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Revive Creativity in Schools

In the early 2000s, learning died in public schools. 14 years later, there is finally a push to resurrect true educational instruction and creativity. It only took 14 years. Let’s talk about standardized testing.

Chances are, you have more knowledge than can be encompassed in a series of darkened multiple choice bubbles. Chances are, your job, daily life, academic career, requires more skill than raising a number 2 pencil and rushing to beat a 2-hour time limit.

Arguably, the purpose behind implementing standardized tests like the PSSA was altruistic. The program, called No Child Left Behind, was intended to diagnose and correct holes in academic learning, especially for underprivileged school districts.

Implementing a standard, in theory, ensured that ever student had access to the same education that would provide them equal access to higher education. Not so. Any blanket measure applied to a large group (e.g. the entire student body of the United States) cannot be effectively carried out.

The issue is in implementation and overuse of the program. Schools that don’t meet the standards are threatened with budget cuts and the possibility of being shut down. Teachers are assessed on how well students perform on the exam, and both tenure and pay rest on this arbitrary quantification in some instances. This undoubtedly incentivizes schools to perform well on standardized tests, but at what cost?

Students spend hours on practice tests and some parents spend hundreds on tutors. Teachers teach only topics found on the tests, as their job security depends on it. Time taken for testing, a full week in the case of the PSSA, is lost for valuable instruction time.

Activities pushed aside include creative projects, reading stories aloud with the class, time outside in the fresh air watching tadpoles for a science project. These things may not lend themselves to a high test score or show up readily on a college transcript, but they foster curiosity, imagination and a passion for learning. Standardized testing killed the fundamentals of innovation and a desire to pursue knowledge in students.

Any grade school teacher can tell you that interest and passion are two of the necessary ingredients for a successful student. Any college professor would be more likely to cite the student who reaches beyond the confines of the classroom as the one most likely to achieve great things in an academic and practical environment.

Thankfully, there has been a recent push-back against the absurdity of extensive standardized testing. A 2015 article “Leave Testing Behind” chronicles the rise and fall of standardized testing and explains that more creative assessment strategies are gaining popularity in schools. Experiments, hands-on activities and projects can exhibit students’ skills in a more practically applicable way.

Although some argue that the subjectivity of these types of assessment interfere with their effectiveness, they are a better representation of real-world scenarios. They teach students to apply themselves creatively, think outside the box and problem solve. Additionally, a minimal amount of standardized testing could be incorporated into education without putting so much emphasis on performance and preparation.

Standardized testing can be incorporated in moderation, but schools and educators should emphasize the importance of creativity and a passion for learning in the future leaders of our world.

 

commoncore.

Opinion Analysis

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/opinion/sunday/poppy-bush-finally-gives-junior-a-spanking.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fmaureen-dowd&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=0

Maureen Dowd, opinion columnist for the New York Times, writes a scathing article about the Bush family and administration, titled “Poppy Bush Finally Gives Junior a Spanking.” Although at first confusing, the article shaped up to be witty and bitter, two things that I feel should be exemplified in an opinion article. I think it is important to make the distinction between a persuasive article and an opinion article; persuasion requires more finesse and more delicate treatment of the opposing viewpoint. Opinion can be very direct and possibly offensive to those who take an opposite viewpoint.
“Poppy Bush Finally Gives Junior a Spanking,” is a political commentary accompanied by criticism of the Bush family. Dowd introduces the topic with something entirely different, segueing from visiting the set of “Game of Thrones” (beginning with a popular entertainment topic draws readers in) to how the elder George Bush finally voiced his disappointment with George W. Bush’s foreign policy. I was confused by the title because in my mind, I thought Poppy Bush was a woman, although by the middle of the article I understood.
For my own opinion piece, I want a catchy, witty title that is clear to the reader. I liked the voice that Dowd used in her article; it was shrewd and intelligent, belying her passionate stance on the topic. An opinion piece is an opportunity to express one’s views as a writer, but good opinion pieces include hard facts and evidence. I think Dowd’s piece could have used a few more facts about her topic without detracting from her bold style. She effectively incorporated quotations and I intend to do the same in my piece. Dowd could have included more digital media.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/10/defeating-my-anxiety/

Another, very different, piece from the New York Times by J.L. Cowles called “Defeating my Anxiety,” contains opinions about religion. This piece is told like a narrative, detailing the author’s battle with anxiety and his solace in religion. The voice is much softer and less direct. The opinion is evident within the writing, but the purpose of the piece is less to explain an opinion and more to recount a story of overcoming anxiety.
I was surprised to find this in a section called “Opinionator.” I expected to find harsher rants in this category. I think this piece is an interesting way to express an opinion, but depending on the topic, it might not be effective. I will choose to emulate aa stronger, more deliberate style of opinion writing.

