Education, Creativity, Curiosity and Feelings

I found Tepper’s and Kuh’s 2011 “Let’s get serious about cultivating creativity” article quite interesting. He presents 7 core abilities based on existing research that define creativity. Moreover, he stresses that creativity is cultivated through rigorous training and it is not an abstract concept. He mentions that in arts school, creativity is more successfully developed through the curriculum. Fortunately, the National Science Board has been collecting data to track data an improve arts-school education. Ultimately, the authors suggest incorporating the use the methods of arts school in other disciplines.

I agree with W. Gardner Campbell’s article on curiosity as a learning outcome, however what’s begs the question is, how should we do that? In addition, why should we need to trade compliance for curiosity, can’t they both co-exist? Isn’t there a dynamic interrelationship, between curiosity and outcome, in that both of them affect each other?

Finally, Paul Silvia’s piece regarding the knowledge of emotions and how they affect education helped me understand better how feelings (i.e. curiosity, emotions, interest etc) are fundamental in the learning process. It would be interesting to add some of these ideas during a lecture, fostering different type of emotions to help students to learn better.

Savor the Emotions

smell the flowersPaul Silvia’s article Knowledge Emotions may hold some clues for successfully integrating feature films into instruction, something that intrigues and fascinates me. I have a hunch that providing the class with a common emotional experience and a set of scenarios to frame learning later in the course is an effective way to foster deep learning, leading to knowledge transfer, but I do not have much guidance for designing lesson plans around multimedia instruction. The article explains that interest is an intrinsic motivation for learning.  In other words, the class will want to watch an interesting movie for the pleasure derived from it rather than for a grade.  Interest will motivate exploration, which disposes the class toward reflection and deep engagement.  Adding a wrap-up or debriefing allows for this reflection and is also a change-up activity, as suggested in this week’s reading by Middendorf and Kalish. Movies can be highly effective to motivate or facilitate learning when they induce a state of awe, which is something not typically provoked by traditional lecture. The movie sound track can be part of the awe-inspiring experience that opens one to further learning.  I have wanted to open the first day of class with the theme of 2001. In The Slow Professor, Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber speak to the “emotional” aspect of learning as they advocate for time for reflection, deliberation, and open-ended inquiry in pedagogical practices, for “cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience.”  [Berg 2016] Enjoying a movie together is a splendid way for a learning community to build pauses for reflection into its learning environment. Not only are emotions key to disposing one toward learning; they tend to feel good, and thus may contribute to well-being in general.  This weekend, as I endured an incredibly painful medical condition no doubt brought on in part by the stress of an academic job, I spent an hour watching a satirical current events show with my daughter.  Laughing with Katherine made me conscious that the physical and psychological grip of the pain was weakened slightly during that hour. With this week’s readings, I have a few more ideas about using movies and other multimedia content for instruction. While I’m exploring them, I’ll be sure to take the time to savor the enjoyment of the movies themselves and my satisfaction in creating a rich and pleasant learning environment. For more information: Kubrick, S., & Clarke, A. C. (2001). 2001:  A space odyssey. EUA, Reino Unido: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Berg, M., & Seeber, B. K. (2016). The slow professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy. Toronto, [Ontario];Buffalo, [New York];London, [England]: University of Toronto Press.

Still Curious

When my grandfather was in the last few days of his life, I remember him being remarkably alert. He knew what was coming, and maybe it was for that reason that he worked beyond his exhaustion to talk to me. I distinctly remember one of the last sentences he spoke to me. He said, “Sarah, don’t ever stop asking why.”

When I read W. Gardner Campbell’s piece, it brought me back to this moment with my grandfather, and to the moments that would follow our last day together. I would move forward with my life, graduate from high school, college, and eventually enroll in graduate school. However, it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I have begun to understand what he meant. Too often we find ourselves caught up in the whirlwind of competition, doing whatever it takes to stay ahead, and fail to look around and ask the important questions. We are often so focused on the answers, that we miss the joy and intrigue of the questions themselves.

