Sunday, October 17, 2010

“Blogging in the Classroom"

I remember my college years at Rutgers (about twenty years ago already!) I would go to the nearest computer center, line up with the other students to sign my name on a roster, and wait for about thirty minutes to an hour until a computer was finally freed up for me to “type” my assignments on a word processor. I appreciated how “valuable” computer time was back then. So... can you guess what I did with my very first paycheck from Montclair BOE when I started teaching? I bought myself a personal computer! Since that time, computers have come along way, finding their places in many more homes and in many more common places. Now I have four working computers just in my home!

Just recently, I did a quick classroom survey of how many computers each student had in their homes. The responses were varied, but one thing was common; Every one of my students had at least one computer in their home! This just proves that all students whom we serve daily come to us from an environment that is permeated with much more computer technology than we were ever used to. And as educators, we must too change the way we teach these children if we are to meet the needs of these students who are sometimes more technologically savvy than we are.

If you remember or read Kristen’s Blog, I made this statement less than a month ago: I am hesitant about starting my own blog due to fear of being judged or criticized.... What if parents post comments about what they don't like in my classroom? Or what if parents ask for things which I can not provide them with? With blogging comes the “unknown territory”, and letting go of "control", which I think is sometimes a scary thing to do as a teacher.

Well, talking about change, I have finally taken up enough courage to face my fears; I have decided to just delve into blogging! Although my blogs are very simple, probably in the simplest form, I thought I would share with you my initial reaction to its use in the classroom. My general reaction is that blogging is not as difficult as I had imagined, and there are many “positives” to blogging that I hadn’t even considered before.

So here are the positives: First of all, blogging creates a learning community where students enjoy and respect reading each other’s views. Blogging has sparked enthusiasm for writing in my students. Many students wrote, “I love writing!” on their blogs. Secondly, blogging creates an authentic audience for children, helping them find their own voices. Students showed signs of "pride" in their work as they shared their posts with each other, their parents, grandparents etc...Thirdly, blogging helps with differentiation. The children who are quieter in the classroom came out of their shells online and wrote their thoughts more easily. This may be due to the fact that there is a much longer "response time". Children can respond to questions in their own time, in the comfort of their own home. With blogging there doesn’t have to be a, “I should have said that before-moment,” because students can write their thoughts anytime after some thinking and reflection of what they want to say. And finally, I believe blogging creates encouragement for reading. Students seemed to genuinely enjoy reading each other’s comments online.

Here is a little example of a blog posted on my Blackboard classroom. I asked a question,“How do you feel about writing?” One student responded by saying, “I don't really like writing. I find thinking of what to write hard.” I replied to his comment, “I agree with you that it's the "thinking" that is the hardest part of writing!” Another student added, “Just try your best, and you'll be fine:)”
This is very encouraging to me, as I see a student responding positively to another. And do you remember my fear for being criticized online? Here is another comment to the question, “What do you like best about third grade?” One student writes, “I love that we get to do experiments that others can't. I like my teacher very much. She's so nice, funny, and FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hope we get to do more science experiments this year! To be honest, I love this school very much since I came here in 2nd grade, there's so much to look to the future in this school. Northeast is the BEST school I've been to ever. And I think Northeast will continue to do great things:)” Now I don't just feel good about this, but I feel great! :)

Certainly, blogging in the classroom is not perfect. It creates one more thing on the already over-abounding “to do list” for teachers. I have to spend time posting and reading children’s posts. Also, through blogging, I have come to the realization that children in the third grade do not know the conventions of writing. My students’ spelling and punctuation mistakes have been my greatest pet peeve so far! Although I do have a game plan for teaching “editing skills” (using their posts/comments), this lesson will be an ongoing process. Teaching editing skill is one thing, but it will be much more difficult to reinforce to students that writing in a published form must require much more attention and thought. I will have to make a conscientious effort to place greater importance on teaching the conventions of writing all throughout the year and keep them accountable to higher standards.