An Afternoon in Blimpsburg

BLOOMSBURG, Pa.- It started as a normal Wednesday in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, until a rogue blimp cut power to 35,000 people in the area, according to PPL spokesperson, Paul Wirth. At approximately 2:30pm on 26 October, power suddenly shut off on Bloomsburg University campus and in many homes and businesses.

At first, some attributed the power loss to high winds and inclement weather, but slowly the true story emerged, a North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) surveillance aircraft had come loose from its tethering and had drifted into Columbia county. Regarding the blimp, Wirth stated,“That was definitely one of the more unusual outage causes I’ve seen.”

PPL  was able to address the outages within 24 hours, but  some residences went without power until after midnight. According to Wirth, the power company was able to reroute power around the damage caused by the tether lines that dangled from the blimp. “We were able to restore power… to many of those customers because we’re able to use our smart-grid system.” For more details, a full interview is available here.

Bloomsburg University cancelled classes for the day and students were released into the rainy town. A few student residences had power, but most did not. When I asked resident Gabby Santana, of 415 East Street, how it felt to be one of the only students with electricity during the blackout, Santana replied “It’s definitely because of all the good vibes in 415.”

Neighbors and friends crowded into her house to share the electric light, charge their phones and hear the latest updates on the rogue aircraft. Santana’s roommate, Tori Hagel, said “We lit candles even though we had power, just for effect.”

We asked some students how they spent their evening in “Blimpsburg.”

A few student residences had power, but most did not. When I asked resident Gabby Santana, of 415 East Street, how it felt to be one of the only students with electricity during the blackout, Santana replied “It’s definitely because of all the good vibes in 415.”

Neighbors and friends crowded into her house to share the electric light, charge their phones and hear the latest updates on the rogue aircraft. Santana’s roommate, Tori Hagel, said, “We lit candles even though we had power, just for effect.”

“I used my car to charge my phone for a while, then I took a long nap” Alexi Michaels, 22, senior. “Everyone wanted to drink but I just had no energy and the lights were already out, so a nap seemed to be the best bet.”

Most of the students in Bloomsburg on that Wednesday were pleased to find out that campus beer and liquor store were still in full operation, thankfully. Most students took the black out as a reason to black out themselves.

Bloomsburg seniors, Zac Morrison and Eric Pergine immediately decided the liquor store was the first place to go before things became too crazy.

“We started drinking around four, power came back on in our house pretty quickly, but we already started drinking, classes were cancelled and it was almost Halloween,” Pergine explain his motivations to drink.

“I made sure to take the back roads there with no lights, the streets were backed up way past light street and trying to get route 11,” Morrison explain how the mains streets were just a traffic accident waiting of happen.

Bloomsburg police were manning the streets direct traffic. The traffic became more intense around 3:05 p.m. after Bloomsburg sent out the official safety alert to students cellphones, and email canceling classes officially and closing most campus buildings like the Health Center, the Husky Lounge, Kehr Union, Monty’s, and the Commons.
When people received the text message that classes were cancelled everyone on Bloomsburg’s campus tried leaving at the same time made the traffic worse.

“Thankfully I was already at home and didn’t have to worry about leaving campus,” Kevin Cersa, 21, expressed. “I know some people that were on the bus on Main Street for 35 minutes trying to go down the street, half of them just got off there and walked.”

The blimp may have put a bump in our school week but for Bloomsburg University students it was nothing but fun, making for a interesting Thursday morning.

The map below shows where the blimp was finally brought down on Wednesday.

Feature Analysis

http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2013/10/27/south-china-sea/

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/10/25/chasing-bayla/tJuazyjBOsdKQTRVnAbh7K/story.html

I chose to analyze two nautically-themed feature pieces that I feel exemplify effective multimedia use, albeit in very different ways.

