Friday, December 9, 2016

A 21st Century Journey

21st Century Literacy is a dual credit course combining English and business but that’s a boring way to look at it. Let’s follow my personal journey through the course.

Weekly Theme: Leadership

Leadership is a vital skill in school and beyond. Everybody needs it, not just those in charge. Why is that? Leadership is much more than just telling people what to do. It’s also listening to what people have to say and knowing when to let someone else lead.

I’ve had experiences with leadership before, though in the “you’re the loudest so you should lead” sense. I’ve listened for others’ ideas but struggled with accepting them if I didn’t agree. I also didn’t develop much of a sense of when to lead and when to follow, aside from situations where only one was possible. That being said, I was quite strong in some areas of leadership. For example, I was quite good at getting people involved, even if they weren’t originally enthusiastic.

I was able to develop my leadership skills through a variety of means during this course. In the second week, the class went on a trip to Red Pine Camp. While there, we participated in a variety of activities to develop our leadership skills. During that time, I was able to work on my skills but also deepen my understanding of leadership itself. I’ve since continued with furthering my leadership throughout the course, such as in group work and discussions.

Click this to read an essay that goes deeper into what a leader is and why I am one.

Unit: Presentation Skills

I’m a loud person a lot of the time. However, this didn’t translate to presentations very well. Whenever I got up in front of a group, I would get a lot quieter than usual. I also didn’t usually memorize presentations, instead bringing in notes, which made it hard to make eye contact with the audience.

I worked on my presentation skills in a couple ways this semester. I made better notes. They were briefer and easier to glance at so that I could have better eye contact with the audience. This is important because it keeps the audience engaged and makes me appear more confident with the material.

The main way I improved, however, was by practicing my presentations beforehand. Practicing it ahead of time lets me get more familiar with what I’m saying so I can speak more confidently. Being familiar with it also helps with eye contact as I don’t need to look at my notes as often. By taking the time to practice and write better notes, I’ve been able to give much better presentations.

Weekly Theme: Individualize

In this course, students have been encouraged to individualize projects so their work is unique to them. This is something I’ve had to push myself into. In fact, I haven’t done it much at all. Most of the assignments have already fit rather well into how I wanted to do them. That being said, looking back I could have made them better if I did them in a more personalized way.

For this project, I decided I ought to really individualize it as it’s my last project for the course. The only requirement was to have full sentences. I wanted to make a sketchnote at the beginning but that requirement had me stuck. Then the idea hit me. I could still do the sketchnote if I had text accompanying it. I originally experimented with rollover text but that wasn’t obvious enough. I finally came to the finalized idea with the ripped paper. I was so close to completing it but ended up running out of time. I wasn’t able to do it. It was disappointing but I just couldn’t finish it in time.

As you can see, individualization isn’t always easy. It takes a lot of thinking to develop a good idea that suits you. You also have to be careful to make sure you’re still meeting requirements. Sometimes, you’ll figure out a good idea but other things will get in the way and it’s better to just stick with what’s given. Individualization is fantastic and makes everything more interesting but sometimes it’s better to stick with what you started with to make sure you get things done.

Unit: Poetry

Poetry is an interesting medium. It’s different than most writing as it’s free and doesn’t need to follow conventions. This allows for it to be much more expressive. Poetry is a good medium for evoking empathy in the reader and helping them understand the experiences of someone else.

I’ve never really paid much attention to poetry in the past. It was hard for me to get into the mindset to understand or write it. It was out of my comfort zone because I was used to solid grammar.

During this course, I’ve had to try very hard to keep up with the poetry. We studied the lyrics of Tragically Hip songs which was helpful. It was in my comfort zone subject-wise, with a lot of songs being about history. There was lots of information existing to help understand the poems. I was able to use this to guide me through analyzing the poems.

The hardest part of the unit was writing a poem. Aside from acrostic poems when I was in elementary school, I’d never really done this. It was hard to break my usual grammatical habits and to make it have a good rhythm when read aloud. I tried to stick pretty closely to how Gord Downie, the lyricist of the Tragically Hip, writes. I also went through and edited the poem many times. Through this process, I was able to write a poem that I’m proud of.

