Physical Development in Education

One of my classes this semester is Human Development Through the Lifespan. Our textbook is broken down into chapters that represent each stage of development as seen with the lifespan theory (so pre-natal, infant, toddler, early childhood, middle childhood…) Within each chapter there are three sections to breakdown the three major types of development: cognitive, social-emotional, and physical.

Currently we are studying middle childhood which is highly associated with the beginning of formal education. Something that stuck with me after reading the chapter today is that I feel like school disproportionately focuses on these three types of development. Cognitive development being the most emphasized, then sometimes social-emotional development, and really physical development seems to be more of a side thing.

Sure we may have “Physical Education”(PE) time, but often this is a short amount of time, sometimes it’s only for a few days a week, sometimes it’s on rotation with other classes so kids only take PE maybe for a semester or a quarter, and as kids get older recess time becomes smaller and smaller and PE often becomes a choice class that kids can elect to take or not. Granted, as you get to high levels of education most schools will still have some sort of physical requirement like playing a sport if you choose not to take PE, but learning about development is making me wonder, is this enough? At the same time though, as a student, I’m personally very grateful I didn’t have to take PE in high school. PE was kind of seen as a class you tried to avoid because it “wasted time” in your schedule and wasn’t fun… But what does this say about the societal views on physical education?

Research says kids should be getting at least one hour of physical exercise a day for healthy physical development. Furthermore, physical ability is correlated with increased cognitive ability (which school definitely stresses). And there is also a trend in decreased physical activity and increased child obesity levels over recent years.

Physical Development So why is it that physical development in school is often treated as just a box that has to get checked off and then ignored?  Why don’t we spend more time not only talking about it’s importance, but making it fun so kids actually want to spend an hour a day exercising rather than sitting on their computer?

Ghost School

Now that New Zealand has gone down to a level 2 alert level, the university has begun to reopen certain on campus facilities. This was very lucky for me since I got an assignment this week that would be much more challenging to complete without the textbook, and I had been using the textbook from the library when needed to complete my work for this class thus far. So for the first time in 7 or 8 or some large amount of weeks (I kind of lost track at this point…) I returned to campus.

It was so strange.

The whole place felt like a ghost town or something out of a dystopian novel. You’re required to use your student ID to buzz into the building, then to get into the library there are the taped Xs to mark the line to also buzz into that space as well. Papers are hung everywhere reminding people to stay one meter/one chair a part at a minimum at all times. Purel and sanitary whipes are at every buzz in station for going in and out of rooms along with a staff member monitoring. Not to mention everyone just has this somber look to them as they’re spread out so formulaically around campus. Plus I’m pretty sure the lights were dimmed to help save energy/costs since not that many people are using the facilities at this point and there is still some natural light at all hours since the building now closes at 5 (vs midnight, might have even been later, but definitely at least midnight during the school week) .

I totally understand and agree with why these measures are being implemented, but it’s still one thing to read about new procedures in an email and then a totally different thing to experience the changes to our normal routine. In some ways complete lockdown actually felt less weird because that was a total change in everything for extreme circumstances, but now to have so many little changes feels much more odd. Not good or bad because rationally it all makes sense, but just odd because it brings attention to little tasks that would typically go unnoticed – like the process to enter a new room when you’re already in the building.

I will say the change of scenery from my bedroom was quite effective though. Considering I was only at the library for two hours today I got way more done then I expected to, and definitely more than I would have done if I stayed in my apartment. And this was even with the gloomy atmosphere, so I definitely plan to go back, but I can tell it’s going to take me some time still to get to the point where I’m actually there every day again.

Going out today reminded me that while things might be starting to look up again, we are still far from “normal” and things will never truly be the same again which is very ponderous to consider.

The Little Bugs

Throughout k-12 we learn about 5-paragraph essays. I understand why this format is used: it’s a simple way to be introduced to academic writing and when frequently writing timed essays throughout high school, there isn’t really enough time to adequately develop ideas past 5-paragraphs.

