Monday, July 14, 2014

Final Project

The fact that I experimented with 6 smaller projects for my final project (here is my final PPT), I think, shows much about my personality and professional experience. In the past 6 years, I've worked in 5 language institutes teaching English to non-native speakers (often time juggling 2 or 3 institutes at the same time). With this experience, I have had no choice but to be flexible in many different learning environments and learn countless ways to teach & organize my instruction in order to fit into the constraints of each institute. Most importantly, I've learned not to put all of my eggs in one basket. I believe this final lesson is the primary reason for why I decided to experiment with so many different & small tech tools that I could incorporate across many different learning platforms.

Reorganizing my GoogleDocs
My first task (note word choice: task... because there is little fun about this project) was to reorganize my GoogleDocs. Currently my files & resources are organized neatly according to institution. However, this limits me because I think of good ideas to use in one institute and cannot find it when I need to teach the same concept in another. Overall, due to my eclectic career choice, I am very organized... by institution. However, my goal (which is a work in progress) is to organize my files, documents and instruction not by institution, but by language domain and ultimately by concept.

You can see here that I am currently organizing my work by institute (ACE, JWU, IIRI and more not pictured) and then by concept - which is dizzying and confusing as time passes and I cannot remember exactly where & when in the program I taught different concepts.
My project for this summer will be to organize my GoogleDocs by concept and not by institute.
For example, before this project, the folder "Using Context Clues" was filed under ACE Level 3 Reading and JWU Intermediate Reading because I taught this concept in each institute. The same materials were filed in each folder, but the folders were separate. Sometimes I got a great idea when I was teaching context clues at ACE and when I wanted to use that same great idea at JWU, I couldn't remember where in my ACE instruction it was filed.

With this new system, my goal is to file "Using Context Clues" in the Reading folder to make my life easier and keep all my good instructional ideas together. I am dreading yet excited to get this project underway!

Google Forms
To begin each class I teach, I always give my students a "needs assessment" survey. I do this for a few reasons, first, to learn more about their likes & dislikes, second, to see their written fluency, and third, to use up class time on the first day so I can wrap my brain around the new students in front of me.

I have a big confession to make though... I usually never read these surveys. I keep them in my "to be graded" file pretty much the entire semester and never look at them because I don't think this is the most efficient way to learn about my students. For this reason, I am excited to try out using GoogleForms online as my "needs assessment" survey instead of a paper survey.

Another thing that I do on the first day of class is have my students send me a simple email. For this assignment, I follow-up adamantly because I believe in the importance of it. I assign this as their first homework task because the challenge of sending me an email in English is difficult for at least 50% of my class. It is low-tech, extremely important (because they can now communicate with me via email for the rest of our time together) and challenging. I respond to every email and bother the students who do not send me emails, because this is a skill I believe they will benefit from for their entire stay in the US.

From these two situations: my paper survey and my email homework assignment, it is clear that I value meaningful tech fluency in my students. I do not expect my students to be perfect when using technology, but I do expect them to try to use it and communicate any big problems. I believe that by using GoogleForms (pictured to the left and you can find the full survey here) in place of the paper survey, it could serve as a "Step 2/Day 2" introduction to technology to give meaning and purpose to their tech advancement. Also, I hope that by using GoogleForms, I will actually read my students' responses because, from my end, reading the GoogleForms response spreadsheet will be less time consuming than 30 paper surveys.

Digital Mindmaps by WiseMapping
I chose to experiment with digital mindmaps because I instruct mindmaps & brainstorming in much of my teaching. Regardless of the language domain (reading, writing, etc) brainstorming is almost always the first step of a project. I like to show my students lots of different ways to brainstorm because they've probably never done it before and students like to brainstorm once they find the best way for them. You see here an example of one of my students brainstorm mindmaps. Due to the traditional/lecture based educational systems that my students typically come from, I never expect creativity to this level, though frequently - I'm pleasantly surprised. Here is a great example of the benefits of brainstorming/mindmapping.

