Book Review: Goodnight iPad

As a child, one of the many bedtime stories I heard (and eventually read myself) was Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. The basic premise is a bunny who is going to bed and looks around his room and sees different objects and then says good night to them, including the moon outside the window.

Goodnight Moon was originally published in 1947 (Wikipedia). And though it still is beloved by many parents as they read to their children at night, some children may not connect to the book the way the parents did when they were younger. Now, there’s a parody for that.

Goodnight iPad tells a similar story of the bunny family at night. However, this family has so many electronic gadgets that the mother bunny cannot sleep. She says, “okay, that’s it!” and start’s saying goodnight to all the electronics…by tossing them out the window! She then tucks the little bunnies into bed and reads “Goodnight Moon” via flashlight.

According to the back of the book, the parody was written by Ann Droyd (get it?…android!), a pseudonym for an IRA/Children’s Choices winner who has written over 25 books. A quick visit to www.anndroyd.com and I found that Goodnight iPad was the first book in the parody series. There is another…If You Give a Mouse an iPhone! I may have to get that one too…

I love the book. I thought it was cute, however, some of my younger tutoring students did not think the use of digital devices was all the clever or interesting. Perhaps they had not read Goodnight Moon or maybe I’m too old and still fascinated by technology rather than it being everyday objects. Or most likely, it was just below their reading level. We all go through a “that’s for babies” phase. Perhaps I caught them in it.

You decide….On Ann Droyd’s website there was an animation of Goodnight iPad. Watch it below and leave your thoughts on the book in the comments below.

“14 Things that are obsolete in 21st century schools”

The following article was published by Ingvi Hrannar Ómarsson, an Icelandic elementary teacher & Entrepreneur, on his blog, www.ingvihrannar.com.



Sometimes, the Old Way is Perfect Just the Way It Is

My grandpa passed away yesterday, at 87 years old. He had colon cancer and a number of other heath issues that he kept private up until two months ago. So while his death was sudden to my extended family, it was not to himself and my grandma. Upon reflection, my family and I notice the small affairs he put in order in the last year or so was really his expert planning. He used excuses that didn’t alarm anyone, but accomplished his goals.

My grandpa led a full life in his 87 years. Even in his passing, he planned it expertly. He passed at 1:45pm, giving the family the afternoon to grieve together. We went through suitcases of mementos and photos. He served in the Navy, fathered four children, and was married to my grandma for 64 wonderful years. He served as mayor of a small town, worked at AAA, and made beautiful wooden toys.

He did not understand technology very well. He and my grandma loved to go antiquing every chance they could. He only got rid of his rotary phone when he could not call Medicare customer service without a touch-tone phone. He did have a flip phone cell phone…for calling long-distance. He did embrace DVDs, but mostly to watch his favorite old TV shows.

As my family and I went through the suitcases, someone commented about how people just don’t make photo albums anymore. I thought about that for a bit. We take photos of everything and upload them to Instagram, Facebook, Google, or whatever site is the newest “it” thing. We keep “backup” copies on cloud storage, external hard drives, or just on our computer hard drives. And looking around at all the photos in my grandpa’s old suitcases, I realized that as wonderful as having digital copies are, they really do not replace physical copies of the important photos.

Through all the “noise” of a thousand digital photos, do you have favorites? A silly photo from the beach, a formal family portrait, or a touristy photo from a trip abroad? Print them out, organize them in an album, toss them in a shoebox or make a scrapbook. You don’t need to go to the craft store and buy tons of different papers, stickers, and cutouts, just something with acid-free paper where you can write some notes and glue a few pictures. It may not be something you want to look at for a while or at all, but others might. Alternatively, create a digital album of favorite photos, but make sure the information to get to it is left somewhere (i.e. leave passwords and directions to it in your will).

Unexpected or not, we all will pass away. There will be people who will want to celebrate your life. Make sure you lived in the moment, kept a journal of thoughts on important days of your life, took a few pictures, and put them all in a memory box outside your head and heart.

Technology enables us to do so much more and gives us access to so much more information, but my grandpa’s passing has reminded me that technology does not always mean better. Sometimes, the old way is perfect just the way it is.

Rest in Peace, Kenneth Roy Oates, 1926-2014.

VoiceThread

One assignment for my research methods graduate class required me to use the technology/website VoiceThread to reflect upon a well-remembered event prior to our current teaching practice.  I reflected upon my experience of a lockdown drill.

VoiceThread is a great technology that allows a user to upload a video, PowerPoint, or most media files and add audio to it, then other users can comment on the video using audio, video, or text.  Audio comments can be uploaded using a phone or a computer microphone.  Additionally, a commenter can pause the video while still continuing to speak and use a pencil tool with multiple colors to draw attention to an element in the video.

From their website:

Voice Threading:

  1. to communicate ideas using more than one of the senses
  2. to connect with an audience in an authentic and simple manner
  3. a discussion that simulates a live presence

It has great applications for K-12, higher education, and business.  VoiceThread would be a great tool to use for a Flipped Classroom or an online class.  There even an app for the iPad that will allow you to create and edit your VoiceThreads.  VoiceThreads can be embedded using an object code (see below) to websites, linked to on VoiceThread’s servers, and sent in an email.  VoiceThread will even post directly to your Facebook or Twitter account if you give it permission to do so.

