THE ELEPHANTS CANNOT BE AVOIDED MUCH LONGER

Elephants in the Classroom Pic
Photo CC By-Tanti Ruwani

According to the online Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase “elephant in the room” means that there is an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.  In the current world of United States education, there are many of them, and they are large.  In his blog, ‘9 Elephants in the (Class)Room That Should “Unsettle” Us‘, Will Richardson takes these issues head on and encourages other educators to do the same.

While all 9 of these so called elephants are quite literally weighing down the education of  our future students, there are three that I would like to focus on.

  1. ‘We know that most of our students are bored and disengaged in school.’

In a recent Gallup survey shared by Richardson, only 32% of high school juniors said that they were “involved and enthusiastic about school”.  HELLO!!! This is a serious issue! Not even 1 out of every 3 students feels like they are getting anything out of going to school for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 13 years of their life and we’re seriously not going to do something about it?! Is this really okay with all other current and future educators, because it seems totally wrong to me.

While teachers may feel bound to teach what their school district and policy makers have mandated, there are always ways to engage your students.  Only 17% of students from the same survey reported that they have fun and “get to do what they do best” while at school.  Why could we not teach the standards we are given using topics that our students actually have an interest in and want to learn about?

2. ‘We know that deep, lasting learning requires conditions that schools and classrooms simply were not built for.’

As addressed in the previous point, student interest and passion for class topics is severely lacking.  Why? Because true learning is not having the contents of a 30 year old text book beaten into you day after day, without every leaving the chair at your desk.  The learning that our students long for and the learning that they so deserve often happens outside the classroom.  By taking our students outdoors to explore nature, taking them on field trips, inviting guest speakers, exploring careers, and catering our lessons to fit the desires and interests of our students, we can give our students the skills that they will need beyond the 12th grade.

Most students of today are not given enough of a say in their own personal learning.  Literally everything that goes on in the average classroom is predetermined and students do not have the chance to inquire and discover on their own.  While it may not be possible or practical in most public school settings to give students free reign, we can give them the opportunity to make the decisions that will help them reach our common end goal. Each student learns differently and we should allow them to do so.

3. ‘We know that learning that sticks is usually learned informally, that explicit knowledge accounts for very little of our success in most professions.’

In my experience as a pre-service teacher, I have known this to be true.  I have obtained knowledge in all of my education and methods courses, but none of these have even come close to amounting to everything I have learned during my time spent in actual classrooms through field experiences.  What students learn in 8th grade algebra or sophomore English, and the grades they receive at the end of these classes are not going to define their future career, success, or happiness.  We learn best when we the setting is informal and we are able to discover what we actually need to know simply by experiencing it.

When we give our students skills and opportunities, rather than textbooks filled with insignificant information that is going to be tested and then forgotten, what they learn may actually stick.

There is absolutely no question that what students are actually learning is more important than what shows up on their test scores.  A student’s ability to conform and memorize what they need to know for the test and then spit back exactly what the makers of the test want to hear has zero correlation with their ability to learn (for real) and succeed in life.  It’s about time we all realize this and work together to make a change for the better.

 

INNOVATION AND LEARNING TO UNLEARN

Innovation and Unlearning Blog Pic
Photo CC By-jdog90

Over the past 15 weeks, this class has helped me to become innovative as both a learner and a thinker.  We have been exposed to topics that are new and interesting and important to our lives as future teachers, and as a result, the way that I now look at learning and education is a little bit different.  As I read through materials and did some more research on my own, I have allowed myself to be open to new ideas and tried things that were way out of my comfort zone.  Even though it is not always easy, this has helped me significantly to advance myself as both a learner and a future teacher.

As stated by George Couros in his article The Mindset of an Innovator, “Innovation is not something new to education, but something we can do better.”  Even though innovation has always been an option, it is not one that is often chosen.  This is not because teachers are lazy, unwilling, or incapable of being innovators, but because sometimes it can be difficult to take a risk and sail into uncharted territory.  Humans are by nature creatures of habit, so breaking routine can be challenging.

In order to build a classroom for the learners of tomorrow, we must first begin by “unlearning” what it is that we think we already know.  Will Richardson advocates for this seemingly unusual concept and suggests that in order to be truly prepared to teach students of the future, we need to undergo a change of perspective and look at things from a new point of view.  I’m not sure how I feel about the term “unlearn” as it sort of feels like taking steps backwards.  However, I absolutely agree that we could all benefit from a new and refreshed state of mind.

