Sunday, September 30, 2007

Editing... revisited

I enjoy revisiting topics. Every day I come across an instance where I hear or see someone not using the skills to edit information put out into the public. Next time you watch the news on your local television channel, pay attention to the reports on "health studies" that they report. Usually, they preface the report with a teaser before a commercial so that you continue to watch. This usually sounds something like this... "When we come back, find out why walking down a city street in the middle of the day may lead to an early death". They rely on the shock of the report. When they finally get to the story, they interview someone that was walking down the street and came across a man hole cover that was loose. This person decided to get on the news by calling the news station and reporting their near death story. The next day, everyone that sees this report, immediately fears man hole covers and stays clear of them.

This is a made-up story of course. I was using it as a metaphor for how ridiculous I think some news reports are. A great example of this fear reporting... 3 drinks daily increase risk for breast cancer . I recently saw this report on the news and then looked it up of the Internet. Now, the report says that if a woman is to drink 3 alcohol drinks daily, she increases her risk of breast cancer by 30% or as much as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. First of all, I don't know any women who drink 3 alcohol drinks a day. If they do drink three drinks a day, they probably already smoke a pack of cigarettes.

This is not the point though. The report did its job. Now everyone equates drinking 3 drinks daily with smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. People go to work the next day like they are intelligent and start barking statistics out that they heard on the news. Now everyone thinks that drinking a few drinks every day is as harmful as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. The report told you what they wanted to tell you and didn't mention all of the other harmful effects of smoking. The news focuses on the shock value of the report and wants you to watch their station.

This is where editing needs to come into play. As a society, we need to listen, learn, and then decide what is a true and valid study. These statistics may be true, but we as a society need to learn how to question a study and not give so much credit to the reports.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

How creative can you be in 2nd Grade?

This week, I just finished doing a great and simple activity with my 2nd Grade students. We discussed physical properties of objects and how they can be altered/changed. This engagement lesson is the starting point of another lesson in which the students create a paper puppet from an ordinary paper lunch bag.

This is how it goes...

I start by listing physical properties of myself. I ask them to start chiming in. We talk about some physical properties of other items in the room and they begin to catch on. Before you know it, the students can define the term physical properties. They have to be helped a little to get the word "describe" added in there.
Any way, after you talk about physical properties, hand out a quarter sheet of notebook paper. You tell them that they are going to use their creative minds to change the physical properties of this piece of paper. We then discuss the properties as the paper appears now. We purposefully do not discuss the ways in which we can change the physical properties (they would use all of the ideas discussed, that is how they have been trained). I tell them that they can use a pencil, some crayons, and their hands to change the properties of the paper any way they want.
When I tell them to begin, almost on cue, I have hands flying up in the air. The students all want to ask me permission to do certain things to their paper. They are deathly afraid to alter the paper any way that would get them in trouble. They need someone to hold their hand through the process. Even though I have told them repeatedly that they could do anything to the paper, they still do not understand that concept. I continue to just say to them "You can change any properties of the paper that you wish". I do not answer their questions.

How I look at this situation...

These students, at the age of 7, have what I like to call learned helplessness. They have been taught and have learned to be completely helpless in this situation. Out of 3 classes of 2nd grade students (95 students), only about 5 or 6 students had the ability to use their complete imaginations and do this assignment with a creative and unique agenda. One student balled up the paper and colored it. When I asked him what properties he changed? he said " I changed the shape, the color, and the texture". Yes, he used these exact words! Only about 4-5 students ripped the paper into pieces. The thought of altering this perfectly good paper seemed almost taboo for these kids.

The final product was eye opening, and I think we actually had some reversal of the learned helplessness. These kids can learn to be self-sufficient learners. This is a concept that needs to be looked at in a beginning of the year professional development course.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Wiki Project

After much thought and reflection, I have decided to take the wiki to a new level. The project will consist of creating somewhat of a club at my school. Being after school, I will be able to have the time to create a group of interested students that want to use this vehicle for collaboration and learning. The group/club/project will consist of a few students from each 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classroom. These students will be responsible for editing, creating, deleting and maintaining their own grade level wiki page. Each grade level will be organized as a committee not unlike we as teachers are a part of at our schools. These committee's will meet and organize the information that will be created on this site.

After presenting the idea to our Principal, she was elated. She doesn't quite understand the power of a wiki quite yet... it will take time. I explained to her the passion I have to change the methods in which we teach. I went on to explain the ways in which this wiki will change the structure of learning information. I have mentioned this idea to a few other teachers, and have received nothing but positive thoughts and ideas.

The wiki will be used for publishing factual information that is curriculum based in our science program. Students can use the wiki for study guides, science project ideas, and unique publishing purposes. Parents can use the wiki for informational purposes along with keeping up with the curriculum that is being taught throughout the year. Teachers can use the wiki for informational purposes in their class and side projects that can be fused with science. Science Project ideas will be posted along with any important rules governing them.

