Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Think Outside the Box: Redesigning Classrooms For Students

Active learning environments are key to student success. So jump out of that old box!

Think about your recent experience in the classroom. Did the seating arrangement remind you of a box? Most classrooms are set up in the square, rowed seating arrangement. How do we move past this? How do we set up classrooms FOR students, not for teachers. Think about it, classrooms are set up for teachers, 'all eyes on me' type of focus. I'm not insinuating teachers even want it this way, it's just the way buildings are built and rooms are designed. Is that the best way for students to learn? We know through experience and research that students do learn best when they are actively involved:  able to probe, process, discuss, discover, investigate, and inquire through hands-on activities and discussions. Can students critically think, collaboratively learn,and openly share if they feel boxed in? 

What is the resolution? We can move towards classroom designs which offer students and educators options for teaching and learning together.  Rockhurst University is taking the lead on this initiative. Starting this Spring, faculty and students will get to enjoy more collaborative and innovative spaces in Sedgwick Hall. 

Part of a pilot plan to practice and develop innovative learning environments for active engagement, three classrooms have been redesigned with movable furniture, new technology tools and a fresh color scheme.  Sedgwick 229 shows some of the more dynamic changes with cafĂ©-style group seating, high top tables, rectangular tables and "huddle boards” which are whiteboards mounted or taken down for groups to write thoughts and discuss then placed back on the wall.  All the furniture can be moved and easily rearranged from one class period to the next. Sedgwick 224 offers another interesting approach with access for all students to link their mobile devices to a monitor at the end of each of the six group tables. This will diminish interruptions and enable students in sharing their work with their peers and instructor. Take a look:

These changes come with continuous support for faculty. An initial training was given last week and I will be working with CETL to provide ongoing training for instructors who would like to discuss, learn, and plan out how to use these new spaces to deliver the variety of content, to a variety of learning styles in a variety teaching methods.Encouraging them to use their own toolBOX and open it up to provide more enriching opportunities for their students and themselves.It's a new year with new beginnings and freedom. Here's to opening ourselves to being risk takers and getting rid of those boxes which are keeping us closed in.

Other initiatives RU has opened to faculty and students;

RU Article about new classrooms: http://www.rockhurst.edu/news/article/rooms-offer-sneak-peak-academic-innovations/ Zoom: http://www.rockhurst.edu/news/article/zoom-platform-opens-new-education-avenues-rockhurst/

Flipping the Classroom: http://www.knewton.com/flipped-classroom/

Collaborative Spaces: http://thejournal.com/articles/2013/02/13/designing-collaborative-spaces-for-schools.aspx?=THE21

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Nicaragua: Digging Deeper

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart..." Colossians 3:23.

I have a new talent. I learned how to dig deep in Nicaragua. Our group was given the task of digging ditches to lay pipe for moving clean water into the homes of El Moto families. It's harder and more rewarding than you would think. We learned about the process of digging, which tools are helpful when you dig, and what to do when you think you are finished digging. I had the pleasure of digging both physically and spiritually for seven days. Here few things I learned about digging.

  • You are going to get very dirty. I'm not one that enjoys getting dirty, especially when I am sweating. Hand sanitizer and wipes are my best friends. Wouldn't you know one of the first activities we experienced when we arrived was climbing the Cerro Negro Volcano? Sunday morning after mass we all gathered together to learn what we were going to do that day. They explained it was our 'play' day and casually mentioned we were climbing a volcano. Now, when I think of playing, a vision of Mt. Everest doesn't come to mind.  However, when we pulled up to the volcano,  I thought,  this is totally doable. It didn't look that big. We were given choice of two different paths to take. The paths were described as the "hard" path and the "harder" path.  Of course I chose the harder path. Straight.up.the.vol.can.o.  It kicked my butt.  I should have a T-shirt that reads, "I climbed a Nicaraguan volcano and I'm alive!" Literally I would take one step and slide back two or three steps.  We had to dig our feet and hands into tiny hot black pebbles in the blistering sun. At first I could only take about five steps. Slowly, I worked my way up, but the breaks got longer. To add to the craziness, the volcano ash was everywhere, all over me. Every time I took a break, I realized just how much I was out of my comfort zone. I really didn't think I would ever get on the top. It was encouraging that we all were feeling the same way. I ended up joining Lauren, Alex, Eric, and Annie and we just kept cheering each other on, laughing and dying at the same time. When we finally made it, the top was most beautiful scene- you had a 360 degree view of the breathtaking Nicaraguan land. Green and thriving, what appeared to be untouched beauty. We were covered in black ash and it took quite a bit of scrubbing to get it all off. As we reflected about the day, I couldn't help but think about how symbolic that whole experience was as it took almost three hours of exhausting effort to get to the top. There were times I didn't think I would make it, completely out of breath, so incredibly filthy and frustrated at how hard it was overall. But, when we all got to the final destination, it was the best feeling.We all shared the excitement of making it...together. Sometimes you have to get dirty to get to the top.
Taking a break, about half way up.

Marc and Kayla jumping for joy at the top!

We each had our own tools to dig deep with daily.

