Cyber Bullying: What can we do?

Sorry for the lateness of this response: I’m sure many of you can connect with how stressful Grad school can be!

Growing up I was a pretty skinny kid until I hit junior year of high school.  I was 6’ 2” and 160 pounds soaking wet.  Safe to say I wasn’t the kid in the gym pressing 300 pounds.  Then I started to grow into my frame pretty quickly.  But before then, like most kids, I would get the occasional teasing: for wearing glasses, for not being as tall as everyone else, etc etc.  It’s part of going to school: everyone knows what it feels like to be left out sometimes (some more than others).  But, I didn’t have a facebook account in high school: it wasn’t that popular yet.  But, I think for adolescents these days with a social networking account there is a huge downside: the potential for bullying.  I think teenagers see sites like facebook and myspace as a digital image-broadcaster.  You get to select what information the world sees about you and try to make people see you the way you want to be seen.  Insecurity is synonymous with being young and you just want to feel accepted.  Hence, you post pictures, write things, and friend people who correlate to that message you are trying to send.  When you are young, you are self conscious, and putting yourself out there is taking a risk.  So what happens when you get made fun of, outside the context of school, and online, where everyone can see it?  What if someone writes on your wall that you are fat and ugly, and then all of a sudden all of your friends can see it?  Kids can be brutal to each other, and I don’t know what is worst, being left out in gym class and being picked last for the kickball team, or having someone you thought was your friend leave some nasty comment on a picture of you. 

So what should we do about it?  There is no way we are going to stop the younger generation from creating accounts on facebook or myspace.  And yes, there is no way you are going to stop the bullying.  But there are steps we can take to curb it and help students feel more accepted.  The best place to start is in the classroom.  Bullying starts when you misunderstand someone.  You have your friends and you usually stick together.  But that band kid over there seems different and he’s probably more likely to get picked on by someone outside of his clique, just like anyone else.  As a teacher, it is your responsibility to not only teach students a subject, but also life skills, which includes how to communicate and understand others.  Why is it that large corporations have team building exercises and churches and clubs have outings and retreats?  You get to know those associated with you and you build friendships.  Volunteering is a great way to get students to work together, and build confidence.  It feels great when you do something positive.  And it feels even better when you work together with someone to accomplish that goal.  Too often, we make students compete with each other: over grades, over starting positions on the football team, over who can win the most awards.  That’s how kids get left out.  It’s amazing to me that we recognize how painful it can be to be a teenager but yet create opportunities for failure in comparison to their peers.  When I was student teaching, I had this student named Jimmy in one of my economic classes.  I actually work with him at Wegmans on the weekends.  I remember one day we were working on supply and demand shifters and he just put his head down and gave up.  I worked with him in his free periods for days trying to get him ready for the test.  He did not pass, and he felt terrible about it because he was comparing himself to the rest of the class.  But at the end of my time at his school, I got a card from him and his girlfriend (who was in one of my other classes) saying how much they appreciated the fact that I didn’t give up on them and how they really felt special even though they weren’t the top student in the class (I still have that card; things like that are the greatest gifts ever!).  I’m not saying we need to create an environment where there is no sense of achievement.  In fact, I think by taking the competition out of school, you are creating a greater chance for the feeling of success.  But it’s when we start to push this image of success/failure in schools that we start to separate kids, and it’s that separation that causes bullying. 

My brother had a friend in high school who tragically took his life.  As a member of Active Minds (a group that promotes mental health awareness) I am constantly saddened by the news of individuals who make the same choice because they are “different” due to their sexuality, their looks, or their disabilities.  We need to start helping our youth feel comfortable with who they are, so they’ll start feeling comfortable with each other.  Teach to succeed, not just academically, but socially as well.  I’d love to hear your comments: how can we stop bullying in class and outside of class on the internet?

GRAMMAR v a grammar


I’m taking a TSL class this semester and we started discussing something in class the other day that I think is applicable to technology in the classroom.  Basically, there are different types of grammar.  GRAMMAR refers to that stuff you learned in elementary school that you would sooner spend a day with ancient aunt Betty than have to recount.  “a grammar” is that stuff you actually use.  If I told you your new hair-doo looked cool, you’d know what I mean.  You may not know what I mean when I say wut it do homie? chillin out maxin droppin it like it’s hot? But that’s ok, you don’t know my friend Malissa from the Bronx.  a grammar is like a secret handshake that isn’t so secret: most people, native language users at least, know what a grammar is and know how to use it in everyday communication.  You don’t say “I will but-ter my toast.” you say “I will bud-der my toast.”  Obviously this has implications in teaching English as a second language.  But what are its implications in technology use?