However, then you get to college and all of a sudden essays go from 600 words to 1500 words to 3500 words, and the 5-paragraph essay format just really doesn’t make sense to use at that point. But when are we expected to learn how to transition away from the 5-paragraph format? As a student it feels like this transition is just kind of thrown on you without much official guidance. It’s not even that you’re told not to use a 5-paragraph format, it’s just that it’s obvious that it doesn’t feel right when using that many words in an essay. So then everything you’ve learned about essay structure becomes warped. With a 5-paragraph essays we’re taught to introduce three main ideas in our introduction and those three ideas become the focus of each paragraph. Well, just because you’re writing more doesn’t it mean it makes sense to all of a sudden have 6 or 7 main points – then it becomes unclear what you’re saying. So how do you transition to writing multiple paragraphs about one key idea? It’s not really discussed, we’re just expected to start doing it based on gut feeling I guess…

Not to mention there is a whole other kind of academic writing that honestly hardly gets touched on at all in high school: reports. We talk about research reports and maybe look at one or two, we maybe even try to write one, but I remember even with the one time I was assigned to write a report in high school for AP Chem, the teacher’s instruction was, “look up examples online and base it on that.” So my peers and I kind of just winged it and I don’t remember getting much feedback on the matter. Yet we when we then were in college chemistry our first semester of freshman year, we’re all of a sudden assigned a research report every week after lab.

To be honest this isn’t a huge issue in the grand scheme of things that need to change with our education system, but sometimes it’s the little things that just really bother me. The little things show just how disconnected our k-12 and high ed programs are from each other. There are things like long essay and report writing that seem to never really get taught, and yet there are things like general US history that seem to be required every two years starting in 2nd grade and all the way into college… (I legitemently have a “US Consistitution requirement” in my online degree portal, and I took this course online and it was one of the easiest classes I’ve ever taken because I learned nothing new.) The little things on their own may seem insignificant, but they can be really bothersome for students especially when those little things start to add up.

Empathy Seeking

Online learning has been a wild ride… Personally, I’ve had moments where I’ve been frustrated, bored, and even, occasionally, pleasantly surprised by elements that come with school online. Because of this, I’ve partnered with OpenIDEO as a community coach on their current design challenge around reimagining learning during COVID-19. If you have any ideas (tested or half-baked), are looking for new ideas, or just want to express some problem points around our current learning situation I’d encourage taking a look at/contributing to the OpenIDEO site.
I’m trying to do a little of my own empathy seeking because I noticed an (unsurprising) lack of student voices shared on the platform, and yet student stories are some of the most insightful voices we need right now. So I’ve come up with these three quick questions that I’d love people (young learners especially, though I also welcome teachers, parents, parents on behalf of kids, etc) to respond to in the comment section. I’m hoping to take away some trends to be able to share with the rest of the OpenIDEO community to make sure we’re actually ideating for user needs:
  1. What’s your biggest frustration/what’s driving you crazy about online learning? 

  2. What’s your favorite part?

  3. It would be better if…

Furthermore, if you are a student and interested in joining a virtual collaborative discussion/brainstorm session to dive deeper into this topic, I’m hosting a student gathering this Sunday night, May 17th from 7-8pm EST. Use this form to sign up so I can send out the Zoom link.

Moving Forward

After 7.5 weeks of lockdown, in 3 hours New Zealand will officially move down to alert level 2!!! That mean restaurants, university spaces, museums, beaches, etc will all start reopening!

Classes are still online for the rest of the semester, we are still limited to not being in groups larger than 10, and we still will have requirements with tracking where we’ve been/who we’re in contact with, but this is so exciting!!!