My students almost always prefer to brainstorm with mindmaps over any other method I show them. However, some students find mindmaps to be too chaotic so for this reason I wanted to check out WiseMapping, the digital mindmap maker. I would not say that this program enhances my teaching or content because usually I am completely impressed by the time and effort my students put into their handwritten mindmaps. However, using the program (which is fairly simple) is a "tool" that students can use if they feel their brainstorming is too messy (which does happen). I would probably use this tool as a graded assignment once and then allow them to use it by their own choosing for the rest of the semester.

Some cons to this program is that you must use keyboard shortcuts, so I'd have to make a "cheat-sheet" for my students to aid their ease in using the program. Also, I find that the visuals that my students usually draw by hand are far more interesting than the visuals included in this program. On the other hand, websites and videos, etc can be linked to this digital mindmap - so this is a helpful pro. Also, the ability to color code threads of ideas is useful to lessen the chaotic feel to a mindmap. This color coding is also helpful to a teacher when instructing how to mindmap (since students often think there is no organization involved). The final perk to this program is the ability to make a group mindmap by inviting contributors. This could be a fun way to have a class brainstorming session. Below is a sample of the mindmap I made for a writing assignment: My Favorite Holiday (Halloween).
Overall, I'd have to try out the program once with my students and see how successful or frustrating it is from my end and to ultimately weigh the pros & cons of using the program. Personally, I am glad to have this program in my toolbox regardless of it's use in my classroom.

I am particularly excited about the final 3 tools I tried out because they allow students to truly use a technology to enhance their understanding, as well as, produce final projects & display their learning in a meaningful way. 

Cartoons by Pixton
As I mentioned in my final presentation, I graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in Graphic Design from the art school. This means that for 4 years, while my roommates were studying for tests & exams, I was painting, sewing and using a floor-loom to hand-make my final projects (clearly I have an experimental & curious personality type). With that said, I love being creative for the sake of learning... cue my hand-drawn cartoons from 8 years ago.
These are always a crowd-pleaser in my grammar classes. My students love to make fun of my drawing ability and interpret my pictures in strange ways. For me, I am so happy to hear ideas I never expected, as well as, have my students bring my two-panel stories to life with their creative grammatically-risky writing. I am almost never disappointed by their excitement and effort to "tell the story" about what happened in each cartoon situation.

I decided to experiment with Pixton digital cartoons in order to update my drawings (since my students have started to call me "old"). Below you can see an updated version of my old cartoon "Man Gets Bitten By Alligator" (top, left) from above.
What I am excited about by using the Pixton program is having the students use my cartoons to then produce their own. I've never had students make their own drawings before and I think this is a fabulous way to help them mix grammar (boring) with creativity (exciting) - especially for higher-ed learners who are very particular about being treated like children. Pixton is not a childish program, so I think students will be excited to express their ideas through the program and not be insulted.

Finally, what I like most about using comic strips is that they are not a one-time-use tool. Especially for grammar classes, where language tenses are continually introduced and scaffolded - I think assigning a comic story for each "unit" and then being able to put together a "portfolio" of comics at the end of the semester is a very useful project to make individual grammar points more cohesive and meaningful. Also, being able to use one tool repeatedly throughout a semester but without it getting boring & repetitive is a big perk. I believe Pixton allows for this flexibility.

I hope I teach a grammar class soon (I have never said those words before) so that I can see what my students make!

Writing with StoryMaps
I decided to try out StoryMap as a tool to use in the writing classes that I teach. Typically, in a mid-level writing class, students write primarily from their own experiences & lives so as to avoid any chance of plagiarism and cheating from the internet. Some topics might include writing about:

  • 3 interesting cities you've visited for vacation
  • 3 reasons you admire a hero
  • 3 reasons your best friend is truly the best
  • 3 reasons why I love my favorite holiday
Usually the writing process stops at the final draft (or second full writing) and looks something like this:
This is a typical final draft of any piece of writing. However, after discovering StoryMap - I've realized that students could push their writing and understanding of paragraph/essay organization further and create a true masterpiece as their final product. Below is the exact same piece of writing "3 Cool Places I've Visited" but visually enhanced by StoryMap. 