I am maintaining my optimism and am looking forward to getting the project on the road. Stay tuned for any further updates on this project and remember to check it out, as it is a work in progress.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Information in line for EDITING

The ability to edit information is the single most powerful skill one will need now and in the future in order to make sense of the world around us. As of now, I see editing in practice in the blog/web 2.0 world.

Editing does not only encompass looking at text and deciding whether or not it is credible. Editing to me involves the ability to edit all forms of media, entertainment, and any other information presented to us daily. This is not an innate skill. Humans are not born with the ability to consume information, have the skills to check credibility and decide to use the information in a way that makes sense... we need to teach this in our schools.

Our information revolution is not going anywhere. We can't take a break from the information, and come back another day. Information is omnipresent. Taking a break from the information flood would only involve us delaying the information that is presently available to us.
In the coming years, this will be a highly regarded skill that will be needed to sustain every day life. This skill is not only needed by adults... we need to teach children strategies to begin the process at a young age. Children need to be able to hear something in the media and know that it may not be the entire truth. They need to be able to watch the MTV Music Awards Show and know that they do not have to agree with the ideas of an artist presenting. They need to be able to pick up a magazine and read it not as truth, but as a practice session for their editing ability. The skill of questioning and not automatically believing comes into play. Always question, discuss and then decide.
These skills need to be used everyday in order for students to know how to use them. The fragility in our society will begin to show if generations are not using the skills of questioning and editing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Disturbing trends

The school in which I am employed, as many other schools, rely on fundraisers to gain funding for the many student programs. I agree with this means of obtaining money for programs. However, in the past few years, I have noticed a disturbing trend taking place in our elementary schools. I am not aware if this is taking place everywhere in the country, but in my district it is prevalent.
Waiting for a class to come to science, I was drawn to the gymnasium, where I heard screaming and yelling coming from the mass of students enthralled by a speaker. I knew from a previous announcement that this assembly was for our beginning of the year fundraiser. Standing in the back of the gym, I was shocked.
The man at the helm was about 45 years old and dressed as if he was appearing on MTV. I couldn't help but notice that his rant sounded more like an infomercial about getting rich quick. Every word uttered from his mouth was filled with empty promises of students winning money for selling items to people in their neighborhood. If you sell 10 items, you can pick from envelopes containing amounts of cash. If you sell 20 items, you can get the envelope, and a spin on the cash wheel. If you sell 30 items, you can get the envelope, a spin on the wheel, and a bonus reward. If you are the top 2 sellers in the school, you get all of the previous rewards, and you can stand in a box with cash being floating around you while you grab as much as you can grab.
I had already heard enough. As I watched the teachers in the room roll their eyes in disbelief, and the students yell in excitement, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. If this wasn't enough, it continued with the speaker showing a video. The video contained students and "adults" walking around flashing stacks of money in their hands, students dancing around like adults at a dance club, and stretched limousines parked outside of the school. As the video was playing, the students were so excited about the life they were going to lead after gaining all of this money and fame. It was a surreal moment in a public education facility.
At the end of the assembly, the speaker told the students how they could get free prizes the very next day. He went on to explain that if they took home this form to their parents, filled out 10 addresses of people they know, and returned it to school the next day, they would get 2 free prizes. What a way to generate a mailing list to mail junk to people.
I know that I cannot be the only educator that sees the ill values that we are pouring into the glasses of our students lives. As a parent, I would have issues with this. As an educator, I have issues with this. We are showing the students what we think is important in life. We are showing these students that gaining fame and money and not an education is the goal. There are many other ways to motivate these students. I think we have sunk to a new low level. There will be more to come on this topic...

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Focusing on Common Sense?

Recently, in a staff meeting at school, the idea was brought up that we need to be careful when we punish an entire class for the actions of a few. I do agree with this idea, but the entirety of the conversation is what I do not agree with. Me being outspoken, I asked, "What event occurred to invite this comment to the party"?
It turns out that an irate parent had come to school yelling about how their kid had to write an apology letter to a teacher, when their kid would never do anything wrong.
The poor student had to take a few minutes out of their leisure filled day to do some writing. We actually spent about 10 - 15 minutes at our staff meeting discussing this "problem" and some solutions to the "problem". We spent more time talking about the situation than it probably took the student to do the assignment.

Schools are putting their tails between their legs a little too often now. Why do we fear a parent? What will a parent do to us that is so terrible? Is it our litigious society that has brought us to fear what might happen?
I think we need to put these instances in perspective. Common sense needs to move back into our lives as a staple of making better decisions. This student didn't miss recess, didn't get publicly reprimanded, and wasn't treated any different than any other student in the class.
Parents need to stop crying and schools need to stop putting their tails between their legs when a parent yells.