In sum, having a blog for my classroom has required more time spent on my part. But if the small amount of time I spend can add to teaching children to write more authentically, find voices within themselves, and be an encouragement to others writing, I find this time well spent. I am still treading new grounds with this blogging and new fears and questions arise within me. How can I hold my students accountable to some kind of standard before their posting? How can I teach children to organize their thoughts and interest without being too sloppy? How can I teach “Netiquette” so that we can prevent cyberbulling before it ever starts? How do I let the children know that outside of our Blackboard classroom, blogs are less private and less controlled, and one must be very cautious and careful about what is posted?

In the midst of these thoughts, I am carried away to the phrase, “If you can not beat them, join them!” I know that blogging may pose more questions for me to answer, but for now I must go join my students online to post my new question. This week's question will be, “ What is your favorite book and why?” In the meanwhile, I welcome your thoughts on classroom blogs and any ideas and suggestion for its use here on THIS blog. :)

by Kay Whang
3rd Grade Teacher

Saturday, October 9, 2010

“PC + PS3 + PSP + Wii + TV = ADHD” Whatever Happened to You and Me?

Do you ever get the feeling that our kids are over stimulated? Interactive game systems, a television station just for cartoons, Baby Einstein from the moment our kids can see, it’s no wonder that they can’t sit down in classroom anymore without the teacher having to do a song and dance while standing in front of a Smart Board. Do children have quiet “me” time anymore?

I am currently the father of one child. My wife and I are both in education and have several family members with kids. Our discussions recently have focused on attempting to manage the amount of stimulation our child receives in a given day, week, and month. It is a major concern of ours since we can only control it as long as we are around them.

I have a strong feeling that we over diagnosing ADHD in this country. It has become a fad among parents. Simply google this controversy and you’ll quickly see what I mean. Sure, many families would be devastated if they felt that anything was wrong with their kids and many feel that having an IEP is linked to a negative educational experience. However, this diagnosis has allowed hundreds of thousands of parents to take advantage of section 504 of IDEA. It provides the same accommodations that an IEP would and reduces the stigmata that parents fear. Some superficial perks are that these students can have extra time on classroom and standardized tests including the SAT’s and in a competitive “Ivy League” world a little edge never hurt. Also, parents who don’t care to be on top of their children’s homework can fall back on modified expectations. Sometimes I don’t feel that these accommodations are for the students at all!

I raise this issue because I feel like there isn’t actually anything wrong with these students. I believe they are simply the product of an over stimulating home environment. The are spend a majority of their time in front of a flashing, beeping, changing, loud, and draining monitor that fires off neurons until they are almost too burned out to keep their eyes open. Have ever seen the way a child becomes lost within a TV program or game system. You could be right next to them, call their name and get no response. Their brains are so occupied that yes, they have an attention disorder. Place them in a classroom where a teacher is giving a brief lecture followed by a worksheet and you could just imagine what takes place next. “Billy, could you stop tapping that?”, “Samantha, please focus up on the board.”, “Daniel, please sit down.” And the comments are endless. All of this followed by a teacher conference where a self-conscious parent is confronted with a child that doesn’t follow directions. I’m sure it easier to believe that your child has an attention deficit disorder than to except that your parenting skills might have produced a learner who is not conducive to the current day classroom.

I’m in no way implying that technology is a bad thing. In fact I feel quite the opposite. I think that it is something that needs to be introduced to kids as early as possible. However, it needs to happen in moderation and under supervision. Future classrooms will utilize theses devices and students will become apt at responsible usage.

What I am saying is we have to remain aware that when you live in a world where technology appears in the home before the classroom, students will look for new ways to be stimulated in school. In the crossover we as educators need to be cognizant and refuse to allow for the over diagnosis of conditions such as ADHD. Also, as parents and child advocates we should make sure to promote healthy “me” time for kids that doesn’t have a plug attached to it.

What do you think?

By Joe Putrino


Friday, October 1, 2010

A Race For All Ages

Take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Have you ever considered how you became who you are today? Do you consider yourself more different or similar to someone who looks completely opposite of you? Have you wondered how varying races were created; or considered that there may be no such thing as race, just simply the human one? Imagine you have the ability and access to answer every question above; answers that will send you back over 60,000 years ago to one single location on earth!

