One Bad Tweet Can Ruin Your Whole Day

“Never let a 140 character tweet cost you a $140,000 scholarship,” tweeted Brandon Chambers, an assistant men’s basketball coach at Marymount (VA) University. Three years earlier, a potential basketball scholarship athlete had his recruitment brutally terminated because of his Twitter activity, which the coaches said “did not represent what the university was about.” (USA Today, Jan. 5, 2015) More and more, colleges (and businesses) are requiring applicants to provide social media IDs to better screen who would be the best “fit” and to evaluate character. Woe be to him or her who posts inappropriate material, whether offensive language, derogatory comments, or incriminating photos. “Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences”, says David Petroff, director of athletic communications at Edgewood (Wis.) College.Teens need to realize and take responsibility for their online actions just as carefully as physical ones.

Many college and university athletic directors are using social media to check out the integrity of their potential athletes. It’s important to remember that once you put something out in the Twitterverse or on Instagram, it’s out there, it’s public. There are plenty of examples of celebrities tweeting something rash, only to have to retract it after public outcry. In the collegiate athletic world, you don’t even get that chance. (Pro football player rants abound, however–go figure.)

I have a moderate to low social media presence by choice. I have a Facebook page, Twitter (rarely use), Instagram (even more rarely), a blog, and a LinkedIn account that I haven’t updated in years. I post only those things that I could shout in church, and I’m constantly reminding my students to think before they send anything out onto the interwebs. If one bad tweet can ruin an athlete’s career (or any career for that matter), it behooves all of us to remind our teens of the calamitous effect of posting without reflection. (Of course, the whole “think before you speak/act” phrase has been around for ages…)

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Print books vs. digital — vindication!

I’ve long been a proponent of “real” books vis à vis digital editions, and I often feel like a dinosaur clinging to life as the earth crumbles around me. Print books are easy to hold, you can go back to a previous page easily, and they don’t require batteries, but e-books weigh less, take up less space in an airplane carry-on, and are easier to read at night without disturbing a partner. My husband bought me a Kindle Fire tablet, and while I have indeed read a book or two on it I mostly use it to access the Internet or play Angry Birds. (There’s a video on YouTube about how paper has a strong future, and it makes me laugh every time I watch it.) And in many of the journals I read (in print!) it’s all about one-to-one programs, more access to e-books, and increasing access to online sources. But now there comes a book that has found that young people, even those considered “digital natives,” prefer books over tablets. The book, by Naomi S. Baron, is titled “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World,” which is profiled in an article by Cory Doctorow, on the website “Boing, boing.” The book is an analysis of how we read and how reading is affected both in print or onscreen. E-reading, Baron argues, does not encourage the kind of in-depth reading that a print book does. Furthermore, e-reading lends itself to distraction and skimming, and multi-tasking becomes rampant. Baron “reaches past the hype of both sides of the discussion” in presenting what can be gained from e-reading and what may be lost by no longer reaching for a printed book. (Amazon.com, 2015)

Another article reviewing the same book is written by a reporter from the Washington Post, Michael S. Rosenwald. The article, titled “Why Digital Natives Prefer Print – Yes, You Read That Right,” touches on some of Baron’s insights on the surveys she conducted for her research. Interestingly, “building a physical map in my mind of where things are,” a reason given by one student as to why he prefers print, squared with Baron’s findings. (Rosenwald, 2015) Others mentioned the fact that it’s easier to find your place in a print book, and print allows for greater absorption of material.

So, to my great delight, paper books aren’t going away anytime soon, and the evidence is mounting that paper and digital books can co-exist side-by-side. This mirrors what I see in my library, as students vastly prefer reading print books over digital. They may have e-readers on their phones and iPads, but not a single one has ever come up to me and asked to add an e-book to the collection. My personal preference will always be print, even though I have been known to reach for a “classic” novel on my Kindle; the major reason I prefer print is, however, the fact that I like to re-read certain passages from the beginning of a novel when I’m almost finished with it. I will continue to monitor my students’ preferences and I’m open to purchasing e-books in the future, but for now, the printed word vigorously survives.