However there is a major drawback.  It’s a bit costly.  The single K-12 educator license is $79/year.  Have more than one teacher using it at one school?  You can purchase a school license, which starts at $450/year.  Some features cost more while there are discounts for number of users.  However, if you are not affiliated with a school, individual plans start at $20/month.  There are discounts for teams and companies.

So why is price such a big drawback?  There is a free account, but it is so limiting that it essentially allows you to try it out once or twice and then you have to make a decision to purchase a license or not.  Commenting is always free, but uploading your videos will cost you.  Also, the free account limits you to 25MB per upload, which can be a bit difficult if you have a longer video.  While using my free account, the iPad app seemed a bit restricting as well.  I could not use the microphone on my iPad to record audio over a video that I uploaded using my laptop.  Lastly, the free account restricts a user to only 5 video uploads and does not allow you to delete any video.  Thus, you really need to record video using another program and then upload it once it is completely done, if you want to capitalize on the restricted 5 uploads.

Overall: I really like VoiceThread.  I think it would be excellent with a paid account, but the price point is a bit difficult for me as this is a technology that can only be used with itself (you can’t really use it to add an audio comment to a YouTube video; you can only use VoiceThread commenting on VoiceThread videos).

Below I have embedded the VoiceThread I made for my assignment (direct link here).  This specific video was created by first making a PowerPoint presentation, which I then published to video in order to preserve fonts, transitions, and set slide advancement times.  Then, I uploaded the video to VoiceThread.  While I could upload the .ppx file, VoiceThread could not read the fonts, even after I embedded them into the file.  Thus, this video is actually number 3 of my 5 allotted VoiceThreads.  Once uploaded, I then had to use an external microphone to record my voice because I could not get my laptop microphone to work nor could I use my iPad.

Feel free to comment on the video using VoiceThread or in the comments section on this blog entry.

Teachable Moment: George Zimmerman Verdict

It is no surprise that people have been glued to media coverage of George Zimmerman’s trial. Zimmerman had been charged with the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin. It became a high-profile case due to two facts: Zimmerman and Martin were of different races and Martin was unarmed. On July 13, Zimmerman was acquitted.

I’m not going to analyze the trial, nor am I going to say if the jury was right or wrong. Why? Because I have no authority to speak on the trial. I am not an expert (lawyer, criminalist, judicial journalist, etc.), I was not in the courtroom during the trial, nor was I present at the scene of the crime.

Technology has enabled people to learn about anything at any time. It has connected people and enabled physical distance to not be so important. It has empowered people. Unfortunately, the anonymity provided by technology has been the perfect breeding ground for passive-aggressive behaviors.

In the hours and days following the announcement of the verdict, people took to social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, to share their emotions. Those who felt Zimmerman was guilty were angry a murderer was walking free. Claims of bias were cited most often, from what I read.

We have a jury system for a reason. There was a reason we stopped public hangings. There is a reason that one person cannot be judge, jury, and executioner. That reason is: people had been found to be innocent after they’d been executed. In other words, the jury system is the best system we have created so far.

The take-away is this: respect the process. And if you don’t like it, do something about it.

This is exactly why I became an educator. I respect the field; I respect those who are members of the field. But, I felt there were some teaching methods that were outdated and I had ideas on possible solutions. And instead of passive-aggressively tweeting and blogging about them, I pursued a path which gave me authority to speak about and influence the field of education.

So if you don’t like the jury system, or anything really, and have a better idea, pursue a path that will give you the platform to change it. Otherwise, stay out of the conversation. As the old saying goes, “if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem”. So, do something about what you feel you could improve and be a part of the solution, not the problem.

“Indoctrination in Common Core ELA textbooks”

A few weeks ago I saw a video on Facebook titled “Indoctrination in Common Core ELA textbooks”.  It was posted on June 15 by Aliēnātus: the truth is out there.  The goal was to open people’s minds to what was in the Common Core curriculum and that the curriculum is horrible because it “indoctrinates” students starting in the 1st grade.  According to the commentators in the video, the book(s) shown have been approved by the state of Utah.

I was outraged, but not by the curriculum, rather by the ignorance of the commentators in the video and by the comments on the video.  It still outrages me, thus, I have decided to embedded the video and share my thoughts.

My Issues with Statements Made in This Video

The commentators have no authority on the subject matter.  The commentators who are evaluating the curriculum have no stated background in teaching, curriculum planning/design, or education.  One commentator claims he has a 6-year-old (1st grader).  This does NOT make him an expert on what is taught or should be taught but isn’t being taught in the 1st grade.  It is apparent that he has not seen the entire K-12 system as a whole, its successes and its failures, from the standpoint of an educator.  He is a parent.  He may be an expert on the interests of his child, but that does not translate into the expertise of the educational goals for that grade.

