Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Influential Global Collaboration Projects

The final task in my Using Digital and Social Media in Education class is a global collaboration project that I will create myself. In order to build a successful and viable global collaboration project, I need to investigate other existing projects so that I get a better sense of what is feasible in the classroom. Today's post is about two global collaboration projects that have provided inspiration for the project I hope to create.

Nature's Global Zoo
The first project that I investigated more deeply is one that I mentioned in a previous post on global collaboration: Nature's Global Zoo.

Image used with permission from Rusty Clark on Wikimedia Commons

   -In small groups, students will create zoos that represent the habitat and animals within that habitat from their area. 
   -The projects that the students will develop are detailed in the animals that are included, landscape of the park and each enclosure, finances, and publications (even including a tour guide script and safety rules for the guests and employees).
   -The zoos will be posted online so that students from around the world can "visit" the zoos from areas other than their own.

Subject Areas:
   -21st Century Skills

Age Level:
   -The lesson plan for the project is written for high school students.
   -Classrooms with students of younger ages are encouraged to incorporate whichever components of the high school project that "fit their individual comfort levels."

   -The time period given for the global collaboration project is January 1, 2017 through June 15, 2017.
   -There are no specific time or scheduling recommendations given on the site or in the assignment document.

Technology Requirements:
   -The instructors take a photo of the final projects and upload them to a shared gallery.
   -The students don't have to use technology to create the projects.

Communication Requirements:
   -Students communicate in their small groups in the classroom.
   -There is no communication between classes of students completing this project around the globe besides that they can view each other's projects via the gallery.
   -There are some "possible classroom activities" that encourage collaboration between classrooms from around the world, but these are briefly mentioned and details that would be necessary to actually complete these activities are not given (such as how to contact participating schools or what technology might be used).

Intended Outcomes:
   -Students will have an expanded knowledge of animal life in their own area from creating the zoo, as well as from other areas of the globe by investigating other students' zoos.
   -Students will have an increased sensitivity to global environmental issues, including an understanding about threatened and endangered animals and what measures are being taken to help those species.
   -Students will be "more globally in-tuned" by viewing other students' creations from around the world.

Reflection and Takeaways:
   -While this was marketed as a global collaboration project, the students don't actually collaborate with others around the world to make their zoos. The zoos are created in small groups of students from the same class, and photos of the projects are uploaded to a gallery. The global aspect is that students from other locations can view the zoos created by students elsewhere. I would like my project to have more global integration, actually encouraging students from around the world to work together to create their projects. However, I liked how the projects were uploaded to a centralized location for others to view, and I would like to somehow incorporate that idea into my final project.
   -This project did not have any technology requirements. Because I would like to incorporate global collaboration on a student-to-student level, they will need technology to communicate. Additionally, I would like the projects to actually be created through technology instead of in physical formats.
   -In general, the project requirements were more complex than I intend to create because this was written for high school students working together in the same space. In this project, students include a multitude of details, from the design of the zoo logo to the shows that will be put on in the exhibits. In my project, I would like to focus more on the animals themselves than the details of the park as a whole.
   -This project did not include any scheduling recommendations! I personally believe this may have been in an effort to allow teachers to spend as much or as little time needed on the project in their own individual classrooms. However, because my project will involve collaboration between students of different areas, there needs to be some scheduling guidelines so that the partnering schools stay in sync.

Weather Around the World
For my second project, I tried to find one that was more detailed and included interaction between the students actually participating. In this search, I stumbled upon Weather Around the World. It should be noted that this resource is a 9-week unit plan; however, for the purpose of this post I will be focusing solely on the global collaboration piece of the unit.

Image used with permission from Peel, Finlayson, and McMahon on WikiMedia Commons

   -Classes in the northern and southern hemisphere will partner up to share daily weather conditions in their own areas, determine similarities and differences in the weather, and explain why they think those similarities and differences exist.
   -Students will also discuss content topics related to what they have learned in each week of the unit to establish real-life connections between the content and the lives of people in various areas of the globe.
   -In collaborative groups between classes, students will brainstorm, build, test, and reflect on ways of cleaning/filtering water for survival after a natural disaster strikes and pollutes the water supply.

Subject Areas:
   -Social Studies
   -Language Arts
   -21st Century Skills

Age Level:
   -This project is written for second grade.
   -It could be adjusted for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

   -The entire unit is written for 9 weeks.
   -The unit is written so that each week, students videoconference with their collaborating classroom to discuss the weather conditions in their areas, the content topics that they have been learning, and (later in the unit) work on their water filtering projects.
   -The plan does not identify how long or on what day during the week the videoconferencing should occur.

Technology Requirements:
   -Students need to be able to videoconference, either in small groups or as a full class.
   -(What technology is specifically needed, such as 1:1 devices or a monitor for the full class, is dependent on the format that the collaborating teachers decide on for this project.)
   -The lesson plan suggests using technology such as Skype or Google Hangouts.
   -The creator also suggests publicly displaying the students' endeavors throughout the unit through Twitter.
   -The teachers need to be able to collaborate to determine small groups, videoconferencing times, due dates, etc., whether this be through the videoconferencing platform or though other technology (such as email or Google Docs).

Communication Requirements:
   -The teachers in the collaborating classrooms must communicate before the project launches.
   -The students in each classroom must communicate, either in small groups or as a full class.
   -It is recommended that students participating in this project speak the same language, though translators may be used if the two groups do not speak the same language.
   -It is recommended that collaborating classes form within similar time zones so that times to videoconference can be arranged between the groups.

Intended Outcomes:
   -Students will be able to develop relationships with their collaborative peers and learn more about their cultures through collaboration.
   -Students will be able to make connections between weather and its relationship to the location on Earth.
   -Students will understand how people have basic needs that are dependent on the environment and that weather can affect people's daily lives by positively or negatively affecting the environment.
   -Students will establish connections between the weather-related content they are learning in class and how this affects them and the students in their collaborating class.
   -Students will determine which materials work best as water filters.

