Month: October 2015

Kids Talk Radio Afghanistan : The Hard Path from Afghanistan to the Classroom

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Kids Talk Radio is opening up visual radio stations around the world.  We are looking for your stories.  We want to inspire our students.  Send us your story and make sure that every high school student reads this story……….. Bob Barboza, http://www.KidsTalkRadioLA.com.

The Hard Path from Afghanistan to the Classroom

Staff Sgt. Ryan Blum, Kunduz Province, Afghanistan
Commentary: A Soldier Writes

A month before I started my freshman year of high school, my father was killed in a cycling accident. Overnight my mother became a single parent and our sole breadwinner. She was forced to work twelve-hour days to maintain our standard of living and consequently I was often alone in an empty house.

Like most teenagers, I rebelled. With the loss of my father came a profound loss of discipline in my life. Combined with the sudden absence of my mother who was now compelled to work long hours, the tragedy had an important tertiary effect: I stopped attending classes. Eventually, to the distress of my mother, I left high school, opting to take the G.E.D. instead. College was the last thing on my mind, because college was for savvy, affluent students who studied for SATs and graduated on a normal schedule. It wasn’t for people like me.

At 17, I would have been the ideal candidate for an ‘absentee father’ case study: misguided anger, unabashed recklessness, unclear identity. I sought challenges but had no purpose. Luckily (or unluckily) for me there was a war.

I was an Army recruiter’s dream. With my mother’s anxious signature, I was in.

Throughout most of my seven years in the military I gave little thought to the outside world. When provided the discipline, direction, and the brutish encouragement of male authority figures, I began to excel, rapidly advancing through the ranks. I was given ever-greater responsibility — making sergeant in two years. After my first three-year contract expired I enthusiastically re-enlisted for another four.

I had found my identity. I was a soldier.

Five years later everything changed during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2010.

One of our missions was to facilitate the opening of schools in Kunduz Province. That April, in an effort to intimidate girls from attending, the Taliban attacked the schools with poison gas. It didn’t work. The girls continued to walk to class despite the threat.

As a teenager, I had taken for granted the opportunity to have an education not because an armed insurgency prevented me, but because of my own ambivalence. In Afghanistan, a country plagued with incessant violence, the decision to go to school was often one of life or death. For me, it was a luxury I had wasted. And I regretted it.

A switch had been flipped. For the rest of my deployment nothing could satisfy my thirst for knowledge. I began ordering books online and borrowing from fellow soldiers: politics, literature, science, mathematics — anything and everything. The inevitable downtime that accompanies the soldier’s profession proved ideal for reading. As my squad hovered around a laptop watching bootleg copies of “The Jersey Shore,” I found myself reducing fractions, reading Steinbeck and keeping up on the midterm congressional elections.

One night after a long political conversation with my company commander, he looked at me meaningfully and asked, “Why don’t you go to college?”

Hearing those words out loud was the catalyst I needed. Though the Army had been my home for seven years, and these men were my family, I had been quietly realizing that the path I was seeking was not one I could find in the military.

A year later, I was out. I moved to Chicago and enrolled in a local community college.

I walked into my first class convinced that what felt so inconceivable as a teenager would now be a breeze. I had matured in the military, instilled with discipline, commitment and leadership skills. I’d be the exemplary student. After all, I used to get shot at for a living. How hard could it be?

Turns out, really hard.

I had spent months preparing for the academic rigor, but what I could not have anticipated was the challenge of reintegrating into society. I never expected college to be more stressful than combat. But it was, only different: almost entirely self-inflicted. I was consumed by the fear that no matter what I did, I would never be able to relate to my classmates. I was older, had fought in two wars and been exposed to death. What could we possibly have in common?

I bore scores of prejudices from the military to my civilian life. They were part of my identity, making it impossible to connect with anyone, impossible to make friends, impossible to reintegrate.

It was difficult to adjust to the loss of camaraderie and trust that I took for granted in the military. The culture of an infantry platoon resembles that of a tribe, into which one is indoctrinated only by the mystery of violence and death. Outsiders uninitiated into this mystery are regarded with suspicion. In combat, I knew whom I could trust — the members of my tribe. For years I trained, ate, slept and fought with the same men. It forged an incredible bond and a sense of safety. Paradoxically, I felt more secure in Iraq and Afghanistan than anywhere else.