Click this to see the poem I wrote.

Weekly Theme: Organization

Organization is something I’ve struggled with. It takes a lot of effort to set up a system which was never a hill I bothered to get over. I would keep everything in my head which meant I would forget things or making lists on scrap paper which I quickly lost.
A picture of my organized Google Drive

This semester, I had to do a lot more task management. All my tasks were given to me and I had to find a way to get my work done in the time provided. This meant I had a lot more to keep track of meaning I couldn’t just remember it all. I started using a calendar and checklists a lot more. The calendar had all the due dates on it so I could easily see how much longer I had until I needed to hand anything in. The checklist, along with deleting items off the calendar, helped me keep track of what I had and hadn’t done a lot more effectively. I also began more carefully organizing my documents so I didn’t waste time having to search through to find something. I kept most things online and had a hierarchy of folders so I could find things by their subject. Being organized has helped me keep track of everything ad be able to focus more on the tasks at hand.

Weekly Theme: Design

Good design is crucial to doing anything effectively but is often difficult to achieve. A well designed presentation is more enjoyable for both the presenter and the audience. This is because the design can be tuned to fit the information being presented, helping get a point across more effectively. It also keeps the audience more engaged.

One type of design is visual. I consider this to be one of my strongest skills. I’ve worked very hard to develop it because I find it enjoyable to work on. I can also transfer skills I learned through practicing art. I’ve learned how to tune something to fit the subject, such as using grayscale for a presentation with a darker tone. Another thing I’ve learned are what colours and shapes work well together so that something isn’t garish or jarring to look at.

Another type of design is functional, making plans to do or make something. I’ve had a little more trouble with this. I’ve always been an idea person and struggle with planning things and working out details. Though I missed a lot of it, the Design Sprint was very helpful for this. The Design Sprint was a method of creating a design in a very short period of time using various strategies. It gave me strategies for helping develop designs. For example, thinking of the exact purpose of the design is something that is very helpful because it makes sure the design does what it’s supposed to do and has something to do.

Click this to see some visual design work I'm really proud of.

Weekly Theme: Adaptation

Adaptation is tricky, both for texts being changed to different mediums and people going into different situations. For each, you can’t just take something and shove it into something else. For example, we watched Charly, the film adaptation of Flowers for Algernon, which was a weak adaptation. For the most part, they just put things from the book into the movie. This didn’t work because the story needed to be from Charlie’s point of view to work. It was tied to its medium and needed to be changed to work in a different one.

This is the same for people. You can’t just go into a new situation treating it like one you were in before. You have to adapt. This was very important for me. Cedar Ridge is very different to my old high school. In 21st Century Literacy especially, there are many work periods which are important to getting projects done. You can’t just throw away the work periods like I used to at my old school. They’re necessary for success. I had to adapt to a new situation or I wouldn’t have been able to succeed. It was really hard at first, as adapting usually is, but I managed to do it.

Click this to read some more of my writing about the film adaptation of Flowers for Algernon.

Weekly Theme: Responsibility

Similar to how I had to adapt to the new environment and not let myself act as I used to, it is important to be responsible. With lots of work periods, I had to make sure I didn’t let myself get distracted. I had to be responsible and keep on task. Being responsible is to show respect for one’s peers, educators, and self. This can include not interfering with others trying to work, upholding academic honesty, and not procrastinating.

While I haven’t struggled much with academic honesty or bothering others while they’re working, procrastination is something I’ve had a lot of trouble with in the past. There’s always the temptation to leave it to the last second. Instead, I’ve started planning out my time and making sure to use it wisely. If I was struggling to focus, I’d switch tasks or switch into a different gear by taking a break that was still useful, such as typing practice. That way, I could refresh my brain and maximize my time.

Sometimes I had to do work at home too in order to finish my work on time. I had to make sure I knew when to start and not leaving it to the last minute. This can be very hard with other responsibilities taking time and energy as well. I had to make sure to leave more time than I thought I’d need in case something came up.

