April 30, 2009

Final Project


“Research in the Online Age” (2008) states, “The volume of information available today means we must provide kids with strategies for thinking critically." This single sentence gets to the heart of the purpose of the teaching activities collected and described in this paper. With the overwhelming amount of information available at their fingertips, students need tools to evaluate the quality of the sources they find.

Graham and Metaxas conducted a study to examine the techniques Wellesley College students used when conducting internet research. The authors stated, “Students use the Net as a primary source of information, usually with little or no regard as to the accuracy of that information,” and “Substantial effort is required to adequately evaluate information, and this may not always be apparent to users” (Graham & Metaxas, 2003, p.71). After giving questions to students in a "Computers and the Internet" class to research, their answers and methods were reviewed.

The conclusion stated, "The results presented here suggest many students have difficulty recognizing trustworthy sources, though perhaps the underlying problem is a lack of understanding of the Internet as an unmonitored source of information." They suggested, "All further educational ventures must focus on teaching users that the Internet is an unmonitored method of sharing information" (Graham & Metaxas, 2003, p.75). The authors' final words in reporting this study's findings explain the value of such instruction. "It is vital that students better understand the nature of the Internet and develop an instinctive inclination for verifying all information. This will allow students to take advantage of the tremendous benefits provided online without falling prey to the pitfalls of online research" (Graham & Metaxas, 2003, p.75).

This understanding may be an important step in defining and combatting plagarism. Major museums in the UK have formed The National Museums Online Learning Project to help teachers and parents educate their students and children about proper internet use. “The museums claim that as children turn to computers for homework projects and use search engines to gather information, research and analysis abilities are being replaced with cut and paste activity.” Lack of understanding regarding plagiarism and the ease with which one can do it is alarming to this group. The National Museums Online Learning Project believes, “Teaching critical thinking skills in the classroom could help to overcome this problem as a student who thinks critically can ask appropriate questions, gather relevant information, reason logically, find ways to use information creatively to reach conclusions about the world” (Museums, 2009). Increased critical thinking skills will also be beneficial to students in other areas of coursework and life.

Before tools and tactics for evaluating sources can be developed and shared, students need to be taught why they are necessary. Introducing common terms, scams, and fakes that are prevalent on the internet is a valuable first step. Paul McFedries (2006) does a great job explaining phishing in his article, “Technically Speaking: Gone Phishin'.” McFedries explains,

“Phishing” refers to creating a replica of an existing Web page to fool users into submitting personal, financial, or password data, to what they think is their bank or a reputable online retailer. The term comes from the fact that Internet scammers use (increasingly sophisticated) lures to “fish” for users' sensitive data. Hackers have an endearing tendency to change the letter “f” to “ph,” so “fishing" becomes “phishing.” (The f-to-ph transformation is not new among hackers; it first appeared in the late 1960s among the hackers of the telephone system, who called themselves phone phreaks). (p. 80)

The article goes on to identify terms to describe and tactics that are used by those who try to steal passwords, social security numbers, and passwords. Although the piece does explain a few tips for spotting phishing scams, its strength is in its background information and explanation of terms.

“Research in the Online Age” (2009) lists ideas to help teachers promote critical thinking to evaluate sources for online research. Ironically, each idea listed in this article is already known and being used by elementary school teachers in teaching reading in the classroom. Think alouds, modeling, quickwrites and the like are standard fare in the elementary language arts classes. Although there was nothing new described as far as methods go, the concept that teachers can tackle a new problem with old techniques is encouraging. Connecting this daunting problem to something that is already standard practice allows teachers to see that there is something they can do now to promote critical thinking within the realm of internet research. Pointing out to students that the skills are transferable is as necessary as it is important. Many students view information that comes through television sets and web pages with blind acceptance and give no regard to the source and accuracy of the information.

In addition to using the tried and true methods of critical reading skills, the internet itself supplies a large number of tools and activities to teach the need and methods for critical review of internet resources. Following are links and explanations of the contents, benefits, and shortcomings of available tools.

Continue reading "Final Project" »

April 14, 2009

Because It's Cool...

I saw a class project using wordle.net as I traveled through one of the buildings in which I work. I thought it was cool enough to play with and share. Here's what the 100 most frequently used words in my blog look like. The more the word is used, the bigger it appears.

title="Wordle: My Blog in 100 words"> src="http://www.wordle.net/thumb/wrdl/748925/My_Blog_in_100_words"
alt="Wordle: My Blog in 100 words"
style="padding:4px;border:1px solid #ddd">

I Love Food!

It's a Small World After All...

I must admit, I was disappointed with the 'Food' chapter in our book. When I read our assignment, my decision was a no-brainer. I'll read about one of the biggest joys in life--food. Then I read about the dark side of food in our culture. It wasn't the topic for which I had hoped. I wanted to talk about the availability and accessibility of food from so many different cultures. I wanted to read about organic versus inorganic mindsets. I had hoped to discuss the upsurge and popularity of food-based shows and even channels. Even a mention of how many recipes one can find online these days would have been great. When I hear of some strange new food or recipe for the first time, I search it on the web. I look at what is needed and how it is made. The information super highway transports some wild dishes to my table.

Defining the Problem

In some cases, it is not food, but the lack of it that causes problems. “Education (or lack of it), lack of resources and power, debt, trade, militarization, and war, and discrimination are listed as the causes of hunger” (132). In other cases (as in fast food, junk food, processed items) the problem is created by food lacking quality. The need for speed and enjoyable flavor surpasses the need for nourishment and nutrition. The quality of food consumed is diminished by the rushed lives of consumers, and the meal time itself has lost its place in the home. There were plenty of public service messages reminding us that “Not only do regular meals tend to provide a more balanced and nutritious diet, eating together brings families together. When we share a meal, we tend to share our thoughts and feelings” (133).

