Friday, February 24, 2012

Collasbos: Not Just for Rappers

In American society, we tend to push the underlying themes of Capitalism on our kids from a very early age. The idea of competitiveness, of being the best at something, or having self reliance and individuality are all encompassed here. [Note that I am not expressing whether or not these are correct or incorrect ideals, I am only stating facts here and comparing them to another ideal.] By adopting these mindsets, we leave behind the idea of a sense of community and working together, which I feel are absolutely necessary in order for a society to continue to meld together. Granted, this discussion can get extremely political incredibly quickly, and it's a slippery slope from then on. However, I feel that we often forget that the option of working together to accomplish a goal is both a necessary skill to work on, but also can be hard for students to do at times if they are used to having control over their own situations or have not yet learned to effectively work together. This can tread on some more serious issues in society like mental or social learning handicaps, but for the sake of covering the reading in the book I suppose we must set the exemptions aside here for the time being.

With Hicks' book, The Digital Writing Workshop, he gives us an entire chapter dedicated to the idea that we have the ability to allow students to work cooperatively on projects through tools at our disposal. There are an unbelievable amount of social tools embedded within traditional methods of creation, allowing for an unprecedented level of creativity, collaboration, and speed to work with. The idea of using either a wiki, a blog, or something like Google Docs is a legitimate possibility for those of whom may have to provide a larger number of projects or paper assignments.  Despite being new to some of these tools myself, I already see the benefit to being able to work on something like a Word document or PowerPoint project together with a partner who you may not be able to see outside of class due to maligned schedules. Rather than having to blitz through it during class time or to struggle over the phone, we now have tools to enable collaboration. Video messages sent back and forth showing progress on a project, using Skype chat to work together, or sharing it through blog posts back and forth can all be extremely beneficial.

While I could go into explicit detail here about the entirety of the chapter, I think I'll pass. Take a look for yourself if you haven't already at Chapter 3 of the book and see if any ideas strike you as a plausibility.

Usefulness of Podcasts

Much of what we have covered in class from the lesson plans seems very focused and allows only for a limited number of lessons to be applied to it. However, I think that the podcast idea has to be the best by far in terms of encompassing multiple facets of a lesson or assignment opportunities. I know that I hated working with PowerPoint or writing speeches out by hand on note cards that the teacher would only let you have a certain number of.  I was largely reserved and quiet when I was younger, making speaking in front of others largely difficult for me, even within small groups.

Technology always intrigued me, though I was slow to be able to utilize or have access to it since I was from a more modest household, and as such did not have the top of the line when it came to advances in technology. However, within high school and college I have had access to a plethora of different technologies, and as a result am grateful that we have a class aimed at narrowing down tools that are potential classroom aids. The number of tools on the web or available as apps on phones has reached a disgusting amount, and just think that our technology will double within 2 years. Wow.

Outside of that side-note, podcasts are a new phenomenon to me because I have had a problem with Apple as a company. I always thought that you HAD to have iTunes or an iPod in order to be able to access that technology, and as a result never got into them when the wave started. From the ones I listened to regarding, you guessed it, some of the games I currently invest time in, they seem like a logical step in conveying information to listeners if video equipment or video sharing sites are not preferred, as they can get lost in the wash there. Podcasts are easier to search for then a video is on YouTube I've noticed, so that is always a plus.

However, they are also relatively simplistic, and quite drab compared to watching a video. I was attempting to type this blog while trying to listen to some more, but found that I couldn't because of the difference in my writing versus what they were saying, and I couldn't focus on both. Even reading another article and trying to listen to them didn't work for me. It's not quite the same as music is, because music you can generally escape from what's being sung and just have it be background noise. With purely voice, I almost feel obligated to dedicate my full attention to it, and as such anything else literary or orally based is incompatible simultaneously with it. I felt like I was wasting time though when I was just sitting and listening to it, so that is a downside.

ANYHOW, outside of this slight rant and commentary, I feel that as a teaching tool this technology is a phenomenal idea. With the pressure of speaking in front of a class lifted, perhaps some children will have their grasp on the material shine through since they have free reign on what gets produced. I would have probably seen podcasts as a great timesink for homework assignments because they involve A) computers, B) talking almost to yourself without being directly met with judgement from others making it a more comfortable experience, C) creativity in presenting the material being assessed, and D) just the novelty of breaking away from the traditional written or oral presentation of read material. Rather than looking like an idiot in front of the class trying to keep interjecting upon oneself to represent the constant commercial presentations (one of the example podcasts that the book gave us), the student can accurately do this creative interpretation by the use of audio recording.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Silver Lining

There's always a silver lining in every situation no matter how cheesy that phrase may have become. Yesterday, my basement started flooding and as I was bailing out water I was electrocuted, going into slight shock. Yes, this sounds like a day ruined, yet later while moving stuff around I managed to find a book that I absolutely loved when I was younger. Called Tomfoolery: Trickery and Foolery with Words, by Alvin Schwartz, it represents my sense of humor and childhood fun all within one small collection.

Containing the first poem I ever memorized, it holds a special place in my heart:
"One bright day/ in the middle of the night/ two dead men/ got up to fight.
Back to back/ they faced each other,/ drew their swords,/ and shot each other.
A deaf policeman/ heard the noise.
He came and shot/ those two dead boys.
If you don't believe/ this lie is true,/ go ask the blind man-/ he saw it, too."