The first thing you are probably thinking of is texting.  LOL, HAHA, and LMAO are all things that you’d probably understand if you get a text and you’re under the age of 30. But what about in the classroom when someone writes a paper on the computer?  My grandparents bemoan the death of culture and society because the new generation does not conform to their standards of what is acceptable communication.  Are these errors really grammar errors or the student expressing what they know?  It’s a great question: where do we draw the line between self-expression and the lingua-franca (if there is one)?  Clearly we need to teach kids proper English, without it you lose a tool that is necessary to function affectively.  But how much reprimanding is appropriate for self expression in their language.  I’m not going so far as to suggest that proper English is becoming the new Latin: dead and standard.  Rather it is evolving, rapidly.  So when kids are in the computer lab, writing a paper, it’s really up to you what you will accept and reject as acceptable.  But my suggestion is that you have to consider where the kids are coming from: their context, their exposure, and the communication they use every day.

How Far is too Far?


Greetings all!

So someone brought up an excellent question in class the other day.  Before I pose it, let me provide some background info. 

If you are not in EDTS 523 (the class I am referring to above), you probably need to know what it’s about to understand the context of the class.  It’s a graduate level course about using technology in the classroom.  I’d say the premise of the class is the notion that technology needs to be used more in the class so as to engage students.  There are so many things “out there” that I never knew about.  Ever heard about wordle?  How about neoffice?  Look them up.  It’s really interesting stuff.  I’m sure you already know that “kids these days” are tech. geniuses.  My 18 year old cousin has built a computer.  Yeah, you read correctly, BUILT a computer.  I don’t even know what a hard drive is and I’m only four years older than him.  But back to the point: the question. 

“Is using too much technology in the class a bad thing?  Some or most of the students will be going off to college someday where they will be subjected mainly to oral and reading based knowledge acquisition.” 

Good question.  Any answers anyone?  Here’s mine:

Yes and no.  I think the problem with this question is it assumes uniformity on the part of the learner.  Ever talked about metacognitive theory with a third grader?  Do you even know what that is?  If you’re not in education you may not know.  Metacognition is thinking about thinking basically.  It’s one of the educator’s many responsibilities to teach metacognitive skills to their pupils.  As a student progresses through the k-12 gauntlet, they become more aware about how they learn best.  But you know as well as I do that a youngster is not going to pick up a 236 page book on Napoleon and good “oh goodie! I love reading dry, boring, never-ending non-fictions!”  How do they learn best?  Bright colors and flashing lights?  not exactly.  Students learn best when they are actively engaged with the material they are trying to learn.  It’s not that they don’t like to read: I’ve probably read the first Harry Potter book 17 times (seriously).  But they like to use their imagination and hands to problem solve.  Some college kids like doing this too, that’s why there are majors like Biology where students subject themselves to the torture of learning the molecular structure of every amino acid.  My friend Shadman did it- he said it was “easy” and “fun”… I’m going to just trust him on that.  They say we learn 90% of what we teach and 10% of what we learn.  To me, that means 90% of what students learn, they should teach themselves. 

By the time you reach college you’ve got a pretty good idea of who you are, academically at least.  You can concentrate better, you know whether lecture format or reading is more effective for you, and how to get an A without ever reading a single book.  Is that to say that a college student wouldn’t have fun or learn as much playing an interactive game on the Oregon Trail?  No.  But they are more adept at learning. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that kids need to play to learn.  It’s not their fault they can’t listen to someone lecture for more than ten minutes.  It’s part of being a kid.  But college age students are more settled, more mature, and more capable of longer durations of learning and specialization.  You need to teach in the way that’s most effective and most practical.  Having computers for an Economics 101 class where there are over 400 students is not practical.  Not to say they wouldn’t benefit, but that’s the nature of the college intro-class beast.  If you’re a teacher, teach the best way you can.  If you a k-12 teacher affraid of using technology, I’ve got bad news for you.  You have to adapt to succeed.  That applies to you and your students…

Fact or Fiction? The Internet as a (faulty) Resource

I LOVE Wikipedia.  Let me make myself clear: I think Wikipedia is one of the greatest things to ever happen (well except when the Bills picked up Ryan Fitzpatrick).  Since the birth of Diderot, the encyclopedia has not seen such a revolutionary change.   I really enjoy reading about everything from Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, Salvador Dali, and Juon Miro, to phantogram, Hegel, and Nietzsche (I really enjoy modern art and philosophy).  But there is a problem, was Foucault really an active Marxist up until his disillusionment with the movement in the 1968 Paris uprisings?  Was his first lecture in the United States really at the University of Buffalo (cool right?)?  Is the answer to these questions really that simple as Wikipedia makes it sound?  Snooping around Wikipedia is fun, but it’s like playing Russian Roulette.  You are taking a chance that what you are learning is wrong. 

