No Rest for the Weary

Summer A has concluded, but it is simply the start of things to come for the GRS crew. That’s pretty intimidating considering the work that was put in these last 6 weeks. Even so, it would be really disappointing if there was no challenge, or no struggling involved with our learning. For me, appreciating “how far I’ve come” is dependent on the difficulty of getting there. That stated, it would have been nice to have a break longer than a weekend.

To get on task, this is the final blog entry where a course and blogging reflection will commence! I contemplated dividing this post with subheadings, one for a blog reflection and another for a course reflection. I determined that my blog entries attempted to connect to ideas and discussions during class, so I decided against that plan. Also, I am very tired and look forward to a well deserved nap after publishing this piece, so I will act very uncharacteristically and proceed to ramble with the hope that something sticks.

 

A major takeaway from EDU487 was the use of prompts. A well worded prompt can initiate a train of thought that can last for days. Bring it to a group and they can discuss for hours. I look forward to crafting a great prompt to provide our learners during summer camp. Luckily for me, there have been many examples of prompts used throughout EDU487. “DO NOWS!!!!!” for instance. Another was the introducing of blogging, a powerful and useful literacy practice.

Blogging has been a means for me to integrate information from readings with aspects of myself, just like it was for Ms. Frizzle, and I imagine most people with a blog (Luehmann, 2008). I found that, with a huge amount of creativity, you can find threads linking the most concepts (Pokemon and speciation). That also requires a strong understanding of literacy practices to determine how concepts are similar, where they differ, and to what degree.

Using personal elements in my blog helps me stay invested in the practice, where as if I was confined to which topics I examined, there would be an issue. In a situation like this, blogging would turn into just another assignment, rather than something I did because I took pleasure from it. Ms. Frizzle wrote about her frustrations with her district, displaying her feelings, thoughts and enforcing her will by voicing her opinion (Luehmann, 2008). In this regard, blogging gave her agency. While there are certain expectations involved in blogging in EDU487, there is enough agency provided that I felt respected as a learner. While discovering the level of freedom I should provide to my future students will be difficult, it will be worth it to show them the respect their due.

The aspect of blogging that I am most excited to see is the metacognitive. How will I see modeling 6 months from now? How will my understanding of scientific literacy be revised? Will I still play Pokemon? These are all questions that can be answered through keeping a record of my thinking, in other words these blogs. We can assess: our own personal growth in this way, the performance of instruction in challenging thinking, and our instructors can assess our thinking to revise their practice. We in turn can think about placing the literary practice of blogging in our instruction.

Unlike Ms. Frizzle, I do not have a large community reading my posts (Luehmann, 2008). Instead, I have an exceptional cohort and supportive instructors, which are an infinitely better community (feel lucky if you are ever told, “YOU’RE IN!!!!”).  Blogging as part of a wider community means that you have a way to share your thinking and read the thoughts of others. Arguments can erupt and thinking can be challenged. Having a community also means not feeling alone and knowing that others are there to support you when you are down. I believe that creating a community of learners and supplying a culture relevant to that is paramount as a teacher. Blogging has been a good model to base that practice around.

Writing this reflection post was a fairly easy task because of one prompt given to the class yesterday by Sean, Mike, and Jo (“List one thing from April’s article that you found interesting”). Through the practice of “idea theft” in discussion that followed, I was able to incorporate the great ideas that my wonderful cohort provided into this post. I would like to thank you, all those involved in EDU 487, for an enlightening and enjoyable experience!

 

I leave you with this video, which will conclude this post with an idea that I presented in the beginning. I hope you take some meaning out of it.

Empowering Children through Urban Education

 

 

Reference

Luehmann, A.L. (2008). Using blogging in support of teacher professional identity development: A case study. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17, 287-337.

Passive Learning, what is it good for?

This post will be a tie-in with the discussion on constructivist knowledge (this post will not directly address CK )and my  college experience.

If I can recall correctly, Mike described the passive learning model as an assumption that students are empty containers that can be filled with knowledge.The common way to fill ’em up would be through lectures with students only retaining 20-25% of the information.

The active learning model makes use of student’s prior knowledge and challenges what they know. It gives students a space to integrate new information and modify previous knowledge to accommodate that information. A link to a really good comparison of the two can be found here.

The “Passive” column, referenced in the link, strongly reflects my experience of learning science in college . My college experience, in terms of courses, consisted of two different types: lecture halls and classrooms. The courses that I needed for my major consisted of large class populations in a lecture hall with a professor lecturing. My electives were usually had a smaller class size and allowed for students’ voices to be heard, but the topics were also opened up to discussion in a way that they were open to interpretation.  This interpretation opened up creative doorways that really spoke to me.

