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Dear Blog:
I miss you dearly. I'm so sorry I have neglected you, and I hope to be able to get back to writing soon. This past month has been overwhelming, but I am looking forward to spring break in one week, when I will have time to clear my mind and write.

George Lucas' Edutopia Foundation made a video that is completely biased towards arts-infused, challenge-based learning in today's classroom, and I love every minute of it. I don't see how any progressive educator could ignore such a strong argument for media literacy. Sad part is, larger class sizes, fewer resource dollars, and higher standardized testing stakes do not mean progressive educators will be able to actually teach anything not on the state tests, especially media literacy.

Even sadder still, students with little or no practice in higher-level thinking skills about media will most likely never receive any education at home. Otherwise, if the parents of those students had any idea what "predatory lending practices" were, we might not be in the economic situation we are currently in.

We're not at a complete loss, though. States like New Mexico, where poverty levels are some of the highest in the entire country, have begun to teach media literacy in public schools. Come on, California legislators! Media literacy isn't an elective in life-- it's mandatory for being able to live in American society.
This week, as part of a class I'm taking for my Reading Specialist credential (sounds much more formal than what it really is, doesn't it?) my professor asked the class to read and respond to this article published by Learning Point Associates. If you know anything about LPA, they "help" Program Improvement schools get out of the standardized test-score gutter. I'm not biased against or for such programs, but I always wonder how much magic they can actually work on all the problems that plague American public education? Since I work in an 80% poverty-level school, I'm skeptical-- what can I say?

Several key points stood out for me when reading this article. First and foremost, the following quote completely hit home with me because of the reality that it illustrates:
"Why are we evaluating? What are we evaluating? How are we evaluating? How well have we evaluated? Instead of being used as a process for judging and improving program quality, evaluation becomes something teachers or administrators are required to do in order to satisfy externally determined needs. When this situation occurs, teachers have no ownership of the evaluation plan or the generated data. The result is that often no one seems to know why the assessment information was gathered or how it can be used to improve instruction."
Teachers don't feel comfortable with walk-throughs, coaching, or observations because of the lack of investment they have in the whole process.

Another quote that I agreed with, but was disappointed to see marginalized was the point made about socioeconomic status:
"Children from families of low socioeconomic status often attend schools facing other problems attributed to at-risk students. These schools typically have many students with high mobility rates, severe behavioral and emotional problems, and limited English proficiency. In addition, children of low socioeconomic status may come from culturally diverse backgrounds (Knapp & Shields, 1990)."
Teaching in one of the most disadvantaged school districts in the state has made me realize that no matter how much effort a teacher puts into her teaching, students and parents will always decide if that effort will be of use or go to waste. It is quite unfortunate that such a decision can make or break a student's future, an educator's career, and a school's budget.

It is unfortunate that admin doesn't understand how to create a school climate that encourages higher level thinking, character, and parental involvement. One of the most important parts of student achievement is high standards, yet when parents complain that students are being held to standards that are higher than what they were held to, or what they are comfortable with, then admin backs down from those high standards, appeasing parents. This is one of the big mistakes I see in low-performing public schools. This is not the case in schools which may have low socioeconomic students, yet require students to perform at a certain level if they wish to stay at those campuses. I've seen several charter schools (Yes Houston, KIPP, Achieve, Inc., etc.) in high-poverty areas that require contracts from parents and students, and I feel this is one of the best ways to maintain high standards. If we are to hold teachers to specific performance levels, then all parties, including parents and students, must be held accountable for their learning and education, as well. Otherwise, the three-legged stool that holds up public education in America will be left to stand on one leg, and teachers are exhausted already.
I have a confession to make: I'm addicted to my Professional Learning Community. Not just a little, either. I am continually checking my professional Twitter account, reading other educators' blogs, and forwarding information such as links and news stories to my fellow educators. Some people in my PLC, such as Kim Cofino, call it a Personal Learning Environment. Whatever you decide to call it, the most important thing is that you start your own and use it consistently. 