            Of course, Wikipedia is only a side hobby: I would never use it to describe the Battle of Cannae in a paper.  It’s because it would take forever to verify what you read and separate the truth from the fiction.  But if I cannot even tell what’s the difference between the real and the fake on Wikipedia, how is a 7th grader supposed to? 

            Researching is hard.  I wrote a paper last semester that had over 60 sources.  It was difficult work finding them, and took even more time reading them than it would have to just Wikipedia search the topic.  Do you see the potential problem in regards to giving students an online research project?  It is so much easier to go into Google, type “Scottish Enlightenment political theory” and see what comes up then shift through the scholarly, peer reviewed, published articles on EBSCOhost or JSTOR.  I’m not trying to say that student’s are lazy or they don’t want to work hard.  For some students this is the case, but I like to believe most students value their education.  But when it comes to researching for a project, they want to get it done as quickly as possible.  Google will find you some great websites with loads of useful information, but how do you know it’s truthful? 

            I feel like learning how to spot reliable/unreliable information on a website while researching is one of the ways my high school failed me.  I was told to go to a website, look for an author and publication date, and if it had these, it was probably reliable.  If the information seemed ridiculous and deliberately doctored, then do not use it.  But the more controversial a topic, the more likely any account of it is biased.  If you are young enough to remember using the internet in school, do you ever remember any instruction on how to use the internet for researching that went beyond these basic steps? 

            See the problem?  We have students using the internet to find information without any real knowledge of how to find the right information.  I am not suggesting taking the internet out of the classroom.  One, that’s an impossibility these days, and two, you’d be missing out on a HUGE resource.  What we need to do is do a better job of teaching students how to use the internet and research databases.  Wikipedia may be a good place to start, but students need to know how to build off of that foundation.  I don’t have the answers to this problem.  I am still faulty at telling the difference between what is real and what is fake on the internet.  I know that when I come across a “fact” that seems extraordinary to check it against other websites.  But determining if the little details are true or not is something that takes experience to get used to.  I feel that, as it stands, we don’t do enough instruction on how to use the internet properly.  But this is essential to becoming an informed researcher.  Before unleashing a student onto the World Wide Web, we need to instruct them of its shortcomings.  Otherwise we can be mislead and learn something that is not true.

Can anything good come from social networking?


I don’t know who is reading this; in fact, I don’t know who you are probably.  But I do know something about you.  You’re on facebook, twitter, and/or myspace.  I have wasted so much of my life sitting in front of this screen learning so much useless information about the smallest, most minute details of my “friends'” lives.  Did you know that Tara is at Sinbad with Joey?  In any other context, my response would be somewhere along the lines of “who cares?” (Who cares being the blogger-friendly version of what I would probably say).  But on Facebook I can choose to “like” this or to comment on this.  Yes, we could sit here and discuss the destruction of our minds by the corrupting takeover of facebook, but let’s concentrate on something a little more constructive, shall we? 

Social networking definitely has a bad name in schools.  Hm, why could that be? Cyberbullying, classroom distraction, ability to post inappropriate material, etc.  Cyberbullying is a hugggeee issue; there is no way we can stop it or it’s damaging effects besides forcing facebook to shut down.  When you are young, you are trying to “fit in,” whatever that means, to the standards, to what is expected of teenagers by their peers.  It’s just another means of making teens feel even more self concious about their image. 

So how can we turn that around and make Facebook a positive tool in the classroom?  I’m going to brainstorm some ways that we can use facebook in our classrooms that you may find useful someday as a future educator.  If you come up with any while reading this, add them as a comment!

1-Have students write poetry on their walls or send them as messages to other students in the class to review and leave comments. 

2-Split the class up into different groups and give them a topic to research.  Have them create a facebook group or page on that topic. 