Campbell says: “Our world is too complex, our problems too intricate, our opportunities too vast to settle for such narrow aspirations.” Looking back now, perhaps my grandfather had noticed the shift in the world around him. Perhaps he noticed how his grandchildren were being shuffled from one soccer tournament to the next, staying up late trying to finish homework, all the while distracted with our devices and blind to the world around us. Perhaps he saw that moment as an opportunity to send a message to me that would not fully come to light until a decade later. Regardless, his intention is clear to me now. The praise we receive as children is often tied closely to the value of our accomplishments-the glittering report card, the athletic ability or success in the band, the schools we are accepted into. In the midst of the struggle to attain the goals that will provide us with the praise we long for, we have simultaneously lost sight of the joy in the questions themselves.

I share the above story because I think it begs the following question: can we illicit curiosity in other people? And if so, how? The reason I find this question so perplexing is that, for me, it had a lot to do with time. I needed to mature to the point where I could fully reflect and be introspective before I truly became curious about the world around me. This could be a fairly difficult task for a professor teaching a classroom full of distracted freshman (as I once was).

I’m really looking forward to the discussion this week. I am especially excited to hear  from the experienced teachers in the classroom on what they found to be the most effective strategies for encouraging curiosity.

“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.” -Samuel Johnson





Who am I?

I appreciated that Sarah Deel emphasized that there are many ways to be a good teacher. One size does not in fact fit all. I have gone through several rotations of “I can’t teach like them, thus I will never be a good teacher” during my time here. After these readings, I feel a bit more self-affirmed in believing that I have the potential to finally find my own stride and be an effective teacher. Alas, I am but a novice at this point in the realm of teaching.

I have officially taught 3 lectures as of this point in my graduate career (second semester of second year of PhD). The lectures were for 3 separate teachers that I was working for, and they all had different expectations. For the sake of respecting their privacy, I will assign them the pseudonyms of Matthew, Lincoln, and Adam.

The first teacher I subbed for was Matthew. When he requested that I teach a lecture he instructed me to use his assigned readings and apply his teaching/power point style. His teaching style (honestly) consisted of him talking at students until the clock ran out. It was not often that his students could get a word in. He is an intelligent and kind man who is respected in our field, but I would not classify him as an above-average listener. When my turn came around to teach, I applied his method and felt very uncomfortable. Talking at people is just not who I am. It was good that he was not there, for about 3/4 of the way through I had to rebel about and asked the students if they had questions. Also, I developed an in-class group activity on the spot in order to combat the monotony. After the class was over, several students actually came up to me to thank me for enabling them to speak and move around. This surprised me, for I had always seen Matthew as the academic giant and research guru. It finally helped sharpen my understanding that being a good researcher does not mean that they are also instantly a good teacher.

My second experience in teaching was when I was working for Lincoln. Lincoln was an “industry person” recruited by department as an adjunct professor. Lincoln had never taught before. She was wise in the ways of her industry experience. I think it was this experience that had some students willing to listen to her. Overall, she was not very organized. At one point, she had to go out of town and said she would need to me to sub for her. She then proceeded to give me a previous teacher of the course’s lecture materials and asked that I follow it to the T. This was a bit aggravating. Verily, as teachers we are teaching preexisting material, but generally teachers have the luxury of shaping the vehicle that conveys this information. I found it difficult to use somebody else’s words. This experience taught me the value of not only having a good grasp of the knowledge at hand, but communicating it in such a way that you feel comfortable standing by. You need to own your words.

My third teaching experience has been by far my favorite. Adam is a newer teacher with somewhat of a “hippie” mentality. She asked me to teach a lecture because she felt that as a PhD student I need to take opportunities to teach with a safety net. She gave me the general subject material, but then she told me I am free to identify the readings (if I wanted to assign any) and to teach in the way that I deemed acceptable. She told me that as a teacher you have to find your style, but not lose the students in the meantime. The only other hard line she set for me was that since this was a 4000-level course, she expected her students to participate in deeper discussion. This meant that I needed to also function as a facilitator. With this knowledge in hand, I created my lecture. I owned it. It was mine. I picked the readings. I walked into that classroom for the first time feeling like an actual teacher. I felt that I had something to teach them. The discussion went well, and the banter was active and intellectual. Afterwards and to my surprise, I had several students come up to compliment me on my teaching. This was a confidence boost I very much needed.