Unit: Flowers for Algernon

One text we studied this course was the novel Flowers for Algernon. The text itself wasn’t particularly challenging. This allowed me to focus on going deeper with it. There would be discussions every so often while people were reading the book. These were really interesting and helped me further my understanding by getting the points of view of others and how they may have interpreted things differently.

One of the most interesting themes in the book was the ethics of the surgery. Charlie was arguably much happier before the surgery as he had friends and a job. After the surgery, he realises more problems in the world and loses everything that he had before. The effect of the surgery itself was also very taxing as his perception of the world was constantly changing and he had to deal with far more stimuli. However, he did get to see a lot more of the world and was far more able. It could be said that he got an opportunity to live more than he ever would have otherwise. The questions is whether that was worth all of the consequences.

Another interesting part of the text was the connection to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. It talks about someone leaving a cave and gaining more experience of the world, despite thinking they had seen everything before. This is similar to Charlie’s journey as he gains intelligence and gets to see far more of the world than he knew existed. This is similar to the cave as the intelligence barrier acted as a sort of cave. When he left the cave, he was blinded by the light as he struggled to keep up with all that was going on around him.

Click this to see me talk more about Flowers for Algernon.

Unit: King Lear

Another text we studied was King Lear. As most people know, Shakespearean language is quite different from what most people are familiar with today. It also is meant to be performed, not just read. This makes it quite hard to study.

I used a variety of resources to help understand the play. Before, I read the text, I would read through a summary comic by Good Tickle Brain. It was helpful because it gave me an idea of what was coming in the act ahead. After that I would read the act, usually while watching a performance of it. That let me get an idea of the action as it can be hard to tell just from dialogue. Finally, I would sometimes watch a final summary that went into the meaning and significance of certain quotes by NerdStudy.

By using those resources, I was able to ensure my understanding of the text so I could focus on understanding deeper parts of the text, such as themes. I don’t have to focus on trying to figure out what’s going on because I already know and I can get a richer understanding of the text.

One of the themes I was able to focus on was blindness. It was more than just physical blindness. Both Lear and Gloucester were blind to which of their children were loyal or not until the very end. Lear didn’t realise that only Cordelia, who he banished, was loyal to him until he went mad which usually inhibits people’s perception. More interestingly, Gloucester didn’t see how Edmund had manipulated him until he was blinded by Cornwall.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Review of Charly

Only read the conclusion if you wish to avoid spoilers for Charly and Flowers for Algernon

Charly is a film adaption of the brilliant novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. It follows the story of Charlie Gordon, a man with an IQ of 68, as a surgical procedure skyrockets his intelligence. Unfortunately, the effect is only temporary and Charlie must deal not only with his spiral upward but his fall back down. Such a story opens up many questions. Is it ethical to artificially increase someone’s intelligence, especially if it’s only temporary? How can one cope with a leap in intelligence leaving their emotional intelligence behind? What effect would this have on who someone is and their morals? How would one deal with the extreme differences between their current and old self? Unsurprisingly, these questions are addressed differently in the book and movie.

A change in one’s state of mind can be taxing, let alone one so drastic and quick as Charlie’s. Imagine being able to see many times more of the world than you can see now, all the things you’d be able to experience. Now imagine that being ripped away as you crash back down to your original state with what you were only a distant memory. Are you glad that you got to see what you did or does the memory torture you as you struggle to know what you used to know? This issue is dealt with heavily in both versions, though with different focus points. The movie deals mostly with Charlie’s reaction to the temporary nature of the surgery and his return to his original intelligence. This is shown beginning with the conference when Charlie bitterly reveals his fate in front of a live audience. He then runs away, beginning a chase scene where he runs from his former self. After this point, he throws himself into his work, barely even stopping to rest. This shows how scared he is and the tax the effects of the surgery take on his mind. It forces the viewer to question whether the surgery is worth it for the crash landing. However, it’s a limited exploration of the ethics of the surgery. The book goes deeper as it doesn’t only examine the downfall but the nature of intelligence itself. Charlie’s life gets more problematic as his intelligence increases, losing his “friends” and understanding all the problems in the world. While I wouldn’t say the film fails in portraying the ethical issues with the surgery, it definitely pales in comparison to the book.