Locating Its Source

I had always thought that the industrialization of America and improved transportation systems created an environment where food was easy to get, less expensive, and plentiful for those who could afford it. That's what I thought started America's road to obesity. This chapter pointed out some interesting theories. I had never considered Manton's argument: “…she traces the beginnings of twentieth-century eating disorders in the United States to the industrial Revolution and the rise of the food industry. The industrialization of food preparation removed the responsibility of caring and feeding the family from women and put it in the hands of ‘professionals,’ usually men” (133). “According to Manton, women became less confident in themselves and their self-esteem dropped because the traditional role of nurturer was taken away” (133).

As far as Victorian women went, I have seen enough art from that era to know what was considered beautiful then. It is also worth mentioning that pale skin was preferred because tans were obtained by those who had to work outside for their living. That made tan and thin undesirable. Now people are paying to be both. I had never considered the role of women's suffrage in the beautiful body image changeover. “…beautiful women were not thin. During the Victorian Era, women were large and soft but had no political power or economic worth, other than that of their husbands. Inf fact, many considered thinness to be a sign of poverty or illness. The Nineteenth Amendment gave women political power, but it also coincided with the emergence of the Flapper and a thin body image” (134). It is interesting to view industrialization and the Nineteenth Amendment in the context of food/weight issues.

And Another Source


It is interesting to see such a clear example of television's impact on a group of people. I wonder why they went from no television to only one channel. I'd think they'd have a few more options after making the sizable leap from zero to one. On page 134 we are told that television was introduced to Fiji in 1995, but they only had one channel. In 1995 reported eating disorders were at 3%. By 1998, 74% of girls felt they were too fat and 62% admitted dieting within the last month. The television shows that they watched on the one channel need to also be more thoroughly addressed. Zena the Princess Warrior is an odd selection. If they had reruns of Roseanne on, would things have been different?

No Wonder This Doesn't Fit Right!

I know I've already mentioned that I hate shopping. This just gives me another chance to complain about it. When I wonder who designers had in mind when they made certain items, I'll recall this fact: “People magazine published a study in 1996 that gave 5 feet 4 and 142 pounds as the average height and weight of American women, compared to 5 feet 9 and 110 pounds as the average for the typical model” (135). I'm kind of screwed on both ends of that though. I am 5 ft 7. That explains why I get so aggravated when I stumble into the petite section and they have cuter clothes. It also explains why I need a size 40 if I'm going to get something of appropriate length. Okay...so it's not really that bad. I just hate trying on clothes.

Democracy, Free Trade, and Anorexia

It is interesting that the 'Americanization' of the world has this unintended consequence:
“As American culture spreads throughout the world, so do eating disorders. They seem to go hand and hand with increased consumerism and participation of women in the business and political spheres” (138).
It is reminiscent of the Europeans spreading their illnesses to the Native Americans upon their arrival. I'm sure the Europeans thought they were helping at the time, too.

Scary Little Side Note

“Berg sites a British study that reported a drop in iron levels caused a significant drop in IQ scores” (139).

March 29, 2009

Music Ideas

I already mentioned "Love Story" by Taylor Swift. It refers directly to Romeo and Juliet.

Looking for the video, I found a link that broke down the lyrics to Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire."

The above could be obvious (depending on your generation). So I thought a little more about Billy Joel. I'm from Pennsylvania, and this happened before my time...but it is applicable. "Allentown" is based on the collapse of the steel industry. Bethlehem Steel was a big name in the industry. With the collapse of manufacturing currently, this could be a 'bridge' to past differences. It also addresses some other issues if you listen. I didn't see an embedded link for this one....so here's a link: Allentown Video. "Goodnight Siagon" also has powerful images and language regarding the Vietnam War.

Well, Billy Joel isn't exactly "Pop Culture" but there is a lot to be pulled from his work for educational purposes.

A little more current, but not by much (2007)...

If you can get past the idiosyncrasies, it is full of meaning. I'll let you figure them out. : )

March 26, 2009

Echo...Echo...Play it again Sam!

I read chapter 4 first. Then I read chapter 12 in White and Walker's Tuning In. The first time I experienced deja vu, I though I was just imagining things. I looked back to chapter 4 and found the same quotation. It happened again. The same passage was in both chapters. And again, and again...you get the idea. There was a lot of the EXACT same information in both chapters. I thought, if it was worth including verbatim twice, I'll just have to discuss the points! So, here I go!

Chapter 4- page 45 and Chapter 12- page 115 both have this quotation:
The date of the Szatmary reference is different, though. Once is 2000 and the other is 2002.


"Bob Dylan once remarked that "there's other things in this world besides love and sex that are important" (Szatmary 2002). He would encourage an entire generation to reject racism and other social evils to make a difference regardless of youthful appearance. This philosophy would not be embraced by the dominant culture, nor would it be the last time that the establishment would try to disparage popular artists."

Anti-Bush lyrics along with songs reacting to post September 11th events provided fuel for some of the music that had political meaning. Unfortunately, the amount of love and sex songs in popular music makes it difficult for me to sort out the work with more meaning. When I'm not at work, I like to surround myself with what I enjoy. Sifting through music that doesn't appeal to me is not enjoyable. I was thrilled that there are websites that give resources to link music with educational themes. I was thinking that someone could make a job out of creating a book or curriculum resource that weeded the music with powerful lyrics out of the overgrown garden of popular culture. Sure it's selfish, but when I'm not at work, I don't like to do more work. Now that I have to drive to work a few days a week (I used to walk every day) I can listen to the radio. For 20 minutes a day I listen to pop music. I noticed that Taylor Swift's hit Love Song references Romeo and Juliet. I'll have to share that with English teachers who are currently teaching Shakespeare's love story.

