Friday, July 10, 2015

Social Studies in the Air...

Imagine a class where students find the content personally meaningful. A class where students are able to see a transfer from the content learned and their own lives. One reason I became a teacher was because my childhood was marked by classroom experiences where I was never able to understand the connection between school and the real world. I was an average (and sometimes below average) student. I basically did what I was told, but never really bought into school.  It wasn’t until I grew to become a young adult that it all finally started to click. I moved away from home and made friends with a girl from South Africa, we are still good friends today.

At eighteen years old, I ate up everything my friend had to say. She was passionate about civil rights and justice. She made me look at the way the world is today through a critical lens, a lens that I’d never used before. I realized that I missed out on so much of this within my formal education. As a teen I had spent a lot of time being critical, yet my criticism was non-productive. I never paid attention in history class because the focus was always on our famous forefathers and how wonderful they were. My friend, Tammia, taught me more about history than I ever learned in school. I realized that my natural propensity to ask questions and think critically could be channeled into something productive. Around the same time, I also realized that I enjoyed spending time with middle school students. After some time and reflection, I decided that I wanted to become a teacher. I wanted to become a teacher who would actually help students understand how history and geography are connected to their lives today. I wanted to become a teacher who would ask meaningful questions and ask students to ask meaningful questions.

Fast forward about ten years. I’ve now been teaching for five years. As a middle school teacher, one of my favorite things is still finding ways to help students see that social studies is all around them.  As Michael Wesch says,  technology and media (and I'd argue social studies), “is in the air.” Throughout my time teaching, I’ve made it a point to incorporate pop culture and real life into my classroom and I've found a lot of other teachers doing the same thing. I ask students to come in with connections to class. When they bring in connections they earn little yellow tickets that can be traded in for bonus points, candy, etc. Students bring in screen shots of images they’ve seen on Snapchat or things that come up in video games and songs. Sometimes they tell me about something they saw on the news, or overheard their parents talking about. One student last year was a major Disney fan, almost every day she would come in with connections to different Disney movies. I consider this to be a really great way to start conversations and get students invested in the content being learned. I literally had one class last year where the first ten minutes of each day had to be devoted to connections because so many students would come in with things to share.

When I was considering options for my final project for this course, I really wanted to try to find a way to digitize the link system. I thought this would have a number of different benefits. I know that most kids spend at least an hour a night on the computer (if not more), so why not upload connections in real time? Also, I felt that having a way for students to post connections before class the following day would allow me to preview what they were coming up with. If I had a way to preview the content of the connections, this would allow me more time to prepare and think about the discussion the following day.  

As I searched for different tools that could be used to connect with students, I felt unsure about how effective many of these interfaces would be for the connections I wanted kids to make. I also didn’t know if I could realistically have all students subscribe to certain social media accounts (such as Twitter). Additionally, other new types of technology and material came up in class and I really wanted to find a way to use all of these new platforms. I LOVED hearing about the Maker Movement and 20% Time when Kelly Reed came in to speak.  But how could I do all of this without having to send students to a million different places? It wouldn’t be possible. So after spending some time reflecting, I decided that what I really needed to do was to revamp a website that I already had, a site that was being tremendously underutilized.

For the past couple of years I felt like I was in a pretty good place with my website. I used it to post homework and figured out how to post some links for class activities. Most of the other teachers I work with use little to no technology, so just the fact that I had a website made me feel pretty good. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much traffic my website was really getting. The page was pretty boring and included no interactive or interesting content. I wanted to find a way to incorporate all of these new ideas and make my website more appealing to users. So I organized and changed my website. Instead of the emphasis being primarily on homework posting, there is now a section for real life connections. Additionally, I've incorporated a survey portion so that I will be able gather student data in an efficient and productive way. I loved learning how to use Google Forms and think this simple tool will save me a lot of time and energy! I no longer have to go into Excel and record all of the hand written data one survey at a time. 

Finally, another important section of the site is devoted to class resources. Because I believe that students need to have a personal investment in the content being learned (this is the root of student connection making), I am going to implement 20% time as a new way to provide students with more control over their own learning experience. I have a couple of resources about 20% time on my site now and intend to add more. I'm excited to use the Bingo sheet provided by Kelly. 

