The Evolving Educator

Adaptation in a modern teacher

Category: Wordview

Solid State Batteries & the incredible John B. Goodenough

During some late-night YouTube watching, I was introduced to the incredible scientific legacy of John B. Goodenough. His work has earned him an incredible array of awards (see his Wikipedia page), including the 2019 Nobel Prize for his work in inventing the ubiquitous lithium-ion rechargeable battery. It appears that, at 97, this pioneering chemist continues to push the bounds of his discipline! I encourage anyone with an interest in STEM to enjoy this video. It’s both informative and good for a laugh.

I am pretty blown away with Dr. Goodenough & plan to reserve a place of honour for a framed image of him in my future science classroom.

https://d2cbg94ubxgsnp.cloudfront.net/Pictures/480xany/6/3/5/87635_cw0115_feature_goodenough_f1_630m.jpg

Dr. John B. Goodenough

At present, I am designing a unit on Electromagnetism for my Sciences methodology class. This has involved me getting re-acquainted with battery technologies. Prior to this video, I did not know that solid state batteries (SSB) with a solid electrolyte even existed! The implications and potential for world-changing technologies is very exciting. While I could go either way on longer-lasting cell phone & laptop batteries, I am particularly intrigued by this technology for its ability to complement emerging renewable energy technology by enhancing battery storage systems. Breakthroughs like a SSB are needed more than ever as we face the environmental dangers of this uncertain century.

-S

Integrating Minecraft into a Unit Plan

On Tuesday, November 5th, we were fortunate to have a group from Colquitz Middle School come and share their perspectives on Minecraft. The learners were hilarious, self-actualized and engaged, which piqued my interest about the potential educational value of this ubiquitous sandbox game.

My first Minecraft creation.

Shortly after our workshop, an opportunity to integrate Minecraft into my own lesson planning revealed itself. I am currently writing a mini, 5-lesson unit for my Social Studies methodologies class on intentional community and utopia. Here is an excerpt from the project outline:

As a class, you will spend the next three classes collaboratively designing a utopian community.

Imagine that you have been given five acres of pristine land in Victoria, BC upon which to build a community where you will live with a community of others. Every student will belong to a sub-committee that is responsible for designing the systems and policies that relate to their domain. Although each sub-committee has a special mandate, it is important to consider the function of the community as a whole.

One of the sub-committees in the unit is tasked with Home Design and has a mandate to develop the physical space, including interior structures and exterior land-use, to meet the utopia’s needs. An immediate thought of mine was to encourage this group to use Minecraft’s creative mode to do this. They could consult with members from the other sub-committees (e.g. Food Production & Consumption) to determine the community’s needs and then realize these using Minecraft. Other students could explore the utopia virtually, experiencing a highly-immersive avenue into their peers’ work.

From a logistical perspective, I would need to find a way to host the server or find an external host which would meet the students’ needs. Were I to proceed with this, I would definitely take time to reach out to other educators like the educator from Colquitz for suggestions.

-S

TikTok in The Times

Although I’ve been trying to get out of the relentless cycle of  so-called “breaking news” this fall, I was perusing the NY Times this weekend and saw an article that caught my eye: High Schools to TikTok: We’re Catching Feelings by Taylor Lorenz. The article describes how students at high schools are finding unique ways of creating community using the TikTok platform. Although I’d heard the name before, the article explained that TikTok is a social media app for making and sharing short, often comical videos. The app is surging in popularity, having been downloaded 1.4 billion times to date.

The article talks about how, across the US, students are forming TikTok clubs where they meet to share videos and create their own content, be it songs, skits, dances, etc. I see this as a very interesting and laudable application of the software. Although my current life doesn’t afford me too much time for social media and games, I fondly recall how my years as an adolescent were enhanced by interactions in cyberspace. I spent many evening talking with friends on MSN Messenger. My amateur rap group had a MySpace. I remember the earliest days of Reddit. It seems that these TikTok clubs blend the best of both worlds: giving students a social space to meet and create with peers as well as a digital space to share their creations broadly. I believe that adolescents have enormous potential when they are given agency and are capable of creating things that are very powerful and, often, hilarious. An adviser from West Orange high praised the app for bringing students from diverse backgrounds together, saying: “You see a lot more teamwork and camaraderie and less – I don’t want to say bullying – but focus on individuals.”

I was reflecting on how the EdTech class has been operating on my biases. Prior to this class, I would say that I had a fairly negative perception of the amount of time and energy young people appeared to be spending on tech. Like many teacher candidates, I held a nostalgia for the simple, ‘authentic’ and un-networked past. However, through the resources, speakers and my own investigation, I am starting to change my perspective. I am beginning to understand that it is patronizing to expect students to share my values about tech and their lives. If I doubt the value of the connections they may be making through digital tools, I am minimizing them and their experience. Adolescents are people and, therefore, deserving of their autonomy and self-determination. I would never chastise the social media habits of another member of my PDPP cohort. So, what makes it appropriate to criticize young adults?

