Different Ways to Learn

There are many different ways to go about learning.  Two of the more prevalent approaches are behaviorist and cognitive development.

Behaviorists believe that people learn best through the behaviors they exhibit.  These behaviors require reinforcement in order for people to learn them.  There are two types of reinforcements, positive and negative.  Positive reinforcement often reward good behavior with a treat, money, or other type of incentive (Woolfolk, 277).  For instance, if a dog sits, rolls over, or follows directions, they are often given a treat.  This reinforces that they need to follow directions in order to get rewarded.  On the other hand, negative reinforcement encourages a behavior by subtracting a stimulus (Woolfolk, 277).  For instance, if you drive without a seat belt on, there is  small beeper that keeps going off until you put your seat belt on.  In order to get rid of the beeping noise you must put your seat belt on, thus reinforcing that you need to drive with your seat belt fastened.

The other prevalent approach to learning is cognitive development.  People who use a cognitive approach to learning believe that knowledge and strategies can be learned and eventually changed, which leads to a change in behavior (Woolfolk, 312).  The big emphasis is on gaining knowledge.  There are many different ways in which people gain knowledge.  There is sensory memory which helps us relate information to things that we touch, taste, see, smell, and hear.  By relating the information to our senses we can pull the information from memory whenever we experience those senses again.  There is also the working memory.  the working memory takes new information and combines it with information in long term memory to solve problems (Woolfolk, 319).  This memory often helps people understand lectures in college or presentations for work.  The ultimate goal of the cognitive approach is to take new information, process it, and put it in long term memory so that people can draw upon it in the future.  This often worked best for me in college when I wrote down notes in a notebook during lectures and would type up those notes later on, thus going through the information at least twice.

Both of these approaches to learning are important in the classroom because every student learns differently.  Some students act out and don’t behave when in class.  They need to learn that that behavior is unacceptable, the behaviorist approach can help with developing that.  Other students learn best by learning out of a book, or having the teacher lecture at them and taking notes, or working in groups.  The cognitive approach can help teachers narrow down how students learn best and can apply that in the classroom.

When it comes to teaching history, the area that I’d like to teach, I feel that students learn best by analyzing primary sources and discussing an overall theme to the documents, rather than reading it out of a textbook.  I also like to incorporate powerpoint presentations into class, so as to give the kids a bullet point list of the main ideas and something visual that they can hold on to.  Students would also greatly benefit from discussion of the documents to gauge other student’s perspectives.  This is a very constructivist view of learning.  Instead of me just telling the students about history, they are learning through reading sources that were actually from that era.

My O&P teacher uses this approach in his class.  He is going for his masters and is teaching one class out of a textbook and the other two are using primary sources he provides and discussing over-arching questions about a particular era of US History.  For instance, one of the questions he had them answer was Were African Americans really free after the Civil War?  He provided them with documents supported the freedom of African Americans, as well as, denied that African Americans were free.  He then left it up to the students to decide what was true using text evidence.  He pulls a lot of these lesson plans from this website https://sheg.stanford.edu/rlh.

By understanding how best the students learn, we, as teachers, can adjust our lesson plans so that learning is maximized.


  • Woolfolk, Anita. (2014). Educational Psychology: Active Learning Edition, 12th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Education Inc.
  • https://sheg.stanford.edu/rlh

Childhood Development

As teachers, understanding how the children we teach develop is paramount.  If we don’t know what stage a child is at, we cannot appropriately mold a curriculum around that child.  Depending upon where the child is developmentally, they may not understand what we’re talking about or think we’re talking down to them.  There may also be some factors outside of school that contributes to a child’s development that could affect their behavior or learning capacity in the classroom.  Understanding some of these factors can help teachers maximize the amount of learning each child achieves.

There are four main theories on childhood development.

The first was developed by Jean Piaget.  He stated that children go through four main stages of development: the Sensorimotor stage, the Pre-Operational stage, the Concrete Operational stage, and the Formal-Operational stage.  The Sensorimotor stage occurs as infants when we learn best through our senses, usually by sticking things in our mouth, yummy!  The Pre-Operational stage comes next as toddlers when we’re more used to walking and start talking.  Next is the Concrete Operational stage, usually in elementary school, where we start thinking with a little logic.  Finally the Formal-Operational stage occurs during middle school and beyond and sees us using sound logical reasoning.  Piaget’s model very consistent and coherent but lacks other factors like culture and social groups (Woolfolk, 2014, p. 51).

The second theory of development was developed by Lev Vygotsky.  Vygotsky came up with a socio-cultural theory and believed in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).  The ZPD can best be described as the set of tasks a child can perform with help from others but cannot do independently.  By working with others, the child can learn how to do these things independently.  Vygotsky’s model relies on whatever type of social context the child is in but is ultimately a little vague due to Vygotsky passing away before he could further develop his theory (Woolfolk, 2014, p. 67).

