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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why can't kids just be kids?

I felt compelled to write this post after listening to Dr. Leonard Sax's anecdotal opening at a professional development day at the school district where I teach. Here was his story. Dr. Sax began by telling us about a retired teacher fondly reminiscing about snowball fights he used to have with his students. After 40 or so years of teaching, that's one of the things this teacher noted he missed the most. When Dr. Sax told us this, all of the teachers in the room became excited. How fun would it be to throw snowballs at our students! Could you imagine? What a great opportunity to bond! How thrilling! I thought there was even a certain sense of giddiness as teachers fondly remembered their own childhood experiences with heaving snowballs and building snow forts. It's difficult these days to create moments where the older generation can connect with the younger generation. Nowadays, with lawsuits and for liability reasons, teachers could never throw a snowball at a student; nor could students be allowed to throw snowballs at each other (at least not on school grounds or at bus stops or on the way to or from school...). The rules really weigh down on students' opportunities to just be kids.

So I started thinking...how come there are less opportunities for kids to "just be kids" these days? What I mean by "just be kids" is to feel little responsibility related to the adult world; to be able to run around and hang out with neighborhood friends getting a game of baseball going or building tree forts. Catching crickets or fireflies in the summer. Riding bikes and getting excited for the ice cream truck. Not needing lavish birthday parties with ponies and blow-up jumper buildings. Not wanting to have hotel pool parties or limo rides to the salon. Not knowing these things exist because you're not an adult yet and you wouldn't even dream of it! That's what I mean. I mean teens not caring so much about their social status of clothing, or their social status online (i.e, number of facebook friends).

It seems to me that kids don't have as many opportunities to relax in positive ways. Pastimes have been stripped away. Kids no longer have opportunities to just "be themselves." These days they are constantly putting forth a self-image of who they wish they were or of who they see on T.V. They emulate rap stars whose claim to fame includes prison time and spending time and money in strip clubs, "poppin the champagne." They look up to young women celebrities who are in and out of rehab for drug or alcohol abuse. They watch T.V. shows where teens are partying or living lavish lifestyles (i.e. MTV's My Sweet Sixteen Birthday Party). Parties and lifestyles well out of reach for the majority of teens...not to mention even debating about whether such parties are acceptable.

Teen and pre-teen girls can't find modest clothes at the stores anymore. I walked into a store that was meant for elementary age girls and it had chain belts and belly shirts. I was shocked! What kind of message does this send to our children? Should elementary aged girls be allowed to wear the same kinds of clothes as teenage girls? Plus, from my own observations, it seems that lower-cut shirts for women are becoming more and more the norm both on T.V. and in the workplace. Is this o.k.? What do kids think when they've grown up with this as the "norm?"

Television and radio greatly affect children's' outlook on the world. Lyrics to songs on the radio used to be more fluffy and cute; while sometimes suggestive, they were never explicit. For example, the Beatles "I want to hold your hand" has been replaced by inappropriate and in-your-face lyrics. There are several examples that come to mind, but I'd rather not list specific examples on my blog. Shows like the Secret Life of the American Teenager attempt to reveal issues that teens today deal with. I'm not saying adults should turn a blind eye or pretend that teens aren't more sexually active these days, but what message does this send to teenage girls who watch the show? That teens having sex when parents aren't home is what all the kids are doing? That teens will have support and can afford to have children? That life is all about relationships with boyfriends or girlfriends? (Talking with some teenagers, this may be true! And that's o.k).

What about sports or music? Many students are involved in extracurricular activities, that's a good thing, right? It depends on a few factors. Factor number one: the pressure the kids feels to have to continue to be in a specific activity. Maybe your child used to love to play soccer, but is not interested in it anymore. Say, for example, your favorite sport is soccer and your kid is good at it. What do you do? Have you sat down to even ask your child if she/he likes the sport still and is having fun playing it? Are you the parent that's counting on your child to earn a scholarship for college? (If you are, you should really take the time to look up the statistical data on the number of athletes who receive collegiate scholarships according to the specific sport). Do you push your child to be the best on the team? Competition is fun. Sports can serve as a wonderful physical and social outlet, but at what point is competition o.k., and at what point does it become too much to handle or start to feel like a chore?

