#ECMP355: What I’ve Learned

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The end of ECMP 355 has officially arrived. It was a great class; I learned so many useful, practical things that I will undoubtedly carry over in my career as a teacher. I thank Katia and, of course, everyone in #ECMP355 as you all made the class fun and engaging.

Below is my summary of personal learning for ECMP 355. The video is split into two parts. The first bit is me singing an amazing rendition of Taylor Swift’s Blank Space. As I’m sure you can all tell, if things didn’t work out for me as a teacher, I undoubtedly have a future as a singer. To make this video, I used iMovie. I had never used iMovie before and so I was a little scared to use it. However, I found that it is totally user friendly and I had no trouble figuring it out. The hardest part of the whole experience was finding good lighting and, even then, I’m not sure I did such a good job (I swear I’m not THAT pale).

I was going to leave my summary of personal learning with just these song lyrics, but then I remembered what Katia said in class: do something for your summary of personal learning that challenges you. For me, writing song lyrics is not challenging as I am a fairly creative person. So, I decided to tack on another part to the video and that includes me using Screen-Cast-O-Matic to make a screencast. I had never used Screen-Cast-O-Matic, either, but it was easy to figure out. The hardest part was doing all of the editing in iMovie but again, that workload was fairly manageable.

Although it wasn’t hard work, there was lots to be done in creating this video. I know it’s a bit long (sorry, Katia) but I really am proud of the overall result. I gotta say, I never knew I had it in me! And that was the point of this whole class, wasn’t it? To show everyone that they are more digital literate than they thought? To show them that if they put some effort in, they’d learn that technology isn’t so scary after all?

Well done, Katia, well done.

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Tackling Issues of Social Justice Through Social Media

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There are more and more people talking about social justice than ever before. The question is, why? Why are issues of social justice all of a sudden picking up steam? Ten years ago, social justice was talked about, but on a much smaller scale. Now, the news is bursting at the seams with social justice issues as people become more and more involved in what’s happening in the world today.

A week ago, I would have told you that social justice issues have risen exponentially over the last five years. However, having thought about it now, I realize that social justice issues have always been there. There was the Ku Klux Klan (who, extraordinarily, still have their own website. Yet more proof of the fact that racism still exists) and the pinpointing of HIV as a “gay disease,” for example, not so long ago. There was also the Civil Rights Movement, where African Americans advocated to have the same rights as their Caucasian counterparts, a battle that lasted for more than ten years.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that social justice issues have always been there, but now social media tools – like Twitter – are allowing these issues to gain more exposure. Ferguson, Charleston, Eric Garner, Elliot Rodger. Together, events like these have blown up social media as people all over the world unite with each other in solidarity. Because the fact is, even if these events don’t happen in our own backyard, they still affect us. It is naive to think that there aren’t social justice issues in your own community and by staying informed about these events, we are better prepared to make our community a place where everyone is treated equally even if, in the midst of all these tragedies, such a notion seems like a fantasy.

But no, we can’t think like that. With hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, #BeenRapedNeverReported, #WhyIStayed, #WomenForAll, you have to believe that one day our world will change. Because people use these hashtags our of solidarity, to show others that they are not alone in their fight. Twitter has allowed us to become an international community where ordinary people can connect with each other over these sorts of issues. That people are becoming so involved on the social media stage and are so passionate about these issues, gives hope that maybe, one day, our world will be different.

In particular, I am thankful for tools such as Twitter because it has empowered youth to stay more informed about current events. Before I was introduced to Twitter, I never knew what was happening in the world. However, now, I am able to find out about an event the minute it happens. For example, I immediately contacted a friend of mine when I got up one morning and saw this story on Twitter. My friend lives across the street from where this happened but she hadn’t even heard about it until I texted her. With social media, people are able to learn in real time what is happening in their community and, in addition to this, they are able to have a voice. Today’s youth are the ones who have the opportunity to change the world and so perhaps by being exposed to what’s happening in places like Ferguson, these youth will be empowered to set the world right. 
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What it says in this sign is true; the moment we become silent about things that matter, we cease to exist in a meaningful way. And through these social media sites, like Twitter, we are given an opportunity to speak out, to protest the injustices that still exist in the world. A voice, that’s all there needs to be. A voice that gets the rest of the world involved. Freedom of speech is a right we all have and it makes a huge difference in how politics are conducted in our country. Politicians want to make people happy and by people voicing their displeasure about things such as the events at Ferguson, there can be change, even if it’s just a little.

