Saturday, February 23, 2013

A (first) day in the life...

My second son, Nathaniel (or Nathan or Nate) just turned one - day, that is. Waking up this morning (?) in the hospital reminded me of a few things that seem to get lost in the daily fast life.

- Don't forget the simple things. They are beautiful and awesome too.

- Patience is an important part of life.

- Slow down, appreciate THIS moment, as it will be gone shortly.

- Just love, and be loved in return. (I know - total Moulin Rouge paraphrase).

To close, another song lyric. This one comes from my older son's playlist.:

"All that I need
Is a song in my heart,
Food in my belly,
And love in my family."

I love you, family.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Trendy: #CuttingForBieber. Wait...what?

So. I currently teach a senior level semester class called Struggles of Humanity, and we currently focus on dystopian fiction. The semester just began a few weeks back and, after some intro material ("Harrison Bergeron"), I am ready to jump into the first main novel, Huxley's Brave New World (that has such people in it).

I began yesterday with the foreword to Neil postman's book, Amusing Ourselves To Death. In it, he mentions " man's infinite appetite for distractions." As hoped, the students made the leap to today's ultimate distractions, social media. Then the bell rang.

Today I begin with a word web: " social media is..." The students in period 4 came up with the following web:

The discussion began slowly, but started top heat up when I asked how many followers Justin Bieber has on Twitter (side note - it just made my night the Bieber is not in my autocorrect). A change washes over the class. Cell phone are out. Tweets are being read. Someone shouts out "34.3 million."

Now the discussion shifted to the value of JB's tweets (we were clearly on the entertainment value on social media). There was one about slapping the drummer from the black keys. Great tweet JB. Thanks.
Then one student shifted the discussion again. Picking up on the trends aspect of social media, he mentioned #CuttingForBieber Here's a sample:

MIKE KLEFF (@KOOLAIDKLEFF) tweeted at 4:01 PM on Mon, Jan 07, 2013:
No hope left for the youth “@Kellydu851: IT HURTS BUT I DO IT FOR MY JUSTIN :(((
#CuttingForBieber #CutForBieber”
I guess I've been living under my PLN rock, but this trend from a  month ago gave me pause. Evidently, JB admitted to smoking pot and his legions decided to cut themselves to make him stop.
A number of students hadn't heard of it, so, naturally, they looked it up. I'm not sure what image they found, but it started with giggles (muscular, " cut" men in skimpy clothes), to awkward gaps, to one girl retching.

And we encounter a teachable moment.

I stopped the discussion to ask them to really examine what happened here: obsessed fans took their disappointment on a celebrity's actions out on their own bodies. And then published it. And then received validation as it tended. And then inspired the " copycats" to express their disdain. And the Twitter cycle continues.

I went further. I posited that the extreme, hyperbolic connection we potentially have to anyone in the world has backfired; the increase in possible connection has resulted in an impossible disconnect. So much so that children have gone numb from the lack of human (read: face-to-face) connection, and must resort to the entirely visceral act of slicing their bodies open to feel again.

This may not be new thought to all of you (I am a child of the nineties... Grunge for life), but the class feel truly silent. They felt it. Until one of the jocks just said "shit." Which brought the class back to laughter. He followed up, in all sincerity, with " that was too heavy. I needed to get back to normal."
I feel that they felt it. I am happy they did.

But will they be able to connect #CuttingForBieber with the social inadequacies of Huxley's World State? Will they be able to see that, with constant access to pleasure, the pain goes away, but when the pain leaves, you are left numb. Unfeeling.

Can they see how horrifying a thought that is?

==== UPDATE ====
As an update (I know... How can you update an unpublished post?), I did some research and discovered that this was a hoax. Looks like the teachable moment gets extended tomorrow... here's my question for the class: just because the tweeter could do this, should he? What does this say about the power of social media and the lack of human connection (empathy is one of my themes of the class)? How can someone take a serious medical condition and satirize it

#SocialMedia attribute web

Here is a word web I made with my seniors today in preparation for brave new world. The effects of technology on society and such...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

#SocialMedia experiment: Twitter as #backchannel (#edchat #engchat)

A few ideas came together over breakfast this past Saturday, and my wife, Amy, gets the credit for being the catalyst. Pulling from my own experience backchanneling, my trip to Educon 2.5, and the possibility of sheer boredom in my class for one week, I decided to mash it all together and see what would happen. Amy was the lightbulb.

Rather than continue the search for "the answers," I realized that I had to step up and experiment  The worst that could happen was that it bombed and I would lose 45 minutes of "test prep." (Golly gee...NO!). So, I did it. Here's how it went.

