Friday, November 21, 2008

And after...

After the conference ended this evening, Dr. Byrd and I rode the T over to Harvard Square to see where her sessions are tomorrow. Then we just wandered around for awhile. Here are some pictures (albeit poor ones) of me by the Harvard Divinity School (I know, it's ironic):

And, yes, it's cold. Tomorrow, I'm hoping to get into some interesting sessions about putting this stuff into practice in the classroom. There are two at the same time that I'd like to go to, but I guess I'll just read the article for one of them. I'll probably have to go early to get a spot. There are a lot of people here.

OK. I'm pretty tired now. I'm not used to the time change...

Social-emotional learning and the resistant child

The rest of the afternoon was spent in two keynote addresses. The structure of this conference is very strange as there are very few breakout sessions and a lot of really long keynote addresses.

The first one today was OK, though it did not particularly apply to my role in higher education. It was about the need for children to engage in social-emotional learning. Luckily, I'm a mom, so this info did apply to me that way. The speech was given by Mark Greenberg, a preventive scientist (he tries to figure out how we can keep kids from being bad rather than punishing them afterward). He talked about the ABCD model of development - Affective, Behavioral, Cognitive, Developmental. He said that social-emotional learning (SEL) has a significant impact on children's social-emotional skill, attitudes, social behavior, conduct, management of emotional distress, and academic achievement. SEL skills require self-reflective functions including communication, self-control, and planning and problem solving. What I really liked, as a parent, was his model for managing emotions. One analogy was a traffic light - red=stop, yellow=make a plan, green=go. I think I'll try that at my house for both myself and my kids.

The second keynote was by Robert Brooks. I've read some of his stuff and what he said today was largely a repeat. He talked about mindsets = the assumptions and expectations we have for ourselves and others that guide our behavior. He said that negative mindsets in adults reinforce negative mindsets in children. He also said that discipline is most effective in the context of a good relationship and that the most effective form of discipline is when the students (or children) are included in making the rules and consequences. He says that classrooms (or homes) with lists of rules a mile long do not help children feel safe, trusted, and empowered.

Then he talked about what we should do/believe to help children succeed:

1. believe that even challenging students can change - kids know when you've written them off; every child needs a "charismatic adult" in his/her life; today may be the day I say or do something to change a kid's life

2. believe that all children from birth want to learn and be successful - kids do well if they can; behind every challenging behavior is an unsolved problem or a lagging skill (or both)

3. believe that all students are motivated - sometimes by avoidance motivation to protect themselves from situations that they believe will lead to failure or humiliation; students believe that "try harder" is the most accusatory statement a teacher can make

4. believe that we must try to change what we do rather than wait for our students to change

5. strive to help students feel we genuinely care about them - students don't care what we know until they first know we care

6. recognize the importance of students feeling a sense of responsibility and ownership for their own education through choice, involvement, feedback, and discipline; how can I offer choices in ed psych? Hmm...

7. identify and reinforce "islands of competence" within perceived "oceans of inadequacy" - in other words, figure out students' strengths

8. Provide opportunities for students to engage in contributory activities - the roots of compassion and caring; everyone must feel like they make a difference 

9. believe that the fear of failure and humiliation must be removed from our classrooms - openly discuss it: who in this class thinks they will make a mistake this year? - raise your hand first; ask students what I can do so they don't develop fear in my class

The brain and other interesting stuff

Today was the first day of the conference. I spend 2 1/2 hours this morning in a class called Brain 101 by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang. It was a good intro to how the brain works, though if I hadn't had some prior knowledge about the topic I would have been hopelessly lost (as some people were), so perhaps it wasn't really an intro.

The main point of her lecture was that there aren't certain parts of the brain that "do" certain functions. Rather, the whole brain works on everything and recruits certain specialized sections to help in a particular way on a task. Moreover, she taught us that the brain isn't task-oriented but process oriented. So, there isn't one particular part of the brain that does music, for example. Instead, there is a part of the brain that is in charge of hierarchical organization (typically used for language but used for anything that "nests" into categories, e.g., notes, chords, phrases, songs) and another part that is specialized for spatial reasoning (music becomes a spatial task when we use relative pitch to determine which note to sing or play against a harmonic background) and our proficiency with music and processing preferences will determine which system (if not both) we'll use while performing.