So, that’s my $0.02 on my changing perspectives. I am going to continue to interrogate my biases regarding technology and education. Heck, maybe I’ll download TikTok and try it…

Piano Program Pilot Reflection

Having completed much of the mental leg-work and preparation for the group program, I finally had an opportunity to see it in action! With help from three of my friends – Sam, Alex & Sylvie – I did a live pilot of the piano program. The three learners & I met for 1 hour at a time over a two-week period to see how they were able to learn in this context.

Some footage of the pilot learning environment.

Overwhelmingly, it was a success! I thoroughly enjoyed teaching in this social environment & was always on my toes. The students really enjoyed it as well (as evidenced by their unanimous desire to continue with the program). After we completed our second session, the participants participated in a discussion and debriefing with me. Below, I’ll share some of the strengths and areas for improvement that were revealed in the pilot.

Program strengths:

  • Social – over the two sessions, the participants seemed to bond & get to know one another. They felt comfortable sharing their experiences, discussing challenges and celebrating the group’s successes. Moving forward, I’ll continue to find moments for sharing at the beginning, middle and end of the sessions. For instance, learners shared some of their favourite piano music with the group which was assigned as ‘listening homework’ to broaden everyone’s horizons.
  • Productive – as I hoped, the sessions were highly productive for the students. The individual time to work fostered focus. During circulation, I was able to correct errors and draw attention to aspects like technique, articulation and rhythm. Overall, the students were learning at a rapid rate, having passed through ~30 pages of the Faber Primer book & Adult Beginner Course in only 2 hours. Sight-reading of notes & rhythms was as good or better than what I see at this point in 1:1 students.
  • Challenging – learners reported feeling lots of self-efficacy. I was particularly happy to hear from them about their experiences with performance anxiety! They agreed that working solo was great for learning and polishing. In all the learners, however, they felt the familiar tense sensation of performance anxiety whenever I plugged into their keyboards and began to listen. I see this as a huge benefit – getting exposed to performance anxiety in bite-sized pieces. If I manage to frame these encounters with lots of positive reinforcement, balancing any tips with genuine praise for their progress, I believe we can extinguish or lessen the nerves they feel playing for others. This will make it easier for them to eventually perform their work publicly.
  • Encouraging – the learners also noted that they enjoyed having other beginners around. They could overhear little tips and comments I made to others and be reminded to integrate these practices into their own play. It also made them feel good to hear that others were having trouble with note recognition, rhythm reading and finger independence (issues that plague every musician).
  • Affordable – The director of the studio has agreed to charge only 50% of the typical rate for hour lessons in the group format. This is great for the learners.

Areas for Improvement:

  • Integrating Adequate Theory Practice – the group lessons are designed to ‘first teach the hands, then the head.’ I would prefer that students learn to play before being inundated with cumbersome and discouraging theory. That being said, I would like to find a way to dovetail this work with appropriate theory exercises, perhaps from the Faber series.
  • Tightening Up Explanations – when you have so many learners to inspire and guide in only an hour, it demands that really tighten up your explanations. Instead of having minutes to describe the function of a dotted rhythm, you may have only 30 seconds. I think this is a challenge that will really promote my growth as a musician and teacher by forcing me to truly comprehend the core of a concept in order to explain it effectively and efficiently.
  • Mixed-Experience Groups – while this pilot cohort are all beginners starting at the exact same level, it is conceivable that I will have groups in the future. I want to strongly consider how to have groups of mixed ability levels moving forward but still keep the communication, discussion and ensemble performance features.
  • Rewards System for Young Learners – my years tutoring at Sylvan taught me the potential value of token economies for promoting good habits in students. I envision, especially for <13 learners, implementing a system where students earn ‘quarter notes’ for meritorious behaviour (asking good questions, attention to detail, encouraging groupmates, etc.)
  • Use of Technology – could music-education games like Ningenius and StaffWars be used throughout the lesson to diversify the experience of the learners?

Anyways, overall, I am pleased with how the pilot went. Since my pilot group is going to continue with their lessons, I’ll get lots more opportunity to hone this and consider how this program qualitatively differs from my 1:1 pedagogy.

-S

Most Likely To Succeed Film Response

MLTS

In my Technology Innovation in Education (EdTech) class, we were tasked with watching Most Likely to Succeed, a 2015 documentary that focused on an innovative public school in San Diego: High Tech High. The principal subjects were two freshmen classes and their year-long experience with a project-based, interdisciplinary learning model. HTH has no bells, no subjects and no tenure (teachers are hired on single-year contracts and given complete liberty with their class).

