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.

Forest City - A Poem

Close up shop, lock the door
Step out into the cold wind’s roar
The dark of night is where danger roams
Get in, the car is safe, he’ll take you home
Get in, the car is safe, he’ll take you home

Forest city, forest city
Hiding sin and villainy
They found themselves here, but nobody knows
Why this is the town they chose

A bike ride down the county road, two kids
One found later, who’s life’s been rid
Child must be guilty, no mercy, give him an adult’s cost
One child dead, two lives lost
One child dead, two lives lost

Forest city, forest city
Hiding sin and villainy
Many lives ruined and many lives lost
In an era of moral frost

Tissues for the family, tissues in the dead
About this peculiarity, many people read
And so came the copies, they thought they were joint
But when he returned, they knew the copycats had missed the point
But when he returned, they knew the copycats had missed the point

Forest city, forest city
Hiding sin and villainy
They hid themselves far too well
For the who they were, no one could tell

Stories high, he climbs up and through
Of this intruder’s visit, no one ever knew
Tucked into bed, warm and tight
But never wake to the morning’s light
But never wake to the morning’s light

Forest city, forest city
Hiding sin and villainy
It was a time of tragedy
Until a sudden end to the calamity

Poet’s Statement

This poem has two main sources of inspiration. The first is Gord Downie’s lyrics, especially for Wheat Kings and 38 Years Old. One of the first thing one will notice when hearing those songs is that they allude to Canadian events, in this case about law and crime. This made an immediate connection in my mind to a book I had read a while back. The book, Murder City by Michael Arntfield, covered the time period in which London City had the highest rate of homicide in Canada. With a little research to refresh my memory, I wrote this poem. Of course, writing about Canadian events isn’t the only connection to Gord Downie’s lyrics. I also stuck to a similar rhyming pattern, namely AABB, as well as repetition scheme. Though I don’t have any of the vivid imagery of Gord Downie’s lyrical works, I think this poem captures that same spirit.

I Am a Leader

Everyone is a leader in their own way. I am a leader because I strive to include everyone and their varying ideas, will follow when others are leading instead of trying to take over, and take charge when nobody else can or will.

When I work with others, I make sure to check for their input and to accommodate their needs. This is important for leadership because to lead is to collaborate with others and to do so, you must include and accommodate them. For example, on the Leadership Retreat we were doing an activity which involved some people being lifted by others. A couple of my classmates were mentioning their discomfort with being lifted but were ignored for the most part. I made sure the plan for accomplishing the task was changed to accommodate their needs. This was crucial because everybody should be able to participate in a task without doing things they aren’t okay with, within reason.

Further, if someone else is more fit or just takes charge first to lead a project, I’m willing to step back and let them lead. This is essential because no one person is the best choice to lead in every scenario. Different people have different skills and strategies, after all. One way of going about things might work perfectly in one case but be completely unviable in another. For example, when a game was introduced to a group of people I knew, I was one of the earliest adopters and helped spread it around the group. However, when people started discussing implementing more systems around it to turn it into a more in-depth game, I stepped back as I didn’t have the skills to work on setting that up. It was important that I fell back because I would have bogged down the project with my lack of competency in that area.

Furthermore, I don’t hesitate rise to a task when others won’t or can’t. This is vital to being a leader as to be one, you must step up to do so. A time when I put this into practice was when my mother completely broke her arm. Some of my family was away at the time so it was just me, my mom, and my younger sister at home. When my mom broke her arm, I immediately jumped into action. I took care of everything: phoning someone to take her to the hospital, alerting the rest of the family, and taking care of my sister for the rest of the night. This example fits because I was the only one who could do what I did because of the circumstances.

As you can clearly see, I’m a leader in a way particular to me. I include and accommodate others, I’m willing to fall back and let others lead, and I take charge when nobody else does.In order to lead effectively, everybody must find their own niche in leadership. Go find your way to lead!

I Want to Teach the World to Sing... Amongst Making Music In Other Ways

Each individual has something they strive to teach the world, even if they don’t realize it. This applies to me as well. I want teach the world the benefit of playing music.

The benefits of playing music are plentiful and varied, be it the pure joy of sharing it or even academic benefits. The latter may seem surprising to some, though this has actually been studied and demonstrated. On the other end of the age range, playing music, excluding singing, can help maintain use of the fingers as is often lost with age. However, the benefits of playing aren’t age specific. As mentioned before, music brings joy, especially when shared. In my experience, there is nothing better than playing music collaboratively with others. Also, music is a never ending push for improvement. If one is finding life boring and monotonous, a path for improvement in an area can freshen things up and bring new excitement to life.

I’m well aware that these benefits are known in many circles already. However, there still remain those who are unaware yet, within those groups, people still probably listen to music. I want to encourage those people to make the jump to playing their own music. I would be hard pressed to find someone who really wouldn’t be able to make music, no matter how much they insist they “aren’t musical.”

As with playing music itself, this goal is a never ending one. There are always new people being born into this world who haven’t yet been shown the joys of making music. I truly hope I can acheive my goal and help spread the benefits of making music to the world a bit more than they already have been.