Chasing Bayla was published in the Boston Globe and is a Pulitzer Prize winning article written by Sarah Schweitzer. It provided information on the main subject, Michael Moore, and the whale he was trying to save, Bayla. The article is long-form and in-depth with subtle, incorporated multimedia. Animated cartoon pictures accompany the story, but the animations are subtle and the overall effect is thoughtful, not tacky. It adds interest to the story and helps to keep the reader engaged despite the length of the story.  I felt as though the unique use of multimedia added to the story and made the article stand out and I would like to incorporate something similar into my own feature story. Although the article was long, it was engaging and forged an emotional connection with readers which is an important element of feature stories.

A Game of Shark and Minnow by Jeff Himmelman is accompanied by photographs and video by Ashley Gilbertson. The story appeared in The New York Times on 27 October 2015. This article used multimedia in a less subtle way than Chasing Bayla. As the reader scrolls through the article, some sections are video and others are animated infographics complete with sound. Although it was difficult to navigate at first, once I became accustom to the multimedia, I began to appreciate it more. The videos made the article seem more interactive and the infographics were clean, organized and added to the article as opposed to merely regurgitating information. The text-only portion of the article is interspersed throughout different sections of multimedia. Overall, it is an interesting and unique use of multimedia that I have not seen in all other journalism.

I do not think that I have the technical skills to create this type of multimedia in my own stories, but I can clearly see that video, images and some audio, adds depth to feature stories. When executed tactfully, multimedia keeps the reader engaged and adds impact to the message that the article is conveying.

Bloomsburg hosts 160th annual Bloomsburg Fair

BLOOMSBURG, Pa.- On Oct. 26, the bucolic town of Bloomsburg welcomes an annual excitement, the Bloomsburg Fair. The fair has been going on for 160 years. According to the Bloomsburg Fair website, this year it drew 363,977 patrons from Columbia County and all over the world to partake in fried foods, rides, live music and other attractions. It is a significant source of revenue for Bloomsburg.

Although the clientele is diverse, reasons for going to the fair seem to be the same. “I go [to the fair] to eat as much unhealthy food as my wallet will allow me and also to people watch,” says Jess Quesenberry, a Bloomsburg University student who has gone to the fair multiple times over the past three years. Quesenberry explains that every year, she gets a chocolate peanut butter milkshake, onion rings and fried Oreos.

Another fairgoer told reporters “I pretty much went for the food.” Tom Moser, a Bloomsburg student who resides locally in Natalie, PA, has been going to the fair since he was a child. He states, “I like to experience the different types of food and experience the different ways people act.”

This liminal space gives rise to some atypical sights and behaviors; a snake lady and the world’s largest rat share space with kids trying to win giant stuffed toys and couples kissing on the sky ride.

Although this year’s weather forecast was less than ideal, the rain has not dampened the spirits of fairgoers. When asked if the weather had changed her fair experience, one woman continued to dance furiously to live music, saying “Dance in the rain!”

In an interview with Dom Ferraro, a fair goer who hails from Philadelphia, PA, Ferraro explains that despite the rainy weather this year, he still attended the fair with his friends. His interview is available here:

For those who missed out on this year’s fair or had hoped for more temperate weather, next year’s fair week begins the third Saturday after Labor Day.

Tom Moser and Jess Quesenberry sit on a bench eating fair fare
Tom Moser and Jess Quesenberry enjoy fried Oreos at the fair

More information about the Bloomsburg Fair:

Oral Histories from the Bloomsburg Fair

Bloomsburg Fair website

Video feed of fairgrounds

Hard News Analysis with Audio

http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/24/middleeast/stampede-hajj-pilgrimage/index.html

http://www.npr.org/programs/all-things-considered/

This week, the news was riddled with stories about religious events. The head of the Catholic church, Pope Francis, made his first visit to the US. Many Catholics received him joyously. On the other hand, it was a sad day for the families of many Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca as 717 people were killed in a stampede. Each article takes a very different tone, one cheerful and one somber, to suit the events that are being covered. The article about the pope is in an audio format, which can  be an effective method for hard news reporting. The Hajj/ Mecca stampede article is in a more traditional format, utilizing images and text.