This is the Genographic Project. A real-time, world wide research project led by National Geographic aimed at using genetic and computational technologies to examine and link DNA samples from populations all across the globe to better understand the genetic history of the human species.

We are just a cheek swab away from participating in this amazing global undertaking. I’m going to explain this the way I understand it, but I strongly suggest you navigate through the links below. The links can provide a much better overview on the process of how genetics are understood, examples of both paternal and maternal lineage test results, and of course, it will clear up the difficult genetic jargon I encountered along the way when I researched this project.

As much as you may conceptually understand in theory that all humans sprung from a single man and woman, have you ever really wondered HOW that happened? If so, why do people look so different from one another? Let us step away from any biblical references for now, but still use the names Adam and Eve as the “first” male and female that we are all genetically linked to. Understand first that “Adam” and “Eve” lived thousands of years apart from one another- the mother of all long distance relationships- so they did not actually create the lineage together. Yet, both Y-chromosome Adam and Mitochondrial Eve (as they are referred to by scientists) are the genetic foundation of every human living today! Although Eve lived about 150,000 ago, much earlier than Adam, I will explain this through the patrilineal line of Adam.

Over 60,000 years ago a male living in Africa (although certainly not the only or first male living there at the time) had fathered children and then grandchildren and so on that became the ONLY lineage of humans to travel and survive outside of Africa. That means that pretty much everyone alive today is a descendent of his, carrying within their DNA the genetic marker M168 (genetic marker- a gene or DNA sequence with a known location on a chromosome that can be used to identify cells, individuals or species. It can be described as a variation which can arise due to a mutation or alteration.). Don’t get caught up in definitions, the links below can provide a better understanding of genetic markers.

So, these descendants of Adam began their trek away from the motherland, some traveled up to the Middle East and over to other regions of Asia. Others traveled through Asia to Indonesia crossing over to Australia (which due to lower sea levels was only a distance of about 60 miles). They survive there for tens of thousands of years becoming what we know today as indigenous Australians. Yet, this is not the only place they ended up.

Descendants of Adam were steadily migrating out of Africa and into places such as the Middle East and so on. Around 45,000 years ago, a descendent of Adam fathered a child with a different genetic marker (a mutation/variation in the sequence), slightly shifting the lineage in another direction, but still a descendent of Adam. Today, about 92% of all non-African males in the world carry this genetic marker M89 (since paternal lineage is tested through Y chromosome which woman do not carry, a woman would need to use the DNA of a male relative to trace her paternal lineage, but both males and females can trace their maternal lineage through mitochondrial DNA testing).

Over the next 40 thousands years or so, the process continued and a random child was born with a new genetic marker that shifted and altered the characteristics of the human species, yet remained linked to Adam. It is these mutations, these genetic markers within everyone’s DNA, that scientists are tracking. This is how you will find out about your deepest ancestral roots.

With the simple swab of the inside of your cheek, you can find out about every genetic marker along your ancestral journey, the various points in history the mutations happened, and where geographically it led your kin. The results explain how they lived, what they ate, how they cared for their young, what tools they used at the time, the estimated population of homo sapiens on earth (there were other species of humans living at the time, such as Neanderthals, but they eventually died out), and what climatic changes they endured. That is just a brief overview though!

I am hoping, with Dr. Putrino’s help, Northeast will purchase several Genographic kits and our staff will participate in this project. I am eager to speak to you all about the process at our next staff meeting. For now, please check out the links below and tell me what you think of the Genographic Project, and if it is something you will want to participate in.

Carole Jecki

Global Studies Coordinator

National Geographic Website:

The Genographic Project - Human Migration, Population Genetics, Maps, DNA - National Geographic

Yes, I needed to read a little DNA for helped so much!


An example of a paternal test result:

Jeff's Blog: My DNA Results Are Out! / Genographic Project

An example of a maternal test result:

Genographic results from my mother’s side « radioAe6rt

A book by Jared Diamond I read in college that is by far the most fascinating explanation of the development of human societies. I read it in complete awe... AND it fits right in with this topic!

Guns, Germs & Steel: Summary and book reviews of Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond.