Archive for May, 2014

For the last month or so I’ve been working on this Capstone project. I was looking at how we as a nation could improve our school system. I looked up various Ted Talks, a dozen or so articles, and just looked for what we could do. I found out that we could use some ideas from Finland, that Japan is moving away from the old way of intense training and homework. I learned that some schools use video games in class, and that video games (Or games in general) can improve your life in more ways than just killing time. After looking at all of this, I came to the conclusion that there’s a lot we could do. I learned that our method of teaching and education is decades old, going all the way back to WWII and the Cold War. We’re still just pounding students with knowledge, pumping them through school, and merely manufacturing citizens, rather than thoughtfully constructing human beings. We have no need for the “manufacturing plants” that we have now. There’s a lot we can do to fix this: Introducing various technologies into the classroom to make learning more efficient, adding multiple learning styles into curriculums, and having a larger number of better teachers. This has changed how I think of school a lot. Not just because I’m a student and I don’t like school, but it showed me that our methods are truly ineffective and unnecessarily brutal. I now feel a need to just talk to people about this kind of thing. Spread the word. Show the people in power that something needs to change. There’s a organization called LearnDoEarn, and the whole idea behind that is to take difficult courses in order to get to college, students aren’t prepared, college students drop out too often, etc. They don’t get that that’s the kind of thing that’s causing incompetent students. Hard classes aren’t necessary, good teachers are. More strict discipline isn’t needed, a loving and compassionate community to learn in is needed to prevent the problems.

 

What I’m trying to get at is that it’s going to take some of our students now, both college and high school, to come in and tell them what we need. Tell them how it needs to be done from our perspective, and not just have all of these horrible ideas and rules forced upon on us. We need to get together and work this out, or this country will collapse on itself.

 

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     The school system as a whole needs to stop being an authority figure shoveling information into a kid’s brain, just so they can spit it out on a test and never remember it again. We need to start truly teaching, and teaching in a way that makes the kids engaged and – not necessarily enjoy – but not dread going to school.

     I started out looking at different school systems for inspiration. I mainly looked at Finland, as I don’t think many American children would do well with an Eastern culture school system (Lots of homework, long school days, intensive studying, etc). Finland has a great way of doing things, less homework, more hands-on, and small class sizes. Oh, and it’s not just any teachers teaching. Only the top quartile of graduated teachers get hired. The result? 90% of teachers that get hired stay teachers throughout their career. (NCEE) Finland’s idea of creative and hands-on learning is something that even Japan has taken into account. Japan has started looking for more creative alternatives to merely cramming and intensive studying due to the fact that they’ve hit a creative ceiling in their economy. After decades of hard work, there is a rising unemployment rate in the country as jobs are filling up, and citizens are searching for odd-ball jobs to make up the slack. (Berlatsky)

Then I started looking at how I could expand on that idea of creative and hands-on learning. As an avid gamer, it was pretty obvious where my first step would be. Video games have a very strong hold on today’s culture, be it the 5 year old daughter playing Barbie dress up games on the computer, or a neighbor’s 16 year old screaming at the TV because he died in Call of Duty for the millionth time this week. Heck, I’d even go as far as to say even some adults dabble in games. My church pastor likes to kick back and play the latest Call of Duty more-so than his 16-almost-17 year old son! This forced me to look for how gaming influences us, how it works our minds, and how it could (and why it should) help in the class room. Before I had ever started this project I was watching some Ted Talks on Netflix, and I found one by Jane McGonigal. She suffered a severe concussion, and used a game she made up to help her through it. She later went and figured out why it helped. What she found was that it wasn’t so much a physical thing (although running around town doing quests would be great for our routine leg exercises!), as much as it was a mental thing. Gamers ended up staying in touch with friends as well as make new ones. They spend more time with their kids, with their loved ones. They gained confidence in themselves through their in-game character, which eventually bled into real life. Gaming improves our mental and emotional well-being, and even goes as far as to extend our lives.

     It’s pretty clear gaming helps us emotionally and in our lives, but how could it help in the classroom? What are some things that people think that just aren’t true? Well, the idea that video games (Violent games like Call of Duty or Street Fighter) cause excessive violence has a lot of back and forth, but there’s some hard proof and debunking on this PBS page on gaming influence found here. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at some ways it can be used. It can be used to teach physics, engineering, math, anything. Games like Portal by Valve already have been adapted to teach physics in some schools. Another game, Minecraft by Mojang, is used in engineering to design buildings and make rough drafts. If that’s not super ridiculously cool, please just realize you’re in the 21st century in America.