Chapter 4- page 46 and Chapter 12- page 115 both have this quotation:

Arundhati Roy's quotation: "a great writer may refuse to accept any responsibility or morality that society wishes to impose on her. Yet the best and greatest of them know that if they abuse this hard-won freedom, it can only lead to bad art" (2001)

I don't know how to define 'bad' art. I've always believed that art's function is to create a reaction. Maybe it will give a person a peaceful, joyful, relaxed feeling. Maybe it will serve to disgust, revolt, and repel. Either way, someone reacted. Art has done its job. Sure we all have preferences. We all like certain things. If we see something that makes us think, we may become unhappy about our discovery. From there, we can choose to act or not. If we are never exposed to things that do not fit into our preconceptions and preferences, we do not grow. My college roommate hated the Grateful Dead. It was no secret. One day, she came back to the room early from a class. She really liked the music I had on. Guess who it was? Jerry was rocking out. Turns out she had never heard the music. She had a passing knowledge of the culture. Since she disapproved of what she saw, she made a generalization. Accidentally being exposed to the music changed her. Art did its job.

Chapter 4- page 46 and Chapter 12- page 115 both have this quotation:


Roy again: "the strong, true, bright bird of the imagination from the synthetic, noisy bauble" (2001)

I can only assume that the synthetic, noisy bauble is the repetitive copy-cat work that clutters up the landscape making it harder to find the original works with content.

Chapter 4- page 46 and Chapter 12- page 115 both have this quotation:

"What is important to remember is that what one culture deems bright and imaginative is a cacophony of incoherence to another."

This goes back to being out of touch as I discussed above. Yes, I can be out of touch. I need to make a better effort to 'tune in.' It is just difficult to tune in to something that does not interest you on the surface in order to find something more engaging within. Time is limited. Again, the links and sources that can direct me to some of these answers and connections will go a long way towards my goal.

Chapter 4- page 46 and Chapter 12- page 114 both have this quotation:

"Rosenthal (1998) reporting on his experience of teaching music and social movements at Wesleyan University, debates music's function and whether or not it actually helps any social movement. He claims that movements do not need music to be successful, and, conversely, music needs no movement to be popular"

The first sentence differs slightly while the second is exactly the same in each chapter.

I think the words 'need' and 'help' do not necessarily go together. Sure one may not need another to work. It may certainly help, though. I don't need anyone to shovel my driveway. I can do it myself. It certainly does help when someone else takes care of it for me! Music is memorable. It must help to some degree to have your message be memorable in that way. Certainly there are other ways to get people to remember something. But... isn't any help to that end valuable?

Chapter 4- page 46 and Chapter 12- page 116 both have this quotation:

"Other critics argue that the messages in today's music actually create problems in our society and should not be explored in any classroom settings. This may be illustrated in two ways. First, this problem is most significant to researchers interested in the hip-hop generation, which continues to practice misogyny toward black females" (Roach 2004)."

The wording in the first sentence varies slightly while each goes on to list a different second problem.

Which came first the obsession with sex or the music video? I'm certain the former came first and the latter is feeding it and keeping it alive and well. Is feeding the obsession allowing it to grow? That's likely. How do we get this to stop? Beats me. If I knew the answer to that I wouldn't be sitting here typing my blog. I'd be a millionaire!

Chapter 4- page 46 and Chapter 12- page 116 both have this quotation:


"For Green Day, cutting through the incoherence became the theme and was the motivation behind their successful album which earned a Grammy Award for best album in 2005. The message behind American Idiot defies youth's passive acceptance of corporate media and challenges them to think for themselves."

Again, the first sentence varies slightly, but the last sentence matches perfectly.

I haven't followed Green Day's career. I know that they are still around, but I wonder if their lyrics are still as challenging and intense. Did their 2005 best album propel them forward or indicate the beginning of the end for them?

March 19, 2009

Political Comedy

I guess political comedy is separated from fake news because of the format. Many of the messages are the same, though. Comedians poke fun at and draw out some of the lunacy that the 'real news' spews out daily. Two funny guys are:

dennis_miller.jpg eddie_izzard.jpg

If you are not familiar with the work of Dennis Miller and Eddie Izzard, you should check them out. You can go high tech with Youtube, or low tech with these links:
Miller quotations and Izzard quotations.

"Smart" humor requires knowledge to appreciate. Physical and degrading humor will always be around, but it doesn't take much to 'get' it. I'd argue that shallow humor breeds shallow laughs. (Sure we giggle when someone has something unexpected happen to them.) Deeper humor, the really good stuff, can actually set you rolling.

Before television we had political cartoons in the newspaper. Did they mislead and under inform the public? No. Why's that? People didn't use them as their only source of news content. People understood their purpose, and they drew attention to issues that were important at the time. Use of political cartoons in the classroom can give the same benefits as scrutinizing fake news. It's lower-tech as well. Did you know Dr. Seuss was a political cartoonist before he started writing children's books? (He also did a lot of advertising work too.) A look into his biography yields a lot of interesting facts. I've been working on this book in between everything else. It's a big one, but it is very interesting.


PS...Obama is on Leno tonight. I know Leno is a comedian like the gentlemen above, but it does speak volumes about pop culture's role in our lives today!

March 18, 2009

Fake News, Really...

Nourishing the body and mind...