Parents are enablers of burn-out when it comes to extracurricular activities. I've coached softball (at jr. high level) for the past two years and after talking to several parents, a common topic of conversation was the ridiculous and rigorous sports schedules their child had to face. At more highly competitive levels, parents drive their athlete across state lines to compete in weekend tournaments. Parents don't like long sports seasons, but not much is being done to shorten that. It is acceptable in my school district (and plenty of others as well) for softball teams, for example, to play double headers two-three times a week. Often, athletes get on a bus right after school and don't get back home until 7:30, 8:00, or 9:00 at night. (Some sports/music groups get to leave school sometimes up to an hour early just to make it on time to a competition. Think about how much instruction time that student is missing in his/her last class of the day and how much extra work that creates for teachers?) Couple such a schedule with all day Saturday tournaments, dinner, homework, and sleep and then ask yourself, when do our kids have time to be kids?? Parents have repeatedly told me they feel like they are their child's personal chauffeur taking their child (or children!)from one activity to the next. Hello! You're the parent! Tell your child he/she has to choose one activity and can't do them all at once! If it's becoming too much for you to drive your child to activities, you have to assume that it's too much for the child to handle as well.

Kids are becoming less and less interested in face-to-face, personal interaction. I'll talk a bit about boys and video games and girls with texting/facebook.
Boys are addicted to video games, and some girls, too. It is an epidemic in our country. Think of how many teenage boys play video games or multi player computer games such as World of Warcraft. What's the future of those boys going to look like as they become fathers? Will they encourage their sons to play, too? Will this replace going outside and playing catch or taking fishing trips? Will fathers encourage the false sense of accomplishment that you get from making a kill or organizing a raid online? What do these skills and experiences have to do with reality? How will ample video-game playing time increase boys' reading skills?
Girls, generally speaking, are addicted to texting and facebook. Facebook was a tool designed to keep college kids socially connected- and it should have stayed that way. Why does a 12-year-old girl need a facebook account? What's the point? Why do 500 people need to see your photos and know what's going on in your life? I'll admit, I have a facebook account that I started in 2004 when it was just spreading to colleges across the country. I use it to keep in touch with friends who live far from where I live. It's a nice way to drop a note once and a while. Is it necessary? No way. I call the friends I want to talk to and vice versa. I can email those I'd like to stay in touch with. But for a high school student who sees her friends everyday? It's like they don't get a break from each other. It's like taking your school home with you; exacerbating issues like cyber-bullying and increasing chances for passing judgments and gossiping.

Kids aren't allowed to be kids anymore. And who made this so? I know children aren't born into this world making the rules; society's norms are well in place before they reach school age. Can you blame society as a whole? Can you blame parents? Can you blame the kids? Teachers? It's not about pointing fingers and placing blame. It's about seriously considering how society and technology impact our kids on a daily basis. It's about raising them to make competent, morally advised decisions in life. It's about teaching them to have fun and be a kid once and a while. What kind of adults will our kids be if they were deprived of a childhood?

On one final note, I observed a girl in her early twenties visiting an older relative. This girl and her relative rarely get a chance to spend time with one another. For a good portion of the weekend visit, the girl was busy texting on her phone and answering email. There was little conversation between her and the relative. I thought this was sad; maybe they weren't that close to begin with. But think about when you visit your own relatives? How much quality conversation do you have with them? How often do you end up sitting around and staring at a T.V. screen together? Do you watch T.V. during family dinner time? Do you even designate a specific family dinner time where everyone sits down together to share a meal? I think it's crucial that we start to think about the role models we are for our children and for our students. We can make changes that could impact the way a child takes in the world for the rest of his life.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Thing 13- Glogster and Final Reflections on "13 Things"

One Final Thing for the 13 Things class
One final "thing" I came upon is the website Glogster. As with most of these applications we've been learning about, it seems like there's a lot you can do with glogster that I just don't know about yet. So far, I'm in the middle of editing and updating a page which is to serve as a data base for both my students and fellow teachers. I put in a few links- one to the school's website where I teach, one for an upcoming English classroom blog, and one for my in-progress wikispaces page. Basically, you create your own page and you can upload images, videos, audio, and text. It's full of fun, practical, and even funky designs to customize the look and feel of your page. If you go to their homepage, you'll find a multitude of student examples to get a better idea of what I'm talking about. I've heard it mentioned a few times on Twitter, and Glogster has won a few awards...so it's worth checking out.