Reflection and Takeaways:
   -This project was fairly vague in the requirements for communication between the students. I liked how it was up to the teachers to reflect on the technology they had available to them and decide between themselves whether their students should work as two full classes, split into small groups, or even partner up. Though this means that teachers working on this project would have more work to do to make that determination themselves, this project is more adaptable to different classroom environments due to the flexibility in the description.
   -I liked that this project was able to incorporate videoconferencing! I think videoconferencing is ambitious, but it can be extremely beneficial to the students if used appropriately. Because it limits the classes that are able to participate in a project (due to scheduling and time differences), I do not want to require videoconferencing in my project, but I plan to leave it as an option available to classes if they are collaborating in two areas in which this would be feasible.
   -I also liked that this collaborative project was built for younger students and gave them a fair level of autonomy! While I do believe that younger students need more guidance than older students, that doesn't mean that they can't be given a little freedom, such as choosing what they talk about with their collaborating class within the realm of the covered content. I hope to allow a lot of independence in my collaborative project as well.

What did you think about the projects I presented here? Have you participated in an outstanding global collaboration project that you think I should know about? Please share about it in the comments! And be on the lookout for my next post reflecting on my experience creating my own global collaboration project!

Monday, November 28, 2016


In Visual Literacy today, we talked about campaigns for social change. The Ad Council has been sponsoring social change for decades; some current, familiar causes are sexual assault prevention (primarily through It's On Us - watch one of the public service announcements below), fatherhood involvement, and recycling.

One campaign for social change that has its annual kickoff tomorrow (and has been popping up all over my Twitter) is #GivingTuesday. After Thanksgiving Thursday (a day of eating) and Black Friday/Cyber Monday (days of shopping), #GivingTuesday is intended to help people kick off the season of charity by encouraging them to help out in their community. As the #GivingTuesday website states, "#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration." It also states that last year, over 700,000 people in over 70 countries raised $116,000,000 online through the campaign. That's simply incredible!

Image used with permission from Steven H. Vanderwerff on WikiMedia Commons

While it seems as though this day could only bring about good things, I have to examine this campaign with a critical eye. After reading a bit about #GivingTuesday on sites such as Mashable and Forbes, I am left with some questions. First, where is all of the money raised on #GivingTuesday going? Does the organization itself use the money to fund it's own do-good projects, or do they donate the money to other groups? Another question I have is how do we turn this from a one-day event into a longer project? While I think it's great that people are taking time on #GivingTuesday to give back, this is only a drop in the bucket if we consider all of the service we could do if #GivingTuesday lasted longer than just one day in November. Would people be as enthusiastic about a seasonal or monthly event as well, or would that cause less people to participate? One last question that is immediately coming to mind is how do we reach those who do not have technology? #GivingTuesday even has a hashtag in its name; honestly, I don't think I would have known about the event if not for Twitter. So how do we get the word out about this campaign to folks who don't have Twitter? Reaching a wider audience would surely encourage more people to participate, only leading to greater community outreach across the world.

Image used with permission from Joshua J. Wahl on WikiMedia Commons

I am looking forward to participating in my first #GivingTuesday tomorrow! Have you ever participated in a community project (or even just donated money) on #GivingTuesday? Please share about it in the comments!

Image used with permission from Jennifer A. Villalovos on WikiMedia Commons

Changes for Women in Fashion/Modeling

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Killing Us Softly, a video about women's portrayal in advertising. One of the points made in the video was that women in advertising (print, runway, etc.) are always thin and have been measuring thinner over the years; these models embody shapes that are simply unrealistic for most women to obtain and do not represent the general population.

Recently, I have seen many videos, articles, etc. providing a more recent perspective on an old issue. The first (and possibly most widely distributed) is Tim Gunn's view on the American fashion industry. (Read the essay on The Washington Post or watch the PBS NewsHour clip about it below.)

Tim Gunn (a fashion industry expert and one of my favorite TV hosts from my teenage afternoons watching Project Runway reruns) states that the American fashion industry "has a lot of problems" stemming from designers' refusal to create fashion-forward clothes for all types of American women. Gunn states that the average American woman measures between a size 16 and size 18, but it is incredibly difficult to find any clothes (let alone clothes that are considered trendy or glamorous) for these women. Gunn laments that the issue is baffling because although creating fashions for different-sized women would require a bit more work on the designers' parts, more and more women fit the "plus-size" (a term that Gunn and I both despise) category; therefore, there is money to be made in creating clothing that appeals to them. I appreciated how Gunn said it's "not a customer issue," acknowledging that it's the industry that needs to change, not the people themselves.

Another recent headliner was Ashley Graham's honor as a cover girl for Sports Illustrated's extremely popular swimsuit issue. Since this announcement, Graham has used her voice to advocate for women of all sizes. Her message is that no matter what your size, you can do anything you want to do - she was able to make waves in the modeling industry, one area that is overwhelmingly dominated by tiny figures. In addition, Graham has her own line of plus-size lingerie, and Mattel even created a Barbie doll in her image.

After receiving body-shaming comments on her Instagram, Iskra Lawrence responded with a photo of her lying on a bed of potato chips (see below); as she said, it was "for anyone who has ever been called FAT." Most recently, Lawrence stripped down on a subway to educate travelers about body diversity and acceptance.

Gunn, Graham, and Lawrence are extremely popular figures, but women's portrayal is changing on other levels as well. For example, BuzzFeed did a stunning photoshoot of regular plus-size women recreating high fashion advertisements. (It was discussed here in Glamour magazine.) CBS News reported that the brand Meijer is getting rid of its plus-size clothing section and will include these sizes in their missy and women sections. Meijer is also slashing plus-size clothing prices (which are typically higher than "regular" sizes) in an effort to make clothing costs affordable and consistent. A new kickstarter campaign by Shelley Johnson of New Vintage Lady plans to market vintage sewing patterns that are adjusted to fit larger-sized women (because most vintage clothing runs four sizes smaller than our current sizes).