When you go to a restaurant, you have an idea of what you are looking for in the way of quality and quantity. If you are going for a purely social and short experience, you may order an appetizer or dessert and a beverage. If you are very hungry, you may get all of the available courses. Any way you look at it, you chose a restaurant with a goal in mind. You entered and sat. You ordered according to your wants and needs at the time. Maybe you tried something new that peaked your interest in an item or a recipe. Chances are that you will try it again some day or seek out more information - maybe the recipe. My bf asked to meet a chef in Arizona because the dish was so unique and different that he wanted to know how to make it. Thankfully the chef shared her recipe and we still enjoy her potato and spinach enchiladas to this day.

Fake news is no different. Viewers tune in with an general idea of what they will get. They know the basic quality and quantity of information that is available. They tune in with the expectation of being entertained, not fully nourished. I'm certain that if a 'bit' sparks someone's curiosity, they are capable of learning more in this age of information. As far as education goes, fake news is a wonderful place to start. Looking a clips and figuring out why something is (or is supposed to be) funny is a powerful learning opportunity. Think of any joke that you "didn't get." Would more background knowledge allow you to more fully enjoy that laugh? Of course. Teach students that knowledge and learning can increase their enjoyment of life's experiences. That's one of the points of being a life long learner. Some of the funniest people I know are able to make jokes about a wide variety of topics. They understand the topics well enough to find the humor in them.

I'd be remiss if I didn't note that only eating dessert and greasy food will lead to an unhealthy body. In the same respect, only watching fake news is not the healthiest choice for the brain. In either case...something is still better than nothing.

Another point about using fake news in education...

If we do not teach students how to think critically about what the media presents, how will they learn to do this independently? Do you really think the media wants students to be able to debunk their claims? Do politicians want students to question the legitimacy of their statements and policy proposals? Who will teach them if teachers don't step up to the plate?

The Onion

The Onion has some hysterical fake news clips. Stepping back to discuss why they are funny and from what back stories they sprung are excellent discussion topics. There are quite a few that I really like, but this is a stand-out clip.

I don't know with what age this clip could be 'safely' used, but it would be a great intro to gun control debates. Some schools and parents are more sensitive than others, and it would be important to 'know your audience.' Obviously it is slanted, but that would be part of the discussion.

Questioning versus Blind Acceptance

This relates to my earlier critical thinking comments. Fake news questions, pokes fun at, and points out inconsistencies in the mainstream news. The Colbert Report and Daily Show have a staff in charge of finding clips and drawing attention to matters that individuals with full time jobs may not notice otherwise. They are looking for clips to make a good piece within their show. In doing so, they are drawing attention to matters we, the viewers, may not have considered or noticed. Sure there are times that we will disagree. Good. We thought about it. Rather than being filled with whatever 'news' the mainstream media wants to fill our heads with, we need to stop and look at the whole process. If hindsight really is twenty twenty, then fake news shows allow us to look back at 30 second clips from the week and really think about them. The act of replaying some of these clips (even if no commentary were added) would provide a type of service to help views think things through. In a sound bite generation, the replay alone has value.

March 7, 2009

Toys and More...


Tooning In chapter 15 is loaded with quotations about the importance of play and the need for toys that encourage creativity, thinking, and problem solving. How many toys today do all of the work for kids? Kids no longer have to make things walk and talk and climb. They can sit back and the toy will entertain them. Rather than play WITH a toy, kids can sit back and passively watch them. It's important to balance the shiny new toys with some of the old school variety. I'm not saying that all of the new toys are stunting kids' intellectual growth. In fact, there are more toys available to help kids learn reading and math concepts than ever before. I'm talking about giving kids the open ended toys that promote creativity. Dare I say it? Give a child a huge cardboard box. That's right, with nothing in it. My mom still laughs at pictures of me as a child having more fun with a box than the toy that came in it. This idea will probably not work well with older kids. They'll be trying to figure out where you hid the item that used to be in the box.

Bratz, Seriously?


When I first saw Bratz dolls, I was in shock. Then came the cartoons, movies, music videos, etc. I've been trying to figure out what the characters do besides shop, dress up, hang out, and other hedonistic 'girl stuff.' Sure Barbie is into all of that too, but she had a number of lucrative careers as well. : ) If you know of some career options for Bratz characters outside of the fashion industry, please comment.

I found an interesting article related to this topic. My favorite quote was regarding Hasbro's marketing of Pussycat dolls. "Hasbro’s response? A letter saying that people would like collecting the dolls, and that the company wasn’t marketing to 6-year-olds, but to 8-year-olds, says Flythe." Clearly the two years would make a huge difference in a girl's understanding of the sexual nature of these dolls. I feel much better.

What are Parents Thinking?


I get it, parents want their kids to be happy. Back in the day my loved ones went to great lengths to keep my Cabbage Patch Kid frenzy fed. Those dolls were far from sexy, and some may argue, not even cute. I wanted them. I got them. It seems a little critical thinking should go into what parents buy, however. When I was a substitute teacher in a Catholic school, we had a Halloween party. (The concept strikes me as odd in itself. The public school where I work now will only concede to a Harvest Party, without costumes.) Anyhow, the girls came in dressed like Brittany Spears and Christina Aguilera. Did I mention I was teaching FIRST grade in a CATHOLIC school? I found myself in shock. If people PAY to send their children to private, religious schools, why are they dressing their kids up like that? It's not cute. It's disturbing. If tuition paying Catholic folks are doing it, I guess it shouldn't surprise me that everyone else is as well.

And Finally...

