Extracurricular empowerment: Scott McLeod at TEDxDesMoines

Today I watched the Ted Talk Extracurricular Empowerment. In the talk, the speaker discusses the story of a Scottish girl named Martha who made a blog about her school lunches and succeeded in changing the quality of the Scottish school lunches.  It was a great story, because it showed how a young girl could use the internet to make real change.  She also used her internet fame to fund a program to feed starving children in the developing world.  It really illustrated how people can use the world’s resources as long as they can get attention online.  Some people use this power to improve food for children, others use it to buy a Chipotle burrito.  Whether for good, or ill, or simply silly, the internet can enable people to make things happen.

He only asked for $8 and got over a grand!

He only asked for $8 and got over a grand!

The point of the talk was that we should not be scared of allowing our students and children to use technology, because we don’t know what they could achieve.  This is true, and we should be careful not to stifle creativity, but on the other hand kids can get into a lot of trouble online.  Besides cyber bullying and all manner of disturbing material available on the internet, kids can also just waste a lot of time online.  We need to strike a balance; one where we can allow students room to create and be activists, but where we are careful to help them avoid danger or sloth because of the internet.

One of the top sins the internet can help us both to avoid and celebrate

One of the top sins the internet can help us both to avoid and celebrate

This is once again a lesson in moderation.  We have to allow our students the freedom of creativity, but we also have to be careful to keep the students from using the internet as a crutch.

Generation Like

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Last night I watched the Frontline documentary Generation Like.  I really enjoyed it.  It discusses how kids and teens (and adults) try to market themselves online on social media in return for recognition and popularity from others in the form of “likes.”   The documentary focuses especially on the symbiotic relationship between kids on social media and the companies and brands they support.  Kids “like”, or tweet about, or reblog things about the Hunger Games, and are therefore marketing for the Hunger Games.  But, the Hunger Games is primarily marketed to these same kids.  The kids, through social media, are both the marketers and the marketed-to demographic.  

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The gist of the documentary was that kids are doing a job, that is usually paid, for imaginary internet points, or some free merchandise, or a retweet from their favorite actors.  My fiancé’s reaction to this was to say “so what?”  The kids like their fan tumblr pages, the chance at winning a contest to have a skype call with Lady Gaga, or becoming a well-known youtuber in exchange for promoting a soda.  They get what they want, the companies get cheap advertising, everyone wins!  I figured that he was right, as long as the kids realize what they’re doing.

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So, I went to the source.  My nearly 13 year old sister, Becky, a self-proclaimed fan girl.  Her Instagram page is completely dedicated to Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and The Hunger Games.  I pointed out to her that by posting all the pictures to her 260 followers, she is helping those franchises to market their products to other kids like her.  She was surprised! She said, “Wow! I’ve never thought about it that way.”  Since kids like Becky don’t think about how they are doing these companies a surface, is it fair to use them in this way?  I certainly don’t know, but I’m sure it isn’t going away any time soon.

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So what does any of this have to do with education?  Well, it is important for teachers to know what kids are up to.  We shouldn’t be scared of technology that came after us.  I tend to avoid tumblr and twitter and Instagram in favor of Facebook, but I should at least try to understand these newer forms of social media, if only to stay in the loop. [Note: I type this as I watch Frozen with my sister, since I need to know what everyone is talking about all the time.] 

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Understanding how kids and corporations interact through social media can also help us to clue the kids into the system.  We can let our students know that they are advertising for their favorite companies and brands.  Maybe they won’t care, maybe it’ll make them try to leverage the situation for a better deal, or maybe it’ll make them a little more suspicious of the fan-culture of today’s teens.

And finally, we can of course use this knowledge the same way the kids are: to advertise ourselves.  We can learn from the people who have a lot of likes, and use that information to help us have good web-presence ourselves.  It can help us to grow as educators by widening our professional network.  It can also help our web-presence for our students, having interesting class websites and blogs, using youtube to help teach, and generally using, instead of avoiding, social media in a productive way.

Butterflies in the Sky…

Update: When I posted this, they were around $300,000, and now they’re already past the goal! Amazing! You can still donate, get an awesome prize, and help this great program.

LeVar Burton is launching kickstarter campaign to bring back Reading Rainbow online and for classroom.  It’s a very worthy cause, consider giving even as little as $5.

If you need another reminder of how great this show was, watch the wonderful theme sound!

Here are even more reasons to contribute!

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Digital Media* New Learners of the 21st Century: A Rant and a Reflection.

At the start of this video, someone says a beloved John Dewey Quote, which sums up his progressive educational ideology.  Dewey said that “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterdays, we rob them of tomorrow.”  There are many other quotes like this, and the idea behind them seems to be the same: truth is evolving and changing quickly; humanity is ever improving; catch up or be left behind.  This is foundation behind much of 21st century educational thought.

This does not jive with my world view at all.  I do not think that humanity is improving, nor do I think it is regressing.  I don’t think that truth can or will ever change.  I think that while we can use new discoveries and technologies to be better teachers, we should be very careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  We should never say that just because something is old, it must be bad.  That Dewey quote really rubbed me the wrong way.  Can last year’s or last generations’ or last century’s education be so useless that it keeps children from growing and learning for the future?  How can that be?  Our parents, grandparents, forefathers learned in the past.  The framers of the Constitution were educated in the past.  Shakespeare, Galileo, Johannes Kepler, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Moore, Aristotle, Plato, Archimedes, all were educated in the past.  How could something that has served humanity so well in the past be a disservice to modern students?  I can’t think of anything more arrogant than to say that all old things are worth less than new things.

That rant is probably the first part of an on-going series we’ll call “Hannah’s Struggles with Progressivism.”  Anyway, on to the wonderful programs shown in the video.

My favorite program in the video was the first one, where a school, in addition to teaching traditional subjects, taught game design.  I loved it.  The program found a wonderful way to help kids develop problem solving and creative skills in a natural way, which will help these students their whole lives.  I also really appreciated how the teachers were in control of the technology, in that they would remove the laptops when they thought that they were not helping the students to learn.  I was impressed how well it seemed that the students worked in a somewhat self-guided system.  My youngest brother, Sean, would do so well in a school like that.  He has figured out how to make flash animation videos on his own and has played around with some game design.  Kids at those middle years, in middle school and early high school, are very creative and do very well with those sorts of projects.  If there were a school like that around here, I would absolutely try to get my brother into it.