The lesson I have learned from my recent attention to fashion and modeling in the news is that waves are being made. I still believe that women's portrayal in advertising is dominated by models who have certain characteristics (such as nearly impossibly slim figures), but it seems like this is changing. It is my hope that by the time my children are born and old enough to understand and be affected by advertising, these "thin ideals" that we see today are a part of the past.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Reflecting on a Global Education Conference Presentation

The final task in my Using Digital and Social Media in Education class is a global collaboration project that I will create myself. In order to build a successful and viable global collaboration project, I need to learn about global collaboration as it relates to education. To do this, I have been asked to watch a recording from the 2016 Global Education Conference and reflect on what I have learned and how this might assist me in my project. For today's post, I will reflect on the recording I watched, Preparation for Teaching in a Global Classroom by Heather MacCleoud. (In order to access this presentation, I had to create an account and log in at the Global Education Conference website; it was free, in case you'd like to watch the presentation yourself!)

A screenshot I took of MacCleoud's presentation video; I watched this for my assignment.

First, the presenter spoke about diversity in the classroom today, particularly in the United States. She discussed topics like the increasing amount of multiculturalism in the classroom; how the minorities are becoming the majority; the unique situations of English language learners, immigrants, and refugees, and how these populations are more often represented in our classrooms today than they have been in the past; and the increasing global interconnectedness of our students. I personally liked MacCleoud's slide that discussed just a few of the many cultural identities that may differ amongst our students (language, religion, race, political affiliation, life experience, learning modalities, etc.) and her message that regardless of the teacher's personal culture, we need to be sure that we are welcoming students of all types in our classrooms.

Next, the MacCleoud discussed preparing teachers for our culturally diverse and interconnected world. She listed four features of cultural learning: it's developmental, transformative, takes time, and requires a safe environment. One idea that struck a chord with me was when MacCleoud said that preservice and current teachers all come to the classroom with varying levels of background experiences learning about and interacting with people of different cultures, and so do our students; therefore, everyone has to meet each other where they're at in order to support each other and facilitate learning. She admitted that it can be difficult and a little intimidating, but we have to take the time and put in the effort to make these learning experiences possible not only for ourselves, but for our students.

MacCleoud then examined the three dimensions of cultural and global learning: understanding of cultural and global contexts, integration of cultural and global perspectives in the classroom, and responsiveness to the influence of culture on teaching and learning. She defined understanding of cultural and global contexts as understanding "knowledge of the plurality of cultural practices present within human societies, and engagement with global issues." For integration of cultural and global perspectives, MacCleoud discussed ways of critically examining and questioning the perspectives that are present in the classroom and finding additional ways to include people of all backgrounds in the curriculum. Lastly, for the responsiveness dimension, the presenter said that we must remember that we as teachers are cultural beings ourselves, our students have their own cultural backgrounds, and together we have to pay attention to the ways that different cultural identities influence teaching and learning.

Image used with permission from Free Press/Free Press Action Fund on flickr

In order to increase one's cultural learning, MacCleoud identified a list of steps. First, the person or class has to take part in some sort of assessment to determine their current level of cultural learning; there are a number of existing assessments that would allow someone to do this. Next, the learner should reflect upon that assessment and determine if there are life experiences or influential people who have impacted his or her cultural learning. Next, cultural learners should take part in guided discussion, bringing up their own cultural competencies and areas of improvement with others who are similar AND different from them in order to learn. Based on that guided discussion, some sort of action should be planned, whether on an individual or group level. For example, in my RA staff this year, we discussed how many of us use the phrase "you guys," which can be exclusive to people who identify as female. We took it upon ourselves to try to consciously stop using that phrase as well as hold each other accountable and call it out when we hear each other say it. Throughout this period of planned action, the learner(s) should be reflecting on the experience and making changes to the action as necessary. Lastly, assessment should be taken to determine what progress has been made in one's cultural learning. At the end of the presentation, MacCleoud mentioned some resources and programs that people could get involved with in order to foster and support their cultural learning.

I really enjoyed this presentation and felt that it was not only applicable to the classroom, but also to daily life. There are very few places in this world where no diversity exists; we all have different background experiences to bring to the table. Therefore, it is essential that we become culturally educated and continue building our cultural understandings. In terms of my project, I think working collaboratively with a student from around the globe is a wasted opportunity if culture and experience are not incorporated into the activity. If I simply want my students to collaborate, I could ask them to work with partners within the classroom and forget the effort that it takes to set up a global collaboration project. However, the project that I want to bring to my students includes the opportunity to get to know someone who is different from them. Talking with another student about his or her different background will increase both partners' cultural learning. And in order to facilitate this, I need to be open to continuing to become more culturally literate as an educator as well.

Do you have any particular ideas for incorporating cultural learning into your own classroom or global collaboration project? Or have you fostered activities that include cultural learning? Please share about it in the comments!

Creativity-Fostering Playgrounds

Recess provides children with a break from the classroom. It allows them to build social skills and improve their physical fitness. The fresh air does them good. These are just a few of the many reasons given that support the inclusion of recess in a child's school day. Here's another one: playing outdoors with other kids promotes creativity... or does it?

Image used with permission from Glowman on pixabay

As we have been talking about in my Visual Literacy class, creativity is absolutely essential to children's development; in fact, it's one of the universal constructs of the Iowa Core. Creativity is constantly cited as a skill that employers value most in their applicants as well, so its benefits extend beyond the classroom. Therefore, it is essential that we, as educators, ensure that our students are provided access to many opportunities to boost their creative prowess. And if recess is one of the activities that we continue to cite for creativity development, we must be sure that recess provides a creative environment for the kids.

This issue was brought to my attention by "The Overprotected Kid," an article I stumbled upon from The Atlantic. The article discusses a type of playground (more popular in the UK than the US) in which there are moveable items and materials to experiment and play with instead of large playground equipment. Take a look at the short video below for an example of this type of playground, called The Land.

As you can see, this playground sparks ingenuity. The kids are able to use materials and tools to repurpose items according to their unique ideas. They are able to do this with very little supervision from adults; there are keepers who prevent the kids from causing true harm, but the actions the kids can take are almost limitless. While I believe kids can build their creativity through the playgrounds we are familiar with (including the typical swing set, slide, and maybe even monkey bars), the options are not nearly as free as they are on playgrounds such as The Land.