Leave a comment

Filed under Library

Teens & Distracted Driving — It’s Worse Than We Think

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the problem of teens driving while distracted, either from passengers or from electronic devices, is bigger than previously thought. The study, culled from analyzing the six seconds before collision in almost 1,700 videos of teen drivers, used voluntary in-vehicle event recorders to capture the information. The Foundation discovered that nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe vehicle crashes involving teens was due to distraction of some sort, almost four times the estimate from police reports. (AAA, 2015) The ability to analyze film in the moments leading up to a crash was cited as being very helpful in understanding what happened directly before impact, something that was impossible before having the videos. Another finding: teenagers, on average, had their eyes off the road for 4.1 seconds of the 6 seconds before impact. Good grief.

I’ve ranted about this before; adults talking or texting on their cell phones while driving irritates me no end. Teenagers on cell phones are even worse. The AAA study suggests that parents create a parent-teen driving agreement before allowing young drivers to get behind the wheel. It may also be worth it to invest in an app that monitors or even disables teen cell phone use while the vehicle is moving. Also, it would behoove adults in general to set a better example of not using cell phones while driving. Additionally, I would love to see legislation passed that outlawed all cell phone use in cars, hands-free included. But as someone pointed out to me, politicians are some of the worst offenders in talking on their phones when driving, so don’t look for any change in the laws anytime soon.

Am I being too cynical? Am I asking too much? I’ve been on the road countless times behind someone not going the speed limit and swerving in their lane, knowing they were on their phone and having it confirmed when I was finally able to pass. I consider myself a decent driver–I’m not perfect, and I struggle every day not to tailgate, but otherwise I’m pretty safe. I would never ask anyone to do anything that I myself am not willing to do; hence, you will never find me on my phone while I’m driving. I will keep ranting to my students about driving/texting/being on the phone and the importance of paying attention while behind the wheel. Maybe, someday, some of it will stick.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

iPhone separation and communication

Apparently, iPhone separation results in measurable negative changes to cognition, emotion, and physiology. To which I say, “duh!” I see it every day at my school, as kids walk in the halls like zombies with their faces buried in their electronic devices. I see it every day in my library, as kids text and tweet after repeated requests from me to stop. They can’t. I have a standing $10 bet with any kid to give me his or her cell phone for the duration of a class period. No one has ever taken me up on it. And now a study out of the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication backs me up. The study involved college students, but the same effects can readily be seen among my high-school students.

In a nutshell, the study determined that “the data showed that the inability to answer one’s iPhone while it was ringing activated the aversive motivational system (increases in heart rate and unpleasantness), and also led to a decline in cognitive performance.” (Clayton et.al., 2015). Additionally, the students self-reported raised levels of unpleasantness and anxiety when separated from their devices. Lastly, the study indicated that once a student was distracted by an external or internal stimulus, it took half an hour for them to return to task.

The study raises the question of how not being able to interact with one’s iPhone affects communication with friends, family, and care providers; they have problems communicating with others when their phones are out of reach. But I’ve seen it work both ways; I’ve already had attention not paid me by people I’m talking to due to them texting or reading text messages. This includes teachers, sadly. The school has a “no electronic device during instruction time” that is largely ignored. The kids are allowed to be on their phones in the cafeteria at lunch, but the phones come out in the hallways as soon as class lets out. Even kids who come to speak to me in the library will pull out their phone to look at it during our conversation, in spite of my requests not to do so.

I’m the self-proclaimed rule-follower at my school, and my students know (for the most part) that I won’t accept dress-code violations, hats worn inside, or cell phone use during school hours. I use humor as much as possible to deflect any back talk I may engender, and as I have told the students many times, I will never ask them to do anything I won’t do myself. You won’t see me in a tank top. My hat comes off as soon as I step into the building. And you will never, ever see me with a cell phone in my hand during the school day. Sometimes setting the example, however, is not enough. It’s very frustrating, and it’s very sad.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why teaching cursive still matters

The gig is up — children should still be learning cursive in schools. According to an article written last June in the New York Times by Maria Konnikova, children that formed letters in their own handwriting vs. typing or tracing them show connections to broader educational development. In other words, “it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.” Studies are showing that children who write by hand learn to read faster, show an increased vocabulary, and retain what they learn better. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain,” says Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. To me, it’s kind of like a body memory when you train for something over and over; in a stressful situation, your body knows how to react faster than your brain. By learning to write by hand, the brain is forced to recognize “messy” letters; being able to interpret all forms of an “a” for example, may increase the likelihood of recognizing the letter more quickly.

