Acknowledge the Elephants

After reading Will Richardson’s blog post, 9 Elephants in the (Classroom) that Should “Unsettle” Us, I lost a lot hope in America’s current education system. The article discussed the reason that our education system is failing to produce students with vast knowledge and skills necessary for success. Will mentioned that there are many issues that are plaguing our schooling system, yet these issues are hardly presented in the public eye. I have always believed that education is power, but is our education system really educating the youth?

Will Richardson brought up the point that schools are obsessed with numbers in America. Teachers, parents, and even students are more concerned with grades than they are with the actual learning taking place. Standardized tests and grades are the determining factor for many of the educational policies.  However, Richardson also presented the fact that most of the material covered in school, do not stay with the students outside of school. …”As Matthew Lieberman from UCLA notes, ‘For more than 75 years, studies have consistently found that only a small fraction of what is learned in the classroom is retained even a year after learning.” The reason that Richardson believes that students are not retaining the information that they learned is because the fail to see how the material relates to their own real lives and they fail to see how grades and test scores really demonstrate skills. I can completely understand this concept, looking back on my own education I have lost so many skills that I used to possess because it didn’t apply in my daily life. As far as using numbers to determine skill, this happens after schooling. For example, in my job I am evaluated in terms of 1,2,3, and 4 for performance. I have always thought that putting a number on a persons’ value in any way was a waste of time and energy. I prefer evaluating students according to criteria. For example, if I am evaluating a students ability to add I would have a set list of criteria that either the students met or didn’t, such as ‘student can accurately combine single digit numbers and produce an additive.’

I was also very struck by Richardson’s idea that schools are not built for long lasting learning. In deliberating this, I realized that the majority of the long lasting learning that I have done comes from experience and not from a lecture or text book. I realize now that experiencing things like working as team, problem solving in a high stress environment, and critically thinking occurs in daily life and as educators we need to be setting kids up with the opportunities to do these things.

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Teachers as Learners

In order to become an effective teacher, you must understand how humans learn. Of course, there are so many different methods of learning. For example, some people are visual learners, kinesthetic learners, auditory learners, etc. It is imperative that I remember that not all of my students are going to learn the same way, and therefore a variety of learning activities are essential to creating a successful learning environment. Throughout my work in Digital Literacy this semester, I have seen that even though I thought I was an auditory learner, I have benefited immensely from different instructional methods. This helped me realize that as a teacher, implementing different teaching styles will be beneficial to every student, even if that style isn’t necessarily their preferred method of learning.

Through my ILP, I realized that confidence is probably the most crucial aspect of learning. If I didn’t feel confident in my abilities, I wan unable to pick up material as quickly and retain it as long. The moment that I started to trust in my learning abilities, I excelled far beyond my own expectations. I think that best way to boast someone’s confidence, is to give the person as much independence as possible. When the teacher, parent, or adult steps back, the child discovers that they are capable of completing tasks, solving problems, and make decisions autonomously. If the teachers, parent, or adult hovers over the child, they feel as though they are incapable of furthering themselves on their own. I will strive to  give students as much control over their education as I possibly can.

The biggest thing that I learned about learning is that short term memory and long term memory require completely different methods of instruction. During my ILP, I had committed so much information into my short term memory, and for at least one week I would retain it. However, after a month past I retained maybe half of that information if I were lucky. I realized how crucial it is to evaluate students months after instruction to get an accurate picture of what they had actually retained.

Lastly, this semester has shown me that humans learn out of need. If the student does not come across a need for the information then they will not put in their full effort and they will not retain the information as well. I learned that teaching students why we learn what we do is just as important as teaching what we teach. Students may not find interest in everything that they study, but they do need to deem everything that they study as meaningful if they are to have a chance at reaching their full potential.

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Learning from the Ground Up

The most exciting and captivating part of this digital literacy course has definitely been the Independent Learning Project. Before beginning my ILP, I viewed learning as mostly dependent on the instructor, rather than the learner. However, in my ILP the instructor and the learner were one in the same. It became apparent to me after the course, that the majority of the learning is dependent on the learners drive and willingness to put in effort.