In response to the need to promote freer active play, there are efforts to bring about loose-parts playgrounds in the United States. Imagination Playground (as shown in the video below), is one example.

There are some amazing playgrounds in existence. However, I believe that if we are going to be committed to fostering creativity in our children, we need to do better. These innovative, loose parts playgrounds might be the answer. What are your thoughts? Do you think we could ever have playgrounds like The Land in the US? Or should we be advocating for options such as Imagination Playground? Please share in the comments!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Wag the Dog: Personal Analysis through Visual Literacy Lens

Wag the Dog (1997) is a comedic drama about spin, similar to Thank You for Smoking (a movie I blogged about earlier this month). In Wag the Dog, the opening scene is a secret meeting of the President's advisors, who know that news of the President fondling a young girl is going to hit the presses the next day. The advisors need to lessen the blow of the news because the President is up for re-election in three weeks. Invited to the meeting is Conrad Brean, a well-known spin doctor who suggests that they use the media to create the illusion of a war to show the President's usefulness and distract the public from the President's scandal. Brean enlists the help of Hollywood producer Stanley Motts, and they set to work creating the illusion of a war in Albania through fake scenes of a girl running through rubble with her cat, a rallying war song, and the death and proper burial of a "war hero." At one point the CIA even detains Brean and his advising partner (Winifred Ames) for their antics, but Brean suggests that the CIA doesn't actually know what's going on in the world and they are released. In the end, the President is re-elected, but the press insinuates his win was due to his campaign slogan and not his recent efforts with the war, which infuriates Motts. Motts says that he is going to call the media and tell them what really happened and why the President won the election, and after Brean unsuccessfully attempts to dissuade him, Brean tells a secret service agent to take care of Motts. The next morning there is a news story about Motts being found dead in his Hollywood home from a "heart attack," but we are meant to believe that the secret service agents killed Motts so he wouldn't release their secret war to the press. At the very end of the movie we see a news report about violence in Albania, leaving us to wonder if it was a real or fabricated report.

View the trailer for Wag the Dog below:

What do you feel is the message the director is trying to express in this movie? Support your answer with examples.
I think the message of this movie is that unless we witness something ourselves, we can never be sure of the full truth. (And even if we do witness something, sometimes we still cannot be sure that the occasion was not a set-up.) Trust goes a long way, and in general, trust is earned. For example, I am more inclined to believe a story that my best friend tells me as opposed to if a new acquaintance just shared the same story because I have known my friend for a longer period of time and have heard stories from her that were later verified. In this movie, the situation is heightened because the government is the body sharing the story. As the citizens of the United States, we put our trust in the government as our administrative, commanding body; the government cannot properly rule without the trust of its people. In this movie, that trust is exploited for the gains of the President. Of course the American people are convinced that a war is occurring in Albania; why wouldn't they? The TV showed clips of "destruction in Albania" and "war heroes" that were believable to the people, even though they were completely fictional. The President and his team used that blind trust of the nation to win re-election. So I think the purpose of this movie was to not only show that we can never be sure of the full truth, we should also be skeptical of bodies (such as the government) that have an incredible amount of clout and influence and would have the power to sway our opinions.

Discuss if you think this movie has accurate depictions of minorities or if they are situational. 
This movie included very few minority groups, and they did not appear to be purposefully cast for their minority status. The only possible minority issue I detect in this film is the role of women. Winifred Ames, the advisor working alongside Conrad Brean to pull off the fake Albanian war, is a blonde who is frequently ignored. (Perhaps she is being painted as a "dumb blonde.") There is also a scene in the movie in which Motts writes a speech for the American public that the President doesn't want to give because he thinks it is corny; to prove its ability to impact the people, Motts collects female secretaries and delivers the speech to them, resulting in a room full of bawling women. This perpetuates the openly emotional woman stereotype. Besides these examples, I don't think this movie was intended to depict minorities in any certain way.

Explain if you think the director’s ethnic/cultural/professional background played a role in directing this film.
The director, Barry Levinson, is a Caucasian male born in the 1940s. I could not find any conclusive articles that stated he was skeptical of the government, he was raised in a household that encouraged him to be critical of the government, or any such quotes from the director himself. However, it is possible that Levinson wanted to bring light to the role media plays in manipulating our minds due to some experience he had in his past.

An interesting addition to this topic is that soon after the movie was released, the Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton sex scandal was publicized and the President bombed Afghanistan and Sudan in response to the Kenya-Tanzania bombings of American embassies. People drew parallels between Wag the Dog, in which the President covered his sex scandal with a fake war, and real life, in which the President may have tried to divert attention from his sex scandal with bombings. (I was alerted of this comparison in this article from the Los Angeles Times.) I doubt that Levinson knew anything about Lewinsky and Clinton's affair, but it is incredibly coincidental that what happened in history seemed so similar to the film. Did Levinson detect that the government was hiding something?

Image used with permission from David Shankbone on WikiMedia Commons

What groups (people of color, nationality, culture, class, gender etc.) may be offended or misinterpret this movie and why?
As mentioned previously, women (and particularly secretaries) may be offended by the movie due to the way their identities were portrayed in the film. However, I think all American people may be impacted and possibly angered by this movie. The movie depicts a small group of wealthy, well-connected people brainwashing the public through the government's influence. This insinuates that the American people are gullible and will believe anything their government tells them without questioning it (even when the CIA tries to release the truth). It may lead people to wonder if they are indeed that easily influenced.

What has the movie added to your visual literacy?
This movie has reiterated the importance of thinking beyond what is actually portrayed, not only through visuals but in all aspects of life. For example, in one of my other classes we have mentioned poor research ethics in medicine, from issues such as not reporting some clinical trials to make a product seem to work better than it does to medical companies funding their own studies and not obtaining an unbiased review. These sorts of problems lead people to believe that their medicines and medical devices are actually more effective than they are, putting people's lives at risk. On a less serious note, we are tricked all the time into thinking a certain way. For example, check out this Ikea lamp commercial:

The commercial uses effects that we usually associate with sadness (the rain, slow music, darkness, the lamp that is alone on the street) to make us feel sad for the lamp; we are only snapped out of it when the narrator reminds us that "it has no feelings" and that we are "crazy" for feeling sad for it.