     All of this, though, is just in vain if we don’t know why we need to fix things, and change things up. We just have to look at the students themselves. An article by Psychology Today says, “and anxiety has been increasing. The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950’s. We are getting more anxious every decade.” This isn’t okay! It’s almost guaranteed that if you ask a group of random kids, they’ll say that the highest stress comes from homework and inhumane expectations to get good grades. Most students now take AP and/or Honors classes to boost their GPA. This makes their overall GPA higher than 4.0. Student Nora Huynh in California got her report card, and cried for hours due to the fact she got just less than a 4.0 GPA. She is also to be excessively tired, really irritable, and has constant headaches. Asking some of my classmates, they all said that headaches are very common. The anxiety and stress levels we put on our students — to get good grades, heck, to get better than perfect grades, to have a job and pay for their own “toys”, to go to a college and pay for it (Even though student loans this year are already about to reach the $1 trillion mark with a half a year left)– is inhumane. We’re kids for goodness sakes. Not animals you can herd and manipulate. Not mere products of the assembly line in a factory we call the American Education System. It’s not right.

     So what– what’s the point. What am I trying to get at? I’m trying to say that our school system needs to change. It needs to move away from the wartime manufacturing plant that began in the Cold War, and shift into an innovative, productive, and efficient liquid machine. We know how it is, factories and big huge machines are done. It’s the age of smartphones, the age of Solar Freakin’ Roadways! It’s time to make our school system the same way. Easy. Efficient. Almost like liquid. It shouldn’t be painful to learn. It shouldn’t literally drive us insane. Yet it is. So it’s time for change. I want us to take a stand. I want us to make the change, not just for us (Let’s be honest, by the time anything changed we as students will be long out of school) but for our kids, and their kids to come. Make school about the students, about the learning. Not about homework, hours of studying, and sleepless nights.

 

     As students, as young adults, we have as much voice in how our lives work as anyone else, and even more. We should be talking to people who matter – Mayors, Governors – and working with them. Our work will just be ranting and complaining to them unless we have a solution to give. We start by talking to our school leaders, both student government and administration. Bouncing ideas off of each other, showing them that this can work and needs to work for the sake of the people! This needs to be a social movement, an uprising. It can’t just be a few schools, it needs to be many schools in many states, so that it spreads like wildfire. An idea of a school with MUCH less homework. With social media and gaming integrated into the system. We have the technology, we have the understanding. We even have the motivation to do it.

 

So let’s do it.

When searching for what made school effective, I found this (http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_What_Makes_School/) article. This article points out great ways on how to be an effective school, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on it as a student.

The author’s first point is that the school must be a safe and organized place. I totally agree. Although I think there’s a difference between being safe and organized, and feeling safe and organized. If schools are safe and organized, it usually means they’re pretty well off. They have their rules, they have their ideals, and they keep things in line. But students might still feel in danger of other kids. In order to feel safe, the teachers must be caring and compassionate without being patronizing. They should treat us like the people we are — Children, adolescents, or young adults. And then the students feel comfortable in class, and they know they have at least one higher up to go to with problems.

Point two: Have high expectations for the students. I agree and disagree with this one. I agree that teachers and leaders shouldn’t just let us slide with whatever, but they need to push and motivate, not just expect and give bad grades if it doesn’t happen. There’s one teacher of mine that just recently… “Left” his job, that comes to mind. He would let you work on things until you were done. He didn’t just expect you to have this done, and then give a grade based on the finished product. He kept up on how things were going, he pushed you to finish and have a quality result, he was great. Then there are other teachers (I’m looking at the math teachers here) that just toss a whole lot of homework at you, give a depthless, “half-baked” lesson, and leave you for dead when you show up sleep deprived and only half done. Have high hopes and motivate us. That’s how we work, or else we grow up never living up to anyone’s expectations. And that’s very unsafe.

Three: Have a relatable leader. I give a “yay” on this one. My principle isn’t around a whole lot, but he’s there when he needs to be. He’s pretty laid back, he’s up for chatting, and so are many of the other teachers and leaders. And that’s important, as I stated in the first point. It lets the kids know that they have leaders to go to, to look up to. It gives them actual teachers, not just people who lecture.