My school district blocks most websites, including any social media sites and blogs. Yet, I am able to add many RSS feeds and Twitter to my Netvibes page, which is limited, but still accessible. I also use UberTwitter on my Crackberry, which, after trying a couple different ones, feel is one of the best mobile Twitter apps.

Recently, the county I teach in decided to start its' own PLC on Elgg. I don't think it will take off because of the limits placed on teachers by administrators. Limited technology, limited accessibility, and limited time will hinder this good intention. I also foresee that educators who are uncomfortable meandering online communities will be skipping out on this PLC. Since the beginning of the year, only about 12 people out of an entire county worth of educators have joined the network.

The whole point of social media, technology, and personal learning communities defines life-long learning. I enjoy conversing with my PLC because I feel like I have a posse of professionals to back me up when I want more insight to an idea, have a burning question, or need a few virtual shoulders to cry on. I love my PLC, even if I've never met the people I chat with-- at least I know I'm not alone in this crazy mess called public education!
For anyone who looks to the Internet for socializing, discussing personal and professional ideas, and building a network of real and virtual connections, there are plenty of sites to keep one engaged for hours a day. It's a fact: Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Second Life, among other social media sites, suck the life out of life sometimes. Now, studies about the black hole of virtual socializing from OSU and UNH are sending educators, administrators, and even students mixed messages about the real-life implications of time spent in a virtual world.

So, does social media help or hurt students? Is social media a time suck, or is it the answer to collaboration and communication restrictions? It all depends on how students use social networking, and of course, on whom you ask.

Take, for example, this Edutopia poll, where readers were asked if they believed social media helped or hindered learning.  Several responses supported the view that technology is important in today's learning environments, yet the face-to-face experience of discussing and interacting with peers must not disappear just because technology has made communicating via phones and computers so easy.

The most difficult part of using social media may be the ability to stop and listen, then think, before responding. Twitter discussions may not be the best place to try and engage deep conversations. Just try to keep up during an #edchat session! Social media is, after all, self-centered and narcissistic, but that doesn't mean that education can't take advantage of bringing people (students, professors, professionals) together who want to talk about their experiences and opinions on a given subject matter. Social media goes hand-in-hand with education because education has a social core. For real-life learning to occur, social concepts of cooperation and compromise, as well as being able to express ideas and thoughts to a group of people, are required.

One crucial component of using social media in the classroom is to make sure the medium reflects the amount of depth that questions require. For example, use Twitter for quick, to the point answers, or wikis to examine longer questions with layers of opinions. Facebook and MySpace can be used for interactive conversations on specific interests or application-worthy discussions. YouTube can be used for video responses that illicit even shorter written responses as comments from viewers. Second Life and Flickr can be used for those students who need visual illustrations to accompany conversations.

Obviously, the uses of social media in educational conversations are boundless, but in the end, what really matters is not how much students say, but what they say using technology.
A couple of weeks ago, my fifth and sixth grade English Language Development (ELD) students read an article in the Merced Sun-Star that made them realize, sometimes, news stories don't always tell the whole truth. So, what's a group of 30 students to do when they realize they have been marginalized? Write letters to the editor, of course! Here are some of their responses to the Dec. 1 article.

Don't forget the real problems behind this lesson-- childhood obesity and a lifetime of health problems. In the end, there is no contest between brain v. body; both must be used vigorously to maintain their abilities and skill-sets, while each reacts to the other's activity level.
Viral media has become an inexpensive way to spread a brand or message quickly. Yet, low upfront expenses may be nothing compared to how much negative brand image may cost in the long run.

Take for example Brandt Andersen, the owner of the NBA Development League team the Utah Flash, who is trying to restore his team's image after a  social media experiment gone awry.  In an NPR interview, Andersen said, "What we didn't think would happen, actually happened," after posting messages on Twitter that Byron Russell would play Michael Jordan during half-time. Andersen goes on to say, "We were testing some viral media stuff. That started to set a crazed expectation."

Well, Mr. Andersen, when you tell people that Russell and Jordan are facing off during half-time, expect that people will believe what you are selling. Using viral media may seem easy and fun, but just like any other form of advertising or journalism, don't forget who the audience is. And never underestimate the backlash of negative press coverage.

