On the eve of departure

It’s 10:05 pm and I leave first thing in the morning to begin my GPP 2017 trip to Switzerland.  It seems like the the last few weeks have flown by and I’ve hardly had time to make any preparations. Still on my to do list for tonight are: email the dog sitter to confirm, pack toiletries, clean the guest bathroom, take out the trash, and do the final luggage check.  But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that everything that needs to happen will happen and the things that don’t happen must not have been that important anyway.

I’m having some apprehensions about the trip.  Mostly about my ability to keep up with the pace, being 6 months pregnant and all.  I have no doubt the meetings and conversations will be interesting and that I will learn a lot about higher ed in Europe, but I’m worried that I won’t be able to fully enjoy the experience due to my sciatica and constant exhaustion.  I will have to know my limits (something I’m not great at doing) and make sure to take care of myself and the baby.

That said, I don’t want to miss out on a thing!  I fully intend to take advantage of every opportunity to build relationships and take part in the amazing experiences that I know will happen over the next two weeks.  For now, I have to finish packing and get some rest, since I have a feeling the the overnight flight from DC to Frankfurt to Zurich will be anything but restful.

Bisdahin auf Wiedersehen!

(“Until then, goodbye!” according to google translate)




Critical Pedagogy

I love Paolo Freire’s work.  I think he writes about important  issues and was able to get people who normally wouldn’t take someone like him seriously to listen to what he said.  My dad (who never graduated college) always said that the issue with our education system is that it is created and enforced by the people who thrived in that particular system.  Somehow, Freire was able to overcome that barrier and advocate for a fundamental change in the system.

The way the Freire talks about problem-posing education seems like a lofty goal for me in my own teaching.  I don’t know how to get the buy in from my students to have us

…reflect simultaneously on themselves and the world without dichotomizing this reflection from action, and thus establish an authentic form of thought and action.

I appreciated Shelly’s powerpoint with suggestions for application, such as problem based learning and critical reflection.  It sees slightly more possible to do in that context, as much as I would like to be a revolutionary pedagogist.

Side note, I think that what Freire said about tolerance in his video cannot be restated enough during this particular election season.  So many people with competing views can’t even talk to each other without resorting to name calling and lies. Also, the failures of our education system to teach critical thinking might have lead to the absurd situation we see ourselves in this November.



Grading for the modern world

Dan Pink extensively talks about motivation and purpose.  I don’t disagree with the science he discusses, but I do wonder if it applies to most universities and the particular type of students we work with.


There are colleges in the US that don’t assign grades.  Brown College hasn’t recorded failing grades since 1969.  At Reed College student’s are given letter grades that are recorded by the university, but the student doesn’t get access to them unless they receive a grade less than C.  Both Reed and Brown are prestigious schools and I don’t think the value of a degree from either institution is mitigated by their grading strategy.  In fact, I think the uniqueness of student’s transcripts requires evaluators to consider a more holistic view.

But Brown and Reed attract a very specific type of student.  Brown has an acceptance rate of 9%.  Students who attend have already shown that they are able to jump through hoops, follow directions, and get a good grade.  They’ve been trained to work inside a system and as high school seniors have the freedom to choose to work outside it.

I’ve talked about my nontraditional upbringing on this blog before, so I won’t go too much into it right now.  But I didn’t receive my first graded work until I took classes at a semester school at a sophomore in high school.  I totally bombed my first test because I didn’t know how to study.  Fortunately, I had great mentors and peers who modeled good studying skills, but I had to learn (at a much older age than most people) how to work within the system.  And as rough as it was, I am so glad that I did.

Despite our most radical ideas about how we should live in a completely intrinsically motivated world, it is vital that we teach our students to survive in the industrialized workforce that they will spend most of their lives in.  Although I think it’s changing (especially in the tech industry),  it is our job as educators to prepare students for what employers expect.  And, to be realistic, employers expect grades.


Disclaimer- extensive written evaluation is so important and so helpful.

Not-So-Hidden Brain

I’m actually a big fan of most NPR podcasts and I appreciate what Shankar Vedantam does in communicating social science to wider populations.

The excerpt from his book was appalling.  I hadn’t heard that story, but I wish it was more surprising to me.  It is a good example of several social psychology principles: bystander effect, groupthink, etc.  But I think the reason we read it for this class is the idea of implicit biases.  I am sure that the color of Deletha’s skin implicitly influenced some of the crowd to think that she had done something to deserve what was happening to her.

