The End Has Come: Becoming the Next Michelangelo

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  André van der KAAIJ via Compfight cc

To start, I am going to reflect about what my MLP has been like over these last two months.

In my first blog post, I commented about how I had never attempted to draw a human face before. I did have some high school art experience, however, and that was a big reason why I felt confident to pursue this project. During that first week, I decided to start simple and did a few sketches of  a basic human face, just to ensure that I had a general idea of face proportion and face symmetry.

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Next, I did some brushing up on the basic sketching skills that I learned in high school. Specifically, this included familiarizing myself with the different drawing pencils (see my favourite here), learning how to use blending stumps and doing a few blending exercises. Appropriately, I named this blog post “Getting the Tools in Place” because all these elements were essential for the rest of my MLP drawing journey. Check out my week two blog post here.

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Week three involved me taking a bold approach and attempting to draw the human eye. Looking back, perhaps drawing “The Window into the Soul” was a bit ambitious for first getting out of the gate, but it helped me gain an idea of the challenges I’d be facing in the future. Specifically, I had some trouble drawing the light reflections in the pupil but I was able to overcome this and draw some quality eyes. Check out my progress in this blog post.

Week four was definitely my least favourite week because it involved drawing perhaps one of the most unattractive parts of the face: the nose. It was around this part of my MLP that I thought that I chose the wrong subject to do my project on. It was also around this time that I learned that perseverance and patience are key! With this in mind, I was able to draw a few noses that were semi-respectable. Click here to read about why I had so much trouble with drawing noses.

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Next up, I drew lips. Out of all my lip creations, the one below was by far my favourite. Also, coincidentally (or not), it took the longest. This proved to me that, especially when drawing is concerned, the more time and effort you put into it, the better the result will be. Generally speaking, my lip-drawing weekend was a successful one.

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Week six was, again, a challenging one. Of course, in the grande scheme of things, everything is difficult when you are learning something new. But, most of the hair drawings that I attempted looked like cartoon characters’ hair. All I wanted to do was to draw a glorious Beyoncé hair-blowing-in-the-fan drawing (see a picture here), but it was harder than I thought. I am proud, however, of my progress and progress is all that we can ask for, right? Especially when we are trying out something new.

Week seven was a sort of “miscellaneous” week. I decided to catch up on a bunch of things that I thought would help improve my overall sketching skills. This included drawing different shapes of eyebrows, different head shapes, and the different perspectives that you can view a human face from. This week was a relatively easy one and so it helped me get ready for a big week of completing a few finished sketches of a human face (soon to come!).

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It is much easier to see how much progress I have made throughout these two months when it is laid out in one short blog post. It’s also made me reflect about how amazing it is that one can learn to do something completely new using only online resources like Youtube (check out my How-to-draw playlist here), Pinterest, DeviantArt and others. No matter one’s opinion about the use of technology in the classroom, one cannot deny the ability of technology to aide someone in the pursuit of something new. Besides online resources, I have also realized the importance of print resources and utilized a few of those in my MLP. Check out this vlog to hear about that.

Currently, I am working on drawing some finished human faces that I hope will look like the celebrities that I am actually trying to draw. That post, along with some final commentary about what this MLP has taught me, will be coming in the next couple of days.

If you could name one skill that your MLP has taught you so far, what would you say?

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

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  greg westfall. via Compfight cc

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.

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?