Monday, July 14, 2014

The Moral Compass of a Modern Day Gegoraphy Teacher

My Story Map JS project idea came from first exploring and using the program.  As a sixth grade geography teacher, I am always looking for ways to make my curriculum relevant, real, modern, updated, and engaging.  As I discussed in my Pecha Kucha presentation, geography all too often gets a bad rap as being boring, monotonous, memorization, old school, and by some to be an obsolete subject that should no longer be taught.  On the other hand, some people view Americans as completely ignorant of Geography, as this Washington Post article exemplifies.  As a result, I am always trying to make geography the relevant subject that it actually is by exploring the real world through modern techniques.

Story Map JS really stood out as a potential modern tool that I could use in the classroom to move even further away from this false "geography is obsolete" notion.  As soon I as listened to others use and present Story Map JS in class as a digital tool, I knew it could be the perfect tool for me to use because it incorporates real maps.  In fact, I came up with a long list of ideas about different ways I could use Story Map JS in the classroom.  For the purpose of this project,  I narrowed it down to one idea, land forms and water forms.  This is a fairly stale subject within geography that I teach and it certainly could benefit from some updating.  Therefore, I developed a land form/water form project for my students to complete in class using Story Map JS.  (see the rough draft project directions and project rubric above).  Ultimately, students would have to choose one land form or water form to research and explore.  They would then use Story Map JS to create a journey pointing out real world examples of their chosen land or water form.  During this journey, students would also be required to explain and discuss the significance of their chosen physical feature.  (Project Story Map JS Example).

Using Story Map JS enhances and changes the way I will teach about land and water forms.  Firstly, this project focuses on allowing students to conduct research and to explore one type of land or water form.  Rather than memorizing 50 different types of common land/water forms for a test, which is now meaningless because of Google, the students will be able to explore one of their choice.  They will go beyond knowing just the definition and have time to dive into their research.  As an expert on their chosen land/water form, students will gain self-efficacy.  They will also be able to share their knowledge with others.  Moreover, students will be able to research real world examples of their chosen land/water form therein making the content come alive.  Lastly, this project will require students to practice inquiry and justify why their land/water form is significant or insignificant to their life and to the world around them.

My idea for students to become an expert on just one land/water form sprouted from the truism that knowing 50 definitions is no longer a skill they need to have because of technology.  Instead, students need to know how to research, explore, and find meaning from the technology that surrounds them.  They do need to have an awareness that a canyon is something found in nature-but they don't need to know why they are formed...until they do and that is what Google is for.  I think that this project will help my students and myself to realize the bigger idea about land/water forms: land/water forms surround us and affect us.  Sometimes they pose a threat to us (volcanoes) and sometimes we pose a threat to them (glaciers).  These threats are problems and understanding the problem is the first step towards creating a solution.  This idea of real world problems, awareness, discussion will benefit student far more than any matching section on a test.

This Story Map JS project will also change the land/water form curriculum context from textbooks and drawing pictures of mountains to interactive mapping.  The way that students will learn about land/water forms is going to change from something outdated and quite boring to something far more engaging and challenging.  The Story Map JS technology requires students to explore and to manipulate the map in order to effectively show what they know; a far harder task than drawing a picture of a mountain and writing the definition underneath (yawn).  It will take geography lessons to the next level, or rather to the present level that it should exist at.

In retrospect, this Story Map JS project easily connects to several course themes.  Firstly, it moves away from the notion that students should be consumers of knowledge; that they should memorize 50 land/water forms.  Instead, this project requires students to be producers of knowledge by allowing them to  create a story using a map that tells others about a particular land/water form.  Although this is certainly a small-scale production, it is a production of knowledge none-the-less making it meaningful for young adolescents.  I completely agree with this ideology that students should be producers and not consumers of knowledge in order to be successful in this 21st-century world.  However, I will admit that I also feel overwhelmed knowing the reality that some of my curriculum does not match this ideology and I have to change that.  Creating this project for my land/water form unit is just a small piece of the pie and knowing now that I can do it means I must do it-again, a scary notion at times.

Keeping this "scary notion" in mind, I also feel the project applies to the idea that we are all a mix of digital natives and digital immigrants.  I feel this is true about my students too, especially considering how many of them are experts at knowing how to use technology, but not how to use technology in a critical sense.   I anticipate that some students will latch right onto Story Map JS and pick it up easily, while others will struggle much like I initially did with the program.  However, I know that all of my students (digital native or not) will need to learn how to use Story Map JS to effectively tell their land/water form story.

