Thursday, March 20, 2014

Joining the Crowd

It's no secret that I love a good pedagogy discussion or idea, something new to try in my classroom, so it should be no surprise that when there was some discussion on SciFund Challenge and other spaces about crowd-funding as a novel source for filling the gap that's so often left between what we have in the class and what we need in the class that I would jump on board.  The possibility of challenging my students to engage in original research and integrate their own learning alongside science communication?

Hot d*mn, that sounds like fun!

And more importantly, that sounds like a recipe for an extraordinarily awesome experience for this semester's class, and a chance to improve the available materials for classes to come.

So I took the chance.

I'm still taking that chance, really.  I have a crowd-funding proposal going on for the next few days (until 26th March), to raise some funds for my students' project.  And when I say "I," I mean my students.  They wrote it.  They made the budget.  They've been working on the protocols.  With my help, sure, but they're the primary content drivers in this project, I just gave them the assignment and the support to do what they're doing.

And what they're doing, quite frankly, is pretty freaking cool.  We're surveying the biological diversity (or how many and what type of organisms) on KSU Trumbull campus.  This has been done at the KSU Stark campus by Matthew Lehnert and some of his students, and I might be expanding this work to the main campus with an Upward Bound class this summer (depends on whether or not I get that job). 

Some other stuff my students are working on can be seen on our Digital Research Symposium website.  Right now, it's last semester's work that is up, but I'll be adding this semester's batch this weekend.  If you appreciate quality education, if you believe in students as capable and creative thinkers able to take agency in their own research endeavors, if you think that research can act as a catalyst to solid learning, then go check out what we're doing, and maybe make a contribution. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Classrooom Changes

The school year is in full swing now in Kent, and we're heartily enjoying life with a second grader.  Specifically, we're enjoying this second grader and his second grade class.  This year, our school is trying out a mixed 1st and 2nd grade classroom.  Two teachers, two student teachers, and two grades in an extra large room (really two rooms with a collapsible wall between them that's not used very often now).  Kenny's been thrilled about it so far, and seems to be doing well with this new set-up, in part because the first grade teacher was his teacher last year, and he really enjoyed working with her.  We're glad that he has another year in a safe place where he enjoys learning, and his official teacher for this year has a similar pedagogy and manner to his first grade teacher.  His daily pattern is familiar, he's making progress on school work, and meeting new friends.

I may not work with young kids, but I do teach, and I take my profession seriously.  So much in education is bad news- rising tuition, rising student loan amounts, another assessment added to the schedule, and test prep taking more and more time away from teaching.  With all of that, it's great seeing innovation and child-centered learning still making its way into some areas.  Classrooms being treated like research, following evidenced-based practices and contributing to that evidence, trusting teachers to take leadership of their own classrooms, those are the things that I like to hear happening. 

In my own classrooms, I'm trying some new things, as well, like virtual presentations and some new lab activities.  It's surprising how different things feel with just a little bit of a difference; those little changes make such a big deal in overall outlook.  For me, seeing changes in my syllabus come together, and seeing how other people shape their classrooms for the students (with supportive administrators, even!) brings a renewed feeling of excitement about my profession. 

Over the weekend, Dwight and I saw Dark Side of the Moon, a Pink Floyd tribute band in our area, and went with two of our friends who also work in education.  We reflected a bit on the irony of four teachers enjoying "The Wall," but honestly, the world has changed so much since then that it's not a fair comparison.  Pink Floyd rails against the almost demonic image of a stern class headmaster, who was the final say in his classroom.  He was an authority figure, and Pink Floyd tends to have a very anti-authoritarian bent.  Today, most teachers are not authoritarian, but instead nearly as powerless as students in the classroom.  Legislation about standards, exams, meetings, IEPs; administrators with their list of demands; helicopter parents who will question any decision about their child from the teacher, and in some cases complain to the principal about every decision concerning their child. 

I can't sympathize with the teacher in "The Wall," and I don't think the current situation strikes the correct balance in the classroom, either.  And it is a balance between a teacher's autonomy in the classroom and meeting the need to ensure that children are getting a high quality education.  We haven't found that balance yet, but I'm hopeful that the pendulum will swing back towards teacher autonomy soon.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Down Time

I've been crazy busy with my current class lately (to the point where my hourly pay- yes, this teaching job is hourly- may actually be lower than minimum wage).  It's an interesting set-up, accelerating an entire semester into one month.  I'm not a stranger to long work hours and abbreviated time tables, but this one takes the cake.  A four credit hour general education class for non-majors, and it's possibly the most exhausting class I've taught.  Each day of class is the equivalent of more than the typical week in a standard semester, so there's very little time to relax and evaluate a lesson before jumping straight into the next one.  Not for the faint of heart, that's for sure.

