My love of learning began at a young age with a love of reading. I forced my two little brothers to play school where I was, of course, the teacher. I wanted to teach them the same things I was learning in school, and I thought this forced playing would do the trick. Needless to say, they were not willing participants!
I was also the child who had to be forced to play outside because I would much rather sit in a comfy chair and read books - usually Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. My mother finally gave up when she saw me outside one day - on a blanket reading a book. She told me when I grew up that she decided that at least I was getting some fresh air while reading.
This love of reading also meant that I was the girl who took out the absolute maximum number of books each week when mom took us to the public library. And that girl grew into an adult who panics when she is finishing a book without another one ready to read.
As a teacher my two favorite quotes to my students were: Readers are Leaders and Read to Succeed. I knew if I could foster a love of reading in my students it would lead to a lifelong love of learning. A lifelong learner - that is what I came to be.
After being in education for almost 30 years, serving in various roles, I have always continued to pursue education and learning. It seems that with each new role came a new chance to learn even more! My MEd (Master of Educational Leadership) degree was quite useful when I served as a school principal. When I took the position of a lower school STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teacher and Technology Integration Coach, I wanted to learn all I could about educational technology. It was that desire that led me to pursue a MAET (Master of Arts in Educational Technology) from Michigan State University.
Before I chose MSU, however, I researched many other universities to be sure that I was getting the best degree in educational technology (and not a degree to be an IT person!). My husband, an MSU alum, was thrilled when MSU was clearly the top choice for this degree.
This degree program has heightened my love of learning to a whole new level. I have grown immensely as an educator as a result of the classes I have taken at MSU these past two years. I have learned to think more critically and deeply about topics; I have learned to research more effectively and how to reflect on my learning, as well as why it is important to reflect. These things are just a small portion of my learning in my MAET program, but they are topics that will continue to grow me as an educator. As I grow, my methods will change accordingly, and those changes will impact my students - and engage students in learning - well, that’s what I am here to do!
One of the most impactful courses I took in my degree program was CEP 815, Technology and Leadership. This course pushed and challenged my thinking, my role as a leader, and my critical thinking skills. It became quite apparent to me (and to my instructor!) that I was not digging down deep enough mentally on the topics. It was through work on the many scenario-based assignments with the various educational stakeholders, that I realized that I was simply not engaging well with the level of problem-solving required. So much of this issue stems from my own educational background. I am from a generation that had classrooms filled with students facing the front, pen and paper out, taking notes on the teacher lecturing at the front. Tests and quizzes were simply a regurgitation of facts, and then we moved ahead to the next chapter of a textbook. In that type of environment, there was no need to really think; you simply had to memorize facts. Learning was not connected to real life, but was rather a means to an end - just pass the class.
As a result of taking this course and receiving feedback from the instructor highlighting my significant lack of critical thinking skills, I became much more aware of my shallow thinking and the dangers it can have. All through the course we were working towards the goal of developing a personal leadership philosophy. It was through developing this philosophy that my personal vision of leadership changed. No longer will I accept the status quo when it comes to my thinking. I will push myself to research, study, understand, and reflect. I will forever be a better leader as a result of my time in Technology and Leadership.
Another course that had a great impact on my learning and growth was CEP 810, Teaching for Understanding with Technology. As a course that is typically taken at the beginning of the MAET degree, it had many foundational aspects to - creating a website, starting a Twitter account, and beginning a blog. Because I chose to take this as my final course, I had those three big items already completed. (As a side note, one of the things I loved the most about the MAET degree program at MSU was that I got to choose which courses I wanted to take and when I wanted to take them.)Having those foundational elements in place, I felt more prepared to engage with the content of the course.
We dug into TPACK (Technological, Pedagogical, and Content Knowledge) by examining it not only in readings, research, and blogging; we also created a video that at first seemed a little crazy and unrelated - a cooking video, with a twist! It was very enlightening to explain how to prepare a dish when you only had three miscellaneous items to work with - items you would not normally use for doing so. As I shot my video and compared it to the TPACK framework of learning, I was able to make connections to my own teaching methods, content, and resources.
One of the most enjoyable assignments, and the one that caused me to rethink how I plan learning experiences for my students was the creation of a 21st century lesson plan. Having spent time in the course studying learning, understanding, and conceptual change, I was able to apply those ideas to the learning experience I created for my students. I created a lesson that connected to real life and utilized interactive and engaging technologies in the lesson. Being able to create a lesson plan that not only met the requirements of an assignment for this course, but one I could use in my own classroom literally modeled exactly what we were learning.
