“Let us pick up our books and our pens,” I said. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”
Today’s class hack is a gift from Jason Lee, who teaches information technology classes at our college. Jason has found that friendly competition can contribute to pleasure in learning, so he uses a technique borrowed from one of television’s longest-running game shows, Jeopardy. Using a format similar to the popular quiz show, Jason helps his students acquire and retain information relevant to his subject. He’s found that attention spans are longer and energy levels higher when students participate in the game.
Interested in trying this strategy in your classes? You can download customizable templates by clicking these links:
One of my many guilty pleasures is watching the TV show Chopped. This weekly cooking contest on Food Network features four chefs competing through three timed rounds: appetizer, entree, and dessert. In each round, the contestants open a basket of four “mystery ingredients” which must be incorporated in their dishes. Their finished dishes are presented to a panel of culinary glitterati, who decide which contestant is eliminated (chopped).
The mystery ingredients are often very unusual items grouped in weird combinations. The appetizer round in last year’s Halloween found the chefs confronted by lacinto kale, finger lime, gummy tarantulas, and pre-cooked pig snout. While not every basket is so challenging, there is always at least one confounding ingredient.
I enjoy watching the players rushing to use a wide variety of culinary techniques and equipment to prepare dishes that are often wildly creative, beautiful, and, if we are to believe the panel of expert judges, surprisingly tasty. While I don’t plan to use sea beans, dragon fruit, or sorghum flour in my menus any time soon, I do learn a lot from watching the techniques and listening to the tasters’ comments.
As I started the second fall term with two new A&P classes, I reflected that beginning a new class is a bit like opening a basket of mystery ingredients. Some students may be familiar and pleasant. Some students’ behavior may make me wary. Quite a few will be downright puzzling, as I wonder who they are, how have they prepared, and how eager are they to embrace hard work.
Like the contestants on Chopped, I have agreed to work with the ingredients in the basket of my class. I can’t request different ingredients or complain that I don’t know what to do with those I’ve been given. The way to “win this game” is to marry my most creative ideas with my best techniques to serve up a dish of knowledge that will be inviting, appealing to a variety of tastes, and accepted by the panel of judges, my students.
Sometimes the least appealing ingredients, like a sullen student or a challenging concept, turn out to be the stars of the dish. Sometimes an unusual combination or last-minute addition to a carefully planned lesson saves the day. Unlike the Chopped Champion, I will not earn $10,000 for a day’s work. But I’m betting that over the long run, I can seize a prize worth much more.
Each Tuesday, pleasureinlearning brings you Tech Tuesday. Come back each week for more ways to become efficient and effective in your use of technology.
You hear a lot of talk about computer security and personal privacy. This series will explore privacy and the role you play as a consumer and as an individual.
When using social media, you must also choose what to share and what not to share. You may have noticed that Facebook allows you to set default privacy settings for a post, but you can also set the privacy of an individual post.
Based on who is going to see your post, decide what to share. Here are some questions to ask yourself.
- Does this post indicate that I (or someone I love) am home alone?
- Does this post indicate that my home (or a loved one’s home) is empty?
- Does this post inadvertently share my personal information? (e.g. Is my house number in the picture I’m posting?)
- Is this my information to share? (i.e. Does this violate someone else’s right to privacy?)
While we’re on the subject of how much you want to share with certain groups of people, consider a somewhat recent article on the NSA-Facebook relationship in a post-Snowden era. Essentially, Facebook has taken steps to secure your data from the prying eyes of the NSA.
However, there is a resultant cautionary tale from this article. Facebook has implemented SSL as its method of encrypting traffic between you and its servers. Approximately one month after this article was written, the Heartbleed vulnerability was announced. Heartbleed is a weakness in an implementation of SSL (called OpenSSL). Think of SSL like the patent for a really awesome lock. The lock is practically perfect in theory, but you also have to manufacture it, set it up and install it correctly, otherwise the lock may be easily circumvented. In this metaphor, Heartbleed was an error in the manufacture of the lock at one manufacturing plant. The mistake wasn’t caught before the lock was shipped to millions of customers.
