And it begins…

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After all of the excitement of travelling to Europe and back, starting my first day of TE 401, MSU vs. Boise St. football, and a Labor Day wedding, the first day of school for K-12 public education in Michigan seemed to arrive with little fanfare. It wasn’t until I was getting ready in the morning on Tuesday that I realized that I was going to my dissertation school and meeting the students that I will be working with to collect my data. It seemed to be such an afterthought to my busy August that I got nervous that  I was under-prepared somehow.

Turns out, I had forgotten that not a lot of learning (other than socialization and classroom culture) happens on the first day of school. We played a name game so I can remember everyone’s names (and I have them down now–remembering names is my specialty), and I helped them fill out their agendas and learn the signing in for hot or cold lunch (and really, all but 1 took hot lunch because it’s “free and reduced”), and gave a lot of handshakes and hugs. I had also forgotten how crazy the first day of school is–it’s been 4 years since I had a K-12 teacher version. We had a kid in the wrong room, some leave, some enter, confusion about which special class they had…all typical but I was exhausted. Day 2 was much easier–I was even able to explain to them why I was there and what we would be working on together over the next few months. It is really real now.

Believe it or not, after my first day with them I wasn’t finished. I left at noon to head to East Lansing for another meeting about my proposal. I reviewed all of the changes I had made over the summer with The Committee and they were really positive about my work. Describing all that I did this summer out loud made me realize that I actually did get a lot accomplished, and seemingly with a clear focus. I felt the most proud of myself about this–in the past, working at NHA had caused my brain to be split-focused and although that is feasibly possible to get through that way, I am glad I chose not to continue on like that. It was good validation that, so far, it appears that I have made the right choice by leaving NHA. These kiddos will need my undivided attention and I want to do their work, thoughts, and opinions justice in my writing by doing the best that I can.

The classroom teacher I’m working with had this posted by her desk and it made me smile:

I am going to practice being awesome this semester for sure. And I’m beginning it with a positive attitude and a readiness to move forward…




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Fall is getting closer. The official date for the beginning of my 2012-2013 school year is Aug 20 when I have meetings to prepare for my classes for the upcoming year. The Lions had their first preseason game. In just a little under 3 weeks I’ll be sitting at MSU’s first football game of the season. This means summer is nearly over and it’s time for me to reflect on what I have accomplished after 10 weeks of working NHA-free.

I spent a good portion of the last couple of weeks working on human subjects research approval. Since I am conducting research on minors (fifth-graders) and in a “power position” as their teacher, I have to submit my study to a third party review board at MSU called “IRB.”  They decide whether I’ve taken the necessary procedures to protect my research subjects and I have to wait to do anything on my study until I have their approval. As much of a chore this is (it’s mostly wordsmithing), it’s definitely necessary. By accident at the same time I was reading a book for fun called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, about a woman who was used as a research subject for cancer research without her (or her family’s) consent. Since her cells ended up being very important in several medical research breakthroughs, she was famous and in a sense exploited, to the detriment of her family after her death. This book made me think harder about the importance of ethical research, and I’m hoping to count it as time spent toward my RCR requirements this year. Every grad student at MSU must spent 2-5 hours a year doing work to improve our knowledge of Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) and ethical research practices. Maybe Henrietta’s story will count.

I highly recommend anyone read it, not just researchers. I’m by no means doing medical research, but the children in my study have rights that need to be protected as well, so IRB approval is important. I think I am very close to official approval–I am waiting on the official documents which should be arriving today according to my case manager at IRB. My study was deemed “exempt”, which essentially means it’s not very intrusive into the lives of the children (the study is happening at school during their regular instruction–they don’t have to do anything too special other than what they would normally do at school). Not like collecting cells.

I also made a very-nearly-final revision of my dissertation proposal and then summarized my changes for my committee. I am hoping to meet with them in the next couple of weeks to explain all the work I have done this summer. It feels good to be very nearly done with the proposal. Come fall, I’ll be focusing on the “real thing” and I can put the proposal to bed officially.

With my IRB approval coming any minute, my dissertation proposal finished, and the new school year beginning in one week, I have one thing on my mind to finish the summer–grading. My online class ends this week and I have a ton of things to grade, so that is my singular focus until Aug 20 before my life gets insanely busy. Yes, fall is coming very soon. Even the rainy and cold weather is reminding me…


2,000 Words

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I took a bit of time off of working and writing to give myself a bit of a mini-vacation for the 4th of July and to celebrate my anniversary with my hubby (8 years of him putting up with me being a student, which I have been the entire time we’ve been dating and married, I realized). And it’s also been so hot that I couldn’t resist “working” from my beach office, and by “working” I mean flipping through an Entertainment Weekly with some friends while working on my still non-existent tan.