There is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to this new tool, but overall I feel that this will be something that is reflective of my personal pedagogy and practice. I've taken meaningful activities that I was already doing with my classes and brought these activities into the 21st Century. Because the content and meaning-making is what I'm so invested in, I feel like my website will be something that I just naturally use, it won't feel forced. I'm looking forward to finding new ways to use the site as a learning tool in the future and think I will even ask my students (via Google Forms) to provide me with new ideas for the site! Again, this would not only allow me to be personally invested, but would get students invested as well. 

Upon entering this class I felt like Prensky's labels of "digital native" and "digital immigrant" were really reasonable, but I never really considered the blurry space in between. In one of my first blog posts I think I labeled myself as an immigrant. However, I now feel like I'm somewhere in between. I see myself (as Noons would say)a techno-traditionalist, but feel that the changes I've made have placed me on the cusp of becoming a techno-constructivist. Ultimately, I feel like it's important to think beyond labels. I don't need to fit into a particular category or with a particular group in order to be productive and use technology in a way that is conducive to teaching. I believe that I am more knowledge-"able" than I was a week ago which will enable me to help  teach my students to become digital citizens.  Overall I think this course was helpful and enlightening, it encouraged me to go beyond where I would have gone before. Now I just need to look for a more opportunities to push myself further! 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Life of Sadie- This I Believe

For the few years after my husband and I got married, friends, family and acquaintances would ask us, “when are you going to have children?” They would tell us stories about how wonderful it is to have children, how they “complete your life” and how “you’ll experience love like you’ve never known.” While we completely understood where these friends were coming from, our funny response was always that we have a dog who is like our child, and that’s good enough for us.

Sadie is an energetic, yet patient and loving canine. We first met her at a shelter in Boston after deciding to visit her on a whim. When we got to the shelter, Sadie was the only dog sitting quietly in her crate. She was sad, lonely and looked like she had given up on life. Now, we could have just been anthropomorphizing this animal out of our love for dogs, but it really didn’t feel that way. Out of empathy and curiosity, we decided to take Sadie out of her crate. The shelter staff allowed us to taker her outside in a play area designated for the adoptable dogs.

When we walked outside with Sadie, she became a completely different animal. She cried out in excitement and was overjoyed to have the opportunity to meet us. Outside in the enclosure we started to toss around a tennis ball. Sadie looked confused and wasn’t sure what to do with the ball. She had never been taught to play! When we sat on a bench inside of the play area, Sadie jumped up right in between both of us and quietly sat with us. She looked at us with the question in her eyes of, “what’s next?”

Ever since taking Sadie home that day, she’s had the same attitude. Expectantly awaiting her next adventure, her mind full of questions. Yet, despite her sense of adventure, Sadie knows how to go with the flow. She has an ability to read her humans, she can tell when we need some love and when we need some space. She proceeds with caution when it comes to new experiences, but the key is that she proceeds. Sadie can be very stoic and regal, but she also has a humorous side, a softer side. We know that she is strong, but she chooses to be gentle.

We accepted Sadie just as she was and she accepts us just as we are. We are pretty sure that she knows she has been given a second chance and has chosen to live out that second chance to it’s fullest. Over the five years that we’ve now had her, Sadie has taught us many lessons in life. We’ve learned about patience and humility. We’ve learned that sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. What’s truly interesting about these lessons and the life of Sadie is that in many ways, I want to be more like her. Clearly I have no desire to become a dog, but what would happen if I was more like Sadie?

I believe that we all should be more like dogs. I’m sure this sounds funny and odd, but what if we all approached life with the same openness as Sadie? What if we learned to be patient and live out second chances to their fullest? If we all had the sense of humor a dog has? What if we, as teachers, all took this approach? If we woke up excitedly each day asking “what’s next?”

NPR- When Parents are the Ones Distracted by Devices


Link to my NEW website :)

Mrs. DeMelo's Geography Class

Powerpoint Pecha Kucha

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Pecha Kucha

Saturday, July 4, 2015

We Need to Talk...

