October 31, 2014

The Edible Student: Why We Eat Our Young in the Consumer Age

We tell our students that there is no pot of gold. There is no brass ring. No resting on laurels. The days of reward are long gone. Keep leveling up.  Stay the course. There is no end in sight.

Obsessed With Competition, Schools Are Losing Their Perspective

Parents and teachers live in a culture of fear compounded by the flood of high achievers in India and Asia who now compete for places at our top universities and eventually the top jobs, say Shelley Thomas and Colin Brezicki. PETER BREGG/OUR KIDS MEDIA

We tell our kids that their generation will struggle against the odds: Divorce rates are on the rise, markets are unstable, pensions are disappearing, careers are transient, the treadmill never stops, and only the fittest survive. They get it and now see their emerging identities as commodities, saleable parts of themselves, like the carcass sections on a butcher’s chart. A little here, a little there. Something for everybody: parents, teachers, coaches. All labeled and timetabled. Stay in the game. Be everything to everybody. Keep your options open, we say. Pursue your dream.

But they have no time to dream. They are too busy being consumed and not nourished.

We classify our kids as they perform to expectations, and so they can never know themselves for who they really are. Can they know themselves if they are identified only by what they achieve? When we have consumed all the parts, what is left?

Why do we do this?

As parents and teachers we live in a culture of fear. We are afraid that our children, our students, won’t get ahead, and we will have let them down. This fear is compounded by the flood of high achievers in India and Asia who now compete for places at our top universities and eventually the top jobs. These students study round the clock and take no vacations, and we fear that they will become our children’s bosses unless ours do the same.

In this obsessive competition, driven by fear, we have lost our perspective and we are teaching our kids to lose theirs: They will never have enough, so how can they ever be enough? If they never leave the treadmill how can they come to know who they are and what all this is supposed to mean?  Failure becomes something to fear, not something to learn from.  There is a sad disconnect between the individual and the achievement.

We are encouraging them to avoid searching for meaning as they pursue success.  Only competition and consumption have meaning, we say to them. Acquiring replaces inquiring. Don’t ask.  Just do it.

This is how individuals become strangers to themselves. They can’t be alone with themselves or with their thoughts. They aren’t familiar with making decisions for themselves. They don’t trust their own choices or voices because they’ve never had to. They can never stop running long enough to reflect on and evaluate their lives because they will only watch the rest of the field disappear over the horizon.

To borrow from Prufrock, maybe it’s time to drop a question on our plate and ask our kids what they want. Then at least give them time to think about that.

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Are schools pushing students too hard to catch up with the competition and be high achievers? Is this quest for success harmful for our children? Share your views in the Comments section below.

10 Ways to Integrate Technology Into Education

Technology and education go hand in hand in the 21st-century classroom. Here are 10 ways to get your students plugged in and learning.

1.  Have students use Spelling City to learn their spelling words, vocabulary words, or site words through games, practice and quizzes. Spelling City is a free resource for teachers.

2. Create a game show for your students to participate in as a review for an upcoming assessment.  This site offers free templates.

3.  Students can track visitors to their blog, wiki, or website through Clustrmap.  This tool can be used for an ongoing geography lesson.

4.  Have students create a daily or weekly live broadcast on Ustream about school news, new concepts or original ideas.

5.  Let students add free, copyright-free music to their presentations and movies through ccMixter.

6.  Have students create a comic strip using Make Beliefs Comix.  Students can use this tool to show main idea, sequencing, predictions, and more!

7.  Introduce a new unit in reading with a vocabulary word cloud.  Have the students guess what the unit/story will be about. Set a purpose for learning.

8.  Find out what your students know before a unit, or how much they’ve learned after a unit through an online survey. Surveys give students a way to give feedback quickly.

9. Have students create a timeline to have a visual representation.

10. Use KerPoof to allow your students to illustrate their writing, create a movie, and more!

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How do you integrate technology in the classroom? Share your tips with other educators by posting them in the Comments section below.

IT for Every Classroom: Preparing to Use Hardware and Software

In IT for Every Classroom, a weekly column on Dialogue Online, Paul Keery shares his practical tech advice for non-IT teachers.

Photo from The York School

Now that you have your laptop, and are ready to use it in your classroom, you have to ensure that the resources your students will need to use IT in class are ready and working. A lot of pre-class preparation is necessary to be sure that your students will be able to use IT effectively in the classroom.  IT is unforgiving; if even a small detail is overlooked and something goes wrong, your classroom instruction can suddenly become very challenging.  Think ahead and plan carefully should be your motto.

Access to hardware

What access to laptops or desktops will your students have in the classroom?  If your students have their own laptops, this isn’t an issue. However, if most of your students don’t have their own laptops, the question of access will determine just what you can do with IT with your students.