I chose American Sign Language as my ILP topic, because I knew that it would be a topic that I could use in my daily life as an educator. Even if there are no deaf or hearing impaired students in the school, ASL is incredibly beneficial in the classroom to navigate students without becoming intimidating or getting the class off track. I also chose ASL as my ILP topic, because I knew that it would be a topic that would keep my interest and never become a chore for me to practice. I love learning about other languages, and I think that the more we branch out of our own language, the more we unite ourselves with the community and the world. Motivating myself to work on my learning project was amazingly easy. I looked forward every week to pushing my mind to the limit of retention. Most of my projects in my other classes were not easy to motivate myself to work on, but this ILP was.

The best part of the project for me was being able to watch videos online and movies which featured ASL and being able to recognize some of the signs. Delivering the signs is definitely easier than receiving the signs for me. So when I finally reached a point where I was able to interpret signs at a regular rate it was incredibly rewarding and gratifying. I had become the most frustrated when I was trying to recall signs relating to numbers and finances. So many of the signs relating to numbers and costs were very similar to one another, but very different from the English systems. I did have to push myself the most through the two weeks that I practiced numbers, because I did become discouraged for a while.

Throughout this semesters ILP, I discovered that I am quick at learning new information and storing it for a short amount of time, but my long term memory is not my strong point. I was able to pick up signs quickly and memorize for the week easily, however when I would review past weeks lessons, I quickly realized that I had lost nearly half of the information. I thought that maybe I was progressing through the lesson too quickly, and this is why I was unable to recall the information after a few months. Yet, even when I slowed down on the lessons, the retention percentage did not increase. The only method that worked was to go back through the previous information bi-weekly so as to etch it into my long term memory.

Incorporating Independent Learning Projects in my future classroom is an absolute must. Allowing students to work at their own pace, on a project that they chose based on their needs and interests is a wonderful way to engage students in meaningful learning and critical thinking. Students will exceed expectations if their interests are peaked and they see a real world application to the learning. Also, ILPs allow students to discover what works in their learning processes and what does not.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

This week I had the opportunity to work with an exciting and innovative online tool. The site is called Canva: Amazingly Simple Graphic Design Software . The software on the website was truly easy to navigate just as the title suggests. The site has all types of designs to fit every kind of need. Canva offers designs for photo collages, educational presentations, business presentations, cards, posters, resumes and many other purposes.

I chose to work with a template I found under photo collage I entitled it My Journey Through ASL. I decided to use a photo collage, because so far in this semester I have used mostly written word to discuss my process through learning American Sign Language, and I thought it would be interesting to focus on the visual elements of what I have been working on. Admittedly, I struggled with finding visual content that would accurately express the process that I went through this semester. I wound up having to use some words to explain the connection between the images and the learning process. For example. on one of the pages of my photo collage presentation, I wanted to show images of the instructor of the online course that I have been utilizing this semester. However, with no words the viewers wouldn’t understand that the images are of the instructor. It was necessary to include words in much of this presentations. Still I feel that I achieved a sort of visual story as well.

I was happily shocked when I discovered that Canva offered its own bank of over 1000 images. I searched the keyword ASL and the first image that came up through the Canva page was a chart of the ASL alphabet. There were many other images available on the Canva site, but it was also easy to upload images from the internet. I was impressed with how many different options were available for customizing your design. I have never used a software that allowed me to adjust the transparency of an image like Canva. The only drawback to Canva is that it doesn’t allow video to be uploaded into the designs.

Canva can be utilized in so many different ways in the classroom: making visual aids to display in the classroom, making presentations that can assist with lectures to keep interest, creating homework assignments, and having students create their own projects with Canva. Canva can be beneficial to every area of study. For example, art teachers can use Canva to teach students about graphic design, math teachers can easily show information through the easy to use charts, graphs, and tables offered on Canva, science teachers can utilize the presentations for clearly delivering information etc.

Podcasts in the Classroom

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I have never really listened to or created a podcast, and I didn’t realize that they were as popular as they are. I was shocked when I read the article What Teens are Learning from ‘Serial” and other podcasts. The article discussed high school teacher Michael Godsey’s success in introducing the podcast ‘Serial’ into the classroom. Godsey said that he had students who were just at the edge of failing out of school, that were excited to come listen to the podcast in his class. Not only did the podcast succeed in capturing the attention of  students who were normally hard to reach, but the podcast was also successful in honing students listening skills and comprehension levels. Even students whose first language is not English, benefited from listening to the podcast, because it helped them practice their receiving skills. Listening to podcasts such as ‘Serial’ also produces a higher level of analytic skills, because it requires to students to not just receive information, but to analyze it and make inferences.