But today, I am back in my thankfully air conditioned office and slightly freaking out about my first deadlines which are both coming up in the next two weeks–submitting a short version of my dissertation proposal to the CUFA and AERA conferences. CUFA is the College and Universtity Faculty Assembly for the National Council for Social Studies (a mouthful, I am aware). It’s the research arm of NCSS. I am presenting my work at the large NCSS conference, but I would also like to present my work in this research division to other social studies researchers as well. This is important since I would love to someday be considered part of that group. AERA is the American Educational Research Association conference, which is essentially the mother of any research conference, and it’s the hottest party of the year in ed research.  I have been trying to get accepted to present my work there for the last two years with no luck, however I feel like what I have worked on now is better than my other work, so we’ll see.

The challenging part of preparing your submission to these conferences is that they only accept submissions of 2,000 words or less. That sounds like a lot, but rest assured it is not remotely enough to explain my dissertation study. This blog post is already 300 words and I’ve just explained the conferences! To put it in perspective, I have been working on fixing the version of the dissertation proposal I already wrote and it is 8,500 words. And I have more to ADD! Cutting your work down so much is a serious higher-order thinking exercise– you want it to get at the heart of your work and still be compelling enough for someone to choose it to be presented. At the same time, a lot of it has to go.

I have one week to make the cuts and prepare my submissions, but I am also working on an online course I started teaching on Monday (TE 842: Elementary Reading Assessment and Instruction), my presentation I’m making at a NHA conference at the end of July, work for the research team I’m on, tweaking the One Hen unit, applying for IRB (I’m sure another great blog post for the future) and of course fixing my proposal to resubmit to my committee. My stack of books is also growing:

I made my first trip to the MSU library last week since PhD orientation. (YES, first. Don’t judge.) Once I got past the novelty of staring at the colored lines on the floor directing you to the books you need Alice-in-Wonderland style, I managed to add more to my never-ending reading list. I have a feeling it won’t be my last trip there either.

The Proposal

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I did accomplish something major related to my dissertation already, and that is my dissertation proposal. For those that haven’t devoted themselves to writing papers every waking minute of their day (in other words: normal people), a dissertation proposal is where I write up my idea for my dissertation and present it to my dissertation committee.

“The Proposal” is the only written document I have related to my dissertation so far. In it, I wrote up an introduction to the problem (a.k.a., Why do I want to study what I’m studying? Why is it important? Why should anyone care to read it?), I reviewed other articles related to my topic, I wrote up the logistics of how I want to carry out the study, what data I want to collect, and how I am going to look at that data. After attaching a few appendices of ideas, The Proposal ended up being 60 pages. 60 pages just to describe the idea of my dissertation.

Here’s my idea (in way less than 60 pages): I want to implement a social studies unit on upper elementary Economics. This unit is something I worked on at NHA in collaboration with a non-profit group. The unit (and the non-profit group) is called One Hen. In this unit,  4th or 5th grade students learn about a boy named Kojo in Ghana who got a loan of “one hen” (get it now?) and started a business.  He used his profits to build his community– he started small and ended big. The students then actually get a small loan, start their own business, and talk about ways they can use their profits to help their community–then they put the talk into action.

Image (This is the book about Kojo– kids love it. Parents and teachers– buy it!)

This is a valuable message that I personally think is what’s so great about learning social studies– kids at a young age can learn content in order to better their world and their surroundings. I want to study what students learn, what they do, what they think, and what happens when they experience this unit in the classroom. I want to co-teach it with a classroom teacher and pull every bit of information I can out of the students and write about it.

However, when my goal is to “pull every bit of information I can” out of students, it leaves me with a lot of data to study, and I am a bit overwhelmed about where to start. Is the goal of my study to find out if the unit “works”? If so, how can I see if it “works?” Or do I not care if it “works” and just want to capture a moment in time when they learn it? I think I want to do both, but this leaves me with an idea that’s a bit ambitious to say the least.

My committee liked the idea of this unit and the possibilities of great instruction it can offer. But, the amount of data concerned them as well. This summer will be mostly spent tweaking The Proposal, since I want to submit it for funding applications (since it’s the only written piece I have on my dissertation as of now) and I need to be ready to wrap my head around this data puzzle before I collect it.

So for the next 2-3 months, my mind is on The Proposal.

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