Director Barry Levinson did quip that this is not always intentional. Because of the instantaneous nature of media, reports may be disseminated that are unknowingly incorrect. While this was not the premise of the movie (because reports were being released that were intentionally fictitious), it should be known that this problem exists innocently as well. People are made to believe something that they don't realize is incorrect until later on. (See him talk about it in the interview below.)

The movie adds to this discussion. We believe the news (whether they be broadcasts, print media, websites, etc.) because those are the outlets we expect to receive reliable information from. But, though we may question advertisements (because we know that their purpose is to sway us into thinking a certain way), we rarely question other sources that we have deemed factual and credible, such as research, news, and even the government. We need to be more critical of the media that is given to us. What is the message that the author is trying to portray? WHY is the author trying to transmit this message? Is the purpose to transmit factual information or persuade us? Is this a credible source? Are there any parts of the message that are hard to believe? Overall, we need to look at our world with a critical eye and think more deeply about (and question) the information we are being fed on a daily basis.

What kind of artistic and/or visual means did the director use in the movie to focus our attention?
The parts that stand out the most to me from this film were the very beginning and the very end. I rewound the movie and paused it a couple of times to write down the opening remarks written on the screen, "Why does a dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail were smarter, the tail would wag the dog." I think this quote could have two different meanings. First, the dog might represent the American people and the tail might represent the media. As we have explored throughout this class, the media influences the public, though the people should be greater than the media. The other meaning that I see in the quote would be if the dog represented the American people and the tail represented the government. The government is supposed to exist for the benefit of the people, but as Wag the Dog shows, perhaps the government exists because it is influencing the people to believe that we need it. This quote was given at the beginning of the movie to set the tone of the film; it's satirical and shocking. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking about that quote and how it related to the atrocities I was viewing.

The end of the movie also stood out to me because it left me thinking even after the movie was over. At the end, we are shown news stories of the war in Albania; however, it is left uncertain whether the war is real or continued fabrication from the President's story. (Even the empty room shown after the clip is troubling; is the room empty because the advisors are busy making up the news, or is the room empty because they no longer are making it up and have duties elsewhere?) The uncertainty focuses our attention back to the message of this movie; we can't necessarily believe what we see at face value.

Image used with permission from Counselling on GoodFreePhotos

Additional comments/and or analysis/and or other movies recommendations.

Overall, as I was watching this film I was torn between laughing at the hilarity of a couple of people trying to create the illusion of a war and crying because they were successful at convincing the American public that it was true. I try to be skeptical and reflective on the things I see, hear, read, etc., but I wonder how truly successful I am. I wonder how much paranoia has been caused by this film and others like it (such as Thank You for Smoking). And was the purpose of this film to make me feel paranoid?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Our (Failed) Experience with Global Collaboration

During our last unit in Using Digital and Social Media, we attempted to collaborate with students outside of Iowa. Unfortunately, those plans fell through, and we were not able to participate in the collaborative experience. While this was disappointing, the failure did provide me with some valuable learning moments to remember when incorporating global collaboration into my own classroom.

Global collaboration is extremely beneficial for our students. As I mentioned in my first post on the topic, global collaboration helps us promote cultural (and other forms of diversity) understanding, awareness of the world around us, patience and tolerance, relationship building, and problem solving skills (among other benefits!). Asking students to work with other students around the globe helps them expand their worldview and think outside of their individual lives. However, global collaboration can be challenging because it requires a lot of work. Time and effort must be put in ahead of time to plan the project, recruit collaborators, and work out the details necessary to effectively implement the project. The students must often work independently or find ways to work with their global partners in groups, and the teachers have to support many different groups of kids working on different projects. While global collaboration can be incredibly rewarding, it can also be very hard!

In our class, we attempted to contact students from Connecticut to work with us on a project highlighting regional differences. Our first point of contact was a combined Zoom experience; however, only one student and the professor from Connecticut joined us. This was frustrating because we were supposed to have that time to make plans for our project with our group members, but they were not required to be there, and most of them didn't come. While I understand that the meeting was outside of their class time, I think the students should have been required to join us (if they were able - it's possible that some students might have prior commitments that would prevent them from coming, but that shouldn't have affected almost all of our groups). This would have kickstarted the project and helped us move forward in the collaboration by giving us a common time to discuss our plans and assign next steps. 

After the failed Zoom meeting, I contacted Allison (the other UNI student in my group) and discussed what we should do next. Both of us were feeling wary and anxious about this project because we had not heard from our Connecticut friends and didn't know what we should try to cover in our project. After my discussion with Allison, I felt better; we made some plans about how to move forward and bounced ideas off each other regarding our project topic. We decided to email the students from Connecticut that were assigned to our group and ask them if they had any ideas for our topic or suggestions for collaboration tools. (We provided our own ideas in the email, but we did not want to dictate the ideas that we moved forward with, so we tried to be very open in the email.) Only one student initially responded to our email; she said that she would collaborate but did not provide any contributions to our original questions. For at least a week, no one else responded to the emails; then, at the last minute (before our night class), two other Connecticut students replied to say that they would not be able to collaborate. This was very disappointing, and while I know it was not personal, I still felt a little offended that these students didn't want to work with us. I felt like we had taken initiative, been very accommodating, and showed that we put a lot of thoughts into it already! While we were able to at least receive a positive response from one person in our group, most of our UNI cohort had no such contacts, so our class dropped the project as a whole. While in some ways this was sad because we had made some decisions about our project, it was also relieving considering that our efforts for collaboration were not going well.