Podcast can also be used to help get students excited about writing. Podcasts are essentially critical thinking and creativity skills used in writing, but just in a digital medium. Digital storytelling is taking off with students around the country. Students feel that their voices are heard through podcasts more than they would through turning essays or other forms of traditional writing. Even the mundane topics such as math and history can be seen in a new exciting way through the use of podcasts. A typical history report, for example. could be enhanced by making a podcast over a historical topic as the final result. Students can try something new, using the technology, to practice old subjects.

There are many advantages to using podcasts in the classroom, and had I not read articles like Teachers Guide to Digital Storytelling and What Teens are Learning from Serial and Other Podcasts  I would have never realized what a great learning tool podcasts really are. I cannot seem to think of many disadvantages, except for the fact that not all students will have full access to technology. The other drawback is that with podcasts, you can’t really censor or edit the information. The teachers may have a difficult time monitoring which podcasts every student is listening to. Using technology to promote creativity, literacy, receptive skills,  writing skills, and critical thinking is the future of education.


Mindful Use of Technology

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Dan Sipple/Ikon Images/Getty Images

The topic of mindful use of technology is a topic that I have been contemplating frequently recently. I have started to notice that I am disconnecting from my family and loved ones with the mindless use of the internet. When I come home from work, the first thing I do is take out my iPhone and look through Facebook and Snapchat. I think that I have developed this habit as a method of avoiding my responsibilities like housework, homework, and exercising. I am not only not working on things that are essential for my health and success, but I am also not interacting with anyone while this happening. My Fiance has actually started to notice my mindless use of technology also. He has mentioned to me that he feels ignored and alone when I am mindlessly scrolling through Facebook.

It is not only at home that I become consumed with mindless use of the internet. On Sundays I go to church with my Grandma and then lunch with both of my grandparents. Last Sunday, I spent the lunch chatting on Snapchat and texting. I am missing important moments because I fall into the void of Facebook and other social media sites. In the article, Why You Feel Terrible After Spending Too Much Time on Facebook  I learned that I am not the only one who loses real life socialization and efficient use of time when on Facebook. Many studies were done all over the world that tested the effects on Facebook on people’s emotions, and almost all of the research pointed to people feeling worse after they used Facebook. Some of it was due to guilt and some of it was due to the content on social media.

Another article, Bored… And Brilliant? A Challenge to Disconnect From Your Phone gave me a new reason for disconnecting from Facebook and other social media sites. The article discussed the importance of boredom. The mind comes up with its most creative and innovative ideas when bored. Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, replace boredom with junk content. “We might go off in our heads to try and find that stimulation by our minds wandering, daydreaming and you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit in the subconscious which allows sort of different connections to take place,” Mann said. I feel like with the mindless use of technology plaguing me, I am not using my mind to its full extent.

ILP: Numbers, Colors, and Time part 2

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Central Washington University

To continue with my independent learning project, I went on with the weekly units in the Learn ASL in 31 Days online course. The next unit that I learned taught me the vocabulary of colors. I learned the signs for the colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, gold, silver, brown, black, tan, and white. There were no signs for complicated colors such as periwinkle or turquoise. For those signs, Rochelle in the video said that you can only fingerspell them. The colors were easy to learn because they were logical. For example, most of the colors were just the first letter of the color shaking. I thought that it was interesting that in the video lesson on colors, Rochelle mentions that the sign for gold is also the sign for California. I cannot help but assume that it must be due to the California gold rush. I would be interested to hear the history behind that sign.

The next lessons Rochelle had me tackle were numbers. This lesson was far the hardest lesson of the week. The beginning numbers 1-20 were incredibly simple and logical of course. The numbers 20-100 were much more complicated. I don’t know if its because the numbers are compound signs that require more then one movement, or if it is because you have to think mathematically in order to correctly sign the higher numbers, that the numbers 20-100 are so difficult. I have practiced the numbers 20-100 over and over throughout the week and I still cannot make those signs seem fluid. The only way that I can present the signs at all, is by chopping them up into segments. I first sign the first digit in the number, for example, 30 in the number 35. Then, I pause and sign the second digit in the number 5. When you get up into the double digit numbers, you need to tilt your hand to the side with where the second digit is located. For instances, in the number 86, you would tilt your hand toward the right. However, in the number 89, you would tilt your hand toward the left. This is done to prevent confusion between similar signs, like with 87 and 78. However, considering which way to tilt your hand, while at the same time recalling which sign to use is difficult for a newcomer to ASL.