What things do you avoid sharing?
School has the length and variety of subjects to make mistakes not be fatal flaws. Suppose an assignment receives a poor grade, or even a course, or even – gasp –a term. School is very forgiving because of fresh starts. Granted, the perfectionist who has to make 100 on every assignment will not be satisfied with this milk-toast view I’m putting forth here, but the perfectionist might find learn a good lesson from those with weaknesses.
Most people have weaknesses. These are not moral flaws; they are simply areas where one struggles at what others do more easily. After a failure or repeated failures, the answer might be as simple as a fresh start. Many students catch on to the culture of learning and become wiser. For example, with a required subject that is an area of weakness, success might be redefined as making a B or C while keeping stronger grades in other subjects. The fresh start in this case is a new mentality of accepting limitations and maximizing opportunities more likely to succeed in the conventional sense.
A fresh start could mean stopping to do an overall assessment. Students often flock to a vocational track that offers higher wages, nothing wrong here. It might not be a match, however, to real aptitudes or personal interests. It’s difficult for teachers and advisors to douse hopes by ambitious students, and perhaps learning by trial and error is the best way.
A former student in my English class got through one year of nursing school and had the courage to leave the program, even though she was a stellar student. The fact is, she’s an entrepreneur and had been already for years. Nursing looked lucrative and glamorous, but her interests were more toward business. Thankfully she had the courage to make a fresh start.
A fresh start for nontraditional students might mean weighing up family, job, and school realistically and not taking an all-or-nothing strategy with any one area. It takes maturity to step out of a crisis mentality where life always is moving from emergency to emergency. The poor word emergency needs a rest.
Then there’s the cliché, “I’ve got a lot on my plate.” Some wisdom with portion size might help. The chronic attitude of self-esteem by virtue of business is more of a pack mentality than the sign of independent learning skills and critical thinking. But then, taking a look at ourselves is never as easy as others taking a look at us.
It’s great, however, when we can take a look at ourselves and be thankful that the urgency of school is not so urgent that a longer, more encompassing view of life can’t check the discouragement of a failure in the moment.
On October 15, Slate, a daily web magazine, published an excerpt from Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom by Lewis Buzbee (Graywolf Press). His recollection of Miss Babb, his fourth-grade teacher is stunning:
“There is a theatrical element to teaching, and it is necessary. The physical dramatics of the classroom—all those bodies and brains ritually focused—can create a new and singular mind, and foster in the individual student an urgent hunger to learn. A good teacher, like Miss Babb, can, with a nod or a wink, or by simply repeating a key phrase slowly and with certain emphasis, maybe leaning toward her student body, deliver a chapter’s worth of information instantly and unforgettably. Otherwise, we might as well stay home and read to ourselves. The teacher commands her audience, conducts them.”
You can read the entire excerpt here. I promise it’s worth the click.
Enjoy your weekend.
Today’s classhack is a gift from Ryan Ray, who teaches a variety of classes, including accounting courses, for the Professional & Technical Studies division at our college. Ray realizes that encouraging students to read their accounting textbooks is a challenge, especially when the topic is “less than scintillating.” Ray deploys a tactic suggested by Dr. Pam Petty of Western Kentucky University, who offered the convocation address and workshops at our college earlier this year.
Ray poses a series of questions that require his students to search for the answers within their assigned reading. Like children racing to find Easter eggs, the learners gather up bits of information, acquiring knowledge of accounting as they go. Ray notes that this strategy has improved preparation and comprehension in his classes.
Ray’s experience reminds us of an earlier post by our colleague Stuart Zieman, who has posted about his success in using a similar method in very different courses. (Click here to view Zieman’s thoughts on “Connecting Techs to Texts.”) Thanks to Ryan and Stuart for reminding us that reading is critical for success in all college classes and for sharing their experiences. Thanks, too, to Dr. Petty, whose influence continues to support pleasure in learning for us and our students.