Monthly Archives: February 2015

Technology in the Classroom: A Hinderance to the Learning Process

A topic in the world of education that has been on the hot seat recently is the use of technology in the classroom. This topic hits very close to home for me, as my high school is considering partnering with Google, and providing a Chromebook for each student, and making each classroom a digital learning environment. Whether we like it or not, the world is beginning to become overrun with technology. Even the simplest things, like sinks and hand dryers in bathrooms are adapting to this growth in technology. In the classroom, technology can be used to eliminate the cost of textbooks when switching to all e-books; it can make sharing documents easier and increase collaboration among students through various engines like Google Drive and Dropbox; and can help acclimate the students of today with the technologies of tomorrow. However, despite the numerous advantages of increasing the use of technology in the classroom, I feel as though it is unnecessary, and detrimental to the learning experience.

Most of my opinion originates from my major. I am a Mathematics Major, and am seeking a PhD in Pure Mathematics. What that means, is that my job will consist of sitting in a room, and coming up with new mathematical theories from scratch. I am a theorist at heart, and I cringe whenever I need to “apply” mathematical principles to the real world. I am a huge opponent of the calculator, and I think it is making students taking math in today’s schooling system lazy, but I digress. Anyway, my interests and general opinions of the world lead me to believe that education should be about the fundamentals. I like to think of education as the construction of a very tall building. When looked at in this way, it is no question that a strong, reliable foundation is necessary to keep the building from falling over. So, how do we create these strong foundations? By doing things the good ‘ol fashioned way. That’s right, paper and pen, working out things by hand, and scribbling out notes and rough drafts until your hand cramps up. By doing these things, students gain an understanding of why things work, not just the fact that they do. They learn to appreciate the effort it takes to do a math problem, to write an essay, or to conduct research for a history paper.

So, how is technology hindering the education process? Julia Klaus’s article, “Negative Effects of Using Technology in the Classroom,” states that two of the biggest problems with technology in the classroom are that it is “overused, [and] takes away learning time.” She says that the time teachers need to take, both to acclimate themselves with the new technology in the room, as well as deal with technical difficulties that may arise, takes away valuable time that the students could be using to learn. She also states that most students retain information more successfully “… by physically and mentally interacting with what they are studying.” Teaching through a computer takes away from this, and the continued use of technology in the classroom distances the students from the material, making it harder for them to learn (Klaus). Another problem with technology in the classroom that is more prevalent on college campuses with larger lecture halls is what’s known as the “Halo Effect.” The Halo Effect details the fact that a laptop being used by someone is actually inadvertently distracting the students in the next few rows behind the user. So, by introducing laptops into the classroom, it not only presents the opportunity for the user to get distracted by social media sites or games, but also puts other students in danger of getting distracted by the bright computer screen.

So, overall, in the classroom, I feel that technology hurts the learning process. However, I will leave this post on a more positive note. I feel that technology has the potential to help students exponentially, outside of the classroom. With resources like internet databases, word processing and other various computer programs, collaboration engines like Google Drive and Dropbox, etc., students live in a world that harbors efficiency and a streamlined work process. What will make this technology even more effective, is if it is left out of the learning process itself, and is used to show understanding, rather than create it.

Writing a Book: Picking up Steam

I have some great news! This past week, I was finally able to meet my goal set all the way back in the first week of blogging. I have completed chapter three, and have completed most of, if not all of chapter four. It was an incredibly exciting experience, and I really just let my fingers go on their own path. So, I think this week, I am going to post an excerpt that gives you a sense of the overall “feel” of my book. As I have mentioned in previous posts, this book is really dark. The topic of serial killers, surprisingly enough, is not one that can be written about in a light-hearted manner, and I am actually surprising myself with how scary some of the thoughts are that are coming out on to the page. Once again, I want to emphasize that none of these are based on my own personal life. They are merely the mode through which I am telling this story. However, I would like to warn you before reading this segment from chapter four, that it gets a little rough. In this segment, we learn more about John’s past, and what led him to his life today. Please feel free to let me know of what you think of the excerpt. Along with this, as I said, I finished chapter three, which dives a little bit more into who Commissioner Howell is, and, in chapter four, introduced Angela Gordon, John’s love interest at work. I am really excited about having gotten so much written, and I cannot wait to continue.

