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CLXXV

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

My friend Mike Bauman is the greatest living practitioner of the Socratic Method on the planet, bar none—as many of his terrorized students will attest.  #Hillsdale  #SummitSemester

Michael Bauman

Michael Bauman

THE SOCRATIC METHOD AT WORK:

Michael Bauman Teaching Milton

“The first rule: Don’t trust anything I say

(I might be speaking for the Enemy),

But when Truth calls to you, you must obey.”

The student body shuddered in dismay,

With pens arrested in mid-note, to see

The first rule:  “Don’t trust anything I say.”

“For there is Truth, though narrow is the Way,

And few that find it.”  (But they will be free

If, when Truth calls to them, they just obey.)

“Do you think that, or is it just O. K.

Because I said it?”  This, persistently.

The first rule: “Don’t trust anything I say.”

“And what is Truth?  And what the Good?  To play

The game, you have to know the rules—the key—

So when Truth calls to you, you can obey.”

His every wink and word was to convey

The simple skill of doubting faithfully.

The first rule:  “Don’t trust anything I say,

But when Truth calls to you, you must obey.”

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

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The Goal of Our Instruction–What it means to be a Professor

 

iamproftshirt

The T-Shirt you see above has been appearing all over Facebook of late, as if it conveyed some self-evident and profound message. Instead, I find it contrary to every value a professor ought to profess. Why not rather tell your students to assume you are wrong unless and until you make a solid case that you are right? Why not tell them to search the Scriptures daily to see if you are right or not? If your professor wears this shirt, run, do not walk, to Drop-Add, and save yourself a wasted semester.

One who taught me the how as well as the what of thinking

One who taught me the how as well as the what of thinking

Are we professors there in the classroom to teach our students what to think, or how to think? I certainly have some ideas that I think are true and important, and I hope that my students adopt them. But unless I teach them how to think, how to know when to swallow something and when not to, it won’t really matter whether they swallow my ideas or not. They would only last until the next authoritative pontificator contradicts them anyway.

Another who taught me as much about the how as the what of thinking

Another who taught me as much about the how as the what of thinking

What to think or how? You cannot do the former profitably until you have done the latter. And you can’t do the latter if your students are not encouraged to question–even to question you. They need to learn to do it courteously and respectfully, but they need to know they are encouraged to do it.

 
Now these [the members of the Jewish synagogue at Berea] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, searching the Scripures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

Me when my students embrace good ideas for the right reasons

Me when my students embrace good ideas for the right reasons

Let’s raise up more noble Bereans!

Dr. Williams hopes his books are good models of how to think as well as what to think.  Order them at the Lantern Hollow Press estore!

https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/

Of White Nuns and General Custard

I’m doing some writing and reading of an entirely different nature lately.  No dragons, no magic powers, no Edric and Flavia.  There are, however, kings, plots to take over the world, disappearing ships, and crumbling empires.  And, some of the reading I have been doing is definitely fantasy.

Yes, it is finals week at school.

This year, I only had to write one final, since I opted against giving one in the elective that I teach and chose to use the same exam as the other two history teachers for the ninth grade final.  Writing a good final exam requires the finesse of both an artist and a psychiatrist, with, of course, a mastery of the subject material.  One must mislead those who didn’t study, so that they can’t just make lucky guesses, while rewarding those who did study with questions that do not stray from the important points.

To be fair, I need to discuss my own shortcomings in test writing before I talk about answers from students.  Let’s be honest — teachers make mistakes, too.

In Round One with the sophomore final, I created a nightmarish conglomeration of bad formatting and typos — part of which I blame entirely on the fact that I was using Microsoft Word.  In Round Two, I completed and turned in a test that was worth 104 points instead of 100, had two sections mislabeled, and completely left off a map that I had planned to test on.  I caught my errors and fixed them; Round Three seemed to me to be the perfect test, and I happily sent it in to be distributed amongst my sophomores on test day.  I was satisfied that I had created the perfect low-stress-to-grade test that would still measure comprehension and point out to me all of the slackers.

On test day, all of my sophomores were quick to notice that I put Henry VII as an option twice on one section, while leaving off Henry VIII (in my defense, roman numerals blend together on a computer screen when the teacher is sleep-deprived).

Where does the fantasy reading come in?  Oh, that’s in the essays I’m grading.  Essays on the freshmen exam, essays that the sophomores wrote before the exam, essays that I should have graded weeks ago but was too busy to get around to, and mini-essays that my four precious ESL students wrote for me (I teach them outside of school and get paid in hugs).  Some of these written creations are brilliant, some are a wee bit jumbled but still give evidence of effort, some have a few creative liberties taken with facts, and, fortunately, only a couple of them . . . make me put a pillow in front of my face to stifle my screams.

