Monday, July 11, 2016

CURR 501 Final Reflection

Just this past week, I have listed to our 19-month old foster daughter ask one of the most important questions a person could ask, "Why?"  It is this very small but hugely impactful word that brought what I have learned in this class to a culminating experience for me as a learner and a teacher.  When working with my students, I always impress on them that they need to ask "why" and in doing so, they will likely uncover more information but also raise more questions; that is what happened to me in this course.

In unfamiliar social circles it is likely you will be asked, "What do you "do?"" [for a living.]  When asked, I tell them that I am a teacher.  I find it interesting that the usual follow up question is, "Where do you teach?"  When I tell them that I teach in Central Falls the responses vary from disdain to pity, none of which are appropriately applicable to the students that I teach or my feelings about teaching them.  I also find it curious that very rarely am I asked, "Why do you teach?", to which I would respond, "I teach because I believe all children can learn and I want to be a part of that process."  Although, that very thought still rings very true to me, it was during an exercise in class prompted by watching a TED talk featuring Simon Sinek that I began to examine my why a bit closer.  When I first began teaching, my why mirrored a quote from Nelson Mandela, "Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world."  It was this quote that motivated me to become not only a teacher but one who wanted to work in the urban school setting.  Sadly, with all that education has become (and failed to become), my original why got lost in faculty meetings, Common Core, IEPs, RTI, standardized testing, data and other facets of teaching that has less to do with teaching children how to learn and more to do with passing along knowledge that may or may not be learned much less creatively applied.  My new (secondary) why was fueled by teaching in Central Falls and led me to my response to the "Why do you teach?" question.  Yes, I believe all children can learn; however, that does not imply that all children learn the same way and so learning needs to be inclusive; by inclusive, I mean that students are not expected to participate and conform to society but rather share in the same opportunities as all other students.

As a mother of two small children, I am very aware of the privilege that they unknowingly possess (although my 9-year old son is catching on).  They are white, they attend private school, they participate in a number of activities, their teachers hold advanced degrees, they have both parents in the home, they have a deep rooted family with deep roots in tradition; the list is exhaustive.  Privilege can be viewed as the luxury of choice and it is bothersome to me at a deep level that many children will not be afford the opportunity to be the recipient of such a luxury.  That being said, I am also very aware that despite the above referenced privilege, my son and daughter may not be exposed to the same opportunities because of their gender.  This is deeply troubling to me both as a mother and as a female.  In my presentation, I noted that blatantly and subliminally, our children are subjects of stereotyping at a very young age.  As we looked at in class, according to Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us by Linda Christensen, my children have received a "secret education" courtesy of Disney and Mattel in the security of their home, while sitting in the laps of my husband and myself.  The course anchors in this education however, include: racism, stereotyping, superiority, and "domination of one sex, one race, one class, or one country over a weaker counterpart."  This is unacceptable and places a new responsibility on me as a parent to teach my children as they grow to critically view what they are exposed to in order to create an environment of awareness and equity.  It is not enough that Disney has "heroes" and Tonka manufactures pink dump trucks rather than their signature yellow, the message needs to include that it is fully acceptable for boys and girls to play with a dump truck regardless of its color.

A child needs an environment that is nurturing and creates a sense of safety where educational risks (and mistakes) can be made with out persecution. Once in such an environment, most students are able to trust and are more willing to share their feelings without the threat of exclusion, they learn compassion, form friendships and cultivate a sense of respect for each other.  During my Pecha Kucha presentation, I mentioned that in order to help facilitate full inclusion regardless of gender, race, economic status, age, etc., there are a few standards that I build my classroom environment around:

These are a sampling of the standards what we strive for in our classroom but it is only a starting point.  I believe that once there is a shared, mutual respect in a classroom, most everything else falls into place with a little direction and a classroom becomes a home to some.  Once this type of environment is cultivated, students' minds open and teachers can teach students how to move beyond just learning facts and learn how to think. (Albert Einstein)  Critical thinking is essential in helping students understand what is fundamental and how to shape a logical and informed opinion supported by evidence.  This type of thinking is essential when coaching students to acquire a sense of awareness, especially those relating to global issues such as the environment, racism, war, respecting different cultures and social classes.