Reflections on "13 Things"
As far as websites that I've used the most...Blogger, Delicious (now Diigo), Twitter, and Bloglines (which I came back to after using twitter and reading excellent blogs) take the top spots. What I've enjoyed the most about Twitter, is deciding to randomly click on a link tweeted by someone, and then finding out how cool or thought-provoking or practical that link is. I've noticed by reading someone's blog or checking out a new application, I usually end up on about three more webpages before I'm done. And then I don't remember what link I clicked on in the first place! I'm finally catching on to Twitter. (and spending way too much time on the computer! Next, I'll need a class in computer time-management : ). I find it very inspiring and motivating to hear what other educators are doing all over the country and the world. It's a reminder that we're only limited by our own creativity and innovation.

I've managed to tag over 100 webpages using Delicious, and now they're all on Diigo, too. Such a constant exchange of information, followed by convenient methods of organization, has given me SO MUCH material to sift through and explore. Knowing that is a comfort, relief, inspiration, and challenge. I actually don't feel overwhelmed because I know that I'm sure to stumble upon something great. I welcome the change! It scares me to think of teaching the same way I do now for the next 30 years! A thought like that makes me reconsider my profession, but all the technologies I've been learning about change my outlook of the future of education. That outlook is no longer fearful. Some teachers are afraid that computers will replace them; I don't see that happening. I've heard colleagues state that we shouldn't give in to technology just because students use it....to me such a statement is a testimony not to the lack of technological skills that some teachers have, but rather just proves that they simply just don't know what's out there. I've already talked several colleagues about the 11 Things and 12 Things courses when I was taking those.

Getting completely off track.....back to answering the questions for class.
Yes, I've shared many of these sites with family and friends. I intend to share them with colleagues once the school year is back in full swing. One of the most important things I've shared is the TTS/STT technology with my mom and younger sister. My little sister has trouble reading, and I think this technology could help her out. I've learned that a few of my friends have a Skype account, which I didn't know about. I've shared some tweets that I thought were interesting; particularly this one: What happens if you give a class of 8 yo an iPod touch ea? video: http://www.l4l.co.uk/?p=835 #mlearning #slide2learn.

It's hard for me to pinpoint why some sites are easier to navigate then others; I guess I'd say good organization and links available on the home page tend to make things easier.

I'm still working on making new PLN friends, but I'm up to 45 followers on Twitter and I'm following 125! It's nothing to brag about, but the numbers are growing, and that's what matters. Although I will say, I've surprised myself for being bold and leaving my thoughts/comments on a few blogs. At first it's intimidating to read professional PhD blogs or tweets. For example, someone will say he/she just lead a conference on Skype...my initial reaction was, what could I possibly have to say to that person?? My thoughts changed though; if I want to ask or share, I'll do it now.

These websites have changed my computer routine. I used to check my gmail, hotmail, facebook, read some news, and maybe check my bank account. I still do all of that, but now I also log onto blogger, twitter, and have a yahoo email to check on. Plus, I have a lot of unfinished sites/projects related to this class that I would like to expand on- let the work continue!

Most of all, this class has changed my approach to creating lesson plans. I'm a practical/planning kind of person. I'll try to integrate one or two new things each trimester (that's do-able) and see how they fly. That could be a total of six new things by the end of this school year. I would like to continue to blog about my experiences using these technologies with my students- should be fun and I'm looking forward to it.

Thing 12 - Diigo

Diigo- first impressions...I love that it only took 2 sec. to transfer my bookmarks from Delicious to Diigo. I also really like that Diigo allows educators an upgrade ; I'm awaiting the email confirmation to test that out. It will be nice to be able to add sticky notes and pictures onto sites to remember more information. Tags are a great way to keep organized, but just using generic tags such as "education" or "technology" makes for a broad range of potential sites. Often times, a website can fall into a few different tag categories making it difficult to remember which category I put it into. Hopefully, by adding notes, I'll be able to better remember the sites. Furthermore, I'm interested to learn more about books online and Diigo.

It's clear that Diigo has more functions than Delicious, so I'll be using Diigo more to try them all out. I like that Diigo does not require student emails for students to access the site. The creators of Diigo have given thought to protecting students, which is respectable and helpful. I'm interested to find out how exactly that works (giving multiple students access to Diigo in a safe setting), but for now I have the main gist of it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thing 11 TTS/STT (Super Extra Double Bonus Points)

Text to Speech

Looking for free software to convert text to speech or speech to text? The following three sites are good places to start: vozme.com, yakitome.com, and readthewords.com.

Vozme.com allows you to type in a text to be converted to an audio file. What I liked about this site is that you didn't have to sign-up for an account to use it. You could simply type in your text, listen to the audio, download it, and then save it. I did not test for length/time restrictions, and the voice quality is fair. You may choose from several languages.

