Wes' Words

My blog includes my reflections on teaching and learning.  My posts will be written based on my experiences as a student in the Information and Learning Technologies M.A. program and a classroom teacher.

Team Ziggy Stardust is Engaging with Art: Identity, Community, and Opportunity

posted Sep 9, 2015, 3:51 AM by Wesley Akers   [ updated Sep 10, 2015, 6:19 PM ]

August 30, 2015
    Team Ziggy Stardust is comprised of Wesley Akers, Susannah Simmons, and La Dawna Minnis, based upon a common curiosity for and appreciation of public art. After initially connecting on social media, we soon found that although we have different professional backgrounds and are in different ILT tracks our common passion for creative endeavors united our efforts. Each one of our diverse research topics shares a common thread of designing, creating, or engaging with art; moreover, the impact on individual and community identity, civic engagement, and future economic opportunities.

Q#1: How is community identity impacted through designing/creating/engaging with music in public spaces?

    The A Center for Engaged Spirituality has been evolving and reinventing itself for the past 116 years. Its roots in Christianity have expanded to meet the needs of broader beliefs and accommodate those looking for a more inclusive spiritual community. At the A Center, music is being used as a tool to take people to places that exist beyond words.  The World Music Program Director organizes stellar live music to promote connection and higher awareness every week at the A Center. Hence the question, “How does community identity occur through designing/creating/engaging with music in community groups?”
    The words church and religion detour many people from such community places like the A Center. How is the A Center promoting community identity by engaging members through music, which indirectly increases membership, affords financial stability, and influence the larger community? Creating new possibilities for members to design, create, and engage with music could contribute to growing community identity, increasing civic engagement, and developing future economic opportunities.
    Participants will include musicians, members of the congregation, and any social media connections made in this process.

Data Collection:
    Interviews will be conducted with, videos taken, and surveys will be given to
  • Members of the congregation
  • Musicians
about their beliefs around 
  • Althea community identity, engagement, ownership, and pride
  • their economic future in Capitol Hill
  • music
  • tools for designing, creating, and engaging with music
    Positive impacts of exploring the A Center engagement through music could broaden awareness of the music program, higher attendance, and more financial stability. Negative impacts could include that focusing on the music only will detract from other programs at the A Center as well as potentially distracting members from worship through surveys, videos, and pictures during musical performances.

Q#2: How does learning occur through designing, creating, or engaging with public art in schools?
    Graffiti can be seen all over School A being used to vandalize buildings and to identify gang territory. In the spring, sixth graders at School A participate in a 9-week instructional unit focusing on the impact of graffiti art and vandalism on communities. At the end of the unit, students create a blueprint for a graffiti mural they believe would have a positive impact on their community and/or school and justifying it with an written artist’s statement.

    Stigmas attached to graffiti vandalism limit it’s use as a learning tool for fostering identity as a school community and negatively impacts school ownership and pride. Additionally, graffiti stigmas limit possible future economic opportunities for students. Teaching about public art and graffiti presents an opportunity for students to develop positive individual and school identity and increase sense of ownership in their life and community. 
    School A students, faculty, and staff will participate by sharing their beliefs about the impacts of designing, creating, and engaging with public art. 
Data Collection
    Interviews will be conducted with and surveys will be given to
  • 7th and 8th grade students who have completed the graffiti unit in sixth grade 
  • 6th graders who will take the graffiti unit in the spring
  • School A faculty and staff 
about their beliefs around 
  • school community identity, engagement, ownership, and pride
  • their economic future 
  • public art
  • graffiti art and vandalism
  • tools for designing, creating, and engaging with art
    Ideally positive impacts will emerge around learning how to create public art that encourages positive school identity development, engagement, ownership, and pride. Negative impacts could present themselves because graffiti is illegal in most cases. As students learn more about graffiti, there is also a concern that the amount of illegal graffiti vandalism will increase.

Q#3: How is individual identity impacted through designing/creating/engaging with art in online spaces? 
    Designing/creating/engaging with art has a big impact on developing individual identity and . Through the use of new technologies, designing/creating/engaging art is happening online more frequently. New technologies also allow for collaborative production of designed online spaces and artworks. 
    Low accessibility to traditional cultural institutions limits opportunities for citizens in rural and underserved areas for designing/creating/engaging. Creating new opportunities for
designing/creating/engaging in the arts through shared online spaces could minimize this lack of opportunity.
    The participants in this study will include members of online affinity spaces that feature activities for designing/creating/engaging with art.
Data Collection
    Interviews will be conducted with and surveys will be given to
  • members of online affinity spaces 
about their beliefs around 
  • how designing/creating/engaging in the arts has impacted their individual identity, sense of community, and economic opportunities 
  • what tools are commonly used in their processes
    Inclusion of data collection from online affinity spaces will allow for a more diverse demographic in data collection and potentially yield a wide breadth of responses. While the diversity of response could be helpful, it may also be difficult to identify trends and themes. In addition, due to the anonymity of online spaces there may be a portion of responses that are incomplete or off-topic.