Perspectives, Chapter Four: (For some context, this is right after he hears of the murder on the radio)

John turned off the radio. He had always been incredibly squeamish, and even the slightest mention of anything macabre made his stomach churn uncontrollably. He rolled his window down, and felt the sticky, humid air of downtown Atlanta hit his face. Oddly enough, John found this refreshing. John grew up in Alaska, where the weather was unbearable, and for six months of the year it stayed dark outside. Couple with the bad weather was John’s father, Norm Usher. Norm was a construction worker, with a side gig of coming home plastered and taking out his frustrations on his wife and only child. John still cringed every time he got undressed and heard the sound of his belt buckle jingle. Man, was that dad’s favorite. He would walk into the house half undressed anyway, and his belt was the most efficient and readily available stress management tool. John would hear the door open and close, hear the clunk of Timberland work boots on their linoleum floor, and brace for impact. After a few months, John learned to pretend to be asleep while the beatings occurred. That way, the small sliver of human side Norm possessed would come out. Even he would not beat on a defenseless sleeping boy. This sympathy, sadly, did not translate to John’s mother, Theresa Usher. John would still wake up hearing the screams of his mother. Especially those of 4:23 am, Monday, January 3rd, 1983. That night the screams came to an end, and were drowned out by the sound of Norm sobbing. He left the house, turning himself into the police. It was after nearly a week of hiding out in his room that John was finally picked up by a police officer. He was eight years old at the time; just old enough to know the weight of what his father had done. John was now left with one parent, the man responsible for killing his mother.

Later in the chapter, I used extreme detail to describe John going to see his father executed for the murder of John’s mother, as well as several crimes he committed while in prison. As you can imagine, this part is pretty dark as well, but I think that is the tone that this book needs to tell its story to the fullest.

Thank you so much for the feedback so far, there is much more of Perspectives to come.


Writing a Book: Slow, Slow, Progress

Let me preface this post with some good…ish news: I have not quite met my goals from my first post yet, but, I have made some progress that has shown me where I want to take this novel.

As of today, I have completed almost all of chapter three. As I said in my last posts, I have been aiming to make this chapter longer than the previous two, allowing my story to start taking shape. In this chapter, Commissioner Howell returns to the police station, and begins dealing with all of the press surrounding Jennifer’s brutal murder. In this chapter, we meet his secretary, Madison Yates. We also meet the short-tempered Mayor of Atlanta, GA, Robert Jacoby. His temper comes out when Howell tells him that they have no leads on the case, and there is no positive news to tell the press.

While writing this chapter, I realized how oddly detailed I want this novel, Perspectives, to be. For instance, I have already been incredibly detailed with the time of day that events occur. I would like to continue this detail into every aspect of this novel. Also, much like a film director aims to shoot from different angles, providing new outlooks on a scene, I want to create that effect for the reader through words. I think this will prove very challenging, but if I continue on my vein of extreme detail, I think this goal should be attainable.

Now, to the not-book-related way I feel while taking on this project. My life has been incredibly busy these past couple weeks. I think the fact that I am writing this blog post at 2:05 am on Thursday morning is evidence enough of my packed schedule these past few weeks. As a result, I have not had nearly as much time to think about, let alone write this book. Something I have realized, however, is how much of a stress relief this project is. I have to set deadlines for myself, but it is just that: Set by myself, for myself. This project is my way of expressing my thoughts, and telling a story that I think is worth telling. This process has been incredibly cathartic. I have had the dark thoughts of this serial killer in my mind for over a year (I promise this is by no means suggesting I have considered being a serial killer), and now I am finally expelling them from my mind, and putting them on the page. I love having time to sit down and write this book, and if you, the reader, need a new tactic to battle stress, I highly recommend something creative. It does not need to be writing a novel, just something outside of your normal daily routine that gets you thinking about a world you imagine.

All that being said, I need to really start carving out time for this project. So, in the next week, I truly hope to meet my preliminary goal. I will finish chapter three, and write chapter four, as well as have a concrete representation of the direction I want this book to take, as well as the elements I would like it to have. Hopefully I have some more substance to tell you all next week!

The Common Core Standards

A recent initiative in education has pushed for equality among students, and a standard for evaluation and curriculum. This initiative, the Common Core Standards System, has caused much debate in the education community, and, in my mind, needs some serious revisiting.

The Common Core Standards System’s website states that these standards are, “Research and evidence based,… aligned with college and career expectations, based on rigorous content…,… and informed by other top-performing countries to prepare all students for success in our global economy and society,” (Read the Standards). These standards are further broken down into Mathematics Standards, and English, Language Arts/Literacy Standards. At its core, these standards make sense. They work toward creating an equal playing field for students nation wide, and should make comparison for college applications more fair.

