Tag Archives: media

Clownin’ Around

“That’s a clown question, bro.” And with that, 19-year old Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper was a viral internet sensation. The follow-up article from Slate by Katy Waldman made the decidedly unclownlike inquiry, “What exactly is a clown question?” She offers that “Clown questions get on people’s nerves because they raise topics that no one cares about.” She goes on to add three key components, that clown questions are 1) irrelevant, 2) irreverent, and 3) “gotcha” in nature. They are, in other words, designed to trip you up – as was the alcohol-related question posed to the underage Harper.

So is this B-roll material for ESPN between SportsCenter reruns, or can we learn from this instantly meme-worthy moment? What kind of questions do we as educators ask in our classroom instruction? Are they clown questions? Hopefully not! As we strive for authentic assessment through inquiry-based learning, the prompts and questions we use should never be “gotcha” in nature. Our goal is not to make our students wriggle and squirm like they’ve been caught in a trap!

Neither should our questions – whether they are spoken or on a test/quiz – ever be anything other than relevant and reverent. By relevant, I mean that our assessment needs to be grounded in what it is important and valuable for the growth, development, and achievement of our students. We must connect to real-life scenarios whenever possible, and use constructivist-influenced lessons to make problem-solving link to our students’ experience sets – past, present, and future.

Reverent questions are important too, by which I mean we need to have respect for our students. They of course deserve nothing less than us at our best, and our professionalism counts for something. Save the whoopee cushions and pie-in-the-face antics for another time… We’re busy building the future here!

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Cycle of Learning, Part III: Beyond Thunderdome

The Marketplace of Ideas

All schools, in the final analysis, are a Thunderdome.  Of course, I mean that metaphorically, although on some of the worst days marauding bands of children and Tina Turner ruthlessly arranging death matches may sound accurate.  No, my view is rather one that makes the classroom a marketplace of ideas, where concepts compete for student attention. To discern between competing ideas is the skill of culling, yet another essential 21st Century skill.  “Two ideas enter – one idea leaves.”

Culling is where a student learns the ability to refine the ideas that have been curated from the learning process.  Collaboration is the arena in which this culling of ideas occurs; where both teachers and students can challenge ideas and be challenged in turn.  Fundamentally, collaboration of this nature is a Darwinian process. Students engaged in group work and inquiry-based project learning share all ideas, and through the facilitation of the instructor, the best adapt and grow stronger.  Weak ideas appropriately die. Strong ideas get tougher.

While this “only the strong survive,” “wheat from chaff,” “men from boys” talk might sound rough, remember that we are talking about the mental concepts and skills that are competing for our students’ attention here.  There is already a lot of competition for that narrow bandwidth of attention as it is – if teachers aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves and throw a couple of elbows to engage the students in the learning process, then we’ve already lost the fight before we begin.  We must be willing to compete for our students’ attention!

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

If we truly want to move beyond the Thunderdome to a place where our students are fully engaged of their own volition, then we need to fully appreciate Marshall McLuhan’s predictions once again.  The man was born 100 years ago yet predicted the Internet long before it happened – so with its rise as the dominant medium of the age, his works bear serious reexamination.

McLuhan’s vision was of a “global village” – that the advent of new technology will serve as prelude to a return of the collaborative society that used to found in tribal communities.  He predicted a social order where communication is both universal and instantaneous.  With the evolution of the internet into not only Web 2.0 sharing but Web 3.0 collaboration, we have finally seen the fulfillment of McLuhan’s vision.

Yet, for all the talk of Prensky’s “digital natives” that has finally gotten some traction and been applied to the Millennial Generation, we seem to have completely overlooked the rise of the post-Millennial generation right behind them.  They’re like Millennials, only more so.  The independence of Millennials has yielded to the groupthink of the new generation, born between 9/11/01 and today.  Much in the way the “Silent Generation” lived in the shadow of the “Greatest Generation” of WWII, this iGeneration (iGens) very often demonstrate a hive mind.  Some of the common social patterns involve VOIP to chat and group gaming via Xbox.  Many iGens read Reddit obsessively, and they gravitate in hordes to Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr-type social media… collaboration of this sort is purely intuitive for them.

As an English teacher I’ve seen it in iGen writing as well.  Their inability to divorce argumentation from mere opinion is reflective of the collaborative aspect of their socialization.  The iGens have been trained very well to accept everyone’s opinion is valid, and so that creeps into their self-expression.  They already know very well how to collaborate – what the role of the educator needs to be in this new landscape is to help train the iGens how to harness the raw power of their collaborative skills to refine their learning and make their ideas even stronger.  Using technology to engage students on their terms is the way to help the iGeneration reach its fullest potential.

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The “I” Formation

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s a day for being grateful, for family, friends, food… And of course, football! Luke O’Neil from Slate reflects on why sports are no longer the communal events they used to be:

Why none of my friends wants to watch football with me.

Technology has changed that calculus. I no longer need to be in the same room with my friends to share a collective moment of euphoria. Now I can simply share my delight on Twitter or Facebook and collect dozens of electronic high-fives instantaneously. I spend more time now interacting with my friends digitally than in the flesh; it’s only logical that we’d take that approach to sports as well. Right now, for example, my friend is G-chatting me about how much he hates Tim Tebow, while another handful are complaining about their teams on our fantasy league board and a third group is texting me about the Patriots game. In a living room, you’d call that noise. Here at home, it’s a lot easier to manage. We’re essentially watching TV together—why do we need to be in the same room? […]

On the few recent occasions that I have dragged myself to a friend’s house, or vice versa, we spend most of the time staring at our smart phones and tablets. What exactly is the benefit of physical proximity in that scenario? “Check out this funny tweet I just sent” doesn’t really count as conversation, does it? And there’s always the one poor guy who didn’t bring his laptop and has to continually ask one of us to check his scores for him. He might as well be watching the game through a hole in a wooden fence like a cartoon character from the 1930s.

This together/alone approach isn’t unique to sports viewership. Consider how video-game producers have moved away from split-screen games and multicontroller hubs and toward online multiplayers where everyone logs in from their couch. A generation of children is being raised with the idea that “hanging out” means logging on and “playing” with your friends online… Is technology like this isolating, or does it allow us to connect with more people more often?

There are definite echoes of Bowling Alone (Robert D. Putnam, 2001) present in O’Neil’s musings. And while the fragmentation of American culture is certainly nothing new, the rise of new technologies has accelerated the process in ways we never could have predicted. Activities that used to be communal are now individual and the web is used to loosely connect us only to the degree we choose. Asking if this digital revolution has united us more or made it more convenient to isolate ourselves is a very important question for everyone.

Educators in particular need to be aware of this shift, because the behavioral patterns are changing the way that humans think. Mental skills and synapses that go unused can atrophy and devolve if they repeat in enough generations. Now while some would see this as reason to sound the alarm about the dangers of the Internet and why it has an adverse effect on our society, I take the opposite tack. I would argue that it is critical for educators to grab this moment and use it to our advantage. Let’s build a culture of learning that empowers our students to collaborate across all literacies – digital and interpersonal. A balanced offense is a winning strategy that would truly be something for which we could all be thankful!

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A Vision of Students Today

This video was created by 200 students at Kansas State University.  What can it teach us about this next generation of students and the best way to help them succeed?  I think that there are some tough punches thrown here in several different directions.

A Vision of Students Today – YouTube.

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