Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Digital Generation

  With a number of recent derogatory comments appearing about the current generation on Facebook and from other sources, as well as endless commentary about what this generation means to us, I feel it is necessary for me to make my own stab at defining a generation, or two.
  Having just this week added another member to the next generation I feel that perhaps we're running too big of a lump as a single generation. While I never end up falling into Generation X regardless of where you draw the line, currently the lines that are drawn include both my newborn son and 4 year old daughter in my generation. While I'm not a genealogist, I'm pretty sure that my kids must be in a different generation from me. That's how family trees work right?
  However, I'm forced to place myself with the generation of Digital Natives, those born into a digital age. While this clearly isn't true of all people born in 1980, I was raised with a computer in my house at age 4, one in my bedroom at age 12, and internet access in its own modified form by age 14. I didn't get a cell phone until age 23 and only picked up a smartphone a little over a year ago. But as I sat in my in-law's house last week, I was surrounded by no less that six laptops, three smartphones, and numerous other pieces of modern technology. While my own kids already have a significant leap on me, I still think of the world in primarily digital terms.
  Recent reports I've heard about Generation Y, or as I'll call it the Digital Generation, have indicated a number of "disturbing" trends. First off the Digital Generation is far more likely to live with their parents than previous recent generations. With large numbers of post college graduates returning to their parents homes up to ages in the early thirties. Also, we show a distinct lack of interest in buying new cars which has sent American motor companies into a bit of a tizzy trying to unlock the huge market share that seems relatively complacent to drive their parent's old cars or other used vehicles. Also, the immediacy of home ownership seems to generally be absent. I happen to be among the very few of my friends that actually own a home, even though I'm currently renting.
  Many of these concrete desires of the Baby Boomers seem to hold a much lower priority. It has been suggested that some of these problems arise from a stagnant job market, inflated home prices, and unmanageable student debt. This could have some noticeable effect but I think there's more to the Digital Generation than simply being lazy or stuck in a bad economy. Most importantly, I don't think the world is ready for us, especially in education.

  While innovators have for a long time been decrying the pacifying effects of a fact based education, the Digital Generation really objects to it. While even as late as the 1980s, facts were still only found in books. Anyone who has written a report before the advent of the internet remembers the struggles of both finding and then reading a vast number of books simply to get the information readily available on wikipedia today. Today facts are in my pocket. If I want to know what year Henry VIII died I could just look it up on my phone, and have the answer in less than a minute. But really, who cares when he died?
  The Digital Generation not only understands how to access this information, they're rightfully insulted by being asked the question. Much like the coffee stand questions of ole, any basic fact is available by punching a few words into my phone. If you aren't going to ask a more intelligent question than that, why should I bother answering.
  The truth is that what our generation never received proper education on is the practical skills that are now being demanded of us in the job market. Collaboration, project management, and problem solving are the basis of huge portions of the work that we do on a daily basis. Sociology, power dynamics, and empathy are the tools which are allowing people to climb the ladders in the work place. Artistic presentation, meaningful interpretation, and presentation skills are vital to even finding our way into an interview. The only thing we need beyond that is some sort of technical expertise that reflects our interests such as a needed programming language, understanding of the workings of medical billing, or terminology specific to the construction industry. None of the above things were I taught in school for the most part. I learned more of them in Journalism, Photography, and on the playground at lunch than I did in English, Math, or Science class.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Surving the Night - My Minecraft Adventure

First off this isn't my first foray into minecraft. I have some experience from a couple of years ago (maybe more) so I remember a number of the basic designs. But apparently not as much as I'd hoped.

My starting location was right by this nice valley with a big open ocean on one side and down the valley it leads to a desert area. The hills are covered with trees and stand ten to fifteen blocks above the bottom of the valley. First off I find a tree that looks like it's decayed somewhat. This isn't something I remember but it looks like coal. I was thinking that perhaps an old tree could turn into coal if not harvested too long -- or something. Turns out this is alder wood. Oh well. Alder is good too. I think it's harder than pine which is what the rest of the trees probably are so perhaps it can make better tools.

I get to work harvesting enough wood to make a mining pick and have a fair bit spare. I drop into valley and pick a little spot to start digging in. I get a suitable little room made, make a craftingbox, a furnace, and a stone sword. It turns out my little hillside vally is covered in pigs. An unusually high number of pigs. One of these will make fine food, perhaps two. I trap one pig by building a dirt enclosure two bricks high around it. I'm saving that one for later. I cut down some grass and pick up wheat seeds and try to figure out how to plant them. Then it's getting dark.

