Friday, June 26, 2009

How Important is One's Childhood?

Yesterday was a sad, eventful day for the entertainment world. The entire world mourns the lives to two Hollywood icons: Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

As I reflect on the life and death of Michael Jackson it makes me wonder how much of a role his lack of a typical childhood played into his tragic life story. Michael took the stage at the age of five and was an entertainment sensation almost instantaneously. That meant that while most children were out in their backyards finding adventure and playing with other neighborhood children, Michael was on the road traveling to the next gig. While most people think that the life of a celebrity is glamorous, those who are in the limelight see it differently. In a 2003 "60 Minutes" interview with Michael, he touched on the topic of his lack of a childhood when he explained the mystery behind his Neverland ranch. And it makes perfect sense. He did not get to do the things that typical children get to experience, and as he grew into an adult, that yearning for a childhood never left. I can't help but wonder if this is partly what contributed to his demise.

As I watched excerpts from the "60 Minutes" interview with Michael Jackson, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the man. It made me wonder if his response to the question Ed Bradley asked about the appropriateness (or the inappropriateness) of a 45 year-old man inviting young children to sleep in his bedroom wasn't a direct result of his lack of a true childhood. It was almost as though Michael was trying to recapture something of himself that was lost when he was thrust out of his childhood innocence and into a life of instant fame and notoriety. How tragic.

At the time of my writing this post, the autopsy results confirming the cause of Michael's death have not been made public. But there is plenty of speculation about the role prescription drugs played in his death. While I have never experienced an addiction of this magnitude (food is my only addition), I can't help but wonder what hole those drugs were trying to fill in his life. Something must have been missing in his life to leave a void that needed filled. Could it have been his childhood? We will never know.

The effects of a lack of a childhood in Michael's life leads me to ask the following questions: How important is play in the development of mentally creative, mentally healthy children? What role do educators play in helping define our students' childhoods? Are educators guilty of stifling a child's imagination through structured activities?

In looking at the first question let me quote a few lines from an article by the National Literacy Trust.
Children are being stripped of their natural creativity by structured activities and hi-tech toys, leading academics warned yesterday.

Innate play skills are lost as parents pay for them to attend classes and clubs or buy televisions and video game machines for their bedrooms. Even at school they are told what games to play in sports lessons and sometimes even in the playground. But the regimentation of their leisure time is stifling their initiative, says a report.

While this article is geared more toward the effects of play in the development of young children, it has some major significance for older children as well. Through my many years as a teacher, I've discovered that the creative juices of my middle school-aged students have almost stopped flowing. Their philosophy seems to be this: "Spoon feed me. Tell me what to think. It's easier that way." They would rather be told what to write about or what project they should do instead of dreaming it up on their own. I have to stop and ask myself if this is due, in part, to the fact that students spend countless hours sitting in front of a television or video game and exercise their brain only half as much as they would if they were creating their own fun somewhere else. I don't know...maybe I should do some more research on this idea...maybe I'm on to something here.

This, then leads me to the next two questions I posed earlier. What is my role in the development of my students? Am I guilty of stifling their creative juices because I give them too much structure in their assignments? These are some serious questions to think about. I believe it is my responsibility as an educator to build a fire under my students (not literally), to spark their imagination by giving them opportunities to take a hold of their learning and run with it. I like to give my students assignments where their only limitation is their own imagination. At first this was tough to do - after all, I LOVE STRUCTURE - but once I left my comfort zone and opened the door to a different kind of classroom, I found that my students advanced far beyond my expectations. I still have a long way to go, but believe I'm on the right track. It IS my responsibility to teach them to think for themselves. It IS my responsibility to allow them to make choices on their own. It IS my responsibility to let them fly. And it IS my responsibility to help pick them up with they fall. Kind of sounds like parenting, huh?

And so I end this post with an anonymous quote:
I tried to teach my child with books; he gave me only puzzled looks.
I tried to teach my child with words; they passed him by, oft unheard.
Despairingly I turned aside. “How can I teach this child?” I cried.
Into my hand he put the key, “Come”, he said, “play with me.”
As a teacher, I want to allow my students to "play" more often.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

With Learning, Comes Frustration

Here I sit in yet another Web 2.0 class and I've learned a few more things that I didn't know when I woke up this morning. I love acquiring new knowledge, but the key to keeping it is to USE it. That is where time comes into the picture. I have to find the time to hone my skills or I will lose them. Yikes! It's an never ending cycle.

As I try new things, I find that sometimes frustration follows. I have a new Twitter account that is still less than 24 hours old, and I'm trying to add names that I want to follow, but for some reason, they aren't showing up. What's with that? It was working just fine yesterday, but today I can't find success. I've tried to add three new people and it says "following", but when I go back to my home page, the names do not appear under my list of those I'm following. I decided to walk away from it for now. Sometimes that is the best thing to do.

