Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Harder the Problem, the Sweeter the Solution

Or something like that. A pair of students in my 7th grade robotics class spent the last one-and-a-half classes stuck on a really frustrating problem. While the rest of the class went to town making brilliant windmills exploring the physics of centrifugal force (it that's what it's called, I took Physics for Poets in college), and pushing the limits of early Logo program writing I was knocking my head against the wall helping this team get their RCX to successfully complete the beep test. The tower would send the signal, the RCX display would show that it had received it, but then the program would say the interface is not connected, meaning the tower hadn't received the proper confirmation signal from the RCX. I tried swapping RCX's, towers, computers, user accounts, all to no avail. Finally in the middle of class today I remembered hearing two years ago that fluorescent light can interfere with the infrared signal transmission. So on a hunch I told them to put the RCX and the tower on the floor under the table and it worked! Never has victory tasted so sweet. That problem was really getting under my skin. I told them several times that their frustration was a great sacrifice to the learning of the community because it allowed us to learn about a really tough problem.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Media Education and Participatory Culture

I've been reading Henry Jenkins' blog about media and participatory culture. It's constantly illuminating. He's published a paper he did for the MacArthur Foundation entitled "Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century," available in installments on his blog and as a pdf from the MacArthur Foundation web site. It offers three very solid reasons that media literacy must be taught thoughtfully and explicitly:
  1. The participation gap: While most children have access to computers, those who must rely on a library or school for internet access aren't able to consume and produce their own media to anywhere near the degree that those with their own computers and internet access can.
  2. The transparency problem: Children are more savvy in their consumption of digital media than grown-ups but lack the critical skills necessary to understand how media are being produced and what interests lie behind their production.
  3. The ethics challenge: Kids' involvement in online media production is usually unmediated by adults and therefore they have little guidance in making ethical decisions about the consequences of what they produce.

I think this paper is huge. It takes a while to digest, but is really worth the time.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Wanted--Positive Web 2.0 Experiences

My 5th grade classes are just finishing an exciting project extending their learning in humanities class about North American native cultures during colonial times. After posting a Pivot Stick Figure Animator animation depicting an activity from a tribe's daily life and writing an explanation of the activity on our class forum in Moodle the students have been commenting on each others' projects. Aside from the obvious hard work and thought that has gone into the projects, the students' comments on each others' work have been remarkably and almost all positive and supportive. This took me by surprise because as a grade these students have just been through the ringer for a lot of negative social behavior they've been engaging in with Club Penguin accounts, text messaging and email, and they are only 9 years old! Although we didn't intend to create a positive social experience using technology and we didn't encourage them to be positive at all in their feedback they've readily taken up this opportunity to use technology for positive social ends. As one student said in her project writeup, "This tribe reminds me of (our school) because on the weekends we are away from each other, but when we come together we’re just like the Chickasaw tribe one tight community." Now, isn't that sweet?