Ultimately, I feel this project reflects another course theme that educational reform is needed now more than ever.  This project illustrates how curriculum can transform from obsolete to real and meaningful.  Dumping information into young minds is not going to help students in this age of new media.  Rather, teaching them how to use media to attain information is more valuable.  Inquiry, new media, production-based; these must be the new pillars of education.

While I have left this course feeling anxious and overwhelmed about the changes I must make ahead, it has mostly left me feeling inspired.  I do feel that a fire has been sparked inside me to become a better teacher; to look the standardized tests in the face and to ignore them.  I have always felt that a good teacher has a strong moral compass-meaning he/she has a lot of powerful people and institutions going against them  at times and in spite of that must always choose to do what is right.  Not because it will make them look good, or because it's easy, or because it will lead to a higher salary, but because it is right.  I have learned that technology is challenging and takes time.  But I have also learned that it provides the context for a better education.  Prior to this course, I would likely have heard about Story Map and never actually explored it enough to use in class.  Despite all of the difficulties that I did have with Story Map, I do find it useful and the struggle is worth the potential reward.  After all that we have learned about media literacy and technology, my moral compass is pointing in a new direction.  This new direction will include problems and glitches and computer bugs that will make me and my students want to pull our hair out at times.  However, that is consistent with real life and what better way to prepare kids for the real world than to include them in the real world?  

Self-Assessment Project Rubric

Monday, July 7, 2014

New Technology: A tool of Regress and Progress

After reading Sherry Turkle's "The Flight from Conversation" and viewing Michael Wesch's TED talk video entitled, "From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-Able," I view them as allies in their discussions of new media.  Turkle claims that humans are now "alone together," through their constant use of modern day technology.  She goes on to explain that people are sacrificing conversation for connection implying that conversation is superior to connection.  I feel that Turkle hits the nail on the head in terms of describing the new norms of technology.  To me, this is most obvious in larger urban settings such as Boston.   For example, on Boston public transit, everyone is plugged into their device and likely wearing ear plugs.  This behavior not only prevents conversation from happening, it screams, "DON'T TALK TO ME."  As Turkle accurately describes, we are all walking around in our own bubble constantly trying to connect with one another for fear of feeling lonely.  But this type of connection, as Turkle highlights, is lonely and absent of meaning.

At the beginning of Wesch's TED talk video, I originally thought that his views directly opposed Turkle's views on new media.  Wesch points out that, "different contributions can add up to create something meaningful."  He uses the example of a composer creating a song by using the voices of people around the world.  This is certainly a meaningful work and evidence that small contributions and connections can add up to make something significant.  This idea directly opposes Turkle who laments that small connections cannot add up to make something significant.  However, Wesch goes on to say that connecting, sharing, publishing and collaborating are really easy technologically, but to do this face-to-face is very difficult.  In this respect, his ideas align with Turkle's ideas.

Turkle and Wesch both recognize that technology is making collaboration easier and also more difficult at the same time.  Turkle views technology as an obstacle that has caused humans to regress in their ability to engage in conversation and to collaborate meaningfully.   While Wesch also argues for meaning and critical conversations, he, unlike Turkel, does not view technology as an obstacle to meaning, but rather as a catalyst to create meaning.

Ultimately, I feel that Turkle and Wesch both bring up important points and ideas about new technology.  They do hold similar viewpoints and I still consider them to be allies on the topic of new media.  However, I feel that Turkle's argument applies best to life outside the classroom; when we are  in public amongst strangers and when we are in private amongst friends.  Alternatively, Wesch's argument is best applied to the twenty-first century classroom where technology should be used as a powerful tool rather than be viewed singularly as a tool for socializing and entertainment.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

We Don't Want You (Females)

The above artifact represents the controversy over allowing female soldiers to fight on the front lines.  The first photograph shows a mock Uncle Sam poster explaining and showing why women should not be allowed on the front lines.  The second photograph includes quotes and opinions from various online articles and media related to this topic.

Teaching the Muslim Girl in a Western World

Flipping through "Rethinking Popular Culture and Media," I initially found it difficult to decide on an article to read.  However, as soon as I came across, "Save the Muslim Girl!" by Oslem Sensoy and Elizabeth Marshall, I had to read it.  In the article, Sensoy and Marshall ask the question, does popular young adult fiction about Muslim girls build understanding or reinforce stereotypes?  They discuss and critique popular Muslim girl texts such as "Under the Persimmon Tree," "Broken Moon," and Deborah Ellis' "The Breadwinner," which makes up a unit of the curriculum that I teach.  This is why I felt I had to read the "Save the Muslim Girl!" article; because I teach "The Breadwinner," and with it I likely unknowingly teach stereotypes.  As much as this makes my stomach turn, I knew I could no longer teach the book without reading this article.