Honestly, I’m having a hard time believing things are actually going to start returning to “normal.” It’s especially hard to imagine while I also keep hearing news about the US and the conversations around the likelihood that schools there will still remain online in the fall. Everyone I talk to keeps saying they’re so sorry for my situation and how they know this wasn’t the semester abroad I planned/hoped for, but to be honest, I’m grateful that I was abroad this semester of all semesters. I’m in one of the safest places on the planet right now and I have a chance to actually go back to school/life not online next semester. I wouldn’t trade a more “normal” semester here for being in the US right now…

The hardest part is that it’s definitely been lonely having been pretty much entirely isolated for 7.5 weeks. Technology is amazing and I can’t imagine having lived through this 10 years ago, but video chats can’t replace face-to-face interactions. And what really stinks is that even though starting tomorrow I can see people again, there really isn’t anyone for me to go celebrate with here. Most of my friends during those first few weeks were also international students, but they decided to return home. And my roommate is staying with her family rather than returning to the dorms since school is still online, so now it’s like I’m back to square one being the new kid trying to meet people but during a time where we’re still pretty restricted on actually being around people… It’ll be challenging for sure, and I’m feeling more than a bit uncomfy about the idea of readjusting yet again to a new normal (moved across the world, got switched to different housing and different roommate, had a week of site seeing, three weeks of classes, 4 weeks total lockdown, 3 weeks online classes and lockdown, now online classes with restrictions, and who knows what’s next… it’s been a year of lot’s of adjusting and I’m not exactly the best with constant change as I like patterns…) but overall I’m just feeling so grateful with the way things played out here.

It’s not over yet, but we’re moving in a good direction away from this pandemic.

A Star in the Sky

For the past few weeks, I have been working on the brainstorming and planning behind what it would look like to host a virtual design jam (a design thinking workshop/challenge). We hope to start officially marketing the event next week, and I was originally going to wait until then to post about how much I’ve been enjoying working on this project, but I decided I couldn’t wait. It’s been so much fun to plan because I have to rethink everything I would normally do and figure out how to adapt it for an online environment and that’s been a weirdly amusing thought puzzle for me.

Today we had a group meeting with all of our table coaches for the workshop and even then I found myself still catching more little details that could be adjusted to make for a more interactive and engaging experience. It seems that every time I revisit the plans I realize there is something else I could do to make the process more efficient, and I think it’s finally starting to take on a really cool shape.

What excites me the most about this idea is that if we can pull it off, then a virtual design jam will be another tool in our pocket that we can continue to build on in the future. Being able to host a workshop virtually would give us the option to connect with such a wider range of people in the future and that’s a really exciting thought. To not be bound by the limits of physical location is truly game-changing, and I’m not sure we would have had the push to try out this concept had it not been for this pandemic; it’s forcing us to think differently and try new things that have the potential for great capacity building.

This pandemic has been awful, but it’s nice to remember that even on the darkest night, a few stars can still be found.

Over-Planning

Last night, for the first time probably in the last year, I found myself up working past 11pm. And ever since I finished my original 100 days of blogging challenge, I have always given myself the rule that if I’m working past 11pm then I’m not going to try blogging at that point.

I easily could’ve had time last night, but I think the hardest thing for me with going into lockdown and then transitioning back to school has been trying to get used to all the changes to my daily routine.

When we went into lockdown, at first there was basically nothing productive that needed to be done. As long as it could be done in my apartment, I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I could decide to stay in bed all day. I could decide in the middle of the afternoon to play flute for several hours. I could transition between random activities without worrying about not completing the previous project.

Now with school back in session, my environment is the same and, therefore, my external circumstances feel the same, so I have the desire to stay in bed, spend multiple hours on a hobby, and transition between activities whenever I’m urged to. However, I can’t really do any of these things now because I have actual deadlines again. Certain things have to be done at certain times and they have to be completed before I move on. So when I decide to spend two hours in the middle of the day playing the flute, it has the consequence of me then having to work past 11pm…

This has been a hard adjustment, especially since so little of the rest of my circumstances have changed. (As in I’m basically still in lockdown with everything being closed and me staying inside, it’s just that school started and there are conversations about things re-opening.) From the beginning, I decided to try to keep to what would’ve been my school schedule even though most of my classes are now pre-recorded so I could technically have any schedule I’d like. I thought this might help give me some consistency which would help make sure I actually watch the videos.

