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Education | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother
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A Tale of 3 Audiences and a Hammer

Last week, I spoke to 170 high school students about how they can brand themselves better with social media. Message: what happens on Facebook can help or hurt you in the job market. Add good content.

This week, I showed over 50 somethings how to use Facebook. Message: use it to build relationships and promote your community.

And I attended RE Barcamp in Indianapolis, honing my own social media skills for business. Message: leverage it to add content to build your business.

3 audiences, different demographics, different reasons for using social media.  All still had the same message:

  • Be honest
  • Be positive
  • Teach
  • Delight or amuse
  • Share your toys
  • Help your friends

In each audience, I heard a few negative comments:

  • Students won’t learn anything with social media.
  • People are selfish and stupid in social media and in real life.
  • Facebook is stupid, but I have to learn to use it to see pictures of my grandkids.

I disagree with all of the above:

  • College classrooms can use Twitter as a backchannel for life conversation. Three business owners from Evansville IN and two business consultants from Washington, D.C., talked to our high school groups live, while we were presenting. Live classroom conversation with pros around the world excited students more than a traditional lecture.
  • People on social media want to do good things. They just need to see how. This month, I saw strangers offer a guitar for a paraplegic student who wanted to try to learn to play. Strangers donated meals for an anonymous family facing a medical emergency. When a young mother faced a 14 hour surgery, prayer requests spread via social media around the planet. When a local shelter for the poor needed funds, an active social media user posted requests and personally collected over $1,200 in 3 hours.
  • The older man who said he thought Facebook was stupid left my class two hours later, ready to promote community events in his own hometown.

Social media is a tool, like a hammer.  If I have a hammer, I can choose how to use it.  I can tear things down or I can build them up.

If I have a hammer, I would rather use it build a home, a tribe, a village, and a better world.

Whatever I do with that hammer will show in social media.

Will the social media mirror show you using your hammer to build a town or tear one down?

Tiptoe with the Typewriters

“Young people get this stuff easier.”

For 14 years, I’ve worked as a corporate computer trainer. My biggest success story was a 70 year old lady who learned to keyboard and moved up to designing databases in 6 months.  She said, “If I can outlive 2 husbands in marriages of more than 20 years each, I can learn to use a computer.”

The biggest challenge is overcoming the Fear Factor.  I tried an experiment that can help. 

I did turnabout with high school students.  I divided 10 students into 2 teams and brought in typewriters for the challenge. One team had an electric typewriter, and the other had a manual. They had an assignment to type a page of text in an hour. I gave them 0 instructions on how to use a typewriter.

Questions asked:

  • Where’s the printer?
  • This typewriter needs a new toner. (I showed how to rotate the ribbon wheel.)
  • You have to push this bar for EVERY line?

It took each team at least 5 minutes to figure out how to put a sheet of paper into the typewriter.  Within an hour, each team had typed a paragraph.

I got out a bottle of liquid paper and told them, “This is spellcheck.”

After the challenge, I noted their frustration.  Then I told them I learned to type on a manual typewriter and remember when my school got a single row of electric typewriters. 

Then I told the teens that the amount of change I had encountered would be miniscule to what they will see by the time they are my age.

Finally, I added – to be open to the challenges those changes present. 

Never quit learning. Broaden your horizons. Try something new.

Yes, when I got my Android it took me a month to use it comfortably. My teens had to show me how to make a phone call and answer it. But I did learn it.

You can learn it too.

Think of it as a tiptoe through the typewriters to the 21st century.

Oil Spill Cleanup Robotics Contest

Competitors arrived at 5 p.m. and learned what the contest was about.  They had until 6:30 p.m. to design and put together their robot for the contest.  During their experiment time, they could test the course.

This is what they were given:

A terrible oil spill has happened this summer in the Gulf of Mexico.  Robots are being used to assist in the cleanup.  You must decide how your robot is going to improve the situation.  You will have 2 runs during the contest.  You can practice run before the contest. You have 5 minutes maximum for each run.

  1. Swap containment cap: Remove cap from pipe and replace it with another one. (10 points, for removal of the first cap and 20 more points, for placing the other cap on it.
  2. Move berms off the shore and into the ocean to try to prevent the oil from coming ashore. (5 points per berm that reaches the new goal.)
  3. Pick up tar balls from distant shore. (1 point per tar ball)
  4. Caution: avoid hitting the 2 oil skimmers. (robot dogs) (3 point deduction per hit)
  5. Avoid hitting the hydro fire oil boom (10 point deduction per hit)

As an added bonus, since this related to a real life scenario, each team could try for bonus points in Internet research. A laptop with Internet access was provided if they wanted to use it.