Yakitome.com allows you to upload files, rss feeds, emails, or type text that you want converted to audio. You have to create an account first, but you are able to convert documents into audio free of charge. I uploaded a 13KB word document (instructions for a Romeo and Juliet acting project, and it took about 5 minutes to upload to Yakitome. The sound/voice quality was good. Sometimes certain words or phrases sounded muffled together. It was entertaining to hear my own words played back to me with a different voice; particularly the banal computer lab times and project due dates. You get more of a feel for what you sound like to your students! I could choose to translate into Spanish, French, or Gernman.

is fun because you can customize your own avatar, but you have to sign up for a free account which is limiting. You are unable to upload files with the free account and you can only record up to 3 audios at a time. The sound/voice quality is the best out of the three sites. Also, you have several voice options with various tones from which to choose. ReadtheWords has links for teachers, too.

Speech to Text
Dial2do is a speech-to-text service that can be used for free for a certain amount of time (a month I believe?). It's very easy to do. You set up an account and can then send an email to yourself or your friends, send a reminder to yourself, or even tweet from your phone! You can even hear your emails read to you over the phone. This would be an excellent way to save time if you're away on business and don't have the time to sit down on a computer or if you rather not type emails into your Blackberry/Droid. I tried it out and recorded a brief message over the phone. The transcription was dead on, which was impressive because I have a tendency to talk to fast when I'm on the phone.

How can these services could be used in education?...
I'm sure special education teachers (especially the tech-savvy ones) could answer this question better than I could. I could see it being extremely useful in all levels of education. I stumbled upon this blog for the 411, http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=5312179896693140824&postID=4175248529216185095

I would try to use it on my own students who might be struggling with writing/reading. It could be an interesting experiment to try on foreign-language learners, too. For example, a student writes a small sample in Spanish. He then converts it to an audio recording and can hear what he wrote. Maybe he'll know he's made a grammatical error when something doesn't "sound right." Or maybe he'll just smile knowing that he's communicating in a foreign language. He could pick up on correct pronunciation, too. Reversely, that same student could speak in Spanish and then see it in text. It could serve as a way to check speech and see if main ideas were communicated clearly enough or not. The same could work for ELL students.

Out of curiosity, I googled tts/stt for special education, and here are a few links that popped up:

ispeech.com- software for educational institutions

Mangomaon- blog about the history of TTS and the implications of today's TTS technology

Iser.com - a list of
software for special needs students

Wordq.com - writing and speech software

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bonus Points- View of Burgos from the El Castillo look-out point

View Walking tour of Burgos, Spain in a larger map

Thing 10- Google Maps

View Walking tour of Burgos, Spain in a larger map

Initial ideas for how to use "My Maps" in the classroom:

In a foreign language classroom (Spanish)

1. My Spanish students have done a research project where they are required to put together a travel plan for a particular Spanish-speaking country, (as previously mentioned in Thing 9). For the project they have to create a brochure in Publisher and also ...hate to admit it...a Power Point!- yikes! How cool would it be to have them create their travel plan through Google maps instead! They could include pictures and links to websites (which would undoubtedly provide them with actual hotels, restaurants, etc. that they could use without having to Google them individually). They could create 1-2 specific excursions through Google maps, or they could create their entire vacation package this way.

2. I often have my students do webquests. I could create my own Google map of a specific geographical location, say Bogota, Colombia, and have my students navigate my map to find out information. It would literally give them a "map" to follow : ) This could be even more interesting if I included links of particular holiday celebrations and fiesta days.

In an English classroom
1. Students could create a walking tour map of places that a specific author may have walked by everyday during his/her lifetime in that city. This would work well for authors who are directly linked to city/town, or it could work for an author who was inspired by a particular place when writing a particular novel. Ideas include:
William Shakespeare- Stratford upon Avon, England; various cities in Italy
Charles Dickens- London, England
John Steinbeck- various locations across the U.S.
(not that my students will be reading this one, but Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love comes to mind- Italy, India, and Bali)

2. Using the same line of thought as #1, students could create a map of the setting of a novel.

3. You could incorporate maps into a writing assignment about a dream vacation. Rather than just write about it, students could make it come to life online.

My maps would be a fun way to document your travels while they're fresh in your mind. I could see how it would be very useful for planning upcoming travels. I'll be planning my honeymoon for next summer; I almost used a My Maps for that but decided to start one that I could use in the classroom instead : ) I've embedded it into my wikispace (which I'm still working on...).

Thing 9- Google custom search

Thing 9 is on a separate page! Use the link on the top!