INTE 6720 - Fired Up! Ready to Go!

posted Sep 9, 2015, 3:50 AM by Wesley Akers

August 20, 2015

    Hello INTE6720!  I'm excited to begin our adventure in Action Research.  Here is a little about me.

    I earned my undergraduate degree from the University of West Florida in Pensacola, FL in Middle School Education specializing in English Language Arts and Social Sciences. After completing my student teaching, I was offered a job teaching on the same team as my mentor teacher and spent the next 4 years teaching an integrated curriculum. After some soul searching, I decided to make a life change and move to Colorado. I took a job at Adams City Middle School in Commerce City teaching sixth grade English and I just started my fourth year in the same role. Last summer, I began pursuing a graduate degree at UCD in ILT. In my free time, I enjoy spending time hiking with my dog Reba, creating new recipes, sampling craft beer, and photographing graffiti. 

    In the spring semester, I took the Trends course with Remi and I recommend approaching text and projects from a critical perspective. In our conversations, Remi has encouraged me to challenge and question my ideas and those of others. I would also encourage you to reach out to Remi anytime you have a question or concern. He makes himself readily available to his students. Even better, I have always left our conferences feeling like I had a better understanding of my problem and that I was on a path to resolving it. 
    I included this picture because it shows Reba and I hiking this summer. I stayed in Denver for the summer and did not travel because I was buying a house. Instead of vacationing, I took Reba to the mountains and we hiked trails in Boulder, Golden, Evergreen, and Idaho Springs. It was refreshing being outdoors for both Reba. Before I adopted her, Reba was found running wild in a state park in Missouri so she feels at home in nature.
   Regarding my research interests, I am most curious about blended learning in Title I middle schools, especially those serving English language learners. I am drawn to these topics because I want to learn information I can apply in my classroom and school. This school year I have decided I’m ready to take on a stronger leadership role in my school. With four years at ACMS under my belt, I feel comfortable enough with my curriculum to focus some of my energy on collaborating with colleagues to make important site-based decisions.  I want to make sure I'm contributing ideas based on research so we can make the best possible decisions for our kids.

Research Questions
I'm most curious about questions 6, 7, 9, 14.
  1. How does leveraging family influence middle schoolers’ learning?
  2. Why are many Title 1 schools a setting for students with language deficiencies?
  3. When does design have the greatest impact on students’ engagement?
  4. Where is research being done to study the impact standardized assessment has on ELLs’ language acquisition?
  5. How does student leadership impact adolescents’ literacy?
  6. How can I meet CCSS using blended learning and BYOD practices?
  7. How can social media be used to differentiated instruction?
  8. What role should media play in language acquisition?
  9. How does social media impact adolescent ELLs language acquisition?
  10. How are project-based learning, differentiated instruction, and language acquisition blended successfully?
  11. What are best practices for behavior management of students who are not motivated?
  12. How can I use media to maximize student engagement in our graffiti unit?
  13. What research is being done about using CCSS-based grading practices to increase students’ motivation?
  14. How can social media be used to promote teacher leadership and collaboration?
  15. What research-based behavior management practices are most successful in Title I schools?
Research Word List
  • engagement
  • graffiti
  • social media
  • project-based
  • differentiation
  • language acquisition
  • leadership
  • ELLs
  • literacy
  • collaboration
  • behavior management
  • adolescents
  • BYOD
  • Title I
  • blended learning
  • family
  • Common Core
  • standardized assessment
  • middle school
  • motivation

Online Privacy and Digital Citizenship for Kids

posted Sep 9, 2015, 3:48 AM by Wesley Akers

    When I think about privacy and security in the digital age, I want to halt my social network activity and retreat to simple forms of communication like email. There have been times this semester I have felt that way. When I first started building my base camps and NLS, I was initially uncomfortable with establishing a greater online presence because I felt vulnerable sharing myself with an unknown audience. I was comforted with the idea that I am able to control the content I included on my website and focus on my professional experiences and ideas. I feel I have this cautiousness because I have seen the consequences of careless and foolish use of social networking like Carly the Crunk Bear. Examples like Carly have shaped the ways I use and do not use social media. 

    My students do not approach social networking withe same cautiousness. I often worry about my students' use of social networking and how little they consider the long term implications of their activity. It is very important for teachers and families to show kids how to safely, securely, and intelligently use social networking to avoid making mistakes that would come back to haunt them. Additionally, it is necessary to develop smart social networking habits early so they are engrained in kids' behaviors. I found this collection of resources from Edutopia about Digital Citizenship that would be beneficial for anyone helping kids maintain safety and privacy online.

