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Category Archives: Journalism

Evidence that student writing (about chapatis and chickens) isn’t going obsolete

One of my passions is to help students become better writers. Many teachers will tell you that students are not writing enough. Anecdotally we know that information consumption (coupled with information overload) compounds the problem. Research supports this. Forty percent of college students who took the ACT writing test, lacked college ready skills.

As a computer and tech teacher, I am pleasantly surprised when students ask for scratch paper before they login. It’s not ‘old school’ to jot down ideas; to organize information before it gets into a brochure or PowerPoint. One of my lessons for 5th grade at the end of the school year involves teaching them how to write a radio script, and record it! A script, of course, isn’t like an essay. It gives a student an opportunity to adopt tone of voice that comes naturally. To speak from the heart. To talk about odd, personal, funny things that connect with the listener. Like a letter, I suppose. “Who writes those?” You ask! You’d be surprised how many Thank You letters are queued up to print next week. That’s my evidence, and I’m sticking to it! 

On that note, here’s some inspiring  student writing. One of the college application essays featured in the New York Times last week. Eric Muthondu, who’s entering Harvard, talks about his Kenyan grandmother.

“When I return, the chapatis are neatly stacked on one another, golden-brown disks of sweet bread that are the completion of every Kenyan meal.”

Or this piece of writing by Jeffrey C. Yu, a second generation Chinese American.

“Not all sons of doctors raise baby ducks and chickens in their kitchen. But I do. My dad taught me.”

These essays are worth a read, if only to recognize that good student writing exists –in certain places one has to dig to find. Here’s another place: Write The World. A global community for student writers I have been in touch with, and have covered in a previous post. By some coincidence, this month, Write The World has a Food Writing contest for students. First prize for a 6,000-10,000-word essay is $100.

More chapatis and chicken, please!

 

 
 

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‘Wall’ of illfame lands Arizona Republic and USA Today a Pulitzer

Funny how much a wall can do – even in its absence. The Pulitzer prize board awarded the Arizona Republic one of the most prestigious journalism awards, for reporting on Trump’s attempt to build that wall. Not one story, it was a series of stories in multi-media – newspaper articles, video, podcasts and even VR.

Here’s the story in VR, in 4 chapters.  And if that’s not enough, it’s the basis of a documentary, The Wall.

 

 
 

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Radio days! Podcasts back with a vengeance!

In case you’ve not noticed the podcast landscape had changed. I’m so glad this genre – audio story-telling –has survived in a digital age that at one time seemed to gravitate toward video, slapstick entertainment, and uninformed opinions.

These are highly-researched, well-produced shows – not just opinionated rants. 

Here are a few:

Code Switch – Fascinating takes on race and identity

Rough Translation – A great way to escape the echo-chamber!

The Hidden Brain – Shankar Vedantam’s insight into human behavior

The Tip-Off – Peeling back investigative journalism, by Maeve McClenaghan of London’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism

 

Some older podcasts still give the newbies a run for their money. Those such as:

  • This American Life – Ira Glass’ extremely topical take on all things social, political, personal
  • Invisiblia – Gripping tales and insights about the forces that shape us.

 

 

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Algorithms do make mistakes! A teaching moment after Vegas

It’s so easy to assume that ‘algorithms‘ can do no wrong. Did you even use the fancy word prior to ‘Search Engine Optimization’ ?

So Google’s statement that, after the Las Vegas tragedy (and the inaccurate news that ensued via social media) they had to go in and over-ride the algorithm, says volumes.

“Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries. Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results. This should not have appeared for any queries, and we’ll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future.”

Here’s what is worth teaching.

  • A search result that pops up may not be accurate. In fact it can be deliberately misleading. (The Tom Petty headline, being the latest in ‘inadvertent’ mistakes.)
  • Cross-reference your ‘facts’. Read the whole article before drawing a conclusion.
  • The headline in a tweet or a trending FB post is an incomplete picture. Or often carries a bias. Former Facebook ‘news curators’ have admitted they were instructed to artificially inject selected stories into the trending news module.

An algorithm is just “a process or set of rules” that are set up in advance for sifting through data, and making calculations with complex variables. Algorithms are not writ in stone. Especially when there is some Artificial Intelligence involved, they are supposed to ‘learn’ from the complexity and adjust. Sometimes they aren’t good learners, and are easily misled, or tricked.

And so are we!

 
 

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Writers wanted. Start Here!

Is writing a dying skill? It appears to me that good writers are in short supply – analytical writers, storytellers, creative writers.

I am talking up writing and publishing in my school because I see the huge gap between what people read, and what (or how) they write. Young people read Dr. Seuss, but hardly take a stab at poetry. They may binge watch on Netflix, but never consider a screen play, or even coming up with a skit. They consume the news, but seldom look at the nuts and bolts of news writing, features, or Op-Eds.

You want to write? Here are a few places to start.

  • WriteTheWorld, an organization I have been talking to, has a very interesting Poetry and Spoken Word Competition. It’s open to students between the ages of 13 and 18. And there are prizes. $100 for the first prize! More details here.
 
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Posted by on April 3, 2017 in Ed-Tech, Education, Journalism, Workshops

 

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Digital storytelling on Digital Learning Day

Today, being Digital Learning Day, I plan to get students to rethink cameras. How could camera create digital ‘stories’?

  • How would a background give your subject context and proportion?
  • What could you filter or manipulate a picture before you take the shot?
  • How could you change the ISO settings to get a different result with the same subject?

Who knows? Some of my students may turn out to be journalists, or take to photography in some shape or form. Despite the fact that most pictures today are taken on phones, understanding lighting and perspective will always be an asset. My 5th grade class was divided into three groups. One with a Digital SLR, and two with regular digital cameras and two tripods if needed.

Here is how one group shot a Lego device. Interesting how one chose the robotics table, and another chose the Moon landing poster as a backdrop.

lego_2

lego_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or take how they approached this subject. Long shot with an outdoor context vs a close-up shot, adding the human element.

rose_1     rose_2

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2017 in Ed-Tech, Education, Journalism

 

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Long before fake news, we had half-truths

You’ve heard the adage, “a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” 

In the absence of fact-checking, we cultivated scepticism. It’s easy to blame our epidemic of fake news on the Russian trolls, and geo-politics. But truth is, half-truths and conspiracy theories circulated before social media arrived on the scene. Some even embedded themselves into the pages of history. Here are two:

Have you heard the one about Black Confederates? It’s a ‘story’ of how 80,000 black soldiers supposedly fought for the Confederacy. This is, as the Civil War website calls it, shoddy facts that’s were “repeated, amplified, and twisted” to become credible to some, just because the story fit their agenda.

Or the story of American planes dropping napalm in South Vietnam? It surrounds the Pulitzer prize-winning photograph, taken by Associated Press photographer, Nick Ut on June 8, 1972. That too, we are informed by Joseph Campbell, was a myth. The photo was accurate. The story was not.

Which brings me to how do we teach fact checking to young people ?

Until a few years ago some made Wikipedia the culprit. But even before that there were stories circulated via email, that travelled through an unverified friend-of-a-friendsnetwork. They contained dubious facts no one bothered to fact check. Fast forward to now, and we like to blame the trolls.

How easy it is to blame someone else when the onus ought to be on us.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2017 in Education, Journalism, Media

 

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