This video is the trailer for Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood by the folks at CCFC. I wanted to share it because it shows that commercials that are aimed a children are not new. It also points out the scope of products that are currently marketed to kids. The whole program is available in multiple parts on YouTube if the topic is of further interest.

When I was thinking about how to approach this in school, I decided that starting with the obvious would be best. By now, kids have heard the dangers of tobacco. They are aware of health risks, the smell of the smoke, and all of the deterring information that we could give them. Whether they chose to listen to these facts is not for discussion here. The point is, intellectually, they know that tobacco is not good for them. This is the perfect place to show commercials that were directed toward getting people to smoke. YouTube is filled with examples. One of the ones that should surprise students the most is the Flintstones' Winston commercial. An awesome activity would be to discuss the techniques and motivation behind the commercials based on what we now know about cigarettes. This one would also provide for some interesting discussion. Once the idea has been developed that commercials solely for promotion and sales of a product, branch out to more contemporary ads. Is it possible that soda ads could be sending misleading messages? Maybe the hindsight that student are able to use in cigarette ads could be the bridge to looking critically at today's commercials. What do cartoon characters promote today? Are we going to learn in a few years that the products are bad for our health? Is there a link between childhood obesity and advertising? A good hard look back can help to focus on the present and future in advertising.

March 5, 2009

Cartoons in the Classroom



If cartoon Abe Lincoln would fight Sponge Bob in a celebrity death match, who would win? I heard recently that Abe was a wrestler in his younger years, so that would be an advantage. Although sponges are bendable, they are also fairly easy to tear. With that in mind, I'd have to bet on Abe. When it comes to cartoon viewing, however, I think Sponge Bob would win every time. A quick bit of research proved my point. Liberty's Kids didn't clear a year of new episodes on PBS before being tossed to the rerun circuit. It lasted there about a year. Now other smaller stations may or may not show the reruns. Sponge Bob is still going strong. In a death match, Abe would win. When it comes to viewers, Sponge Bob takes the match without problem.

Our text cites Liberty's Kids as a cartoon that could be "integrated effectively in social education teaching and learning" (White & Walker, 78). Of course it could. It is an animated history lesson. This is really no different than the scads of educational cartoons that have been and still are available to educators. While these obvious and ready-made learning opportunities got nearly two pages of attention, Sponge Bob got one sentence on p. 77. "Sponge Bob, one of the most popular kidtoons currently, often deals with social skills, development, diversity, and problem solving issues" (White & Walker, 77). I'd like to spend a little more time on this. Using Sponge Bob, a cartoon that kids watch because they want to, as a teaching tool seems a little tricky.

I consulted my dear friend Google on the matter of "teaching with Sponge Bob." I found an interesting article on how to be a better teacher through comparing yourself and your motivation to Sponge Bob characters. An article comparing Scooby Doo and Sponge Bob cartoons for educational value gave a little more insight on Bob's edu-value. I also found some video games, personality tests, and discussion of Sponge Bob's sexual orientation that I'll let you find for yourselves. I found a blog that explains a few episodes and indicates that not everything said is something we'd like to teach our students. In conclusion, one could find allusions and ways to incorporate Sponge Bob into the classroom. It would take work, and it is not without risk, but it can be done. If Sponge Bob can be successfully used to teach something worthwhile, with an eye focused on specific content, the sky is the limit as to where lessons can be found in pop culture.

February 28, 2009

Take 2...

After some technical difficulties and a lack of patience last night, I got mad and logged off. I didn't yell at my computer, however, because it isn't a human (or a highly intelligent agent) that would respond in a useful manner. So, to summarize what I think I wanted to say yesterday...

Agents in Education

A few concerns to consider before using an agent in school would be accessibility in both general and specific terms, and classroom management. When I first think of accessibility, I am considering whether a site can get through the network filters. Will it be blocked? Making plans at home and going to school to find "Access Denied" would be a shame. The second, sneakier issue has to do with the actual website you may use to create agents. Right now, gizmoz has free access that gives one enough features to make a final product. Should the concept take off, it could become a pay for play site. I think of Brain Pop when I speak of this. I loved that site when it first started out. It had free cartoon video clips that covered an insane amount of topics. Apparently, a lot of other people loved it too. Now a membership fee is required to view the clips. Bummer. My school district is not a big fan of spending money on... well much of anything. So, there went Brain Pop! It is important to consider that with new sites. Of course, you may be a fortunate individual who works for a wealthy school district who is free with their technology spending. Then, no worries! Of course, if money is no object, specific programs could probably be purchased that would have more advanced features. In short, network filters and lack of money could create accessibility issues.

My second point was about classroom management. After reading this module's articles, there is NO WAY I'm letting students using or creating agents out of my direct line of vision and hearing. They will not have the freedom to abuse the technology.

Potential Uses

Since I work with gifted students, if I can overcome accessibility issues, classroom management issues should not be a problem. I can work with a small group of kids and watch their every move. : ) A potential use for an agent is to have students design them as part of their final product in a self directed project. Depending on the level of computer savvy and quality program a student has would dictate the complexity of the project. I could see students using this as an alternative to writing a paper or delivering a speech. Just like every new idea, it would have to be closely monitored and used sparingly to avoid it becoming mundane or even a toy that has lost its' academic punch. Knowing the students I work with, I'd have to put a definite time line on how long they could take on the agent part of a project. They'd have fun just changing the hair and wouldn't get their work done!! (I know because my bf and I have been sending silly gizmoz clips to our friends.)

February 27, 2009

Agent Use and Abuse...

"When Sex, Drugs, and Violence Enter the Classroom: Conversations Between Adolescents and a Female Pedagogical Agent" was disturbing. It was hard to believe the degree of foul language the students felt comfortable saying to the agents. I wonder how much the "audience" effect came into play. When students have each other close by to shock and entertain, their behavior is much different than when they sit alone.