  • You need the right people and tools: Who knew actually digging ditches for a week would bring meaning to my life? This was actually one of my favorite activities and the hardest. I know how to use a shovel, but swinging a pickaxe into a huge pile of rocks was much different than I expected. You have to have the right rhythm in your swing and know which end to use. It's hard, especially when each inch you dig deeper just produces more rocks. But when you are down in a ditch so each family can have a 100 gallons of clean water, something about inhaling dust and acquiring blisters quickly becomes no problem. The families in El Moto have never had a bathroom, a kitchen, a sink, a shower, let alone fresh water. I learned fast how easy it is to make friends with someone when you are both sweating and working as hard as you can together. We worked WITH the Nicaraguan people, young and old ---who are just like us. We talked about our families, danced while digging, ate lunch together, played games on our breaks, and laughed, ALOT. The tools you use may vary along with the people you dig with, so it's not about the digging, but the purpose of why you are digging that matters.
Digging trenches and laying pipe to bring clean water for modern bathrooms to the village of El Moto.

I was blessed to dig with Jenny (go Ole Miss!) and Nicholas one fine day.
Alex, Eric and Whitney ready to take on the rocks.

  • You need to reflect about your digging Living on Purpose was the theme for the week. The time we all spent reflecting each day at devo (devotional time), was inspirational. I loved hearing what others took away from the day and how differently the activities impacted each person. To say that I was proud, impressed, and moved by our own RU students, doesn't even give justice to what they all did and how well they did it. They shared their own thoughts with such honesty and spirituality. They thanked each other, expressed through words and silence how much they meant to each other. We all tried our best to work with all of our heart and I think at the end of each day, we knew there was always more to give. But it's important to be happy with what you did. Whether we were digging in a ditch, hugging a special child at an orphanage, doing our daily chores, or any other activity we were experiencing, we were digging deeper in our hearts to think about the meaning behind it all.  We felt guilty for what we have after seeing the circumstances and lack of resources there. But, as we discussed over and over: we all can LIVE ON PURPOSE anywhere, day in and out.That's the wonderful thing about service. It's different for everyone,  where God has placed you,  how you service Him and those around you. Many times it doesn't matter if you speak the language or not,  because love speaks one language.
My man Maldorf (from the handicapped orphanage) who reminded me how much a hug and even holding hands can mean to both people. I didn't want to let him go.

My contribution to the Amigos for Christ graffiti wall of reflection.
Our RU group started the day here as the sun would rise and end our day here as we reflected about our experiences

  • You need to take breaks with those you are digging with- The volunteers, Nicaraguan people and Amigos for Christ staff all dug together daily. Breaks were of the essence. Some took more breaks than others, but we all looked forward to them. What I looked forward to most, was the little ones. I don't know how to even begin explaining the genuine love I felt with the kids.They reminded me of my own children in so many ways. Appreciating a high five, looking for a warm smile, asking to play Temple Run on my phone, sitting in my lap to play UNO, taking a selfie with my camera, wanting to be chased, kicking the soccer ball back and forth and just holding my hand while we walked to or from the site. They opened my heart to feeling and remembering how a very small, simple gesture can bring such complete happiness. They energized my mind, body and spirit to continue on through each day. Watching the whole group engage with the children was fun as the kids loved to play jokes on us and everyone laughed together.  

Juan mastering his "selfie" with my phone. I have about 100 of these on my camera roll. Practice make perfect!
Alex and her boys, loving every minute together during the school fiesta.
I had the opportunity to spend precious time with our students (like Carolina), the staff, the Nicaraguan people and children.

  • You need to understand that digging is never done. When you dig you realize there's always a need to dig more. There might be another place that needs digging, or perhaps you need to dig deeper where you are located. Whether you choose to go somewhere else or dig where you are, it's important to do it with purpose. Just like digging, service can be hard, overwhelming, dirty, and frustrating. However, in the end, each person feels special in different ways through reflection and getting to know those they serve. Getting to know others and serving with them is key, because you both are touched in ways you don't even realize sometimes, until the time has passed. I loved serving with the RU students, the people we met through Amigos for Christ and the Nicaraguan people. Each had their own story and shared a piece of their journey with me. I hope to carry on my love for digging in KC. Everyone can benefit from digging a little deeper!
I cannot wait to return to this beautiful place.
RU students laughing about their digging.
Our work is never done, which is why we must play together!

Through it all I've had the feeling as though I've been the one being served and impacted the most. We all laughed, worked hard, danced and sometimes we cried. Service brings out a deep piece of you to share with others, which... brings love.

 Whoever you serve; 
 do it with purpose, show love, share talents, and dig deep.


Ken, my companion through it all. Thank you for your wisdom and "Kenisms". You are an inspiration to each one of us. 

The RU students/ my new friends: Marc, Carolina, Annie, Lindsey, Libby, Alex, Lauren, Ryan, Annie, Alex S., Kayla, Allie, Chanelle, Sam, and Whitney, I got to know each of you in such a special way. Thanks for all the laughs and sharing yourself with me.

The Ole Miss KD girls (you know who you are)--you all are gamechangers! Thanks for letting me join in on your fun. 

The Purdue AIM group: you all were hard working and reflective. I'm glad we were able to spend the week together.

Amigos for Christ staff:  especially; Will, Herald, Walter,  Paige, Jenna, Joey, John, Elizabeth, Jeff, Kristen, Josh, and the others we had the pleasure of meeting : The encouragement and journey you supported us through will never be forgotten. Everyone who crosses paths with each of you are extremely blessed.