In the meantime, I want to continue expanding my knowledge base. I want to never become stagnant. No, instead I want to be like a fast flowing mountain stream like the one in this picture. As it flows downstream, it refreshes itself and picks up new nutrients.

One of the best ways to learn new things is to just keep on trying. So...I'm going to take my own advice and keep on trying. If I keep the big picture in mind, I won't let the frustrations become complete failures.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ah, the Possibilities of Digital Storytelling

Last year while I was creating the curriculum for my Communications II classes I came across an article on Digital Storytelling that really intrigued me. After reading the article, the possibilities of using this in my classroom began to flood my mind like a broken levee. This was definitely something I could incorporate into my curriculum! Not only would my students get to use their podcasting skills, but they'd need to use their research and writing skills as well.

First I gathered a list of possible topics for students to use for choosing a topic that interested them. Of course I didn't limit them to that particular simply acted as a springboard for ideas. I was totally amazed at the different topics they selected. Some topics were very obvious historical events (i.e. Pearl Harbor, Holocaust, 9/11) while others were very student-specific (i.e. the history of trucks, famous NFL players, extreme BMX biking). The only limitation they had was of their own making - ability and motivation. If they could find relevant information on that topic, they were given the green light to use it for their podcast. And they definitely gave proof to the old adage that "where there's a will, there's a way." Only one of my students gave up on his original topic because of a lack of information. Not because there wasn't enough information to use, but rather because he lacked the motivation to dig deeper.

Once students selected their topic, they were off and running. Most found their information without too much difficulty. I made sure to emphasize the importance of putting the information they wanted to include into their own words. Plagiarism is a huge temptation for students because it is so much easier to use someone else's work than to do it yourself. To drive home this point, I found a passage from a medical journal that used a lot of jargon that only the medically minded could understand. When they said, "huh?" I simply said, "I rest my case." I think they got the point. Why include it in your podcast if you yourself don't understand what it means?

After students had gathered their information (including photo images), they had to map out a plan for their podcast. Planning is key in creating a successful digital story or any other podcast.

Then finally the real fun began - creating the podcast. Students could use either GarageBand or iMovie to create their digital story. I must admit that I was blown away by the quality of their creations. Most were fantastic! Allow me to share a couple with you....

This first Digital Story was created using GarageBand:

Pearl Harbor

This next Digital Story was created using iMovie.

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

I am excited about all the possibilities technology offers educators if they'll just step out of their comfort zones and try something new. It isn't easy learning new things, but it is why we do what we do...

we learn so we can teach others what we've learned.

Oh, the Knowlege One Can Learn When Effort is Applied

Ok, I've been neglecting my posts partly because of laziness, but more out of a loss for words (I know...those of you who know me well find that hard to believe). But in reality, I find it difficult to talk about that which I feel so insecure. This is my first experience at blogging and finding topics for discussion is a new challenge. After all, the last thing I want to do is bore those who read this. So in light of all this, I can understand why 95% of all blogs have been abandoned . It's a thing called writers' block.

After having a pity party for myself because I'm behind in my work here, I took the book up on its suggestion to check out Google Reader and INSTANTLY I became a fan. Talk about simple!!! Will Richardson is don't have to spend hours going from one page to the next! With Google Reader, everything I need to find RSS feeds is RIGHT there! How cool is that? Of course, like anything else, I'll have to practice (aka "play") with it a little before I totally figure out how to fully use it and benefit from it. So, I guess now it the time for me to shut up and start expanding my knowledge of Google Reader and other RSS stuff. I'm going to stop being lazy today and put forth a little effort. (It's too hot to do much of anything else dumb air conditioner decided to quit on the hottest day of summer so far. Maybe it's feeling a bit lazy, too.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Podcasting - The Possibilities are Endless

We spent a good portion of the day looking at, creating, and publishing podcasts. Podcasting is something I have done extensively with my students, so I already feel comfortable with this topic. But I learned a thing or two and that is what's important.

So, let's talk about podcasting a little bit more. Why podcast? What are the possibilities here? What are the benefits?

I think the answer to the first question is simple...why not? If you can get kids to think about a topic, to research a topic, and to "report" on a topic in a whole new way, then why not? They love new technologies because technology is an integral part of their everyday life. Teachers need to capitalize on this more. We, as educators, need to bring our teaching to a different level - one that is entirely different from the way we learned. After all, if we "continue to do what we've always done, we'll continue to get what we've always got." Since kids are using mp3 players everyday, let's show them how they can use them to increase their learning. If they are no longer using pencil and paper to communicate with their friends, why should they have to use pencil and paper to communicate ideas with their teachers? We have to change our way of thinking about teaching because students are thinking about learning differently. Like it or not...change is here. We can either change with it, or die trying to stop it.