Here you can view my entire 5-slide StoryMap project

I really enjoyed using the StoryMap program because it was controlled (very few bells & whistles to confuse the user) yet allowed the user to really make a beautiful presentation of their writing. I know my students would thoroughly enjoy transforming their paragraph into a StoryMap to then share with their friends & family back home, therefore, bragging about their English & technological knowledge. This program truly allows students to take their "production" one step further.

The goal of any tool that I intend to use in my teaching is to be able to use it more than once. Usually the first time my students use a new skill, program, etc. it is disastrous & frustrating. However, with continual use, the process is more enjoyable for everyone. The same could be said for using StoryMap in the classroom. Originally, I thought it could really only be used in the one way I tested, however, after seeing my peer Jayna's use of StoryMap - I began to think differently.  She assigned students to map geographical points around the world using the program. By seeing StoryMap used in this way, I can envision using it more extensively in class which would allow for more student familiarity, teacher enjoyment and student creativity.

I'm also excited to try this tool out in class.

Infographics with
Lastly, I tried out the program in order to see it's use in a high level reading class that I teach. Typically in this class, I assign students to really dig in to research and different sources of information available to American students. I budget lots of time for this conversation because I think it is very useful for the students. Though messy and complex, my students believe everything they find on the internet with very little critical analysis as to who wrote it, why, etc. I stress to them that to use research in their work means that they have to spend a lot of time finding the right source. Wouldn't it be a shame to spend hours finding the perfect piece of research only to have your professor say, "This information isn't credible" because it was from and they had no idea said website is a complete joke.

To drive my students crazy even further - I stress the importance of "source." What is the source of the photo? Of the statistics? Of the article? etc. They hate me for constantly asking them about this.

As of late, my constant bothering has stopped at me asking about sources. For a final project, my students usually have to find an article from an online source and tell me all about it's credibility (from the AAOCC credibility checklist). However, I realized that it would be very cool to push students to take this research further and actually produce a source of news. They would produce this news source in the form of an infographic. In order to experiment with this, I tried out the program:

From a learner's point of view, the program was ok. The designer had little control over much of the details of the design. From a teacher's point of view - limited control is a beautiful thing because making an infographic is challenge enough. I'd like my students to focus less on the technicalities of making the poster look good and more on the source and credibility of their information. allowed for this shift in focus.

Below is a sample of the infographic I made and I would use as a sample in class. I would assign my students to make something similar. Also, here is the link to full infographic.
The discovery of this tool changes the focus of my teaching. Originally, the final project was finding an online source and defending is credibility. However, with this new twist, finding an online source would now be the mid-semester project, allowing the final project to be completely produced by the student. This is very exciting for me because before I never was able to conceive how to make research come alive. Or even to help students understand that anyone can produce a professional looking source of information (for the good and the bad). By trying out this program, I feel like I can really dig in to all the messy complications of producing a reliable news source. I am excited to challenge my students with this as I think it is an extremely valuable lesson for them. And ultimately - they will feel very proud of their final project!

I imagine the final project to be to produce an infographic that incorporates some definite pieces of a news source and some optional pieces. Their infographic definitely needs to have:

  • an article & author (with source & credibility)
  • a photo (with source)
These elements will be explained by the student in a presentation to the class as to why they were chosen as reliable and credible sources.

Next, students would need to use 2 or 3 of the following elements to bring their infographic to life and add credibility:

  • a chart/graph
  • a map
  • a video
  • facts & figures
  • pull-out quote
All elements must have the source clearly noted and student will explain to the class how and why they constructed these elements as they did.

Linguistically, technologically and pedagogically - this project (in theory) is a home run. I don't know exactly how it will happen and I'm not 100% commited to using as the means for production, but I will continue to experiment with the resources on Josh's livebinder (the guest speaker from class) to find the best means of producing a news source. Regardless of the question marks I have, I am extremely excited to try the project out because I think it will be beneficial and meaningful for the students in so many ways.

Techno-traditionalist vs. Techno-constructivist?
After having some fun trying out many different tools for my instruction, I believe 3 tools position me as a techno-traditionalist and 3 tools position me as a techno-constructivist.