As technology continues to plan an increasing role in the classroom, we must consider how we are going to work with it.  Richardson lists the skills he feels are necessary for 21st century learners: collaboration, critical thinking, oral and written communications, technology, citizenship, and the ability to learn about careers and content.  These are incredibly important! As Richardson states, “There is no curriculum for unlearning,” and it is up to us to make sure that when our students leave our hands, they possess these critical life skills.

As I continued on through this week’s readings, it became more and more apparent that state standards, mandated curriculums, and endless tests are not the answer.  School should be about obtaining knowledge that we can take with us and use in real life beyond the four walls of our classroom.  I was, and still am one of those students who crams before each test, memorizes what I need to know to get the grade and then proceeds to forget it all the very next day.  The greatest value should be placed on learning and not on statistics, grades, or standardized test scores.  This may be the greatest thing that I still need to unlearn.

DIGITAL STORY

The metaphor I chose to portray through the use of a digital story is that of a gardener and a teacher.  In this metaphor, the teacher is like a gardener who helps their students grow just as a gardener helps their flowers grow from tiny seeds in to beautifully full grown flowers.  Hope you enjoy:).

ILP: REFLECTION

ILP Reflection Pic
Photo CC By-Versatile Cupcakes

The Individual Learning Project was something that I had never experienced before.  There have been no other college (or high school) classes that I have taken in which the professor asked me to spend time each week learning something simply because I wanted to learn it.  After some thought, I decided to take on baking and the adventures of cookie and cake decorating, and all things in between.  While this was not directly related to the course material of digital literacy, I really felt that this would be something I could look forward to each week without it feeling like a stressful homework assignment, as well as a skill that I could continue to use and build upon throughout my lifetime.

As I took the first steps of my ILP journey, I began to lay out what I thought I would like to learn and a tentative outline of the semester’s schedule.  One of the first things that I learned, was that sometimes, you cannot always stick to the initial plan.  While weeks passed by, there were times that life just happened, and I had to make adjustments to my weekly plans, but I learned that this was alright.  Even though some things changed and not every project turned out as perfect as it looked in the picture on Pinterest, it was all a part of the learning process.

I also discovered that while I am by no means a master baker, making sweet treats and decorating them with my hands is something that I enjoy quite a bit.  Being able to work with something physical in front of me and put my own artistic spin on things made seeing the final products even more rewarding.

Since baking (and eating:)) is something that interests me, it was not hard to find motivation to learn as a part of my ILP.  The only times I was challenged to get my ILP learning in was when my schedule got tight and I had to get creative with my time.  Other than this, I thoroughly enjoyed my time learning the art of baking and cake decorating.

I would have to say that my favorite part of this experience was getting to try all of the tasty treats after I made them and then share them with friends, family, teammates, coaches, and work colleagues.  I almost always made way more than my roommate and I could eat on our own, so sharing was an absolute must.  It was fun to take pictures and share my experiences with classmates via my blog as well.

After my experience with independent learning, I know that I would love to incorporate it into my future classroom.  While it may not be to quite this scale at the elementary level, I believe that giving students an end goal and then presenting them with several different avenues for getting there can be a very effective teaching strategy.  We all know that when the content of the material we are learning is tailored to our own unique interests, we are much more likely to stay engaged and retain what is being learned.  Students are no different, so I believe independent learning is something worth trying.

EXPLORING CANVA

Canva Infographic

I began my exploration and learning this week by reading about various online creation tools.  I first browsed through some information about tools used to make comic books and comic strips, but none of these really grabbed my interest.  They just simply weren’t my style and I didn’t feel that it would be the best format to present the kind of information I wanted to share from my ILP.

As I moved on to explore the other tools, I began comparing the pros and cons of Piktochart and Canva.  With Piktochart, you can choose from any of their free templates in order to get started.  From there, you have the ability to choose a theme and move through quick and simple step-by-step instructions to create your graphic.  Canva allows you to choose a free template or begin with a blank slate (if you are much more skilled than I am).  Canva provides over a million free graphics and also gives you the ability to upload your own images.  While each of these tools seemed to be fairly user friendly, I felt that Canva would be the best fit for what I was trying to accomplish.