Every passing generation brings with it a slew of changes and societal shifts that are often seen as frightening and overwhelming to those who are not wrapped up in these new movements. For millennia many parents have looked at the time their children are living in and sighed deeply, wondering what became of the world they grew up in? When they were kids they walked ten miles in the snow just to get to school. They drank from the garden hose and played outside. Life was more difficult, but life was good. I think you understand where I'm going with this.

Sherry Turkle, author of "The Flight from Conversation," writes about this brave new technological world in a light that sounds similar to the aforementioned parents. The reader can almost hear her sighing throughout the piece. Turkle looks at our changing world as something to be feared, a desolate lonely place where we are "alone together." According to Turkle, we are all so obsessed with our devices that we no longer understand the art of conversation and often mistake connection with conversation. Basically, as a society we have lost the ability to really relate and learn from one another. In Turkles eyes, we've become so self-interested that we feel as though every social interaction is too overwhelming to handle and would prefer robots over real, living human friends.
Turkle seems to be issuing a warning, wildly waving her hands in the air, telling us to slow down. If we don't stop to examine the consequences of the world that we are stepping into, we may never be able to go back.

Although I believe that Turkle has gone too far in terms of grouping all technology users (especially Millennials) together as one mindless, disinterested generation, I do think that she makes a couple of valid points. Towards the end of her article she discusses the need to establish "device-free" zones, to look up from the tiny keyboards that consume so much of our attention. I think that society overall does need to think about being intentional when it comes to time and place for technology use. I don't like it when friends are on their phones at dinner. When I was a cashier I hated ringing out customers who were on their phones. I don't like to use social media on a daily basis, because I know for me personally, too much screen time makes me feel depressed. Do I think that all of this new technology is going to ruin our society? No. I think we are more resilient than Turkle argues. I do think it's
necessary to proceed with caution and a clear sense of when phones/devices are appropriate for use and when they are not.

Unlike the stereotypical adult who scoffs at the lifestyle and interests of the most current generation, Michael Wesch has embraced many of the changes that have taken place among children and young adults living in the technology revolution. Wesch, a college professor, has concluded that what his students crave more than anything else is exactly what Turkle says has been lost. According to Wesch, students want to have conversations, they want to be engaged . With the right questions being asked, Wesch claims that the classroom can become a space of truly deep learning. Gone are the days of neatly arranged rows facing the podium in the front of the room. Students do not need a professor to provide them with a basic set of low-level academic knowledge, anything they want to know can be looked up almost instantaneously. Wesch sees new techonolgy as a tool that can be used to "turn over control" of the classroom, social media can be used as an interface for a "local learning network."

I'm sure that the television, radio and other advances in technology had many people worried when first presented. Change is very difficult to handle and every change comes with its own set costs and benefits. What Turkle needs to understand is that technology isn't going anywhere. We can either learn to use it to our advantage (as in the case of Wesch) or allow it to be our downfall.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Androgyny Game


  • Play a sport?

  • Learn about computer programming?

  • Go without makeup?

  • Go a day without apologizing?

  • Use a strong tone of voice?

  • Wear comfortable shoes?


  • Write a poem?

  • Shed a tear?

  • Take care of your health?

  • Drive the minivan?

  • Speak in a whisper?

  • Turn off the game?

"Miles of Aisles of Sexism"- Taking a Second Look at Children's Toys

I remember being a child and have a million different plastic toys that I played with. We actually had an office/room in the house dedicated to toy storage. The room was a constant disaster, a mix of piles of blue and pink, red and green. It looked similar to the photo above. There were toy guns, Nintendo video games, My Little Pony characters and even an Easy Bake Oven! My brother and I constantly got in trouble for leaving the room a mess. The way my parents handled the cleaning process was by sweeping all of the toys into the center of the room and telling us to pick out the ones we wanted to keep. Whatever was left in the pile was either getting donated or thrown away. At the time this felt traumatic, how could we ever decide which to keep and which to get rid of? Ultimately, as we got older, I remember lots of large black trash bags coming out of that room. The amount of petroleum wasted on plastic bags and toys could probably fuel my car for a year.

