Our guest today, Doug Robertson, is one of the best teachers on the planet. He teaches 4th grade at Powell Valley Elementary School outside Portland, Oregon, and you might know him from his multiple interviews and podcasts, his books, his YouTube channel, or maybe his incredibly entertaining Twitter stream. While we usually focus on higher ed on the show, we had a great conversation with Doug about how we apply the fundamental principles of teaching in our respective classrooms.
0:00 ⏯ Kids in the background, watching THE INCREDIBLES.
1:49 ⏯ The best teacher Doug knows, bar none. Doug McKee welcoming Doug Robertson. Talking about how the fundamental principles of teaching apply equally to K12 and higher ed. You can’t be an overexposed K12 teacher.
5:10 ⏯ How long Doug Robertson’s been teaching and how many students he teachers. Classroom management as engagement. Engagement online vs. face-to-face.
9:39 ⏯ Student engagement comes from great lesson plans AND the teacher’s personality–Neither works alone. Doug Robertson stands on desks, uses puppets. Other great teachers take a calmer more conventional approach. Teaching like Paul McCartney (and Stevie Wonder) vs. teaching like KISS.
13:00 ⏯ Taking students out of the comfort zone. They’ve learned to play school, but some of that they must unlearn. Being a freeform teacher but giving the students an end goal. Struggle as necessary for learning. “I wanna see you do it wrong, and then I’l help you.” Type A 4th graders vs. Type A college freshmen. Don’t scaffold so much that failure never happens. The minimalist program in instruction. Edutwitter’s ideology of freedom.
19:37 ⏯ Wanting to be a teacher. High school Doug McKee’s ambiguous answers. From lifeguarding to teaching: helping people learn to do something you love, and all of the excitement and energy. Developing a new skill–to get in touch with learning. Doug Robertson’s mother was a teacher. Teaching is the job most likely to be inherited. Doug McKee is a third-generation teacher.
27:10 ⏯ Doug McKee’s structure for the conversation: using Susan Ambrose et al’s How Learning Works. Comparing K12 vs. a college a classroom. Meeting students where they are. Seeing students as functional human people. Spending 180 days with students 6 hours a day. First seeing their unique quirks, and then seeing them as having a rich inner life. Being The Authority and yet helping students question appropriately. “I Am The Man. And there is no man.”
35:39 ⏯ Watching people listen to music they don’t know much about. The Reaction Video or ‘Watching Watching’ Youtube genre as learning: encountering something new and unfamiliar, the discomfort of re-shaping your mental paradigms. “Lost in Vegas” YouTube Channel
39:44 ⏯ Helping students organize knowledge and giving students freedom. A presentation for Doug Robertson isn’t Google Slides: it isn’t a means, it’s aiming for a certain goal. Doug Robertson stumbling across his core teaching philosophy: the student who wouldn’t stop doodling. Not expecting the students to do the thing you want the way you want. Our brains encode information in multiple systems.
46:29 ⏯ Segue to thinking about how to motivate students. Motivation and entertainment, edutainment vs. motivating students to motivate themselves. “I believe in you, Sweetie” vs. giving students concrete reasons why they can do it. Not being scared of students doing crappy work: “This thing will be bad first. It’s okay.” A payoff of developing trust with your student: the student knows you know them. Combatting “I’m not a math person.” “You’re not good at math…yet.”
54:29 ⏯ Doug Robertson’s Hobby Project. Learn ventriloquism. Or to juggle. In three weeks. Document what you did & how it felt. “Grandma taught me to knit.” Encouraging students to try. Supporting good wrong answers. Accepting the fear of failure to banish it. “Goal-free problems” is the technical term for asking for many relevant vs. the right answer. See Sweller (1988) “Cognitive load during problem solving.” Cognitive Science 12:257-285
1:02:38 ⏯ The Hobby Project was: teaching students how to learn. A memorable failure. Teaching persuasive writing through an unpersuasive topic. Then changing it to a hot topic. Students having conversations they care about. Hope for the future.