Sunday, November 23, 2014

Case Study Roadblocks and Learnings

I enjoyed researching and working on this case study. One of the most challenging, yet interesting parts of my research was the required emphasis on student strengths. I found it challenging to not allow myself to focus on a "problem" that the student appeared to be having. This felt really against the grain for me. I feel like I've been trained to look for problems and come up with solutions. It was hard not to look for deficiencies and immediately attempt to find "solutions." The research for this case study was much more like a puzzle with lots of pieces that didn't appear to fit together at first sight. Some pieces seemed too big or misshapen. I'm used to dumping all of the puzzle pieces on the floor and being able to quickly fit them together. I'm used to forming quick conclusions about people and about students. I think this has become the norm within the world of education, a norm born out of a lack of time and training. It's also a culturally accepted norm. Our sloppy thinking allows for snap judgements that go unquestioned. I don't think I can fully explain how frequently I make judgements and assumptions based on a single observation.

Stepping outside of this deeply engrained habit was one of the most challenging, yet revelatory assignments I have yet to receive throughout my educational career. The process of forcing myself to choose a more critical lens made me a more conscientious and thoughtful teacher. It has also made me a more conscientious and thoughtful learner. It's like a form of mind control, exercise for the brain. I remember one night in class where I was writing my observations on the whiteboard and immediately jumping to conclusions about these observations. It took a few minutes for me to realize that I needed to step back and analyze the data, that I still was skipping this step. I needed to ask more questions.  I was able to realize this without being told to do so. Dr. Horwitz was observing and she asked me why I decided to go back and add more questions and analysis. I told her that "smart people ask questions." She immediately said "yes, and good researchers ask questions."

Through these struggles I learned how to be a better researcher and how to ask better questions. I learned that I don't always have the answer (even if I think I do). Answers and conclusions take time. I learned that I must give everything (and everyone) time to truly be revealed. Wisdom is not born out of snap judgements, but out of patience and tenacity. This is a never ending lesson for me, one that I will need to very conscientiously go back to. It's kind of like forming a new habit. I'm on my way, but there is always more work to be done.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Letter to Hannah Tessitore

November 01, 2014

Dear Ms. Tessitore,

Your presentation “Girls Gone Wired: Encouraging Computer Programming Exploration in Young Women,” was one of the most motivating and interesting professional development presentations I’ve ever attended.  You really shed light on an incredibly important topic in our tech-centered society. I never realized the extent to which girls and women are underrepresented in the fields of computer programming and web design. Furthermore, I never realized how systemic this problem is. Although I’ve learned about the problems associated with gender specific toys such as dolls and baking kits, I never considered the lack of STEM specific toys meant for girls. Perhaps even more disheartening than the lack of educational toys meant for girls was your presentation and scrutiny of the few toys that do exist (such as girls’ Legos). I never realized the discrepancies within toys that are meant to provide gender equality.  Your presentation made me realize that what we think of as “equalizing” toys do nothing to even the playing field, despite being marketed this way. There is a hidden curriculum within the marketing of toys for boys and girls, even toys that we may think of as “progressive.”
It is clear that progress is the key word here. How do we make progress when it comes to girls in the math, science and technology fields? How do we dismantle the myths that keep girls out in the margins of engineering? Do we overcompensate by advertising for “Code and Pinot” nights? Should programming websites be developed to specifically entice young girls? Is it too late for girls to get involved? These are all excellent questions posed in today’s seminar, and I liked that you stood up and said “no” to each of them. The answer is not in the feminization of coding and computer science. The answer is in the humanization and equalization of these fields. This means that the field itself needs to change in the way of becoming more gender neutral. I am confident that over time we will see significant changes occur and barriers broken down, especially as more parents, educators and community members (like you!) encourage girls to question the status quo.
I appreciate your advice for some practical applications of your presentation. I plan on bringing this information to the after school program director where I work and asking to start a programming club with the user friendly websites you provided. Despite knowing nothing about programming myself, I think it is incredibly valuable and important for the girls of this nation to have fair and equal access to these opportunities. Your message was refreshing. You made me feel empowered and capable of sharing the very little bit I know about programming with my students and seeing the path that it will lead them down. Just a small spark of knowledge can lead to a lifetime of interest and career options. Thank you for your inspirational presentation.

Brittany DeMelo