Sunday, June 27, 2010

THINK Before you Buy: Media Literacy

Joann’s post about advertising was especially funny to me, the proud owner of both the Miracle Blade III knives and the complete set of ShamWOW towels. I really like as seen on TV stuff! Students and parents alike are barraged with advertisements in all forms of media throughout the day. An important part of media literacy we need to stress with our children is the ability to critically analyze the advertisements around them so they can make good purchasing decisions throughout their lives, instead of just buying the things with the flashiest ads.

I still remember the unit I did on advertising in 6th grade. We learned all different types of tools that advertisers use to get consumers attention, and we had lots of fun creating ads of our own. We used terms like “avant garde” and “bandwagon” to describe some of the techniques advertisers use to sell products. We could watch commercials and shout out, “weasel words!” or “testimonial!” (If you were stumped by some of those words, check here for a good list of common propaganda techniques used.) We used our knowledge to create our own ads, which helped make the whole experience even more memorable. You could implement media literacy like this in many different kinds of units by assigning an advertisement (with these different propaganda techniques) as the final project.

Federal Trade Commission-created Admongo touts their online media literacy game as a great “Ad-ucation” for kids. Their introduction describes Admongo as a place where advertising is all around you. “Online. Outside. On television. Who makes ads? How do they work? What do they want you to do? Here, you will explore, discover, and learn. Can you make it to the top? To get there, you'll answer:
Who is responsible for the ad?
What is the ad actually saying?
What does the ad want me to do”

Summer vacation is in full swing for many of our students. They will be surrounded by advertisements, but are they prepared to think critically about these ads? I signed up for Admongo, and had fun navigating with my arrow keys and spacebar through the advertisements and collecting coins. As we discussed in earlier posts, using games for learning can make subjects much more fun, especially for tweens. You can read a review of the game on the Connect Safely site, a great collection of media literacy tools and information.

Reading Rockets highlighted a PBS Kids Go! media literacy site that is also good for parents or teachers looking to increase kid’s awareness of advertising this summer. “Don’t Buy It” has different activities to help teach kids about the techniques advertisers use to make you want to buy their products. This is a very comprehensive site that contains activities, games, and interactive readings. I especially liked the Secrets of a Cover Model activity, the Money and Music section, and the Ad Detective game. The menu on the main page kept revolving to highlight different activities, so all different kinds of students should be able to find activities that are fun for them. Creative students will love creating their own ads and designing a cereal box. Like the game above, this site would be a nice tool for parents and kids at home during the summer as well as in a classroom setting.

As always, stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages to receive the latest updates and resources for media literacy on The Gateway from Joann and Peggy. Search the huge collection of resources at for even more resources.

~Peggy's Corner - 6/25/2010~

Selling It

“You really need that,” my seven year-old announced one day, pointing at the TV. An infomercial for the Buxton Organizer, a “stylish genuine leather over-the-shoulder organizer,” shows an exasperated woman digging through her purse while her MIA cell phone frantically rings. “I already have a purse,” I replied, somewhat defensively. “But look at how much stuff it holds!” my daughter breathed, while the woman on the commercial stuffed a wallet, cell phone, two water bottles, an umbrella, and what looked like an entire cosmetics counter worth of makeup into her bag. “And it comes with a little message reminder thingie,” my daughter pressed. “You know how much you forget stuff!” A year later, while I still don’t have a Buxton Organizer, my daughter has not forgotten the commercial. Each time I dig through my purse, she announces, “You really should get the Buxton Organizer on TV.” Ah, the power of advertising.

It’s no secret that children are especially susceptible to advertisers. Product placements are rampant in TV shows and in movies, and kids are constantly bombarded by sleek images of new games, fast food, candy, clothes, and other stuff in all forms of media. Such marketing is big business: about $15-17 billion is spent annually by U.S. companies on advertising campaigns directed solely at kids. While financial, media, and economic literacy should be consistent topics at home, they are also subjects that must be included in the curriculum. As the current economic climate shows, we need to be more proactive in teaching students about deception and truth in advertising, how products are marketed to consumer groups, and the dangers of spending money on items that you don’t necessarily need (or can afford).

My picks this week all focus on resources that encourage students to think critically about advertising, and the methods used to hook consumers. Most of these lessons can be adapted for higher or lower grades. The first lesson is from Media Awareness Network, a Canadian non-profit organization that offers a wealth of digital and media literacy resources. The second two lessons are from Admongo, a joint venture between Scholastic, Inc. and the Federal Trade Commission. Admongo focuses on advertising and media literacy resources for tweens.

"He Shoots, He Scores": Alcohol Advertising and Sports
Subjects: Media Literacy, Social Studies, Language Arts
Grade: 4-6
Ever count how many beer commercials appear during a sports broadcast? Me neither, but I know it’s a lot. Advertising via sports figures and events is highly lucrative for alcohol companies, and shows no signs of abating. In this lesson, students examine how companies influence consumers by sponsoring sporting events and hiring sports figures to sell products.

Ad Awareness
Subjects: Media Literacy, Social Studies, Language Arts
Grades 5-6
At its core, advertising is the art of persuasion. This lesson has students explore just what advertising really is - what ads do and what they seek to accomplish. The lesson also has students examine who is ultimately responsible for an ad, what the ad is really saying, and most importantly, what the ad is trying to get them – the consumer – to do.

Ad Targeting and Techniques
Subjects: Media Literacy, Social Studies, Language Arts
Grade: 4-7
In this lesson, students learn how and why advertisers use certain techniques to reach a specific target audience. One goal of the lesson is that once students understand these techniques and how they are used, kids can decide for themselves what they actually think about the products.

~Joann's Picks - 6/25/2010~

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I Say “Po-tato” You Say “Po-tahto”: ESL EFL ELL ESFOL Resources

No matter which acronym you use, the number of U.S. students who don’t speak English as their first language is on the rise. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of U.S. public school children who spoke a language other than English at home jumped from 3.8 to 10.8 million between 1979 and 2007. That means that more than 20% of students nationwide between the ages of 5 and 17 are learning English as a foreign language. Unlike several decades ago, students learning English aren’t confined to urban school districts, either. In our bucolic suburb, for example, my second grader’s school services students speaking 17 different languages other than English, while another K-3 elementary school in town contends with 24 different languages. That’s a lot of ESL students to educate, and an heroic effort by the ESL teachers. I’m sure this percentage pales in comparison with many other school districts.

To attain proficiency in English, students must work hard to master reading, writing, speaking, grammar, vocabulary, idioms, and a host of other topics across the curriculum. While most students learning English are pulled out of their classrooms for intensive work with ESL teachers, regular classroom teachers also have to find ways to communicate with and teach their students who are learning English. Many schools have increased the number of visual cueing materials in their classrooms, such as the inclusion of bilingual posters and labels on common classroom materials and objects.

This week’s picks focus on free resources to help students who are learning English. All the resources are from MisCositos, a site that offers a variety of materials for teaching English, Spanish, French, Thai, and other languages. Lori Langer de Ramirez, founder of MisCositas, initially created the site as part of her doctoral dissertation. She is currently Chairperson of the ESL and World Language Department for Herricks Public Schools in New York.

ABC English
Subjects: English
Grades: Beginning ESL
ABC English is a 26-chapter “worktext” for beginning English Language Learners. It offers language set in real-world dialogues while grammar is addressed in a communicative framework. The booklet contains a variety of activities and comprehension questions that test students’ understanding and application of the vocabulary and structures presented in each chapter. The worktext is 153 pages.

ESL License Plate Game
Subjects: English
Grades: all ELL students
Great game for students. These sheets can be printed, laminated back-to-back, and brought in the car for road trips. Students can learn state names and icons, capital cities, and other information. Bring along a travel atlas to add geography support. Way better than “Punch-bug”!

Songs for ELLs
Subjects: English
Grades: all ELL students
This 26-page booklet contains lyrics to popular songs that are appropriate and useful for English Language Learners. Photos of the musical groups or singers are included, and musical genres range from folk to rock to alternative. A good supplemental resource to help teach vocabulary, grammar, and culture.

