Blog notes

One day I'll do more with this blog besides post figures and tables from the articles I read. One day...

Life between the disciplines

Perhaps the whole idea of interdisciplinary science is the wrong way to look at what we want to encourage. What we really mean is ‘‘antedisciplinary’’ science—the science that precedes the organization of new disciplines, the Wild West frontier stage that comes before the law arrives. It’s apropos that antedisciplinary sounds like ‘‘anti-disciplinary.’’ People who gravitate to the unexplored frontiers tend to be self- selected as people who don’t like disciplines—or discipline, for that matter.

From Eddy, S. R. (2005). “Antedisciplinary” Science. PLoS Computational Biology, 1(1), e6.

Don't tell us what to do

Having university teachers and managers as a principal target group is no easy task. It is useless simply to organize a few workshops or training sessions for university teachers. In universities especially, teachers have something of an aversion to being trained, and above all on issues they do not necessarily see as being relevant to their own discipline. Nor do they want to be instructed 'top-down' on methodologies and the subject matter of their own lectures. If we really want to be effective in integrating elements of sustainable development in overall higher education, it is necessary for the lecturer to see the specific intellectual challenges that sustainable development poses to his or her discipline.

"An aversion to being trained" is a wonderful understatement.

From Appel, G., Dankelman, I., & Kuipers, K. (2004). Disciplinary Explorations of Sustainable Development in Higher Education. In Higher Education and the Challenge of Sustainability (pp. 213–222). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

The term, sustainability, is problematic since it is used to describe many different attributes including the success of a particular business or its succession plans and the state of an economy more generally.


From Ross, A. (2009). Modern Interpretations of Sustainable Development. Journal of Law and Society, 36(1), 32–54.


The looseness of the concept and its theoretical underpinnings have enabled the use of the phrases ‘sustainable development’ and ‘sustainability’ to become de rigueur for politicians and business leaders, but as the Workshop on Urban Sustainability of the US National Science Foundation (2000, p. 1) pointed out, sustainability is ‘laden with so many definitions that it risks plunging into meaninglessness, at best, and becoming a catchphrase for demagogy, at worst. [It] is used to justify and legitimate a myriad of policies and practices ranging from communal agrarian utopianism to large-scale capital-intensive market development’.


Useful sentences

The development of such environmental literacies (please note the use of the plural) does not, of course, guarantee the saving of the planet from ecological destruction, but nothing does. While the emphasis in much environmental education to date has been narrowly teleological, we argue that really useful education, at least in the Western tradition, never accepts a monological view of the truth and the clear end-points one can associate with it, and that real personal change (which may, indeed, help to save the planet from ecological destruction, directly or indirectly by making us behave differently) can only be effected through an education that problematises and acknowledges multiple voices. Paradoxically, education for the whole child requires an acknowledgement that there is no whole truth.

From Stables, A., & Scott, W. (2002). The Quest for Holism in Education for Sustainable Development. Environmental Education Research, 8(1), 53–60.

First publication

Proud to say that Using Local Contexts for Learning: The Caring for Cambodia Approach—a book chapter I co-authored has been published. It can be found here.


Don't worry this won't be yet another post on the Internet where a professor complains about grading student work.

I thought I would quickly share a new workflow for grading I've been trying out.

First, a bit of background. I grade my assignments in two stages. First I go through and make comments. Students that have roughly a week to make corrections based on his comments to improve their grades. My students all share their work with me via Google Docs. This is something I started doing about a year ago And it makes things a lot easier to organize compared to when we were sharing documents in Moodle and emailing back-and-forth. This way the initial draft, revisions, comments, and final draft all exist in the same document.

This past Christmas my wife was nice enough to buy me a new iPad Air. I mainly been using this for reading but this week I decided to try grading on the iPad. So far it's been really nice. I go through the document on the iPad, select a word or phrase I want to comment on (using my trusty Cosmonaut stylus), and comment using the voice recognition built into the iPad.

It's not perfect. Siri often misses words and it can be slower if I need to go back and revise the sentence. However I like it. It allows me to collect things electronically but give me the feel of grading papers like I did back in the classroom.


I recently got in a dumb internet fight about school reform. Maybe I’ll get into t here, maybe not. Because it really was dumb. It started because the other guy implied I was a dummy because I’m critical of a lot of the so-called school reform movement. Not me pesonally. Anyone who critiques “school reform.” Which, fine, whatever. That’s the internet for you. I shouldn’t take it personally. I tried to be too cute with my calling him out and I got called out myself. My fault.

The thing is, I’m am school reform advocate. I truly want to improve and change schools. I spend every day trying to teach students how to teach better. I want schools to improve. I think the status quo kind of sucks. 

However, I’m also critical of the school reform movement because I’m on the ground seeing the proposals being pushed. Things like charging student teachers $1,000 to pretend to teach in some phony Second Life to see if they should be eligile for certification. You cannot tell me that is about improving schools. You cannot tell me that is about accountability. That’s about one thing: charging $1000 to a captive audience.

But if I critique that proposal? I’m simple. I want students to graduate high school without being able to read. I’m for the status quo. I’m a union shill. I’m anti-reform. Which is nonsense, but that’s how this “debate” is being framed.

Like so many issues right now, nothing will change until we can actually listen to what our opponents are saying. If we just throw straw men at each other it’s a waste of time. I’m tired of wasting my time.