Looking back at this time I realize how fortunate my brother and I were, just the fact that we had a playroom is pretty cool. What's unfortunate though, is the fact that in that playroom I knew which toys belonged to me and which belonged to my brother. There was a very sharp contrast in boys toys and girls toys. I never really thought about the differences between the toys and the implications of these differences until I entered graduate school. I had a really great opportunity to see a local guest speaker named Hannah Tessitore, who talked about the differences between these toys and how the production and distribution of "boys" toys and "girls" toys has had a tremendous impact on the adult experiences and lives of many men and women.

In reading further about this topic, I came across an article by Sudie Hofmann called "Miles of Aisles of Sexism." Hofmann's article is part of a number of contributions made to the book published by Rethinking Schools, Rethinking Popular Culture and Media. In this piece the author reveals the fact that toy stores and toy companies lag far behind much of the progress that's been made in children's media. Although we are a changing society and we've seem some strides towards gender equality, toys have remained as tools used to hinder this progress.

Hofmann describes visiting a variety of toy stores and analyzing the aisles and boxes for different toys. What she found was that there is still a huge separation in terms of colors for boys and colors for girls. Boys products are still mainly blue and green, whereas girls toys are pink and purple. This may not seem overly harmful at first sight, but Hofmann digs deeper. Upon looking more critically at the types of toys produced, she found that there were some clear messages about who should be doing what. Boys toys taught that violence, in the form of weapons and machinery should be their main playtime goal (and maybe ultimately should be their life's goal). Girls toys were overwhelmingly dominated by cooking and cleaning sets.

Hofmann rhetorically asks "are toys providing innocent fun, or are children being socialized in ways that could ultimately influence career and life choices?" It seems the answer is the latter. As Hofmann explored further, she found that there was a serious lack of educational toys in the girls section of the toy store. One example she provides is that of a science kit. The science kits were only available in the boys department and none of the boxes featured a female player. Furthermore, in the same educational toy section (again, only found in the boys aisle) there were games such as chess, and challenging board games. None of these were found in the girl aisle. The girl aisle was dominated by "vanity mirrors, combs, brushes, nail kits, makeup, and polyester hair extensions."

This research was conducted in 2005, not 1985. It's amazing to see that there is such segregation STILL happening when it comes to little girls and little boys. The toys of 2005 look pretty much the same as the toys piled in my playroom in 1995 and I'd be willing to bet that toy aisles today still look very similar. Although toys may seem like an innocent, unimportant part of a child's upbringing, they are an important part of the socialization process. These gender specific toys contribute to the stereotype that men are to be strong, disconnected defenders and women belong at home cooking and taking care of the household. This is yet another arena in which we must stop and question the messages we want to send to children. I played with these gender specific toys as a child, but I also played outside in the dirt with my brother, this was a point of resistance or a "crack in the glass" as Dr. Bogad likes to say. Girls and boys must be provided with a variety of social stories in order to formulate their own ideas of what a "true" woman or a "true" man looks like. If we leave it up to the toy companies to make these decisions for us, the toy aisle will probably look the same in 2050.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Brave- A follow up to Disney World

In my last post I wrote about how Disney films should be looked at with a critical eye and that I believe children should be taught how to use a critical lens (as opposed to being subjected to constant censorship). After watching the film Brave, I feel that Disney is finally hearing the rumbles of a critical society. Merida, the main character is much more independent and intelligent than any previous princess portrayed by the Disney corporation. So, we finally have a strong female character. What about everyone else in the film, though?

Although Disney has made some major strides in portraying Merida in a more modern light, almost all of the other characters are still portrayed through a stereotypical lens. The king is a large, bumbling, beastly man. The other men in the film (the clans) are animalistic and crude. The serving staff are portrayed as confused, stressed and ignorant. In some sense, there are some great things about this movie, but I think it would be important to still have children analyze the roles of the other characters. Why is it that Merida gets a great role, whereas everyone else lacks depth and character development?