Charlie being kind, cheerful, and caring before the surgery was what made the book so powerful to me. Watching him be pushed away from all he knew and becoming a completely different, miserable person broke my heart. The first red flag was when the refusal to lie was dropped from the picture scene, leading up to a point where he assaulted Alice. This makes movie Charlie difficult to relate to and leaves his love of learning as his only redeeming trait. When he acts rudely later on, it’s nothing new and we don’t get to see how intelligence has affected his emotions. Despite the other flaws of this movie, had they portrayed Charlie properly it may have saved the it. Unfortunately, that is not the case and viewers are left longing for the Charlie of the book.

The operation on Charlie only increases his intellectual ability, leaving his emotional intelligence as it was. This creates an interesting dilemma as Charlie tries to approach everything from a purely logical point of view and struggles to main relationships, in the book that is. In the movie, we don’t see this as much. We get glimpses of it, such as when he tries to assault Alice, but we don’t see nearly as much as in the book.

While discussing the ethics of the surgery, I mentioned the way Charlie deals with the disparities between his new and old selves. He thinks of himself before the surgery as a separate entity, a ghost of sorts. This movie again has a terrible case of not exploring the idea enough. It’s only shown in the scene where Charlie is chased by the ghost of his former self. This is disappointing as the book dived in further and showed how the old Charlie limited new Charlie throughout the book. For example, as Charlie wanted to initiate a romantic relationship with Alice, the old Charlie interfered as he was afraid of women. In the movie, the other Charlie only shows up after the conference for one scene. While the scene is interesting, it doesn’t have the power the book has by having the old Charlie follow him throughout his journey.

Being different mediums, the book and the film evoke emotions differently. The book evokes emotion by making readers feel Charlie’s through his progress reports. The reader experiences everything with Charlie so they feel his emotions. The movie doesn’t have the luxury of doing this. In fact, the film didn’t evoke much emotion at all for me. Most of the emotions I felt were because I knew what was going on in Charlie’s head from reading the book. The one scene that did convey any notable emotion was the conference. Charlie begins answering questions, spewing out witty answers to each. However, he then slows down leading to sense of uneasiness, before revealing the dead Algernon in his hand. It’s different from the book as we experience everything from the view of people around Charlie, instead of experiencing his view. This could have been interesting had they decided to go that direction but they still try to follow Charlie.

Charlie is a shockingly different person in the movie from the version from him in the book. As I mentioned already, he loses his kind nature in the movie. He also seems generally less complex. In the book, different aspects of his personality mingle and develop throughout the book. He’s intellectual but comes to using metaphorical speech. In the movie, he becomes a flat stereotype of an intellectual, all the complexity lost. This leaves the viewer unattached, making the entire film lose its impact. That being said, movie Charlie is still entertaining to watch, though more as caricature surrounded by an interesting story than as a complex person and their journey. This difference is somewhat understandable as scenes that showed some of Charlie’s personality had to be removed and Charlie’s metacognition wasn’t shown.

In case you couldn’t tell from all I’ve said already, I find the book to be far more effective than the film. I understand that books and movies are very different mediums. Films have a limit on how much content they can contain in order to keep the time down since not many people are willing to watch a long movie. Also, following the story from Charlie’s point of view made the book more impactful. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to have a movie from a first person point of view as the camera itself is like a third person. This distances us from Charlie, making it less effective. While it would be possible to execute the story nicely as a film, it’s strongly tied to books as a medium with the progress report style.

Conclusion - Spoiler Free

In conclusion, the form of film doesn’t fit the novel Flowers for Algernon which is so closely tied to its medium. The loss of Charlie’s thoughts and the removal of important scenes due to length constraints, the adaptation is but a shell of the story. If you’ve read the book, skip to the conference scene because it’s the only part worth watching. Otherwise, you should just read the book.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Inspiration to Learn: How Gord Downie’s Works Inspire Us to Learn About History

          Gord Downie is a prominent Canadian lyricist and poet who is the lead vocalist for the Tragically Hip. His lyrical works encourage listeners to further their knowledge of significant events in Canadian history. They achieve this by providing historical perspective, expressing uncommonly heard points of view, and highlighting events that need to be brought into the eyes of the public.