As Anderson begins to make reparations, might I make a suggestion? Hire a social media manager who advises on how to correctly use social media, viral media, and 21st century journalism for increased positive brand reaction and maintained image in the future. Even if hiring a media manager is too much, the most basic of any business plan should be don't lie to, cheat, or steal from the customer.
According to Penn Olson's Willis Wee, Facebook has an astounding number of users, 350 meeellion to be exact, and more than 45 million subscribe to some kind of Group. With stats like these, educators need to reconsider how fb is used as an educational platform. Here are My Top 5 Groups that may lead to further use of fb in education:

1. Facebook in Education
2. Arts Education is Absolutely Necessary
3. Using Wiki in Education
4. Integrating Technology into Education
5. Media Literacy

Of course, fb as a collaboration tool is easier at the college or university level, yet K-12 educators must continue to fight for media literacy, even if administrations refuse to open the pearly gates of social media to staff or students. Parents and students must stand up for their own learning, and remind schools that social media requires practice and explanations, not censorship.

In my current district, social media depends on what sight you toil on; fb is open to staff computers at the junior high and high school levels, yet blocked at the elementary levels; student computers block fb on all campuses. I am appalled that not only am I, as a professional educator, treated in an untrustworthy manner, but that my students are not able to access such a popular site that will no doubt play some kind of role in their lives. Do school districts really believe it is easier to not deal with parent complaints or inappropriate use by students and staff than to educate all parties? Ignoring social media won't make it go away, and students may never get a chance to learn the correct way to use the Internet with such a large part of our online culture being blocked.

*Read what International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Connects has to say about the effects of blocking student Internet use here.

For my first, and long-awaited *wink*, blog post on this site, I wanted to blather on about Google Wave. Yes, really.

As soon as I got my invite and watched the video (posted below,) I decided to investigate how GW could be used for educational purposes. Not that it would be available to educators or students for unlimited use any time soon, but what made me ponder such an out-of-reach option was the fact that I would love to use GW in an educational setting, whether I'm the instructor or the student. The following articles discuss how GW could eventually lead large groups of students, educators, and other entities such as universities, to make use of this real-time collaboration tool.

Educause, a leading non-profit supporting tech in higher ed says,
"Wave opens new avenues for critique of engineering projects, architectural designs, musical performance, or any discipline that benefits from peer or expert review. Instructors, using the playback function, could see how waves were built, step-by-step, and draw inferences about the thinking behind and evolution of student projects. Wave might also change how knowledge is created, stored, and shared. If adopted by professionals, it could provide an accessible way to model disciplinary thinking and processes with students."

e-School News, an online ed-tech magazine, states,
"Google's announcement has the education blogosphere buzzing with ideas about how this new application could possibly shake up the way educators approach teaching and collaboration."

Of course, not everyone is ready to jump on your Wave, Google. Chris Dannen gives five compelling reasons why GW could be your worst nightmare:

"Dislike long billowy emails? You'll despise the bizarre, choppy prolixity of long waves." Maybe. Give me a few months to try it out, and see how much playback I can stand for messages I might not care about.

I definitely agree with the fact that, after using GW, I am skeptical of how many Waves I will actually send, since I prefer to edit my messages after typing them. I noticed while Waving that I'm a little old school in that degree, but maybe that's our instant gratification culture knocking at my door while I hide out behind the couch. That, or my OCD.

I also agree with Dannen when he writes,
" 'Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process,' Google says. That'll make keeping track of participants a lot harder. Subtract the aforementioned opportunities to self-edit, and you have a social trainwreck ready and waiting."

All in all, GW looks promising in several arenas, such as email, real-time collaboration suites, social media, and PLNs.

PS- Wave to me!

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    educator, student, yoga enthusiast, roller derby girl

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    The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers, colleagues, friends, family, or pets. Thanks for visiting!


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    21st Century Journalism
    21st Century Skills
    Ed Tech
    Google Wave
    Media Literacy
    Social Media
    Viral Media