Saturday, January 26, 2013

Short Story Number Three

            “I don’t have anything to offer you, sir.”
            “Then why the hell did you come here for a job?” the aging man asked in a sudden inspiration of rage.
            Shane had seen the young boy walking sullenly by the outskirts of his property. His haggard clothing gave him away for a beggar, but his obvious youth hinted at a more bitter history.
            “I don’t know,” he said meekly, “this is the first place I thought of.”
            “You ain’t a runaway, are ya? I’ll let you use my phone and you can call whomever you’d like to try to get someone to pick you up.”
            The older man’s anger subsided.
            “No, I’m not. My father kicked me out of the house. I just need a place to stay and work ‘till I figure out what I’m going to do.”
The boy stared at the pavement, avoiding eye contact with all of his might.  Shane thought hard about his response. Room and work, he had plenty to give, but dealing with a teenager seemed worse than dealing with an injured tiger.  He thought of the consequences that might arise from housing a runaway. The police may come to his refuge looking for him, but that wasn’t a problem. In the meantime, the boy could learn something from hard work.
            “This is an animal sanctuary, but it’s not a walk in the park. You’re not going to be playing with monkeys all day or anything like that. So, get that out of your head. This place is hard work. You gotta rake leaves, scoop up crap, repair fences, and all that. If you’re not ready for that you can still use my phone and find another place. If not, there’s an empty house in the back that I use for storage. You can stay there for free and have dinner for free, but I’m not paying you a single penny.”
            A subtle sigh of relief lifted the boy’s shoulders.
            “Thank you, sir. I’ll get started right away,” he replied eagerly.
            “Okay, just relax. We’ll take it one step at a time. What do I call you?”
            “Alright, Jacob, follow me.”

(unfinished, by Remy Dou)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What Are Kids Doing Online?

Whatever children are doing online, they're doing a lot of it. A new report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center argues something is going on, but we really don't know what. The report makes the case that previous studies focus heavily on the online behaviors of teen and young adults, particularly as they relate to social networking, whether on sites like Facebook or virtual worlds like Azeroth. While young children (7 - 13) now use the social networks more often than the same group has in the past, their behavior does not mimic that of older users. This is partly due to COPPA and other laws that keep sites like Facebook from allowing children younger than thirteen from creating profiles, but the difference in the online activities children participate in may also be due to developmental factors. The point is, no one can say for sure because of existing research gaps. 

This has interesting implications for educators and writers wanting to engage younger children. Places like Whyville and games like Little Big Planet seem to be non-traditional social networking sites popular amongst young children (social network forums). These worlds engage users in critical thinking skills and scientific trains of thought. Whyville, in particular, promotes data collection and evidence analysis, strongly emphasizing science and inquiry. Could these be new frontiers with which to collaborate or build upon for the purpose of better engaging and educating young children with science and other STEM fields? What are the possible implications of such developments and innovations?

These are interesting questions, which I hope get answered before patterns change once again. :) 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Round Two: Science Standards for All

  Written with the hope of seeing improvements in science education across the nation, a second draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) has been released for public comment. This is the last chance educators, leaders, and anyone else who is interested will have to make suggestions. Does it matter? Maybe. The standards can potentially impact everything from state standardized tests to textbooks and nonfiction literature. 
     National science standards already exist, though not widely implemented. Published nearly sixteen years ago, they provide suggestions to state education departments who are generally in charge of determining what gets taught in a particular state. Unlike many other nations who have the power to implement national standards, our federal government can only suggest them. America's constitution makes it clear that individual states are in charge of determining what their residents are taught in school.
     This new attempt at national science standards hopes to provide a popular document that all states can support, but adoption is voluntary. Already, national math and english standards called the "Common Core" have been adopted by nearly all states. As I review children's books, occasionally I notice references to alignment with the language arts standards of the common core. Clearly, national standards carry weight; the question is whether or not these new science standards will do the same.
     While at the federal level educational circles buzz with discussion about the NGSS, much of what is spoken does not filter down to the trenches. Teachers are too busy teaching to worry about standards that have not been released yet, that have no guarantee of being implemented in their state, and that populate one hundred and twenty-odd pages with magnifier-worthy text, ciphers, and color coded boxes (and the document comes in two versions!). I am not surprised that most of my colleagues back in Florida have no idea what the NGSS are, though they may be wonderful educators and administrators.
     So, who's interested? Clearly, the people involved in writing the standards are interested, as are states considering adoption, various education-focused organizations that have the resources to devote to the process, some federal agencies, some science organizations that want to make sure their field of science is adequately represented (most of which believe their field is critically important), and publishers of exams and textbooks looking to remain marketable.
     As someone who gets the opportunity to voice what I believe are the concerns of many educators, I have the resources and responsibility to comment, and I will. Whether or not that will make difference, who knows? I hope so. But my colleagues back home might not notice for another three to five years. Will the nation notice? Last year, a report was released demarcating the United States' rank amongst other nations in math and science. We are not at the top, but we did not score as poorly as some expected. You can see the results here. Will the new standards improve our standings?
     If you have read this far, it is likely because you are part of one of the groups I mentioned earlier. If not, congratulations! Much would need to fall right in place for these standards to transform education: the quality of the standards, state adoption, alignment with higher education curriculum, teacher preparation, administrators' attitude towards science (particularly at the elementary level), standardized exams...the list goes on. While some look forward to the impact these new standards will have, others stand unconcernedly by as they focus on the day to day responsibilities of teaching.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Age of Miracles (Review)

The Age of Miracles
by Karen Thompson Walker
     The disease had a fancy name, but everyone called it the "syndrome;" it was what happened to some as a result of the "slowing." No one knew the Earth's rotation changed until scientists announced the day had increased by nearly one hour. No one would suspect that the duration of a day would continue to grow while the rotation's slowing persisted. But sixth-grade would not stop for anyone, not even for Julia. Bullies, homework, and the gorgeous Seth Moreno weighed on her, but nothing, not even the slowing, would compare to what would happen to her mom, dad, and grandfather that year. Everything changed.
      Apt to enthrall readers of all ages, this young adult novel plums life's hardships, first-love, and sixth-grade from the perspective of a reflective young lady named Julia, not to mention the magnanimous calamity that befalls the planet. Walker fascinates and enraptures the mind in an emotional and imaginative journey. The accuracy of the science lends credence to the novel's disastrous setting--the slowing of the Earth's rotation upon its axis and the subsequent increase in the length of a day. Her characters' reactions, from neighbors to politician's, are grounded in plausible, if not probable, realities. While the terrible results of the Earth's slowing permeate every chapter, Julia's life goes on. Her thoughts and unstoppable experiences will keep readers turning pages.
     Clearly written with the young adult in mind, the storyline's richness will stimulate maturer hearts. A quick read, worth every second, readers may feel like time stops while lost in its pages.

2012, Random House/The Random House Publishing Group, Ages 11 to 18, $26.00 (Hardcover). Young Adult.