Hmmmm, MOOCs

posted Sep 9, 2015, 3:46 AM by Wesley Akers   [ updated Sep 9, 2015, 3:47 AM ]

    MOOCs are in line with my ideas about all people having access to education.  I believe MOOCs can offer learning opportunities to people who may not have the resources or desire to participate in traditional higher education.  I also like the idea that MOOCs threaten and challenge the systems and practices of traditional higher education because I believe it will forces antiqued institutions to adopt progressive policies. 
    I do appreciate the blog "MOOCs are a fundamental misperception of how teaching works" because it acknowledges the necessity of highly qualified teachers in the classroom.  However, I think MOOCs can be rooted in effective pedagogical practices if the designer is a highly qualified teacher.  As technology develops and learners evolve, educational professionals need to update and expand their beliefs about the role an effective teacher plays in the learning process.  

Retrieved on Flickr from Mathieu Plourde
Retrieved from Flickr from Mathieu Plourade

The Power of Being Vulnerable

posted Sep 9, 2015, 3:45 AM by Wesley Akers

    Building positive relationships has been at the forefront of my behavior management plan. Christopher R. Friend's article emphasizes the necessity of breaking silence about who we (teachers) are as real people. In honor of National Coming Out Day, Friend shares an unpleasant experience and focuses on his missed opportunity to be vulnerable and real to his students. Without vulnerability, it is difficult to build trusting relationships and this article challenges us to break our silence about the parts of our lives we hide from students. Although there are some parts of my life I would never share with my students, I think the challenge to be vulnerable to students is worthy and the payoff is meaningful. I linked the article to the image below.


Simple Scaffolding

posted Sep 9, 2015, 3:44 AM by Wesley Akers

    Sometimes I view scaffolding and differentiation as overwhelming tasks. When students encounter roadblocks preventing them from accessing text and content, I too often rush to a teacher lead mini-lesson. But in reality, all students need are the words to get them started thinking, writing, reading, or talking. This article by Rebecca Alber describes three simple, yet highly effective scaffolding strategies for giving kids the words they need to get started. Nearly every day, I incorporate all three strategies into my daily lessons and can attest to their success. I linked the article to the image below.

I'm a Snapper

posted Sep 9, 2015, 3:42 AM by Wesley Akers

    Over the last few weeks, Snapchat has become my favorite app.  It is the prefect way to share ordinary, yet humorous parts of my day.  Too often, I over analyze the photos I add to other social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  When I add a photo to one of those sites, there is a feeling I am permanently adding to digital footprint.  Snapchat allows me to be silly without having a photo plastered on my Facebook for eternity.  I like the how Snapchat allows users to only add and view photos for seconds.  I also like the My Story option, whcih allows users to view their friends photos for 24 hours.  It has been  difficult for me to joke around with my friends via social networks and it's exciting to find a new app that lets me do that.  Below is a link to a Buzz Feed article listing some hilarious 28 Harry Potter inspired Snapchats.  I think #1 is my favorite.  Potterheads will enjoy!

Staying Current with Social Media

posted Sep 9, 2015, 3:41 AM by Wesley Akers

    I have always been hesitant to be overly visible on Facebook because I did not want my life or ideas to become too public. As I began my teaching career, I discovered many pages devoted to sharing teaching strategies, curriculum resources, and education current events. These Facebook pages have inspired my practice and passion for teaching. Once I started taking the INTE5665 course, I realized it is also important for me to share the resources I have found. Here are a few Facebook pages I find helpful for teachers trying to stay current and fresh.

Zinn Education Project: The Zinn Education Project promotes and supports teaching a people’s history. The Zinn Education Project promotes and supports the use of Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States and other materials for teaching a people’s history in middle and high school classrooms.  By following this page, I have gained many resources for teaching history from multiple perspectives.

Rethinking Schools: Rethinking School is a nonprofit publisher dedicated to strengthening public education through social justice teaching & education activism.  This page provides me with current research and news articles about changes in public education policy and practice.

OpenEd: OpenEd provides teachers with access to the best educational resources (videos, games, and exercises), especially for finding the right resources for Common Core standards.  The OpenEd page hosts many resources I have used in my classroom.

Free Technology for Teachers: Teachers are provided with ideas for using free technology resources in their classrooms.  I like this page offers teachers quality technology resources for all classrooms and content areas.

Common Core: Common Core seeks to ensure that all students, regardless of their circumstance, receive a content-rich education in the full range of the liberal arts and sciences, including English, mathematics, history, the arts, science, and foreign languages.  By following the Common Core page, I can stay update with how the organization changes. 