The article about the Pope puts a political spin on the event, discussing the Pope’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress. The audio format is suited to this article because it includes clips of the Pope speaking interspersed with a reporting talking about the event. Although audio-only news stories can become tedious for some listeners, this article was brief enough that I believe it could hold a listener’s attention. This article did not have the audio start immediately unless the listener clicked on the audio player, which is a good thing because when articles automatically start the audio it can be a disruption.

The Mecca article uses a slide show of images in the beginning but no audio. In some ways, audio free news articles are better for readers because many readers want to learn the news at work or school and audio would not be appropriate for that environment without headphones. The reporting was relatively straightforward, although it was attempting to understand why the stampede happened.

It appears that audio can be helpful in adding another dimension to a news story, but it is not the preferred mode for some news consumers because when it is not accompanied by other media, it can be difficult to follow along.

College Students Weigh In on GOP Debate

BLOOMSBURG- On Tuesday, Bloomsburg University students tuned in to CNN on laptops, TVs and phones to watch the Republican debate between 11 of the leading Republican candidates. A moderator conducted the debate, asking the candidates questions about policy and relaying questions from viewers via social media.

Conservative junior and history major, Danny Dugan, said he “likes the fact that something new is coming for this fine country,” citing that the top three Republicans are not politicians. Other students indicated that they feel the same way. Freshman Nick McGuire says he supports  Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina for exactly that reason. Many students feel as though Fiorina was the strongest candidate in the debate.

Non-conservative students also watched the debate, although reactions were much different. Gabby Santana, a junior communications major from New Jersey, said she could not believe the statements that were made on national television. Many viewers had issues with perceived anti-Muslim comments and a disregard for environmental reform that some debaters exhibited. Some students argued that the debates were more of a means for the network to boost ratings than a true political show-down.

Even those who did not flip the channel to CNN Tuesday night feel they are privy to what is happening in politics via social media. Self-described “liberal, hippy, free, non-political” education major Val DeStefano says she stays informed via Facebook and Buzzfeed. She does not support GOP ideals and hopes the Trump does not win the election. Bloomsburg junior, Dom Ferraro, an English major, is of a similar mind, although he is politically conservative, saying “[Trump] is an ass-hat.”

Other Resources:

CNN

2016 Republican Polls

Val in the library
Liberal Val DeStefano discusses her views on the debate
3 students watch debate on laptop
Bloomsburg students react to GOP debate on Tuesday

Hard News Analysis

Originally, I intended to do a hard news story about college athletics, but upon researching and comparing two hard news stories, I may have revised my decision. It seems sports stories are more suited to feature stories.

The timeliness of “Fun and Games,” a story about a recent match between Serena and Venus Williams’ makes it a hard news story. The author, Joe Posnanski, begins with details about the score of the match and how each sister played. It goes on to explain the sisters’ backgrounds in tennis and has elements of a feature story in the less direct, slightly narrative style of writing. Additionally, the length of the article made it more like a feature story than a true hard news story. Yet, as it is directly relevant to a recent event, it could not be published at any time like a regular feature story.  Although the author did not seem completely unbiased (touting the Williams’ sisters as the greatest tennis players of all time) each claim was supported with a result from a tennis match or a relevant fact.

I would not cite this article as the best example of hard news reporting or writing, because it borders on a feature story. In some cases, sports stories can be breaking news and even hard news, ut in order for this to be true, they usually contain facets besides the sports themselves. For instance, when a professional athlete committing a crime could be considered hard news. Stories that detail what happened primarily on the court, field or track, are for entertainment and less suitable for hard news reporting.

On the other hand, the article “U.S. troops arrive in Sinai to boost security,” by Barbara Starr, exemplifies a traditional hard news story.  It is concise and direct, explaining only the integral facts related to US troops occupation of Sinai. Starr employs direct quotations sparingly and addresses the main points of the story (when, what, where and why) in the first sentences and elaborates from there. This follows the typical inverted pyramid structure of hard news stories. Although the writing was dry and straightforward, it was appropriate for the type of information that was being recorded.

In my own news story, I will choose a specific, timely and unusual event to report on. It needs to be an occurrence that impacts many people in Bloomsburg. I prefer the style of “U.S. troops arrive in Sinai to boost security” for a hard news story. Concise and direct reporting seems to be the most important features of hard news writing.

http://sportsworld.nbcsports.com/serena-and-venus-centercourt/?cid=eref:nbcnews:text

http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/10/politics/us-troops-sinai-egypt-isis/index.html

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