These three experiences have taught me a little bit about who I am. I have a long ways to go before fully knowing what my teaching voice is. I do know that I can’t teach a script that is not mine. I do know that I like to apply a contemporary context to the material. I do know that I like to extend beyond the words in a book. I do know that I can’t just talk at people for an hour and 15 minutes. I do know that I want to allow for a certain level of autonomy among my students. I do know that whether I like it or not, my awkward sense of humor will come out in a classroom setting. Most importantly, I do know that the classes I will teach in the future will have a certain level of co-creation going on between myself and the students.

I have a long ways to go to knowing what kind of teacher I am. I need more time in the classroom to be able to fully test the waters. It’s time to learn to walk.



What does Pokemon Go teach me about pedagogy

When I was in primary school, a Japanese animated series named “Pokemon”  caught everyone’s eyes. We wish someday we can have our own pokemon. Thanks to Pokemon go, our dream finally came true. It’s no wonder that Pokemon Go is the most hottest game in the world and millions of people (of course me included) crazy about it.

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Pokemon is not only about catch pikachu or other pokemons, it’s a good example of teaching environment.

Why is Pokemon Go so popular?

  • Explore. Actually, there is no guideline in Pokemon Go. No one teach you how to play this game, they only give you some hints. What you can do in Pokemon Go is involve and get your first hand experience and you will learn from your experience. Pokemon Go is all about adventure. You never know what will happen in the next corner, may be a pokemon you never caught, may be a pokemon with high combating power, maybe a pokemon you don’t like. If you want catch a new type pokemon, you may even need to explore to other places you never went to before. However, I love this adventure, I love the happiness when I encounter something new. I love the process when I explore.
  • Cooperation and Competition. In Pokemon Go, if you achieve level 5, you can choose a team to join, whether red, yellow or blue. There are several Gyms around you, you can combat with other teams to occupy the gym. If you succeed, you team color the your pokemon will appear in the gym and people will see it from a far distance. The combating process needs the cooperation of team members and you should be strategic in deciding which pokemon to use. In addition, even if you successfully occupy the gym, you can use your pokemon to help your own team build the combat power in this gym and lessen the possibility to be beaten by others. I think Pokemon Go provide a good mechanism full of incentives and risks, which makes us enjoy the cooperation and competition in this process.
  • Communication. In my own experience, you may not achieve great success without communicate with others. Since there’s no guideline in Pokemon Go, all you have is the experience from you and others. We all now, the sample size of one person is too limited, you won’t have the energy or time to explore all and identify all the possibilities. With the help of  others, you can enlarge the sample size and easily get the information. Based on the information, you can find some spots where rare pokemon may appear. You can also get strategies in the game. What’s more, in pokemon’s world, items may exhibit positive externalities (A jargon in economics, describes something one does that create a positive influence for others). For instance, if you use lure module in one spot, other nearby players will all benefit from it. With communication, you can know this information and share benefit with others.
  • Decide your own goal. There is no general “success” rule in Pokemon Go. Some people are fans of pikachu, so they may want catch as many pikachu as possible. Some people love combating, so they want conquer as many gyms as possible. Some people may enjoy collection, so they want collect as many types as possible. In this world, all the thing is your call and you can decide all by your personality and interest.
  • Effort based. Although luck may play some role in Pokemon Go, but generally, Pokemon Go is effort based. If you explore more, you have a highly chance to get more pokemons and you can see your progress day by day.
  • Interactive and technology. Technology make Pokemon Go possible and let pokemons enter our world. Pokemon is no longer something in imagination, it’s the cute babies live in your phone and may “interact” with you in the real life.


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What we can learn from Pokemon?

  • Education can be a journey with exploration. All the students have the creativity and have the learning experience, they just need some hints help them go through. As a teacher, we need find the way which can lead student’s passion and help them feel the beauty of the materials. We are not the people who teach them knowledge, we are the people who lead them explore the world.
  • We can design some interesting and helpful mechanism that contains both cooperation and completion. This mechanism stimulates students’ enthusiasm and make them feel accomplishment.
  • Help students communicate. Communication is always a good way of learning. Sometimes, you may feel lonely when you study alone. Study teams may help digest knowledge, and you may get a good friendship at end.
  • Don’t push students, let them decide what’s their interest and how can they achieve it. As a teacher, you just provide a healthy environment, but they are the owner of their life.
  • Incorporate technology. Nowadays, cool technology always catch people’s eyes. If we can incorporate cool and interactive technology-based teaching in our class, it would be more interesting.
  • Grow with students together. Like you grow with your Pokemon.