If your school has computer labs or laptop carts that you can book, do it NOW. The longer you wait, the less likely it is that you will be able to use the laptops when you want to use them for the number of classes you need to use them. Book for at least five 80-minute classes, especially if your students are unfamiliar with the hardware and software they will be using; you will have to spend some of your time training the students in their use. IT projects also tend to be time-consuming; the more time your students have to use the hardware, the better off they will be.

You should also check to see if your school IT resources include microphones, cameras (with memory cards included in the camera), and connector cables; depending upon the project, you will need these as well. Book these early as well.

Access to software

When planning an IT project, you next have to resolve three issues:

[a] What software will your students need to use? For example, if your students are doing a podcasting project, they will need either Audacity or GarageBand.

[b] Do your students have access to that software? If the students are using their own laptops, most will have one or the other.  Check with your school’s IT support staff to be sure that the computers in the school lab or in the laptop cart have the latest version of the software you need already loaded and working properly.

[c] Make sure that your students are authorized to use the software. In some schools, access to software is organized by division: For example, Upper School students would not have access to Primary School math and reading software. If each student has his or her own account on your school’s computer network, check to ensure that the student accounts include access to the software they need.

The last thing you need is to find out – in class – that the software you need isn’t available or doesn’t work, leaving you and your students unable to use precious computer time.  A bit of checking and testing beforehand can save a lot of frustration later on.

Next: Now that you’ve ensured that your students will have access to the software and hardware they need, you have to decide what project you would like them to do – and how to plan to fit it into your curriculum.

Read previous IT for Every Classroom columns:

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Do you have IT tips to share with other educators, or an academic question on integrating computer technology with curricula for Paul Keery? Tell us what you think at: editor@ourkids.net

IT for Every Classroom: To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade, That Is the Question

In IT for Every Classroom, a weekly column on Dialogue Online, Paul Keery shares his practical tech advice for non-IT teachers.

Photo from The York School

Apple’s newest operating system, OS X 10.7 Lion (why is Apple so fascinated by felines, anyway?) has been released to both huzzahs and consternation. This latest operating system upgrade is just the latest iteration of the perennial question: When a new operating system is released, by either Apple or Microsoft, should the IT-savvy teacher upgrade right away – if at all?

The Joys and Tribulations of Being an Early Adopter

Some users will latch onto the new operating system immediately.  This may give them an edge in becoming familiar with the new features of the upgrade and using it in the classroom. However, the early adopters also face dealing with all the small annoyances that arise in an initial release: printer drivers crashing, wi-fi access failing to connect, even (as in the recent Lion release) having to learn how to scroll up and down a monitor all over again.  But these, while frustrating, can be solved with time and patience.  The real problems are more challenging.

Will Software Applications Work?

Many schools and teachers that use Macs will be very reluctant to upgrade to Lion, because Lion ends support for a major feature that many of them have relied on for years.

Apple is ending its support for Rosetta, a software emulator that allowed older versions of software, such as Microsoft Office for Mac 2004, to run on Leopard and Snow Leopard.  Many older versions of software were designed to run on the Power PC processor, which are different than the Intel processors Apple adopted in 2006.  If users upgrade to Lion, they will no longer be able to run older versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Photoshop, just to give a few examples. Upgrading to the new operating system means that schools and teachers will also have to invest in new versions of the software they now use.

On the other hand, Microsoft’s Windows Vista was generally considered to be such a poor operating system that many users were happy to upgrade to Windows 7, despite the costs that could be incurred.

This is a difficult operational decision.  Do students need to be able to use the latest versions of software, if the current software meets the needs of the curriculum?  If not, is the expense of buying the new operating system and software applications necessary?  If so, what other academic needs will have to go unmet to pay for the IT purchases?

Using Older Files With the New Operating System

Another problem that will arise for students and teachers will be file compatibility.  Will old files, created under the older operating system using older versions of software, actually open?  Older files may be drastically reformatted (and not for the best), or may not open at all.  Will teachers have to recreate older files from scratch?

What to Do?

Schools and teachers probably should not become early adopters of new operating systems or newer versions of software. Curriculum requirements do not change as frequently as operating systems or software applications do. As long as curriculum requirements are being met, it is quite acceptable, given the problems noted above, for schools and teachers to wait until the problems with the new release are worked out before they purchase the new operating system.

Besides, there are usually students who buy the newest operating systems and software right away, and are quite happy to show them off in class. While they’re learning how to use their new applications, teachers can learn from them – and be ready when their school can afford and can justify buying the new OS and applications.

Read previous IT for Every Classroom columns:

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Do you have IT tips to share with other educators, or an academic question on integrating computer technology with curricula for Paul Keery? Tell us what you think at: editor@ourkids.net