I'm not usually one to enjoy relaxing or vacation.  I tend to be the one that takes their laptop on a night out to keep working.  On the bright side, I'm learning from this experience how important it is to let the mind process material during breaks.  Switching gears and letting the brain just soak in what it's been working on makes the learning process more efficient, and effective. 

I know it's not a new observation.  I know there's plenty of research documenting this same effect.  But you know what?  Having a reminder of what you already know is a great lesson.  And slowing down and enjoying the moment is a lesson I need reminders of from time to time. 

No matter how bad a situation is, there's also something to be learned from it.  Or so I keep telling myself. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Passing of a Folk Hero

It's no secret that I'm a die-hard music fan; it soothes my savage soul, so to speak.  Since before we moved to Kent, I've enjoyed the musical contributions made to Ohio airwaves by WKSU, the National Public Radio station run by Kent State University.  For over 30 years, the station has brought folk, classical, and news to Northeast Ohio and farther if you had a good antenna.  They've also helped to host the annual Kent State Folk Festival, and more recently spawned Folk Alley- a 24/7 streaming online all-folk station.  Folk Alley has since made the switch to not just internet, but having an HD channel of its own as well.  While at this point in time classical music is a bit easier to find on the dial, stations that play both older and current folk hits are few and far between, and classical is slipping away slowly but steadily.  It's within this atmosphere of radio-wave homogenization and declining cultural arts investment, that I reflect with a heavy heart on the station changes at WKSU. 

New management to any organization invariably brings some changes.  That's no surprise, and everyone expected that having a new station manager would bring some new ways of doing things and maybe some differences to the old line-up.  I don't know that anyone was expecting quite the wholesale re-ordering that we've experienced.  And I definitely didn't expect the dismissive tone to any opposition to the new format.  Obviously, there are great places like Ear to the Ground Music (from the Shameless Self Promotion department) to find new folk tunes, but typically speaking surfing on the radio is where we are first introduced to new music.  Searching the internet to find something requires that a certain level of interest is already there, and that takes away a particular serendipity. 

There's a certain irony in all this.  Folk music- by its very name, music for the masses- moving off of the standard radio format, currently analog, onto the newer less common radio format which requires additional equipment for most people.  This move is taking folk away from us regular folks, and the same with classical music.  Sure, there are a couple of hours on the weekend, but not like what Kent and the other WKSU listeners are used to.  This, alongside the recent downtown redevelopment with expensive high end shops, and the loss of community green space, has me very much disliking gentrification in my neck of the woods.  You can hear the inequality growing.  But that's what our city council has decided needs to happen, so that's what's going to happen.  Maybe November's off-year elections will be more interesting than I had expected.

On the bright side, us little folks are working together and getting some cool stuff done on our own terms, like the new Edible Kent endeavor and pARTy and Snack-nic outdoor art extravaganza to help replace our community green space.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Corporate Conundrum

It's Moral Dilemma Time, kids!  All right, so the answer is already decided (us teachers gotta eat, you know), but I've been thinking a lot lately on corporate colleges and their impact on the higher education landscape.  This is mainly because I've been hired by one, so I feel the need to at least cogitate on the matter.

On the plus side, they can seem to have some innovative structures (one month-one class systems; social support systems like child care connections; flexible class delivery modes).  On the negative side (and it's a big negative side), they rely heavily on part-time adjuncts and may not have any tenure.  Where I'm working currently has about half of the pay of a typical class that I teach, and is hourly not salary (and only pays for contact hours, not prep or grading time).  Frankly, what bugs me even more than the pay is the bureaucracy.  There are a million and a half "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots."  Oddly, with all the rigamarole, there's no time-sheet.

All of the metrics for this private, for-profit school are horrendous as is typical for PFPS, whether you look at graduation rate, retention rate, employment after graduation, etc.  The classes are a joke.  The instructors are a mixed bag, but without any time to plan or grade lessons, even the best instructor is going to face challenges.  The resources offered are there to help keep students coming back, not moving forward; help with getting financial aid and government assistance, not help with actually getting an education.