In free-form handwriting, the brain exhibited increased activity in three areas, an increase not seen in those who typed into a computer. But only the actual act of handwriting itself, not the observation of it, demonstrated increased brain activity. Children who produced text by hand generated more words more quickly, and they also produced more ideas in general. (James, 2012)

The benefits of handwriting extend to adulthood itself, as “not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, memory and learning ability in general may benefit.” (Berninger, 2006.) And things just keep getting better as we write our notes long-hand instead of typing them into a computer: “writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and re-frame it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.” (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2013.)

My own belief tends to uphold the opinion of these studies, that teaching cursive to children and making them take notes by hand produces both immediate and long-term benefits. I personally take notes much better by hand than by computer, and I usually write out all my papers longhand before typing them up. (Granted, I am a generation removed from easy access to electronic devices – I still prefer books over Kindles, I’m not attached by the hip to my phone, and I don’t need a constant blast of music in my ear from my iPod.) I was taught cursive from fourth grade to eighth grade (in a private Waldorf school in California); even my peers in public school were taught cursive. With today’s bipolar emphasis on standardized testing and yet producing creative, inventive individuals, teaching cursive can only provide a benefit to students both directly and with lasting positive effects.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Teaching kindness

We spend a lot of time talking about bullying and bullying prevention, but not very much time talking about kindness. In a recent blog post from Edutopia, the magazine from the George Lucas Education Foundation, Lisa Currie talks about why it’s important to teach kindness in schools, before the issue of bullying gets out of hand. “When children are able to experience the feel-good emotions that are produced when being kind, it enables them to see the world in a more positive light,” she says. “By building respectful relationships and being kind to their teachers and peers, a culture of kindness emerges to reduce bullying and create safe and inviting environments.”

This is important in a society like today’s, where teens mock and belittle each other with frightening results. My own daughter has experienced this, which I find absolutely horrifying. Worse, it came from an ex-boyfriend who was trying to re-establish a relationship with her. Not the way to do things, not by a long shot. One of her girlfriends is also talking trash about her–I’ve seen the texts. The cruelty of adolescents never ceases to amaze me.

I think Ms. Currie is on the right path. Teaching kindness to children right from the beginning as part of the curriculum may curb some of the rudeness so rampant these days. Continuing to teach kindness in middle and high school can only help reinforce the lessons introduced at the elementary level. We can’t control what kids learn at home, but we have them for seven hours a day; surely we as teachers can do something to stem the tide of disrespect and insolence that is so prevalent.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

School Start Times & Adolescents

The American Association of Pediatrics has issued a report on the effect of lack of sleep on adolescents, which contributes to a variety of issues, including obesity, mood disorders, and impaired academic performance. I’ve long felt that teenagers don’t get enough sleep during the school year; the early start times, coupled with after-school activities and jobs, plus homework, all combine to add up to sleepy, over-extended kids. The AAP “endorses…later school start times, and acknowledges the potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement.” In addition to delaying school start times, the AAP states that it is also necessary to educate parents and the community that comes into contact with the teenagers of the importance of them getting 8.5 – 9.5 hours of sleep per night. These stakeholders need to know about the scientific rationale behind the proposition to delay the start of school. Naps, sleeping longer on weekends, and coffee can only do so much toward ameliorating the sleep debt racked up by adolescents. Starting school later would allow them to get the necessary amount of shut-eye, and research indicates that this would improve many common teen ailments. We need to all get on board with this — we owe it to our kids for them to be as happy and healthy as possible. This is a start.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Another professor is backing up my argument…

…about eliminating electronic devices from the classroom. Clay Shirky, a professor at NYU, recently published a blog post about why he doesn’t want students using technology during his fall seminar. He teaches theory and practice of social media, and he studies the effects of the Internet on society. He is, as he himself admits, an unlikely candidate for Internet censor, but he has come to the same conclusion that I have myself, backed up by scientific research, that multi-tasking in the classroom prevents the kind of deep thinking required by a college curriculum. In other words, cell phones and laptops are an unwelcome distraction; Shirky states that “computer hardware and software are being professionally designed to distract” and that in a contest between Facebook and his class, he loses. He also cites a study that finds that screens distract in a manner akin to second-hand smoke–the person sitting next to someone on their phone or laptop is also distracted from the task at hand.

