My Two Cents on Bullying

The video above highlights my views on the problems and pains associated with bullying and how you can step-up to the challenge to put an end to it. Whenever you see someone being picked on, always make an attempt to be the bigger person and intervene. You may just save a life.

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Twitter and the Importance of Digital Citizenship

I selected this tweet from Vicki davis because I found it simple and sweet, with a good message behind it. I enjoyed the new word she listed, “teachnology” because it’s precisely what we’re learning and discovering each week in class. Technology is new to most people and is at the forefront of everything we do. Teachers need to teach technology and we (as aspiring teachers) need to learn technology so we can pass along the torch. I think this message is valuable for other educators because many teachers aren’t familiar with technology and need to dip their beek in technological waters. To my future students, I would like to offer numerous resources to social media websites and offer instruction on how to use them. Diversifying their technological portfolios will open up new worlds and prepare them for the future as new technologies are being created every single day.

I am a fan of this tweet because it highlights a specific point of view from one individual. Frankly, there isn’t one true definition of what it means to be a digital citizen, so this caught my eye. I couldn’t agree more with the idea that being a digital citizen involves our “behavior” as well as our interactions and connections with others online. I think this tweet could be beneficial to other educators because it can be a tool to remind students that they should utilize the internet and its resources to “connect and create” as Shannon mentioned. Students can really discover a lot about their peers and themselves by being digital citizens and in the future, I want to convey that to my students too.

I like this last tweet because it focuses on the idea that technology must be used by people when they want to. Teachers need to realize this- if students don’t feel comfortable using certain social media or online resources to convey their ideas, they shouldn’t have to. For example, if a teacher asks students to make a Facebook post about topic X and share it with the class, some students might not want the entire class looking at their profile or even knowing their views because it may cause anxiety (just one example). I found this valuable because I believe that in order for people to be passionate about anything, they must like it and want to be involved. As a teacher, I would want to allow students to have a lot of liberty in how they accomplish and create online assignments so their assignmnets can be tailored to their individual interests and likes.

What is a Digital Citizen and are Our Teachers Creating Them?

I recently observed an ongoing debate circulating throughout nearly everyone’s newsfeed. I had seen countless posts about this same topic, most of which were not only copied and pasted, but were mindlessly reiterated over and over by people who had not reflected upon their own thoughts, values, and opinions. This topic is something that affects millions of Americans and it truly angered me to see hundreds of human beings acting like “drones” by just repeating what the last guy had written. I thought to myself, “Boy, I’d really like to take a stab at this and let the world know my two cents. But seriously, why would anyone care what I have to say?” As I pondered my options, I soon realized there really aren’t too many outlets for me to release my feelings. So, I decided to make my own post. You’ll notice that I italicized the word “my,” and for good reason. That’s because I believe too few people actually think for themselves and let the world know their own feelings- they simply resort to “copy-catting,” and to me, that’s a sad and terrible waste of the mind.

Shortly after I poured my heart and soul into my post, I received a comment from a close friend, resembling something along the lines of, “Why even make a post like this? The only way to really speak to people is in person?” So, I twiddled my thumbs and thought about my friend’s remark. To be honest, after reflecting on what he had said, I realized that I was happy with his point. I thought, “Why should I make a post on the internet? Who cares what Drew Dahl says, especially while he’s cuddled safely behind the computer screen with a blanket and pillow?” After a few minutes, I started receiving comments from people who had earlier made posts opposing my views, saying things like, “Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way” or “I’m touched- I never thought of that…” I had an epiphany: if my words can change one mind, allow one person to even think differently for a split second, or even have one person consider questioning their views, my work is done. So, bear with me, because I do have a point.

As I had come to discover, making what seems to some as just another “silly Facebook post” can actually impact people, and more people than you would think. And, for that matter, I may have changed the views of the few people who liked and commented on my post, but there could potentially be many others who viewed my post and were impacted in some way, big or small, but they just didn’t have the time, courage, or thoughts gathered to reply. So, if one person with one voice on a given issue can impact the thoughts and lives of one, two, or maybe even ten people, the sky’s the limit if you have a wide range of internet voices acting upon the same or similar issues. However, those voices need to be passionate, sincere, and independent.

