The media is not the [whole] message

I’d like to thank Janet Price for drawing my attention to the November 24 issue of ExchangeEveryDay, which I’ll paraphrase here:

For decades parents and researchers have wondered if technology, especially television, is good or bad for kids. The answer it turns out is “It depends.” What it depends on is content.

Ellen Wartella, one of the editors of Children and Television: Fifty Years of Research, confirms that children can learn violence from media and thus develop a predisposition to anti-social behavior. Yet television shows with positive content can teach pro-social lessons and cognitive skills. For example, some studies show that young children who watch Mr. Rogers’ are more considerate of their peers, play well together, and share with others….Still, Wartella “urges parents to limit young children’s exposure to television and other digital media — because preschoolers need ‘real experiences with objects’.”

I really like this last sentence. It is the motivating factor behind the Interact and Expand buttons Miriam Smith and I included next to the playing space on each of the activities we conceived for the PBS Parents Guide to Creativity. Also, real experiences with objects lead to sensory satisfaction, something lacking in screen interaction (see also our 9-18-06 post: Ways of knowing become ways of living.)

Blogging in Academia

Free from TCRecord this week, “Academic Blogging: The Value of Conversation,” by Fred Stutzman.

Stutzman, in response to a less charitible characterization of academic blogging, calls out the value of the blog as a communication tool that facilitates teaching and learning, promotes literacy, and increases classroom engagement. He points out that libraries, professors, and university departments that have widely adopted blogging are thriving as a result of the emergent conversations.

Stutzman, a social networks researcher at UNC-Chapel Hill, has personally tapped in to the blogosphere as a hub of conversation with like-minded researchers and has found it invaluable as a collaboration tool.

The article, though geared mainly towards university professionals, is a valuable read for high school and middle school educators, as well as those interested in the value of blogging.

“Academic Blogging: The Value of Conversation”
Teachers College Record, October 31, 2006

The Value of Good Arguments

Some quotes and paraphrases from the article “Argue with me” by Jay Heinrichs , featured in Wondertime Magazine Winter 2006-2007:

On p. 76 “Persuasion is powerful”…”And let’s face it: Our culture has lost the ability to usefully disagree. Most Americans seem to avoid argument. But this has produced passive aggression and groupthink in the office, red and blue states, and families unable to discuss things as simple as what to watch on television. Rhetoric doesn’t turn kids into back-sassers; it makes them think about other points of view.”

Turn fights, where the goal is to dominate an opponent, into arguments, where you succeed when you bring your audience over to your side. Persuade your audience rather than slugging them. Persuasion is successful only when you think about what motivates your audience, when you take his or her feelings or goals into account.

The suggestions below comprise what Heinrich calls “Aristotle’s guide to dinner table discourse:”

  1. Argue to teach decision making. When you argue the various sides of an issue with your kids (“Beach or mountains this summer?”), they are learning to present different options (“both!”) and then decide which choice to follow.
  2. Focus on the future. Arguments about the past (“Who made the mess with the toys?”) or the present (“Good children don’t leave messes.”) are far less productive than focusing on what to do or believe: “What’s a good way to make sure that toys get cleaned up?” [Christine: not sure the problems with the examples are due just to their time frames.]
  3. Call “fouls.” Anything that impedes debate counts as a foul: Shouting, storming out of the room, or recalling past family atrocities should instantly make you choose the opposite side.
  4. Reward the right emotions. Respond to screaming and anger by not responding, except to say, “Oh come on. You can do better than that.”
  5. Let kids win sometimes. When they present a good argument, there’s no better teaching method than rewarding them. My overreliance on the slow cooker for instance made my son beg for “dry” food. “Even the cat’s meals,” he said, “aren’t all wet.” Good point. I served hamburgers next. Very dry hamburgers.