The film was very well-produced, edited and shot. It provided a compelling and intimate window into the dynamics of each classroom and the experiences of teacher and student alike. Furthermore, it raised significant questions about the extent to which our current education system is dated and requires a fundamental overhaul to meet the demands of our information economy. Here are some of my major takeaways:

  • I agree that a shift towards teaching soft skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and resilience is crucial. This is what excites me most about BC’s New Curriculum.
  • I was impressed by the effectiveness of public exhibition as a model of assessment. This aligns with the expectations of the ‘real-world’ and teaches students to focus on application and accountability in their work.
  • There were some incredible demonstrations of teaching. For instance, I was fascinated and moved by the segments documenting the post-exhibition debriefs of the two students, Brian & Samantha. When the teacher managed to balance a critique of Brian’s stubborn attitude with an acknowledgement that he was visionary, I was very impressed. I particularly appreciated when he said, “We don’t want you to stop being Brian.” In the case of Samantha, it was incredible to hear her reflect on the development of her ‘voice’ over the term.
  • A criticism is the film’s generalization about the education ‘system.’ They seem to suggest that there is a ubiquitous, dated ‘Old Way’ which has persisted for 124+ years and is overdue for extinction. However, I see teachers continuing to innovate all the time, even within the confines of the industrial education system. I believe, in fact, that a balance of Old & New is what is best for students. This perspective is expanded on by John Selfridge, who posted a comment to a review of MLTS in the Wellesley Reporter

    The notion, so persistent in the film, that teachers should incorporate project-based learning and peer collaboration into their classroom environments is nothing new, and the suggestion that it is shows just how naive those who made and praise this film as visionary actually are. Sure, there are schools and teachers who are behind the curve–and there are many reasons for their being so–and many may benefit from seeing the film. But if more critics of education would spend more time in classrooms–which are diverse nationwide in their practices if nothing else–they would realize that there is no American educational system or model that we can either praise or criticize. Rather, we probably have thousands of schools that could serve as success stories all across our country and, therefore, models for others to emulate. We don’t have an “educational system” in crisis; there is no “educational system,” and there is no “crisis.” Instead, we have some failing schools, attended by kids from lower middle income or poor families, children who live in households where English isn’t spoken, or where substance and/or other forms of abuse are present. Whatever failures we have witnessed in our nation’s schools in recent decades, they are not the failures of any particular pedagogy; rather they are the consequences of the larger social problems we face. The sooner we realize that educational failures are social failures (each causing the other) and do something about it, the better positioned our children will be to take on the challenges of this, their century.

  • Finally, I love how this film made me consider the persistent question of breadth vs. depth. My personal experience with the lecture-based, content-driven high school model has perhaps constrained my imagination of what school can be. I invite disruptions to my expectations because I believe they will make me grow. The model of HTH appears to facilitate deep understanding, engagement and meaning-making in the students in a way that the traditional model may be unable to. As I proceed through this program, I imagine I will continue to grapple with breadth vs. depth question.

Anyways, that’s a few of my takeaways. I’d encourage anybody with an interest in education or youth to watch Most Likely To Succeed. Beyond a fantastic production value, the movie truly makes you think. Finally, I’d love to discuss any and all of my praises or criticisms in the comments below.

-Sasha

A Social Model of Piano Pedagogy

This June, I was fortunate to be hired as the new piano instructor at the South Island Studio (SIS). The director of the studio, Lonny Koch, floated the idea during my interview that we could develop a Group Lesson program at SIS.

My initial reaction was confusion and a little bit of dread. Having always enjoyed 1:1 lessons with my teachers, the idea of a group piano lesson seemed to be a pedagogic and logistical mess. How could a teacher effectively instruct more than one student at a time? However, Lonny & I registered for a primer course by a piano instructor named Daniel Patterson which provided us with a basic model for group lessons. We worked through those materials & considered how we could modify the program to match my teaching style, experience and musical worldview. In the end, we developed a system for 3:1 lessons which I will describe in brief below.

In essence, the experience I am trying to address with the group lessons will be familiar to anyone who has taken 1:1 lessons with an expert: the experience of trying to realize a teacher’s suggestion as they watch. For instance, while I was taking lessons in jazz piano this summer, I found myself wishing I could enter into a private practice ‘bubble’ to work through a suggestion from my teacher. He might ask that I perform a passage in a certain way, or practice a lick in twelve keys. Having him watch over me created a sense of performance anxiety and doubt which clouded my thought and slowed my progress. This is what I am trying to address.

If you’re wondering about the format, refer to the diagram I’ve included below. Everyone has their own digital keyboard and is practising with headphones while I circulate to give feedback and guide your progress. Having a private sonic space to work in allows you to hone and develop your music at your own pace & without the anxiety of having a teacher hover over you. Furthermore, it builds self-sufficiency and sight-reading ability by encouraging you to develop your own inner-teacher. Throughout the lesson, we remove our headphones and come together to have discussions, learn new concepts and play aloud as an ensemble.

Schematic diagram of the proposed learning space.

Moving forward, I have four principle goals for the program:

1. To emphasize playing first and foremost. Teaching the hands more than the head, at least initially.
2. To create a supportive, social, fun environment in which to learn piano, collaborate and get excited about the instrument with other beginners.
3. To make it more accessible by charging a significantly lower hourly rate.
4. To build self-efficacy & teach students how to practice.

This section of my website, found under the Inquiry >> Group Piano Lessons Program tab, will document my experience of developing and implementing group piano lessons at SIS.

-S

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