To help practice with numbers, Rochelle made a practice game video in the next video lesson. In the video, Rochelle signed simple equations and requested that students in the course, sign the answers back. After I completed the equations in the practice game, I learned some other signs relating to time. I learned the days of the week, the months of the year, and the words everyday, every morning, every afternoon, every night, and every Monday, every Tuesday, every Wednesday, etc.

Finally I made a video demonstrating all of the new vocabulary I learned this week along with all of the equations that I learned how to sign with the numbers. The video I posted to twitter.



Digital Activism

When society hears the word activism, they tend to think of marches, picket signs, and sit-ins. However there is a new face of activism among the youth, and it is digital. The digital world has so much to offer activists. The availability of information on the internet can unite the world against or in favor of any issue. For instance, the internet allows for  activists to share their message and public opinion. Take Eduardo, for example, finalist for the teen activist award. Eduardo spreads a message of peace and compassion through the use of Twitter and YouTube.

Eduardo founded the @EndBullyinNow account to help spark a conversation about controversial issues like eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, self harm, bullying and other types of suffering. Eduardo’s account united people who have suffered through bullying and other types of social isolation due to social pressures. The account gave people a safe place to talk about their problems and gain support. Eduardo sparked an anti-bullying campaign through the use of social media that turned into a suicide prevention movement, eating disorder awareness and prevention movement, and an overall anti-self harm movement.

Eduardo’s use of video and vlogging blew up on the internet. The movement captured the world and made the tough issues like suicide, a topic that can be discussed and prevented through united strength. Eduardo shared his story with the world, and it turned out that most of the world could relate or knew someone who could relate to his story. When Eduardo shared his deepest vulnerabilities with the world, he gave others suffering the strength to combat the obstacles in their own lives.


My freshman year in college, I hosted a Fast for Darfur as a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization Invisible Children. The Invisible Children organization aims to provide aid to the children displaced or injured by the war in Uganda. The even I planned at hosted was a twenty-four hour fast that was sponsored per hour by individuals and small businesses. During the fast we made posters to promote the Invisible Children organization and we posted them in local businesses, parks, and schools. During the activities that took place with the fast, all the participants took many pictures and posted them to social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. However, besides the digital documentation of the fast, there was no other use of social media in this act of political activism. As I now reflect on digital activism, I realized that I could have incorporated social media in many more ways to help promote the Invisible Children message.

I Have A Digital Footprint?!

I began a search to discover my own digital footprint, by running part of my name through a google search. When I searched the name Mercedes Alfaro, I did not find any information that pertained to me. I learned that there were many impressive doctors in many areas named Mercedes Alfaro, but that did not help me in my investigation of my digital footprint.

I decided to narrow my search my googling my full legal name, Mercedes Vanessia Alfaro-Bretthauer. This search did turn up with one of the first hits being a site called  I had never heard of this site before this search. On this site, my age was listed with some information regarding my previous addresses. The site still had me listed as currently living at one of my previous addresses. The full address information was not disclosed on the website, just enough for me recognize it. What really concerned me was that on the website, there was an option to do a full “background check” on me and find out my current phone number and access the full address information. I could not choose the option to see my full background check unless I made an account and I didn’t want to give the website any more information than they already had. There was an option to remove the information from the website, but when I selected it it took me to a sign up page again. I don’t have the slightest clue how this information ended up on this page, but I’m sure it has to be violating some sort of privacy laws.

Next I chose to do an image search of my common name, Mercedes Alfaro. The majority of the images were of other women, however the search did turn up with two pictures of me, both embarrassing. The first image that came up of me was my profile picture for my myspace account from when I was in middle school. When I tried to go to the site where the image was retrieved, I couldn’t because it was restricted. The next image that surfaced during the search was the picture of me that was used for my identification badge for the public school that I work in. When I go to the page that the image was retrieved from, I am taken to the gering public schools staff website page.

Finally, I searched myself through the video search on google and after quite a bit of digging, I found some videos that I posted on youtube for previous assignments in other classes. One of the videos I found I was teaching a lesson on multiplication. In another, I was showing the sign language vocabulary that I was learning and finally an introduction of my musical background.

In all, I found that there is not a whole lot of information about me on the internet aside from school work and general information regarding my age and location. My digital footprint is small and someone would need to really dig if they wanted to find me online.