She also compared the brain and the process of synaptic pruning to caring for a garden. Some people argue that we want bigger brains, but she said that we need gardens (brains) that are well-tended with clear pathways so that we can enjoy them. Often, we prune back plants and even get rid of some plant types to make our garden more beautiful.

She stated that, "as educators, we are interested in training functional, efficient networks for particular skills." But she also cautioned that we need to think about the balance we want to strike in the classroom between efficiency (e.g., learning the times tables to automaticity) and flexibility (e.g., being able to analyze why the times tables work that way and understanding how we arrive at answers). The more efficient our brains are, the less flexible they tend to be.

Another interesting thing she talked about was how learning styles and multiple intelligences are, in fact, related to processing preferences (how our brains prefer to handle information once it's been given). So it's not about what you teach, it's about how students process it. Therefore, we should our students' their preferred methods to teach and also use those as a springboard to train them to use other process. Learning to use multiple processing methods is called "flexible critical thinking skills" and is invaluable for students.

She also talked about mirror neurons. The basic idea is that when we see someone doing something we are familiar with, our neurons fire as if we were participating. The lesson for education is that, in order for kids to engage with the purpose of instruction, they have to engage with the goal of what you're doing. We have to show empathy for their goals and interests and help them understand the goal of what we're trying to do - aligning it with theirs - so that they, in turn, will be empathetic.

Next, she talked about memory. I had thought that memories were "stored" in the hippocampus, but that organ is, in fact, a processor. Memories themselves are distributed in the systems that did the original thinking about it (visual, auditory, olfactory, etc.). Therefore, we as teachers need to supply our students with rich experience in particular contexts to help them better store knowledge. Additionally, we do not "pull up" memories. Rather, we recreate them every time we think about them. Thus, memories are fallible because of the role of perception (every sensory experience is filtered by our previous experience) and interpretation (we may remember events differently at different times in our lives).

So, all of this led me to think about how I currently teach Ed Psych. I want it to be more engaging for the students and it was really reinforced for me today that I need to tap into my students' goals. One way that I thought of doing that was to allow the students to explore the four major learning theories in an analytic way - comparing and contrasting, figuring out how to apply them in the classroom - rather than teaching them sequentially in the classroom. I need to think more about how this would work, but I think it might be exactly what I've been looking for to make this class more learner-centered and engaging.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Welcome to MIT, Dr. Cox!

So, here I am in Cambridge, MA. OK. Technically I'm across the street from MIT, but a girl can dream. After we arrived this evening and had some dinner (crummy hamburgers at the free hospitality event at the hotel) we went for a walk around MIT and discovered the Stata Center which, as far as we could tell, is the main student center on campus. The architecture of the buildings is absolutely fascinating! Here are some pics:

The middle one looks like a metal version of the Old Woman who lived in a shoe. The very square, straight architecture in Utah gets a bit boring, so this was really fun for me.

The rest of the night will be spent planning out our conference experience and getting some work done and then the real fun will begin tomorrow. I'll try to get some notes and pics up on the blog each day that I'm here, so keep checking in!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Piagetian Tasks

Over the weekend, I performed some Piagetian tasks with my children, ages 3 and (almost) 7, to see where they were in relation to Piaget's stages of cognitive development. I did one egocentric perspective task, three conservation tasks, and one classification task. While I made some mistakes (asking questions incorrectly, for example), the tasks went very well and really demonstrate the differences in cognitive skills for each child.


Welcome to the professional blog for Dr. Suzy Cox. I am an Assistant Professor of Elementary and Secondary Education at Utah Valley University. The purpose of this blog is to share what I am doing and learning as a teacher educator. My particular interests are educational psychology and technology integration. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with and learning from each of you!