Of course, Canada has its own issues regarding social justice. Most prominently, of course, is the struggle that many First Nations face in Canada today. A Truth and Reconciliation report was released from Ottawa a month ago, saying it was a “cultural genocide” regarding what Canada has done to First Nations. And, a few years back, there was a hunger strike that a First Nation chief did in an attempt shed life on the issues that First Nation communities across Canada were facing. In complement to this, an #IdleNoMore hashtag was created in protest to the Harper government’s apparent indifference to First Nation issues. Yes, in Canada, we certainly have a major mountain to climb regarding social justice issues. But there is hope. When Carey Price gave an inspiring message to First Nations youth at the NHL 2015 awards during his acceptance speech, many people were again reminded of the maltreatment and lack of opportunities that First Nations today face. Social media was alight with these sentiments from Price and he soon became a Twitter trend in Canada.
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So what are teachers’ responsibilities concerning teaching social justice in the classroom? I spoke a bit about it in this blog post. I think the key is not so much to preach to students that this or that is wrong, but to instead give them the facts and let them draw their own conclusions. It is important for teachers to allow students to build their critical thinking skills, not to preach. Social justice issues are complicated and I know that I, as a white woman of privilege, will never be able to portray what it feels like to be a part of a minority; in fact, trying to do so may only anger those who are of minority status in my classroom. I will, however, incorporate social justice issues into my classroom and try to get the students to reflect on them because I believe in equality and building for the future. This is the world we are living in, and it’s the only one we got so we have to work towards spreading an attitude of love and acceptance.

Although, like Brandon Debert said in this blog post, there are “Fads” concerning social media use, I absolutely think Twitter is more of a blessing than a curse. Although these people might not totally grasp what they are saying by using the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, what is important is that they are at least getting exposure to what is happening outside of their own community. They are, at least on some level, aware that racism is a problem and one that needs to be fixed. Working towards building an engaged community is essential for tackling these social justice issues and so the more activity Twitter sees on these issues, the better.

How do you view Twitter in regards of allowing people to voice their concerns about social justice issues?

Scratch “Scratched” a Year off My Life: My Story

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It was a cold, dark night when I decided I would use the last 30 minutes before bed to try out Scratch. It’ll be fun, I told myself; I’ll make something cool.

In the back of my brain, a small voice said: “What about what Katia said? That memories of using Scratch still torments those who used it in her last class?” (Sorry, Katia. I put some embellishments on that for effect. But, after having used it now, I know that’s what you really wanted to say, anyway).

“Katia’s crazy,” I told myself. “I watched her work with Scratch with my own eyes in Tuesday’s class. It won’t be hard.”

The lies we tell ourselves.

The truth is, I stayed up for two hours past my “bedtime” trying to figure Scratch out. “This is a little harder than I thought,” I told myself at first, downplaying the trouble I was having. Then, an hour later, I was grinding my teeth and trying to keep myself from throwing my computer at the wall. I said things in those minutes that I was not proud of, some of which would get me a bar of soap in the mouth if I was at home. In the back of my mind, I knew that if I went to bed and tried it out the next day, I would be able to figure this mystery known as Scratch out but I didn’t want to admit defeat. The result? I ended staying up much later than usual with no progress to show for it; I ended going to bed cursing the world and  “Scratch” the cat who wouldn’t stop meowing when I told him to.

I was furious that I was having so much trouble with Scratch and the trouble I had solidified to me why so many teachers choose not to use technology in their classrooms: for some, the learning curve is substantial. With everything that teachers have going on in their lives – extracurricular, marking, workshops, etc – there often isn’t extra time to try to figure these things out, especially when you figure his/her personal life in. I even tried to find resources on how to use Scratch on the internet, and I was shocked to find that there wasn’t many, not even those trusty step-by-step videos on YouTube that teachers so often rely on.

So what did I do? I tried Scratch out again after work – 24 hours later – when my anger had cooled off and I felt ready for the possibility of plunging myself into a pit of despair. Or that’s what I thought, anyway. After taking a deep breath and watching Tuesday’s screencast again, I decided to start new and ditch the devil known as “Scratch” the cat to toy with some different options.

My mindset? Start simple. Be patient. Be calm. The result? Check it out here. It’s by no means a masterpiece – and the weirdness of it somewhat mirrors my residual frustration – but it’s a start, right? I’m learning, and learning is a process, one that we so often stress in our classrooms. We can’t expect to snap our fingers and for a finished product to magically appear. A key to learning anything new is to take it one step at a time and that was something I ignored at first because I wanted to get my Scratch done as quickly as possible.

Let’s examine this for a minute, this impatience; teachers are models for their students. The students see us everyday and observe how we conduct ourselves. We don’t want students to take the shortcuts on things so why should we? We want students to try their best on everything and so if they see us taking “shortcuts” in our lessons – i.e. opting out of the “hard” technology stuff – they will get the wrong message. We already know that integrating technology into the classroom is one of the keys to an engaging lesson and so, as teachers, we have a responsibility to do so; we are models for our students and anything less than our best would reflect poorly on the message we want to send.

Many years from now, when reflecting back on my Scratch experience, I’ll think on it fondly as the moment when I almost cursed technology and vowed to be rid of it for the rest of my life. But, in those moments, I heard Katia’s voice. “PLN!” She said. “Technology-based learning!” She shouted. “Multi-faceted learning!”

