Category Archives: Technology

No Retreat, No Surrender

We need to make sure we’re making it possible for people of all genders to feel acknowledged for their contributions and not feel held back by something as arbitrary as their genetics or appearance.
– Emily Graslie

Chief Curiosity Coordinator has to be one of the most awesome job titles ever. The position, created by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, is held by Emily Graslie, who is STEAM (Science – Technology – Engineering – Art – Mathematics) personified. A studio art major, she interned at the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum, where she was tapped to host her own show on YouTube, “The Brain Scoop,” to show and discuss the behind-the-scenes workings of a major natural history museum. She also manages a tumblr by the same name.

Ms. Graslie’s path to success is one which may have been impossible a decade ago; certainly, YouTube didn’t begin service until 2005. In 2012, successful vlogger Hank Green, who lives in Missoula, Montana, met Ms. Graslie when she was tapped to guide him around the university’s Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum for one of his shows. She did so well on camera, and provoked so many positive comments, that Mr. Green offered her her own YouTube channel within his science-focused Nerdfighters community. Some of the staffers at the Field Museum of Natural History had seen and liked her show, so when she called and asked permission to film there, they not only gave her permission to do so but also set up three day’s worth of tours, invited her to “after-hours get-togethers,” and eventually offered her her dream job. (Graslie) She was just two years out of college and had not yet even earned her Masters (currently on hold due to work obligations).

Yet, as a woman in science, Ms. Graslie’s career path has not been all sunshine and roses. As NPR correspondent Robert Krulwich noted in the piece Science Reporter Emily Graslie Reads Her Mail – And It’s Not So Nice, “It turns out her mail is, well, troubling.” Much of it focuses on her looks, often in crude terms. On her blog, Ms. Graslie notes, “The remarks are enough to make me want to throw my hands up and retreat to a tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere. (…) Let’s not create that kind of environment for our peers. Let’s be supportive, encouraging. Focus on the content, not the presenter. Ignoring the fact that these comments are uncomfortable is dismissive and counter-productive: let’s have less tolerance for both those comments, and the apathetic attitude attached to how they affect our community.” The video lasts about six minutes, and is well worth watching.

This week is Computer Science Education Week, and our school is participating in the Hour of Code. As experience and comfort with computers becomes increasingly important in our society (as reflected in the growing numbers of college students of all majors who are taking at least a few courses in Computer Science), it will be wonderful for all the kids to join the 4,000,000 students worldwide who are participating. And beyond that, perhaps the experience will awaken, or confirm, or deepen some of the students’ interest in and commitment to STEAM fields.

I am quite certain there is not one member of our community who wants any of our students to be subjected to the kind of harassment and abuse which is a daily part of Ms. Graslie’s life. Yet, she is after all only a few years older than our oldest students. Even the most hopeful of optimists has to concede our future STEAM majors will undoubtedly be facing a certain sexism. Fortunately, they will carry with them the benefits of having attended a girls school – a greater sense of agency, self-esteem derived from within, experience in an environment 100% comfortable with the concept of women loving and being skilled at STEAM. Fortunately, they know that those of us who support them now – parents, friends, faculty – are also working towards a world where they will be unquestioningly accepted for who they are regardless of gender.

My mother, a Physics major and college professor, was subjected throughout her career to the same kind of overt harassment as Ms. Graslie has experienced, and more subtle sexism as well. She has said things are better now than they were, but not as good as they could have been, and not remotely as good as they need to be. It’s time to step up the pace of change. Ms. Graslie’s words provide the direction. It’s up to all of us to join her in taking the lead.

(note: the title of this post was taken from the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen’s song “No Surrender.”)

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Filed under Current Events, Gender, Technology, Women in media

Expanding the Possible

“You might want to have someone go with you, so you don’t walk into a wall,” I said. Erin was just pages away from the ending of To Kill a Mockingbird and had stood up and started walking to her next class without ever taking her eyes off the open book. Erin asked, “Isabela, will you go with me so I don’t walk into a wall?” Isabela smiled and said, “Okay,” and they drifted off together.

Erin was not alone in having become utterly immersed and captivated by the book – several other seventh graders had also read ahead, moaning at the end of study hall and refusing to put the book down. Bekah had just finished reading Atticus’s summation at Tom Robinson’s trial, and marveled at how captivating and compelling the two-page speech was. Juliana looked over at me and said, “Oh my God, this book is so good! It makes me want to be a lawyer!” I paused and thought for a second. “Interesting. It makes me want to be a writer. And yet, we’d be doing the same kinds of things and for the same reasons.” Juliana smiled back, told me, “I’m so glad I’m in Debate,” shouldered her backpack, and headed off to Art and Culture.

Earlier in the day, a group of Humanities 7 students had presented their completed video of an original script they had written for independent writing. Shot on the fly during class, study halls, and whenever opportunities presented themselves, the video was a tightly edited (okay, they accidentally showed the ending twice – but that aside!), well-paced, both funny and moving work, and the students looked justifiably proud of their efforts as the class applauded at the (real) ending.

It feels like we are officially in the iPad era of the school now. Never before had students done a script together for independent writing, and that may well be in part because never before have they been able to shoot and edit a video so quickly and instinctively. My prediction and hope had been that having iPads would enable us to greatly expand how we communicate with each other, and we seem to be started along that path now. Some students are rushing headlong down the path, others treading it more slowly and deliberately, but all are headed in the same direction. Yet, for many of us, there is also something timeless about books, real, books with covers and artwork and the smell and touch of paper. There’s a place, we realize, for every technology, from different ways of physically marking on surfaces (paint on cave walls, pen on paper, purple dry-erase markers on white boards, etc.) to books to cameras to computers and more. Different tools for different tasks.

Several weeks ago, I had planned to present the note-taking app “Notability” to my class, but on a hunch, I asked when we got to that point in my lesson plan, “Have any of you already tried Notability?” About six out of 14 had. “Do any of you feel confident enough to come up and show the rest of the class about it?” Several did, and we agreed Juliana and Elizabeth would come up. They borrowed my iPad and stood next to the TV, and systematically and thoroughly showed the students everything Notability could do and how to do it. There were some questions along the way, but the students had such a strong intuitive sense of what their classmates would understand that most of the questions that might have arisen were answered simply in how well the presentation went.

Dr. JoAnn Deak says the core elements of self-esteem in girls are confidence, competence, and connectedness. Our school’s mission statement is all about voice and being one’s own best self. That learning moment crystallized how we go about meeting our mission, and why we are so effective in doing so. Technology is a part of that – but as a means to an end. Never an end in itself.

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Filed under On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Technology, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School