Up next is having a clear mission. I don’t really care much or hear much about our school’s mission, but I know that having one at least gives the school’s administration something to enforce and come up with rules by. It gives a little bit of a backbone for the rules, some structure. That’s all I have to say about that, just because I don’t hear much of my school’s.

The authors fifth idea, is to monitor the students’ progress. I think this goes back to having the teachers push and motivate us. It just comes with pushing the students to do better. It’s common sense.

We’re almost done here, second to last point: Provide an opportunity to learn. That doesn’t just mean be open, but it means being efficient in class. Providing an opportunity must be worked for, not merely given.

Lastly, the author says there must be a partnership between the school and home. And that is completely true. There needs to be a constant drive for success. Constantly pushing, constantly motivating.

Notice how there’s no “Have lots of homework!” or “Be cruel!” It’s all easy going. It’s all well driven, and structured around the students and the relationships the students have with the administrators. There needs to be a relationship, not just a student and a teacher.

Works Cited

 

Alexie, Sherman, and Ellen Forney. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. New York: Little, Brown, 2007. Print.

Junior (The main character) makes friends and gives perspective on the social and economic details on going through school. This applied to my project because it gave me insight on how a less-fortunate student perceives things, apart from my rather blessed life.

 

“Anxiety Attack.” Teen Ink. Web. 15 May 2014. <http://www.teenink.com/poetry/free_verse/article/441596/Anxiety-Attack/>.

The author of this poem has anxiety. She is sitting on the bus, when out of nowhere, the stress and noise of school and the bus triggers an anxiety attack. This was helpful a lot, mostly as backing evidence as to why our school system right now is both ineffective, and very dangerous to our health.

 

“Comments (3).” Edvoices Education Reform The Poem Comments. Web. 22 May 2014. <http://www.edvoices.com/blog/2011/01/24/education-reform-the-poem/>.

The author of this poem is so into and devoted to his beliefs. It’s incredible. This poem could be the backbone of what I was trying to say: Our school system needs to change, or else this country’s going to crumble.

 

“Hey Science Teachers — Make It Fun.” Tyler DeWitt:. Web. 15 May 2014. <http://www.ted.com/talks/tyler_dewitt_hey_science_teachers_make_it_fun>.

Mr. DeWiit talks about how even though he was psyched to teach some Chemistry, his students were not. So he goes on to talk about what to do to make school more engaging, as well as just an over all more enjoyable place. This is exactly what I hope to do, as not every student is able to just sit down and learn by word-of-mouth.

 

“High School Students’ Health Suffers From Too Much Stress.” MindShift. Web. 27 May 2014. <http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/12/high-school-students-health-suffers-from-too-much-stress/&gt;.

 

“How to Escape Education’s Death Valley.” Ken Robinson:. Web. 20 May 2014. <http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley>.

Here’s a Ted Talk that talks about what’s wrong with our school system and how we can get out of it. It’s like it was made for my Capstone. This is one of those talks that I don’t need to say anything else because it’s rather self explanatory.

 

“Math Class Needs a Makeover.” Dan Meyer:. Web. 22 May 2014. <https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_meyer_math_curriculum_makeover>.

Today’s math curriculum is teaching students to expect — and excel at — paint-by-numbers classwork, robbing kids of a skill more important than solving problems: formulating them. Math class is one of the biggest culprits of what’s going on and what makes school not as effective or efficient.

 

“Membership.” The Cult(ure) of Homework. Web. 13 May 2014. <http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108071/chapters/The-Cult(ure)-of-Homework.aspx>.

This article is very clear in that the way we do homework is a combination of unnecessary, inefficient, dangerous, and just plain ridiculous. It goes back to the beginning of homework, in the 20’s and 30’s, and tells its story all the way to what it is now. This is great for my Capstone, because I know that students A) Don’t respond positively to homework, B) Don’t need homework, and C) That our belief in homework is based on an old era of war and competition.

Partanen, Anu. “What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 29 Dec. 2011. Web. 13 May 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/>.

This article by Ms. Partanen states that while America does see that Finland has a great education system, there’s a lot that we ignore. This includes public/private schooling (There are no private schools in Finland), and that the economic requirements for school are very low. This goes back to the origin of my Capstone, and takes a look at other countries’ systems and how they handle school.

 

“Racial Discrimination Continues to Play a Part in Hiring Decisions.” Economic Policy Institute. Web. 15 May 2014. <http://www.epi.org/publication/webfeatures_snapshots_archive_09172003/>.