~Joann's Picks-6/19/2010~

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Virtual Surgery

Dr. Who?

A few weeks ago, my 5th grader sprinted off the bus to tell me that he had performed a hip replacement that day. “Really,” I said, thinking that a new euphemism had been coined for the daily recess football injury. Instead, he burbled excitedly about virtual surgeries they had performed in school that day during computer lab. My interest piqued, I decided to check out the Edheads Web site for myself. The site offers neat online simulations of surgeries and other types of materials.

Aside from its coolness factor, virtual surgery offers a lot of applications both in the classroom and in the real world. Doctors from developed countries are able to operate on patients remotely through tele-surgery, especially in world regions where medical care is lacking. Virtual simulations are routinely used in medical training in the U.S. and elsewhere. For students, such simulations expose them to anatomy, where they can examine the structure of different body parts, such as how joints work, and why the surgery is necessary. They are guided through each surgical procedure, learning along the way about some of the medical instruments used as well as why various actions are taken during surgery. If students want to – pardon the pun – dig a little deeper, the site offers actual photographs of different stages of the surgery. Warning: the surgical photos can be graphic. For some students, of course, the ewww factor ratchets up the fun even more.

In some cases, virtual surgery sites may also present an alternative to the dissection of actual species. Due to either budget constraints or ethical qualms, some schools no longer offer real life dissections in their classes. Throughout the week, be sure to check our Facebook and Twitter pages to view links to various virtual surgery and dissection resources.

Lots of virtual surgery and dissection sites claim to be interactive, but really aren’t. These picks from Edheads allow students to virtually pick up scalpels, make incisions, “cut” through bone, etc. Dynamic learning, rather than passive, makes for a much better educational experience all around. Edheads is a nonprofit organization that creates free educational Web experiences; their interactive online simulations come with detailed teacher guides, printable activities, glossaries, and other supporting materials. Edheads resources are aligned to national and Ohio state standards.

Virtual Hip Replacement
Subjects: Biology, Health
Grade: 7-12
Students get to assume the role of surgeon in this interactive hip replacement virtual surgery. Students “use” virtual medical instruments and tools to replace a bone joint.
All the while, they’re guided by a colleague who talks them through the surgery. Multiple choice quizzes throughout the “surgery” prompt students to use reasoning and critical thinking skills.

Virtual Knee Surgery
Subjects: Biology, Health
Grade: 7-12
Grab your bone saw – it’s time to begin a virtual total knee replacement surgery. While being guided through the surgery, your online colleague poses questions about why you’re doing certain procedures.

Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery
Subjects: Biology, Health
Grade: 7-12
In this virtual surgery, students help an animated doctor perform brain surgery on a patient suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. Students help to virtually cut, probe and drill, while being guided .

~Joann's Picks - 6/12/2010~

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Twitterpated in the Language Classroom?

There are some excellent free online resources available to help teachers enhance their lessons and appeal to the tech-savvy audience that makes up many of today’s classes. With so many students using social networking tools like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, it seems like a logical step to start including these types of tools as instructional aids in the classroom. You can discover which of these tools and resources might work for you by using the faceted search on the Gateway to 21st Century Skills. While looking through Joann’s language picks this week, I was particularly intrigued by the Five Minute Twitter Crunch Drill. Instead of simply linking people together socially, creative resources like this are using social networking as a tool for students to use in the classroom for practice, research, and demonstration of important skills.

I was a Twitter newbie at the beginning of this year. Before I started using Twitter, I was skeptical of the usefulness a community that provided random thoughts (in 140 characters or less) from people, most of whom I didn’t even know. Since I joined Twitter, I have begun to see what a powerful tool it can be for educators. For me, Twitter and Facebook have become ways to be a contributing member of a worldwide community of educators. Educators are creating worldwide PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) to support one another and be a part of 24/7 professional development. Go to Twitter and search for #edchat to see an example of the valuable discussions going on every week. The value of social networking for educators is a topic I could write about a lot longer, but I will save that for another post. This week, I want to focus more on the ways social networking can enter the classroom as a tool for students.