If I were to go back and work on this project again, I would not do anything differently. I think Allison and I worked well together, and we took the initiative to email our group members with our ideas (but open it up for other suggestions). We did what we could to recruit people to work with us; it isn't our fault that they were not optimistic. I think that if I were to improve this project, I would make sure that there is a strong incentive for both collaborating partners to work together. While the Connecticut students would have received credit for working with us, it was not required; I don't blame them for neglecting to add work to their load unnecessarily, for I would also be reluctant if I was in their situation. When working on a global collaboration project (or any collaboration project), it is important for all parties to understand why and how they are benefitting from participating. In most cases, this will take the form of a grade that students can earn from participating. I must remember to clearly define and explain the benefits for all parties when I institute global collaboration in my own classroom!

Another way I would "improve" this project is to give more detailed expectations. I understand that the vagueness of the project was intentional so that the groups could collaborate and create a final product without worrying about project restraints. But I (as a type-A, focused, high-achieving student) wanted more clearly defined requirements for the project. Thinking ahead to my own classroom, I need to review the expectations I set for collaborative projects (in fact, any sort of assignment). The expectations need to match the scope of what I am asking the students to do; however, if there are many ways students could demonstrate their knowledge and understanding, I need to support them in their efforts to take ownership over their learning and create experiences that will best benefit them. This is something that I will continuously have to check as a future teacher considering my love of plainly identified rules and procedures. 

Overall, the global collaboration experience (even though it ultimately failed) taught me about how the learning experience could be implemented in a classroom. I feel empowered to take what I have learned and create a global collaboration project for my own class someday! 

Reflecting on Global Collaboration Part 2

*This is a continuation of my last blog post. You may want to read it before diving into this post!

Last post, I left off after I'd researched other global collaboration projects. Once I got a sense of the projects that were out there, I started brainstorming about a global collaboration project I'd like to use in my future classroom. Though I will be certified to teach K-6 when I am done with college, for the purpose of my potential project I decided to narrow my focus down to third grade. When I was exploring, I originally chose science as the subject area, but the final project I conceptualized incorporates topic areas other than just science.

Image used with permission from The Photographer on Wikipedia

The global collaboration project I envision for my classroom is a research publication (that could be a pamphlet, blog post, digital poster, etc. in its final form) comparing two animals from different areas of the world. Students would work with a partner from another region to identify an animal that is found in that area. (The global partner would work with my student to do the same thing for an animal found in the United States.) Each student would do his or her own research on the animal he or she is unfamiliar with, then collaboratively collect this information into some sort of project to report about the similarities and differences between them. Throughout the process, the students would work together to check the accuracy of the information found (because it is more likely that the student who is from the same country as the animal is going to know more about it, its habitat, etc.). Personal accounts from the student living in the same country as the animal could be included. Additionally, the partners could check each other for clarity, grammar, attention to detail, aesthetics, etc. and provide suggestions as they worked on their research and final project. This project would allow my students to work with others from all over the world, not necessarily just one classroom in a different nation. Because the students don't have to be available at the same time to collaborate, time zones do not restrict the students from choosing to learn more about someone and another animal from across the world. The projects could also be widely shared at the end via the web, as they would have to be able to standalone (since the two students cannot definitely collaborate at the same time to present).

This project would satisfy a few Iowa Core content objectives for third grade, including RI.3.5 (through the use of search features to find relevant information for their projects), RI.3.10 (by asking the students to read, comprehend, and draw knowledge from informational texts), 3.LS4.4 (through explaining the different animal adaptations that allow it to live in a different part of the world with a different climate), as well as a host of 21st century skills including 21.3-5.TL.2 (by using technology to work collaboratively) and 21.3-5.TL.3 (by using technology for research). The demographics of the students that I envision being involved with this project range widely; anyone could truly participate! It would be best if the students partnering together lived in regions that would have different species due to climate differences. Additionally, it would be best if the students spoke the same language (though, with a lot more effort put into it, this project could be done between students speaking different languages). However, because meeting at the same time is not necessary, students from all sorts of origins, races, ethnicities, cultures, socioeconomic statuses, etc. could participate in this collaborative project!

Image used with permission from on Pexels

There are some existing projects that are similar to my idea. Nature's Global Zoo (via iEARN) is a project in which students research animals that are native to their homes and create projects about those animals to teach the rest of the world. This project is similar to mine because the students are researching and sharing their knowledge about animals. However, I think my project takes this idea a step further by asking students to research animals they are not familiar with while simultaneously acting as "experts" for their partners researching animals that are native to their area. My project encourages students to learn about organisms they are not familiar with as well as promotes interaction between the partnering students.

Another biology project I found is Why should we care about frogs, and how can we maintain the biodiversity of amphibians in Madagascar? (via TIGed). In this project, students research the plight of amphibians and use Google Maps to show where the frogs are located. This was a middle school project and seems a little too challenging for my target third grade class; however, I do think it is important that the students comprehend where the animals they are focusing on are located. Perhaps in my project, I can require that the students show where on a map their animals could be found, as well as explain how far away that location is from us.

Image used with permission from BigNoter on WikiMedia Commons

A different but related project I found during my search is Zoo/Animal Centered Global Collaboration (via Global School Net). This project is actually a teacher reaching out to provide professional development to other teachers so that they are more effective when taking their classes to zoos. I hadn't thought about how global collaboration projects such as these might be posted on a website; I think it's great that these professionals want to share their knowledge with teachers around the world. However, I was a little confused about this project. The description states, "Your class would participate in a global collaboration with an international class centered around your zoo visit or animals in general." This is very unclear about exactly what the students would be doing and how they would be collaborating with an international class. Additionally, I personally feel that that zoo visit detracts from the project; any zoo can have animals from around the world in it, so zoos in different nations may actually have the same animals. How does collaborating with another class benefit this experience, then, besides learning to work with an individual from another country? I think the project I proposed makes better use of the regional differences between the students and is more clear in exactly what the project is.

It is difficult for me to know exactly how/if this global collaboration project proposal would work in a real classroom, as I don't have students of my own yet. I would appreciate any suggestions in the comments! I would love to have advice in case I do actually attempt this project someday!