But then I have days like yesterday where my schedule gets all sorts of messed up because I was invited to a different virtual meeting that overlapped with a class, so I re-arranged my schedule because it was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. While I believe I made the right decision, and honestly it made me appreciate the flexibility of online-learning where I could prioritize a work opportunity over attending class live (this class was actually one of my 2 classes hosted on Zoom, but the video is posted later in the day so I was able to still watch the entire lecture), the decision definitely contributed to me getting all out of wack with getting work done yesterday. 

So today I decided to bring back an old habit of mine to help with prioritizing tasks; I’ve taken a homemade whiteboard (printer paper in a sheet protector) and listed out all of the things I need to get done in the next two weeks in the order I think I should do them and what day I should work on what. Perhaps this is over planning, but I think that maybe a little over-planning will help me re-adjust to the fact that I do now need to get back in the mindset of planning ahead.

If you’re also struggling with prioritizing work during quarantine, perhaps over planning and scheduling could help you too.

Class Culture in a Digital Environment

Every class is like it’s own little community, complete with its own culture including values, customs, and norms. Like the policy on going to the bathroom during class, or how comfortable people are with speaking up, or inside jokes that develop, or how loud the room is before class starts, etc. All of these little elements are what makes every class unique despite if the teacher and subject material are the same.

Having only had three weeks of school before the break, I don’t think any of my classes really met enough times to truly establish their own unique culture yet. However, these cultures definitely started to develop and there are usually some consistencies between all classes, but now being online, it’s been very interesting to see how the digital platform has changed class cultures.

In a lot of my classes, we never see each other’s faces besides maybe the few individuals that actually turn their video camera’s on. It’s very strange to not be able to read the room based on other people’s facial reactions and body language and I can tell the lecturers definitely notice this change. Plus fewer people speak out loud to ask questions or make comments, but in some cases, there is actually more participation due to the option to type in the chat versus having to speak in front of the class. The option to share reactions has also been an interesting tool that gives facilitators more direct in the moment feedback and some of my classes have really been taking advantage of that.

It‘s been odd though to not really know the individuals that make up the class, especially in my classes that have chosen to interact through pre-recorded videos; there are online discussion boards, but so many people post under the name “anonymous” that it’s hard to know how many are really participating. This change in participation has also really changed the social part of classes. It basically doesn’t exist, at least not peer-to-peer socialization anymore. There are no longer showing up to class conversations, or bumping into new people you met but didn’t realize you were in the same class, or partner conversations to help better learn the material and the people you’re learning with (ie your community).

The greatest change I’ve noticed is that it seems like everyone values “learning breaks” a lot more in this digital environment. Everyone is concerned with the idea of learning for more than 25 minutes at a time. In some cases, I really appreciate the additional breaks teachers are taking during live video chats and making pre-recorded videos in small segments rather than all at once. Though I had one class today that was only 50 minutes and our TA tried having 2 three minute breaks during this class and it just seemed weird, someone suggested we don’t do breaks next class and pretty much everyone agreed. It’s funny to me because if we were in person together I’ve sat in plenty of lectures that go on for an hour and a half without a break.

Only being a week and a half into online learning, I’m sure there are still many developments yet to come with our online communities, and I’m very curious to continue to see how our new mode of learning affects the culture of classrooms.

The Things That Never Change

I realized today I’m kind of grateful that New Zealand went into lockdown. Obviously, going into lockdown mode has had tremendous success health-wise, but also it’s made doing online learning much easier.

Sitting in front of a computer listening to pre-recorded video lectures all day would be a lot more annoying if I knew there were other things I could be doing like visiting museums, traveling to different parts of the country, even just going out to eat. But since I’m stuck inside anyway, there’s only so many options for what else to do, so I might as well be doing school work.

Today was only day 2 of online learning but it was a long day. We decide to set up individual family meetings with our team gymnast and their parents so that everyone can get a chance to ask 1:1 questions to coaches. The first round of these meetings started today, so that’s how I spent the first three hours of my day (in addition to our Zoom class). Then after lunch, I spent the next 6 hours doing school work. It’s very odd to in someways feel like it’s only the second day of school, but at the same time have the workload of actually being a month into school.