As was highlighted in the “Egyptians Demonstrate Digital Citizenship” article by Stephen Balkam, the youth of Egypt did exactly that- they took their independent, well-honed voices to social media and made a difference by taking a disaster (the current state of Egypt) and placing hope in the hearts and souls of their fellow people by policing and protecting their kind. These people epitomized “digital citizenship,” but what does that mean?

To me, being a digital citizen means taking advantage of the incredible resources the internet and social media have provided us and putting it to good use for helping mankind. Now, I don’t want to pretend we all live in a magical la-la land with smiling ponies and unicorns flying around where everyone can save the world with a few clicks of the keyboard. However, I do believe that if more people spend their time posting and commenting all over the internet about real-world issues with their own thoughts and values, true and good change can be made. To be a digital citizen, one must place a greater emphasis on thinking about issues that concern others and not just themselves. For example, no one really cares when someone posts, “Going out tonight!!!” because it only affects that individual. However, what does effect the masses are issues that involve politics, economics, our planet, religion, diversity, and the like. The good news is that clearly, people are merging in that direction-it’s just a matter of time. But, most people need to be pushed in that direction and who better to direct them than a teacher? Are our American schools prepared to meet the needs of the digital citizen?

Fortunately, schools across the states are beginning to utilize more and more technological advances, especially computers and the internet. Teachers recognize that some of the most cherished and treasured commodities to their students are social media websites. Many teachers iterate to their students the importance of treating these websites with respect, and treating themselves with respect, too. With issues of inappropriate postings of pictures, videos, and topics, teachers and administrators are cracking down hard. And cyber-bullying is constantly being addressed and numerous students are being penalized (rightly so) for their cruel remarks. Holding students accountable and punishing them where necessary certainly prepares students to be good digital citizens. As this improves and progresses, the next step and duty of teachers is to promote thought provoking and inspirational uses of social media to their students. Once any student can act appropriately on the internet, think for themselves, and take advantage of their online resources to even attempt to make the world a better place, they have truly become a digital citizen of the 21st century.

How Classroom Technology Sparks Self-Discovery and New Ideas

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow”- John Dewey. This thought provoking statement issued by one of the all-time leaders in educational reform was mentioned in the video, and for good reason. In an ever-changing world where new advancements one day are considered outdated the next, an overwhelming emphasis has been placed on the importance of technology and media, particularly in the classroom. Change is rapid and having the skills to adapt to and understand these changes is vital. In the PBS Video, “Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century,” five different types of schools different from the traditional “lecture” schools are highlighted that exemplify the adaptation to technological advancements in everyday classwork. To see the video, visit: 

Watch Full Show on PBS. See more from Digital Media – New Learners Of The 21st Century.

The first school, “Quest to Learn” for digital kids school in New York, New York is a school that focuses on learning through gaming, specifically through videoTechnologygames and computers. The platform for studying is based on system based thinking and trial-and-error. The school finds unique ways to rename traditional school subjects, substituting “the way things work” for science, “Code Worlds” for math, and “Being, Space, and Place” for social studies. They are large proponents of the power and importance of play. They believe the old way of saying, “I’m just gonna teach you what you need to know for the rest of your life” is useless and that the new solution should be, “I’m gonna teach you how to figure out and tackle new sets of problems.” They also believe that videogames are just a set of problems you need to figure out in order to win and are a form of stealth learning, or learning without even knowing it. Kids are constantly having fun and are excited to learn and have the liberty to design their own games, challenging them to think outside the box. The culture of gaming in this school places a different meaning on the word “addiction.” Many people would say that someone who practices a sport for hours everyday is dedicated or someone who reads every night is hungry for knowledge, but often times when people play videogames frequently they’re titled as “addicted.” Although I do agree that playing videogames and computer games frequently is not an addiction, I do believe that it needs to be in moderation, as does anything else, because although games provide avenues to think deeply, critically, and challenge new ideas, it does detract from the crucial life skills of communication- collaborating with others, debating, arguing, finding harmony, working in groups, etc.