Bonus Questions (1 point each):

You may use the Internet to find answers to these questions.

  1. When did the oil spill begin?
  2. What is the name of the oil company that had the oil spill?
  3. Which of these challenges listed has a robot really been doing this weekend?
  4. How is a new containment cap supposed to help with oil spill cleanup?
  5. What do the berms do?
  6. What are tar balls, and where are they?
  7. What is the job of the oil skimmers?
  8. How has the Jones Act, or Merchant Marine Act of 1920, impacted oil spill cleanup?
  9. What is a species of animal impacted by the spill and how does it impacts them?
  10. What is a business or industry hurt by the oil spill and how?
  11. What does a hydro fire oil boom do?
  12. The largest maker of oil spill equipment in the U.S. is in Carmi, Illinois. What is its name?

I hoped the contest would help the participants better understand different problems and solutions with the oil spill, so they could better follow future updates on it. 

Our contest this year experimented with new features we had never seen tried.  We changed the judging with individual judging plus team judging.  We added an impromptu Internet research unit.

How did our changes work? That’s tomorrow’s blog.

A 4-H Robotics Contest with a Twist

My kids have been involved in robotics contests the past 4 years.  They enjoy them, and I love the varied skills learned in a single contest.  First, there are the technical skills: a problem is presented, and a whole team has to work to solve it.  Physics, mechanics, engineering ingenuity, and computer programming are all key elements.  Second, there are team building skills: team members must learn to communicate and work together.

Besides being a parent, I’m a 4-H leader in Evansville, Indiana.  4-H has a major emphasis towards science, engineering, and technology and has a national goal of inspiring 1 million new scientists for our new century.  I began the process to have a robotics project in our county. 

A robotics project wasn’t enough, however.  We needed a club that focused on technology.  I didn’t want a robotics club; when Edison invented the light bulb, were there light bulb clubs? It’s more than robotics.  Our information revolution is the biggest transformer of world culture since the Industrial Revolution, and I wanted our kids to be ready to be the best riders in the world Technological Rodeo.

So we began a Technology Club.  (Actually, the kids in the club voted they didn’t like that name and renamed it Tech Club.)  At each monthly meeting, we have a different workshop topic in engineering, electrical science, aerospace, computers, and physics.  Each member tackles a 4-H project in one of those areas and gives a demonstration each year in one of those areas.

Our county sends several teen 4-H members every summer to participate in science and engineering workshops.  I hope, with our club, we raise the interest in those workshops and the knowledge base of those who participate.

We also organize our county’s robotics contest. The last 2 years, the contest has mirrored other contests in which my kids participate, with teams competing against one another.  Our contest is an impromptu design contest;  kids don’t know until they arrive what the challenge is and have limited time in which to complete it.

This year’s contest adds an element almost out of a reality show.  In addition to the team contest, we will have judges observing the competitors individually.  They will evaluate the competitors both in problem solving and team building skills.  And they will award an individual champion in each of 3 age divisions. I have not seen another robotics contest try this twist and am curious to see how the experiment works.

Problem Solving:

  1. Understands challenges presented and develops strategies to overcome them.
  2. Develops a good robotics design for the challenge.
  3. Assists in robotic programming to meet the challenge.
  4. Demonstrates strong troubleshooting skills.
  5. Is able to make needed adjustments to robotic design or problem solving.

 Team Building: 

  1. Participates on the team.
  2. Communicates constructively with other team members, actively listening to them.
  3. Encourages participation of all team members; pulls strengths from individuals to build a better team.
  4. Takes good care of robot and its parts.
  5. Treats everyone in the robotics contest in a respectful and supportive manner.

My goal is to teach the 4-H members to not only strive to win but to strive to win well.  We’ll know later tonight whether my experiment to mix up the contest is a success or an epic fail.

Either way, our leaders and our club will learn by doing.

Social Media Savvy = the New Survival Skill

“Kids have to have the skills for this century,” I told a mother about social media.

“Yes, I know. That’s why my kids study robotics,” was her answer.