I have worked in Central Falls at various grade levels for ten years and communication with our families has been an area of concern across all grade levels.  I have often wanted to improve communications as I feel that a student is more likely to succeed when parents, students, schools and teachers alike are all involved in children's academic lives.  I want to make connections with families and have them know that although they are not the student sitting in room 306 at Ella Risk Elementary, they too are members of our classroom community.  One of the reasons I teach English as a Second Language is because it promotes communication.  Having grown up in Cuba as an elementary student, I know the concerns of an ELL and I want to bridge that gap for those children that step into my classroom not knowing English.  I have always wanted to build my own website and this course offered me that opportunity; prior to this course, that desire would have always been something I would get to and now it has actually come to fruition.  I spent many hours researching other teachers' sites, YouTube and asking peers.  Sadly, this did not appear to be a viable option for me and so not to become too bogged down, I sought an alternate avenue of communicating with my students, a blog.  I capitalized on the micro-knowledge I had gained in our course and decided to build a blog.  Not having much experience, my comfort level was quite low as I advanced through my project but I forged on to build a blog that I know, having taken break, I will continue to tinker with and use in my classroom.  Most of my students' parents/guardians work at least one job and find it difficult to take time out of work to ask questions of the school or teacher, I want to have a place where my students and their families can find resources that they need;  I want them to be able to peek into our classroom via technology that they may have or have access to.  I want to provide a means for my families to have access to their children while they are in school and parents are at work; I want them to feel involved and connected as I do with my own children and their schools.

As a parent of young children, I often find myself in awe of how quickly they learn of and apply their knowledge of new materials.  My children and students will grow to be considered "digital natives" where I will always be viewed as a "digital immigrant" (although I consider myself somewhere in between).  I am at peace with that definition; however, do not be fooled into thinking that because of my antiquated digital status I will not continue to move forward in seeking out tools necessary to improve the practices in my classroom.  If the divide is between being knowledgable and knowledge-able, then I consider it my charge to do what I can to help bridge the gap for both myself, my students and my children.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Connections ...

Having read Turkle and Wesch, I find that there are both similarities and differences in their beliefs regarding learning and connections.  When reading Turkle's article, I focused on the message that while we are all connected via media and technology, very little communication actually occurs.  I shared what I think was an example of this when leaving a Starbucks last week.  I was leaving the store, when I noticed seven high school aged young women sitting outside enjoying their beverages, it was then that I realized that despite being outside with a group of girls that would usually likely be characterized as a fun loving, loud group of girls, I could hear a pin drop.  Every single one of those girls was actively engaged with their hand held technology pieces.  Fingers were flying and swiping and they looked engrossed in whatever was holding their attention, so much so that they appeared to live in a bubble next to other girls also living in bubbles.  Turkle's article also points out that we are more connected than ever but are living our lives in little snip its of information that we shape for our audiences.  The article notes important parts of meaning such as tone and body language are lost lost in the absence of communication.  A good example of this is how easy it is to right a wrong using technology; in other words, not having to look the person in the eye and speak of any wrong doings.  So, while being connected and having resources available to us can help us stay more informed, it may be happening with a cost and that cost is communication.

Wesch's article delves more into the "why" of connections.  I can relate to his article in that as a student in high school, I often asked "why" in relation to significance.   I wanted to know why or how was what I was learning significant not only in my life or future but to the planet that I was living on. I found it difficult to stay engaged or worse, to want to learn if I couldn't find significance in what I was learning.  Just this past weekend, my husband and I were having a conversation in the car about education.  As the youngest of six children, he has shared with me in the past that education was never much of a priority in the home he grew up in, paying the bills always came first.  This weekend I dug a little deeper and asked why he went to college.  He stated that he did it because it just seemed like the only way out of a hard working life.  He stated that he had wished someone older had told him that if he wanted a certain life, he would have to go to college and work for it. He wished someone had shared with him the significance of education and learning other than the mere fact that it was what was expected in most other households.  I enjoyed reading how Wesch has gone to great lengths to try to create an environment that capitalizes on the connections we have and utilizes them to create meaning and subsequently more questions amongst his students.  I believe that students questions are what drives learning.  Often in group work, I give my students a strip of writing paper and ask them to write one "why" question prior to sharing out within their groups.  I find by doing this, I am asking them to think a little more deeply/critically about what they are learning and its significance to their lives.