Once I had determined by platform, I needed to decide what information I was going to include.  After thinking back over all I have learned through my ILP, I thought it would be fun to create a visually appealing recipe for meringue frosting that I researched and learned how to make, as described in my blog “ILP: FANTASTIC FROSTING”.  I figured that if it turned out how I was picturing it, this would be a fun way to organize information that would be useful to myself in the future and also to any classmates who would like to try their own hand at making this delicious recipe.

When I began working with Canva, it took me just a few minutes to figure everything out. It was not terribly difficult, but I did have to play around with the various features to find the things that I needed.  One challenge I encountered was finding the right images to use in my creation.  At first glance, Canva did not offer the images that I was wanting free of charge.  I began to consider uploading my own images, but as I searched a little deeper I found a cute illustration that fit my recipe nicely.  Other than this, I did not have many other issues.  Downloading and sharing my finished product was as simple and clicking one button.

I think that there is absolutely value in presenting information in this way.  Creating posters, presentations, informational flyers, etc., with a tool like Canva makes what you are sharing so much more appealing to the viewers.  The colorful, eye catching, intriguing designs are limitless with these online creation tools.

If I ended up teaching upper elementary or middle school, I would consider using these tools in my classroom.  I especially think that the comic strip tool would be fun at the 4th-6th grade level.  In the younger grades, I see myself using these tools to create posters and presentations for our classroom, as well as graphics with information that needs to be communicated with parents and guardians about upcoming events, tests, and field trips.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience with Canva and see myself using it for many different things in the future!

THOUGHTS ON PODCASTS & DIGITAL STORYTELLING

Podcasts Pic
Photo CC By-Daniel Filho

When I was young, my parents read to me all the time.  Whether it was a bedtime story or at any other time during the day, I was read to constantly, and I LOVED it.  Since I have learned to read to myself, I have not had nearly as many stories told to me, and I didn’t realize that I missed it until I began exploring the world of podcasts and digital storytelling.  Everyone loves a good story, and these are the perfect tools for incorporating interesting grade level material while in the classroom.

As I began looking into how podcasts and digital storytelling can be used in an educational setting, I was surprised that I had never really thought about them being something that I could or should be using as a teaching tool.  According to KQED News‘ “What Teens Are Learning From Serial And Other Podcasts“,  podcasts in the classroom can have some serious benefits.  When students listen to information rather than read it, they can work with material up to two or three grade levels higher than their normal ability might allow.  This encourages students expansion of vocabulary, listening, and critical thinking skills.

Digital storytelling also comes with its perks, as it truly gives students an opportunity to create their own unique material on a platform that they are probably more well-versed in than we are as the teachers.  The vast majority of students are extremely familiar with most basic forms of technology, which makes creating text, stories, photography, audio, and video clips a very achievable task.  Furthermore, the skills learned though the creative act of digital storytelling transfer to the tasks asked of them by state standards and tests.  By learning to tell stories digitally, students will be better able to write essays, speak in front of an audience, listen to both their peers and teachers, and communicate more effectively.

It is clear that both podcasts and digital storytelling are things we should consider incorporating into our lessons.  The only drawback that I could foresee would be time constraints.  As explained by Michael Godsey, a high school English teacher in California, some podcasts can be extremely lengthy.  Serial, the podcast he has shared with his students, spans across class periods for several weeks.  For some, it may be difficult to wiggle a unit this large into an already tight schedule.

Initially, I thought that having students create podcasts or digital stories might be a little too difficult for students at the elementary level.  The more I think about it though, I think you could get creative and find ways to work it into your classroom.  I might look for material that is shorter in length, however, since attention spans are much shorter in younger students.  Edudemic is a fantastic resource, providing many creative ideas for digital storytelling lessons in the classroom.

If I end up teaching upper elementary, I would love to have my students use StoryCorps to conduct short interviews.  I absolutely loved that the purpose of this movement was to emphasize personal connections in our growing digital world, without completely rejecting the use of technology.  I have not seen many other programs like this that promote such a balance.  I have downloaded the StoryCorps app and I hope to try it out soon!

 

 

 

ILP: CREAM CHEESE [CAKE] MINTS

Cake Mints Pic3When I was younger, I can remember attending the weddings of my aunts and uncles, close family, and friends, and eating those cute little cream cheese mints that were meant to accompany the cake until I was morbidly sick to my stomach.  It was as if for every mint I ate, my taste buds demanded five more.  You could say that I liked them quite a bit.