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Reposted with permission from weizhe11

What Harry Potter Taught Me About Teaching: Be a McGonagall, not a Lockhart.

Be a McGonagall, not a Lockhart. Be a Dumbledore, not an Umbridge. And even though he turns it around in the end, when it comes to teaching, probably don’t be a Snape.

I’m a mega Harry Potter fan, right down to noticing (and sometimes loving) the slight differences between the books and the movies. Like most people who grew up reading the series, I can’t quite put into words how much these stories impacted my life. I can only tell you that I loved them as a kid, and I love them still. And with respect to both the books and the movies, my favorite Minerva McGonagall moment on film comes as the Battle of Hogwarts is about to begin in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (While the filmmakers did add a little bit to the existing plot line for this scene, I will emphatically defend the added line of dialogue, but that’s not the point of this post.)

Some of you may know the scene I’m referring to, but if not, please watch it courtesy of YouTube:

When McGonagall transforms the statues into soldiers ready to fight for Hogwarts, tensions are climbing. Everyone is afraid of what is to come and uncertain whether or not any good will come of their efforts. (Yes, I was crying through this scene, as McGonagall brought the castle to life. I really felt for her, a teacher trying to protect her students and save her school, even if saving it meant destroying it.) Then she said it.

“I’ve always wanted to use that spell.”

Aside from the comic relief that moment brought, I can also say that it was a defining moment for me not just as a Harry Potter fan, but as a student and a teacher. There was something about her momentary joy in a moment of looming terror that struck me as important. And I was reminded once again that even though she would have been strict, I know McGonagall would have been my favorite teacher. In that moment, I saw a teacher who knew exactly who she was, and I saw a teacher excited to try new things.

Of course, that reminds me of some of the readings for this week, including this observation by Sarah Deel: “I hadn’t considered that certain qualities described me (like my earnestness or attention to detail) could be a legitimate part of my teaching voice.”

Of course, I’m not here asking, “What would McGonagall do?” because that isn’t how my brain works; I have to find my own teaching path, my own voice. The are many ways to be a good teacher (or a bad one). McGonagall’s to-the-point, no-nonsense, strict but fair attitude was always something I liked about her in the HP series, even though I never would have wanted to replicate it myself, at least not to the same degree. Granted, my first semester teaching was full of confusion and uncertainty and seemingly endless questions about my identity as a teacher: How should I act? How can I be myself? Should I? How do I keep it professional yet lighthearted? How would I describe myself?

(The answer has been the same since I was eight: I’m a little bit weird, thankyouverymuch.)

Again, with respect to Deel’s piece, what stuck with me especially was the most important commonality she noted among good teachers in her life: “They explained their strategies to their students. The context of the particular classroom was very important; since the students in each class understood their teacher’s philosophy and evaluation style, they were able to learn from the teacher’s responses to their writing.”

And it makes sense; students want to understand why they work they’ve been assigned is relevant to their own lives. Granted, I’m not McGonagall tasking Neville Longbottom with finding a way to blow up part of Hogwarts in order to protect it, but I do want my students to feel like the work they’re doing means something and is useful to them.

And this, of course, is where I turn from McGonagall to Gilderoy Lockhart.


First, let me admit that my favorite student comment from my first semester of teaching evaluations is as follows:  “Rachel is the most charmingly self-deprecating teacher I’ve ever met.” If you’ve read Harry Potter, then you know this puts me about as far from Gilderoy Lockhart as I can get, and I’m pretty proud of that. Usually, if I’m toeing the line of being too professional and reserved, I tend to back away from it if it means I think I can help my students.

Where Gilderoy Lockhart would embellish and lie about his experiences to make himself look better, I’m willing to throw myself under the bus when it comes to explaining to students terrified of giving presentations that I too used to have a massive fear of public speaking. I’m willing to tell them I didn’t particularly enjoy math, and that my success with it was largely dependent on a college professor who understood that her course was only good to most of us if it could be useful in our daily lives. From full-on stuttering and sweating at the front of a room to barely making it through a statistics class, I’m willing to share my experiences with students whether they’re the good, the bad, or the ugly, so long as I think it might engage them and leave them more open to the work I’m asking them to complete.