Of course, you have probably already gathered that I personally adhere to the philosophy of active learning. I am an active learner, but as such, I should also be willing to be critical of my own thinking as well as the way I am taught. Giving constructive criticism is always better than saying that it sucks.

I was not used to the kind of teaching provided by lectures and I was required to adapt in order to stay afloat. Reading the textbook was a test of maintaining my concentration, and the cliff-notes that was lecture often summarized their content neatly. I mentioned some of the techniques I used in our course, like watching Youtube videos. Their uses varied from amino acid memorization to understanding the steps of a heartbeat. I also talked a lot with people that took the course about the professor’s interests and what they were tested on. Reviewing the prior year’s exam extensively gave me a good heads up on what to expect for an upcoming exam. Outside of using Youtube videos, I do not feel like any of the other techniques utilized are ones that I would want my students to use, or feel forced to use. One professor I had, started the first class telling the following story:

“I had a student come up to me and say, ‘I didn’t learn anything from your lecture, I just learned from the textbook.’ My response was, “Good, that’s how it should be.’  My role is to give you a focus in [blank], and the rest is on you.”

Suffice to say, I didn’t do well in that course.

When I came to college, I was on a track that was shared by premed students. The association of a local hospital with the university meant that the college had a large population of premed students. These students were required to take certain courses that were also necessary for students majoring in biology like me.

The university needed to accommodate the large incoming population, without expending too many resources. There is also the concern of time constraints on both the students and faculty when considering creating multiple sections. Lecture halls can contain a great number of people, and ensure that a  one way “transfer of knowledge” can be facilitated. Since most of the students taking the course are premed, the material is geared to their interests and MCAT style testing. The exams are made to be quick to check the answers, a blessing to the poor teaching assistants that have to grade them. It is an easy solution, that I would need to do much more research on in order to try to attempt to give a way to change that system.

The college I attended has gotten plenty of feedback on the state of their biology courses, I am sure. One of the ways I know is because many of them have workshops integrated into them. For those who may not know what a workshop is, they are a supplement to lecture. Usually lasting two hours or less, workshops occur once a week and address a list of questions produced by the instructor. The workshop participants would include a handful of students and a teaching assistant, usually an undergrad or grad who took the course in a previous year. The TA’s role was to facilitate discussion as students address the questions.

Workshops tended to be a better experience than lecture, but prerequisites needed to be checked. Did your TA remember the stuff from last year? From 6 years ago? Does the professor go over the workshop plan with the TAs, or do they just email them the list of questions? Will they just give you the answers so that everyone can leave early? Does the TA have the ability to translate the content to you in a way that makes it relevant? Did you have time to read up on the topic of the week and did you understand it?

I have had a few workshops that were great and I give them total credit for my passing the course. The idea is certainly a good one, almost to the point of making the lecture irrelevant (especially since the lecture slides are usually available online). Despite this, the above questions hopefully illustrate some of the concerns I wrote down by the time that evaluations came around.

I know some people that learn effectively through the passive learning model, and for them lectures were enough to get through the content. They may have had prior experience with the subject, and the lectures provide the refresher they needed, or they can retain 80% of the information coming at them. And I think that is great, but going forward our society is becoming more diverse and questions of equity come into play. I really think that with some retooling, that workshops could utilize the active learning model to its full potential. By doing this, students would have more varied ways to interact with the content of the course.

Conceptually, the use of workshops are great and have supplied me with inspiration that I may incorporate into my future practice. For example, empowering students with an important role by having them head discussions in small groups with other students. Given a handful of prompts, they can share their understanding and paint a broader picture on a topic. Hopefully, their prior instruction combined with their perspectives will give them something to talk about.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Pokemon and How it Models Biological Processes

I was conflicted on what to write for this blog entry, since Alanna expressed interest in my college experience from what I wrote on VCEEE 5. Despite that, I had been planning on doing a blog about Pokemon and how it models evolution for a while now. So my discussion about the cultural divide I felt entering college will be left until next week.

Pokemon is a franchise that has been going on for almost 20 years now. If you have seen the cartoon show or played a game in the series, you probably have a good idea of the plot. A young child (boy only in the original but expanded to include a choice to be a girl in subsequent sequels), leaves their small town with a Pokemon given to them by the local Pokemon professor. Their goal? To catch ’em (Pokemon) all…along with defeating an evil organization and defeating the Pokemon world champion.

