Creating and Using Data Spreadsheets to Interpret Useful Information

I am a novice Excel user.  Linked to this blog page is my data-spreadsheet-enrollment.  Previously, the most work that I did on Excel was to add cells to a spreadsheet that my mother  created when I was getting married!  When I started this assignment, I knew very little about data management.  Despite this, I chose to tackle the intermediate grouping in order to challenge myself.  This was very helpful for me.  It resulted in a better understanding of how the program can organize data, and help users find trends and correlations.  I know that my attempt is basic, but I am very happy with the knowledge that I gained through this process.

Initially, I was trying different data sets while figuring out how to work with the rows and columns.  I first narrowed down the pool to twenty-five elementary schools, because I am a third grade teacher and I wanted a smaller data set.  I sorted the data and put the enrollment in descending order.  Then I tried that with other columns.  Ultimately, after trying different things, I focused on the relationship between schools with a higher population of free lunches distributed, and the scores of 3/4 on the New York State ELA test.  After working on the sheets and figuring out how to narrow down the information, I spent time on the charts and tried to bring forth the notable trends.

Because I went to Teachers College and taught in Manhattan, I am aware of some of the schools, such as PS 006, and Manhattan New School.  Therefore, it did not surprise me that similar schools had low percentages of free lunch and a high percentage of students who achieved a 3 or 4 on the ELA exam.  The “Free lunch, % ELA bar graph” in orange and green clearly demonstrates the relationship between free lunches and ELA scores.  As the number of free lunches increases, the percentage of students achieving 3s or 4s typically decreases. Of course, there are outliers. but this data set highlights the inverse relationship between an increased number of free lunches and the ELA test scores.

Why Digital Literacies Matter

After reading, “Computational Thinking in K-12: A Review of the State of the Field,” and “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” I believe that digital literacies are necessary for a complete education.  Whereas reading, writing, and arithmetic used to be considered the main purposes of schooling, today’s world requires more complex skills.  The workforce demands problem solving, creativity and ingenuity.  Competition has become global, as technology opens positions to people all over the world.  Therefore, the US education system has to address how digital literacies will be taught at all levels.

It can be very difficult to determine which initiatives are worthy of teaching time and what to drop to make room for the new ideas.  Coding, robotics, and STEAM are all areas that are currently getting a great deal of attention.  In order to make time for these studies, they have to become the priority.  In addition, students have to be challenged.  I have experienced game building that was essentially students following step-by-step directions with limited independent thought.  While there was exposure to technology, it did not build critical thinking skills.  Grover and Pea explore environments and tools that foster Computational Thinking.  They discuss “low floor, high ceiling” as a successful way to introduce CT at basic levels and allow for growth and challenges along the way (page 40).

As the world becomes smaller and more competitive, it becomes even more crucial to prepare students for the demands they will face.  Perseverance is necessary.  The countries, like Russia, that move in the direction of CT will feel the benefits when their workforce is securing these jobs.  It cannot be something for the affluent students in this country; we need to find ways to cultivate skills and make all children digitally literate.

 

Time Magazine – “Is Technology Racist?”

john-mcwhorter

      The September 12-19, 2016 issue of Time Magazine featured an article by John McWhorter titled, “Is Technology Capable of Being Racist?”  McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, opines as to whether or not technology can be deemed racist.  McWhorter provides three examples of situations where racism was linked to events at Google, Tay and Snapchat.  He takes the stance that technology is non-living and therefore is not racist, and those who create and program it, although possibly racist, are more likely to make mistakes than to set out to intentionally hurt others.  Such were the cases in the examples he provided from Google, Tay and Snapchat.  McWhorter recognizes that mistakes can be offensive, and as such should be corrected, but he cautions that our culture is too quick to label accidental situations as racism.    McWhorter argues that rather than hold an intentional disgust for others, technological programmers are faced with difficult jobs that require foreseeing all the possible outcomes.  This is a challenging at best and oftentimes impossible when dealing with new, unpredictable technology.  When faced with the question of technology being capable of racism, Mr. McWhorter feels that it is not.