I know, of course, the benefits of using technology in the classroom. This whole Scratch experience was simply a moment of weakness, like we all have. We all have those days when we want to scream because technology is the worst thing that could have ever happened to the world (or so we tell ourselves). What defines us in those moments, however, is how we respond to this adversity. And, of course, doing what’s best for our students will always motivate us to make the right decision. Incorporating technology in the classroom is proven to foster better learning and we may forget that in those moments when we want to throw our computers against the wall, but it comes back soon.

If there’s two things I learned from this Scratch episode it’s this: never start a project 30 minutes before bedtime and anticipate a learning curve when trying out any new technology. Don’t be discouraged by these problems, however; embrace them as part of the learning process.

Now that I’ve used Scratch, what do I think some of its uses could be? The possibilities really are endless; the website is a great way to encourage creativity in students and with this creativity comes an endless amount of things to do. You could create a game, you could create a story, you could create a book report, a presentation, anything, really, that meets your fancy. It is teachers’ job to work with the curriculum, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it in a conventional way, especially when we have so many different tools at our disposal. And what does conventional even mean now, anyway? In a world of technology, there is no such thing as conventional and I think we are seeing this more and more in today’s schools. Ultimately, technology is our future; it will never stop progressing. It is our job, therefore, to work with this wave to empower students to have a deeper understanding about this new world and perhaps even give them the skills to contribute to it. Learning how to code, in particular, is essential to this. There are a plethora of resources stressing why coding is important regarding students’ learning and I agree. Check out this article – just one of many – to understand more about why it’s important.

The bottom line? Computers are our present and they will be our futures. If I may be so bold, I’ll even declare that there is no profession today that is not untouched by computers. Therefore, don’t you think having a better understanding of how computers function would be a valuable addition to our schools? We say that we want to give our students the best and we have to stand behind this; actions speak louder than words. Besides, teaching our lessons through technology such as coding would actually improve students’ learning; it’s dynamic, it’s engaging and it will get students excited for lessons.

Fellow #ecmp355 ‘s: How was YOUR experience with Scratch? For any others, what do you think about using coding as a technological resource in the classroom?

Why Technology: A Mock Conversation

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This week, Brandon Debert (check out his blog here) and I did a mock conversation between a parent and a teacher, the parent being concerned over their child’s technology use (specifically blogging) in the class. I believe Brandon and I hit all the right points in this conversation; the digital world has become the real world for so many students today and it is important that, as teachers, we incorporate this technology into their daily learning. We have to show the students to be responsible and safe online, while also teaching them how to engage with different online communities. Digital citizenship is a complex concept to teach but it is needed in order to ensure students’ success online. Anyway, Brandon and I hit most of these points in our conversation so I’ll let you read it for yourself. Sorry the screenshots are so small; click on them to make them biggerScreen+Shot+2015-06-08+at+8.59.41+PM(2)

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Of course, I wouldn’t expect a conversation about technology between a teacher and a parent to go as smoothly as the one above did. Parents are worried about their child’s security and safety and that’s absolutely understandable. It’s important for the teacher, however, to impress upon the parents that the pros of using technology in the classroom heavily outweigh the cons; that their child is benefitting much more from using technology than if they were not. Change is good and although parents might shy away from the idea at first, it wouldn’t be hard to convince them otherwise once they begin to understand just how incorporating technology in the classroom is beneficial to their child’s learning.

Any points YOU’D add to make the conversation better? Looking at it now, I think I’d perhaps emphasize to the parents that blogging is a great way for students to read and review other students’ writing online. We kind of touched on this in the conversation, but blogging would be a great way for students to further develop their comprehension and argumentative skills; they could read other students’ work and perhaps learn from their opinions. With this online community, you could also connect with classrooms across the world and the students could then learn about different cultures. I think this would be a great social studies idea and the students would really enjoy learning what life in Australia, for example, is like; it would be like the modern day version of having a “pen-pal”. (I remember having a pen-pal from Halifax in Grade Six. Am I really that old?)

Is there really anything you can’t do with technology in the classroom. As they years pass, it seems that the answer is no.

A Close-Up: “Teacherpreneurs” and Education in SK

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In education, today, many teachers experience burnout and leave teaching within the first five years. I’ve heard this many times from the education classes that I’ve taken. I remember one class in particular when one professor looked at us – a class of about 25 – and said that, odds are, half of us will quit teaching within the first five years. This rattled me, especially because that was in my first year. Now, however, I am confident that I’ll be a lifetime teacher; I love being in the classroom and I can’t imagine any circumstances that would lead me to want to quit. And although I completely understand the factors that go into teachers experiencing burnout, there are many teachers who find it in themselves to overcome these and become great educators. Reading this article, I’ve realized that there is a certain term for these teachers: teacherpreneur.

