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.