YA Saves

View the story “YA Saves” on Storify

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Influx One-Pager

Now this looks interesting. I’ve been looking at many different web sites and technologies for class, and in my practicum. One issue that seems to come up frequently is time – it takes time to develop a well-designed site. This (or something like it) seems like it has potential as a good placeholder, or a clean, mobile friendly default that could link you off to other pages (a wiki for instance, with all your less-organized or not as cleanly designed pathfinders, links, news etc.)

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What type of learner are you?

Oh, goodness, I’m finally emerging from a deep pile of projects, assignments, reading and last-minute schoolwork. On the plus side, I have lots of ideas that have been percolating in the back of my brain that I finally have time to think through and write about.

One that’s come up repeatedly over the last few weeks is alternative learning styles. As part of my program, I’m taking several education classes, and as part of those classes, I’ve had to do a lot of experimenting with different learning styles and teaching methods.

This was extremely hard for me at first. I realized as I went through this process that I am a very traditional type of learner: I do best with a teacher lecturing in front of me and me taking notes. A thick stack of reading? Just hand me a highlighter. Nice clean-edged, formal, organized assignments, with defined rubrics and clear paths to the end. And when I was in school, that was fine – that’s the way things were taught.

But as my teachers exposed me to new methods and techniques, I became increasingly frustrated. Open-ended discussions, Socratic questioning, drawing concept maps and making graphic organizers; I was lost. Pushed out of my comfort zone, I grew stubborn, and I confess to wondering what the point of all this was. Traditional methods had worked just fine when I was in school, all this loosey-goosey stuff was just coddling kids!

But as I read the literature about different learning styles, I came to realize that, well, not everyone thinks like me. And when I thought about how frustrated I was trying to wrap my mind around something like Prezi, I tried to imagine I was an auditory learner, facing a that pile of reading. Or an interpersonal learner looking for a way to make a connection to a geometry proof.

What I realized (after, I confess, much stubbornness on my part) is that I was very lucky; my learning style matched up perfectly with the teaching methods used by my instructors. But what if it hadn’t? As an educator, I realized, it will be my job to make sure that I reach all the kids, not just the ones who think the way I think, and reason the way I reason. And if that means I have to move outside my comfort zone, well, I better get cracking.

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No, we’re not raising a generation of nincompoops

That’s what AP writer Beth Harpaz asks in this article. Railing against kids who can’t figure out ice-cube trays (their fridges make ice), tie their shoes (their sneakers are velcro), or use a can opener (their cans have pop tops), she asks if this is “the result of kids growing up with push-button technology in an era when mechanical devices are gradually being replaced by electronics.”

I think she’s conflating a few things here. There certainly is a switch from analog to digital skills, but I don’t think it means kids are dumb. It means the tools they use are changing, and they don’t need to learn older tools. The can opener one really struck me – fine, your kid may not know how to use the can opener, but if they don’t need to, why does it matter? Is it equally offensive that they can’t use a church key? That they don’t know how to make those pull tab necklaces we were always convinced could be traded in for dialysis?

I use a calculator, not a slide rule, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to do math, it just means I’m using a different tool. Harpaz quotes Mark Bauerlein, author of the “The Dumbest Generation,” who laments that kids are losing critical thinking skills because they can just Google for answers. I would argue that they’re learning different skills by Googling an answer. Can a modern kid build a transistor radio out of a kit? Probably not (at least none I know). But they can probably film, edit and upload a video nothing flat. Why is one activity intrinsically more valuable then the other?

The arbitrariness of her list also piques. Harpaz acknowledges that some skills, such as adding Roman numerals, writing cursive or “looking things up in a paper-bound thesaurus,” are obsolete. Really? Why? Cursive is useless but ice-cube trays are important? And how did we arrive at that conclusion?

The other issues she brings up – not knowing how to use a clothes hanger because they throw clothes on the floor, never having taken a bus alone – have more to do with parenting than technology. Of course a kid won’t learn how to do something if you always do it for them. But that doesn’t mean that “kids today are nincompoops.” It may mean that some people overprotect their kids, but I hardly think that’s a new phenomenon, or something that should be blamed on the children.

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Wikipedia and Historiography

Back to that repeatedly-made point about historiography and wikipedia, here’s a fascinating example/teaching tool: a 12-volume history of the Wikipedia entry on the Iraq War.

This is historiography. This is what culture actually looks like: a process of argument, of dissenting and accreting opinion, of gradual and not always correct codification.

James Bridle, who produced the book, discussed the topic at a speech at dConstruct, that fascinated me. Imagine if the Library at Alexandria had a history button. Better still, imagine showing your students the equivalent of this for any history book or political narrative.

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I’ve been doing a lot of YA reading in anticipation of an upcoming class, and one thing I’ve been struck by is how depressing it all is. Death, depression, drugs, suicide, pregnancy — these kids have truly horrible lives.

In general I have no problem with this, but what seems odd to me is that I don’t really remember my reading being this dark at that age. Or perhaps more accurately – I may have read those dark depressing books, but they didn’t stick with me. When I think back to what I read as a child and as a teen the books that I remember well are not those awful, gut-wrenching or terrifying novels. One or two, obviously – I can still recall intentionally re-reading Johnny’s death scene from The Outsiders so I would cry – but really, the books I look back fondly on were a very different nature. The big problems were “I like a boy and he doesn’t like me” or “what do I wear?”  I infinitely preferred humor and jokes to blood and death.

Some of this is just personal preference, to be sure – I don’t enjoy dark or scary novels as a grownup either (my love of mysteries does not include the serial killer and bloody thriller genre so popular now, sorry Steig Larsson). But I wonder – are kids books now just darker? Or is it just that the “difficult”  ones win all the awards?

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Larry Sanger interview

Slate has an interview up with Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger (and editor -in-chief of rival encyclopedia site Citizendium)

This part particularly resonated with me:

Wikipedia has finally awakened in people an understanding that even carefully edited resources can frequently be wrong and have to be treated with skepticism and that ultimately we are responsible for what we believe. That means constantly going back and checking what we thought was established or what we thought we knew. Wikipedians often say that you should never trust any one source, including Wikipedia.

That’s not anything new; it’s always been the case that you should check your source against another source. It’s just that the way that the Internet has exposed the editorial process has, for more critical-minded people, made it absolutely plain just how much responsibility we ourselves bear to believe the right thing.

Exactly what I was getting at with the earlier post on Wikipedia and historiography. I’d love to use Wikipedia and other sources this way – to get kids questioning all their sources. Because that’s really what goes into making them not just parrot back “oh I found out these facts” but make them really think about it. Who said so, how do you know, which sources, what are their motivations? Dig deeper!

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