My first real assignment of the year is due tomorrow. (I say “real assignment” because I’ve submitted a few practice multiple choice test, but we get to take those as many times as we like and it’s just multiple choice so there isn’t really much thought work involved.) I’m a little stressed about this essay though. Maybe it’s because this is my first semester of traditional school since this time last year, or maybe it’s because I’m curious as to what to expect from New Zealand grading vs US, or maybe it’s just because we’ve been out of school for a month and I haven’t even had this class since being back and yet we already have an assignment due.

The topic is about how COVID-19 is affecting international business, and it feels like one of those topics that almost has too much information to discuss and the challenging part is trying to limit what you talk about. Plus we only have 1000 words to use, and I learned earlier today that our reference list is included in this word count, which I found kind of crazy because it’s the only class I’ve had where we’re being told to not use lots of citations.

After finding this out I had to do a lot of last-minute editing today, so thank goodness I have great friends who are willing to stay up past midnight to help me edit down my essay. Ever since high school, there has been a group of us – as one teacher put it, “The Brain Trust” – that has always helped out when it comes to giving feedback on each other’s work. No matter the time, topic, or apparently the state of the world, I somehow am lucky enough to still be able to count on these friends for some last-minute help.

This was a great reminder today, that some things never change, even in the midst of a pandemic.

 

 

(Extra tangent: I have to say our feedback process is actually very amusing. As stressful as it can be, it’s also kind of one of my favorite things to just be rapidly co-editing a document with someone in The Brain Trust. Typically we are on a Google Doc leaving feedback as comments and suggestions so the other person can see the changes we’re making before approving or not approving them. Even I, as the writer on this occasion, made my new changes first as suggestions so someone else could also see the changes I was thinking about. We also tend to not necessarily move in a logical order. We move throughout the essay repeatedly, sometimes all looking at the same section and sometimes working on multiple sections at once making notes when we see them, and also replying to each other’s comments. Often the rapid co-editing is due to needing word count help, but it isn’t always, sometimes we just want general feedback on the content and the writer is also making changes in real-time so we give continuous feedback for a given period of time until everyone thinks it looks good. My favorite part though is we don’t just make comments about things that should change; it’s more like annotating a book where sometimes we’re just commenting about the writing itself and start a whole sidebar conversation and that’s what’s so amusing to me. It’s proof that giving and receiving feedback really is a gift and it can be a fun process if everyone is open and accepting of the feedback – which doesn’t mean always implementing the feedback, it just means being willing to consider the feedback.)

Virtual School: Day 1

Today was my first day back to school.

My initial thoughts about online learning: it’s going to be a long 9 weeks…

It’ll be manageable, but it’ll be long.

Surprisingly only one of my teachers opted to do live Zoom lectures. The other four classes are all being taught through pre-recorded video lectures, with optional Q&A Zoom calls. Most of my classes also have a “tutorial session” in addition to our lecture time where we meet with smaller groups to go over examples and have discussions; for the classes that have tutorials, those are also being made optional but are done live on Zoom.

Today I had my one Zoom class and two other “classes” (ie I watched the pre-recorded videos for these two classes during what should’ve been my normal class time). For the Zoom class, being online made the lecture feel a lot longer than normal. I know this is partly because we’re still in this weird trial period of everyone figuring out how things work and getting adjusted, but I think I had a false hope that things would be smoother at this point after having the break time where people theoretically could get more acquainted with online learning structures.

In terms of my pre-recorded classes, I really appreciated how my professors broke down the lectures into chunks of videos that are each only 12-20 minutes long as opposed to trying to do a full lecture in one video. Even though the total length of the lectures is the same, the psychology facts really seem to hold up with the concept that the shorter video chunks make the material feel more digestible and actually makes total time feel shorter. Though I do miss actually being able to see the faces of my lecturers while they present. Plus I feel like now my lecturers really are just reading straight from the slides which is kind of annoying especially when I feel like I’m always being told that’s the number 1 “don’t do” while giving a presentation so it always bothers me when teachers do this.