In an effort to find solace I joined my university’s Student Veterans of America chapter where I found a community of people who had gone through similar situations. I joined a writing group for veterans where I could put painful memories into a narrative that I could control. As productive as this was, however, I was still segregating myself from my civilian peers. That I still regarded them as “civilians” told how much I still viewed myself as an outsider. I had formed nearly no relationships with my fellow non-veteran classmates.

I hated the questions I feared they would ask: “So, why did you join the military?” To me, this was a ridiculous query. There was a war. Why didn’t you join?

Worse, the inevitable and voyeuristic question: “Did you ever kill anyone?”

I became more resentful, withdrawn. In terms of distance from my classmates, I felt as if I was from Mars.

My animosity turned into untenable opinions. Those who didn’t serve became “selfish” or “cowards,” unworthy of my respect. I thought: “Who were they to think they had something better to do while those, like me, were fighting and dying on their behalf.”

Then, my sophomore year, I met a girl in biology class who had been battling leukemia almost her entire life — and was now studying oncology nursing. Having spent most of her life inside a hospital, she wanted to provide comfort and empathy to others afflicted with the same disease. She didn’t seem to bear any resentment or animosity. I came to view her bravery with admiration. I wasn’t the only one who’d suffered.

Once again, like in Afghanistan, I felt ashamed of my actions. I realized that it was only my own self-prescribed prejudices that were holding me back. When I accepted others for who they were, when I began listening to their stories, I learned that everyone fights their own wars. Making friends became easier. As it turns out, reintegration is a two-way street.

After spending a year at that community college in suburban Chicago, I transferred as a junior to the American University of Paris. I’m now finishing my last semester there and, like most soon-to-be graduates, I find myself thoroughly occupied. I petition companies for unpaid internships, procrastinate on my thesis and remain in a constant state of near-panic at the prospect of moving back in with my mother.

I know that I made the right decision; the benefits of a four-year degree are backed by indisputable empirical evidence. But there’s more to college than just increasing the chances of professional success. The four years have also represented a long and important process by which I’ve re-entered civilian life. It was a place where my intellectual hunger could feast, and most importantly — I found my passion.

Sadly, too many of my fellow veterans are not taking advantage of this opportunity. Only about half of the eligible veterans use their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits, which cover tuition, living expenses and even books. Moreover, a recent study showed that only half of those who do return to school are graduating – which means only a quarter of eligible veterans are earning college degrees. This golden opportunity is being wasted.

I don’t presume to know all the reasons student veterans decide to leave college, or never enroll in the first place. Some probably found lucrative employment as contractors overseas, or in the oil industry. Many have unique obstacles that “traditional” students typically do not, such as families or physical and mental trauma. But with unemployment rates among veterans aged 18 to 25 at 7 percent (national average is 5.1 percent) the issue is disconcerting.

I’ll spare readers the “If I can do it, anyone can” cliché. But, for many of my fellow veterans college may not just be a place for learning, but also for healing. It was for me.

Ryan Blum was a squad leader with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, deploying twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. He now studies International Affairs at the American University of Paris. He is also a member of Foreign Policy’s Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted which seeks to inject more of the enlisted perspective into policy discussions. Twitter: @ryanblum1

Students Collaborate Worldwide on Science, Engineering

The new Kids Talk Radio Science Channel will be updating you on what is going on in the world of STEM NEWS (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).  Our goal is to work with students from around the world on our new projects: The Occupy Mars Learning Adventures, NASA Needs Your Help, and the Cabo Verde Tenth Island Project.  We have just started a series of hands on STEAM++ (science, technology, engineering, visual and performing arts, mathematics, computer languages and foreign language) workshops in California and will continue through 2015-2016 and beyond.  For more information  about workshops and projects you can contact:

Bob Barboza at Suprschool@aol.com or visit: http://www.KidsTalkRadioLA.com and http://www.OccupyMars.WordPress.com.