I think there is a connection between these two articles and that while Turkle's article focuses on the many connections we may have given the technology we use today, it comes with a price and that price is good communication and conversation.  I agree that there should be "tech free" zones in life to help support and improve communication.  I also agree that while technology affords us to be more informed than ever, we need to find significance in what we are learning about.

Monday, July 4, 2016

My Core Beliefs ...

My Core Beliefs (A Work in Progress)


  • I believe that ALL students can learn.  Not all students learn in the same way but all students can learn.
  • I believe that learning does not have to take place in the confines of four walls.  Get students out of the classroom!!  Take field trips, walks to the park, visit local museums, landmarks and businesses.  Take them to the local library and participate in a virtual field trip with another classroom.  There is much to be learned in these places.
  • I believe students of any age have the right to a teacher who is committed to their learning and success.  This translates to building an environment that in conducive to learning via the feeling of safety, inclusion and equity.  All students should be encouraged to take academic risks in the safety of their classroom community.
  • All teachers need to be committed to their students and the students' attainment of knowledge.  This knowledge should not be contained to that read from a book but needs to include life lessons, social justice, equity and have multiple opportunities for application.
  • Teaching should include the students themselves.  Each member of the classroom should be an active creator of their own knowledge facilitated by the encouraging and eye of the teacher.  
  • Teaching should include connections and communication.  Connections to students lives, life experiences, cultures, families, communities, native countries, languages and any other facet of one's life that helps to build on and create new knowledge.  Communication being the number one avenue of knowledge transfer is critical in building these connections.  
  • I believe that the world is a classroom and that through technology students and teachers alike can learn from all corners of the world.  
  • The world has finite resources and students should be educated on how to care for it so that the world can continue to take care of its inhabitants.
  • I believe that our classrooms are microcosms of the world with different cultures, religions, races, ethnicities and pathways to learning.  Each of these deserves recognition and respect where inclusion and collaboration are critical to its overall well being and sustainability,
Final Project:

My final project is dedicated to building connections and increasing communication with students and families.  In doing so, I am going to attempt to build a classroom web site so that students and families are always up to date regarding classroom happenings.  I would like to include a classroom calendar, photos, school and district information, and links to sites that will provide additional supports to families and students.  I believe that communication and connections are essential to the success of students and the classroom in which they are a community member and that a classroom website will help to facilitate this success.  

Legos, A Seemingly Innocent Construction Toy

It was not until my son entered kindergarten did I get a full hand account of how popular and fiercely coveted this construction toy was to small children.  In reading "Why We Banned Legos," I clearly saw visions of my son.  In this chapter, teachers of an after school program that catered to white, upper middle class families took advantage of an opportunity to ban Legos after a mishap that destroyed "Legotown," a community including coffee houses, clam shacks and airports built by children attending the program.  The teachers of the program seized this opportunity because they noticed that the students who were first involved in Legotown's creation quickly became exclusionary of others who wanted to participate when resources became scarce.  Additionally, Legotown had likely become representative of what the students' community were.  To that extent, Legotown was not inclusionary, collaborative or democratic and the teachers wanted to use this opportunity to change the values that Legotown had been built.

In an effort to introduce social justice and after much careful thought and discussion, the teachers agreed to remove the Legos from the classroom despite the potential for subsequent distress amongst the teachers and students alike.  Teachers did not simply come in and replace one form of power with their own, they spoke with students and challenged their ideals and in doing so, used this information to form the basis for subsequent conversations with the children and planning conversations around social justice and its components for the rest of the year.

Upon reintroduction of Legos into the classroom, teachers were pleased to see their efforts pay off when "several themes emerged: Collectivity is a good thing ...; Personal expression matters ...; Shared power is a valued goal ...; [and] We should strive for moderation and equal access to resources."  This framework paved the way for a new set of inclusive "rules" to be used as Legos took their place back in the classroom.