Some of the errors are quite forgivable: little typos that good students miss when they check (or don’t check) their work, which turn perfectly nice essays into humor pieces.  This is what I deal mostly with, I am happy to say, since the vast majority of my students are quite intelligent and hard-working.  The essays of these students are usually far superior to many of the college essays that I graded years ago at UNCW (as a teaching assistant), but they have tiny, charming, high school student mistakes that turn history into fantasy.  Many of the best examples come from the brightest students.  So far, my personal favorite is the result of an ‘n’ replacing an ‘h’ at the beginning of a word:  Did you know that the Gupta Empire was overrun by white nuns?  In another classic, I learned that “curvy” was a constant danger for sailors, who didn’t have access to fresh fruit on their long voyages.  And of course, in another of my favorites, Martin Luther posted 95 feces to the doors of the church at Wittenberg.

Some essays are just pure fantasy.  According to one student that I had in the past, General Custard made his last stand on Little Round Top and then went on to run for president (I’m just guessing here, but I think the student was trying to discuss Custer’s last stand).  In an essay this year, a student informed me that the Japanese Closed Country Edict was entirely the result of fears that Chinese Renaissance artists would ally with the Dutch (I must have missed that lesson).  Botticelli was a famous mercenary who got into trouble with the Medici family.  Niccolo Machiavelli was a renowned Flemish artist who specialized in oil paints.  Roe vs. Wade (as I read, I am sorry to say, in a college essay) was the court case that allowed for the teaching of Christian principles in American public schools.

One type of essay that I see no matter where in the world I teach (and no matter what age the students are) is what I like to call the “But wait, I do know this!” essays.  These are where the student completely did not study the question that you told him in advance to prepare for, but he hopes that his knowledge of a marginally related topic will inspire forgiveness in your heart and partial credit on his test.  For example, I got an essay on an earlier test that I gave in which a student told me all about mummification instead of the Egyptian pyramid texts and Book of the Dead.  I received another essay that told me all about the evils of slavery instead of the Columbian Exchange.

It occurred to me earlier today that I should use student essays as inspiration for short stories.  After all, what could make a more page-turning story than the idea of an army of war-mongering nuns, clad entirely in white, invading a great empire (perhaps riding elephants as they did so)?

“First, They Both Have Food” – How “Thinking” Has Become a New Elective

Sometimes, the only way teachers, tutors, and professors can survive a particularly “special” student paper is to learn how to enjoy it for its more charming qualities.  I have written before on grammatical “mystics”, but now I would just like to share a few thoughts on the tragedy (and hilarity) of simplicity.

Some students really don’t know how to convey deep ideas on paper.  It is not necessarily that they are unintelligent (though in the midst of our frustration in grading, we might begin to wonder), but that they are unwilling or unable to think deeply and critically about an idea.  It seems that the majority of students are exposed to little reading and even less writing in their middle and high school careers.  Most students do the bare minimum and escape the painful world of words as soon as they can.  By the time they arrive at college, they still struggle with the basics of a comparison/contrast essay.  How are cats and dogs similar?  How are they different?  Will we ever know?

Well, I got another one of those yesterday. This ambitious student wanted to compare two restaurants.  Charming soul that he was, he chose Hooters as one and compared it with an Italian place.   Aside from the fact that he rambled incoherently about his favorite foods and watching sports in the “wholesome family environment” at Hooters, he had a lot of trouble simply finding points of comparison and contrast.

He began his list of similarities with the astonishing revelation:

“First, they both serve food.”

I knew I had my work cut out for me.

How do you teach someone to think deeply and look beyond the most simplistic of revelations?  It comes down to more than just knowing how to write.  Do I have to teach these students how to think as well to put words on paper?  I tried to explain the problem here and asked him to look a little further and to try to bring something to his paper that the reader might not already know.  I will never know if I got through to him, but I can hope.

I guess the “moral” of this story is that most students dismiss reading and writing out of hand as irrelevant and useless to their futures without realizing the benefits of being both well-read and a good writer.  Reading and writing both force you to think and judge and learn how to express things for yourself, and that is what this student, among others, is sorely lacking.

I might philosophically dismiss this essay as just one poor paper and expect something better to follow.  After all, there are so many smart and well written students out there.  I should not despair entirely, right?  But of course, today was just not that sort of day.  My very next essay began with this gem:

Each day begins with morning and ends with night.

Let’s just say that was the most thought provoking thing that was said in the essay.

So I suppose I must continue to do my part in passing on what little I know about writing to those who know even less and hope for better and brighter days (that begin with morning and end with night, of course) in which my students will rise to the occasion and write thought-provoking essays on deep and interesting topics.

In the meantime, we can all dwell on the incredible news that there are two restaurants out there that share the unique attribute of serving food.

Who knew, right?