The psychology department hosts diversity and inclusion discussions quite regularly and even has a non-academic certificate that students and faculty can earn.  If you’re interested, HERE is the link  to the schedule and information.

HERE is a piece from Hidden Brain about how black Judges rulings are more often reversed on appeal than white judges.  Talk about implicit bias!  HERE is another piece that talks about discrimination in AirBnB and Uber. As much as we try and prevent biases and stereotypes, that are hard to get rid of.

Of course, I think it’s interesting to think about the neuroscience of implicit bias. THIS awesome review from Nature Neuroscience discusses what we know about the brain and race.  They discuss four brain regions associated with judgements implicitly or explicitly associated with race.


Because implicit biases are notoriously difficult to eradicate, however there are some newly emerging strategies to address it.  THIS study shows that meditation can attentuate racial and age biases on an implicit association test (IAT).  If you’ve never taken an IAT you can do so HERE.  I think that neurofeedback could potentially treat implicit biases by requiring people to adjust their thoughts, rather than their behavior.

Lots of work still to be done, but I’m glad that implicit biases are being talked about!



Digital Learners Makes Me Think of the Sims

I really wish we had some empirical scientific readings for this week.  James Paul Gee has some great references in his introduction ( love Pinker’s 1999 article in the New York Academy of Sciences), but they were all pretty out of date and cognitive psychology has come a long way since the early 2000s.  I don’t know anything about gaming, so it’s difficult for me to evaluate if any of Gee’s hypotheses about the future of video games have come to fruition.

Luckily, there are a whole bunch of recent articles testing his hypotheses about learning in video games:

Unsworth, N., Redick, T. S., McMillan, B. D., Hambrick, D. Z., Kane, M. J., & Engle, R. W. (2015). Is playing video games related to cognitive abilities?.Psychological science, 26(6), 759-774.

Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2015). Action video game training for cognitive enhancement. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 4, 103-108.

Theng, Y. L., Lee, J. W., Patinadan, P. V., & Foo, S. S. (2015). The use of videogames, gamification, and virtual environments in the self-management of diabetes: A systematic review of evidence. Games for health journal, 4(5), 352-361.

Video games for managing diabetes?  What?!

In a somewhat related note, I am currently working on a project using an augmented reality system and neurofeedback to improve emotion recognition in people with autism. I don’t know the first thing about the augmented reality part, but apparently the motivation is that by making it more like a game, our participants will be more invested  in the intervention.  I’m interested to see if and how it works!

Also slightly related to the Carrie article, I did model UN in college and it really reminded me of the Reacting to the Past method he talked about.  I love the competition and team aspect, but I learned a lot about geopolitics and history from doing MUN. I would definitely be interested in learning more about this method (especially quantitative analysis of its effectiveness!).

I think there is a fine line between engaging students and putting on a show for them.  My worry with these types of “learner centered processes” are that they put the onus of the student’s engagement on the teacher and not the student.  I very much believe that if a student is not ready to tackle classes with fervor that they should take some time off until they see the benefit of taking a class.



Sims, Freddie Fish, and Pajama Sam.  Classics.



Who Am I?



I have genuinely struggled to find my “authentic teaching self.”  Now that I have four semesters of teaching behind me, I can absolutely say that I’ve become more comfortable in the classroom and am (hopefully) a better teacher, but I don’t know if I can say I am fully myself when I’m teaching.And who’s to say that my authentic slef is a good teacher, anyway (see Cameron Diaz, above).

Then again, I often feel like I’m not fully myself around groups of peers or people of authority.  Am I more “my authentic self” when I’m in a meeting with my advisor?  Or when I’m with my closest friends?   I would say friends, of course.  But then again I’m different around my friends than I am with my family.  Which one is more authentic?

In psychology and sociology there is a theory called “role strain.” It basically is the idea that is is often difficult to maintain all the conflicting aspects that make up one’s role in society.  For example in retail there is often role strain between employees being expected to connect to the customer and make them feel appreciated and the expectation that they move as quickly as possible through the line of waiting customers.

I think the idea of role strain is important to remember is our discussion of teaching.   Of course, Deel might respond that by being more authentic to herself she reduced her role strain and stress associated with teaching, but I think that by telling young teachers that not only must they be engaging, fair, and knowledgable, but that they must manage to find all of those things within their own “authenticity” is overwhelming.