          One cannot truly understand an event until they understand the perspective of those involved. Without that, one lacks the full context of the situation. Gord Downie clearly knows this as his works often take the point of view of those involved in an event, rather than a mere observer. This allows for a more intimate understanding of the events. Take, for example, the song Born in the Water. It takes the perspective of the French at the time when Sault Ste. Marie declared themselves to be only English. By doing this, it gives listeners a closer understanding of what it felt like to be discriminated against as such. This clearly gives one a better understanding of the even than if it were an outsider’s retelling.

          Further, one cannot deeply comprehend happenings if they have only heard one side of the story. History is too often written by the victor. Gord Downie’s works flip this around and show views that are rarely heard. The song 38 Years Old is a good example of this. When a similar story is told, it tends to come from the point of view of a civilian or the escapees. Those sides would have very different views on the events. Instead, the song showcases the point of view of the brother of an inmate. This gives a more balanced view of the story as while he is sympathetic to his brother, he also experiences the fear of the rest of the city. This enriches the listener’s understanding even if they already knew about the event as they learn the effect on other parties.

          It is all too easy to forget the darker parts of history but these events will only repeat themselves if forgotten. This makes it all the more important to remember tragic events and horrible mistakes. Throughout his discography, Gord Downie has songs that call notice to important happenings that may have otherwise been ignored by the general public. For example, Gord Downie’s recent project, The Secret Path, tells the story of residential schools and children’s attempts at escaping resulting in death. This gesture is an important one as it educates the public of these Canadian tragedies and therefore helps prevent them from repeating.

          In conclusion, when listening to Gord Downie’s works, one can learn about events in Canada’s history and be inspired to research more about it. Throughout his pieces, he shows historical perspective, shows otherwise unheard points of view, and ensures he brings important events into common knowledge. This in no way means that one should simply listen to his works and stop there. They are parts of a bigger picture. They show the spirit of the events well but one also needs the details and context to truly understand Canada’s history. Now it’s your turn to learn. Choose one of Gord Downie’s songs, listen to it, and see where it takes you on your own journey through Canadian history.


"38 Years Old." Hip Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2016. 

"38 Years Old Lyrics." AZ Lyrics. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

"Born In The Water." Hip Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

"Born In The Water Lyrics." AZ Lyrics. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

"Wheat Kings." Hip Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

"Wheat Kings Lyrics." AZ Lyrics. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Censorship and Social Media


transitive verb

: to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable <censor the news>; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable <censor out indecent passages>

TrangBang.jpgIn recent years, as social media platforms have grown, they have also grown their affection with censorship. For example, when a slew of people from the Norwegian government posted "The Terror of War", a photo from the Vietnam war, the posts were removed because of child nudity. However, this iconic and important image was presented within a context where this should considered okay because it’s critical to talk about what this image represents. Unfortunately, on a platform as large as Facebook, it’s hard to distinguish between contexts where child nudity is okay to be shared and when it isn’t.

Facebook isn't the only culprit here. Two years ago, Rupi Kaur posted a series of picture to Instagram. The photos depicted menstruation and were a comment on society's fear of it. Proving her point, Instagram took her photos down twice. This was despite the fact that there are many photos of women in depicted objectifying ways, even those underage.

Twitter has a country-specific withheld content system. They take requests from governments to block specific tweets or whole accounts that contain content illegal in that country. For example, Turkey has Twitter censoring many anti-government journalists there. In fact, Turkey is the country that requests the most censorship from Twitter.

One question remains: is this ethical? On one side, it allows people in countries with government censorship to access these services, if only in part; these are most often private platforms so they should have the write to remove content as they please on their own sites; and it protects people from content that could harm them, such as hate speech. However, it suppresses new ideas which could have been beneficial to society; it often supports tyrannical governments as those are usually the ones which enact censorship; it ruins the only possibility of truly free speech, the internet; and are treated as public commons so there's an argument that they should be treated as such.

