We are at a Cultural Crossroads in Education

After yet another interaction with products of our failed educational system, I’ve come to a conclusion: we need to stop worrying about school reform and focus on education reform.

Our problem with ‘reform’ is that we’ve been thinking too small scale. The word ‘school’ is restrictive. It limits our thinking about education as a concept that only exists within the confines of a formal school structure; when in fact, education exceeds classrooms, computers, teachers, students, textbooks, curricula, and policies. It transcends the 1870s school house and the 2012 charter- magnet-college prep academy. It encompasses more than zero tolerance behaviors and the Common Core Standards.

It is about learning. And learning has no boundaries.

I therefore challenge us to focus our reform efforts not on minute components of the educational process, but instead on the culture of education. The way we think about learning. The way we encourage others to think about their thinking. The value and use of what we learn. The quest for knowledge to be knowledgeable. What happened to that?

I met some young men today who were proud to have cheated their way through high school. Who were offering $100 to anyone who would write their 5 page college psychology paper. Who were pondering the applicability of a psychology class to their future employment as police officers.

Their lively conversation made me think: is this the 21st century culture of education?

It’s a hard question to answer because everyone has their own values, norms, and behaviors related to education. I am certain if I asked any of my students about the role of learning in their lives, they would pontificate on the value of learning to be ‘a well rounded person’. While their words aren’t eloquent or specific, I know what they mean. Learning for them has its own intrinsic value. They are proud to have learned something new, to have stepped outside of their comfort zone (another of their favorite lines), to have demonstrated to themselves they are able to comprehend and produce complex ideas. Learning provides a sense of security for my students. They feel like their ‘education’ is something no one can ever take from them. It is a gateway to new experiences and new opportunities.

I feel the same.

But so many people don’t see the purpose of learning things that aren’t immediately applicable to their life circumstances. What bothers me about that is most people can’t see how things are applicable to their lives. Why did we stop teaching that? In the 1700s, an educated man (women had more limited curricula) was someone who was well versed in world affairs, could speak, read, and write multiple languages, had a firm grasp on economics, could recite poetry, and was up for intellectual discourse at any moment. This model of education held until the industrialization of education in the 1900s, when we needed people to work in factories and learn specific trades. Only recently have we begun to move back to a more interdisciplinary ideology of education. But is it too late? Is it all for naught? Can our new emphasis on mathematical and linguistic literacy override the last 10 years of vocational (e.g., STEM) pedagogy? More importantly, are we ready to shift our thinking to fit our practices?

Can we change the culture of education?


In the Confessional: One Professor’s Angry Outburst

My course has ended and I don’t know what happened to the person who wrote Turn My Swag On. I have never in my life been so glad to see a course end. This time, it just didn’t work. I never clicked with my students.

Let me give you some concrete examples of things that frustrated me in this class:

  • Students not reading my emails
  • Students not following instructions for assignments
  • Students not doing the assigned reading
  • Students not following instructions for assignments
  • Students expecting me to be available all weekend via email to answer questions I’ve already answered on the syllabus, in class, on the assignment rubric, and via email
  • Students not following instructions in general
  • Students asking for extra credit when I’ve made it clear that I do not believe in ‘extra’ credit. I believe in providing everyone with the same opportunities to learn. Your choosing not to take advantage of that does not obligate me to provide (and grade) extra credit busy work
  • Students not communicating with me until after they turn in an assignment
  • Students feeling entitled

I believe in clear expectations and the provision of adequate tools and resources to support students’ learning. As such, I never give assignments without offering a lot of direction. Some examples are rubrics, sample outlines, APA tip packet, emails with bullet pointed advice, using class time to have a session in the library on ‘how to conduct research for empirical articles’, class time for direct instruction on ‘what is an empirical article and how do you read one?’, office hours, dedicated email hours on the weekend before the first major assignment is due, ‘lasting questions’ time at the beginning of each class meeting. I could go on if I really thought deeply. But you get the gist.

I am therefore baffled when I have bimodal grades on the first assignment. How is that possible? How is it that half of the students got a B or above, and the other half failed the assignment? Did I give two sets of instructions? Is someone punking me? Am I in Candyland? And what’s most frustrating is that the low grades were not because students did not understand the content. Nope. It was because they did not follow directions.