The first resource I mentioned was intended for a language classroom. There are a few other creative ways to incorporate social networking tools in a language classroom. It could be really fun to create a serial story, called “twittories” where all the students in the class contribute through Twitter. If you are teaching a foreign language, have the students write their entries in that language. Look at how this class did it. If your school’s filters prevent you from doing that, you could even do this activity without Twitter. Just allow each student 140-character entries each time it’s their turn to add to the story. Compressing their thoughts into 140 characters is an interesting and challenging exercise! The best way to learn a new language is to use it, and students have the perfect opportunity to do that with the worldwide connectivity offered through social networking. Can you set your students up to have conversations with native speakers on Twitter? What about Facebook friends from other countries, a kind of modern pen pal? Maybe your class could Skype with people that speak the language fluently. What fun ways to really use the things they are learning. Look at this powerpoint presentation for some more facts and interesting ideas.

We received some positive feedback about the interactive mapping tools we highlighted earlier. We featured some great ways for students to use interactive maps to become more connected to the world around them. Can we integrate social networking with these kinds of tools to help our students become personally connected with what they are learning? Stay tuned for next week’s post for more discussion of social networking in the classroom. We love hearing from YOU! Have you used social networking in a creative way in your classroom? Do you think you’ll ever try it? Why or why not?

~Peggy's Corner - 6/5/2010~

Watch Your Language!

Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages.
- Dave Barry

The above quote by humorist Dave Barry is funny, yes, but would be even funnier if it weren’t so true. Despite foreign language course offerings in U.S. schools, Americans don’t seem to place much of a premium on the ability to speak languages other than English. While English is still the predominate language used in international business, the CIA World Fact Book contends that only 5.6% of the world’s population speaks English as a primary language.

When I was in middle school and high school, there were two foreign language options: French and Spanish. While these still may be two of the most commonly offered foreign languages in American schools, they are far from being the only languages now offered. Mandarin Chinese, Italian, American Sign Language, and German are also popular offerings, while languages such as Japanese and Russian have seen a slight decline in student enrollment over the past few years. The U.S. State Department has issued a list of “critical need” languages, including Arabic, Persian, Korean, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Punjabi, Turkish, Indonesian, and Azerbaijani. Are any of these offered in your school?

Budget cuts have forced many schools to eliminate foreign language courses altogether – worrisome news for a nation that needs multilingual graduates to conduct diplomacy and compete effectively in the global marketplace. My picks this week focus on various types of foreign language resources that are hopefully engaging enough to provoke some students to focus more intently on acquiring another language.

Stroke Order
Subjects: Foreign Language, Chinese, Japanese
Grade: 9-12, University, Continuing Education
Stroke Order is an online animation tool that allows students to view the stroke order rules for Chinese characters (a page for Japanese characters is in development). Written directions accompany each type of stroke, and an animated example of each key rule is demonstrated. Developed by Skritter, a company that aims to help students learn and remember Chinese and Japanese characters.

The Five Minute Twitter Verb Crunch Drill
Subjects: Foreign languages, Latin
Grades: 6-12
This outline presents a five minute verb crunch drill for Latin students using Twitter. I love the creativity of this exercise, as well as its simplicity. While the students (and teacher) need to have some comfort level using Diigo and Twitterfall, this activity can pay rich dividends in getting students to grasp the material much faster. This drill can also be adapted for other subjects. This exercise was originally posted on the TeachPaperless blog, which is dedicated to helping teachers to teach “greener” and support each other’s efforts via social networking.

Russian Alphabet
Subjects: Foreign Languages, Russian
Grade: 7-12
This resource provides a comprehensive guide to the Russian alphabet. Russian letters are presented, along with their pronunciation and spelling rules. Audio files and exercises for additional practice are also included. This resource was created by, which offers free Russian language lessons from novice to advanced levels complete with exercises and audio files for correct pronunciation.