I run into my hole and quickly make a door. I throw the door up and look around for something to do. The total absence of coal has left me unable to cook my pork, unable to see in my hole, and unable to successfully mine in new directions without falling into the darkness of an unclear wall. Then I remember that the furnace will put off light when active, but alas, no coal.  Then I decide to see how well my alder burns. I throw some pork steaks on the barbie and get a nice alder smoke going. There's enough light for me to continue working until the morning. However, it's going to be difficult to mine without more light of some sort. My next venture will have to be to look for some coal somewhere -- or maybe just stay here and work on a fence to keep my trapped pig safe.

In the end I did figure out how to use the hoe to plant the wheat, for some reason right clicking just never occured to me until I looked it up. I also think that the first place I was trying was too close to the spawn point making any attempts I made unsuccessful. It also appears that alder is just like other wood but looks different. There goes my hopes of an Ironwood Axe being invented into the game.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Letters of Love

  A classmate of mine in the Evergreen Masters in Teaching (MiT) program named Monear said something I'll never forget. It was during our student teaching seminars where we would gather once a week and share struggles and successes of the week, and review our work on the ungodly project that went along with student teaching. Monear and I didn't agree on most things, I wouldn't ever say we got along well. But this was the most important thing I learned in my two years of teaching education.
  She said, "The great thing about teaching... is that you get to fall in love with 150 students. The only problem is," her voice cracking at this point from the stress and emotion of the work we're putting into countless hours of prep for student teaching, "it's really hard to be in love with 150 different people at once."
  This year I must be fortunate, I only have 75 students to fall in love with. I'll be honest, I don't find loving them hard. I find it a little too easy.
  My application essay when I was applying to the MiT program was focused around a discussion on how we care for those we help much more than those that help us. This realization I came to a few years ago was based around my experiences with the growth of my own daughter, and relating that to a distancing relationship with my own parents as holiday visits had to become less frequent and my own life more stable. The idea became clear to me that when someone extends themselves to help another, they have invested significantly more into the other person than the person being helped has invested in them. In this way the success of someone you've invested into of greater interest.
  I've spent the last year investing my life into 75 students, specifically the 25 of my homeroom with whom I average about 2 hours per school day with. They are 25 twelve year olds with interests ranging from hockey to Magic, and poetry to makeup. A very diverse, talkative, and typical group of 6th graders.
  In following with a tradition that I saw done by a Spanish teacher at Lincoln High School in Tacoma named Hannah Chin-Pratt, I wrote a letter to each of my students at the end of the year. These letters were straight from my heart. Talking about struggles I'd experienced working with them, great things that they've done, things I'd come to expect from them over the year, and areas that they've grown. It also included some final words of advice as they move onto middle school. Some were funny, some were direct, but all were heartfelt. Even while writing them, I ended up shedding more than a few tears.
  When it came time to give them to my students, I was pretty apprehensive. I wasn't going to wuss out and hand them out silently like a student passing a note in class. These were my feelings and if my students were going to learn anything it'd be to show how you really feel. I was going to pull each student up in front of the class, and read their letter. I started in the back of the alphabet. I told the first student how proud I was of him working on paying attention to how what he said would affect those around him, even if they weren't listening. He apparently spent the next period proudly reading the letter aloud to his next class, even though most of the students were there when I read it to him. The next student I told that no one can make her feel bad unless they let her and remember that sometimes you are the best at something but other people won't realize it. Her mother let me know that on the way home she broke down crying and was incredibly pensive for the rest of the night.
  And so the time went on, tears frequently streaming down my face, my voice cracking every few letters. But I read every student their letter. Told them I was proud, concerned, and that I cared about them. I showed them that I knew them, I was on their side, and that I loved them.
  My relationship with many students altered that day, but not totally. The next day some of the usual rowdy behavior showed up on the field trip; students were asked sit down, not scream, and spit out their gum as usual. But there was a certain shyness in glances I got from students; nods of approval from some of the boys. It was as if something intimate passed between us in that letter. They knew that I knew. They knew that I cared. Like a smile you share after a first kiss with a girl you're interested in, you know things are going to be different. Better, somehow. Knowing that they like you too.