My GoogleDocs reorganization, GoogleForms & Mindmap program allow me to do something that I already do better. GoogleDocs allows me to (hopefully) be more efficient with my organization and therefore provide better instruction (since my dynamite ideas will be easier to find). GoogleForms also allows me to survey the students as I always have, but in an updated way. I do think the skills my students will learn from completing this "online exercise" are transferable to future tasks they will be asked to do and for that reason I'd be willing to commit to the frustrations I can foresee happening. However, the mindmap tool I am on the fence about. I am not convinced that it will be worth the frustration that it will cause me and my students. I enjoy the mindmaps that my students already produce and I think they are also proud of their work so using the WiseMapping program might just be more of a hassle than a meaningful tool to enhance their learning. I will try it with a motivated group and see the outcome. 

The final three tools I tried I am most excited about and that is because they allow me to do something that I didn't think was possible before and therefore position me as a techno-constructivist. Pixton cartoons, StoryMaps and Infographics were all things that I might have imagined before but couldn't conceive actually coming to fruition. Having the time to try them out from a "learners" point of view was invaluable. 

In all cases, I'm able to take an already existing project in my instruction and push students to take it further. With Pixton, students can produce their own cartoons and, in turn, a comic/grammar portfolio. What I like about adding Pixton to my instruction is that it can be used repeatedly but differently - to allow for tech fluency and less anxiety each time it's used by my students.  With StoryMaps, students can push their writing and academic organization to the next level. This next level does not include writing another draft but instead, making their writing come alive in a way that I am sure they will find meaningful and be eager to share with others. StoryMap also has many different ways it can be applied to help students express their ideas each time with less anxiety and frustration. This is an important aspect of any tool that I'd like to use in my instruction. Finally, the infographic is a tool that helps me teach a complex idea more deeply. I never thought I'd be able to achieve this. By having students produce their own professional news source, they will more clearly understand the importance of analyzing exactly where they get their news, research and information from. Although I can already foresee the headache that will come with this assignment, shifting my instruction to allow for this in-depth analysis is a priority of mine. I know students will have a love/hate relationship with the final project they produce. 

In so many ways my scattered final project experiments correlate perfectly with the type of career that I currently hold: a few meaningful tools scattered across many different applications. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to use my curious personality to benefit my instruction. I have always been one to push to make teaching and learning as efficient and meaningful as possible and I think being able to explore these tools (and more!) will allow me to take efficient & meaningful learning even further in the future. 

Thank you!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Turkle & Wesch

Before I dig into my reflection of Wesch (video and article) & Turkle (article), I need to get their arguments straight:

Wesch argues that education is is irrelevant to today's learners. Students are trying to find significance in their education which seems to them shallow and irrelevant. Wesch wants teachers to flip our thinking, focusing on the quality of learning as oppose to the quality of teaching. Wesch argues that teaching & learning won't go away anytime soon, so both teachers and learners need to use it better.

Turkle argues that young people today are turning to technology for companionship instead of people. However, I think that just because Turkle argues for conversation doesn't mean she is against technology. She knows technology won't go away so we must learn to use it better.... not as a replacement for companionship and the messy communication that is part of the joy of face to face communication.

I can understand Turkle's argument. I think people prefer to turn to technology for advice & companionship because, as Turkle says, we can edit, delete and reread our message in technology. Face to face communication is risky & vulerable.

In fact, just the other day, I blurted out, "Oh, your baby is so cute. Where did his ears come from? Neither Jason nor Kelly have big ears?!?" Maybe if I had posted that on Facebook I could have read my words first and edited them appropriately to be more complimentary & polite. But in face to face communication - that was it. We laughed, my friends (the parents) chuckled slightly in dismay. I know I was saying what everyone was thinking (I was, really... the baby's ears are adorably big for a 7 week old), but it was messy, risky and, in a way, joyful.

Are Wesch & Turkle allies or opponents? I'm not sure and I'd love to witness them sitting down to a cup of coffee and seeing how their two ideas could fit hand in hand. These are some ways that I see their ideas coordinating.

Wesch talks about education. He says the majority of the time teachers are talking at students and typically teachers are not listening or tending to the needs of students (and from his video, students are also not listening to teachers either). Therefore, in learning, no critical thinking is asked of the learners.

Turkle talks about communication & companionship. He says the majority of the time young people are talking to someone while spending little time listening or tending to relationships. Therefore, to express one's feelings, no critical thinking or response is asked of whomever is listening.