After reading Kang and Frankel’s piece, “Silicon Valley Struggles to Hack its Diversity Problem,” one could make the connection that with greater diversity in the work force, programmers would more effectively predict the consequences of these mistakes and work to prevent them from happening.  McWhorter approaches the article from where the companies are now in terms of who the creators are, but he doesn’t explore the idea that an altered work force might successfully minimize such problems.

 

Time Magazine – “Is Technology Racist?”

Data Visualization

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In “The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint,” Tufte critiques the text and design limitations of Powerpoint, a commonly used but seemingly ineffective tool for conveying ideas.  According to Tufte, it is a presenter-oriented method of relaying information.  Powerpoint does not engage the audience the way alternate methods could, and it does not allow for multiple images to appear simultaneously.  As another option, visualizations provide quick, effective opportunities to propagate information, and they don’t limit the designer.  In addition, considering differing learning styles, infographics appeal to audiences because they rely on visual skills.

The chosen infographic compares Michael Jordan and LeBron James’ success in their basketball careers.  It is simple and clearly presented.  There are four main colors.  The background is light gray.  There is a key that indicates that LeBron James’ achievements are in red, while Michael Jordan’s are in a darker shade of gray.  The creator used circles of varying sizes to indicate each player’s impact on the game.  There is a typo in the text of the infographic (“then” for “than”), but the different sizes and basic color scheme make it simple to understand.

The graphic shows the impact that both men have had on the game.  It relays the importance of Jordan’s initial success, while recognizing the continuation of LeBron’s dominance in the sport.  After reading Tufte and searching for a visualization to share, I look forward to updating my traditional (and most-likely ineffective) Back to School Night Powerpoint!

A Guide for Creative Commons and Free Content Licenses for Teachers

The digital age has made copying content so easy, that even teachers struggle with knowing what’s allowed.  As my children’s videos tell us, “Piracy is not a victimless crime.”  Here is some helpful information that teachers should know in order to be sure they are making informed decisions and teaching students to follow copyright laws.

What is Creative Commons?  Creative Commons is an international non-profit organization that provides free licenses to artists who are making their work accessible to the public.  Creative Commons licenses give the creator choices about how the work can be used.  There are six core licenses which allow the work to be used in different ways.  Baseline rights allow users to copy the work, distribute the work, display or perform the work, communicate the work, format shift exact copies of the work.

With rights, come responsibilities.  Therefore, when using Creative Commons material, the user must always credit the work’s creator, get permission from the creator to do anything other than what’s in the license, keep copyright notices attached to the work, indicate and link to the license from any copies of the work, and acknowledge the original work and indicate where any changes may have been made.

How can students find free images?

One location where public domain images can be found is in Google images.  To find images that are labeled for re-use, go to the upper right corner (wheel) and select “advanced search.”  Then select “usage rights,” and “free to use” or “share” or “free to use or share and modify.”  Students should visit the page where the picture was found, and check that it is a Creative Commons website.

Another way to obtain Creative Commons material is to use the Flicker Commons. The Commons is millions of images released into the public domain.  Many are historical images with no known copyright restrictions.

Next is Pixabay.com.  Searches can be done in various languages on Pixbay.  Everything below the first line of advertised pictures is available content.  Accounts are free, and you can download small images without even having to log in.

Photos for Class.com lets students download images and easily adjust the attribution information (after downloading).  The search tool can be put into a teacher’s class website or blog.

Morgfile.com is another sharing site.  It includes many limited images, but it also has unrestricted material.

While it is certainly not easy to teach students the rules about Creative Content and Free Content licenses, it is a teacher’s responsibility, the same way that she holds students responsible for acknowledging and citing the sources of their written work.

 

For additional information:

freetech4teachers.com: 5 Ways Students CanFind Free Images

Smartcopying.edu.au

Baseline Rights, http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Baseline_rights

Black Mirror: “15 Million Merits” and “Pedagogy and Principles of Teaching Media Literacy

black-mirror

 

“Black Mirror,” the British show written by Charlie Brooker and Kanak Huq explores a futuristic society where technology permeates every aspect of life.  Frank Baker’s text, “Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom” presents five questions that can be used to break down Episode 2: “15 Million Merits.”