The “Digital Youth Network” of Chicago teaches youth to utilize digital media in all aspects of life. They provide numerous tools for students to find their inspiration: cameras, computers, video cameras, musical and movie equipment, and more. This provides alternatives for kids to stay out of trouble. Many of them recognize they could be doing other less-valuable activities with their time and that having an outlet to discover and express themselves through the arts of technology excites them for school. While many think that students are doing less reading and writing in scenarios like this, contrary to popular belief, they’re actually doing more reading and writing now than ever before, just not in the old-school way of sitting on the couch with a novel in hand.

The “Smithsonian Institution” of Washington DC has created new ways for students to participate in scavenger hunts in museums, like the Smithsonian museum, while incorporating technology. They provide students with cameras and phones and allow them to capture photos and make videos about their learning experiences at the museums. They’re out and about, rather than confined to a hardwood desk. This offers them the chance to participate in lots of group work and collaboration. They not only become creators and producers, but they ultimately become participators. They often give each other feedback on assignments and feel the empowerment of selecting personal paths for themselves and find understanding and meaning in the work of great artists.

The students of Middleton School in Middleton, Wisconsin find themselves actively going out into the community and entertained while seeing the design structures of homes and buildings in the area, researching and understanding the history of the community, and much more. They take pictures of current buildings and neighborhoods and research what they looked like decades ago and use the help of Internet programs to do so. They even interview people in the community to ask questions about changes they’ve seen through the years. They strive to figure out why things are the way they are. For example, they’ll observe and take notes on which businesses in town have lack of parking or have very few customers and develop thoughts as to why these occurrences exist. They become ethnographers, photographers, geographers, and more and make it their goal to help their community solve problems.

The last stop in the video was the “Science Leadership Academy” of Philadelphia. This institution makes use of the Internet in nearly every class. It offers students the freedom to research whatever topics they want, rather than force every student to research the same topic. I found it amazing to hear a teacher tell her student, “Look up the history in Google scholar.” Google scholar is a resource for finding peer-reviewed scholarly articles and isn’t something I was informed of until reaching college, so seeing secondary schools offer that guidance is something I found impressive. Students also use Moodle (something we utilize everyday) to share their ideas in forums. Instead of having one speaker and one conversation in the classroom at once, you can have all students participating and sharing their views, opinions, and values simultaneously. The teachers have taken notice that many of the shy and quiet students who don’t speak up in class love this technology and use it as their time to shine, typically writing more forums and responses than the outspoken, enthusiastic children.

There was one thing in particular that I observed in every single one of these settings- lots and lots of smiles. Every one of these schools breed excitement, happiness, enthusiasm, and an unparalleled eagerness to learn. I hope that when I begin teaching, my students will have the same opportunities to learn about and discover themselves. I want to allow them to do their own research. I want them to go out into the community and solve problems. I want them design and create movies and games. And most importantly, I want them to have fun and become excited to learn. At the end of the video, a man stressed the point that in the near future, there will be two types of schools: the poor and the rich. The poor schools will only supply the basics and rudimentary skills and will only suit students for a service job. However, the rich schools will teach students to try everything and anything possible, while innovating and producing new knowledge. Hopefully someday every school will be “rich.”

Making U.S. Education Right: Using Data and Technology

“Education is THE most important thing to get right,” says former Chairman of Microsoft, Bill Gates. This was in reference to major necessary improvements the U.S. government needs to focus on in the near future. But, what is it that makes the improvement of education in the U.S. so vital? After all, we are the worldwide leader in money and power and likely near the top in education too; or are we?

To tell you the truth, we’re behind in education, and by no small margin. Over 30% of U.S. children never even finish high school. And for minorities, you can bring that percentage up to over 50%- a devastating statistic. Even if you do happen to graduate from high school, if you come from a low income family, not only is it highly unlikely that you’ll go to college and graduate, it’s actually much more likely that jail is your pathway. When reviewing those options, the latter does not seem fair.

So, the real question Bill has in store for the us is, “how do you make education better?” The U.S. has spent much money and attention towards investing in smaller schools, more scholarships, new libraries and resources, and much more. However, while all those perks are quite nice and do in fact harvest better results, the real key factor is providing quality teachers- the gateway, or should I say “Bill Gate’s way,” yielding a healthier and more effective education. But, a problem has arisen. We haven’t yet developed a true way to discover those teachers and perpetuate their pedagogies throughout our schools. But, as Bill recommends, the answer lies within two strategies: data and technology.