Reflecting on Global Collaboration Part 1

For the past couple of weeks in my Using Digital and Social Media class, we have been learning about global collaboration (specifically as it relates to potential uses in the classroom). Global collaboration means exactly as it sounds: students from around the world (global) work together to complete a goal (collaboration). In the classroom, this goal usually relates to some learning standard that the teachers want their students to accomplish through the experience; the students may demonstrate their learning through the collaboration itself or the creation of some sort of project.

Because I had not ever personally participated in such an experience myself, I had to learn more about global collaboration in order to properly understand this unit in my class. Per my instructor's suggestion, I started with "Why the World is Flat," an article that discusses the convergence of ideas into one "global, Web-enabled playing field that allows for multiple forms of collaboration without regard to geography or distance." After learning more about what global collaboration looks like in general, I refined my research to investigate how this can actually be implemented in the classroom. EdTech Magazine's Global Collaboration and Learning, ISTE's 7 Steps for Starting a Global Collaboration Project, and MindShift's 5 Ways to Inspire Students through Global Collaboration were all great reads that taught me more about how teachers can actually take the idea of global collaboration and modify it to fit the learning needs of kids of all ages.

Image used with permission from Vicki Nunn on WikiMedia Commons

I would highly recommend glancing through these resources if you're not sure what global collaboration is or what it would look like to use global collaboration in your own classroom! However, there were some important points in these resources that I think are worthy of mention here. First is the idea of a rapidly-changing world. As we all know, technology has greatly expanded our ability to do a variety of things, one of which is connecting with people we never would have otherwise met. Through global collaboration we promote cultural (and other areas of diversity) understanding, awareness of issues affecting the world, patience and tolerance, relationship building, and even problem solving skills. Global collaboration is a very unique learning experience with unique benefits. I also learned that global collaboration requires a ton of work; teachers need to be truly invested (in time and energy) in order to incorporate global collaboration well!

Next, I was excited to explore how teachers had used global collaboration in their classrooms, as well as begin collecting ideas for a project I could incorporate with my own future students. Many global collaboration efforts take advantage of sites that expose the project to more teachers and recruit others to join. For example, TIGed collects projects related to global issues such as education, media, human rights, and world peace. iEARN and Global School Net connect such global issues with discipline areas such as health, math, or economics. There are also sites focused on one larger global collaboration project. For example, Global Read Aloud uses one book each year to connect classrooms across the world that are reading the same book. The 100 Word Challenge is a weekly creative writing prompt (that, you guessed it, has a one hundred word limit) that encourages students to review and critique each other's works. There are many collections of global collaboration projects out there if you'd like to explore more: I'd recommend checking out Pernille Ripp's padletPatti Weeg's list of existing projects, and the resources provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Once I got a sense of the projects that were out there, I started brainstorming about a global collaboration project I'd like to use in my future classroom. Check out my thoughts in my next blog post!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Women in Advertising

When I last blogged about women in advertising, I pulled example advertisements from the past. But much to my dismay, the sexualization of women in advertising has not gone away. I was able to find many examples of women being stereotyped in current magazines when I just stopped to think about what I was seeing. (All images shown in this post are my own pictures of magazine advertisements.)

The image above shows a woman working out by flipping a tire. I am not offended by that image. However, the product being marketed is Advil that is apparently specific for menstrual cramps. When I went to the Advil website and compared the packaging for regular Advil and menstrual pain Advil, the list of uses were exactly the same; the menstrual pain Advil just had the symptoms that might be associated with menstruation (cramps, headaches, backaches) listed first. I did not compare the ingredients because I know that some ingredients can be listed under different names but actually be the same thing, and I am not medically trained enough to know the difference. However, unless I am wrong and menstrual pain Advil is actually different from regular Advil, I think this is ridiculous. (It reminded me of the controversy over the Bic For Her pens - check out the Amazon reviews!)

The above advertisement is actually for the hairdryer. I'm not sure what a woman's butt, legs, or shoes have to do with a hairdryer. We can't even see any hair in this image!

The above advertisement seems to imply that women become more attractive after drinking bourbon. I personally am not convinced that these two photos are of the same woman, considering that they have different jawlines and chins. Regardless, the woman on the right is clearly being sexualized with her crop top, skinny figure, tan skin, and seductive facial expression. Unless bourbon has magical effects I am unaware of, I don't think the company should imply that women will transform after drinking its products.

The above image is conflicting. The Nutrigrain advertisement says to "respect yourself," yet she is sexualized with her backend towards the camera and her bum barely covered. She also is pictured as a muffin, which is an obvious example of objectification. I don't know about you, but a girl in a muffin costume makes me want to dress up for Halloween, not eat a breakfast treat.

This last one is the most cringeworthy, in my opinion. This is an advertisement for a shaving device that specifically targets the bikini line. The caption reads, "More than he deserves... and less hassle for you." The man's face is incredibly creepy as he stares up at his woman's crotch, and he is in a relaxed, reclined position. All that is shown of the woman are her skinny, tan, spread legs. I'm not sure that this advertisement needs much more explanation. The focus is clearly on the man's satisfaction and not on the woman's product.

These were just a few examples that I pulled, but I am sure that you could find similar examples in today's magazines as well. One step that the media could take for the sake of equality and ending gender stereotypes would be to stop creating and printing these types of ads. I hope that as I get older, more tasteful ads appear in the magazines that my future children and grandchildren will be reading.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thank You for Smoking: Personal Analysis through Visual Literacy Lens

**Note: I wrote this blog post a long time ago, but for some reason it never published! I just found this in my drafts. I guess I need to be more careful about making sure my posts are actually shared for you to see!**

