The New & Improved Trapper Keeper

Brian Schlosser via Flickr All Rights Reserved
Brian Schlosser via Flickr
All Rights Reserved

The Laptop. Once upon a time, it was only for the rich kids or those whose parents were somehow connected to the tech industry. I remember back in college, one of my housemates had a laptop. It was huge, clunky and HEAVY, but still. It was a stand-alone, portable, bring-you-anywhere-I-want computing, interneting machine. We envied her, despite the fact that her laptop was so heavy, she often drove up the hill to class.

Turn the page a few years (ok, a decade or so) and it has now become the Age of the Laptop. Their ubiquity has created a generation of techies, where the laptop has become the Trapper Keeper of the modern teenager.

I work at a school that has a one-to-one policy, beginning in grade 4, and so I am lucky enough as a teacher to be able to rely on the fact that I can plan lessons around technology. I take for granted that each of my students will have their own personal device with access to the internet, 24-7.

The power of the Laptop is such that it has the almighty ability to “close the gap between students from low income backgrounds and their wealthier counterparts by equitably providing access to information” (Dwyer 2011).  The power of the Laptop = closing the achievement gap. Pretty awesome.

For a variety of reasons, including research that taking notes by hand can lead to greater retention of content, I try very hard to maintain a balance between the old world and the new world, i.e. paper/pencil and google docs.

The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.” (Doubek, 2016)

Despite my attempts to limit laptop usage time during class, there is no getting around the the transformative power of having the world at one’s fingertips. And, recent research has suggested that rather than asking students to put away their cell phones, why not use them as learning tools? I’ve tried this out with a variety of different web-based tools, including Socrative, Kahoot, and Poll Everywhere, all to great success. When you engage students with something that is relevant and fun, the understanding is bound to follow.

SONY DSC via Flickr All Rights Reserved

In one brave moment, I asked students to share their favorite “youtuber” with the class (as long as it was school-appropriate). To my delight and surprise, their shares were thoughtful, meaningful and even relevant to our class discussions. Allowing students the room to be creative and thoughtful with how they would like to use their own devices gives them a sense of autonomy, which, as any high school teacher would confirm, is really all a teenager wants. Freedom…or at least the illusion of it. 😉


Dreams of Gatsby

Our next unit for grade 10 English is on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In order to focus my infographic search, I used keywords from our unit’s Essential Questions, and so ended up with an assortment on Fitzgerald’s portrayal of the American Dream. I narrowed it down to two, primarily because I really like them both and know that my students are captivated by the “new” visuality of literature. 

The first infographic is a character map which I’ll use as part of the introduction to the novel as a whole. It’s a great way to grab their attention and allows them to visualize the complexity of character development. 


The Great Gatsby Character Map
From Visually.
The second infographic is entitled “The Cost of Being Great Gatsby” and is a cost analysis of the nuts and bolts that are Gatsby’s version of living the American Dream.
The Cost of Being Great Gatsby
From Visually.

I think I’ll use this infographic towards the end of the unit, after we have made our way through most of the text and discussed the ways that Fitzgerald uses his characters to portray various aspects of the American Dream. We’ll take some time to study the infographic and discuss what is presented. Then, I’ll have them write a blog post responding to the images and follow that up with a full-class Socratic Seminar.
Lesson script:
1. Blog Post: Based on the infographic, it certainly appears that Jay Gatsby has achieved the American Dream. Write a blog post in which you respond to the content of the infographic and connect it to one of our Essential Questions: 
  1. Is the American Dream real or is it an illusion?
  2. Does success = wealth? What does “success” actually mean?

2. Socratic Seminar: Discuss the ways in which the infographic is perhaps a critique of Gatsby’s lavish lifestyle and ultimately, functions as a commentary on Fitzgerald’s portrayal of the American Dream. 

Inspiration, 101

During an after-school help session last week, I decided to do a little research for my upcoming Coetail post on empowering students to use technology to make a positive impact in their world. I wanted to first figure out how and for what purposes are my students predominantly using social media.
Design Razzi

We were having a just-for-fun read-aloud moment on an article titled, “A Teenager’s View on Social Media: Written By An Actual Teen”. The writer basically breaks down (in teenage lingo) what each of the most popular social media sites mean to teens these days. Between the conversations I was having with my students and the snarky factoids written by the “actual teen”, I learned quite a bit.

For example, I had no idea that Facebook is basically “dead” to most teens – a fact stated in the article and promptly confirmed by my little group of 10th graders. I was also informed that Tumblr is, in fact, used by more students than I had suspected and was described by one of the girls as “A great place to share videos with only our friends.” Some of the platforms mentioned by the “actual teen” – YikYak and Medium – not even my students knew about, so I didn’t feel too bad.

The most fascinating part about the afternoon though, was the candid, funny and doggonit, inspirational comments from my very own students. When asked about how they mostly used/accessed their social media accounts, they said simply: “to share cool stuff”. I asked about cyber-bullying, “sexting”, trash-talking, stalking, creeping, lurking, gossiping, etc…I don’t know if they were giving me the “teacher-answer” (it seemed authentic to me), but their answers were endearing and sweet. They said that yes, there is a bit of bullying that happens but, for the most part, their posts were either their own funny or cool photos/vines or “reshares” of some other internet star.

Finally, I got down to what I really wanted to know. I asked them: “Give it to me straight. Are your online experiences mostly positive or negative?” their answers were a resounding “positive”. This gives me hope.

Instead of using online platforms as their own personal spotlights, many kids are using social media to reach out, to form bonds, and to try to find their place in the lives of others. Instead of seeking praise, they are seeking community.”                                                                                      (Yes Magazine)

If there’s one thing that Coetail is teaching me (and there are many things, rest assured), it’s how to feel better connected to my students’ world. I now know 100% more about social media platforms than I did at the start of this semester. Those alone are exceptional statistics! I know, for example, who Alex from Target is and that he is now on tour with a variety of other internet stars. I can also discuss in detail the various subjects of Christian Leave’s Vines and know that several of my students have major crushes on this dude. Those connections – funny and priceless.

But now the talk needs to turn. The conversations need to move beyond the “who’s hot because they do funny stuff” to “who’s hot because they contribute to their community”. So the question remains: how can we empower our students to “use their platforms” to contribute positively to the community, to make an impact?

This past quarter, these same 10th graders (with whom I was engaged in the enlightening discussion) were assigned to write a persuasive speech on any topic as long as they linked it back to our school’s theme for the year: “You, Me, Community.” For inspiration, we showed them this year’s Toastmaster’s International Speech Competition winner – Mohammed Qahtani’s “The Power of Words.

The result? The speeches that they delivered were overwhelmingly positive, hopeful and inspirational. And yes, they were all written and delivered by 15-year-olds. So what’s the next obvious step? Just as Qahtani delivered his powerful message to the world, these same 10th graders get to deliver their speeches for an in-the-works Tedx talk at the end of this school year. When I told them that our Superintendent himself had made this suggestion, they were (in order): stunned, incredulous, nervous, anxious and then…excited. Really excited. Excited to share their positive messages of inspiration with their classmates, school, and global community. Excited to have their voices heard. Excited for an authentic experience. And I have to say – their excitement? It is contagious.