is understanding why the things they're learning is relevant to them. Another principle is that you can learn from mistakes. They don't want to make mistakes, and they don't want to learn anything. When I sit down and explain to someone the purpose of the tests and how it can help them, they usually understand and turn around their attitude.

Even though the content we cover is pretty set and they don't have much if any control over what they need to learn, it's still helpful to understand the reasoning behind it.

One of the comments on the above-linked article points out that it may not work to open up the classroom, since almost all kids go to school now instead of just the academically inclined ones, as it used to be when this approach was developed. I think the principles of andragogy are even more important for students that aren't academically inclined. The so-called smart kids will learn no matter what epistemology is practiced by their teachers. Maybe if the students who have a harder time in school were helped to understand why they need to learn things and how what they learn fits in with their existing knowledge, they would be more motivated.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Windows Matrix

Buy yourself something nice

Jay Leno: How about the economy, what do you make of that?

Katt Williams: I make of it what we're all making of it. I knew it was coming so I just bought as much stuff as I could. Look, we are going into a recession, America. Buy yourselves something nice before it happens.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

My Gordian Knot

I need some advice.

The requirement to pass a class that I teach is to pass a series of 6 tests. It is a one credit, pass/fail class. Pass the tests; pass the class. I teach all the necessary material during the first half of the semester. We don't meet the second half of the semester. The materials are all available online, so class attendance is not mandatory. There are an unlimited number of attempts allowed on each test.

How do I motivate people to get the tests passed? Or rather, what is the ideal set of rules to put in place to minimize the whining I have to listen to? The following are the constraints I'm working with:

I don't care when they take the tests - they just have to be done by the time I submit grades at the end of the semester.

I don't want to have to track anything, just pull up a list at the end of who passed all the tests.

It has to be simple - preferably one sentence. It's not just about whether I can track my class's progress, but that I have to be able to get the students to understand in very simple terms what is required of them.

I don't mind failing people - I just don't want them to call or email me with excuses, asking for more time to take the tests. If I haven't pulled the grades yet, I tell them they have more time.

Every time I've taught, I have done it differently. I have tried requiring one test be passed each week. I have tried 3 tests by one deadline and another 3 by a second deadline. I have tried requiring a paper on one of the test topics to make up for missing a deadline. I have tried giving students weekly deadlines with one automatic one week grace period. I have asked the students to decide as a class how to handle the deadline. I tried having a set deadline a week after we stopped meeting as a class, with an unknown-length grace period. Nothing has worked very well, although some have worked better than others.

Something I've considered but not yet tried is along the lines of requiring attendance for people who are behind on their tests (although that is counter to my constraints of simplicity and not wanting to have to track anything separate). It would be possible to require that each student take at least one test each week, whether or not they pass. I've never done one big deadline during finals week, and I don't think I ever will, since people will put off their tests until then, and they have to worry about deciding whether to study for my tests or finish work for their other classes.

It just seems that as long as there is a penalty for not getting your work done, there will be someone bothering me to avoid the penalty. Unfortunately, the penalty of failing the class seems a little harsh. Again, I don't mind failing people, but when that is the penalty, many people start coming to me to try to figure out a way to avoid it. For most people, if you hand in an assignment late and drop from an A- to a B+, it's not worth bothering your professor over. However, if the penalty for one late assignment is an F, people start to panic. The other problem is that some people figure they have failed the class if they miss a deadline, so they give up, even though I'd tell them they have more time if they asked me. But I don't want them to have to ask me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

And now for something completely different

My faithful reader(s) will remember my Scouts' anti-drinking video last year. Fast forward a year, bringing in almost all new kids, and we end up with something similar, yet a little better than the last group did.

One of the differences is that we spent a week or two planning the video. It's two weeks if you count the first week that was about 5 minutes of selecting the video's director and 55 minutes of playing indoor soccer. The second night, we wrote out something that approximated a mutated combination of a storyboard and a script. That is, we actually had an idea of what we were going to do, whereas the group last year refused to plan anything.

Again, my ASM and I tried to give helpful hints and suggestions about directions to take the video, without taking it over completely. We started with listing out what resources we had available, with the main item we wanted to include being the drums. Once someone mentioned IBC root beer, we were pretty much stuck on having to do something with beer, so we would have an excuse to have root beer. Next year, if we do this again, I'll probably insist they choose a different topic.

One thing I learned from another scout leader is to keep the camera recording as much as possible. Some of the best moments are often when people think the camera is off or when they're messing around, thinking you won't actually use the clip of them doing something weird.

So here it is:

Pumpkin Walk 2008

This year's North Logan Pumpkin Walk was made all the better by excellent weather. Bob Marley made an appearance again this year, like he did last year. This year's theme was Calling All Heroes.

It is fitting that one of the first scenes included the all-time greatest hero, Batman:

The following is the left side of a scene honoring local hero Brent Carpenter. It's easy to notice the first funny thing about the picture, which is my son posing in the scene right behind the sign that says to stay out of the scenes. Did you notice the other thing that's out of place? The school bus is driving on the wrong side of the road:

Every child of the 80's hero, Mr. T, reminding us to stay in school:

This is supposed to be Mr. Beutler, on whose farm the first Pumpkin Walk took place. For some reason, he reminded me of Boss Godfrey in Cool Hand Luke:

They always have a scene near the end relating to something currently going on. A few years ago, there was a scene titled Martha Stewart Living in Jail. This year, it was a political scene, with the too old and too young candidates rocking back and forth:

There were also some neat paintings. Several caught my eye, but I particularly liked this one:

Let the wild rumpus start!