Even though they are not directly cake or cookies themselves, I thought that this would be an appropriate ILP topic since they are a yummy treat that is very often served alongside cakes at weddings and other fancy parties.  It had been quite a while since the last time I had these sweet treats, so I was anxious and excited to get started this week!!

The idea for making this my ILP learning project this week came from a video of these mints that I saw on Facebook.  While this gave me the ingredients that I would need, it did not give any of the exact amounts, so I needed to do a little bit of ‘guestimating’ along the way.  This actually turned out to be one of the most helpful parts of this experience, as it forced me to analyze what I had in front of me, make adjustments, and then learn as I went along.

The first step in making these cream cheese mints was to gather all of the ingredients and supplies that I would be needing.  These included one package of cream cheese, two tablespoons of butter, powdered sugar, mint extract, food coloring, four medium sized mixing bowls, one large mixing bowl, four mixing spoons, and some foil.

Once I had everything assembled, I began by mixing the softened cream cheese and butter in the large mixing bowl. Once they were blended, I added the mint extract and the first portion of powered sugar.  As I was mixing, I noticed that the texture was nowhere near what it needed to be yet.  I continued adding powdered sugar and mixing it in until I was left with a more stiff and pasty mixture.

cake-mints-pic1.jpg

Once I had the consistency that I wanted, I divided the mixture into four separate bowls and added three drops of food coloring into each one.  Then, using a spoon, I rolled the mixture into small balls and coated the outsides with powdered sugar before placing them on the foil to sit.  When all of the mints were rolled into balls, I then went through with a fork and pressed into the tops of each mint to flatten them and create a simple design.  Even though these mints can be made into fancier shapes using molds, I think these simple ones turned out just as well! They were definitely just as tasty!

cake-mints-pic2.jpg

TAKING TIME TO BE MINDFUL

Texting Pic
Photo CC By-Jhaymesisviphotography

If I am being completely honest, the Internet is one of my biggest enemies when it comes to getting homework done.  There are literally endless distractions right at your fingertips the moment you open up that first web browser. Pretty soon, you start clicking around and before you know it, one thing just leads to another.

I like to think that I try to be mindful about my use of technology and the Internet.  I think that I do an okay job of not spending excess time consumed with it, due in part to the fact that my daily schedule just does’t allot time for it.  However, this certainly does not mean that I don’t occasionally find myself spending time passively scrolling through my social media feeds and surfing the web.

I have personally seen first-hand the effects that technology can have on our lives; both good and bad.  One of my favorite features of the iPhone, is the ability to FaceTime with any other person who also has an iPhone.  This comes in extremely handy when I want to talk to my sister who lives 15 hours away, my best friend from high school who lives 17 hours away, or any of my other family members who are a shorter 7 hours away.  Without FaceTime, I would have to go months on end without seeing the faces of my loved ones.  For this reason among others, I am thankful for technology.

On the flip side, I have also seen technology have a not so great impact on my life when it comes to my close relationships.  I can 100% relate to trying to have a conversation with someone and feeling like they were more interested in their phone or computer than talking to an actual person.  As stated in Huffington Post‘s “Why You Feel Terrible After Spending Too Much Time of Facebook”, technology has become a ‘habitual dependency’.  Sometimes it seems like we can’t live without it.

As I was doing my research, I read through the article about simplifying your online world.  I would agree that this is something we should all look into.  Often times, when I am walking around campus, I can go several minutes without making eye contact with anyone, because everyone is stuck in their own little world.  When we consciously make the decision to not be glued to our devices like robots, only then will we truly be present.  I really do feel that we miss out on some of what is important in life when we are permanently tethered to our devices. There are so many wonderful opportunities around us when we take a second to look up from our phones.

I have downloaded the Moment App and have started to track my phone usage.  However, I do not have much information yet at this point since I only downloaded it earlier yesterday.  I’m not sure that having this app on my phone will make too much of a difference in what or how much of my phone I use on a daily basis, but I am willing to give it a try.  Even though my actions may not change too much, it may help me to be more mindful about what I am doing with my free time.

The Internet is a wonderful tool when we can use it to get in touch with family and friends who live far away.  We just need to be conscious about how we spend our time on it otherwise.  I feel that it is crucial to be able to make your life outside of your technological devices a priority.  Get outside, see the world, make connections, and have a conversation (without a phone acting as the middle man).  When we make an effort to do this, I think we will feel the same sensation of ‘freedom’ that Paul Miller spoke of in his TED Talk.