On the other hand, as I was reading the article, my significant other muttered an obscenity to the female voice that gave him information that he did not appreciate in the game he was playing. Granted, the language was not nearly as severe as the article above. It did show me, however, that a lack of audience wouldn't solve the whole problem. Further thought made me wonder if the students excuse their actions since they know the agent isn't "a real person." The dehumanizing effect gave them "permission" to speak to the agent inappropriately in their minds.

The idea of thinking differently about a computer agent versus a real person reminded me of something. An article called "In Games, Brains Work Differently When Playing vs. a Human." This article comments on a study that used active MRI to monitor gamers' brains as they played against computers and people. The ideas was that there was a difference in brain activity dependent on who or what the player thought they were competing against. Maybe there is a difference in brain activity when it comes to conversation with humans versus computers. That would be an interesting study to read.

Since my ideas about using agents in school have vanished, I'm signing off and I'll try again tomorrow. : P

February 25, 2009

Secret Agent Girls...

Before you read this entry, get this tune going to set the mood:
Download file

Now that the mood is set, I shall continue. Here's an agent based off of my picture.

Here's another agent. She'll introduce herself. I like the way the animation matches the image. I had to change her hair and outfit for gizmoz, but I got a close enough rendering. I noticed how the outfits for the males and females varied considerably in their sexuality. I chose the most conservative futuristic outfit that I could. One complication was in skin tone. Coz has darker skin than the women's torsos. That made selection slim as well. That raises a few ethnicity issues that I didn't think about when I was using my very white picture.


February 14, 2009

About the Mall...

I'm Not a Good One to Ask

I've never liked to shop. When I consider why, there are really a few big reasons. I don't like to look for things. Rummaging through racks and shelves to find "the right" whatever gets on my nerves. Bingo and scavenger hunts frustrate me as well. I'm not a fan of trying things on, and I think a lot is way overpriced. Finding the "right" whatever at a price I'm willing to pay is not my idea of a good time. Thank goodness for online shopping. I live far from malls and shopping facilities other than Walmart. I can sit down, type in a few words and the computer sorts much of the clutter away. That being said, I still have some mall experience.

My mall experiences revolve around going to movies in my youth and Christmas shopping before online shopping was invented. In the tween to early teen years I'd get dropped off at the mall to see a movie with friends. We'd get a snack at the food court, see a movie, mill around a while, and get picked up by our parents. Occasionally you would have a date, which looked just like the aforementioned trip, but with some awkward hand holding and such thrown in the mix. I lived in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, so later teen years came with drivers' license, more parental permissions, and more options. The mall and a movie combo wasn't gone, but it played a smaller role in the social scene. The social scene at the mall usually didn't involve shopping for my friends and me. As I think about it, the mall we went to for movies didn't have many of the larger chain stores. The clientele was set. Candy stores, music stores, novelty shops, and other nickle and dime shops filled the place. It was a playground for older kids. Where I live now, Walmart is the closest "playground" for younger teens to hang out. They don't have the benefit of a movie theater, though. They just stand around and play video game displays and watch model televisions.

mALL Around the World

If you have ever watched "How I Met Your Mother" you may know that the television anchor, Robin Scherbatsky, was once a pop star named Robin Sparkles. Reminiscent of Debbie Gibson, Robin's past comes back into the story line from time to time. If you didn't know that she was Canadian, a few details in dialect and the mention of Brian Mulroney, Prime Minister of Canada from 1984-93, would clue you in. This video sums up the American teen's mall experience of the 80's. It also indicates that Candians were also right there with us...Robin Sparkles Video.

This description of the mall scene in the Philippines sounds the same in some ways, but quite different in others. Imagine walking through a Catholic Mass to buy your sneakers! Be sure to look all the way to the bottom of the page where a critic points out another link on the topic. It is interesting that a country with less disposable income than the United States has larger malls. It is notable that as income sent to families from overseas slows down, mall spending does as well. Could the escapism that the mall entertainment services provides be the motivator?

Information from India is also interesting. Although this information is older, we can see how lack of land availability makes mall construction an interesting investment opportunity. Blame for high rent prices for retailers in the mall seems to roll from retailers to mall owners and back again.

The point of this little trip around the world is to show that the work a mall performs for a culture depends on the culture. In America, we are infatuated with entertainment and commercialism. Our malls cater to that. In the largely Catholic and lower socio-economic Philippines, Mass and escapism are provided. An overcrowded India allows the opportunity to make as much money off of one piece of land as possible. But, just like we are learning in America, trying to get too much from too little in a dangerous long-term plan.

Get it NOW!

Back to malls in America. Online shopping has made purchasing items convenient, if you can be patient. Finding great deals can be just a click away, if you can squelch the urge to have "it" now. Malls not only allow shoppers to walk off with their new item at the exact moment of purchase, they also allow shoppers to see all of the other stuff they don't have yet. As a task oriented shopper, I try to walk in, get what I need, and get out. Browsing is not fun for me. I'm not going to look at things I don't need and I didn't want before I walked in. Of course, stores go through great lengths to confound shoppers like me. Items are moved or put at the furthest corners of a store so that I have to walk around and see everything that I don't already have. That's fine though, I'm stubborn. I jump through the hoops, get my stuff, and get out. If it's too much of a bother, I order it online and wait until it arrives.