Pikachu, the mascot for the Pokemon franchise
Pikachu, the mascot for the Pokemon franchise

 

It is really all an excuse to go out, walk in tall grass, and throw balls at magic animals to capture them. Once captured, you train the Pokemon to fight other Pokemon with the winner gaining experience. Once a Pokemon reaches a certain level, it will undergo evolution. Evolution, in Pokemon, leads a Pokemon to have better stats (meaning it is stronger, faster, ect.) and it will have a new form and has a new name. This is where the first misconception in the Pokemon model for evolution is presented- evolution is tied to the individual.

In our world, no organism will generate an adaptation in response to a change that will threaten their life. Such a spontaneous change would be evolution on the scale of the individual. Instead evolution is scaled over populations. Bacteria in a petri dish get exposed to penicillin, some survive, some die. Those that lived already had the resistance to penicillin and given time to regrow, the next population will all be penicillin resistant.

Pokemon also sort of presents evolution as a metamorphosis or growth from child to adult. Caterpie is a Pokemon that evolves in Metapod and then Butterfree. If you couldn’t tell by the names, this “evolutionary” treeline is a reflection of the process (metamorphosis) of caterpillar to butterfly.

Caterpie->Metapod->Butterfree
Caterpie->Metapod->Butterfree

Alternatively, Squirtle->Wartortle->Blastoise is another evolutionary line that has some strange design choices (Wartortle’s white ears and tail…not great), but reflects how one might expect a baby would transition into an adult.

Squirtle->Wartortle->Blastoise
Squirtle->Wartortle->Blastoise

Now that has gotten all squared away, lets talk about the interesting things that Pokemon does get right (sort of).

Starting with Eevee, an extremely cute Pokemon, has one of the most interesting evolutionary lines in the series, if not the most.

Here's Eevee!
Here’s Eevee!

Eevee can evolve into 8 other Pokemon, each requiring a unique condition to be met outside of leveling up.

So much variety!
So much variety!

Jolteon, Vaporeon, and Flareon all need Eevee to touch a thunderstone, waterstone, or firestone, respectively. I am not sure how to explain what this does to make Eevee evolve into these guys, the only one I have is that each stone emits a different form of radiation that causes Eevee to transform a la the Hulk. This would at least model how mutations lead to natural variance in populations.

Umbreon and Espeon are two evolutions that are also connected. When you are great friends with Eevee and level up during the day, it evolves into Espeon. Do the same thing at night, it becomes Umbreon. I think this is interesting because it actually models temporal partitioning (ex. owls are nocturnal to avoid competition with during the day). Strange Pokemon fact: There exists duskstones and sunstones in the game and they do nothing to Eevee.

Leafeon and Glaceon are two Pokemon you would assume would also evolve using special rocks and they do…sort of. Instead of giving Eevee an irradiated rock, you need to locate a moss rock or ice rock (they are just giant boulders in the world). Leveling up Eevee while you are around these rocks will cause it to evolve into Leafeon or Glaceon.  This models the impact the environment has on the direction populations take during the course of their evolution.

Sylveon is a recent addition to Eevee’s evolutionary chart and its conditions aren’t really great for modeling purposes. You basically pet Eevee, play games with it , and feed it a lot. Then level up and you have a Sylveon. This could model the route Eevee takes when it is fully domesticated, but you could do all those activities with other Pokemon in the game, so the condition doesn’t seem very special.

I could talk more about how breeding is done in the game to develop Pokemon with the best stats and fighting moves. This metagame aspect to the game probably is the best model of evolution the game has to offer, but the intricacies will be very boring to those not interested in the game. Even me, who loves Pokemon, can’t really get into Pokemon breeding. Still, the artificial selection that is allowed by the game is a really cool aspect that I can appreciate. Oh man, I forgot to talk about Slowpoke and Shellder!

Really fast, Slowpoke and Shellder are Pokemon whose evolutionary line is an example of symbiosis.  When a Shellder bites a Slowpoke’s tail or head, they both evolve (a mutually beneficial situation). In the case of a bitten tail, the Shellder becomes a Cloyster with a spiral shell. The weight of it causes the Slowpoke to stand on its hind legs, making it a Slowbro. When a Shellder bites the head of a Slowpoke, the process causes the Slowpoke to gain extreme intelligence (to the point it can talk in the movies).  I think I am going to end this here, thanks for reading!

Watch an actual evolution!
Shellder biting Slowpoke’s tail!
From left to right, Slowking Slowpoke Slowbro
From left to right, Slowking Slowpoke Slowbro
Shellder's normal evolution
Shellder’s normal evolution