The concept behind being an entrepreneur is, of course, driving your own success and overcoming obstacles to guarantee prosperity. When you think of being a “teacher” and being an “entrepreneur,” then, do the two really seem so different? Teacherpreneurs think outside of the box and make their lessons innovative. They look at each one of their students and think, “What can I do for them to make them all successful?” They are not those who simply stand in front of the classroom droning on about the material; they look at each lesson like a live performance, and therefore try to make that performance as engaging and as exciting for the students as possible.

One point that I particularly agreed with in this article was the fact that there is differentiation for students, yet the same is rarely talked about for teachers. Why not? Different skills and talents within the teacher body should be welcomed among school divisions as they will allow for even more teachers to connect with their students. Not only this, but if teachers are able to develop their already existing professional skills – the article, for example, states teachers excelling in grant writing, curriculum writing and web design – then won’t allowing teachers to expand on these further throughout the school year help the school as a whole? Or, like the article states, maybe the school division should let the teacher take a year off school or make them temporary part time so that these teachers are able to develop these skills. Wouldn’t that be a good thing? The teachers are looking to make themselves better and are showing initiative to try to provide the best for their students. By doing so, it is my belief that school culture would improve as the teachers would have better tools to ensure student development.

The government is always looking for ways to achieve student success. Why not invest more in the teachers? After all, teachers are the ones who spend the most time with the students, the ones who know their needs, the ones who want to see them improve. Yet, it seems like school divisions are always the ones who don’t get the funding they need from the government. As you can see here, provincial funding for education in Saskatchewan is falling short in many school divisions. Even when the oil prices were high and SK’s economy was thriving, there was not much funding for education; many of the schools’ infrastructure is crumbling. As a result, you’ll see the leader of the NDP, Cam Broten, advocating for more funds for education. Of course, that’s just politics; one leader will always point out the other’s flaws, trying to out-do him or her. I’m not trying to make any political statements here; all I’m saying is that it seems that education is always at the bottom of the list priority-wise in many provinces. You don’t see health care getting the same treatment. And although it is true that hospitals save lives, education also cultivates the minds that become doctors and nurses. Do you see the problem here? It’s not just Saskatchewan, either; you may recall the prolonged teachers’ strike in BC that happened last year. A recurrent trend, it seems, is the government’s unwillingness to invest in education, to invest in our young people. Why do you think this is? Because as of right now, I don’t have the answer.

Anyway, this was by no means intended to be a political post. But I guess it kind of turned out that way, didn’t it? I am only twenty years old; I really have no experience in politics as I’ve only gotten interested in them in the last couple of years. I haven’t even voted yet; there hasn’t been an election since I turned 18. But I do think that education should be just as much as priority for the government as oil and gas and healthcare. Is that too much to ask? Do people not see the value in investing in teachers, in investing in schools?

Teachers are important. Teachers are professionals. We deserve respect. Maybe that’s part of the reason why it seems that governments aren’t willing to invest in education; they don’t realize how much work goes into being a teacher. Many people think the same thing; “teachers are glorified babysitters,” they say. How can we change this? I think teachers turning into teacherpreneurs would be a good start. Show people how great teachers really are, how much skill, time, and effort is involved in being a teacher. Give their child the best education possible, show them WHY we deserve respect. And although we shouldn’t have to be pressed to such lengths (it should be obvious why teachers are important), it is nonetheless important that we do so.

Go to this website and learn why we need teacherpreneurs in our schools. And be sure to follow the news, especially as the provincial election approaches, to see how the leaders approach the education debate. As pre-service teachers, we have to learn to be informed and conscientious about these things. We are the next generation of teachers and it is therefore our job to ensure that education in this province gets the attention it needs.

As always, your comments are welcome.

 

Combatting Racism in Schools: What Can Teachers Do?

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This article really hit a chord with me. I have followed the events that have happened in Ferguson, a lengthy ordeal that has been plastered all over the news; it even has its own Wikipedia page now. What has happened there and is still happening seems unbelievable and, quite frankly, it terrifies me. I thought we were past this. I thought that the Civil Rights Movement, led by the great Martin Luther King, had staunched this. Of course, I had known that there was still racism in the world, but for it to have reached such an extent in Ferguson – and at the hands of law enforcement – is truly sad.

What does it mean that there is an entire website – gaining great momentum – dedicated to the hashtag #blacklivesmatter? It means that white people – like me – thinking that racism does not exist is baseless; it’s only to appease our own minds. You hear stories about people’s fight with racism and you think, “Oh, it’s not that bad,” or, “Oh, they’re exaggerating.” That’s white privilege talking. How many events like these have to happen to convince us that racism is still alive and well? My university education and, of course, the Ferguson shooting, has certainly changed my perspective on racism. As a white woman, I understand that I will never be able to fully comprehend the racism that people of colour face on a daily basis – it would be an insult to them if I claimed that I did – and now, I will never diminish the hardships they face by thinking that they’re not happening.