Shopping and Math

Recognizing how much students like to acquire new items with the limited resources they are given allows me to use money in math. I used to bring in restaurant menus and store ads. Students would have X number of imaginary dollars to spend. Sometimes they had to buy a given number of items and they were permitted to keep the change. Other times they had to give the change back. We'd discuss the different techniques used for each scenario. Unit cost, adding and subtracting decimals, and the like were important then. Realizing that 3 shirts for a given price wasn't always a better deal than just buying 1 was a revelation. Math class was the place where we examined store item placement, not-so-good deals, and the danger of too many disposable products. (What do you have when you have used them all?)

February 7, 2009

Games, Gender, Games, Education

To Game or Not to Game?

I like video games, to a point. I enjoy playing them, but real life responsibilities make time limited. It is hard for me to justify sitting for long hours in front of a computer making fake money and earning imaginary points when my dishes need done and my laundry is overflowing. So, I play when I want to avoid work, when I have no choice but to sit around, or when I don't feel well enough to get anything “useful? done. Some friends and I like playing lexulous through e-mail. It is an on-line version of the Scrabble board game. We take our turn when it is convenient, and it only takes a few minutes at a time. There is also an area to post chat comments. This simple game allows us to keep in touch and have fun in bite sized, manageable pieces. There are other online games that I indulge in from time to time. Out of Order is fun, and there are a few other games that I like. My strengths lay in the verbal arena, so that's where I enjoy challenging myself. Puzzle based games like Tetris, online trivia, Big Brain Academy and Brain Age for the Nintendo DS are little games that I can start and stop as time allows. My Game Boy Advance has recently been replaced by a Nintendo DS. It was a Christmas present because I have been to frugal (cheap) to spend money on it myself. The handheld games entertain me in doctor's offices and airports. It is guilt free to play video games when you have to sit around and wait for something away from home. Now that my adult game playing has been introduced, it will be easier to see why my recent journey into Eve has been such a leap.

All for Love

Up until the last few months, I've avoided MMORPG like the plague. The time involved and general lack of game format that I enjoy made keeping my distance easy. However, my boyfriend is a major MMORPG fan. When one does something completely out of character, doesn't the motive usually come back to a member of the opposite sex? The gentleman in question had been playing World of Warcraft for some time. The game never looked good to me due to the medieval flavor and extreme amount of micro-management. (That's another game feature that drives me nuts. Life has enough little details for which to keep track. Adding more is not fun.) Eventually new game features, updates, and upgrades changed the game enough to displease him. This took him to a different game, Eve.

Eve, Not Adam

Long story short, this game is set in the future and is in the science fiction genre. For more details, check the backstory. Instead of walking characters around, characters fly in ships. Avatar development involves picking a race, sex, and specialization. Sure I am oversimplifying a bit, that's what I do. A benefit to this game is that you do not have to enter combat if you choose not to fight. An avatar can be chosen to do research, industry, trade, mining, etc. Even if you choose to be a “pew-pew? player (combat) as they call them, you can diversify. Through skill training, that you can set and leave, there are an infinite number of skill combinations that you can strengthen. In addition to all of that, there's your ship. This is really what is seen of you outside of being docked in station. Your cute or not-so-cute face is not seen outside of chat. No physical characteristics are given below the shoulders. Much like cars in real life, price, purpose, and strengths vary from ship to ship. All of this can be read about, or you can just have your boyfriend summarize for you if you are short on time. Many of the characteristics of this game fall in line with gender neutral design as described in Genderplay: Successes and Failures in Character Designs for Videogames. The setting, ships, etc. are still very "manly" in decor. Although the game is not “pretty? it does have a wide range of choices for characters, skills, ships, jobs, and the like. It is appealing in the sense that no one is pigeon holed and your gender really means nothing in regards to your performance. There aren't any identifiable sex organs to ogle in either gender, either.

So...now I play Eve. I have joined a “corp? which is a small group of people who form a little community. There is not required level of involvement. For me, the most useful part is the corp chat. You get to know a few players instead of being thrown into a new room every time with thousands of new faces. Although I am one of the few females in corp, it hasn't been an issue. It's hard to say if that's because they all know that I am another corp member's girlfriend. It seems they are all as helpful to one another as they are to me. There is one female avatar who we haven't decided if she is a guy or girl in real life. When discussing gender and online gaming, my boyfriend explained that many female avatars are “G.I.R.L.S,? guys in real life. He shared a gender related article with me that he has run across in his reading. This study relates to World of Warcraft, but ties very closely with what our reading indicated. The corp members don't “stay in character.? Everyone talks about what is going on in game and in life.

This is a game I play because I can share the experience with my significant other. It's a good game. The amount of time that one can play in its never-ending storyline is a bit of a turn off. As a “finishing? addict, I miss the satisfaction that comes with winning a game. Instead I have to come up with little goals for myself to complete and find satisfaction. Eve definitely isn't my kind of game, but it does provide a common interest and it isn't going to kill me to spend an afternoon doing something that makes my boyfriend happy.

Games and Education

I'm fascinated by the Labyrinth article. On further inspection I found that it is now being called Lure of the Labyrinth. I have registered for a username and password, and I look forward to tying it out. Currently my school has a subscription to Study Island. It gears its questions towards the state standards for the specific state of the subscriber. Although it is a step in the right direction, it is still not as authentic and engaging as a real video game. This one is set up more like a multiple choice test in which you can choose different modes of celebration after choosing the right answer. If you get the question right, you can do a skateboard ramp trick, or a ski trick, or...whatever to earn points in the “game? part. There is also a way to block the games and just do the multiple choice questions. Teachers can monitor progress, direct students to a lesson on a given topic, and print out reports that summarize how students have been sending their time. It's not a shade away from a skill and drill program. Students do it because they have to play it. They recognize that there are worse ways to do things, but it is far from captivating. After I try out the Lure of the Labyrinth, I may pass the information along to a few co-workers and possibly use it with some of my gifted students.