The whole switch to learning from pre-recorded videos also made me think a lot about Crash Course videos, because some of the videos I had to watch today were really boring… Like my textbook was more interesting and yet the lecture was just re-iterating almost verbatim what the textbook says! Crash Course videos though are super engaging while also being educational; I binge-watched all of the World History Crash Course episodes before the AP World exam way back when, and I definitely think that factored into why this ended up being one of my best AP exams. I actually watched a few of the econ Crash Course episodes today to compare them to the econ videos my professor made for today’s lecture. This made me wonder, wouldn’t it be kind of interesting to have a class based on Crash Course?

Like what if instead of being assigned to read chapters out a textbook we were assigned a Crash Course video to watch and then used class time to just discuss and expand upon ideas. I don’t think this is a super far-fetched idea nor do I think it’s the most learner-centered idea, but maybe that’s why it intrigues me – it kind of feels like a baby step.

The idea makes me think of how people try to do flipped classrooms, but I’d like to imagine this might be better because I’m just suggesting instead of reading a textbook chapter at home, watch a Crash Course video at home. I think flipped classrooms start to fail when kids are asked to do more than just digest information at home – when kids are expected to teach themselves material well enough to then also answer homework problems on the material before ever talking about the info in class, that’s when things get dysfunctional.

(Tangent: I mention this because every experience I’ve had with flipped classrooms has been pretty awful. About half of the class doesn’t understand what’s happening and gets super stressed trying to do the work at home without knowing what’s going on and then they come into class confused and upset and ask a million questions which takes up the entire class period. This then makes all the kids who did figure out the concepts at home feel like they’re being held back because the entire class turns into asking questions about the homework they already finished and understood. I remember being in a class like this and it was so annoying that I ended up just doing the next day’s homework during class, and eventually, it was so bad I asked to go sit in the hallway and do the next day’s work because it felt more disruptive to my learning to actually be in the classroom.)

I’m so intrigued by this idea of using Crash Course instead of a textbook because:

  1.  It seems really simple to implement.
  2. Watching a Crash Course video is way more engaging than reading a textbook chapter and I’d imagine kids would retain the same if not more information afterwords.
  3. The role of the teacher would have to shift.

Currently, in a lot of classes, the teacher gives lectures that are viewed as supplementary material to the textbook or in some cases just a straight-up reiteration of the textbook as a spoken presentation instead of reading the information; either way at the end of the day the textbook is the primary source of information. If a teacher were to use Crash Course instead of a textbook, then class lectures would be expected to be the time for going more in-depth and therefore, become more significant because Crash Courses are designed to be summaries and overviews versus textbooks are designed to be full of details.

Doesn’t it make more sense to look at a summarized amount of information before class and then go into class to learn more details, versus look at a super in-depth version of the information and then go into class and just repeat that information? The information gets repeated because it’s assumed we didn’t learn it the first time, so why are we putting in that extra work anyway if the assumption is most students didn’t do or didn’t understand the work? The reverse of that being, if you were to assume we did read and understand the material, then why go to class to hear the same info? (ie the flipped classroom dilemma: you can’t say “learn on your own at home then have a discussion in class,” because not everyone will successfully learn on their own at home so you will never get to the point of having discussions; the class will just be re-iteration of the “homework.”)

The role of textbooks just really doesn’t make sense to me in this sense and it’s been especially apparent now that learning is online.

To me, I just feel like all of the big things we should know should be what’s talked about during class, and anything we do outside of the classroom should be designed to help us better understand what’s talked about in class. This seems obvious, but I feel like more often what happens is that the textbook is viewed as everything we need to know and then the class is just extra help to understand the textbook. This mindset is why so many college kids don’t go to lectures and instead just read the textbook on their own and take assignments, and I’m sure if they were allowed to, high school kids would do the same – clearly, there is a flaw with the purpose of school if this is the case.

So this brings me back to: the next 9 weeks are going to be long.

But to some extent, I do appreciate being back in classes because it has gotten me thinking more again and I’ve enjoyed the various thoughts of the day that come from working and not just trying to keep from getting bored.