The commentators’ narrow focus on the title, “Literature and Writing” ignores the benefits of working with content in different contexts.  Since the commentators are not well-versed in educational issues, they do not understand that one of the major problems of the American school system is that we pulled apart our content and put each one into different boxes called grade level and subject matter from which we were told to never deviate into another subject or grade level.  In other words, the 1st grade English teacher taught 1st grade English, which included reading, spelling, writing, and literature.  Students were not taught reading in 2nd grade science class because “that’s the 1st grade English teacher’s job.”  We now know this chunking to be very problematic and the term “cross-curricular” has entered the educational vocabulary.  Encouraging students to write about advocacy in a “literature and writing” class highlights that you don’t just write papers in an English class and talk about society in social studies, you can mix them!

It’s also important to note that writing is not just about the motor skills of writing letters and sentence structure.  Why should we waste students’ precious time writing about insignificant things like, “The sky is blue.  I like puppies,” when they are capable of so much more?  Many students have already grasped these basic verbal concepts by the 1st grade, thus, we are wasting their time by re-teaching the same concept with only adding the motor skill of writing.  We end up hindering the grow of their mental skills; and when their brain isn’t stimulated, students get bored, which can directly lead to learning, “nothing” all day and hating school.

The commentators project their adult understanding and definition of “advocacy” and cannot fathom that a 6-year-old can advocate for anything.  The concept of “advocacy” can be complicated or boiled down to a very simple basic element: standing up for what you think is right.  Isn’t that the exact same message behind the anti-bullying campaigns in elementary schools right now?  The commentators laugh and one says sarcastically, “Yeah, my six-year-old does that all the time.  She looks at what is wrong in the world and says how do I organize my people and my community to fix these social problems?”  By six years old, kids are able to identify things that are right and wrong as well as come up with ideas on how to change the status quo.  Why tell a six-year-old, “no, you’re only six, you have nothing positive to contribute to your family/house, neighborhood, your school, or your city”?  We’re not talking about six-year-olds organizing and starting a national revolution, but they can see that there are people who are starving and that creating a community garden and donating the food to a local food bank can help.  It’s also fathomable that 1st graders could organize a school-wide blanket drive to donate blankets to the American Red Cross for the upcoming winter.

The commentators ignore the intended audience of the curriculum guidebook that they mock.  The guidebook is written for a college-educated educator.  The voice and style of the paragraphs is written such that it will not be an insult to the intelligence of an elementary school teacher.  The educator is able to translate the broad concept of “call to action” into simpler words that each individual student will understand.  The concept of “call to action” really isn’t difficult to understand at all.  A six-year old definitely understands, “the sentence that says ‘I want you to clean your room.’ is a call to action because ‘clean’ is a verb, and a verb is an action, right?”  Why are we insulting the intelligence of six-year-olds?  If they are capable of understanding the concept, willing to learn it, and desiring more out of their education, then we should be teaching them.  It is the role of an educated, effective teacher to translate concepts from complex to simple.  Teacher guidebooks are written for the teacher, not the student.

The commentators have ignored the basic principles of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos.  Logos ethos, and pathos are Greek words that used to describe the three types of appeal that are used to convince people in an argument.  They are essentially logical appeal, credibility appeal, and emotional appeal.  These are very complex subjects that are repeatedly studied throughout middle school, high school, and college.  However, the commentators do not understand that the fundamental understanding of these complex concepts must begin early.  Since the commentators do not seem to have an education background, they have not experienced the problems that occur later when this ground work is not laid.  An effective elementary teacher is able to teach a very basic understanding of these concepts.

The commentators have ignored the value of recognizing how someone is manipulating you in favor of focusing on the fact that we are equipping 1st graders with tools to manipulate.  A six-year-old has already experienced manipulation using all three types of appeal: in video and/or print advertisements, in overhearing an argument between their parents or other adults, or by engaging in an argument themselves.  It is imperative that students begin to understand how peer pressure works (usually a combination of all three, but typically lots of logical and emotional appeal) and how to avoid failing prey to it.

The commentators take issue with the example of arguing with their parents.  My gut instinct is that the reason parents were chosen is that they were looking for an authority figure that a child may feel comfortable arguing with, and it’s pretty safe to assume that each child has at least one parent (or guardian).  But I think the bigger problem is if you are worried that we are teaching six-year-olds how to argue back to their parents instead of simply obeying and doing as their told without incident…perhaps you need to re-evaluate your parenting style.  I mean..if you can be outsmarted or outargued by a six-year-old…then you probably have not taught your kids WHY you want them to do something, which is just as important as the WHAT.  Why don’t we want to equip our children as early as we can with the weapon of words instead of the weapon of fists?  Why do we want to enforce blind obedience, but then wonder why kids aren’t thinking for themselves?

The commentators fall victim to the exact “problems” they criticize in the teacher’s guidebook.  The commentators emphasize and pause on certain words to elicit an emotional response from the viewer.  They are trying to convince the viewers that this guidebook is indoctrinating students by using their “authority” as a parent of a six year old, emphasizing emotional words, and trying to insert sarcastic commentary as part of their emotional appeal.  The end goal of this video was not to objectively review the Common Core approved, curriculum guidebook for 1st grade in the state of Utah, but it was to stir up emotions and fuel rage-filled comments.