Making Sense of It All

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Today I taught my intern class and the scheduled syllabus topic was “Teaching Economics.” Of course, this is the time in the course where I become a bit self-indulgent and talk about my own research for a while. When this typically comes up with my seniors, I talk about what I believe to be true–that economics can be taught for civic engagement like any other discipline of social studies, that students typically considered “at-risk” or “too young” to care about global issues can actually discuss issues intelligently, that project-based learning and integrated curriculum can help students learn, can be more engaging for teachers and students, but also has its drawbacks. Before, I could only talk about what I believed to be true. Now that my data collection is complete, I can actually start finding evidence to back up what I believed to be true. Of course, what is “true” is relative to one’s experience. But that’s just it–now I have data to start forming stories about the students’ and teacher’s experience.

I have a lot of data and it took me a while before I even tried to tackle what the data were telling me. I started with the students first. I had their assessments they took, the interviews I did with 10 of them, and all of the work they completed over the course of our time together. Plus, I had all of my notes from teaching as well! I started with the assessments first and once I had graded them according to a rubric that I developed, Mike helped me make a very nice graphic to really understand what the students had learned about economics. I am so glad my husband is an Excel Freaking Master. It takes a village to write a dissertation apparently:



So perhaps this makes no sense to anyone else but me, but the numbers across the top are the questions on the assessment and reading the cells vertically shows all of the students and how they performed. He even color-coded everything (we ARE soul mates!) to represent at a glance which questions had huge gains for certain students from pre- to post-test. The numbers in the column on the far right represent the gains overall from pre- to post-test. Green is good. Red is bad. All of this took him about 15 minutes and it would have taken me days. Clearly, overall there is growth. There’s a lot of yellow, but a lot of shades of green as well. These results helped me decide which economic concepts to write about (the darkest green ones perhaps?) and which students to write about (dark green but also dark red–what might have happened there?).

Then, I tackled the interviews.  In another “village” moment, I had an undergrad save me a crap-ton of time by transcribing my interviews. So she had the fun task of listening to my lovely voice on tape (that must have been torture for her) and typing literally every word that was said. So while I was in Hawaii soaking up the sun, she was tediously listening to every “um” and “like.”  Don’t worry, she was paid handsomely for this slave labor.  Her work allowed me to copy, paste, and sort interview quotes into categories I had made according to assessment results, like “Understands revenue, cost, profit relationship”, “Understanding of loans.”  And some that were not evident from the assessment like “Values teamwork”, and “Awareness of Global Issues.”

Right now, my biggest challenge is writing my “methods” chapter. This is where I have to write, in detail, the process I went through to make sense of the data. I attempted to write this chapter once earlier this fall, before I had actually figured out a system and it turned out to be quite the mess of verb tense, and not as specific as it will be when I give it another go now. It was difficult to write about something that, at that present time, was in the future, but to write it as past tense. Yikes.

From this, I am starting to piece together the story. I think I can now make claims about what I found and use the data for evidence. I am even going to highlight 5 students and tell their stories in greater detail as sort of expanded examples of my findings. I am really excited about this part– I get to relive the experience. It’s like this quote by Anais Nin:

“We write to taste live twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

Cabin Fever

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It had been snowing non-stop here since Sunday night and it finally let up this morning. This weather caused me a lot of anxiety and a few firsts, all related. My first time in the ditch on the side of the highway, resulting in my first 911 call ever. (I am fine, my car is fine, no worries). My first time being late for a class I teach and the first time I ever “cancelled” class. After the ditch I managed to make it to campus, albeit very late; so today I just didn’t take any chances and turned my face-to-face class into an online one. This resulted in me basically being shut in my house until I decided to venture out to shovel the driveway today once the sun came out.

winter picThis is the view of my street from my office. I usually don’t take the time to appreciate the beauty of snow, considering I hate it so much, but I admit this looks lovely despite throwing off my schedule for the entire week.

Being snowed in has given me time to work, but I haven’t had as much time for dissertation work as I would like. For one, teaching 3 classes certainly keeps me busy. But the biggest thing I have been preparing for is my 2-day interview at CMU next week. I am so beyond excited to head back to my alma mater, actually teach a class there in a beautiful new ed building, and spend time talking to professors there, one of which–Norma Bailey– I actually have respected and admired since I had her in 1999 as a freshman. I also have a phone interview with UM-Flint in a couple weeks as well.

However, I go back and forth from thinking I have done nothing on my dissertation (which is not entirely true) and I am running out of time, to thinking that I have plenty of time and I’m right on track. I did set a goal for myself to be done analyzing my data by the end of January, so this has been my singular focus. I doubt this is going to happen in a week, but I have done some initial analysis right after collecting the data. Now I just need to go through my interview responses in detail to code them and enter in the assessment scores into an Excel document so I can see changes between the pre-and post-test. Nonetheless, that little counter on the side of this blog counting down how many months  have left to go is a little anxiety-inducing. In February, I want to write up my findings about the student interviews and assessments. I feel like once the findings chapters get started, then I’ll really be “writing” my dissertation.

Or maybe I’ll get to the defense and still not really believe it is “real.” A lot of things about my life don’t seem “real”– am I doing enough work that someone working on their dissertation is really supposed to do? Am I really interviewing for a professor job a my “second home” CMU? The other night Mike and I discussed the possibility of selling our house. Are we really to that stage? I guess so. My life is constantly surprising me right now, which is pretty amazing since I spend most of it locked in my office writing like J.D. Salinger or Harper Lee or some other reclusive writer. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll seek coffee outside of the house and see what happens.

“I’ll get it done this summer”

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The title of this post is a common phrase I hear among doctoral students. I’ve even said it numerous times myself, a lot in the past week. There’s always this sense that the summer is free–free to work on whatever you’ve been meaning to get done during the year, full of unlimited time to write. Although leaving NHA has certainly freed up some time for me, I have found that I haven’t always had unlimited time for my dissertation this summer. And saying “I’ll get it done this summer” becomes more ridiculous as July winds to a close and the Aug 21 start date for the new school year gets closer and closer. So what have I been doing this summer besides writing?

I have been teaching.  I am teaching an online class– TE 842. It’s a Masters class called Elementary Reading and Assessment. Masters classes require more from the students regarding reading and writing, so that means more grading for me. Online teaching has its pros and cons and it certainly requires a lot of organization on my part. I try to read/grade at least 5 papers/submissions every day, if not more.

I have been coding data. For the first time in my grad school career, I am on a large research project called FAME (Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators–although I always want to sing “Fame! I want to live forever!!” when I work on it). I have been watching videos of teachers in their professional development meetings and meticulously writing down what they talk about, what questions they ask, and how in-depth their discussion is. I have been assigned to write “cases” of two schools and the team is trying to make some conclusions about the teacher meetings for an AERA presentation. I have really enjoyed working on a research project like this and I regret not being able to do this sooner in my time at MSU.

I have been planning. My last commitment to NHA is to teach a 2-day workshop next week on social studies instruction. This isn’t like writing a conference paper, or planning for a class. It’s 9 hours of instructional time that I am in charge of! I am looking forward to teaching about social studies again, and I think I have some fun activities planned for these NHA teachers. It’ll be nice to see some NHA people for the first time since I left.

All of these things have caused me to put my dissertation on hold these last couple of weeks. I have to get back in the game soon though because finishing my dissertation proposal revisions is the one thing I d need to get done this summer.

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