So like any frustrated teacher who’d put so much extra time and energy into helping students do well on an assignment, I flipped out. I went to class after having graded only half of the assignments the night before and told them (in summary) ‘I am very frustrated with you all.’ Sure I said more than that and I can’t really remember exactly what I said. I do know that my anger with them was incited further when I got to my office that morning to read their reading reflections and realized that of 20 students, only 1 had written a reflection on the more difficult reading. What does that tell anyone with a brain and a basic knowledge of stats?  That they did not do the reading. Even after I cut the readings from 3 to 2 and told them explicitly to read the more difficult piece because it was foundational for the course. Imagine my chagrin when I realized they hadn’t even done that.

Yes, I was pissed. Not only am I considerate enough to cut your total reading down to less than 40 pages because I know one of the readings is difficult, but I also cut THAT reading assignment down from 18 pages to 12 (they only had to read the first 12 pages of the reading). All of that on top of the fact that half of them did not follow the very clear directions given at least 11 times for the assignment.

I let loose on them. After lecturing them for 10 minutes on accountability and disrespect, they had a pop quiz on the reading. Out of 23 students, 1 student got 3 of the 4 questions correct. The rest of them couldn’t even get 1 question correct. I collected the quizzes and told them I would count it as extra (since I know good and well none of them earned any extra points). They were relieved.

I got back to my office after class and one student, a senior I’ve had before, had emailed me expressing concerns that I ‘went about motivating them the wrong way’. I calmly and professionally responded saying that it was not my intention to motivate them. It was my intention to communicate my frustration and disappointment. I outlined for the student most of the points I’ve mentioned above. She responded surprised that I’d taken the time to compose such a thorough and honest email.

The next day, another student came to me after class and said ‘I think I know what may have happened on the first assignment’. So I invited her to my office and she explained to me that she at least, misinterpreted the rubric. She said she thought it was an instructional guide as opposed to an assessment tool. For example, a bullet point reading ‘Are the learning goals clearly outlined?’ was interpreted as ‘does the product I am doing my assignment on outline the learning goals?’ instead of ‘the professor wants me to outline the learning goals of the product’.

While I was astounded that sophomores through seniors in college did not know how to use a rubric and would think that I would have them answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions instead of actually applying their knowledge, I was relieved to know what may have went wrong.

So the next day in class I shared that a student met with me and explained how the rubric could have been misinterpreted. I acknowledged that such an error is my fault for not explaining to the class how to use the rubric (I’d never had a previous class make this mistake so I wasn’t too hard on myself for not foreseeing this). As such, I was giving everyone an extra point on the assignment. At first this doesn’t sound like much, but given that I operate in raw points with a tight grading scale, this single point could be the difference between a B- and a B.

For the next assignment, I asked that same student to review the rubric before I gave it to the class. She made some suggestions that could improve clarity. I was grateful for her assistance (and told her so).

After that, the students definitely did their reading and asked more questions before the assignment was due. Their next assignment was better, but not as good as past classes have done. I am in the process of grading their finals and I can say that so far, these are all close to perfect. I don’t know if they finally ‘got’ that I wanted them to apply knowledge or if this assignment was just easier (I admit that I design my assessments so that the final assignment is the easiest, but only because this is the 3rd or 4th time they are being asked to apply the same content. It’s just applying it to a new context).

But maybe they did better because on the third to last day of the class I finally felt like I connected with them. We were discussing assessment in K-12 as the topic for the day, and the conversation got a bit off track (I actually like when this happens. It means the students are making big picture connections). All of a sudden, the students were facilitating their own discussion. I purposefully rolled my chair back a bit out of our square so that many students could not see me. I did not want to remind them of my presence because then they would look to me to ‘decide’ who was right in their debate about the value of standardized testing. I let them chatter for about 10 minutes before they were getting a bit too far off track. When I jumped back in with a guiding question, there was a new energy. People looked happier, more engaged. And I still can’t figure out why. That was not the first, second, or fifth time the students had taken control of the conversation. In general, that’s what I try to make happen every day. But it was the first time I got to see who they were as individuals beyond students in my educational psychology course. I think maybe it was the first time they felt like individuals. I am sad they had to wait until almost the end of the course to feel comfortable enough to reveal more of themselves.

I am frustrated that I did not do better for my students this time. I never realized how important it was for me to bond with my students. So much of who I am as a teacher is who I am as a person. If they don’t get me, they certainly don’t get what I am trying to do with and for them. Having done what I always do in my classes, I am not sure what I should have done differently this time or what I should do better next time.