Economic Policy Institute has tons of articles having to do with jobs, school, and money. This one deals with the racial determinants in work, and it also gave them about school. The reason work is such a big deal, is because without work, how do you send your kid to school? To college? How do you support you kid so that they don’t fall into the trap and pattern that you did? I only used a graph from this site, to show the kinds of differences white children and adults and non-white people have.

 

Ryan, Julia. “How Much Homework Do American Kids Do?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 19 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 May 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/09/how-much-homework-do-american-kids-do/279805/>.

Julia Ryan makes some great points about the health effects of excessive homework, as well as just blatently puts out how much homework many students have. And it’s way too much. As with The Cult(ure) of Homework), I used this article to show how homework affects students.

 

“Video Games Play May Provide Learning, Health, Social Benefits, Review Finds.” http://www.apa.org. Web. 13 May 2014. <http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/11/video-games.aspx>.

This article talks about how recent studies have shown that video games actually aren’t all bad. Actually, they’re rather good for social, problem solving, and strategy skills. I used this article, as well as the TED Talk by Jane McGonigal, as proofs to why video games should be integrated into the education system to sustain creaetivity.

“What We Can Learn from Finland’s Successful School Reform.” Rss. Web. 13 May 2014. <http://www.nea.org/home/40991.htm>.

Finland didn’t always have the incredible schooling that we know now, and this article talks about that, as well as how we can do it. I used this article in my argument against large amounts of homework.

“The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life.” Jane McGonigal:. Web. 14 May 2014. <https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_the_game_that_can_give_you_10_extra_years_of_life>.

Jane McGonigal talks about her experience with a severe concussion, and how she learned to cope with it. She played a game to ease her life, to give her life meaning again. She took the suffering out of the pain she was feeling. This TTalk was an incredible source of arguments to how video games are helpful in our lives, in the right amounts, obviously.

 

“The Struggle to Create Creativity.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 28 June 1997. Web. 15   May 2014. <http://www.economist.com/node/91903>.

This article goes into detail about how our current school system is great at teaching, yes, but A) isn’t great at learning, and B) isn’t great at sustaining the creativity required to go through life. I used this article as evidence of why our system needs to change soon, as it’s stealing all individuality and creativity from us.

 

“Sir Ken Robinson outlines 3 principles crucial for the human mind to flourish — and how current education culture works against them. In a funny, stirring talk he tells us how to get out of the educational “death valley” we now face, and how to nurture our youngest generations with a climate of possibility.”

As a kid, what kinds of things do you want to do? Probably eat, sleep, playing games (Video or physical), make messes, and be loud. Our parents teach us constructive ways to make a mess (Art) and constructive ways to be loud (As a drummer, I can confirm this, haha). They teach us to play games, teach us mind games to help remember how or when to do things. And then they feed us and put us to bed. If, and when, we do something wrong, we’re disciplined. We should all be turning out pretty great, right? Yet we don’t. Why? All of these things are creative, and school sucks the creativity out of us. In math, there might be more than one way to do things, but you have to do it the same exact way as the teacher, in order to not get a bad grade. In English, you have to write and rewrite papers in the same format, the same pattern, over and over, in order to not get a bad grade. We’re not allowed humanity because the average student spends 3-15 hours of homework. And why? You guessed it. In order to not get a bad grade. 

We started out without a lot of homework. We, with an almost unanimous decision, decided homework until 3rd grade was not allowed, and we preferred if there were no homework until 7th grade. Homework, as we know it, started out in our country as a way to compete with Russia in the Cold War era, as adults were worried that their kids would not be adequately prepared for the future, as technology and society had begun to evolve rapidly. After periods of fluctuation, we have settled once again on heavy amounts of homework, and it has yet to be adequately challenged. Why is this, though?

“Moralistic Views: Who We Believe Students Are… … Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and therefore children should not be idle. This philosophy assumes not only that children don’t want to learn but also that learning is inherently distasteful.

“The Puritan Work Ethic: Who We Want Students to Be… …’Get busy!’ The tenets of the puritan work ethic most evident in homework culture are the following:Hard work is good for you regardless of the pointlessness of the task. Hard works builds character. Hard work is painful; suffering is virtuous… …The premise of Corno and Xu’s article is that “homework is the quintessential job of childhood”—as though children need a job. Which begs the question: Is our job as educators to produce learners or workers?”