Baker’s question, Who constructed the message? can be explored at many levels.  It can be looked at through the lens of how society got to a place where technology and life blend into one.  It can be seen as a question of what message the creators are trying to impart; a message that people can become prisoners or slaves to technology, that technology can get to the point of becoming bigger and more consuming than the life you live.  The opening scene illustrates a world where everything is simulated.  From the rooster’s crow to the sunrise, it is all a technological illusion.  The day greets you with digital images.

“Black Mirror” attracts the viewer’s attention with visual stimulation and complex ideas.  It keeps you engaged with appealing likenesses that merge the human world with the digital world.  The characters exist in a place where being overweight is a problem, and advertisements rule.  The desired life within “Black Mirror” is to be a hot shot and gain exit from the monotonous bike world.  The creators play on the desire for fame and notoriety that comes with being on a show.  Like the Kardashians today, “Black Mirror” poses that thin, well-dressed reality show stars live the life that the cog-in-the-wheel workers desire.  The workers represent slaves to the government as they produce energy by riding their bikes and earning merits.

Technology is a double-edged sword, and I sometimes fear the hold it might put on myself, the third graders I teach, and my own children.  While I found the show to be a validation my fears about what might happen if the world succumbs to the tantalization of technology, in fact, what seems exciting and enticing in our world today becomes mundane and repetitive in “Black Mirror.”  This is seen as Bing rides his bike all day long earning merits and watching the digital version of himself.

Values and points of view are embedded in media.  As stated above, the message sent is to be careful about the path you are headed down.  Bing dreams about moving on from the slave-like monotonous life he lives.  Sometimes like Bing, we take simplicity for granted.  The pressure to be thin, have merits (money) and become famous, as Abi wants when she auditions, can be overwhelming and all encompassing.  It is possible that men view the messages differently, as Abi and Bing are different characters.  Also, I am curious about the cultural implications.   Does the media portray an accurate role of all people’s desires? Or is this directed towards a certain population, the ones who desire to move ‘up,’ but haven’t fully embraced physical attributes as the primary means to a successful end.

The show brought to light a few really important ideas.  First, is technology needed to enhance our lives?  Does the simple life have value?  Does the government do what’s best for the people?  How can workers advance to a better life without succumbing to the pressures and stereotypes that society places on people?  “Black Mirror” poses complex questions while presenting an attractive medium.

 

 

The Language of New Media-Manovitch

oldmediavsnewmedia

In his text, The Language of New Media, Lev Manovitch outlines five principles of new media.  They are numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and cultural transcoding.  Manovitch begins with the history of computerization and sets a distinction between old and new media.  After outlining the five important ideas, Manovitch explores what new media is not.  Unlike old media, new media allows content to be produced, distributed, saved and consumed.

New educational media is an extension of the old, but it has advanced to the point of becoming unrecognizable.  Starting from chalk boards, educational resources have progressed to rexograph machines, overhead projectors, VCR tapes,  Commodore PETs, DVDs, iPads, Netflix, Starfall, VoiceThreads, BrainPOP, and Google Art Project. Students live in an instant world, and the automation and variability of new media make their mistakes (academic or personal) seem temporary and inconsequential.  Ironically, many transgressions live on in the digital world and resurface later in life.

While new media is an extension of old media, the capabilities have completely altered education.  Unlimited resources are available to teachers.  Digital technologies have made the world smaller.  Students can visit foreign countries from their living rooms, and see their houses from space.  They have twenty-four-seven access to experts, because everything can be ‘Googled.’

There are two questions that remain about the progression of technology.  Is it based on the capability of the technology, or how it is used?  If a Smart Board is simply projecting a still photograph, is it still considered new media?  Or is it the employment of the five principles that matters, not the capacity to perform tasks?  Additionally, with the world seemingly becoming smaller and smaller with the evolution of media, why are we still in a time of cultural strife and misunderstanding?  Perhaps, is it not just the media capabilities that are relevant, but the uses and users that really make a difference in teaching and learning?