Robotics has as much to do with social media as an electric weedeater does with cars. Operating one has nothing whatsoever to do with the other.

Sometimes parents tell me that letting their kids use social media is a privilege.  I’ll add to that: it’s a parent’s responsibility to ensure their teens know how to use social media. 

Not just to post

  • “I’m booooorreeed. Text me at xxxxx.” on FB. 
  • photos of girls gone wild on spring break on Myspace
  • videos of boys busting out all over on Youtube
  • status lines like “I hate my job cause my boss is stupid and our customers are a royal pain.”
  • joining groups celebrating flatulence with four letter words.

Parents must encourage their kids to add content and value to the social media conversation.  Teach by example is the best way.

This is a survival skill. Watch Socialnomics on Youtube.  Already more people search Facebook for info than Google.  Employers evaluate social media in their hiring decisions. Scholarship committees background check before giving money.

As parents, we pay for SAT/ACT prep classes.  We seek tutors, drive kids to sports, and work to help them get ready for college. Shouldn’t we also help them develop social media skills to distinguish themselves from the pack?

Legally, teens can begin to use most media outlets at age 13. Don’t start them early; not everything on social media is G rated. Do start them as a younger teen so you can observe their use of social media and they can learn to handle tough situations. This is like driving lessons – you want to coach your kids through their first experience driving on ice to help them learn to handle the slick spots.

Basic ways teens can use social media well and benchmarks they need:

  • Post information on Facebook. Know how to discern friends and how to post appropriately.
  • Discern who to add as friends and who to refuse. Understand privacy settings and how to adjust them.
  • Upload photos and videos directly to Facebook and have the wisdom to know the difference between a photo to post and 1 to delete.
  • Upload a video to Youtube by age 16.
  • Create and maintain a written blog by age 17. I use WordPress. Let your kids write their blog on their passion. When they write about what excites them, it will develop their knowledge base, their interest, and their writing skills.
  • Search Twitter by age 17 and set up a  Twitter account by age 18. (Under 18 Twitter account could be under a pseudonym with a non-face photo for security purposes.)
  • Use Twitter well by age 18 – to engage in conversations and real time chats. College textbooks are often dated as soon as they are printed. Twitter is the fastest way to keep up with tech changes and opportunities in every field and to meet the industry thought leaders.
  • Create a LinkedIn profile before leaving for college and begin to collect references and network contacts.
  • Know how to audit their social media footprint and make sure they are branding themselves well.

Bad things can happen when teens drive cars. So we teach them to drive well & pray they stay safe.

Ditto for social media.

Caveman Skool

Caveman Skool was the ultimate place for ambitious cavemen.  Their graduates were heavy lifters and great hunters.  As word spread from fire to fire, they expanded to two classes.

One day, something new rolled towards the school fire: a wheel.

Alpha class cavemen had a new toy! They rolled it between each other.  One smashed rocks with it.  They raced it.  Instead of listening in Grunting While Lifting, they painted their wheel.  

Alpha Class Teacher roared and banged his stick: “No more wheels in my class! Back to basics!” He rolled the wheel down the hill and demand his students listen to him.  They did, except when his back was turned and they had farting contests.  Followed by burping contests.  But they were heavy lifters.

Beta class cavemen got a new toy too.  After they played with it awhile, Beta Class teacher looked at what captured the class attention.  He played with it.  Then he asked the class: “How can we use this? What happens if we take 2 wheels and put a stick between them?”

As the students played, they built the first cart.  Their Grunting While Lifting class became the first Mechanical Design class – how to design the best wheeled cart to do the heavy lifting while you push.  Students got more excited, worked together, and honed their design.  Alpha students watched them in between their grunting contests.

After graduation, the Alpha class could lift heavier weights.  But the Beta graduates got all the business because they used wheeled carts.  In time, the Alpha cavemen went to work for those Beta grads who played in class with that wheel.  In their time off, Alpha cavemen still had their farting, grunting, and burping contests.

In the Beta grads’ time off, they still kept playing with that distracting wheel.  They invented better carts, then levers, then pulleys, and changed the world.

If you’re a teacher today, how do you use laptops, the Internet, and Social Media?

Are they a distraction, or are they a tool by which your students are preparing to harness new opportunities in our Information Revolution?

Are you training them to be lifters or thinkers? Or both?

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