Friday, August 22, 2008

Learning Some Common Sense

This sunless and fog filled summer was a memorable one. I turned that longing age that every college student counts down the days for, moved into a new apartment, and had my first “I hope I don’t get hit” bike ride around this beautiful Bay City. But the most noteworthy experience didn’t involve champagne glasses or moving boxes or even bicycle spokes, rather it was my internship with Common Sense Media.

For the past three months I have been fortunate enough to be the PR and Communications Intern for Common Sense Media, a non profit non partisan media organization that provides tools and reliable information for families and kids as they navigate their way through our vast media world. Offering ratings, reviews, and an independent forum, CSM focuses on teaching families to be savvy media interpreters.

Having worked first hand with kids in the past, CSM was a different perspective, as I learned how to benefit kids and families indirectly while still providing a service. The need for the service that CSM provides is more prevalent than ever before as cyberbullying (13% of online teens reported that someone had sent them a threatening or aggressive email, instant message, or text message), online predators (32% of online teens have been contacted by strangers online), and media violence continues to rise in numbers.

Through this internship, I've learned the ins and outs of Public Relations, the significance of staying current on the news that affects your organization, and the need and importance for such an organization to exist. Most importantly I’m taking away the understanding that a company who is dedicated to a cause and making a difference provides for a positive and productive work environment that isn’t stuck in a monotonous, “just trying to make it through the day” routine. As soon as you walk into the vibrant office with lime green carpets and splashes of bold orange paint it is evident that CSM cares about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. From the foosball table in place of a desk in the front hall to a good luck cake for a colleague’s first marathon, CSM’s distinct style motivates its employees to make a difference and have fun while doing so.

Thanks CSM, it has been a great experience!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Computer Class to Every Class?

I remember it like it was yesterday… Applying a little lip gloss subtle enough to look like I had just sucked on a watermelon lollipop, saying a cool “hey” to friends that were – gasp- boys! While circling the florescent halls linked elbow to elbow with my four best friends.

For me, those menacing middle school years weren’t as bad as most had made them out to be. Instead, they were spent making friendships in a time when boy’s voices were squeakily transitioning from a high to lower pitch and girls were moving away from their perfectly parted pigtails. It was a time to be social. Learning to interact and become articulate from the timid elementary schoolers we were just two years ago.

So when I read a story about laptops for middle schoolers in Maine, I was skeptical. Take away the crucial time for kids to develop socially and stick them in front of a computer screen? I can picture it now… No more mini adrenaline rushes during algebra of, “will the teacher see me pass this note?” Because now I can talk to you through my screen name, “Cutie234.” And not just you, but five other of my tech savvy classmates. But if I’m not responding to your message right away, I’m probably googling Miley Cyrus, my hero, having the latest scandalous photos appear. "Uh oh," the teacher is starting to look my way! No worries; I have enough time (four seconds as she walks over) to “X” out of my aim chat and google image windows and safely return to my word document of algebraic formulas, the answers to which I already looked up because I am a child of the 21st century.

Laptops in the classroom better for learning?

Maine seems to think so. Beginning in 2002, Maine’s laptop program started with 7th graders and later expanded to 8th graders and one-third of the state’s high schools. Spending $90 million through 2010, Maine is working with Apple to provide 43,500 students and teachers with their own ibooks.

Despite my skepticism students and teachers are enjoying the benefits of the laptop learning. As stated by the msnbc article, many teachers who were surveyed said that students using laptops are becoming better at combining information from multiple sources and expressing their thoughts. More than 80% of instructors say the laptops help them make lessons more personal to students, make it easier for students to study problems from the real world and to dig deeper into certain topics. Students in the program report that they understand the material better.

Some critics of the program say the hardware hasn’t made an impact in the state's test scores, where improvement needs to be seen. “What we need to look at is the broader impact of student improvement,” said Timothy Magner, the director of the Office of Education Technology, in the msnbc article. “One of the key metrics is test scores. We’re keenly interested in that.”

Put aside the advancements made with the laptop program, and consider the risks. According to a Pew 2007 study, about one third of all teenagers have been contacted by strangers online. One Third of teenagers who use the internet, also said they have been targets of a range of annoying and potentially menacing online activities.

Sure, laptops are great. The media is great. I am, after all a Media Studies Major. This web 2.0 world excites me as technology continues to flourish. We now have friendships created and maintained solely in cyberspace, we have video games that allow us to get up off the couch and move, and cell phones that give us everything we could ever want at the touch of a fingertip. But shouldn't somethings be experienced and learned rather than simplified and stimulated? So my question is, are twelve year olds ready for a constant online flow during a six hour school day? During a crucial time when kids should be developing socially in preparation for the big leaguers of high school, when their most vulnerable to peer and media pressures?

It seems to me the kids of Maine would benefit more from the old school methods of middle school teaching… you know, listening to the teacher and writing in their five star binders. And by keeping the 21st century teachings to computer class. Not every class.