There's not much more you can ask for when you're young that can entertain you. It beat "See Dick run" 1,000/1,000 times is all I have to say. To me, it seems that if I had more opportunities to express myself through means such as those represented in Tomfoolery, it would have made me a much more avid reader than I turned out to be. I'm in no way saying that what we use today is incomparable, but I know that everything outside of school always interested me more than what was going on inside of it because school and reading became associated with a "have to do" rather than a "want to do" mentality, which carried over into further studies and mandatory readings for SSR or DEAR sessions.

Dr. Seuss books were another set of items that absolutely caught my wholehearted attention every time I happened upon them. I know I used my library card privileges to rent those out multiple times through my early grade school years. The materials we read in class were never quite as entertaining to me as the ones that I found on my own, so as a result my sense of literacy was developed from my own interest and not that of the school/state's agenda. Classical works are interesting in their own right, but it's important for us to note that they are not all that matters anymore. Granted, we don't want them to be reading garbage and we want them to have a sense of what we have developed from as a culture. However, as we rise out of our memories of grade school and become the teachers of whatever area we may inherit, we need to keep in mind that there are indeed classics being crafted in our very time, and is what the mainstream of society will be using as reference points when we continue forward. New isn't always a bad thing, and neither is fringe/different like Tomfoolery and Dr. Seuss.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Video game reading

As silly as it may seem, literacy within video games is a fantastic development for children to be introduced to. For example, I know many of us have heard of Skyrim recently.  The fantastic part of this game is that there is almost an unlimited number of characters and books to interact with.  All of the books contain some sort of "diary" entry, history of Tamriel (the world the game takes place in), or some sort of "instruction manual" for something random.

Speaking as a nerd, I absolutely love delving into the ones that deal with the history of the countryside, even if it is completely fictitious. It provides a fantastical mental journey that I can enjoy even more because it helps me become better immersed within a world not like this one, which is the exact point of fiction, is it not?  Playing a game like Scrabble or Boggle or something along those lines is a great way to practice vocabulary and exercise creativity with what's provided.  In just as valuable a set-up, I feel that being able to have people read within a game that they are already fully enthralled in is absolutely one of the better ways in which we as educators could get children to be enthralled.

I also recently found out that some schools overseas use the game Little Big Planet in order to teach physics, general problem solving, and enhance creativity. While I don't know how I feel about this as an educator,  as a student I think I would be in heaven if a teacher incorporated "real-world issues" into something as simple as a game that I enjoyed. It may be going too far to incorporate video games into the classroom, but I also know that making and sharing a text-based adventure game and a simple craps game in Computer Science were amongst the top memories of my college classes.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Goes to show...

As I am working on my presentation (yes, procrastination set in and it is the day before) I found that the tool they were referencing no long exists. Google Forms is no longer an item, but rather has been swept under the Google Docs carpet, and is significantly more difficult to figure out than they had originally projected. Even in the short time that this book has been out, the technology available to us has shifted in more ways than we could count, and this is so miniscule but still proves the point.

There's so much more I could say, but frankly we've all heard it and it would be preaching to the choir.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Technology-saturated Generation

Technology is now said to double every two years. This is somewhat scary considering most of us have been around for 20-ish years, and as such the amount of technology available has skyrocketed within our lifetime alone. Generational gaps used to be slightly less significant over a larger window of time, but now it seems the gap can be widened even between those that are two years apart.

From time to time, I see parents pushing a child in a stroller that's playing with a smartphone.  Given that this child may not necessarily be able to walk and is playing games on a phone that I, a 20 year old, got just this past Christmas, I am in shock.  When I was little, the only portable thing I had was a Gameboy Pocket, and I was lucky at that.  I had Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Land III, and never beat either no matter how much I played them. There are children now who could probably play Through the Fire and Flames on Expert, yet can barely hold the controller, solely because they grew up with this technology.

Getting back on topic, it is ridiculous that children have access to so much at such a young age.  We had smart-boards our senior year of high school, and even then the teachers either did not want to utilize them because they did not understand them or because they had no way to incorporate them into predetermined lessons. Teachers were under strict orders to not let the students use them either because, I assume, they were so new and expensive.

Having access to a computer from the time they are able to control their motor skills effectively, many children are more adept and well-versed with technology, social networking, educational games, and digital literacy in general.  I didn't have a laptop until I received one for my graduation present, and even then I was really unaware of how to use many programs or utilize Microsoft Office to its full potential. In a classroom setting, this would have been embarrassing as a teacher if I had these problems.

Part of our responsibilities as future educators is to stay connected with as much technology as possible, and fully recognize the potential that some media outlets hold for us within the classroom.  Unfortunately, I feel that since technology is progressing at such a fast rate it may be impossible to continually remain on top of the developments unless we make it a striving point.

There is an infinite wealth of wisdom and utilities at our disposal, yet our students may have already beaten us to the punch when it comes to exposing them to it. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Education Through Comics

In today's world, it is important to keep in mind that students truly do come from an infinitely diverse range of backgrounds and settings.  Naturally, educators have preferences for media types based on their own comfort with technology or how progressive they are in terms of lesson plans and in getting the class involved with different opportunities. 

One of the newer ways in which the classroom has been altered is the introduction of comics to tell stories that may be otherwise more difficult than necessary for a child to grasp.  Not only can it be used to teach a lesson or to read through a challenging book, but students can also present their work to their classmates using them as a teaching tool.  Rather than writing a full-fledged book report, instead a student could simply create a graphic novel or comic book to show what they grasped from the story.

If you're interested in this medium as a form of education, I highly recommend visiting to learn more about the process and how to implement this.