Sensoy and Marshall argue that, "these novels can be used to teach about the common Western stereotypes rather than to teach about Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Islamic culture."  They then go on to point out the three most common stereotypes found in these texts.  First, Sensoy and Marshall point out that all of these texts support the stereotype that Muslim girls are veiled, nameless, and silent.  This is quite easy to see, literally, as the cover of each book depicts a veiled girl.  This image of a veiled Muslim girl has become an image of vulnerability in the West indicating that they must be saved.

The second major stereotype that theses books uphold is that veiled = oppressed.  There are various examples to support this in each text.  In "The Breadwinner" specifically the protagonist Parvana, points out how difficult it is to move in a burqa.  Furthermore, in each book all protagonists cut their hair to dress as a boy in order to move freely in public.  This indicates that the veil is oppressive and that not wearing the veil (as boys are able to do) is the only way to freedom.  While the burqa and chador are viewed negatively in some Muslim countries by women as tools of oppression, many women uphold the veil.  For example, in Egypt and Turkey where the veil is outlawed, Women wear it as an act of rebellion against the government to express their personal choice and freedom to wear the veil.  Additionally RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan), used the burqa to conceal cameras to secretly tape the Taliban during their crimes against women.  In this respect the burqa became a positive tool of revolution.

The final major stereotype that these texts support is that Muslim women want to be saved by the West.  As Sensoy and Marshall point out, it is important to realize that these texts were written and marketed in a post 9/11 world; in a world where the U.S. was taking military action in the Middle East.  Moreover, these books were all written by White women living in a post 9/11 U.S who gloss over the complicated history that is so vital to understand in order to realize how these regions have become war torn.  Another important point that Sensoy and Marshall make is that no credit is given to the persevering strong Muslim women who have stayed in these regions and taken action for change.  RAWA has condemned the Taliban for decades, but their voices are nowhere in these texts.

Ultimately, Sensoy and Marshall bring some very important truths to light about Muslim girl texts.  As an educator, I have always struggled to teach my students about middle eastern culture in a bias-free, critical way.  I have focused so much time and energy into teaching students that Islam does not equal terrorism.  This is the most obvious stereotype and the only one I have taught against.  However, I failed to see the stereotypes of the Muslim girl.  While I still have to use "The Breadwinner" in my classroom next year, I will have to teach it in a much more critical way.  And after reading this article, I am convinced that pointing out these stereotypes and critiquing them is the only way to now teach this text.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Disney. Not Just Child's Play.

Disney has greatly shaped my childhood.  I think many people could say the same, especially after reading Linda Christensen's "Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us," and Lila Johnson's, "Looking Pretty, Waiting for the Prince."  However, I can confidently say that  Disney probably shaped my childhood more than it did yours.  Starting at one-year-old, I have vacationed with my family in Disney World nearly every year.  Every year.  In fact, I was just there this past April.  When I tell people this tradition they judge me and my family for choosing to travel to the same place for some twenty plus years.  I immediately attempt to counter their judgements by telling them that I am not a closed-minded typical American; I have traveled the world, lived in other countries, and continue to do so.  And so has my family.  But the shock does not wear off nor do the judgments halt.

Aside from our annual family vacations to "the happiest place on earth," I grew up on Disney media.  I watched "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid" over and over and over again.  I took comfort in viewing movies that I had already seen and enjoyed.  I liked knowing what was going to happen and as any shrink would tell me, I still do.  I knew that everything was going to be ok in the end.  More than ok in fact, every character would be beautiful and happy.  I was so in love with these movies that I often pretended to be Belle or Ariel.  I favored Disney toys and took shelter in the arms of it's fairytale machine.  My love for Disney is likely more deeply rooted than I will ever realize.  It is irrational.

My memories of Disney do reflect Christensen's claims.  I can make connections between Disney and my thoughts and actions.  For example, as a teenager I can remember being completely absorbed with the notion of having a boyfriend.  I viewed my self-worth as being directly dependent on having a boyfriend.  I would beat myself up psychologically about why I didn't have a boyfriend.  It used to torment me.  I was so worried that the absence of a boyfriend as a teenager meant that I would never get married.  This was a huge concern for me.  It kept me up at night, sent me home crying from school dances, and even caused some body image issues.  Why did I feel that way?  My very ambitious and confident mother never sent me the message that man=happiness.  Nor did my father.  It came from somewhere else and I think that Disney did play a role in that.  Disney and the rest of social media including commercials, movies, magazines, and so on.  Disney is the machine, but it is not singular in this process.