In both cases, information is put out to the world (students or social media) and the world can choose to or not to respond. In both cases, often the case, the majority of the world chooses not to respond or act critically. I think both Wesch & Turkle would agree that the world doesn't respond because A) it's risky (students might not get a good grade, participants in an intimate online conversation might offend), B) it's not easy (for both students and conversation participants - they are being asked to use their brain and sweat a little).

I can understand the passive approach young people can choose these days - in learning and personal relationships. I can even relate to the high school sophomore who wishes he could talk to aliens for dating advice instead of his father. You put yourself in a vulnerable position when you think critically (school) or respond critically (personal relationships).

For years, when people shared with me intimate, vulnerable, messy details of their lives, I would respond, "Oh, that's sad" or something semi-shallow. But in those few instances where someone truly actively & critically listened to me and responded in a meaningful way, in & out of the classroom - I noticed and tried to copy.

What did this person do that truly made me feel connected & understood? First, they dropped everything and turned all of their attention to me. Second, as I described my situation they really tried to get in my head and understand the full scenario. Third, their response wasn't canned nor perfect but straight from the heart and/or brain.

I think both Wesch & Turkle would agree that in the educational setting that Wesch describes and in the tech-companionship trend that Turkle describes - those three things just mentioned, aren't happening. Often times, positive critical teaching, learning and companionship aren't even "modeled" so young people can say, "Hey, I liked how ---- did that, I will try to do that next time." Instead, learning and companionship are left canned and shallow. I think we can do better than that.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Save the Muslim Girl

"Save the Muslim Girl" by Ozlem Sensoy & Elizabeth Marshall
(pg 120-128 of Rethinking Popular Culture & Media)
Does popular young adult fiction about Muslim girls build understanding or reinforce stereotypes?

I chose to read this article because, as I've said many times in class, I have many Muslim students (Saudi Muslims and Chinese Muslims.) I have a deep curiosity about the Islamic religion and those who live in Islamic parts of the world. I ask my students questions as frequently as possible and allow them to teach me, but I still have much to learn. I read this chapter because I was curious what options teachers have in helping open the eyes of young people to the good and the bad of Muslim life. From my experience, sure there are parts of Muslim life that are (in my eyes) negative, but there are many positive & admirable aspects too.

It seems, from this chapter, that there are many options if teachers would like to start a conversation about life in a Muslim state, but the options are not very good. From the writers perspective, the young adult books that tell stories of Muslim girls mostly retell the story we all expect to hear (and yes, perpetuate stereotypes.)

The writing starts out by first introducing the authors of best-selling books about Muslim girls for young adults: white, Western women. Because of this, readers must constantly be reminded that the authors are marketing and writing for a Western audience and this will change the perspective of the story.

Common themes in the books described in the article are about the heroine and her tumultuous past. The heroine is typically trapped in a violent Middle East and wants to escape. Typically her life experience is sad, poor, with hopes for Western freedoms because she is about to be married (in an arranged marriage.)

There are good intentions in these stories, however, we must remind ourselves constantly that these books are "written for & marketed primarily to a Western audience..." so we must constantly keep in check "...what ideas do they teach young adult readers about Muslim girls, Islam and the Middle East?"

The authors argue that these well known texts teach 3 ideas about Muslim girls.

1) Muslim girls are veiled, nameless and silent.
This lesson can be learned from looking at the cover images. Typically, cover image feature a veiled female with only her eyes showing and commonly her hands covering her mouth (ie: Parvana's Journey, Broken Moon and Mud City.)

This image is familiar and tells us, "This is the Muslim girl story we expect to read." By the girls covering their mouths, it perpetuates what we think about Muslim girls being silenced. These images portrayed by Western authors help Westerner readers think we can save these voiceless girls.

When teaching with texts like these, important to discuss with students: What ideas are learned when students see a very limited image of Muslim girls?

2) Veiled girls mean oppressed girls
A common plot in these popular texts is that the good guy (father or brother) is taken away leaving the heroine vulnerable and unprotected. A common solution is for the heroine to dress as a boy because it is the only option apart from wearing a burqa. In these stories, burqa is used to mean oppression and without it, freedom. 