But what I do know is that I have learned a valuable lesson about myself: my number one priority needs to be connecting with my students. Without it, they and I, are lost.

I Think, Therefore…? Critical Thinking is Bull

I hate the phrase ‘critical thinking’ or any variation thereof (e.g., critical thinking skills, think critically). These are just words that mean nothing. I challenge you to ask three people to define ‘critical thinking’ and take note of two things: 1) how long it takes for them to reply, and 2) the content of their response. I bet my next paycheck that 1) it will take them at least 2 sentences to define it, and the sentences will be halted and filled with pauses, back tracks, and ‘uhmms’, and 2) the content will revolve around ‘thinking outside of the box’ or ‘seeing from another’s perspective’.

What the hell is thinking outside the box? Is the ‘box’ our brain? Is the box our perspective? Where is this box? I would like to smash it.

I do not let my students say empty phrases like ‘critical thinking’, ‘at risk students’ (this one reeeaaallly irks my nerves), ‘whole person’ (as in ‘educate the whole person’), ‘active participant in learning’ or all of those other things journalists spout in headlines. They are misused, misunderstood, and misappropriated. I force my students to be specific in their language and find the words that really convey their thoughts. It’s hard work to say what you think. It requires time, and well, thought.

To me, that is thinking critically. A critical analysis implies reflection, validity (i.e., substantiated statements, not opinions), synthesis of information garnered from multiple sources, domain general thinking, and revision(s) of thoughts. In a lot of ways, it is a catch-all construct encompassing metacognitive skills we want to cultivate in our students. Great. Let’s do that…

Instead of acting like we are doing it by saying ‘critical thinking’ repeatedly via syllabi, course descriptions, assignment instructions, and grading rubrics. Let’s actually scaffold the development of these skills through:

  • Student self assessment
  • Peer assessment
  • Student goal setting and consequent student work plans
  • Formative assessments
  • Quality feedback (this means, yes, you have to actually write specific, personalized comments)
  • Provide process-oriented feedback (as opposed to outcome-oriented like ‘great work!’ Instead, consider writing ‘I can tell your paper is well researched’)
  • Well crafted assessments (i.e., those with validity and reliability)
  • Diverse assessments (you can’t assess everything via multiple choice tests ands essays)

We can change our instructional methods to be more diverse or multimodal (which has nothing to do with  multimedia or multisensory pedagogy) as well. Multimodal teaching means incorporating diverse methods of content delivery that best fit the learning goals of that unit. I am talking about going beyond bringing in a guest speaker, adding a You Tube clip to your powerpoints, or doing small group activities in class. I am suggesting more radical changes like:

  • a flipped classroom
  • community-based research/learning initiatives
  • integrating interactive technology like prezis or clickers
  • interdisciplinary curricula (not ‘team teaching’)
  • required internships

The trend uniting most of these suggestions is the creation of a ‘big picture’. My goal for my students progresses across the course from the acquisition of knowledge to the application of knowledge. As a result, my instructional methods and assessments reflect that evolution. Whereas I begin by asking them to demonstrate that they understand the theories of development and learning outlined by Piaget and Vygotsky through an educational product analysis, I move them to the creation of their own educational paradigm as their final. The latter requires knowledge of the former, but it also pushes them to identify inaccuracies, gaps, and associated outcomes of theories in order to offer a better suggestion. My students must not only understand the social and cognitive developmental trajectory of K-12 students, but they must also recognize the inability of any pedagogy to adequately meet the needs of all students—a huge problem with our public education system. To make the stakes more real for my students, their final projects are often proposed to a local school board as suggestions for a pilot program aimed at improving specific aspects of student learning.

Students (and people in general) are so quick to criticize, but so slow in offering solutions. This is my attempt to offer them the opportunity to truly reflect on course content and its place in the larger body of education-related knowledge. Even more, they get to ‘live’ the difficulties of teaching, research, and translating theory into practice (because they are required to substantiate their claims with empirical support and construct and enact an example lesson plan reflective of their paradigm).

It is a lot of work for them and for me. But this assessment always emerges as a favorite aspect of the course on evaluations. I honestly am not sure why they like it so much. It could be the novelty, the creativity involved, or maybe it’s (as I like to think) because it’s a good assessment of their content knowledge as well as their metacognitive skill development. But regardless of the reason, my students ‘get something’ from the experience.