3-If you’re teaching history, give your students a historical person to research.  Let them create a facebook page for that person, including important information and things they might say or do (have Thomas Jefferson talk smack on Alexander Hamilton’s wall.  If you are a history nerd like me, this sounds like the greatest idea ever). 

4-Use facebook as research! Clearly the students need to know that facebook is not fact.  But if you are doing a sociological project, for example, examining where the seniors are going to college (based upon their educational information), and what the “average” distance is that they are travelling.  This would need to be done in a small controlled setting, with the individuals’ consent, but you get the picture. 

5-Have students take pictures of what they are learning about in Biology class and upload it to facebook.  See if other students can identify the object.

6-creative writing: start off the story with an introduction like “it was July 23rd, around 11am.  I was walking back from Ben’s house when…”  have the students leave comments on this status and see where the story goes. 

These are only a few ideas; I am not the most creative person.  But if you have ideas, add them!  Can we take the “bad” out of facebook?  No: using facebook in school is risky.  If you choose to use facebook for educational purposes, you need to really plan for any scenario.  If there is a way that the students can do something inappropriate with the lesson, they’ll find it out, and will probably do it.  But just like my previous blog post, I will stress the need to use what the students are using outside of school to make learning more meaningful.  It will be hard using facebook in a positive way that won’t lead to issues in the classroom.  But the more planning you put into it, the better the lesson will be.

Back in my day…

We’ve all heard the expression (my grandparents are internationally known for its overuse): Back in my day (insert nostalgic memory here).  But its true.  We are experiencing the most rapid period of change in the history of our race.  And the pace is only increasing, exponentially.  Things change faster than we can comprehend.  This is the first, and hopefully not the last time, I’ve used a “blog.” (back in my day, when you wanted to communicate with someone, you sent them a letter!).  I am lost, I don’t even know if I am doing this right.  Can you read it?  Is the font all pretty the way I wanted it to be, or is it still black and white?  Hello?  Is anyone there?  There is information I would like to share: I tried to link this blog to my flickr account so you can view it (again, I have no idea if I did it correctly so fill me in if you can).  I see people (read children and the non-technologically challenged adults) gobbling up these new outlets of modernization with little consideration of the implications.  What are those implications?

The list is endless, open to debate, and steeped in opinion.  But since this is my blog, that’s what you’re going to get!  Cell phones emit radiation, watching too much tv kills your brain cells, staring at a screen is bad for your eyes and gives you headaches, and on top of all this, our generations keep getting more and more incapable of having a normal conversation (I am waiting for the day someone says “L.O.L.” in a verbal conversation.  This will be the point where I lose all faith in humanity).  Let this list suffice for now; if you have more you’d like to add to the list, leave a comment.  (don’t even get me started on technology and global warming…)

With all these negatives, are there any positives?  Yes.  Technology has the ability to improve our lives in so many ways.  When I student taught at Byron Bergen, the school district purchased 40 Ipads for use in the classrooms (I wish I was there to see the Apple store’s manager’s face when the superintendent of BBSD walked in and asked for 40 Ipads: can you say christmas bonus?).  Students could explore the different parts of the brain on a smartboard and interact with it by spinning it around, twisting it, deconstructing it, and reading about the different functions of the different parts.  I used the smart boards to play geography games.  Sure, this seems great! And yeah, I guess in a way it is.  That’s the best way to learn, interactively.  But what are we teaching our kids?  That in order to learn it has to be fun?  Anytime I tried to have five minutes of lecture, que the texting, side conversations, and napping.  I was crushed when I planned what I thought was an awesome lesson just to see it do a nosedive because it didn’t involve a computer screen or a joystick (spelling?). 

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: first, I am not complaining.  Things are what they are and there is little you can do about it.  I think our use of technology reflects a larger problem within the postmodern era.  We create, create, create and consume at a pace that outpaces our ability to completely comprehend the implications of that consumption.  Don’t believe me? asbestos, coal, nuclear energy, gasoline, mustard gas, the internet (shall I go on?).  Education is part of this snowball effect.  The birth of mass communication has finally leached into the educational system and we are facing a divide between the educator and educatee.  Things have moved so quickly in the past 20 years that a 50-year-old history teacher might consider it OK to still use a regular blackboard and chalk.  I think its great we have this technology to use in our classrooms, but it is a double edge sword.  Kids may be more enthusiastic to learn, but they are also moving at the speed of technology.  If we can’t keep up, the technology controls us, not the other way around.