Ed Tech

Making Geek Cool Hall of Shame

Nerds candy

As a follow-up to my previous post Making Geek Cool Hall of Fame in which I laud people, TV shows or events that improve the coolness factor of geeks, I've started compiling a Hall of Shame list. I actually had a harder time with this one. Maybe it's my inherently nice nature, but I found it easier to rail against the culture as a whole rather than specific elements.

I'm sure, however, that you will not have that problem. I would love to hear additions to my list by comment, email or tweet!

1. Disney Channel—when making my Shame list, it ended up just being a list of Disney and Nickelodeon shows, so I decided just to name the two channels as numbers 1 and 2 on the list. Upper elementary kids are especially susceptible to the anti-geek message from television, so I think these two popular channels should be ashamed. Hannah, Wizards of Waverly Place, Suite LIfe on Deck: Can we just have an intelligent girl or boy in the lead role instead of the "geeky" sidekick or brother?

2. Nickelodeon—see comment above. I did put iCarly on the Fame list, so kuddos there, but it, too, has anti-geek elements.

3. Seventeen magazine and other teen magazines for girls

4. My husband—I hate to say it, and I'm sure he's not the only parent out there, but he has on occasion slipped into the the ‟You don't want to be a nerd so get out there and play some ball...″ fallacy

My almost-middle school daughter thinks being called a nerd is the worst insult ever. I have tried to point out that she attends a school of geeks to no effect. I've pointed out that geeks make more money (a topic of interest for her) with an effect lasting for nanoseconds. I thought about showing her that geek chic is in but was afraid she wouldn't stop laughing and really wanted her to do that homework. I've decided she's just rebelling against her mother, so I'll get back to reading that Wired article on Geek Power.

No posters, please!!!

iCarly has changed our lives. My 10-year-old daughter spends every waking moment with her friends creating their own web show. They brainstorm skits, storyboard them out, gathers costumes and props, rehearses, videotapes and then edits them. She has taught herself to use iMovie and will spend hours messing around with various special effects and transitions.

For my sister's wedding, my daughter created a video in which she interviewed parents, siblings and the groom. The interviews were done in front of a green screen so she could edit in fun backgrounds and memorable photos. The song We Are Family played in the background at the beginning during the hilarious screen credits and then again at the end for the ending slideshow. She spent a lot of time creating this unique video shown at the reception.

When my son needed to learn his math facts faster than I ever learned them, he made a PowerPoint with a math fact on each slide. Besides the fun of using the computer instead of actual flashcards, he could control the pace. As he improved with his facts, he would increase the transition speed.

With media use so ubiquitous, it [is] time to stop arguing over whether it [is] good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat. (Tamar Lewin, "If Your Kids are Awake, They're Probably Online" New York Times, Jan. 20, 2010.)

My kids are obviously not the only media savvy children. So why is it that both of them have been assigned to make posters this year? Posters? That was how my teachers tried to add some visual punch to reports. I understand the teacher not wanting to spend time teaching students how to make movies, but giving them options that would include technology (already available at the school) does not seem like a stretch to me. They use the computers for word processing and make use of resources such as Google Docs, but videos, slideshows and animation hasn't happened. I don't believe they are alone.

Schools and teachers need to accept that children are now techno-savvy and run with it.

Cell phones help teach math?

photo by jtbrennan

Can educators really turn those ubiquitous cell phones into educational tools?

As the year got under way, Scott realized she'd be using her school-issued smartphone -- equipped with a touch screen, digital video recorder, and instant-messaging application -- for more than just solving homework problems with a stylus. She and her classmates had gotten used to passively absorbing teachers' lectures, but the new data-driven curriculum demanded intense participation. "We'd tape up big poster boards, write out how we got the solution to a particular problem, then video ourselves talking about it with the phone." After that, students posted their videos online to aid others who might be vexed by similar problems. ("Cellphonometry" Svoboda)

Whether educators use phones or other devices, I can see advantages to this approach. My daughter already asks her friends for help with her math homework as students have done for ages. Couple the socially driven method with the fearless use of technology, and I think you have a much more efficient update to the telephone. If a student has a question, they can send out a text to the class and ideally get a response right away.

Whether the content is math, history, science... the students could create protected class wikis with videos they make. Instead of using poster boards, the students could use the white board and save their work. If they are doing it at home, they can record their sessions on the computer, or go back to the poster boards or other creative means of communicating.

At Southwest High, every student in one Project K-Nect class notched a 100% proficiency rating in algebra; students in a non-Project K-Nect class with the same teacher averaged 70% proficiency. ("Cellphonometry" Svoboda)

Those are some numbers definitely worth following up.

Making Geek Cool Hall of Fame

Wired magazine believes that making geeks cool could reform education and gives some suggestions for schools. One of the main suggestions was "stamping out youth culture" by surrounding kids by adults. Some good ideas and examples to be sure.

I believe that our whole culture needs to make geeks cool. In that spirit I list my Making Geek Cool Hall of Fame. Since this blog is St. Louis centric, I've added a few local additions.

1. Mythbuster's Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman
2. Jon Stewart—when a late-night comedian makes it cool to follow politics, economics, history...
3. Bill Gates—as much as I want to hate Microsoft, he has shown how geeks do philanthropy. That's cool.
4. Pres. Obama
5. Steve Jobs—brought design to technology
6. Danica McKellar—Hollywood star and mathematician writing math books for middle school girls. Maybe every tween girl should be given this book, and she should be number 1.
7. SciFest
8. Chuck
9. Rex Sinquefield for bringing back chess to St. Louis
10. Mayor Francis Slay for bringing FIRST Robotics Championship to St. Louis
11. iCarly—any time a Nickelodeon show encourages tween girls to spend their time directing movie shorts and editing them on the computer, I will applaud it
12. Rick Riordan—any author that can get my son to read...

If they want to be fabulous and sexy and all that, great. There's no problem with that. But you don't have to give anything up for it. You don't have to give up your brain. (Danica McKellar)

I would love to add to the list if anyone would like to send me their suggestions. I'll also be composing a Hall of Shame, so if you have ideas for that, feel free to send them to me via comments, email or twitter.

So many tech goodies! So little time!

I have been inspired this past month when I started reading the edublogs. When I go into the office this week to prep for classes, I will be spending time reworking some of my PowerPoints, thanks to Scott Elias and Tom Woodward.

One of my friends who took the Missouri required Technology in Education course for his teacher ed prep last semester told me that he struggled staying awake in class (he liked the instructur, really he did) because half the class knew nothing about computers. His idea was to offer two courses, Tech in Ed and Tech in Ed for neophytes. (Titles may be changed for PC purposes.) Students who have grown up with cell phones and have MySpace pages just have a different technology mindset than veteran teachers who are just becoming comfortable with email.

Some districts include use of technology as part of the teachers' evaluation, which would obviously encourage them to work to increase their knowledge. Dan Meyer wonders if forcing teachers to use technology is the answer. I think baby steps is the answer here.

Sometimes it seems as if teachers assign students projects using technology without helping them to properly focus. Anthony Chivetta blogs about the making videos interesting. A student blogging about the importance of thesis even in video--this writing teacher is in love. Woo hoo! I will keep his advice in mind when creating assignments.

Maybe I should also integrate a class wiki and make better use of that Smart Board. Sigh. I only have so much time!

Update--even before getting the post up, I turned one written project into a group wiki. Migrating to a new version of Blackboard over the holiday break just made this a whole lot easier.