And I didn’t even have to involve ‘critical thinking’.


Politicians Could Learn from My Students

After watching the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates, I absolutely have to mention the parallels I saw between my undergraduate students and the candidates. To be specific (unlike the politicians): these politicians could learn a lot about debating from my very smart, very passionate, and very respectful students. To take a page from Governor Romney, I shall enumerate some things:

1)      Admit you don’t know. Congressman Ryan, when you’re asked to provide specifics on how your ticket would pay for a 20% tax cut across the board, don’t keep talking. Just admit you don’t know. When my students don’t do the reading, they don’t even attempt the pop quiz. Instead, they just say ‘I don’t know’.

2)      Stand by your beliefs. Governor Romney, when you’re asked about your plans for Medicare, don’t speak around it and introduce the idea of a Medicare voucher. Just say you have, and will likely continue to, increase the cost of Medicare. My students often say ‘I know it’s not the general trend at this school, but I have to be honest and say…’

3)      Don’t rely on the high road. President Obama, the high road is rarely taken so most people lack familiarity with it. What’s more, taking the high road passively is even more likely to go overlooked. If you aren’t going to say ‘I am taking the high road’ then just don’t take it. No one is giving you credit for that. My students rarely take the high road when they are debating in class. They aren’t above calling people out. Exposing their truth (note: not the truth) is paramount to being polite.

4)      Don’t laugh at others’ incompetence. Vice President Biden, when your opponent is clearly struggling to develop coherent and consistent thoughts, don’t laugh at him. My students have developed great tactics for hiding their dismay at their classmates’ lack of preparation. They put their head down and act like they are taking notes, they flip through their notes as if searching for more evidence, they lean their head back and look up as if in deep thought. Any of those will work.

5)      Speaking quickly does not mask your incompetence. Congressman Ryan, as a follow up to point number one, if you aren’t going to admit you don’t know, then please don’t speak fast in hopes that the audience will not notice. What that does is draw attention to your speech. Just be quiet. When forced to speak, students who didn’t do the readings say one thing specifically and clearly. Try that next time.

6)      Enumeration without clarity does not improve comprehension. Governor Romney, enumerating disjointed points does not make your dialogue easier to understand. On the contrary, it increases confusion because the audience is trying to figure out how you linked these ideas. This is a useless effort because your points are in fact, not related. To tackle the issue of unrelated ideas jammed into the same statement, my students use transitions like ‘and on another note’ or ‘somewhat related to this’. This cues the audience that you are shifting conceptual gears.

7)      Toot your own horn. President Obama, we the people are tired of you downplaying your successes as President. Your administration has captured and killed Osama Bin Laden, you’ve passed a major healthcare act that allowed students (specifically graduate students like myself) to stay on their parents’ healthcare until age 26, you’ve granted people the right to marry the person they love, and you’ve stood by women’s rights to make decisions about their bodies. While many may not view all of these as successes, your administration does, so be vocal about them. My students are quick to say ‘As a dean’s scholar, ‘When I was president of the class’, or ‘As a triple major’. Providing context and credence for your opinions is not arrogant. It is often necessary.

8)      Repetition makes you look like you have nothing to say. President Obama and Governor Romney, we the people never want to hear ‘5 trillion’ and ‘American people’ again. We get it. We got it the first dozen times you said it. Move on to your next point. If you don’t have one, refer to number one on this list. My students quiet down when they’ve exhausted their ideas. It’s how I know we are ready to move to the next reading.

9)      Know your facts. To all of you, please stop relying on biased interpretations of data. You are educated people with critical thinking skills. We the people don’t want to hear ‘statistics’ gathered by your party, organizations that support your party, organizations your party supports, or any other biased entity. We also don’t want to hear old data, poorly collected/analyzed data, or simple wrong data. I tell my students all the time, ‘I don’t care where you fall on this issue; I care that you back it up with credible facts’.

10)  Acknowledge that your personal views are PERSONAL. Vice President Biden did a good job of this so he is excused from this lesson. The rest of you need to remember that your feelings and beliefs (note: feelings and beliefs are not facts) are personal and derivative of your experiences. We the people have not lived your life and you have not lived ours. It is for that reason that your personal views should not be imposed on others. I work with my students to create a classroom climate in which everyone feels safe to not only express, but to also live their beliefs. I wish you all could work together to create the same for the people of our country.