While discussing Ferguson within my circle of family and friends, I have heard comments suggesting that these kinds of things only happen in the USA – they’re gun crazy, they’re wackos, they don’t value human life. I used to think that as true, when I was young and desperately wanted to regard my country as the best. We stand for multiculturalism here, right?

As I grew older, I understood: Canada has its own problems. What about the residential schools that were enforced by the Canadian government? By us? They were operated for more than 100 years. People might respond to this by saying, that happened a long time ago. But is 1996 really such a long time ago? That was when the last residential school closed. And the effects of them will be everlasting. It was a cultural genocide. Most of those who went to residential schools have been emotionally scarred for life and have been plunged into a plethora of socio-economic problems. No, Canada is not without its racism. And when Regina’s main crime is centred in North Central, a community in which 1/3 of the population is First Nation, we are faced with a problem not so different than that in Ferguson.

This, now, poses a question: What can we, as teachers, do against such hate?

It starts in the classroom. Schools are one of the most important tools that can be used to fight racism. Our jobs as teachers is to be culturally aware and socially responsive; we must adopt as society adopts and that means raising new issues in the classroom as they arise. Our role as teachers does not only lie with helping students do well academically, but also teaching them how to be respectful, responsible citizens. Part of that also means cultivating an ability to think critically in all students; that, I think, is one of the most important things needed in the fight against racism. Oftentimes, racism is passed on from family and so the child does not know what is right or wrong; however, if students are able to dissect a family’s words and actions and cross-reference it with what they learning in school, then they might actually be able to dismiss this prejudice or stereotype on their own. Ultimately, as teachers, we can’t force students to not be racist; it’s THEIR decision. We just have to present them with all the facts that they need to know that racism is wrong and make an informed decision.

The article presents an excellent unit plan addressing racism, one that teachers would be wise to implement. What I like the most about the proposed lesson plan is that it revolves around real world events: the shooting of Michael Brown. The reality is that racism is a real issue in our society today and I think it would be beneficial for students to focus on these facts rather than on abstract ideas. By doing this, it will also cultivate a sense of social responsibility in students: we are part of society, this is happening in society and, ultimately, it is in our hands to stop what is happening.

It’s no easy task, it’s true, especially when a child may learn certain stereotypes and prejudices for his/her family. But there needs to be change in society, real change, in order for events such as the Ferguson shooting and racism that First Nations face in Regina to stop. It’s scary how easily something like Ferguson could have happened in Regina, especially when the RCMP felt compelled to pen an open letter to citizens who were worried about racism in the police force in the first place. You desperately want to believe that these kinds of institutions are without stereotypes but when our own government didn’t shut down the last residential school until 1996, then perhaps there should be some fear.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue – specifically, about how to combat racism in schools. I am by no means an expert on social justice or on racism, but these are just some of the ideas that have been swirling around n my head for a while. I hope you enjoyed the article, and if there is anything you disagreed with, please feel free to comment!

Who I Am Makes A Difference: The Blue Ribbon Project

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This ribbon was given to me in my senior year of high school by my English teacher. At the time, I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders; my application for university needed finishing, finals were coming up, scholarship deadlines were looming and, most of all, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. I felt an unyielding pressure that I needed to fulfill everyone’s expectations and I was confused about just what my potential was. My anxiety got so bad that I even began to seclude myself from my family. When my teacher gave this ribbon to me, it was like I was snapped back to reality. In that moment, I realized that those close to me just wanted me to be happy and that the world would not end through any mistakes that I make make; no matter anyone’s expectations of me, the only thing that mattered was that I was healthy, safe and happy. At the time, I was incredibly touched that my teacher gave this ribbon to me; it was a small gesture but it had a great impact on my life. This ribbon reinforced my self-confidence and made me realize that who I am–not who everyone wants me to be–is special and can make a difference.

Now, four years later and in university, I think back on the memory of receiving this ribbon fondly. Thus, upon thinking about what I wanted to write my blog about this week, I decided that I would do so on this ribbon. As such, I looked into the origin of this ribbon more and found this video.

When I think about what this ribbon did for me in high school, I cannot think of a better way to pass this positivity around in the classroom. There are days when students are so overwhelmed with all of their responsibilities and feel so unsure of themselves that they cannot gain perspective on their lives and the world around them. With this ribbon, it reminds you that who you are matters and that there are people around you who love you. This type of message is incredibly important as, in high school, students are still trying to figure out their futures and themselves, two processes that are not easy. Thus, in my future classroom, I hope that giving students these ribbons will give them newfound courage to pursue their dreams and be the person they want to be. I also think this ribbon giving would be a great school project to do because it shows students just how much a small gesture of appreciation can go; although we might not think what we do in someone else’s life could make much of a difference, this video shows that it could. Giving a ribbon to someone would be a good exercise in learning how to be kind people because as much as school is about learning academically, it is also about learning how to make a positive impression in society.