Social Media and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

posted Sep 9, 2015, 3:39 AM by Wesley Akers   [ updated Sep 9, 2015, 3:39 AM ]

    I think the social media coverage of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has only worked for the ALS cause because it has brought some much attention to a disease that was previously not in the headlines. ALS was not high on our radar as a disease communities were working together to bring awareness to and raising money for. I think about the other organizations and events designed to raise money for different types of cancer and ALS was not on the same level until the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral. Now, ALS has high name recognition among people of all ages. One of the greatest benefits is the engagement and involvement of young people under the age of 18. Many kids who were previous unaware of different non-profits’ causes have become apart of learning what it means to educate themselves in a cause and participate in making a difference. Although many question the sincerity of some people’s quest to become more involved in ALS fundraising or research, I think that is not a problem. The Ice Bucket Challenge reminds all of us there are causes in which we care about and those are the causes we need to become more involved in. 

Learning as an Adult

posted Sep 9, 2015, 3:36 AM by Wesley Akers   [ updated Sep 9, 2015, 3:37 AM ]

    My learning experience is ongoing as my previous attempts have been unsuccessful. For the past six months, I have trying to become literate in Spanish using Rosetta Stone. I have made two attempts to engage in the self-directed learning modules, but I have quit each time. With each failed attempt, I lost motivation to continue progressing through the tutorials. After reading the articles and reflecting on my experience, I think sustaining motivation and engaging in honest reflection with others are essential to mastery of new skills. 

    At the start of the learning process, enthusiasm plays a large part in engaging the learner and hopefully sustaining motivation adults need when the learning gets tough. My concern, however, is many adult learners quickly lose the initial enthusiasm of taking on a new challenge and succumb to the discomfort of failure. When I first bought the software, I was excited about taking on a new project and learning something new I can use in many parts of my life. I think many adult learners feel this initial excitement for learning but lose motivation once they get in the thick of it. Although I was experiencing burnout from the school year, I think I lost my motivation because I lost sight of my purpose. Upon reflection, my true motivation and purpose for learning Spanish is to be a better teacher for my students and their parents. I lost sight of my goal and gave into the external and internal factors that were bringing me down. Finding a solid purpose for learning is essential for adult learners’ success because it is an important motivator when trudging through their learning process. Purpose must be meaningful and personal to the learner in order for it to be truly motivating. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. 

    With a significant purpose, adult learners are also more willing to engage in trial and error. As an experienced learner, adults know it is difficult to master a new skill on the first try. Even when unsuccessful, I believe motivated adult learners are willing to jump back in the saddle and try again. Adult learners have a better understanding that learning a new skill is not impossible when enough effort is put forth. It seems the amount of effort required of adult learners is greater and requires more repetition. Adult learners must be able to sustain their motivation through the trial and error process, even when it means repeated failures. Personally, I have not given up on my goal to learn Spanish because I know I can do it. My optimism allows me to avoid belittling myself for giving up and pushes me to evaluate where I went wrong. 

    By evaluating successes and failures, I speculate adult learners are better able to make shifts in their learning in order to reach mastery. Successful adults learners will most likely evaluate how they were unsuccessful and make a plan to overcome their obstacles. When adult learners give up, I think it is a result of not knowing how to recover and move forward after a failure. Additionally, I wonder if unsuccessful adult learners seek out experts’ critiques of their skills. Unsuccessful adult learners seem to struggle to apply the suggestions of others because it deviates away from their self-directed plan. They do not have an optimistic outlook about their own learning process, which leads them to feel isolated and insecure. I have felt that way in my learning process and it is very uncomfortable. 

    After engaging in multiple unsuccessful attempts, I believe adult learners do become discouraged and begin questioning their intelligence or skills. These negative thoughts and feelings could lead an adult learner to isolation because they might be embarrassed to show others their lack of mastery. I think adults have a perception that everyone else already learned the skill and they are behind their peers in some way. Their unsuccessful attempts make them feel inferior to others. A pessimistic mentality can cloud an adult learner’s purpose and stunt their motivation to continue the learning process. With my two failed attempts, I experienced some of these feelings. Most of my students speak Spanish. When I tried to practice with them, I felt stupid because I made mistakes pronouncing words or conjugating verbs. My insecurity contributed to the decline in my motivation. Insecurity also caused me to disengage in practice with fluent speakers and avoid reflecting on the feedback I got from them. 

    As I reflect, I am realizing my insecurity and discomfort needs to be embraced because it is how I will overcome the obstacles causing me to quit. I believe the same is true for struggling adult learners. The discomfort of failure causes us to lose sight of our purpose. To embrace the discomfort, it is necessary to have others’ help. Before mastery can be achieved, all learners need to become comfortable accepting and processing constructive feedback. Without others’ feedback, adult leaners will find they fall back into the same patterns and routines that lead to their failure in previous attempts. Thinking about these ideas have lead me to the belief that adult learners need to be part of a purposeful, constructive, and reflective learning community. We cannot do it on our own and we need each other in order to reach our goals. With a meaningful purpose and constructive, supportive learning community, I feel adult learners can be successful in mastering new skills. 

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