However, many issues exist in the Common Core system. The first main problem is that these standards push teachers to “teach to the test,” and not focus on teaching their students to learn. These standards are evaluated through a series of standardized tests, which schools and teachers are then evaluated on based on their students’ performance. So, in order for the schools to have a good image in the government’s eye, it makes sense that they would encourage their students in any way they could to do well on these tests. However, this style of teaching hurts the students. What happens when they get to college, or out into the workforce, and not every question in life needs them to “Find x,” or discover what tone the author was portraying in the passage?  Our children truly are the future, and our education systems should be focused on teaching our students the skills that they need to solve problems that do not yet exist. With the incredibly fast advancement of technology, and our world becoming more and more connected every day, our teaching should not focus on a standardized test that asks students a inconceivably small fraction of the material they will need to know in their everyday lives.

Also, these standards do not let students explore their interests at young ages. Children should be encouraged to try a variety of new things, whether it be math, sports, art, music, etc. and these standards are making it very difficult for them to do this. These national standards, by their very nature, must be a one-size-fits-all system that hopes to reach every student in America. Sadly, this can never truly be achieved. The students that are interested in art need to take time to make sure that they are proficient in mathematics, and those students interested in the sciences must now take the time to learn the vocabulary that they will be tested on. These standards put all students in a box, not treating each and every one of them as the individuals they are. As a college student, I have found that there are so many things I was interested in that I had no idea existed before coming to Penn State. Why was I unaware of these things in high school? Part of the issue is that high schools do not have the funds of a university like Penn State, but the bigger issue is that public education systems are more focused on meeting the needs of the Common Core than they are of their students. Education is about allowing students to explore THEIR interests, and while a strong foundation in many areas is key, it is not the end all be all. So many kids go to college without the slightest idea of what they want to do with their life, and spend valuable tuition dollars on classes that will not benefit them at all in the future. If they could have taken the time in high school to find what interests them as a career, this “wasted time” could be cut down, and allow students to flourish in the university academic setting.

While the initiative of the Common Core is grounded in great intentions – leveling the playing field, creating a strong working foundation for students to branch off of later in life – it fails to meet the main purpose of education (in my mind at least: to foster a student’s potential and interests to allow them to find a career that they will love doing for the rest of their life. For this reason, I think the Common Core needs to be seriously revisited to help students be the best they can possibly be.

Writing a Book: The Struggle

So, I found out this week that it is really hard to write a book on top of finishing work for my normal classes. I think it is also a little challenging to write a lot because my mind is focused heavily on science during the majority of the week, and that makes transitioning to writing realistic fiction difficult. I also found out that writer’s block, at least for me, hits even harder when trying to write a book, rather than a “normal” paper, blog post, etc. Trying to create a world real enough for readers to immerse themselves in is incredibly challenging, and has been pretty discouraging.

You have probably guessed by now that I did not meet my goals set last week. I wrote a few paragraphs of Chapter 3, but that is literally it. In this chapter, I have Commissioner Howell returning to the police station, distraught over what he has witnessed at the crime scene. Throughout the book, I want to add oddly specific details, to make the readers pleasantly uncomfortable, a phenomenon that is hard to explain, but one that I cherish dearly. I want to do this especially for John, as I feel that this awkward meticulousness is integral to his character.

While I have not physically written down my plot plan, I have a general framework in mind. While I cannot reveal too much, as to keep the story intriguing, I will say that I am considering adding a love story element to the book. I think the girl that John falls for will enter the story about a third of the way through the book. This placement is for two reasons:

1. It will add a nice new element to help keep the story intriguing.

2. It will serve as a “catalyst” to keep the story going.

Since I did so poorly following my goals this past week, I really need to buckle down and make up for lost time these next couple weeks. This weekend I hope to have made up for what I wanted to do last week. This includes finishing Chapter 3, writing Chapter 4, and writing the plot plan. I also think that a plan of attack that may be beneficial is sitting down for a few hours and just letting my fingers hit the keys, unrestricted by conscious thought. I think this unadulterated stream of consciousness will really help me see what direction I want to take this book in, as well as see if there are any characters I need to add (which I am more than 100% positive I will given I have less than ten characters right now), and will help me see what sides of the story to highlight, and which pieces to keep more subtle.

If you guys have any tips for what approach I should take to make some progress on this project, I would love any advice. Hopefully I can beat the writer’s block! I am still very excited about this project, and I hope I can follow through and knock this thing out!