The video on this website also gives some testimony about how receiving a ribbon made a difference in students’ lives. Of course, it is not so much receiving the ribbon–I mean, it is just a ribbon–that is meaningful but how you got possession of it. Who was the person that chose to recognize you that day for the person you are? Was it a stranger or one of your classmates/co-workers? Being recognized by someone–no matter how well you know them–is a great feeling; I still remember how I felt upon receiving this ribbon and that was four years ago! Thus, I think this ribbon giving would be a great way not only to instil a sense of community in the classroom, but also to get students thinking about who they really appreciate in their lives and thereby establish better connections with those people.

It would be remiss not to acknowledge that the video on the blue ribbon’s website is a little, ahem, overdone; the blue ribbon movement is a business and therefore, it wants to sell its product. With the little gift of a ribbon, I do not believe that a student’s self confidence will completely transform and s/he will immediately feel at ease with him/herself.  But that is not to say that this gift of acknowledgement doesn’t make a step towards that. We all need little steps in life, to get to our goals, and this could be one of them. Like I said before, you never know what kind of impact you can make in another person’s life unless you go out there and DO it.

There are a lot of problems in today’s youth. On the blue ribbon’s home page, if you scroll down a bit to Problems, the statistics given are alarming. No matter how scary they may be, however, they need to be heard. Because, not only as an educator but also as a member of society, I and we have a responsibility to address these problems and ensure that today’s youth never entertain thoughts of suicide. You see stories like Amanda Todd’s and are just sickened by the thought that she didn’t think anyone would care if she took her own life. The ribbon project could be a step towards eliminating this.

If you wish to purchase some blue ribbons click here. It’s not so much about the blue ribbons, however, as it is about finding ways to instil positivity and a sense of community in your classroom and in society. Through this blog post, I hope I got you thinking about that. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Look What I Found: A Blast From the Past

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While trying to clean up the documents on my computer, I found a gem: my application for education that I completed in 2013. The question, I believe, was something like: “What are three of the most important qualities that a teacher must possess.” Reading over my answer, I still think it is a nicely written piece but I feel like, back then, I hardly knew what I was talking about; I really didn’t know the meaning of what I was saying because I had no experience as a teacher in the classroom. Now, being in the classroom and having taken several education classes, I feel like I am able to talk about education with much more authority; I am able to share my opinion with confidence on this blog, Google PlusTwitter and in every aspect of my life because I know that I, as a preservice teacher, am part of the future of education in this province. In addition, this class has given me the confidence I need to be able to use social media tools to get my opinions across in a professional manner which, in turn, also helps me build my Personal Learning Network.

The following is my answer to the writing prompt for my education application in 2013.

“Throughout the school year, teachers spend an enormous amount of time with their students, supporting their growth so they can acquire fundamental skills for life after high school. Therefore, teachers have exceptional influence in developing the minds of the next generation. With such influence, however, comes great responsibility. Thus, it is vital teachers possess certain skills, traits and characteristics that allow them to provide the best education possible. There are three qualities that every great teacher has, particularly those teaching English. First, teachers must be enthusiastic about what they teach. If teachers have passion for their subject, they will have a greater ability to convey the material in a compelling way. Students will become more engaged in the class and will thereby be more likely to succeed. Teachers, however, must also possess classroom management skills and ensure that, with this interactive learning environment, there is not a loss of substance in their lectures. Second, teachers must create a sense of belonging in their classroom because, in this community-like environment, students are more likely to participate in classroom discussion. This is especially important for English classes because by students contributing to discussions, they are forced to think critically and consider alternate ideas. To promote this engagement, teachers should ensure there is respect among pupils while also showing the same respect for their students. While sustaining this open learning environment, teachers must also recognize that every students’ needs are different and adapt to these needs accordingly. Lastly, it is vital that teachers have high expectations for their students. When teachers believe that every student can achieve what the students themselves think is unattainable, it gives students the self-assurance they need to reach their potential. This is especially important for English because, writing and reading being fundamental skills, it is important students have the self-confidence and support needed to develop these skills. Teachers have unparalleled influence over today’s young minds and it is essential they use this opportunity to hone every students’ abilities. The future generation – consisting of possibly the best and brightest minds yet – will thank them for it.”

I hit all the right points in this response as, in the classroom today, these are things that I try to focus on. Yet, being a great teacher requires a lot more skills than just the ones described above. Thinking about it now, I don’t even necessarily believe that being a good teacher requires ten years of teaching experience. Don’t get me wrong, I think seniority in teaching certainly helps, especially with class management skills, but as long as you have an enthusiasm for teaching and passion for what you do, the students respond well; in my mind, if you show students respect they will, generally, give you it in return.