I find it extremely difficult to choose one side to this argument. I find that this, as most ethical questions do, remains in the grey. While I support the companies' rights to manage their own sites as they please, censorship on such universally used means of communication can be quite dangerous. The only fair solution to this I see is creating an alternative platform. Unfortunately, that would only be a temporary solution as its growth would inevitably force it to follow the same path as its predecessors: from free speech supporters to censors themselves.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Beta Testing for Belouga

Last week, my 21st Century Literacy class was introduced to a really cool social media platform (never thought I'd ever say such a thing) called Belouga. It's designed to connect students from around the world and to share differences.

Students start by answering questions in 25 different categories: cuisine, culture, environment, family, history, interests, and school. These questions work as a starting place for understanding. Once students have answered 25 questions, they get access to the Pods area of the site. Each student gets paired with a student from another class when the teacher connects with a class. The student can then see the answers of the other students in their pod and comment to start discussions.

The site is filled with simple but beautiful graphics.

However, communication isn't the only offering of this platform. Each time you communicate, you earn points. Once the entire community earns enough points, they can choose to give a school in need a gift.

How is anyone supposed to choose between these‽

I think it's important for students around the world to connect. We're fortunate enough to live in a time when we can actually communicate with people to learn about differences around the world instead of having to read to learn. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like many people use this opportunity, though I may be wrong about that. This makes sense as it can be hard to find a way to find people you don't know that live elsewhere to talk to about culture and such. This platform solves that by making it easy for students to connect.

It's also interesting that this is something that is clearly meant for classrooms. A way I can see this being used, especially in higher grades, is as a break of sort during work periods or days with a lot of content to learn. It's a low-key educational kind of task. You're learning but it's fun and doesn't take too much mental effort. It's even set up in a way that's good for short bursts.

The point and reward system is icing on the cake. From what I can tell, it seems that the educators at the selected schools chose what they would like as a reward. This leads to some very interesting choices, such as the archery sets for the school in Pakistan.

Overall, this seems like a great platform and I look forward to seeing it grow after the full release.

Monday, October 3, 2016

First General Debate of the 2016 Election

One week ago, on September 26, the first general debate of the 2016 American Presidential election took place. Not being particularly well-versed in American politics, the thing that stood out to me most was how abysmal the candidates’ debate skills were. As part of a study on the debate in 21st Century Literacy, each student was assigned one of the candidates and had to evaluate their performance in the debate. I was assigned Donald Trump.

Trump would actually be a skilled debater if it weren’t for one thing: his lack of control. His use of gestures is masterful, helping to emphasize important points and keeping viewers engaged, and his choice of vocabulary is effective enough, not too complicated for the average viewer but still formal. He also appears very prepared for the moderator’s prompts. Unfortunately, that’s all lost as he raises his voice above appropriate levels, constantly interrupts Clinton, doesn’t respect the moderator when told to move on. His lack of respect in this debate is detrimental to his image, and he already has an uphill battle to fight with that. For each interruption or disregard of what the moderator says, he's pushing his image down and the points he makes are diminished and disregarded. It's entirely a losing play.

If you're so smart, show it by not interrupting Clinton.

What does this mean for the rest of us? I've never participated in any formal debates, though I have participated in many an informal one. Unfortunately, informal debates do make a lot more room for poor debate skills as they are usually unprepared for and there is no moderator to keep things balanced. Informal or formal, I think there's one important lesson everyone can take away from this debate; you should show respect for everyone involved in a debate. Nobody should be interrupting anyone else. If it's an informal debate, there should at least be a system set up to show who has a point to make. In debates I've been in, this tends to naturally become raising a hand due to habits from school. Another part of respect is not raising your voice. Unfortunately, this seems to be quite a mainstay in the debates in which I've participated. I think this is simply because of the informality and the setting such debates took in. Thrown into more formal debates, I'm sure this wouldn't be a problem. In conclusion, your points will be ignored if you don't show respect to others in a debate. Learn from this general debate and don't do what the candidates do.