Thank You for Smoking (2005) is a comedic drama about Nick Naylor, a spokesman for Big Tobacco. Nick is in a tricky situation due to his two jobs: promoting the use of cigarettes and role modeling for his son, Joey. In the movie, Nick has been tasked with selling and defending cigarettes amidst all of the allegations coming from the opposition that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. Nick's main opponent is Senator Ortolan Finisterre, who is pushing for legislation that would require cigarettes to have warning labels on them. There are many instances in the film in which Nick has to "spin the truth" to fight for cigarettes; for example, he cons former Marlboro Man Lorne Lutch into taking a suitcase full of money in return for keeping quiet about the fact that smoking cigarettes led to his deadly cancer. These experiences help Nick teach Joey about the power of a good argument and the determination not to give up, even if his cause is questionable. Nick has to live up to his lessons when it is revealed that he shushed Lorne Lutch with money, was working on deals to put more cigarettes into movies, and met weekly with the Merchants of Death (a group consisting of Nick and two other people, one who works for rifle rights and the other who defends alcohol use). Though he has been shunned from his work and feels meaningless, Nick is able to convince the court that warning labels should not be placed on cigarettes because most things can be bad for our health; Nick argued that cheese should have warning labels about the potential for clogged arteries. At the end, Nick becomes the ultimate role model for his son not only by going to court to make a good argument, but also doing what's right by quitting Big Tobacco.

Check out the trailer for Thank You for Smoking:

What do you feel is the message the director is trying to express in this movie? Support your answer with examples.
In an interview with ABC, Jason Reitman said, "What I wanted people to think about was political correctness. I wanted them to think about ideas of personal responsibility and personal choice." I think this idea was highlighted throughout the entire movie. The government's position in the film was that cigarettes are bad for you; they lead to cancer and other ailments, secondhand smoke affects people who aren't even smoking themselves, and the problem extends all the way down to teenagers who think smoking is "cool." However, as Nick argued, smoking should be a personal choice. People can eat cheese and risk developing heart disease, so people should be allowed to smoke and risk the diagnosis of lung (or other) cancer. Personal responsibility came into play in the film through Nick's son Joey. Nick knew that cigarettes were bad for humans' health, and he had a responsibility to teach that to his son. However, Nick admitted that if his son wanted to smoke cigarettes, he wouldn't stop him, because that would be Joey's personal choice (once he was old enough to smoke). I think that through this film, Reitman pointed out that while everyone can have their own opinions and act upon them however they like, we can't force others to share our opinions or act upon ideas they don't believe in.

If applicable, discuss if you think this movie has accurate depictions of minorities or if they are situational? Why or why not?
I don't think this movie was created to depict minorities. The film took place in America, and all of the main characters were white, English-speaking, heterosexual (as far as we know) people. (That is not to say that those are the only categories of diversity; there just wasn't much if any diversity in the film.) While I think that diversity in the film would have created a more accurate representation of the American population, diversity was not an integral part of the message in this film. The same point could have been made regardless of the identity of the characters.

Used with permission from Lou Gold on flickr

Explain if you think the director’s ethnic/cultural/professional background played a role in directing this film?
Jason Reitman is also a white American man, so his personal background may have influenced his casting choices. In regards to his decision whether or not to smoke, this interview with confirms that Reitman does not smoke himself. I think this just adds a layer of beauty to the idea behind this movie. Reitman does not smoke, so this is not an appeal for smoking. Rather, Reitman argues, through the film, that people should be entitled to their own choices about whether or not to participate in that behavior. 

What groups (people of color, nationality, culture, class, gender etc.) may be offended or misinterpret this movie and why?
This movie did not represent any diverse populations. I don't think the people portrayed in this movie gave an accurate depiction of the population of the United States. People who do not identify similarly to the characters in the film may be offended by the lack of inclusion.
I think people who smoke (or even those who don't smoke) may be offended by the movie. People who smoke may not appreciate that their personal choice comes under fire in this film. I am sure they do not like to be reminded that their behavior is deadly and dangerous. However, I think they should find comfort in the message of the movie that people are entitled to make their own decisions as long as they are not putting others in harm. People who don't smoke may not like how the opposition to smoking is depicted. Senator Ortolan Finisterre's character is a little goofy and over-the-top, and I am sure there are people in the world who feel that this is a more serious argument. 

Used with permission from Wikifreund on WikiMedia Commons

What kind of artistic and/or visual means did the director use in the movie to focus our attention?
One thing that I noticed regarding visuals in the film was the use of light and dark. When Nick's life is going well, everything is light. The most obvious example in the film is when he visits the movie producer to inquire about getting cigarettes in the films: the producer's office and the home he allows Nick and Joey to stay in are both stark white and minimalist. Another example is when Nick wakes up in the hospital; the hospital is bright white, and we are surprised and elated to find out that Nick has survived. On the other hand, when Nick has been exposed by the journalist and is asked to take a step back from the company, he falls apart. The apartment is shown as cluttered and dirty and everything is in dark hues. I thought the director's contrasting use of light and dark helped drive home the way we were supposed to perceive the events from Nick's perspective.
(I am trying to think of a good joke to insert in here about "lighting up" and the "dark humor" of this film, but nothing is coming to me. If you've got a good one, please share it in the comments!)

What did the movie add to your visual literacy?
I think this movie reiterated that there are two sides to every story (and sometimes more than two sides). While someone may look at a pack of cigarettes and think about the terrible effects they can have on his/her body, another person may look at that pack as their lifeline and what is going to get him/her through the day (similar to the effects coffee has on many people in the morning). Additionally, this movie points out that things are not always as they appear. Nick had a way of spinning arguments over cigarettes into support for smoking. The way that he stated his argument was not bad, and I may be lured into agreeing with him. However, I as a non-smoker have to be the devil's advocate and think about what Nick (and other advertisers, promoters, etc. outside of this movie) may be covering up to make a point. Lastly, we have talked about the importance of creativity a lot throughout this class, and I think this movie showed many great examples of how Nick's creativity was able to get him out of sticky situations.

Are there any additional comments and/or analysis?
At first, I really did not like this movie. I thought that it was too stretched out (the content could have been fit into less time), and I was uncomfortable with the normalization of smoking cigarettes. However, the more I thought and reflected about the movie, the more I understood and appreciated it. I think Reitman did a great job of using this movie to explain the importance of choice in our daily lives, and he was brave to do so through such a controversial issue such as smoking.