Some of my immediate personal reactions, or why I valued this article enough to quote it extensively: persuasion requires children to stretch out of egocentrism and could promote peace; the focus on how to do better in the future promotes nonjudgmental self-awareness; allowing a “win” based on merits of the argument helps kids learn that people are not their thoughts–we needn’t get so identified with our own ideas that being right substitutes for our value as persons. For more of Heinrich’s (rather than my) views on how and why to teach kids to argue, look for his book coming out in February: Thank You for Arguing; What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson can Teach Us about the Art of Persuasion.
For more about debate, see Mark’s post about the book Cross-X.

Paper Snowflakes!

Let the paper-snowflake making begin! It began for us this morning with my four year old pulling out the scissors and the two of us shredding paper for a while in my office. It looks like winter wonderland in here!

For an online snowflake making experience visit Make-a-Flake, a very cool flash site that completely recreates the actual snowflake making experience. Not only can you make your own flakes and then download and print them, you can view more than a million flakes that others have crafted!

Future of Children

Future of Children – Opportunity in America: The Brookings Institution and Princeton University announced the release of the latest volume of The Future of Children, Opportunity in America. The volume focuses on the extent to which children’s chances of success depend on the circumstances into which they are born. The volume concludes that the United States provides less opportunity for people to move up and down the economic ladder than most people believe. According to the twelve leading scholars who contributed to the journal, trends in intergenerational mobility in the United States are not encouraging. Class matters; it takes about five generations for the advantages and disadvantages of family background to die out.

Thanks to Ann Schlesinger for alerting me to this report!

Earth Calendar

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States but it is also Kinro Kansha no Hi, a Harvest Festival, in Japan, and on Tuesday, Sikhs commemorate the Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadar, and Monday is Día de la Revolución (Revolution Anniversary) in Mexico.

To give kids insight into holidays and celebrations around the world visit the Earth Calendar, where they can find out any date’s cultural events at the touch of a button. Also listed are Holidays by Country, Holidays by Religion, and Lunar Phase information.

Parent-child book clubs

November 13-19 is Children’s Book Week. So it seems like a good time to share some ideas from the Parent-Child Book Club my daughter and I organized the summer after she finished third grade. Six to eight children is a good sized-group, especially if they have siblings who’ll want to participate or be part of the book selection rotation. In our case, the child who selects the book of the month also hosts the discussion. We all bring some contribution to a potluck dinner before settling in to discuss the host’s questions about the book. In the beginning, the parents modeled asking open-ended questions and discussing the book, but after a year, the children can do this effectively, sometimes with impressive sophistication, themselves.
Here is a list of books we have read so far:

Participants have been really creative with food selections related to the books, or deciding to dramatize rather than discuss (The Amazing Bone for example). We have also watched movies related to several of the books and talked about how and why the movie might differ from the book. I have really enjoyed getting to know the families of my daughter’s friends better, and giving all the children access to more adults with different ways of thinking and being in the world. For instance they all now get periodic input from the minds of an artist, theologian/university administrator, history professor, business development expert, teacher, architect, and a few various kinds of engineers.

For more ideas you can read a brief article on book clubs at the PBS Parents website.

Engineer It!

This past weekend, we went to the Engineer It! exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Any of you Colorado parents who haven’t yet taken your kids, it’s well worth it! And a quick web search tells me that the exhibit is also currently at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

The exhibit is all about hands-on engineering and physics activities. Here are a few things you can expect to do when you go:

  • design and build boats, buildings, bridges, windmills, airplanes, rockets and robots;
  • test the performance of your creations in water tanks, earthquake simulators, wind tunnels, and on a rocket range;
  • experiment with gears and pulleys;
  • operate a cargo crane;
  • form teams to build arches and geodesic domes;
  • experience the RocketWorks lab, a unique Denver addition to the traveling exhibition, where you design, build, decorate and launch your own rocket; and more.

Upon our arrival Sunday, we fell into a group that was building an eight foot tall geodesic dome. Very cool – and I learned as much as the kids did!