Viewing "Brave" reminded me a lot of "Frozen."  When I first watched "Frozen" I remember being shocked by the plot twists.  Anna was not going to fall in love with the prince and live happily ever after?  Elsa's advice to Anna about not marrying someone she just met seemed so modern, updated, feminist, real; so not Disney.  That part of the film really struck a cord with me.  It reminded me of all the advice my older sister gave to me growing up.  But, I rarely listened to her because she was my older sister.  Now, here was an animated character dishing out the same type of advice and I ate it right up.  Brave does the same thing.  The lead characters are female and they save themselves.  "Frozen" and "Brave" are game changers in the world of children's media.  They are not completely absent of stereotypes or falsities, but they are a step in the right direction.  I feel that both films experienced so much success because society is beginning to demand a more truthful product from the world of children's media.  These fictional stereotypes are beginning to surface and with the help of people like Lila Johnson and Linda Christensen, awareness is spreading.  

While Disney is not the only factor that has shaped my being, it has played a huge role.  How fascinating and also unnerving it is to realize that fiction, children's fiction no less, shapes our reality.  

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Digitally Privileged Native and Everyone Else

After discussing Prensky's views in class, I initially completely agreed with his position on the digital native; that being that all students are digital natives.  They were born in the digital age and they have grown up using the constantly changing devices that mark this twenty-first century.  However, after reading through Boyd's chapter entitled, "Are Today's Youth Digital Natives?" from his book It's Complicated my initial and all together fast agreement with Prensky changed.  I felt that Boyd brought up very meaningful points which highlight the depth of complexities that the term "digital native" envelops.

Firstly, Boyd points out that there exists a huge variation in knowledge and experience among the digital youth.  Yes, they are born into this digital world but they are not born with the skills to navigate this world critically and successfully.  Those skills are related more to privilege and prestige than they are to the digital culture.  As Boyd goes on to point out, kids need to learn to become critical contributors in the digital world.  Accessing technology is not enough.  Knowing how to use technology in the most basic sense, is still not enough.  Kids must know how to analyze, synthesize, and assess the digital world.  They must be digitally literate to truly fulfill the meaning of the term digital native.  The problem here, as Boyd recognizes, is that just like learning to read books, learning to be a critical contributor of technology requires privilege, available and educated parents, accessible technology, and ultimately money.  Educators and parents must realize this fact rather than to support the falsity that kids are naturally technologically apt.  That would be like assuming that a child is literate just because they can walk into a library and flip through the pages of any book.

Moving on to Wesch's video, "The Machine is Us/ing Us," I found his analysis of the digital world to also be eye-opening.  Wesch's direct and blatant connection between technology and humans reveals just how powerful technology and our assumptions about technology are.  The conclusion of the video pointed to the fact that new rules and regulations will be required to maintain valuable things such as authorship, identity, privacy, and authenticity.  Currently, no such regulations exist in the digital world.  Technology is far ahead of the law.  New crimes are being committed; is "sexting" a crime if committed by a minor?  In some states, yes.

Ultimately, Boyd and Wesch brought some very legitimate alarm to the issue of digital native.  While I do agree with some of Prensky's statements, I feel the digital native is not every child in 2014.  Rather, the digital native is the privileged high socio-economic status child in 2014.  Everyone else is digital yes, but not necessarily native.  Kids need to attain digital literacy and a critical eye first before they can become a digital native.  They need to recognize bias and learn how to contribute in a meaningful way.  The wonderful thing here is that this can be done.  Teachers can educate kids to become digital natives.  Not only would this engage students, it would also better prepare them for the even more digitally advanced future.

One more thing...As I was reading Boyd's chapter I found it oddly familiar.  I then realized that I had heard an interview with Boyd on the book "It's Complicated" on NPR.  I remember listening to the interview and nodding my head thinking, "wow this is all so accurate and meaningful, I need to share these notions with my colleagues."    Funnily enough, I guess I have been agreeing with Boyd all along.

Digital Native with Digital Immigrant Heritage

During our class discussion about digital natives versus digital immigrants, I immediately had a question  mark floating in my brain.  What am I?  I do possess some digital native characteristics.  I run at "twitch speed" and I certainly prefer and crave "graphics first."  On the other hand I am 100% a linear processor and I can only find peace when doing everything "step by step" much like digital immigrants.  In fact, I can easily spiral if I don't tackle activities linearly and step by step.  I attribute these digital immigrant characteristics to my very linear and step-by-step parents.  They value the linear process and as a result I do too.  I also view it as the only way to do anything, which at times can be crippling.  While, my mom has put forth the most effort to fit in with the natives, she still calls me to ask if I received her text or her e-mail leaving me perplexed.  My dad on the other hand cannot sit anywhere but the quiet car and prefers life, "unplugged." (see definition 2)

Therefore, I think of myself as a digital native born to digital immigrants who really value their face-to-face, paper and pencil culture.