Are We Prepared for What’s to Come?

Two of my closest friends recently had children and as I fall in love with them (and open myself to the idea of one day having children myself), I can’t help but think about the world into which they have been born. Specifically, I worry how the mistakes we continue to make will affect who they become.

What happens to the children whose parents don’t know how/can’t/don’t want to give their children diverse and plentiful opportunities? I don’t just mean opportunities to learn. I mean opportunities to meet their potential. To take a dance class, play a sport, leave the state, leave the country, meet people who don’t look like you, see animals in their natural habitat, figure out where fruits are before they reach your neighborhood grocery store. Opportunities that shape how you perceive the world and what your place will be in it.

I think back to my own life and I am forever indebted to my parents who made the wise and timely decision to relocate our family from Washington D.C. to North Carolina. As a 9 year old I hated the idea of leaving behind my friends, but as an adult I know that had I grown up in North East D.C. I would not be the person I am today.

I may not have been a lesser person, but I certainly would’ve been a different person. In truth, the core of my being has been constant my whole life. When I watch videos of myself dancing to Michael Jackson at age 3, I see the same person I see when I look in the mirror every morning. My energy, my approach to life, my attitude has never changed. I have been who I am (I imagine) since birth. But what I’ve chosen to do with my life I think would’ve been very different.

But I can’t be certain. None of us can. We can only make the best decisions possible with the information we have. I just worry that the majority of this country does not have access to quality information. In fact, I am certain even those who consider themselves ‘informed’ and ‘highly educated’ make the mistake of confounding the two. Knowledge without understanding is useless. And that’s why so many college degrees hold little value. We as a people have no understanding of how blessed we are in some instances and how disadvantaged we are in others. We do not acknowledge the opportunities we’ve been given, and even worse, we take for granted those who sacrificed to afford us such opportunities.

I look at pictures of my friends’ babies and I am overwhelmed with admiration for their parents. It takes so much courage to bring a life in this world and know you are responsible for someone else. Your actions determine their opportunities. Your words influence how they manage those opportunities. Your feelings for them contribute to their feelings about themselves.

When I turn on Skype and watch my friends burp their babies all I can think is: You are literally carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.

We have to make better choices for our children so they can make better choices for us.

Privilege and Power in Education Reform

For it is true, at least in my experience, that whites, having been largely convinced of our ability, indeed entitlement, to affect the world around us and mold it to our liking, are very much like children when we discover that at least for some things—like fundamentally altering the system of privilege and domination that first invest us with such optimism—it will take more than good intentions, determined will, and that old stand-by we euphemistically call ‘elbow grease’.

–Tim Wise, White Like Me

I pulled this quote from a reading my students did for today’s session on Race, Whiteness, and Allyhood in my Youth Empowerment course. The course itself is a community-based learning course wherein students work for a semester in a community organization serving youth. Given that I work at a largely white, wealthy, private school it seemed pertinent to include a day on race and allyhood.

Any scholarly discussion on race is rarely productive without the accompanying discourse on privilege and power. My student leaders in this course (it’s actually a student led course which is very awesome) were a bit nervous about facilitating a discussion on race and privilege but they did a great job. I was especially pleased when they highlighted this quote from Tim Wise because I think it is applicable to more than societal racism; it is also true when speaking about education reform.

In an election year, issues of educational reform are often danced around but never dissected (see previous posts on Romney and President Obama for summaries of their plans for education reform). Candidates espouse overused ideas that will allegedly close the achievement gap and equalize learning outcomes across racial and income groups. I call ‘bull’ on that (see Why the Achievement Gap Has Little to do with Students for why I disagree with current reform efforts). Their ideas are nothing but injections aimed at reducing symptoms instead of addressing causes of what we educators know to be genetic educational disorders (i.e., our education system has evolved to continuously produce the same illnesses generation after generation).

But today in class, I began to view their ideas in a new light. Instead of criticizing their ill-researched and discriminatory suggestions for reform, I should think about why they truly believe these plans will be effective. And the answer lies in Tim Wise’s quote: having been largely convinced of our ability, indeed entitlement, to affect the world around us and mold it to our liking…

In other words, our privileged belief that as educated and determined people we can solve the problem of the achievement gap with ingenuity and hard work is in effect one of the perpetrators of the continued achievement gap. Are our assumptions that we can fix anything rooted in our privileged positions within the social context of that issue?

