Monday, February 14, 2011

Writing an essay is like.....

I gave my students an essay assignment in history 10. They needed to write an essay on German Nationalism. We have been learning about Prussia vs. Austria, and all that happened before Germany became a nation state. Now, after giving them a structure base (i.e. this goes in paragraph 2, that goes in paragraph 3, etc.), they are writing their essay. They are just finished the first draft and have begun the editing process.

I always tell my students that writing an essay is like taming a beast. You need to edit it - fix it - nurse it - make it better, make it nice, make it smooth and pretty. They laugh, but it is true! The rough copy is the beast - it is ugly and tough and rough around the edges. Most times it is hard to look at but there is a jem, a beauty just waiting to show.

Essay writing is a necessary evil in my mind. As much as I would love for them to be phased out (just for the sake of mega-marking), I know that they teach many valuable things beyond writing formally and properly. I stress to my students how important learning how to create an essay properly in high school will definitely benefit all who go on to other education; even for the students who go on to tech. school typically have to write some form of report. It is a skill that needs to be learned. It is very important so teach it well my teachers, teach it well.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Students' thoughts on technology and life 50 years from now...What can we do??

Where do you see technology in 50 years? What do you think life will be like in 50 years?

I posted this question as a journal starter before they read the short story/essay "Artificial Intelligence" by Grant Fjermedal the other day, and the answers were shocking. I actually found that students seemed to be having a problem distancing themselves from what already is, to what could be. They either wanted flying cars and moon living, or they think nothing will be different. It is interesting, and frankly pretty sad, that a lot of students lead sheltered lives. They don't watch the news, they are not aware of what is going on in the rest of world and tend to only care what is immediately affecting them.

Obviously if students were showing interest in something they may look it up, but most times that isn't the case. They hear it or read it quickly and dismiss it when they realize they "can't do anything about it" or they "figured it didn't have anything to do with them so why should they care". I hope that in 50 years life and technology will be improving our way of living, but a lot of times I get scared and concerned that in 50 years we will see a decline in many of societies values and traditions. Students already do not watch the news. They only care what is happening on Facebook with their friends, and most of that information is "hearsay" or of no consequence to the rest of the world. I fear that we are growing hermits instead of citizens when the only forms of technology many students use are things like social networking and texting.

Many older people say "what ever happened to picking up the phone and calling someone, or driving to their house to see them". Well, times have changed. It is a scary thought but those days are few and far between for a life of the average teenager. I am not very old and to think that many days I just text my friend to see if she is going to Zumba instead of calling her or popping by her house, I have to wonder if I am falling into that pattern myself and removing those "old" ways of communication. I am many times not much better than these students when I am on the run, but at least I feel that I am balancing my life by setting my cell phone down or turning it on silent when it is needed. It can be a huge battle to get kids to give up their cell phones. What if we took them all away unless they used the tools on them? What would Alexander Graham Bell think of the what his invention has evolved to and the world today? I still find value in those face-to-face conversations but in a world that puts more and more pressures on our profession (and many many others), people become really forced into texting, twitter-ing, facebook-ing, each other as a quick and convenient way of getting immediate responses. Hm.....maybe this is the start of another post.....

So back to the students - I think to head off the invasion of hermit students we are creating, we need to model better practices. Parents, teachers, adults - all of us need to show these kids that it is valuable to talk face-to-face or just pick up the phone and call. These are still skills that are needed! Honestly! When these students/kids get out into the work force, we may see a real change in business practices, based on the fact that communication skills are lacking! We need to address this now! Teach some phone skills in your classroom - make it an English assignment. Technology can be a curse as much as I would love to think it as a "god-send". Students need to be shown to utilize the technology. Show them and teach them and encourage them to use their Blackberry for a calendar to keep due dates on assignments and upcoming exams, download apps that help them, not just games! Use the calculator, the note-pad, etc. instead of only using the $100 phone for texting. Modelling usage of cell phones, the internet, and television is a key to shifting the wave in a more positive direction.
Put down that cell phone, close the lid to your laptop, and call a friend - I bet they would love to hear your voice!