According to his statistics, the top quartile of teachers are increasing class performance by over 10% per year on tests, while the bottom quartile are nearly a detriment to their students. In fact, with the use of the Internet and it’s versatility of resources, the average student can actually find out detailed, scholarly information about nearly anything- from the history of the ballpoint pen to the assassination of MLK, Jr. To take a deeper look into how simple it is for students to accomplish this, take a gander at the following video by Mark Prensky, particularly starting at minute 2:36, lasting about 2 minutes total:

As was seen in the video, technology allows students to research and discover anything that fascinates them, but that’s only one small step in solving the problem. As I mentioned before, we need to analyze and deeply evaluate our teachers, otherwise we’re keeping the old, deadweight tenured teachers and scrapping the young, highly motivated, and student-relatable teachers- the ones that truly make a difference. To do so, schools can model their evaluations off of KIPP Charter Schools, KIPP standing for “Knowledge is Power.” They do something differently from the rest of the pack. They are constantly taking teacher data, numerous evaluations, and are deeply engaged in making teachers better. They check with students who aren’t paying attention and they stay fast-paced, dynamic, and energized. A prime example of an outstanding teacher that exemplifies those characteristics is Mr. Williams, a D.C. teacher who makes it his goal to stay enthused and excited and relay that energy to his students. Please take a look at the following article and look for the qualities and characteristics he portrays to his students: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/01/what-makes-a-great-teacher/307841/

The main problem Mr. Gates highlights in his speech is the fact that teachers across the board aren’t analyzed enough and that when they are, they’re given notice in advance, which is something that really “grinds my gears.” For example, I remember having some lame teachers (to put it nicely) that would never engage students, teach for less than half the period, and lounge around for the remainder of class. My principal would contact them weeks ahead and say, “Hey lame guy, I’ll be in your class on x day to analyze your classroom and teaching strategies,” to which my teacher would respond, “Oh joy, I’ll see you then!” You may look at this and say to yourself, “hey, not too shabby. At least they’re actively evaluating the teacher annually.” However, it’s simply a cop-out method that prepares that lame teacher for a splendidly interactive lecture. I remember having those teachers prepare fun group work, games, slide shows, and the like, asking for everyone to participate, making the teach glow and smile from ear to ear. The principal would smile, look at the class, and think to himself, “my, what a dedicated teacher!” This has got to stop. These teachers should be evaluated monthly, and in some cases, weekly. There should be a defined set of criteria to meet and tangible results the observers want to see satisfied and if not met, the teacher should be scrapped and replaced with one who will satisfy those needs. Another method to curing this disease is a combination of both use of technology and data collection.

Gates offered a unique idea that he feels can be highly useful and practical. He believes cameras should be placed in classrooms to review in detail and real time exactly what the teachers are doing in class. Now, this may sound a little “big government” to many and somewhat invasive of privacy, but we’re talking public education- one of the most, or should be, transparent careers. We need to know how our students are doing and how our teachers are preparing them so we can change the 20% of students who are becoming successful revolutionists of our time into 70 or 80 or hopefully 100% of all students. His idea includes taping parts of the day and showing them in group-discussions to other co-teachers. This way, teachers can say, “here’s a video of how I did something well that the students enjoyed and learned from” or “here’s a strategy I utilized that simply did not work.”  Teachers can discuss all of their successes and failures together and actually show their demonstrations, rather than discuss them in retrospect. Additionally, he suggested that teachers can tape parts of discussion and lecture that worked well, place them on DVDs and offer them to students who are struggling in any given area. The student can then take it home, watch, rewind, pause, or fast-forward and review the methods at their own pace in their own setting- an idea that I believe could revolutionize teaching as we know it.

As we’ve seen, there are certainly obstacles and holes in our educational system, but fortunately, there are simple and intuitive strategies to combat those adversities. Through evaluating and analyzing teachers regularly to offering technological resources (like cameras and DVDs), we can soon start on the track to beating nations like Finland and entire continents like Asia. Once we combine technology and data into all classrooms from San Diego to NYC, we can change “Education is the most important thing to get right” into “Education is the thing we always get right.”

To see the TED Talks video, Bill Gates: Mosquitos, malaria, and Education, please click the link below and go ahead to the 8 minute mark and watch until the video ends (12-minutes total)