Add a Post Title

Testing some new blogging software since the web input in SquareSpace is such a disaster. Let’s see how this works!


We need a nationally recognized system of employee evauations to ensure that the correct people are getting raises and promotions. In the current system each firm is able to set their own requirements and expectations for employees. Sometimes it varries from department to department or even boss to boss! This ineffective and inefficient system is costing Americans billions in lost productivity. The best solution is to measure employee evaluations at different firms, judge them, rank them, and develop a national set of standards for all firms.

Probably sounds crazy, right? That's because it is. But that's exactly what groups like NCTQ say about teachers.


As it stands right now there are 58 readings in my syllabus for Foundations of Education. That seems like a lot for a freshman-level course, but I can't find anything that should be cut. I'll have to reevaluate around spring break and see if I am overwhelming the students. I think they can handle it, but I also want to be mindful that many of them work or have obligations at home.

As always, it is an experiment.

We're talking about practice?

It's not uncommon at all to hear practicing teachers reminisce about their time in their education program and complain about writing lesson plans. "The lesson plans I write now are nothing like the plans I wrote in college!" they say. And it's a fair point. The lesson plans my students write are pages long. In their careers they'll be a paragraph or two, or maybe even a bullet point.

The implication is that us teaching in ed. schools are wasting our students' times by having them write out these detailed lesson plans. The implication is that we are giving students busywork. The implication is that ed. schools are disconnected from classroom teaching.

I respectfully disagree. For me the long lesson plans I require are a form of practice. Think about it like practice for soccer or tennis. In soccer practice a student-athlete might find herself running laps around the field. We know this is not how soccer is played; I've never seen a player simply circle the field during a game. In tennis practice she might find herself serving ball after ball into an empty court. While it would be nice to serve nothing but aces, we understand that some balls will be returned and she'll have to play a volley or two. Are coaches wasting these athlete's time with busywork?

Of course not. They're building conditioning and muscle memory. That's what the long lesson plans are all about. I want my students to think about and explain every aspect of their lesson, so later these things are second-nature.

The problem with Millennial bashing

I don't make fun of Millennials, but I will make fun of the kids skateboarding down the street. I'm okay with that.

There is a difference between being annoyed with a generation and being annoyed with an age group. "Kids today..." implies there is something wrong with this specific generation of young people. "Kids..." is admitting that we're all dumb when we're teenagers.

Frustration with "Millennials" is about putting your generation above them. Saying that you were better in some way whe you were 17, 22, or 26. Frustration with young people is about wanting to get in the Deloreian and speak to yourself at 17, 22, or 26 and say "Stop! One day you'll be 36 and look back and cringe!"

One stems from arrogance and one stems from shame. When I give a student a hard time about missing homework it's not because I think he is entitled. It's because I wish I had just done my homework when I was 18.

This current generation of young people has it hard enough without us describing them as somehow the worst generation in history.

Fake Internet Rage

I've been meaning to write about what I call "the outrage economy" forever now, but now Peter Cohen at iMore has done it for me:

These days the Internet Rage Machine swings into overdrive at the drop of a hat. Everyone uses almost every excuse to get angry about whatever they can. Because rage drives traffic, and traffic can drive revenue when you run a web site that's dependent on page impressions and unique visits to generate traffic for advertisers. For some people, it's all about going viral and getting eyes on your pages.

There are very real reasons to turn on the Internet Rage Machine. There are real problems in the world and sometimes lots of people yelling via Twitter is the only way to get attention. But time and attention are limited resources, and I cannot understand wasting them on something as trivial as an Bono and The Edge.

Skipping the badge

In the end I decided to stick with a more traditional grading system for this semester. I couldn't come up with a reason for using badges besides "they're hot right now." Since this is a class for first-year students it made more sense to familiarize them with the typical college grading system. Maybe in the spring I'll get more exciting.

However, this class--Current Topics in American Ed--will be blogging throughout the semester. You can read the posts at

On Rubrics

Steven Conn's Rise of the Helicopter Teacher from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

A week before the first paper was due, a young woman in my class raised her hand and asked where the rubric was.

Shamefaced and stuttering, I had to admit that I had no idea what a rubric was. She helpfully explained that this was a set of guidelines explaining what I expected them to write, how I expected them to write it, and how each aspect of the paper would be evaluated. A set of boxes that students could check off to guarantee that they had met my expectations. For all intents and purposes, in other words, an outline for the paper.

Except a rubric isn't an outline for the paper. Not really. A rubric--or maybe I should say a good rubric--is a set of expectations for an assignment.

When we give an assignment we have a mental model of what a good paper looks like. We also know what excellent and crappy papers look like. A rubric simply takes our mental models and puts them on paper so they can be shared with students.

Yes, you're telling the students what an "A" paper looks like. But your exceptations already existed before you made the rubric. It seems unfair to penalize a student because they failed to read your mind.

Are rubrics perfect tools? Of course not. Can they be overwritten and limiting? I guess so.

However, we've probablty all had the experience of saying "I have no idea what this teacher/professor wants" when working on an assignment. I simply can't understand how that experience enhances student learning.

(p.s. My favorite variation of bad rubric is just a bunch of generic nonsense like "paper is proper length" that wastes everyone's time.)