The authors say that in reality, the burqa has many meanings - tradition, resistance or for disguise. However, in Western texts, the burqa almost exclusively represents oppression and negativity. 

In these stories, heroines don their burqa to be "like 'free' girls in the West, wear pants and experience freedom of movement." Additionally, if a female in these texts is portrayed as free and successful, she is also described as wearing Western clothes, as oppose to the veiled females who live in violent, regulated, supervised environments. 
These texts tell us a victim narrative. The Muslim female is either a victim of societal oppression or domestic abuse and she needs to be protected and saved from Islamic systems by outside forces. The texts also tell us that Western females do not have to deal with these types of issues (which is not true.)

3) Muslim girls & women want to be saved
The authors argue that there are many examples of strong Muslim females, however, these are largely ignored in order to tell a story that Westerns are familiar with. 

Also, the authors portray themselves as experts and credible due to their time, experience, life in Middle East or linguistic ability, however, the authors fail to capture true complexities of the Islamic history.

Overall, one could argue that there is a hidden curriculum in these text - one that helps Americans feel better about fighting the "good fight" in Afghanistan and "saving the Muslim girl."

Lastly, the authors offer Tips for using these texts in class
Though the authors critique the books negatively, they also offer that an OK story about Muslim girls is better than no story about Muslim girls - but that in these cases, deep critique & analysis is especially important. The authors finish by suggesting many critically minded questions (page 127), here are a few of them:

  • How are Muslim girls visually depicted on the cover?  Who made this image? How accurate are the details in the image? Use the curriculum Scarves of Many Colors as a resource for image-message lesson.
  • Who is the author of this story? How do authors tell you they are "experts"? What might be their motivations? Who are they speaking to/for?
  • Who's story is missing? Whose story is this? Whose stories are not here and where might we go to learn about their stories?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Coming Halloween '14: Laura as "Merida"

I really want to begin this blog by saying that I am the exception and not the rule to Disney Princess Culture. I feel the need to say this because I grew up with very little TV, was always the only kid in school without cable and consistently a little behind "the times" (pop culture wasn't important to my parents.)

However, though the latter is true - I did grow up with very little TV, no cable and behind "the times," I did NOT grow up without Disney. As I look at the list of Disney animated movies... clearly I grew up extremely Disney-a-fied. And now I'm thinking maybe I didn't watch TV because I was so busy watching Disney movies!

I think I can divide my Disney viewing into three stages: young childhood, older childhood and youth.

Young Childhood
The first movie I claim to have seen in a movie theatre was The Little Mermaid. And after that... I sang Ariel's song endlessly in my living room "ocean" with my legs put together pretending to be a mermaid.

After that, these next movies were rewound and played non-stop in my home when I was a child: Sleeping Beauty, Bambi, The Jungle Book, Lady & The Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, Cinderella and Dumbo.

Older Childhood
I have very fond memories of these Disney movies as a child but a little bit older: Snow White, The Lion King, Fantasia and A Bug's Life.

Youth +
As I got older, I made it to the movie theatre to see these movies: Finding Nemo, Up, Toy Story, Wall E and Ratatouille.

Wow - I am a little bit embarrassed that I even considered for a second that I could be an exception. I believe I am what Christensen would describe as "in denial" as the content of almost 20 Disney movies is stored in my brain and for sure had input in the realities I created in the world around me.

This is NOT me, but very similar
to a Christmas tree costume I had.
I don't remember fantasizing about being a princess but really only my parents can tell me that. I'm not sure why but I was never the type of girl to dress up as a princess for Halloween (I always preferred to be a Ninja Turtle, a felt Christmas tree or a bag of groceries). Maybe because I was a child in the 80s and it was much more complicated to be a princess for Halloween. You had to actually make the dress, etc and be recognizable as that princess. One couldn't go out to Walmart and pick up a complete costume already made, my mom made all my Halloween costumes (and they were awesome!) So I guess in that way I feel like I was the exception to Disney, but I for sure belted out tunes in my living room right along with the soundtracks to said Disney movies.