It's a Disney World

Like most young girls in the United States, I grew up watching Disney movies. I think I probably dressed up like a Disney princess for Halloween one year, I may have been Cinderella. I honestly don't remember which character I was. Although I liked Disney, I never felt like I was a hardcore fan. I had friends who were (and still are) huge fans. They own and watch all of the movies repeatedly, have the soundtracks memorized, and travel to Disney World at least once a year. I actually find it really interesting that a number of grown adults are still just as enthralled with Disney as they were when they were children.

I will admit, Disney does have something magical. There are certain elements of their films that really are enticing. There's also something really magical about Disney World. Similar to certain addictive chemicals found in fast food, Disney has got some kind of fairy dust that draws you in. I think the one element that gets me is the music. I'm not talking about song lyrics, but rather the enchanting scores that make you feel comfortable and hopeful. Does this mean that I eat up Disney movies like I eat a bag of chips? No. But it does mean that I feel conflicting emotions when it comes to "dealing" with Disney. On the one hand, I know it's bad for me, but on the other hand it doesn't get under my skin and make me want to stage a revolt. Disney should be as offensive as a lot of the horrendous media out there, say the promotion of the Confederate Flag, but for some reason I don't feel the same as I do about Disney as I feel about that flag and all it represents, but maybe I should. I watched Disney movies as a kid, and I don't feel like I got sucked into Princess Culture. But, I also had many other outside factors that impacted my life in a profound way. My mother went to college and worked full time when I was growing up. My grandmother worked in politics. So maybe these personal experiences and lessons outweighed what Disney wanted me to hear and learn? Or maybe, on a frightening note, Disney did affect me and I just don't realize it?...Also, I wonder if I'd feel differently if I were a person of color, or if I came from a less privileged family.

Having explored some of my feelings towards Disney, I have to ask the question- would I allow my own children to watch Disney movies? Maybe. Do I think some children are more impressionable than others? Yes. Do I want to support a racist, sexist agenda? No. However, I know a number of people who intentionally tried to prevent their children from watching Disney and acting as princesses, and you know what happened? They ended up wanting to be Princesses anyway. I know one family that was so anti-Disney... until they had three daughters. Those three daughters saw Frozen about a year after it was released. My friends tried to do everything they could in order to prevent the girls from seeing Frozen, but ultimately, because of so much outside influence they got to a point where it was just too difficult to say no. All of their friends had seen it. It was everywhere, from restaurant memorabilia to department store clothing. So mom and dad watched it first, discussed the film with their daughters and finally allowed them to watch it.

So this becomes a question of resistance. Do many people feel like Disney isn't the best type of media for their children? Yes. But, are many people willing to stand their ground as film after film is released? No. Parents try to do what's best for their children, but often aren't willing to fight for something they feel kind of negatively about. But what if parents who feel that the lessons portrayed in Disney films are inappropriate chose to allow their children to watch these films, but also helped their children critique them? Similar to Linda Christensen's way of teaching students to think critically about Disney movies. Similar to the way that my friends first previewed Frozen and then discussed it with their children.

Maybe we can't stop the mass obsession with Disney, but what if we can teach children to think critically about what they watch? What if we can start to shift the tide? I agree with Christensen's call to action. Rather than censoring films and telling her students not to watch them, she asks them to look for themes and patterns.Christensen does this with older students, but I think this is something that could start at an earlier age.

I think that when I have my own children I will most likely allow them to watch Disney movies. But what I'll encourage them to do as they watch will be to ask questions. One lesson that comes from Christensen's work is the need to ask questions. If we teach our children (both our own children and our students) to ask questions and really think about what they're watching, we will all be better for it.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Boyd Vs. Wesch- Interesting perspectives on what it means to be a "digital native"

Danah Boyd brings a truly interesting perspective to the term "digital native." In chapter 7 of her book, It's Complicated, Boyd breaks down some of the assumptions and implications that come along with the digital native terminology. She offers an interesting perspective, claiming that not all students are as technologically savvy as we may think. Boyd says that teachers need to reconsider their approach when it comes to teaching kids about how to use digital media. One glaring problem, according to Boyd, is that all students have not been taught how to appropriately decipher the information they are consuming online. Often students do not know how to differentiate a reputable source from others that may not be as scholarly.