Thirdly, Erik Erikson developed the stages of Psycho-social Development.  Each stage, there are eight, relies on a child making a decision between two clashing ideas (Woolfolk, 2014, p. 102).  For instance, teenagers often wrestle with identity or role confusion.  You often see teenagers go through this stage when the clothes they wear changes, maybe they get tattoos or a piercing, they join a team or organization, they openly admit to being gay or get their first boyfriend/girlfriend.  Erikson’s model goes further in depth than any of the developmental theories that came before it.

Finally, the last developmental theory came from the mind of Urie Bronfrenbrenner.  He set up an ecological model of development (Woolfolk, 2014, p. 87).  Each child is affected by systems of the world around them.  Microsystems are everyday interactions like home life and school.  Mesosystems are the interactions between those microsystems, for instance a PTA meeting to determine the direction of a school.  Exosystems are indirect interactions for the child; this is best shown as how a child is affected when a parent is away from home on business.  Lastly, macrosystems are interactions that are out of the child’s control.  For instance, the government passing an education bill that determines what is taught in the child’s school.

The role of teachers is just one of the big contributors to a child’s development.  Parents also play a huge role in what and how their kid learns.  Parents may have a particular subject they enjoy and try to pass that enjoyment onto their children.  I know that my father really enjoys studying history.  As a result, a lot of our family vacations were to historically significant places (Gettysburg, Breed’s Hill, Fort Sumter).  Parents are also there to help and act as a stand in for the teacher during non-school hours.  I often went to my parents when I had a questions on homework.  The only caveat to parental help is for parents to use a light touch.  If you help your kid too much they may become reliant on you for answers and may not learn anything at all.

Parental styles also play a big role in development.  Depending upon how strict or lenient a parent is could have drastic affects on the type of structure the child receives.  If the parent is too authoritarian, the kid may act out against their parent and any authoritative figures as an act of rebellion.  On the other hand, if the parent is too lax, the kid may becomes lazy or not develop properly.  This dichotomy of parenting is best seen in the American Dad episode Son of Stan.  In the episode, Stan (who is authoritative) has Steve cloned for the purposes of proving his parenting style is better than Francine’s (who is permissive).  Both styles on their own fail because Francine’s Steve (who is the actual Steve not the clone) becomes lazy, unmotivated, and abusive towards his mother.  Stan’s Steve (the clone) has a psychotic break and starts killing cats and carrying them around.  Whoa that got dark fast!  Now I’m not saying that if you’re strict with your kids that they’ll become psychopaths but it takes a light touch and combination of parenting styles to properly develop a child.


  • Woolfolk, Anita. (2014). Educational Psychology: Active Learning Edition, 12th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Education Inc.

Integration of Research and Teaching

Teaching a wide variety of students is a difficult task for a teacher.  The teacher may not realize or understand the different ways in which children learn, and that could cost the child’s ability to keep up in class.  To help counteract this, teachers can integrate research about students and teaching techniques so that they give each student the ability to learn to his or her maximum potential.

On the most basic level, teachers can use tests scores to figure out which children are excelling in a particular subject and which need more of the teacher’s attention to catch up.  Teachers could also look at research about teaching techniques to try and figure out which would work best in their classroom.  Perhaps the research says that children need social interaction to help foster learning, that might mean that teachers should focus on group work for students.  The research might also say that students learn better when technology is introduced.  That might trigger a shift towards incorporating videos and educational games into the classroom.  The research that teachers use is very helpful but whether or not the teacher uses it will ultimately depend on the “feel” the teacher gets from each particular class.

On the other hand, teachers can work with researchers to further advance research on education.  A teacher has their own mini test field in front of them each day.  The teacher could use their students as subjects for research and collaborate with researchers on their findings.

The ties between research and teaching are becoming more and more intertwined.  When I eventually start teaching, I’ll have to spend a large chunk of my time reading research and figuring out ways to incorporate it into my classroom.  The amount of research I integrate into my classroom will also depend upon each class.  Each class is different and the research may apply to one class better than another.

Research can also show which techniques may be outdated or wasteful within a classroom.  One recent trend in educational research is debating the validity of homework.  Some research says that homework doesn’t do much with regards to student learning while more traditional teachers still feel that it’s an important part of the schooling experience.  I feel that homework should be utilized like many other things in life, with moderation.