As I began the CEP 818 course, Creativity in Teaching and Learning, I found myself quite disappointed because rather than being a course about how I could add more creativity (perhaps through cool new edtech tools), it was a deep dive into creativity. I found myself, once again, faced with a course that was going to require me to think deeply and critically about a topic. Having just finished CEP 815 in the summer, I felt a little better prepared to face this course’s challenges in the fall. So, fighting off my disappointment, I pressed forward!
The first assignment had me focusing on the cognitive tool of perceiving. I had to observe something and then use the tool of imaging to record my impressions of what I observed with both my eyes and my ears. I must admit I approached the idea thinking it would be pretty cut and dried - I would hear my students working on their STEM project and see their progress and would write about what I heard and saw. Instead, I made a choice to lay aside those preconceived notions and really focus on this cognitive tool. What I heard that day was nothing short of amazing!
As my students worked on dismantling old electronic items, what I heard sounded like a beautiful symphony - the steady beat of hammers, the tiny sound of metal as screws were being loosened, and the sound of children’s voices as they became enraptured with what was inside their electronic item. This symphony could have been titled, “Creativity at Work.” By focusing on only my auditory sense, I was able to detect things I may have missed if I had only focused on my visual sense. My perceptions were heightened to the joy the students were experiencing at the freedom of creativity they were being given. Their voices not only expressed their delight in their “findings,” but it was also full of chatter and conversation about their design plan, knowing that the objects they planned to create would, no doubt, be amazing.
I learned a valuable lesson from this auditory observation, and that is when I reimagine my classroom of students, tools, and projects as a place where beautiful “music” is being made, it changes our world from just completing a project for a grade to creating beautiful expressions of our imaginations. Each week in CEP 818 I learned to break creativity down to its roots and explore it through other ways as well - patterning, abstracting, embodied thinking, modeling, and play. So what began as disappointment ended in tremendous growth and change in my ways of thinking. Once again, I was learning to think more deeply and dig below the surface of a topic.
As my MAET journey comes to close in the next couple weeks, and as I reflect back upon all that I have learned and experienced, I am amazed and overwhelmed with the ways I have grown and changed in these two years. At my age many thought me crazy to take on a second master’s degree, but I love to be challenged, to grow, and to continue learning.
As I look on the content of this essay, I see that the most growth occurred for me in the area of my thinking skills. When I began my journey in the summer of 2020, I thought the obvious area I would observe the most growth in would be in learning more about how to use educational technology in intentional ways in education. And while I certainly did learn much about this, it was not where I experienced the greatest growth. I found myself challenged with my own biases (that I did not even realize I had), learning how to create equitable assessments and lessons, and how to think more deeply rather than simply accepting the status quo of the first or easiest answer to come to my mind. And when it came to educational technology, rather than learning how to utilize a tool in my classroom, I learned to use it in my own learning. This was much more meaningful as I will now be able to transfer my own learning into my classroom.
As I close this reflection of my learning in the MAET program, I find myself experiencing several emotions - excitement, relief, sadness, and energy. I am excited to continue learning and growing in my thinking, applying what I have learned at MSU. I am relieved that there will be no more deadlines to face each weekend. I am sad that I will no longer be part of a group of amazing people who encouraged me and helped me grow - my instructors and fellow students. And I am full of energy at what the next few years hold for me as I apply all I have learned at MSU. Look out world - that little girl who loved to play teacher and who checked out mountains of books at the library; that woman who nearly has a panic attack if she doesn’t have another book to read when she finishes one - it’s that woman who has learned that taking risks and failing forward is worth every second.
Rest assured, this is not the end - it’s the beginning! I am so glad I took this journey. I am forever grateful to be a Spartan for life!
[Picture of leader]. (n.d.) https://pixabay.com/photos/leader-leadership-manager-team-2206099/
[Picture of the word learn]. (n.d.) https://pixabay.com/photos/learn-word-scrabble-letters-wooden-1820039/
[Picture of the words be creative]. (n.d.)
[Picture of a road]. (n.d.) https://pixabay.com/photos/road-landscape-autumn-highway-fall-6745746/
All other images are my own.
Copyright © 2020 pamculbreth - All Rights Reserved.
This work by Pam Culbreth is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
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