Archive for October, 2012

Tree Huggers: The Mission to save the trees

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Taking care of the trees!

A species on the verge of extinction is an exceptionally hard problem to solve. Upon initial reading of this problem, I was overwhelmed by the dilemma, especially because of my lack of prior knowledge of trees and especially this rare form of trees.

I come at this problem as a historian. More often than not I study things that are already extinct, not in the process of becoming extinct. My initial hypothesis would involve the following:

  • I think that the initial negative effects on this species were caused by an abrupt event in history
  • I also believe that a progressive change in the environmental conditions has weakened the trees to the point of lack of reproduction and death

My long-term memory is currently under duress as I think back to my days of high school and freshmen year biology. I would need to put my explicit and implicit long term memory into use to solve this problem. “Explicit memory is knowledge from long-term memory that can be recalled and consciously considered. We are aware of these memories-we know we have remembered them. Implicit memory, on the other hand, is knowledge that we are not conscious of recalling, but that influences behavior or thought without our awareness”(Woolfolk, 2010, p. 297).  I am also feeling like my first step in figuring out this problem would be to ask my Dad(yes even as an adult), because he is a biologist.

My Plan for solving the tree disaster would include these steps…

  1. As someone who has held a variety of positions of leaderships and because of my self-efficacy I feel qualified to lead the team that will solve this problem. But my first action as Team Leader would be to assemble a team who had much more of a declarative knowledge of trees than I do. As a leader, I know that I have certain strengths and weaknesses and being aware of these is extremely important.
  2. Using historical and scientific methodologies we would put procedural memory into practice by studying the general history as well as the environmental history of the island.
  3. Having someone to correlate and process the data at the end of every day would be extremely important to keep the entire team on the same page.
  4. By studying the historical and environmental conclusions on the island we would be able to prove or disprove our initial hypothesis.
  5. If we are able to prove our hypothesis, then we have solved the problem, if not, we would need to develop a new hypothesis.

Some of the information that I think would be helpful in discovering what is happening to the Calvaria tree is the environmental history of the island. Average temperature, rainfall, and soil and water PH levels for the last twenty-five years, would help us have an early picture of the conditions we would be dealing with. We would need in depth genetic information on the tree, for example: what other trees is it related to?

This problem is not going to be solved over night but with perseverance and a knowledgeable team I feel that it would be possible to discover the cause of the negative effects on this species of tree. Extinct populations of species fill history books, but hopefully this species will not join the others.

Image found at

Woolfolk, A. (2010). Educational psychology. (12 ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

The Challenges of Immersion

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

This film probably affected me more than anything else we have studied thus far. Since I spent the last two years in China learning Chinese by immersion and teaching Chinese ELL students I feel like this really resonated with me. Learning a language by immersion can be difficult but extremely effective. As I watched the video I pictured so many times when I was standing in China listening, or at least trying to listen to what someone was telling me and not really understanding. I would pick up a few words here and there but it was never easy. I also think of when I taught low-level ELL students and having them stare or whisper in their native tongue during class, the frustration on their faces as they tried to communicate with me. Body language was extremely crucial in the film, as well as picking up on vocal cues. Had their only been audio I would have thought I was listening to gibberish. If being overseas and watching ELL students struggle with learning English I can only imagine an ELL Student sitting in an American classroom and trying to understand what is going on around them.

Second language learning is not easy and this video definitely illustrated that. It is difficult as an adult to learn another language, “Adults have more learning strategies and greater knowledge of language in general to bring to bear in mastering a second language. But recent research on the brain and bilingualism suggests ‘there is most definitely a ‘sensitive period’ for optimal bilingual language and reading exposure and mastery’”(p. 175-176). Most students who are ELL students do not learn second language during their optimal period, they are trying to catch up while learning not only everyday vocabulary but specialized vocabulary. It is especially in this content area vocabulary that ELL students have a lot of trouble. Students need to learn how to describe things in little words before they can describe them in big words, they need to observe you and how you use the language and they need to be able to everything in a context which is often difficult with English. “It takes about 2-3 years in a good-quality program for children who are learning a new language to be able to use basic or contextualized language face to face in conversation”(p. 180). In China, I was teaching college students oral English and many of them were just becoming confident in speaking face to face for the first time after having studied English for at least six years if not longer.

Something else that I think is extremely difficult for ELL students is the different dialects for native English speakers. Last year in China I was on a team of three foreign teachers, I am from Virginia and Upstate New York(but I pretty much claim the south as home), one of my teammates was from Pittsburgh and the other was from Texas. Our dialects varied widely and I think it is necessary with ELL students to recognize these differences. Our students would often comment on how we spoke differently and sometimes they would not even be able to pick out what the differences were, they just knew it was different. Wolfolk explains that teachers need to be aware of dialect differences in their classrooms, but I also think that teachers need to be aware of their own dialect differences.

ELL students face a unique set of challenges as they try to learn a new language. They must learn and comprehend not only basic vocabulary and grammar, but specialized and regional vocabulary as well. I know as someone who learned Chinese through immersion it can be one of the best helpful but also difficult ways at the same time. My ability to read Chinese is very poor but I am able to speak it when I need it as well as understand a lot of what I hear. Through my difficulties learning in another culture I know that I have only scratched the surface of what some of my students might experience someday, and what my students often did experience last year. Being aware of ELL Students and their difficulties is crucial in helping them succeed and becoming literate English speakers.

Woolfolk, A. (2010). Educational psychology. (12 ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.