It's despicable, the way these companies profit off of failing students.  It's worse than I had ever thought these places could possibly be.  But you know what?  I have a family to take care of, so I'm doing it.  Now if you don't mind, I need to go bleach my eyeballs and scrub half of my skin off for taking part in this fleecing.

Thank goodness for neo-liberal education de-formers, at all levels of education.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ding-Dong, DOMA's Dead!

Yes, this is yesterday's news, but this is the first I've had a chance to sit down and write down a coherent response to SCOTUS's ruling.  Yesterday's response on my part was confined to whooping, hollering, and maybe a few tears. 

Obviously, this is great news for all same sex couples in the 12 (soon 13, after SCOTUS instructed the lower court to dismiss the Prop 8 case out of California) jurisdictions that allow marriage equality.  For people in states like Ohio, where there are constitutional bans on same sex unions, the ruling is less clear right now.  Part of the confusion lies in the distinction of how federal organizations define marriage- by place of celebration, or place of residency.  If the place of celebration is used, then federal benefits should be a very real possibility.  Hopefully, there will be some consistency brought to the definition soon, and to my (admittedly limited- so please feel free to correct me) knowledge that could be done without an act of Congress in most cases.  As if Congress was active in the first place right now. 

If the place of residence is used, then it's a harder fight, and the couple would likely have to reside in a marriage equality state. 

What really throws a wrench in the works (or has the potential to be a huge break through), is the Full Faith and Credit Clause.  Article IV, Section 1 of the US Constitution states:

"Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof."
This is the fun little clause that allows you or I to have a destination wedding, or to move after we're married and have that marriage recognized.  This clause and the due process and equal protection portions of the Fourteenth amendment were the grounds that the court used to decide Loving v. Virginia.  It's important to note, however, that yesterday's decision was based on the due process clause of the Fifth amendment instead.  Also of note, to me anyway, is that while Loving and Windsor were decided on different bases, the framing and terminology were similar.  From Loving:
The Equal Protection Clause requires the consideration of whether the classifications drawn by any statute constitute an arbitrary and invidious discrimination.
and From Windsor:
DOMA’s principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages. It contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not others, of both rights and responsibilities, creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State.
While SCOTUS yesterday refused to affirm that marriage is a constitutional right by refusing to rule on Prop 8, Warren did make that claim in the Loving case that stopped miscegenation laws.  I think that's an important reality to remember.

And just for the sake of CMA, this is a thought experiment on my part, I am not a lawyer, and really, don't take legal (or any) advice from a blog.  Especially one written by me.  :)

For other, related interpretations of the possible effects of Full Faith and Credit on marriage equality, there's some good (if dated) discussions here:

National Review

Doug Linder, Law Professor, University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School

Ivan Hoffman, JD

JP Feldmeier, 1995. Publius 25(4):107-126.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Body, My Self

This evening our little family went out for an early weekend dinner and decided to try Fresco, a new local place in Kent notable for their salsa bar.  The food was fantastic, the had good beer, my day's classes had gone well, I had new replica jaws to play with, Kenny and I picked lots of strawberries, and I'd been up to a round of "Secret Santa" around town.  I'm sure I could have been in a better mood, but I'm not sure how I would have gotten there.  We were sitting waiting at our table for our food when it happened.  There were hands at my side and a face on my shoulder, and it was not my friend the newly minted Dr. Sohom- one of the few people that I allow to creeper-hug me without a fight. 

Dear Fellow Fresco Patron-

What made you think that you could come that close up behind a stranger in a restaurant with her family?  Why did you think that it was OK to rearrange my clothing to cover a tattoo on my back?  What part of my appearance gave you any indication that I wanted to hide my tattoos or was embarrassed by them?  Why on Earth were you surprised at my reaction, which was merely an expletive directed at you and not a fist heading towards you?  Would you ever even consider doing this if I had been a man?  Do you have any idea of the moment of sheer terror I feel at a stranger's (and some not-strangers') touch?  Have you thought about how your feeling of entitlement to my body fits into the larger social picture.  Have you ever considered that not all people enjoy physical contact, and in fact some people are positively averse to it?  Have you ever thought that maybe their aversion to touch has something to do with a feeling of lack of autonomy, often thanks to people like you?  What makes you think that it's appropriate to slut-shame random women in front of their children?  Do you really have this little respect for your fellow humans? 

Do us all a favor and can the moralizing and misogyny, alright. 

Gah.  Invasion of personal space and body shaming are not things that I enjoy or take lightly, and nor should any sane person.  How is this crap even considered OK today?!