Everything that was mentioned about teachers, time, and computer games was spot-on for my school. Each classroom has a scheduled time in which they may use the lab however they choose. If snow days, holidays, assemblies, etc. get the lesson plans for the week off track, that time is one of the first to go. I've been there, I'm guilty of it as well. The amount of paperwork, progress monitoring, and interventions that fill a school day require teachers to continually do more with less time. Teachers taking time to learn new technologies when their school is facing being taken over by the state due to low test scores is not an option. Regardless of the students that are entering schools, teachers are expected to get them to benchmark by test time. There's a lot of work to be done to get non-verbal kindergarten students who haven't been potty trained to know their letter sounds.

What does it all mean to me? As a teacher of students with advanced abilities, all of this means a lot to me. I have the ability to employ technology more than any other teacher that I know. Currently, and 8th grader who is interested in computer game design is working on Game Maker to design a few simple games. This application does not involve any program language knowledge. It has its own system built in. Before we started working with this, I introduced him to Fantastic Contraption. This game works on problem solving and provides players with the opportunity to share solutions and create new levels. This is a website I share with teachers and students at the elementary level as well. It has been interesting to see the variety of solutions for each one of the levels. The game has the ability to further challenge players to make their solutions meet certain criteria like, “The screen is absent of moving parts upon completion.? To educate children, we must first engage children. So, if we can, why not use the tricks that are earning video game makers millions of dollars?

On a Side Note...

I'm not sure how I feel about some of the issues discussed in “From Inside the Games Industry: Game + Girl = Advance.? Part of the logic seems circular. Females don't play video games because women don't help design them, and women don't help design them because they haven't been drawn into video games as girls. The job/gender issue can be seen in most elementary schools to this day. The elementary teachers, especially at the primary level, are women. A few men are scattered around. Many of those men are either coaches, administrators, or are working to become one or the other. Some are just male elementary teachers. I don't know what the solution to the women in the video game workplace problem may be. It may tie directly to the question of girls' interest in science and math in school. Even after many studies, a consensus hasn't been reached about why women are underrepresented in math and science industry in general. I also found that lack of "family friendly" hours could refer to a number of corporations and positions and are not exclusive to game development. Women make sacrifices in these areas when they choose. Overall I took issue with the article taking general workplace issues and trying to use them to explain the reasons for one specific arena. Maybe these are the reasons, but I'm not willing to take one person's un-researched word for it. Lastly, can you name one role model who you try to actively emulate in your workplace? I can't.

January 27, 2009

Week 2: Fandom

I had to really think about something that would fall into this category. It has been many years since I was a die-hard fan of anything. Looking back to my pre-teen/early teen years I thought about these guys...


As I reflect on my New Kids on the Block fandom, I can definitely identify it as a way that I associated with other girls in my grade. Enjoying the music, the videos, and the posters brought friends together. We did attend concerts and swoon over our favorite members. I remember choreographing dances to the songs as well as imitating the dances that the band did on music videos and recorded concerts. At the time I didn't realize that the sharing of invented stories and retelling and embellishing dreams we had was called fan fiction. At sleepovers we'd tell stories about how we were the girlfriends of the band members and all of the adventures we'd have together. All of the talking, reading about, and watching the band would lead to more dreams about them. Thus, the cycle would continue.

When teen magazines had articles and posters, we bought them. We'd trade posters depending on who had the centerfold or cute solo picture. The five members of the band were slightly different in appearance and attitude to attract girls of all types. At the time Joey was the youngest, most popular member. I asserted my individuality by choosing the bad boy of the group. I liked Donnie Wahlberg the best. I had my Donnie doll and posters to reflect my allegiance. Up until recently, Mark Wahlberg had overshadowed his brother. I was surprised to see that New Kids on the Block have come back. I wonder how well their comeback will go. I don't remember why I got away from my fanatic following of the band. I imagine that I was lead away by the waning coverage of the media and the dwindling of the airtime the band received.

As I mentioned, NKOTB is back. This came to my attention while watching Rachel Ray . This clip shows a contest on the show. The contest was aimed at finding the biggest NKOTB fan.

When I saw this I couldn't help but wonder how these women stayed obsessed for so long despite the lack of media coverage and the dissolution of the band. My fandom never reached these heights. It would seem that they no longer are part of a mainstream fan base. Perhaps they have found a way to link to others worldwide to keep their connection to the band going. My fandom was used to connect me to a little social group. At the degree these women have taken fandom, it seems that it would be alienating. Oddly enough, when I grew out of New Kids on the Block I transitioned to Guns n Roses and the Headbangers' Ball. Quite a jump really. I moved from wanting to be a girl in the mainstream to my own little counter culture. Maybe these women are holding on to their fandom as a form of their individuality.

So...How does this all tie to education? Knowing how students spend their time out of school and what brings students together is important in developing a positive classroom environment. If educators could identify factors around which students unite, the potential for motivation and engagement in the classroom would ignite. I haven't even heard the newest NKOTB, but the memories that surround my first go-round with them linger. This indicates that learning in an engaging context will stick. It also demonstrates that the same methods will not always hold the same effectiveness. At this point in the class I have more questions than answers. How do you tap into popular culture in the classroom without the attempt being shallow and superficial? How can I create meaningful, authentic learning while avoiding cute and meaningless add-ons? How can I incorporate pop-culture in a way that will do more than pacify and entertain my students? All of these questions will guide me in my path of learning in this course.