 

CHANGES IN ACTIVISM

Activism Blog Pic
Photo CC By-Robert Couse-Baker

Technology has changed our world.  I don’t think there are many people who would disagree with this statement.  In decades past, the way to partake in social activism was to gather at rallies, march with posters, and take a stand for what you believed in.  For a time, this was the only way that individuals felt their voices could be heard.  Now, things are beginning to look a little different.  The digital world we are living in provides a completely new platform and launch pad for activism, and members of our youngest generations are some of its most outspoken participants.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs have become extremely powerful in the last few years.  Before, if you had an opinion that you wanted to share with people in your local area, you would have to have it written in a newspaper, or broadcasted on a news channel or radio station.  Rapid growth of the digital world gives the ability to be heard, to anyone with internet access.  Getting the word out or spreading your opinion really can be just as simple as sending a tweet that’s only 140 characters in length.

This newfound method of communication and social activism may not yet be fully understood, supported, or accepted by all members of every generation, but it is most definitely here to stay.  In Teen Vogue’s “The New Face of Teen Activism“, Victoria Snow advocates for teen activism in the digital world.  “…we’re organizing, we’re creating, we’re signal-boosting, we’re creating awareness.  We’re changing the world,” she says.  The wonderful thing about digital activism is that through the internet, you are capable of reaching audiences far more wide and diverse than if you were to host a physical rally that only people located within that vicinity could attend..  This form of teen activism is far more effective than any other has been before.  Snow explains that she and her fellow activists are “connected by a community of interest, not geography.”  There are no physical boundaries to stand in their way.  Through the digital world, any change can be possible.

I personally have not been involved in very much digital activism until very recently.  As I continue to get older, I have paid more attention to both local and global issues, and I believe that it is important to stand up for what you believe is right.  No matter your age or geographic location, access to the digital world provides an opportunity to be heard.

As educator Bill Ferriter shares in “My kids, a cause and our classroom blog“, allowing students to be active participants in the digital world gives them a sense of purpose, significance, and motivation to make changes across the world for a better tomorrow.

 

ILP: BIRTHDAY CAKE

Bday Cake Keri Pic

This last Tuesday, my roommate turned 22!  For her birthday, I decided that I would try my hand at creating a cake.  While I have baked several plain old cakes throughout my lifetime, this one was going to be different.  My plan was to create a two-tiered white cake with a middle layer of frosting, white frosting all around the outside, and then drizzled melted butterscotch down the sides.  My inspiration came from the video at the bottom of the page.

As it turns out, making a cake that looks as beautiful and flawless as that one is not as simple as the girl in the video makes it look.  Nevertheless, I am fairly happy with this first attempt at a “fancy” cake.

I began by mixing up the cake batter and then poured it into two 8″ circular cake pans.  Then, they were sent into the oven to bake until they were a perfect golden brown on the top.  Once the cakes were ready, I took them out and placed them on hot pads on the counter to cool.  This process seemed like it took forever as I was anxious to get going with my frosting!  Finally, the cakes had cooled and it was time to remove them from their pans.  Here, I had my first moment of temporary struggle with this baking project.  Even though the pans were coated with non-stick spray, the cakes were stubborn to come out.  After a little bit of wiggling, both round cakes were out with most of their pieces.  My next step was to frost the top of the bottom layer and place the other on top.  This went fairly smoothly.  After both layers were secured, I coated the top and all sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.  To do this, I used a regular butter knife (although I have been looking into getting a more cake specific tool to help me with this task).

Up until this point, things were going just about as well as I had expected. Instead of the chocolate drizzle shown in the video, I decided to attempt using melted butterscotch chips.  Since I did not have a squeeze bottle like the one used in the video, I figured the easiest way to do this would be to put it in a bag and pipe it through a small round tip.  When I went to begin drizzling the butterscotch around the edges of the cake, the butterscotch began to harden and did not go on the way I had hoped.  At this point, I decided to forego the drizzle entirely and instead, piped with a small star shaped tip all the way around the top.

Bday Cake Top Pic

Bday Cake Side Pic

To add the final touches to the cake, I used the remaining butterscotch to write the words “Happy Birthday” on the top and placed halved mini Reese’s cups along the bottom as well as some chocolate chip cookie dough rolled into balls.  Even though this first cake did not turn out exactly as planned, it was delicious and made for a wonderful birthday celebration for my roommate and our friends!