To end, I’m going to leave you with a video that makes me so excited for my future in teaching. I want to be the “champion” of my students, I want to help them learn in ways that they never thought possible. I want to help them realize their potential and most significantly, attain their goals. Well, that’s the plan, anyways. I was never known for taking little steps! What I like especially about this video, however, is the sense of humour that this teacher obviously has and employs in her classroom. I think using humour in the classroom is a sure way to create relationships and to create a sense of community within the classroom. It is an excellent way to lessen tensions, ease anxieties and make students laugh. When they say “humour is the best medicine,” I absolutely agree; it’s amazing how good laughing feels after having a bad day and it is therefore nice for teachers to use humour in the classroom.

Anyway have any thoughts? What qualities do you think it is important for teachers to have in the classroom?

Sext Up Kids: The Emergence of a New Generation

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Sadly, nothing in the Sext Up Kids documentary surprised me. It’s the world I grew up in; kids now use technology to watch porn, to text others inappropriately and to send naked photos of themselves. To illustrate this point, I can remember very vividly in Grade 4 when one of my classmates got into trouble because he visited a sex website at school. Looking back and reflecting on how society is today, I have a much better understanding of why he did this: kids are drawn to all things sexual. All around us, society and pop culture are urging children to look like they are in their late teens. Show skin, wear make-up, have pretty hair! Everywhere, teens are bombarded with images of what they are supposed to look like and many teens are thus interacting with the digital world in order to fulfill these expectations of them.

Take this photo for example. The girl is only ten years old and yet, with her make-up and styling, she could pass for 20. France is taking a heroic approach to this sexualization of children by banning beauty pageants for children but what does it say about our society that we have an obsession for such a think in the first place?

Or, watch this video.

Miley Cyrus was 18 when she made this, finally broadcasting to her much younger fans that her new sexualized look was here to stay. No more was the cute and inspirational Hannah Montana. Instead, her message to fans now was that “She Can’t be Tamed,” doing so while gyrating in a giant bird cage. Cyrus, reflecting many of the sentiments of millions of teenagers her age, wanted to show the world that she wasn’t that Disney princess anymore and that she wasn’t going to let the world’s disapproval of her sexualized look stop her.

Now, let’s turn to Kim Kardashian for a second. One of the most prominent figures in popular culture today and what is she famous for? Many would say it’s for her leaked sex tape that she made when she was 23. And now, she is riding on that wave of momentum, doing a naked cover spread on paper magazine (warning: adult content) and probably making millions of dollars off of her half-naked selfie book. She says that making her start off of her sex tape is one of her biggest regrets but what does that say about society that we let her get so famous because of it? And is she really so sorry if she is still making money off of selling her sexualized image?

These are just some of the examples in popular culture that teenagers see everyday and it’s the internet that makes them more easily accessible. The internet has become a hub where teenagers can gather to create another identity, exploring materials that promote sexualization in the process. Want to know more about sex? There’s sex blogs on YouTube. Want to do what everyone else is doing? Check out some porn. This is the new reality for many students today.

Even for children, who don’t go on the internet to do anything explicit, go to websites where the ads are becoming increasingly inappropriate as much of the restrictions disappear on the internet concerning marketing. Of course, it’s not just the internet whose ads are inappropriate. I’ve been watching TV many times when my mouth has dropped, wondering how close companies are willing to go to attract those young viewers. The Dentyne Ice Commercials have been one of those commercials.

In this article, it says that, through this commercial, the company is trying to be a little more “hip” for kids, hoping that more of them will buy their produce. This shows how sexualized our world really is becoming when a gum company thinks they need to market their product like condoms.

Like Sext Up Kids said, there really is no level of shockability in today’s culture. Kids are exposed to everything on the internet and even if parents try to put controls on what their children see, they will nevertheless hear about it from their friends who have been allowed to explore the internet unrestricted. For kids, it’s becoming just as important to be sexy online as it is to look good in person. Kids assume a kind of X rated persona online because they feel as if they are invincible in the safety of their rooms; they feel fine taking explicit selfies, trying to embody their role-models who appear half naked on magazine covers, or watching porn because they want to know all there is to know about sex. But there are consequences to the lives we live online as what you put on the internet could be potentially life-ruining. In this day and age, you will be held accountable for your identity online yet many teens aren’t aware of this. Instead, they are too wrapped up in their desire to “fit in” and to be “cool.” They don’t want to be the only kid who isn’t into sexting or who isn’t watching porn. The teen years are an incredibly vulnerable time for many kids as, in the attempt to look normal, they will do whatever their peers are doing, even if this means they are jeopardizing their future as a result.

As teachers, do we have a responsibility to help kids navigate through the storm of social media to make them more aware of how their lives could potentially be affected by what they put online? I think so. The concept of digital citizenship is just now popping up as the internet is becoming more and more dominant in people’s lives. Now, schools are putting an increased emphasis on why digital citizenship is important and what the term even means. As you can see, there are many tenants to digital citizenship, all of which include adopting safe and conscientious practices online. As Mike says in his blog, teachers don’t have to be an expert in social media or digital citizenship to be able to teach students how to be responsible online. And not only this, but also how to also use technology for good. I remember when I was young, it was constantly pounded into my head that technology is bad and that nothing good can come out of you putting yourself online. But, in actuality, there are so many positive things that can come out of using technology. For example, before ECMP 355, I never used twitter. I had an account, but I only used it for following celebrities and to read the news. But now, after engaging in #saskedchat and following different educators across the province, I’m now able to garner my own personal learning network and talk to people who can help me in my journey to becoming a teacher. That, in itself, is a pretty awesome use of technology and one that many students could benefit from.