Educational Video Games: Why They Might Actually Work

Hello all! Last week I promised a Science Fiction Problems, but when I saw this article, I was too jazzed about it to hold off. So, here’s my take on an exciting trend in video games, and how it might be used to solve some of the major problems now faced in the education of our children.

They’re Fun And Educational?

MathBlaster Episode One

Having had an aversion to all things Mathamatic, I would always just end up turning down the difficulty and playing games like this without really learning anything

The idea of educational video games has been around almost since the medium’s invention, but there have been very few that have bridged the gap from Educational Toy to Video Game in their own right. From Mathblaster to The Typing of the Dead, educational video games have been pretty much just a dressing for what kids are already learning in school. If kids are already bored in math class, they aren’t going to be any more excited about a game about math, or any other topic for that matter.

Educational video games require an intention and determination on the part of the player (or the teacher or parent) to learn through the game. Video games are usually played for entertainment, whereas educational games are played in order to learn- because of this distinction, the usual flaws and lack of quality seen in edu-games are overlooked, because the game itself is merely a vehicle, and in many cases, the “fun” of the game relies almost solely on the player’s interest in the subject. These games can be a way to sharpen a student’s skills or knowledge in a subject, but it’s very unlikely that kids would play it simply for enjoyment. Why would they when they have the purely explosion-and-bullet-based entertainment seen in the latest AAA console shooter ready for them as soon as they’re done with their Social Studies project on the American Revolution?

In practice, kids get their school work finished ASAP so they can have more time to play video games (if they have them, obviously). Typically, if parents find this to be a problem, they will either force their kids to play educational games instead or eliminate video game access completely. It seems that no matter how much fun the edu-game packaging tells you it is, kids will opt for the real stuff any day, given the choice.

Are video games and education forever at war? Well, what if they worked together, building on the strengths of both?

Code Hero: For the Aspiring Software Developer in Your Family!

codehero splash

Every action in the game is performed through the use of programming code, and various puzzles can only be solved by writing scripts on the fly

Now I know what some of you are thinking: yes, in an ideal world kids would just want to learn so very much, and would require no extra motivation except the joy of cramming more education into their sponge-like minds. However, as we all know, this is not the case for the majority of kids. Good teachers always try to engage the minds of their students in interesting and creative ways, but not only are they battling the negative stigmas of childrens’ peers, but often the influences in the home they cannot affect. The deck is stacked against teachers as they attempt to make kids actually care about their education.

While I happen to believe that education is undervalued in our society and that not all people are capable of attaining academic heights, I also believe that for some time now we’ve been far behind the curve of technology in what tools we utilize in the classroom, ignoring some of our best resources for reaching an apathetic generation with the joys of learning and the satisfaction of mastery.

Enter Code Hero: a game that kids (and many adults) would actually like to play, that teaches them skills that are instantly transferable the real world, and potentially, to a career.

Having taken two college-level courses in C++, I think I can say with authority that unless it’s really your thing, programming is really dry, complicated, frustrating stuff. I know I know, I’m supposed to be the resident tech guru and science buff and everything, but If I ever have to debug ONE MORE 200-line code, my brain will explode in flames out of my ears. If I had had the opportunity to learn even just the basics through a game like this, however, I think I might have a different opinion about the field:

This is not a lecture series on Javascript. Its a video game in its own right, yet the skills learned in order to beat it can be immediately used (on the very same computer) to write in programming code- something done in several well-paying careers. If anything, this game could inspire otherwise disinterested students to pursue a career in something they had never even considered before, and there’s no reason why the same couldn’t be done for Mathematics, History, Philosophy, English- take your pick. There are applications for any subject you can think of.

Many skills and subjects in school are most easily learned through  interractivity. This is why elementary school teachers use songs and funny rhymes to stick spelling and math into their students’ brains, and why in college, small class sizes are preferred. Simply talking at a huge group of students is a recipe for blank stares and drooping eyelids. If a teacher wants his students to be engaged with his subject, he must first make his teaching an interactive experience- and where interactivity is concerned, video games are king. There is no other medium that can be as immersive and compelling while still requiring active participation and complete concentration from its participants. While I’m not saying they should replace lectures,  if properly utilized, video games could revolutionize education for the better.

I’ve already talked about the concept of Gamification in the workplace, but these same benefits can be applied to education, augmenting teacher’s efforts to engage students and stripping away much of the drudgery that those students despise. Learning can be fun, and by using carefully-crafted video game, teachers can diminish the unwillingness of students to take advantage of the education available to them. While there is a delicate balance that must be struck to ensure that the education does not suffer while still remaining an engaging experience, not only is it possible for students to learn complex skills (like programming) through video games, it’s already being done.

That’s all for this week! Until next time, who here thinks I’m out of line for hoping this trend continues? C’mon, I want some raging academics here, front and center!