Boyd uses the example of Google, stating that many children and adults don't realize that Google is a for-profit company with many different people (and robots) working behind the scenes to produce search results. The author argues that if we neglect to teach students about how to make sense of the media they are seeing on a day to day basis, we are robbing them of a tremendously valuable education. To assume that all kids know how to use technology as a learning tool is naive and beyond unfortunate. Boyd argues that we need to establish a way of teaching students to be more analytical when it comes to their use of online sources. 

Mike Wesch, a digital commons blogger, makes many of the same points as Boyd. He argues that we no longer need to supply students with knowledge, but rather, we need to help students understand how to use the knowledge available to them. Similar to Boyd, Wesch argues that students need to learn analysis and meaning-making skills. They need to learn to interpret the texts presented.

The point at which these two authors diverge is in the recognization of the fact that students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds come into class with more or less experience using technology in their every day lives. Wesch seems to assume that all students will come into class as tech-savvy learners, well equipped with the materials and experience necessary to take the next steps. Boyd argues that students who come from more privileged backgrounds have a greater starting point and a great advantage, but many less-privileged students are still in a place where they don't know how to create a Word document, etc. Boyd recognizes the diversity of student's experiences, whereas Wesch fails to do so. 

From my own experience in a rural/suburban school district,  I find that Boyd has many points that resonate strongly with me. I have students who come from very privileged families and have access to all types of technology. However, I also have students who come from homes where they don't have access to a computer or smartphone. I've had students who don't know how to open a Word document. So I see both ends of the spectrum. After some reflection, I would have to say that the term "digital native" is too general and fails to consider the diverse backgrounds of students. Additionally, I would say that I have to agree with both authors when it comes to the need to teach students to think critically about the media they are consuming. I think this applies to all types of media (not just social media). I'm left wondering how I can do more to incorporate these needs into my own instruction...

Definitely a Digital Immigrant

Although I consider myself to be somewhat knowledgeable when it comes to using technology, I am most definitely a digital immigrant. I do not naturally think or work digitally, I still like paper and pencils. I also like the smell of a good book.

I do have a Facebook account, but rarely post or update my status. I cannot stand the feeling of being tied to social media and I consider avid users of social media to be highly attention seeking.


I like what this other reluctant blogger has to say about social media. Here's another link to a similar blog post.

I basically use technology because I have to, it's the dirrection in which the world is moving and I don't want to be left behind.

But, I often wonder about how social media is affecting those who are more introverted (like myself). Why should we be forced to engage in this brightly lit world of constant contact? What if I don't really care about what all of my "friends" are doing at all times? I think that social media can be a good outlet for kids (and adults) who may be more shy in person. But for me, I genuinely need to feel disconnected sometimes.

I like this video about introverts:

Now, I don't want to sound like a grumpy complainer. I really have one foot on either side of the digital line. I see many opportunites and great things that will (and already have) come out of this brave new world. However, I do approach it with caution, similar to any immigrant coming to a new world, afraid to lose all of my history and traditions.  I'm not so sure I like all of the changes that have come about because of an increase in technology. 

I'm actually grateful that I didn't grow up in this digital time, I think my experiences will enable me to obtain more balance and reflectiveness when it comes to the constant wave of new technology. 

First Post for Media Literacy (Sumer 2015)

Hi, my name is Brittany. I am using an old blog from a previous course, so don't be alarmed if you see lots of other posts here.

I am a 7th grade geography teacher. We just wrapped up the school year last Friday. It was a good year with a lot of really fun and unique students. I would say that the students I had this past year had more personality and spirit than any students from previous years. Altough the students were great, it was a very loooong year.

So I'm ready to jump into this course and dig right in. I think it will actually be good that I haven't had a break in between, as I'm still in school mode. Once I've finished this course I plan on having a relaxing and lazy summer. I've forgotten what it feels like to not have to live by a never-ending to-do list. I'm envisioning a lot of time spent in the sun with my dog, Sadie.