Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dystopia in Science Fiction

Since the first movies made their way to the silver screen, such as Georges Melies "A Trip to the Moon", techology has oth built up and destroyed society. Heroes and villains, rich and poor, and men and women have been influenced by and through techology. Computers took over the world in the "Terminator" universe, and humanity achieved the ability to reach "the final frontier" and "boldly go where no one has gone before".

Innovative devices and vehicles have been a boon to our society, but they have also proven to be a detriment. Look at "Hackers" and one can see how technology has opened us up to theft and fraud. Fast forward to more recent events and a film like "Iron-Man", where a self-proclaimed "benevolent" benefactor and maker of mass destruction has an epiphany and decides to use his special suit for good. 

Regarding examples of dystopian stories of technology in film that I want to highlight, I can reference a few of my top sci-fi picks. First, "Planet of the Apes" shows us what happens when technology goes too far and ends up destroying the world (blowing us back to the Stone-Age, so to speak). Second, "Logan's Run" and what happens when those chosen to control the population, by killing you when you reach the age of 30, turn 30? They go on the run (especially if their name is Logan). Finally, in one of cinema's greatest scenes involving Charlton Heston, "Soylent Green" turns out to be people.

In each of these instances, society's affinity with technology ending up causing it's eventual downfall. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Are We Doing Our Kids a Disservice?

As someone for whose life technology is sometimes a pervasive part, I wonder if, as an educator, trying to work devices, platforms, programs, applications and the like into every lesson is really a help or a hindrance. I know on the one hand I ask for the freedom to choose what my kids see and do (refer to my last blog for that tidbit), but recently (mainly after an incident regarding a parent's comments about my use of iPhones for movie making) I've been contemplating the eventual outcome of it all.

For me, reading and writing has always been a huge part of my life. Books are da bomb (according to The Doctor, books are "the BEST weapons in the world!") and the written word has always held me in awe (I'm also a big fan of Star Trek, and I remember the joy I felt the first time I saw Captain Picard reading an ACTUAL book and not giving in to the technology temptation). It's rare for me to see one of my middle schoolers reading for pleasure, and when one is, they are doing so on a Kindle or Kindle Fire, Nook, or iPad. Have they ever known the joy of holding a book in their hands? Do they enjoy the musty smell of a timely tome as much as I do? Being from New York, I remember trips to Shakespeare and Co, on Broadway near West 4th St. The same thing goes for research papers and "written" projects. Everything, including research, is done on-line and students rely on MS Word to catch all of their mistakes (unfortunately, they forget that I control the room and I tend to deactivate that goody). When we work on projects that require a little leg work to locate info (forget about asking them to use an encyclopedia), I allow them to use the net, but I require an actual written outline and for facts to be verified, as best as they can, on three separate websites. You'd think I was asking them to cut off a limb...

Being the worrisome teacher that I am, I feel as if we are facilitating the raising of, shall we say,
children who are "street-smart deficient", especially our teens. Kids today do not seem to have the coping skills to deal with all of the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Kids who are bullied don't have the backbone to stand up for themselves or the necessary knowledge to stay away from the troublemakers. Teachers and parents can find tips for dealing with chaos on a myriad of websites, but what about good ole fashioned common sense. Mr. Feeney wouldn't require Wikipedia; Gabe Kotter never Yahooed; Peggy Hill didn't need to Ask Jeeves; Ward Cleaver didn't need Google; Mike Brady never consulted BING; and Donna Reed would never have had to check her daughter's Facebook page to find out what she was up to.

People don't talk face-to-face anymore, instead they text (or worse), email, Skype, blog (oh,the irony), or get together with all of their "friends" on FB. The intimacy of human contact is quickly disappearing, and I am afraid that our children will be even more disconnected than some of us are becoming. I honestly can't remember, as I sit at work, during my prep period, typing this blog, when the last time I went out for an enjoyable evening and purposely left my cell at home. What kind of example am I setting for my own child?

Please understand, I believe technology is an important and definitely fun part of our existence, but we need to take a step back once in a while and actually see the people who are right in front of us, so here's my plan. Instead of always "talking" to each other on FB or through our blogs or on Twitter, why don't those of us who live close to each other Tweet on over to the local Starbucks and get to know each other in person. Let's see if we can build this digital culture into something more meaningful.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Give Students a Chance...

As an educator who uses technology for everything from presentations to interactive activities to games that help drive home a point, I am constantly surprised by a school's lack of faith in its students (and when I say "a school" you know I mean "my" school but am hesitant to say so...even though I just did). My view that in order to teach kids responsibilitywe need to give them some - Wow...who does this guy think he is? - does not seem to be shared by some of my colleagues or, especially, the IT guys. "There's too much that we can't monitor", or "Too much could go wrong and we could open ourselves to (insert possible cyberbullying or internet crime situation here).

This is not "Minority Report"; we are not going to start punishing students for things they are thinking of doing (if that's case I...well, that's for another blog). Technology is HERE and educators need to embrace and incorporate it into their curriculum. I'm not saying all the time, but kids use cells phones and laptops and iPod Touches and Go Pros, so why not let them use them to do a report on our founding fathers or make a film about the dangers of and solutions for bullying?

I teach a class entitled N.O.W. (Navigating Our World) Plus, which my school chose me to develop. My students discuss topics from stereotyping and diversity (6th grade) to the economy and developing 21st century currency (7th grade) to dictators and The Holocaust. Not only do we learn about all of the worlds we live in - from our planet right down to our individual lives - but we look inward and learn about ourselves and our part in it. Technology is an integral part of what I do because assignments are researched and completed using the internet, and students use MS Office products and movie editing programs to create brochures, posters, and films based on a variety of topics. Of course - wait for the collective gasp -  we still use the oldest technology around, paper and writing implement, to record our facts and map our ideas so that we have a clear plan from start to finish. During my class - again, wait for it - we often shut down our computers and talk. (I know, I know, you want to know how you can nominate me for teacher of the century...I'm wondering that myself.)

Back I is rather difficult when I am forced to unblock the simplest of sites for my students, ones that I have approved and found appropriate, or, even worse, unblock a site for myself so I can see if it is. Am I not capable of policing my own students? Are they going to be so horribly affected if they hear ONE curse word in a video that I think could change their way of thinking about those less fortunate, or some worn-torn country that they feel has nothing to do with them because it's 4,000 miles away? I have a vision that this generation will care more deeply about our world and those in it than past generations have so that they can affect the change that we so desperatley require. As a teacher, I need more freedom to utilize my technology in a way that is more meaningful for my students and myself so that we all connect on an appropriate level.

Technology for technology sake is not the answer. But it is a match that can light the fire needed to cleanse our lives and, like the phoenix, allow us to rise from the ashes with a purpose and a new sense of self that takes us into a more enlightened future.