The homework that we assign as teachers needs to be meaningful.  If we assign worksheets, problems, and other homework children would consider “busy work”, children may miss the point of the homework and complete it just to get it over with (Farrow, Tymms, & Henderson, 1999, pg. 323).  On the other hand, if we assign too much homework, children may feel overloaded and either partially complete assignments or not attempt to do them.  Studies have shown that the longer children spend on homework, the worse they do in overall academic achievement (Maltese, Tai, & Xitao, 2012, pg. 68).  As teachers, we need to find an equilibrium between too much and too little homework while keeping the content meaningful for children.

Teachers can also utilize parents when it comes to homework.  Teachers are the ultimate tool for learning inside of the classroom, but parents can also be a useful resource outside of the classroom.  The children who’s parents are active in their education often times do better in school than those who don’t (Rudman, 2014, pg. 19).  The parents may show kids material from a different perspective, explain it in a simpler language, or give their child confidence they need to accomplish the assignment.  Some also argue against homework, saying that it’s actually an intrusion upon family life (Kralovec, 2007, pg. 5).  I disagree, homework could be a tool that could help families come together under a common goal.  The parents could use it to catch up with their kids and see what’s going on in their children’s lives.  The children could use it not only to get their homework done but to connect with their parents and realize that asking for help is not a bad thing.

If we figure out a way to use homework in moderation, we could use it as an important tool in children’s education that could positively affect a child’s life both inside and outside the classroom.


  • Farrow, S., Tymms, P., & Henderson, B. (1999). Homework and attainment in primary schools. British Educational Research Journal25(3), 323.
  • Kralovec, E. (2007). A brief history of homework. Encounter, 20(4), 4-5.
  • Maltese, A. V., Tai, R. H., & Xitao, F. (2012). When is homework worth the time? Evaluating the association between homework and achievement in high school science and math. High School Journal96(1), 52-72.
  • Rudman, N. C. (2014). A review of homework literature as a precursor to practitioner-led doctoral research in a primary school. Research In Education91(1), 12-29.

Getting to know me

Hi everybody,

That’s where you say, “Hi, Dr. Nick!”  Sorry, bad Simpsons reference, I’m such a nerd.

I’m originally from Menomonee Falls and went up to Madison to earn degrees in History and Economics.  Obviously I came back to school to earn a teaching license.  If/when I become a teacher I’d like to teach history at any level, although I can teach economics if the school asks me to.

Growing up my parents always told me that I should either become a teacher or a lawyer because I loved teaching people about things and could always rationalize my way out of trouble.  I chose the one that is generally less despised.  My passion for teaching started at a young age.  I first held “class” when I was 5 years old on a family fishing trip.  I gathered all of my uncles outside and proceeded to teach them about dinosaurs; again, huge nerd.

In school, I had a lot of teachers whom I enjoyed.  The two that stand out the most were Mrs. Novack (History) and Mr. Chavannes (Economics), weird coincidence being in my subject field, I know.  Mrs. Novack was a more straight forward teacher, with lectures, tests, and presentations.  However, her knowledge of history seemed limitless.  She could come up with historical facts about everything and anything on a dime.  Mr. Chavannes, on the other hand, was a more out of the box teacher.  He made learning economics fun, yes that is possible, with activities and demonstrations that were unorthodox.  To his greatest credit, he did not drone on like Ben Stein either.

My love for history comes from two places.  The first is my own family’s multiple ties to history.  I’m a direct descendant of Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President.  I also have an ancestor who played a big role in the American Revolution, at least the hill he owned did.  The Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed’s Hill, my ancestor’s hill.  I went there a couple of years ago and told the guards that they owed my family some back rent but they barely changed the expressions on their faces.  They clearly don’t have a sense of humor.

The second reason why I love history comes from the fact history is full of funny stories and dumb luck.  For instance, at one point in the Catholic Church’s history they had three excommunicated Popes at the same time.  There was also trial by cake at one point in England.  However, my favorite story is of King Alexander I of Greece.  Alexander led the Greek forces against the Turks in the Greco-Turkish War, right after World War I.  He led the Greeks to an almost certain victory in the war until he went walking in his garden and was bitten by a monkey and died.  That left the Greeks in the hands of an incompetent leader who would go on to lose the war.  So basically a little monkey won a war for the Turks; that is how amazing history can be.  On a side note, I’m great at trivia games because I have a mind full of useless facts, just and FYI.

I do have other interests outside of history.  I enjoy watching baseball games and love the statistical side of baseball as well.  There goes my nerdy side again.  I am also heavily involved in the Irish culture in Milwaukee.  I have worked at Irish Fest and the Irish Fest Summer School every year since I was nine years old.  Another side note, if anyone wants free tickets to Irish Fest let me know.  I also worked as a tour guide at the Capitol building in Madison for three years.  If you’d like a private tour, again let me know.  Before you ask though, I probably won’t be able to get you up to the top of the dome; that is up to the Capitol Police.

That’s only just a little bit about me.