“Behaviorism: How We Think We Can Control Students… …No philosophy is more firmly rooted in education than behaviorism. The idea that behavior can be controlled by rewards and punishment is so embedded in the day-to-day practices of school, one rarely even notices it (Kohn, 1999). Discipline, grades, attendance policies, honor rolls, and even the way teachers use praise and disapproval—all reflect this philosophy that behavior can be controlled by external stimuli. So it’s no surprise that teachers believe rewards and punishments are the way to makestudents do homework. When punishments don’t work, teachers often increase the punishment, as if more of the same will accomplish the goal.”

This whole idea that homework is required is completely flawed. Some homework? Sure. If you just need the students to read something occasionally, or to look something up, or just give themselves background knowledge. That’s totally fine. But 1-3 hours a night? 4-15 a night? That’s insane. That’s inhumane. That’s not what school should be. “People don’t go to school to learn. They go to get good grades, which brings them to college, which brings them the high-paying job, which brings them happiness, so they think.” (Pope, 2001, p. 4)

“The premise of Corno and Xu’s article is that ‘homework is the quintessential job of childhood’—as though children need a job. Which begs the question: Is our job as educators to produce learners? Or workers?

“Membership.” The Cult(ure) of Homework. Web. 13 May 2014. <http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108071/chapters/The-Cult(ure)-of-Homework.aspx&gt;.

 

 

Jane McGonigal: The game that can give you 10 extra years of life

Here’s a transcript for the talk, if you’re more of the reading type: bit.ly/QEM5OM

Video games have become such a prevalent aspect in our lives that it simply can not be ignored. Every kid from the first grade girl playing barbie on the web, to the college student playing the latest Battlefield or FIFA on his platform of choice plays them. Even my dad has some fun with his iPhone, playing Angry Birds, Swordigo, or UnBlock Me. The point is that video games are everywhere, and they’re an embedded part of our culture now. So my question is, why aren’t they being utilized in school? There are some schools that in Physics class, they play a modified version of the game Portal, from the Valve Corporation. In the game, players use different game tools such as bouncing, sliding, absorbing, portals, and speed, to achieve certain objectives. The player is then rewarded with a trophy of sorts, as well as  continuing the story of the character. Some civil engineering classes use the game Minecraft, from Mojang, to design buildings and other structures. These are just two examples as to how games are used already, but there are so many other possibilities. Make a game about shooting orbs around other, differently sized orbs, and trying to hit an object. This is exactly how gravity works in an astronomical proportion, to be used in Astronomy, or again in Physics.

There are so many different ways to make games a part of school. And there’s a lot of reasons WHY it’s worthwhile to do so. The human body, mentally and physically, loves games. It loves the sense of achievement, and it ends up making us happy. Happiness is a big deal to us. “Hospice workers, the people who take care of us at the end of our lives, recently issued a report on the most frequently expressed regrets that people say when they are literally on their deathbeds. And that’s what I want to share with you today – the top five regrets of the dying. Number one: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. Number two: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Number three: I wish I had let myself be happier. Number four: I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self. And number five: I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams, instead of what others expected of me.”

She goes on to say that playing games, and in today’s terms, video games, be it mobile, on a computer, Playstation or Xbox, games allow us to not have any of these regrets. In playing games, we don’t work as much. We spend time with our kids, with our spouses, with ourselves. We stay in touch with friends, competing for high scores, working together to achieve an objective (Portal is two player!). We allow ourselves to take off our stress “playing” sports, blowing things up, things like that. We get to express our true selves, through talking, through avatars, through play styles and strategies. Living true to our dreams has never been easier, merely spending some free time doing what we want, being who we want with the people we want to be with. It lets us take control of something. Video games have just solved all 5 of people’s regrets. And now we won’t have any.

For today’s students, we’ll still have a lot of these regrets because of how hard school pushes us, and the way that they push us. It’s unhealthy. But I know that putting video games into a curriculum would not only be fun for kids, but it would also make them happier in the long run. It would make school easy for everyone.

Works Cited

“Video Games Play May Provide Learning, Health, Social Benefits, Review Finds.” http://www.apa.org. Web. 13 May 2014. <http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/11/video-games.aspx>.

“The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life.” Jane McGonigal:. Web. 14 May 2014. <https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_the_game_that_can_give_you_10_extra_years_of_life>.