So, what are the possibilities with podcasting? The possibilities are endless. Podcasting can bring the simple, mundane things to life. Take poetry for example. I can recite my rendition of the poem "Roses are Red"and it's just a poem. But by putting it in an enhanced podcast with my recorded voice and photos I've actually taken, I claim new ownership for the poem. It becomes unique. It becomes special. It becomes mine! And suddenly I've breathed new life into something that once was old and worn out.

Podcasting gives students an alternative to writing. Ever listen to a student telling a friend a funny story about something that happened to them? Ever have them then write the same story down on paper (or in a word processor)? I guarantee the two would be entirely different. Something happens when we speak that isn't there when we write. Now don't get me wrong...I'm not trying to do away with writing entirely. I love to write and think students need to do more of it! But offering podcasting as an alternative to writing may be what some students need to succeed. Hmm, isn't this a form of differentiated learning?

Podcasting gives students a avenue for expression that just isn't there on a flat piece of paper. But why limit this to students? Podcasting give me a voice. I can use podcasting to help me teach.

The more I think about podcasting and the more podcasts I listen to, the more I'm convinced that the only limitation to podcasting is one's imagination.

So that leads me to the last question. What are the benefits? Wow! Like the possibilities...the benefits are endless! With a podcast I can learn at my own pace, on my own time frame. And I don't have to keep my learning to myself. I can publish my podcast for others to enjoy (or not enjoy - it's all a matter of opinion). Podcasting opens up a whole new world of learning for me and my students. Each possibility brings unique benefits.

Now...I encourage you to get out there and try it. And as the old adage goes..."Try'll like it!"

My New Motto

This is my new motto. I mentioned it in one of the last sentences of yesterday's post, and I am restating it today because of its reality.

The more I study and learn, the more I discover how little I really know.

But on the positive side...I refuse to let this discourage me. I refuse to become complacent. I refuse to let my mind become stagnant.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Brain Overload

Ok, I've just returned home from a long day of intense learning, and I'm on brain overload. Is this how my students feel at the end of their day? I'm thinking the answer to that is probably "YES!" So, in light of that, I need to be more compassionate for the brain overload that my end-of-the-day students are most likely feeling.

Note to self...put yourself in your students shoes more often!!!

All right...back to this post. I've set up a gmail account, created a blog, subscribed to a few blogs, commented on a few blog posts, edited my blog (more than once), looked at wikis, and read some pretty amazing stuff. Yep...I'd say that's a pretty productive day. Now if only EVERY day were this productive! But I'm still on brain overload. Give me a hammock, a good book, and a tall glass of iced tea. I think I deserve it!

Summer Learning Experience Begins

Today is the first day of my summer education. My first class is a Web 2.0 class offered through our Area Education Agency. So far I've set up a gmail account, learned how to use, and created my first blog (you're reading it right now!). Don't you feel lucky to be a part of this new learning experience? Cool, huh? If I go home today with at least one new piece of knowledge, then I can call this day successful. Well, guess what? I've already learned three new things so I can go home satisfied.

Reading Will Richardson's book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms has made me think about the things that I do in my classroom and the things that I should be doing in my classroom. Because my Communications I & II classes are new, I've got a lot of room for improvement. While reading this book it became obvious that I have a huge responsibility to teach my students about the benefits of online reading, writing, and thinking, but that I must also include the safety, responsibility, and acceptability aspect of web use. They know HOW to use a lot of these tools already, but do they know how to evaluate what they read; do they know how to be responsible users; do they know how to keep themselves safe from the ever-present cyberspace predators out there? It is my responsibility to teach them that once they put something into cyberspace, it's out there for good and that they need to consider the future implications of what they are doing today. "What if" is the question they need to consider...What if someone finds this 5 years from now? What if I'm trying to secure a job and a potential employer were to see this? How will this affect my reputation or what I stand for?

As I read I began to ask the following questions:

What needs to change about my curriculum when my students have the ability to reach audiences far beyond my classroom?

What changes do I need to make in my teaching as it becomes easier to bring primary sources to my students?

How do I need to rethink my ideas of literacy when I must prepare my students to become not only readers and writers, but editors and collaborators and publishers as well?

How can I as a learner begin to take advantage of the opportunities these tools present, so that I may understand more clearly the pedagogies of using them in my classroom?

There is no way that I, as an educator, can be stagnant. I MUST continue to be a student learner as well.

So, what possible benefits might I find if/when I starting using web tools to enhance student learning? I liked Richardson's statement, "Writing stops; blogging continues. Writing is inside; blogging is outside. Writing is monologue; blogging is conversation. Writing is theses; blogging is synthesis..." If this is true, then why wouldn't I as a teacher want to use blogging in my classroom. Don't I want my students to continue to think, write, and converse?

So...I continue on my quest as a student learner. And I've come to this profound conclusion: The more I study and learn, the more I discover how little I really know. Kinda scary, huh?