I also think that I didn't see myself as a princess because my life was so different from the princess life portrayed in the movies. Princesses might have seemed like a dainty unattainable foreign world. Sometimes even the lives of my friends seemed foreign to me, so the pristine princess world was especially out-there. My house had a wood stove that I had to load with wood, no modern heating, no cable, I had to help my dad plant vegetables in the spring and summer and we had a clothes dryer that we didn't use because we hung our clothes on a clothes line practically year-round, etc. I had a great childhood, but clearly it paralleled very little of the lives in the princess world. Maybe that is also why I feel like an exception and not a rule of Disney.

Probably - I am just in denial.

In regards to Disney today - I have been totally impressed by the Disney of today. In fact, today when Frozen ended I said out loud, "Disney is not like I remember it to be!"

Brave connected to me more than any other Disney movie in history because it closely relates to my experiences of being a girl, my mother-daughter & also my father-daughter relationship. Because I found so many parallels, I enjoyed the movie very much. It challenged my memories of princess culture, but in a refreshing way.

From my perspective as a young girl, I could see how if I had watched this in my childhood it would have easily been a favorite. For one, I had (and still have) wild hair. I liked that part most about Merida. I don't think I've ever been able to say that I physically connected to a Disney princess. Also, my sister and I were children of outdoor adventure - my parents tell me very funny stories of us making bows & arrows out of sticks and running around the yard. This theme is often absent from other Disney movies that portray princesses as home bound, delicate and pristine.

I think any young girl can relate to the "coming of age" lessons learned by Merida in regards to her mother. Every teenage girl is annoyed by her mother until one day, she realizes that her mother is really there to help and just a person underneath it all. This is a lesson that Merida learns and I enjoyed watching. In fact... what other Disney movie emphasizes the mother-daughter relationship in this way? I can't think of any.

Finally, I really liked the Merida-father dynamic because it reminded me a lot of my father and I. Having 2 girls, my father often acted much like Merida's father - big and burly, but a teddy bear underneath it all. Everything my father did with my sister and I, he also would have done with sons. Meaning that my sister and I did many activities that were not typically considered "girly" and this is why I really connected to the relationship they shared. The scene I particularly liked was the one when the suitors were doing archery to compete for Merida's hand and she & her father are making fun of them in a silly way. I think they say something like, "Maybe he couldn't see because his flowing hair got in the way?!?!?," etc. I could see my father and I joking about something like that. Again, I cannot think of a Disney movie that spends much time developing the relationship between the princess and her father. Often times the focus is mainly on how the princess gets the man.

Overall, my perspective of Disney has changed in the past few days. First, I've always known to take Disney stories with a grain of salt. I don't know where I learned it from and I probably didn't learn it early enough. But I feel comfortable saying I don't think it made me self-conscious of my physical appearance though I'm sure it has constructed many parts of my image about my place & duties in the world. I've been impressed by the shift that Disney has made in the current story lines of Brave and Frozen. This is a welcome shift. Today, if I were to choose a Disney princess costume from Walmart - I'd definitely choose Merida's costume and then go on an adventure :)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Digital Native" vs. "Digitally Literate"

I absolutely loved Danah Boyd's writing: It's Complicated; The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

First and foremost, I teach Academic English to college students at JWU and one of the most important lessons I spend about two days on (should be more!!) is about being critical of the information found on the web. This is a huge news-break to my students who are international and trust everything they read on the web.

Prior to reading this article, I thought two things about my international students: 
1. I thought my students were the exception and not the rule (meaning, I thought all other college students and "natives" already knew how to think critically about internet information and my students were the only ones who didn't.)

2. I thought my students believed everything because they are learning in a foreign country and reading in a second language, so their "police skills" were lowered. With these two factors in mind, they have many challenges to know if internet information is credible or not.

But I learned two things from reading this article: My students are the rule, not the exception. Also, not many people know if internet information is credible or not - including myself.

This is very exciting!!