So even though I’m still defining my identity as a teacher, and even though I’m still developing my own understanding of my “authentic teaching voice,” I like to think that I’m on the right track. Maybe I’m a combination of some parts Dumbledore, McGonagall, Lupin, and even a little bit of Snape… I am a Slytherin, after all. These Hogwarts professors are not afraid to be themselves and they are open, at least to some extent, to sharing their experiences in order to help students learn.

Seeing as my story is not finished yet, it feels like a pretty good start.

Teaching Philosophy is Rooted in A Teacher’s Personality

If you google “teaching philosophy”, there will be thousands of results coming out teaching you how to write a good “teaching philosophy” sample. According to one result, the definition of “teaching philosophy” is “A teaching philosophy is a self-reflective statement of your beliefs about teaching and learning.  It should also discuss how you put your beliefs into practice by including concrete examples of what you do or anticipate doing in the classroom.” ( After reading this definition, my feeling is “teaching philosophy” should reflect one’s own style for teaching. So how can people establish their “teaching philosophy” by learning from thousands of others’ experiences? Is there anything like best “teaching philosophy” existing in the world?

My answer is no to this question. I believe a teacher should form “teaching philosophy” based on his/her own personalities. Some teachers are very open-minded and like to organize discussions among students in class. They may not prefer to use well-planned materials to teach. Instead, they prefer to adjust their syllabus according to the needs/performance of the students. Some teachers tend to focus on details and always spend a decent amount of time preparing the materials for teaching. They have strict syllabus and know very well what they are going to teach in the whole semester. They tend to use well-designed test to evaluate students’ performance and have clear expectation from the students. Some teachers are good at culturing a vivid class atmosphere by frequently telling jokes. While some teachers are “uncool” but are good at keeping the class well organized. I think all these teaching styles are deeply rooted in the personalities of the teachers.

I do not think there is a best teaching philosophy just as I do not think there is the best personality for a person. It will look awkward for a shy person to mimic a comedian-like teacher in class. So just be yourself! It will make you and your students feel more comfortable. If you are intently simulate others, you will pay much more attention on your own behaviors instead of on your students. But be yourself does not mean that you can do anything you wish in the classroom. You need to follow the common rules such as treat all the students equally and nicely. As long as the teachers exhibit their expertise and enthusiasm in teaching, I think they can be accepted by a vast majority of students.

Breaking the Ice

Not everyone gets the opportunity to develop a teaching philosophy before their first teaching experience. When I first started teaching, I had no previous guidance. I started with the conventional routine of introducing myself and covering the course outline. Never did I think of ways to interact with my students, or how to develop good communication skills between us. I started facing language barriers, group formation barriers and general class management difficulties, but the most important challenge to me was to feel more comfortable and pass this feeling on to my students. In other words, breaking the ice!

Towards mid-semester, I noticed that I’m having a hard time in getting the class to interact with their friends, participate, or even joke around. It felt like they weren’t enjoying class. I figured that I need to develop strategies to promote active learning. After taking advice from some of my colleagues, I started to shape my own teaching philosophy. I wanted to promote an environment where everyone in class can feel comfortable. On the first day of a new semester, I started my first class this time by distributing blank papers for students – this time, it was for name tags. While I was modelling my instruction on forming a name tag, I was happy to see that most of the class was participating. Calling out individuals by their names on the first day made them feel recognized and appreciated. I can imagine how disturbing it can be when your class instructor spends the whole semester without knowing your name. Since then, I gave the students casual class breaks where I took the time to talk to some of them on topics outside of class materials. Developing a basic friendship with students was my aim in helping them break down that barrier that’s usually is almost always there between students and professors. As I continued to come up with simpler ways to communicate with the students, I knew that teaching will become less challenging and more enjoyable than what I initially experienced.

The importance of breaking the ice in a classroom begins with providing a student sense of recognition, and sets up a stimulating environment that encourages participation and communication between students. Students receive a sense of responsibility as part of their learning by comfortably interacting in groups and generally building an optimum performing and dynamic classroom.

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