It was this last study that tipped Shirky into the “no devices in the classroom” camp. He’s long believed that “device use in class tends to be a net negative,” but when one person’s decision to use technology adversely affects others around them, the gig is up. Shirky says “some parts of making your brain do new things are just hard,” and it takes concentration and focus to concentrate on the hard stuff long enough to get it to a useful place; i.e., long-term memory. He sees instruction as a collaboration between himself and his students, and technology use in his classroom interferes with that collaborative effort.

I am so glad that I am not alone in championing the “no technology use” in the classroom. We’ll just have to be that much more attractive to our students so that they don’t even want to use their devices in class, that’s all.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Learning a foreign language is a crucial skill

I hear the whining all the time at school: “Why do I have to learn a foreign language? Everybody in the world speaks English.” Yes, but you can’t always count on it, and by learning a new language you learn about a new culture, a different way of life. Discovering a culture other than one’s own is an incredibly enriching, eye-opening and sometimes mind-bending experience. Not to mention the fact that in today’s global marketplace, chances are good that at some time in your career you will be working with someone from another country. Or you may be transferred to another country in which your company has a branch. Alan November, an education technology consultant, apparently is fond of recounting a story about a conversation he had with a senior executive at a global investment bank. November asked the executive what was the most important skill a student should learn for future success. The answer? Empathy – the ability to understand and respect different points of view. The marketing executive stated that it was easy enough to find smart, talented workers, less so to find those that were able to empathize with the needs and values of different nations.

Learning a different language helps build this cultural empathy. And a growing number of k-12 leaders are starting to realize that exposure to foreign languages and cultures, even from a very early age, is critical to student success and forms an integral part of being a global citizen. I can personally attest to the value of learning a language from the elementary years–I started learning French and German in fourth grade, Spanish in sixth. I kept up with my French studies in high school, eventually earning a double major in French and Anthropology. But I remember enough of both German and Spanish to be able to hold a rudimentary conversation even though more than 40 years have elapsed. And learning a language at an even earlier age, like preschool, can result in native or near-native pronunciation and intonation. That’s why, in part, that the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages recommends that students “be provided the opportunity to learn a second language as early as possible in school.” Other benefits to learning foreign languages in the early grades include “strengthening of literacy in students’ first language, raising standardized test scores in other subject areas, and developing comfort with cultural differences,” the council states.

This is nothing new to most European nations, who start teaching English to very young students in preschool. As my students noted earlier, most foreign students speak English fairly well by the time they reach their teens, so they balk at having to learn something other than their mother tongue, which some of them speak and write only marginally well into the bargain. But until the great education policy makers in places of power get on board with the fact that learning a foreign language is a critical skill necessary in today’s global marketplace, the status quo will remain, and English-speaking-only individuals will be left behind in the multi-lingual dust of their competitors.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Class size and academic results

There has been a long and conflicting attitude regarding class size and academic results, dating back at least to the 1990s. Study results have been mixed; yes, class size matters, no, class size is irrelevant. A meta-analysis out of Australia takes the issue back into the fray and seems to verify what I’ve felt all along–smaller classes impact student achievement, especially at the elementary level. I think that smaller classes allow for more individualized instruction, greater amounts of teacher-student interaction, and gives students a leg up when they continue on to middle and high school. Young students, with their shorter attention spans, can only benefit from more teacher involvement, and the teacher can spend more time on actual teaching than dealing with discipline problems that may arise when there are more bodies in the classroom. This particular study also found that smaller class size went a long way to reducing the minority-white achievement gap, which has all kinds of positive implications for society at large. Results for smaller class size in high school remain inconclusive, but the evidence in favor of smaller classes at the elementary level should provoke education officials into action.

Leave a comment

Filed under General