First, I am glad to know that my teaching about AAOCC (my "internet literacy" checklist that I teach students to think critically about the information they find on the web) is an extremely valuable lesson. Second, I've been doing it all wrong. haha

I've been doing it all wrong. Yes, I am exactly the teacher that the students describe in the article and that Boyd gently criticizes for prohibiting Wikipedia. However, I am exactly the product of what Boyd describes: I was never taught how to think critically about information on the internet. I am exactly like the "natives" she describes - assumed to have digital literacy, but in reality: lacking this hugely important skill. I guess I feel proud of myself for having taken the time to learn exactly "how" to critique information on the internet (ie:AAOCC). But as Boyd and others said in the article - it's so hard, messy & confusing! Even I sometimes throw my hands up.

Teaching about internet literacy, AAOCC and how to critique information found on the web is always a cool lesson - well, it's a love/hate relationship. I love it because I think it is so valuable for my students to be "policemen" (as I describe it in class) of the information they use for research. However, I hate it because, as I mentioned earlier, it is so messy. This reminds me of Alfie Kohn's article, "Challenging Students... And How to Have More of Them" (thank you Dr. August.) In Kohn's article he talks about a type of teaching called "backstage teaching" meaning that teachers show students all the errors and frustrations that happen backstage during a true learning moment. Kohn says that the fact of showing  that learning and life is messy and full of errors is important to help students understand their own trials and errors when working through a math problem, science problem, writing assignment, etc. When it comes to "internet literacy" - showing students the unscripted, complex mess at hand is extremely frustrating, ahem... valuable. I can see why people want to avoid it and just "trust in Google."

Finally, I am SO curious about Boyd's description of Wikipedia. I have always been adamant with my students - NEVER USE WIKIPEDIA!!! However, Boyd tells me otherwise, so I am curious to find out exactly what she speaks of. She talks about finding an article and looking at the history of edits and people's explanations of the changes they made. She says that she learned more from reading those "Edit Discussions" than she did in a semester. I am so curious to see this... so let's do it together.

Boyd's Example: "The American Revolutionary War" on Wikipedia
The main page Here, I am able to read the content that has been posted and edited by the public. **I am skeptical.** In the top right corner you can indeed see the options: "Read," "View Source," View History." Right now I am in the "Read" section of the entry.

"View Source" I am not a registered user (because up until today I prohibited most Wikipedia use :) so there is not much I can see here. But I believe this type of information input/formatting was discussed in Wesch's video "The Machine is Us/ing Us."

"View History" This is a HUGE list of Revision History (it goes back to October 2001... wasn't that the invention of the internet??!?!) made by users. I need to polk around a bit to get a better handle on this list & explanations of revisions... but I am prepared to put my tail between my legs and apologize for my words if Wikipedia is actually more credible than I thought.

But before I make such a mighty announcement... I need some time to get more "literate" about the web (more specifically, Wikipedia) and rethink my "internet literacy" lesson for my students.  Apparently, I have joined the flocks and am more illiterate than I thought.

This sounds like an exciting challenge! I'm ready to go...

"The Second Post"

Am I a "digital native"? 
As for me... I am cheating because I am writing this after having read the article for today ;) But I will just repeat the statement from my last post: I am a semi-well-adjusted digital immigrant. I am curious about technology and happy to learn about it when I have the time to do so.

As for in my classroom... I try my best to force my students to use technology that I think they will need in the future. I do this in a low risk environment with lots of practice time, but in the end - they need to "Just do it!"

Websites to share
Here are some websites I'd like to share with you all. I promise to keep them interesting and bizarre.

Bellydance One of my all time favorite bellydance performances: Mia Shauri (about 4 mins.)

TED Talks I love this TED Talk about "How to start a movement" and I've used in class many times (about 5 mins.)

Cool Commercial This is a cool commercial I saw recently for McDonald's for The World Cup (2 mins.)

The Blue Eyed Experiment I haven't watched this video yet, but I want to, so I am putting it here. It's about how racism is "constructed" and not innate. It's supposed to be very moving (like the "Pretty Baby, Ugly Baby" video that Dr. Bogad showed us in class yesterday.) (15 mins.)

My Favorite Song "Incondicional" This is my favorite song (and has been for a few years now.) The type of music is called bachata (which is Dominican) and this singer is Dominican. His name is Prince Royce. He looks waaay to young for me, but he is so hunky! **sigh, moment of dreamy silence** Enjoy :) (about 3:30 mins.)