My ISTE Portfolio

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My Philosophy for 21stlearning

My philosophy of teaching has its roots in the perennialism I was taught under in high school, and its negative impact on me. I was taught to memorize, rather than understand concepts. This, especially in math, led me to internalize that I was bad at it. I studiously avoided the subject through college. I was able to exploit a loophole to get a BS in Biology without ever taking calculus. Once I did in preparation for grad school in Marine Biology, I understood the concepts behind Algebra, and in retrospect realized it was easy and I was quite good at it. This, in part, lead to my interest in education. And at Brown, I was introduced to the philosophies of John Dewey that were to shape my teaching.

My philosophy has its basis in the idea that human beings have an inherent, intrinsic, child-like curiosity and desire to learn. At the same time, we are programmed to avoid topics we feel we are bad at due to a desire not to fail or look inept in the eyes our peers or role models. I believe if we can tap into this intrinsic motivation, giving the student 'permission' to excel, the net effect is much more powerful than extrinsic motivators like grades or the idea of going to college.

My philosophy, therefore, is based on the idea of the student as the generator of knowledge, and the teacher a the facilitator of that knowledge creation, rather than the unquestionable sole source. All students, as Dewey notes, come to a classroom with a lifetime of unique experiences and knowledge which will be different from any other. In America's heterogeneous classrooms, this is amplified. The teacher, therefore, needs to act as a bridge between what a student brings to class, and where they need to go. This is in line with the idea of "scaffolding" by Lev Vygotsky (and Bruner).

This customization of content to each student in an authentic and productive manner was seen as an odious, even unrealistic task for a teacher with so many students. It involves a lot of preparation by the teacher to achieve the needed addressing of each students zone of proximal development. In the late 90's when I started teaching it was overwhelming, but now, technology has finally brought it to within reach! That is why I have entered this program. I believe the correct use of technology can bring us to the point where each student can pursue knowledge based on their own interests and curiosity. We need to turn away from the misdirection of No Child Left Behind and its emphasis on extrinsic motivators ( for students and teachers).

As teachers, if we can foster a desire within our children to learn, and that such an enterprise is worthy of their time and effort, imminently approachable and within the scope of their ability, we can solve many of the problems facing education today. If we make the assessment authentic instead of a multiple choice test we can convince students they can succeed while not sacrificing standards. Especially we need to address the drop out rate, and the low participation in STEM activities. Education, especially STEM education, is key to students not only finding fulfilling and well paid careers, but, as Dewey suggests, will allow for full participation of all people in democracy.

Put into terms of the inspirations, my philosophy is existential and heavily influenced by the philosophies of Dewey, Vygotsky, and Freund (dollhouse theory). It was inspired by Dr. Ted Sizer's class and his book Horace's hope.

In today’s classroom, the availability of technological tools comes closer than ever to the dreams of Dewey, Vygotsky, and more recently, Sizer. The 21st Century learning experience has the potential to truly be individualized and promote the active and collaborative acquisition of knowledge which could revolutionize our democratic system and world. I believe that all teachers need to transform their practices with these new tools. I believe I can help them to find that path.

References: Sizer, Ted (1996) Horace's Hope: What Works for American High School, Mariner Books, 224pp. Ornstein, Allan and Hunkins, Francis (2012), Curriculum: Foundations, Principles, and Issues, 6/e , Pearson, 336pp.