I’ve been ruminating about this post for a few weeks now, and I think I’ve finally thought of a way to couch my argument. I figured an analogy would help, so let me start with that.
My brother-in-law is a Foodie (with a capital F). He uses the “best” ingredients, and cooks with the best tools. It’s all very intimidating to watch. But delicious to eat! We love visiting those guys because we know we’ll be stuffed with great food, often food we’ve never even heard of before. But here’s the thing: he’s not a food snob. You know what I mean, the people who put their nose up when they hear where or what you’re eating, or scoff at your tools. He really isn’t like that. In fact, I was realizing that he might be the only Foodie I know who doesn’t make me crabby.
When he’s visiting us, he’s so much fun to have in the kitchen. He’s always so excited to taste whatever we’re making. He can’t help himself, he loves food! Sometimes we’ll try somewhat experimental things when he’s around, and he’s never intimidating. He jumps in and gets excited to use our quaint single-door oven. Our 3/4 size fridge seems to hold all kinds of fascinating things for him to help with. And he’s so much fun to serve! He loves everything about it, and makes sure you know how much he appreciates it.
Here’s what he doesn’t do: He doesn’t scoff at our tools. He doesn’t raise an eyebrow at our generic ingredients. And he doesn’t show us better ways to do something unless we ask.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We suck in the kitchen compared to him. He could definitely show us some things that would dramatically improve our results. And I’m sure he’d be really patient with us if we asked for more help than we do. It’s just that he doesn’t force it. And, most especially, he genuinely enjoys our inferior cooking.
So what’s the analogy, you ask? Well, trade cooking for teaching. Now let’s look at the roles:
My wife and I (the sucky cooks) are the new struggling teacher throwing some stuff out there into the intertubes, sometimes bragging about something they’ve done, sometimes asking for help, sometimes just looking for a nod of support.
Who’s my brother-in-law? Well, I’d like to propose more of us take on this role. I need to do it. You need to do it. We all need to show nearly unconditional support for any teacher who is reaching out using blogs, twitter, or whatever. Some are there to brag, some to ask questions, and some seeking support. They
want need us to jump in their kitchen with them and taste their cooking with smiles on our faces.
Who are the food snobs? Well . . . me. And maybe you. I’ll speak for myself first and then poke a few of you after that.
I’m a food snob (or academic bully) when I talk to people about homework. Here’s me: “hey, they can get all that info on Cramster, so you suck because you give credit for it.” Ring any bells? If so, I’m sorry. I just can’t help myself! I realized that cheating was rampant so I:
- embraced the flipped class so that I’d have time for in-class assessment
- embraced standards-based grading so that my students would be forced to retain information
- scheduled a bajillion oral exams to hold my students accountable
- converted to 100% screencasting for my students so that I could assess their voice
That’s a lot, really several years work of my life. But it’s too much for someone who wants to talk about how homework could be more effective for them! I give them that spiel and they either think I’m crazy or they tune me out.
What could I do instead? I’ve really been thinking about this. Here’s what they say (some colleagues of mine in my own department): “They only learn it if they really put the time in on this on their own. If they put the time in, they can really master this stuff. I know they might cheat, but I really impress upon them how important it is for their learning. If they do it honestly, and with an eye toward learning, of course I’ll give them some points for it!” Then there’s me: “nope, you’re wrong. Any points for homework is unethical!” See how that isn’t overly useful? Instead, I want to try something like “What are some success stories? How can you leverage those to improve the experience for everyone? How can I get the buy in that you seem to get? What do you do with cheaters?” I really want to reengage with my colleagues, instead of being the extremist finger-pointer.
Other examples? Well here’s a few made up situations that should ring some bells for you:
- “I’m not sure the best way to have my students distinguish when to use conservation of energy or conservation of momentum.”
- “You should do the modeling curriculum. That way students develop their own models and you won’t have this problem.”
- “I made this excel spreadsheet that shows how a parachutist falls. I give it to my students and they can see the plots and how easy it was to do.”
- “You should use vPython to do this, because students learn much more if they code it up themselves.”
- “My students did great on the AP exam this year!”
- “It would be really cool if you could have your students do projects instead. In the Global Physics Department we talk all the time about how students who do that seem to do better in college physics courses than students who get good AP scores.”
- “I made a video to help some students who couldn’t make it to class today.”
- “Video doesn’t work. It’s just like lecture, and that’s evil incarnate. You should check out the video that Veritasium made to learn about that.”
- “My students used python to model this cool slingshot trajectory.”
- “Mathematica is a much better programming environment for that.”
I could see some much better ways to interact with those people in each case, but I’m afraid my own efforts are more like the food snobs, and I want to apologize to you all here for that. My experience with NaBloCoMo really helped me see how much fun it can be to just give some nods of support to people and I want to try to do more of that.
Your thoughts? Here’s some starters for you:
- Thanks for this. You’ve wronged me in the past when I talked about _____ and I accept your apology.
- This sucks. Anyone who doesn’t teach with _____ pedagogy really does suck and needs to be told so.
- This is great. I’ve been looking for some support for _____ but I’ve been afraid to put it out there.
- This sucks. It’s obvious that vPython is better than Mathematica.
- This is great. Where does your brother-in-law live?