The Context:
  • My juniors will be taking the Regents in June. 
  • 2nd semester means we turn our attention towards more explicit and specific test prep (ugh)
  • They pretty much bombed the previous Critical Lens essay
    • The essay on the Regents exam asks students to interpret a quote and then use that interpretation as a guide to analyze two works of literature (for all the non-NY'ers)
The Plan:
  • Prep students on how to use Twitter as a backchannel
  • Discussion time. 
    • I modified the Socratic Seminar idea - my wife calls it the Fishbowl (no idea if that is an "official" name - I'm new to utilizing seminar discussions in my class). 
    • Split the class of 30 into 3 groups of 10. 
    • Group 1 sits in the center (in the fishbowl) and discuss a quote (I grade their contributions to the discussion); Groups 2 & 3 sit in the outer ring and take notes, either on paper (not everyone has a Twitter account) or on Twitter (using #MrC11R)
    • Display stream using on projector
  • Handouts:
The Fishbowl

In Action:
For the first run through, my co-teacher and I split the moderating duties: Heather dealt with the verbal discussion in the fishbowl; I dealt with the virtual discussion on Twitter. The second time, I was flying solo. Combine that with a chatty class at the end of the day, and you get chaos. It was exhausting. two class periods (45 minutes each), the students generated 270 tweets*. Full disclosure: I haven't read through the list, and I know for a fact there are some off-topic tweets, but given their reluctance to Tweet FOR school (as opposed to good 'ole IN school) on Monday, I am kind of proud that they did what they did. I participated with them as well, tweeting questions and comments throughout.

* NB: I removed the students' usernames from the published list to maintain their privacy.

This was an interesting experience for me. My department chair did a 10 minute pop-in and sent a congratulatory email. I spoke to one student in extra help, and he said he didn't like it. I feel that the reactions can go either way, and I am curious to see what the students write in their reflections tomorrow. I am most concerned with the educational value of the exercise (see my previous post on tech for tech's sake) - if the students do not feel like this was a benefit, then it needs modification. I am willing to do this again, as I believe in the value of it. It just needs to have the kinks worked out.

Two things jumped out at me: one was the physical reality of 10 students talking at once. It just got loud and chaotic. One solution is to cut the numbers in half - instead of 10 students for 10 minutes, do 2 groups of 5 students for 5 minutes. This might create a more focused atmosphere.

The second realization was the tech (yup): this was the first time that some students had ever used twitter, and it was the first time that "experienced" users used the tool in this manner (scroll through the list to see friends in other classes reacting to the flood of tweets that came out of my classroom - I was laughing).

I'd be curious to see if anyone A) has read this far and B) has used a similar activity. I need help structuring the activity before I can do it again.

The classroom - ready for fishbowl.

This pic accompanies the next post..

Friday, February 1, 2013

Reflection gone wrong (?)

I had an interesting moment of "introspection" the other day: I asked my departing seniors to complete a course evaluation on the last day of the semester (last Friday). I asked them questions in two categories: course content (curriculum) and technology usage. I made the evaluation anonymous and asked them to be forthright, but not mean.

 I do this after each of my classes, as I believe that there will be some useful feedback buried among the "you're the worst teacher ever" and the "I hate reading" comments (I teach high school English). There is always an honest nugget of takeaway buried in there. And so I found my nugget, after sifting through the useless (for me) vents. It said two things:

  • "This course has great potential but was not deployed the right way"  and
  • "You used technology for technology's sake, not to help me learn"
Both are valid comments, and my immediate reaction was "Who said this?" Then I stepped back and realized that anonymity makes identification impossible, and that, since I asked for the anonymous truth, I needed to accept it for what it was.

This, of course, is totally unsatisfying from an emotional standpoint.

The "I hate yous" always sting, but I have learned to take them for what they are - the vents of adolescents who use the cloak of anonymity to "talk back" to the teacher. As soon as I read those comments, I thought back to the students that had struggled in the class. I tried to put faces and names to the "I hate yous," and then gave the exercise up - we can't reach them all, and I knew the handful that did not have a "positive" experience (i.e. the subject of a future post: the girl who plagiarized and could not see that she made a mistake). 

However, the dilemma became more urgent when I could not identify the speaker of the above two bullets - I felt a sudden urge and need to know WHO said those things. I craved context. I started searching for order amongst the unknown.

On one level, it doesn't matter who wrote it, as the comments were valid and gave me pause and a chance to reflect. On the other hand, I wanted to seek out that commenter and ask him/her those bigger questions of Why/How I could improve. Needless to say, I gave the exercise, but not the ideas, up. 

It was an odd moment to have, though, in my 10th year of this gig. I am always amazed at how honest students can be, and am equally dismayed that they feel the need to couch that honesty in anonymity. How do we create a more open culture of reflection - if students could share more freely (and appropriately), would teachers listen?