I find one of the last couple of sentences of this article to ring clearest to me, "Children absorb political, social, and economic world views from and early age.  Those world views show up in their play, which is the terrain that young children use to make meaning about their world and to test and solidify their understandings."  In other words, our actions speak louder than our words, be mindful of not only what we say in front of our children but how we treat others; they are listening.

Friday, July 1, 2016

It's Okay to be Brave

As a child, my experience and exposure to Disney was probably considered quite limited.  My relationship with Barbie was much more prevalent and influential.  I can remember having multiple Barbie dolls and pretty much all of their accompanying paraphernalia.  My Barbie dolls had to have all of the houses, clothes, cars, pets, etc., and as I grew older I too wanted to have all that my Barbie dolls had.  Having read Christensen's chapter, I can relate to the "secret education" that she writes about in that Barbie and all her notions and potions were my Disney.  The dream that Mattel portrayed in having a Barbie was everything I thought all girls wanted.  Barbie's life and all that she had became the standard by which I hoped my life would become; pretty high standards for a 10-year old girl.

Now, I have a five year old girl who is everything Disney.  She loves the princesses and knows all their names.  She wears their dresses, tiaras and carries their wands.  She knows the lyrics to their theme songs and the names of their princes.  Her birthday cakes and parties have been modeled after their themes and her nickname is "princess".

That being said, let it be known that Gabriella is what we refer to as a "tom girl"; yes, she loves her ribbons, bows and all that is girlie but don't be fooled though, she is one tough nut.  In fact, if I had to find a connection between my daughter and any of the Disney princesses it would be Merida from Brave.  She doesn't sacrifice anything to realize her dreams; in fact, she is rather unyielding in most circumstances.  She is fiercely independent and shakes off the notion of help before trying anything herself first.  At a young age, she appears to have found a balance between Disney and all its subliminal messages and her own strong, free-willed personality.  The movie Brave appeared to be more progressive than its predecessors in that Merida is a strong-willed, independent young girl.  I think the word could use a bit more of this type of princess.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Three Different Views of the Digital World and its Users

It's easy to use Pensky's definition of Natives vs. Immigrants when referring to technology exposure and experience in today's digital age; it is far more difficult to use these terms when looking to see who brings what to the table in terms of usable knowledge. Yes, digital natives bring access and knowledge or process; however, digital immigrants tend to bring depth and understanding of application.  When I think of these two terms I think of the negative connotations that could be associated with these labels and how misleading they can be.  The term digital natives could imply that these users of technology are savage or reckless in their use of the digital world.  Digital immigrant is not much better when we allow ourselves to compare the word "immigrant" as used in society in general.

Boyd's work examines these terms and calls out some points that may be overlooked when considering these terms and their application to groups of individuals both as producers and consumers of the digital world and what it offers.  I was particularly struck by the section concerning Barlow and his interpretation of these terms.  Barlow contends that most parents are terrified of their children because they were born into a digital world where technology is woven into their lives out of desire and necessity while parents are left to their own defenses to become technologically savvy or be left out.  If this is true, then adults should not fear those born into the digital age but understand that they were not also born with understanding that comes with experiences.  If adults are to fear anything it should be their own reluctance to learn how to connect their life experiences with the "natives" to bridge the gap and make learning a collaborative experience.

As a teacher in an urban city stricken by unimaginable poverty, another section that hit home was  the discussion about digital inequality.  Even in the digital world, not all digital natives are created equal. An example of this came out of our conversation in class when it was noted that school districts are giving students ChromeBooks to use at home where they do not have any access to the internet.  One of the points that Boyd brings to the surface is that more privileged youth have more authentic experiences and more opportunities outside of the classroom to develop digital competency.

Wesch makes a good point by noting that it is important to move beyond being knowledgable about something and actually using that knowledge and applying it to make it more meaningful on multiple levels.

Overall, I would likely state that although the terms "digital native" and "digital immigrant" offer a precursory description of two groups of people and how they are categorized in the digital age, I am not in agreement with these terms and how they are misleading in their generalizations of users of the digital world.  I think these two terms tend to segregate instead of integrate and provide opportunities for collaboration.  Maybe when these two things happen we will see a more meaningful use of the digital world and all it has to offer everyone.