Technology is both a blessing and a curse but, by teachers teaching students more about digital citizenship, kids will be able to see the danger they are putting themselves in by putting inappropriate content online. For many teens, the digital world IS the real world and so I think it would be a disservice to them to not tell them what they need to know about how to adopt safe and positive practices online. It doesn’t need to be an extensive unit, it doesn’t need to be a lesson-planning nightmare: instead, just use your common sense, do a little research and reach out to students about why it’s important to be smart online. Don’t lecture them, but talk with them; tell them what they need to know and give them real life examples. Give them all the information they need so that they can make an informed choice when it comes to deciding whether to RT that racist tweet or whether to post something insensitive on facebook. As teachers, informed choice is the best we can give students.

Those are just my thoughts. What about you? Do you have anything to add about the increasingly dominant part that the internet is playing in teens’ worlds today or about how to teach digital citizenship in schools?

Feedly: You’ll Never Get Anything Done Again

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When Katia advised us in Tuesday’s class  to get a Feedly, I was excited like most but I didn’t really process the ways in which Feedly would benefit me outside of looking up resources for education. For some reason, I didn’t realize the plethora of blogs out there that I actually read on Twitter – when they show up on my feed, anyway – and so I thought that Feedly might just be a source I used for this class and that afterwards, I might not have much use for except for looking up education blogs. I was definitely wrong on that count! When I looked at the list of blogs that Katia follows on Feedly, I started to realize that Feedly doesn’t have to be only work related; instead, I could follow other things that interested me! (I really don’t know why I didn’t realize this to begin with; I swear, I’m in university). And, that brings me to the title: if you have anything with a pressing deadline to do, don’t go on Feedly because You’ll Never Get Anything Done. It’s addicting; I spent an hour on it this afternoon just reading fun stuff on Buzz Feed. All in all, Feedly is a great source for resources and between this and Netflix, I don’t know how I’ll ever get anything done again.

So far, I have five categories that Feedly divided the blogs I follow into. I have news, fun, gossip, technology, education, sports and news. One of the things that I like about Twitter is my ability to follow some of these companies (like Buzzfeed, or BBC) because they post the articles they produced about stuff I’m interested in. Thus, in this respect, Feedly is kind of the same as Twitter; it allows you to follow people/companies that blog about stuff you are interested in. But, Feedly is a little better because a) not all the people who write blogs are on Twitter and post their articles and b) some people/companies don’t post all the articles that they produce.

When I first logged onto Feedly, I clicked on the different categories that interested me under “Editor’s Choice“. There were more than enough suggestions under things like “Tech,” “Education,” and “News” that interested me and so I just clicked follow when I came across those blogs. In particular, once I had gone through all the suggestions that Feedly offered me under “Education,” I decided I wanted to explore a bit more and so I entered hashtags such as #edtech #teaching  and #tech into the search engine when I clicked “Add Content” on the left tool bar. By searching these hashtags, I was able to look at more blogs that I might be interested in as Feedly gave me a computer generated list based on these hashtags. To decide if these blogs were worth following, I would read one or two of their articles and, if I liked them, I would follow them.

One of the blogs that I followed that I really like so far is called Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. The reason why I like this blog is that, in this day and age, 90% of students have cellular devices; if I had to, I’d guess that more students have access to cellphones than they do computers. (In a household, for example, the ratio of people to computers may be 4:1 whereas many kids now have their own cellphone). Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, then, is basically just a blog designed to enhance students’ learning and to increase their engagement level through, mostly, apps that can be bought at the Appstore. It really is amazing how many apps are out there in the appstore and I know that I, as the consumer, get overwhelmed at all the options; I like this blog because it picks out the most helpful apps and explains why it might be worth it to try it out in the classroom. I know that cellphone use in class is a derisive subject but I think a lot of people’s opinions of it might change if the student was able to use them to actually enhance their learning. For example, in this blog post, some of the best English Grammar Learning apps are put on display, ones that could help foreign students who do not know English. Especially in Regina, where there are a huge amount of EAL students, apps such as these could be useful. Of course, no technology, in my opinion, could compete with a teacher helping you side-by-side but apps such as these are nice complements to learning in the school. There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to the logistics of allowing students to use cellphones in the classroom but I’m hoping that, while sorting these out, educators are still able to see the potential advantages of using these sorts of apps.

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Attached you’ll see the different categories and blogs I follow on my Feedly! Anyone have any more suggestions of who/what to follow?