If you ask any college educated person why there is an achievement gap, they will quickly give you a myriad of responses including: lack of parental involvement, unequal funding, unqualified teachers, lack of educational values. And these variables may indeed be (and in fact they are) contributors to the achievement gap. But they are not causes of the achievement gap. To say they are is too naive a view.

Having privilege in this situation means that you have the benefit of not being an ‘insider’in the struggle to close the gap. You are not the one whose children attend these schools, but you are the one who votes on policies affecting these schools. You are not the one whose test scores are in the bottom quartile, but instead you are the one who knows how to interpret test scores. You are not the teacher instructing students whose reading levels span 5 grades, but instead you are the one who always read above grade level. You therefore have the ability to simplify the problem to 4 or 5 influential variables that if fixed, would solve the problem of differential learning outcomes. Well isn’t that jolly?

The people who are on the ground, in the classrooms, in the neighborhoods, and in the homes live with the achievement gap on a daily basis—not just when it hits the news during an election year. They are privy to the complex intersection of social, cultural, and political variables perpetuating the inequities in our school system. If asked, these people do not point to parents, teachers, or money as the problem. They point to an infrastructure that facilitates unequal access to learning opportunities. These people—our teachers, students, parents, researchers—who struggle to close the gap on a daily basis do not have the privilege of treating reform like a ‘one stop shop’, ‘one size fits all’ enterprise. They are forced to dissect the cyclical factors affecting students’ achievement if they are to even begin to talk about ‘reform’. In fact, for the disadvantaged/other/marginalized/oppressed people who do not have situational privilege in this context, reform is an empty word. The issue is really restructuring.

Restructuring our educational goals, our pedagogical tools, our language surrounding diverse students, and our responsibilities to the children of our country. In essence, we, the privileged must acknowledge our role in maintaining a status quo that pushes others to the margins while we enjoy the benefits our privilege affords us. Like proposing one-dimensional solutions to dynamic problems.

Turn My Swag On

Today was the first day of class in my Ed Psych course. All weekend I was kind of dreading the first day because…well, I don’t know why. I just was. I’ve taught this class plenty of times so it wasn’t nervousness. I’m teaching in my favorite classroom so there was no anxiety about getting to learn the space. I just wasn’t feeling it. As of 9pm last night I was most excited about my new outfit.

A friend texted me early this morning and woke me about 30 minutes before my alarm was scheduled to go off. I read his text and then closed my eyes to get my last stretch of rest. Then my eyes popped open and I had one thought: class starts today!  To my surprise, I was excited. I thought about getting out of bed and just getting dressed and eating a good breakfast (as opposed to my usual yogurt or pop tart or instant oatmeal). Then I thought how exhausting my day was going to be so I opted to get more sleep. But I didn’t sleep. I laid there anticipating what I was going to say to my students, if I was going to accept students off of the wait list, how best to organize the classroom, reviewing my lesson plan for the day, deciding which shoes would facilitate all the walking I do around the classroom.

Then my alarm actually went off.

I hopped up out the bed, turned my swag on, and got ready for a new group of students. I went to work, answered emails, ate my yogurt, gathered my materials and headed to class.

And class was awesome blossom.

I had them working in small groups on multiple activities within 20 minutes. Their primary activity (after we defined ‘education’, ‘psychology’, and ‘education psychology’) was to design a course syllabus for a future Ed Psych class. In groups of 4-6 they were to outline daily topics with special attention paid to the order of coverage.

As they worked diligently I strolled around the room listening to their conversations and reading their notes. I posed questions to get them back on track or to (more often) rein in their thinking. After about 30 minutes we came together and each group presented their syllabus. The students made wonderful observations not only about the difficulty of creating a syllabus, but also about the breadth and depth of educational issues and the intersection of social factors, school functioning, development, and learning outcomes.

Yes, they did well. They obviously got what I wanted out of the activity, but most of all, they knew they got what I intended out of the activity.

By the end of class I could tell my students were surprised. They were surprised they actually did meaningful activities on the first day of class, but more surprised they actually learned something from them. I overheard one student say: ‘If this was the first day, I can’t wait to see what happens by Thursday.

Neither can I.