STEM NEWS

Doug Podcasting from Antarctica

Students Collaborate Worldwide on Science, Engineering
By Lynn Petrinjak | Published: May 12, 2015
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A student at Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado, holds up a prototype rechargeable lantern for inspection by collaborating students at the CHAT House in Uganda via Skype. Photo courtesy of Heidi Hood
A student at Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado, holds up a prototype rechargeable lantern for inspection by collaborating students at the CHAT House in Uganda via Skype. Photo courtesy of Heidi Hood
It’s an international effort that may be unique: Students in the United States and Canada are working together to design 3D–printed, portable, battery-powered, rechargeable lanterns that students in Uganda and the Dominican Republic, who do not have reliable access to electricity, will field test. This isn’t an act of charity, it’s a “global collaboration to use kids’ unique talents and technology to make the world a better place,” says Tracey Winey, media specialist at Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“The premise of the program is everybody has different talents,” she continues. “It’s not one group serving another. Each [group] is contributing unique talents to make a successful program. We have laid a foundation that everybody’s voice is important.”

The groups include students at Preston Middle School; Riverview High School in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada; the Care and Hope through Adoption and Technology (CHAT) House in Uganda; the Dominican Republic; and Pheasey Park Farm Primary School and Children’s Centre in Walsall, United Kingdom.

At Preston Middle School, students in the One Million Lights Club visit Winey’s media center before and after school and during lunch to work on the project. Along with Winey and John Howe, the school’s vice principal, they have Skyped with CHAT House students to learn more about their particular needs for the portable lights and shared their designs with the Riverview students. The CHAT House students also will field test the lights designed and built in Colorado. Winey says the CHAT House students will check the circuits to make sure they work and track how long the lights last, how many cranks are needed to charge the battery for how many minutes of light, whether the light is strong enough, how long batteries must be plugged into solar panels to be fully charged, and more. Their feedback will help the Preston students improve their designs.

“One byproduct [of the project] is light, but another is to foster global collaboration…[while] creating philanthropy in our kids,” explains Winey. “Our kids learn so much content through this program. This isn’t a class; my kids come before school, after school. Kids are motivated because they are curious and they know their work matters.”

And it does. While speaking with the CHAT House students, Winey’s students learned they wanted handheld lights so they would be able to identify predatory animals and other threats when they left the main CHAT House building to visit outhouses during the night. Her students also learned that while CHAT House has a generator for reliable light inside the orphanage, most of the surrounding village does not, which could lead to resentment. Sharing rechargeable lights with their neighbors would help build a stronger sense of community.

At Riverview High School, science teacher Ian Fogarty shares the story of Maria and Hailey with his students. In August 2014, one of his students met the two girls in the Dominican Republic. They both dream of becoming doctors, but struggle to study after dark when their home only has electricity a few nights a week.

“Engineering seems to be a nice mix of purposeful science,” Fogarty says. Instead of getting “lost in our science lab,” he adds, philanthropic engineering projects provide concrete answers to why students learn about circuits. “Now they are learning to help somebody. I tell them, ‘Here’s their story, here’s how we can help.’ It gives content real-life purpose…The motivation is ‘We’re going to learn this to help somebody; if we don’t learn, someone is going to suffer.’ There is no middle ground; either it works or it doesn’t.”

Fogarty was able to add the light project to his existing curriculum. “It wasn’t a big change in the classroom. It was a change of focus. We can do the same tests as before,” he explains. His ninth-grade students do the same circuitry labs as in previous years, but do them with Maria and Hailey in mind. In his 10th-grade Broad Based Technology course, students use Google SketchUp to draw cases for the flashlights, while 11th- and 12th-grade physics students go into greater depths working with electronics and microprocessors. The Science 12 class, which “blends the borders [among] science, humanities, and language arts,” also examines the role of the local culture, investigating how they will get the lights to Maria and Hailey (and other students in similar situations), he relates.

“Engineering is the last gender gap, I think,” remarks Fogarty. “In this project, eight out of 12 students are girls. Three [female] students not in class are checking in weekly. They tell me, ‘We’re invested in it now. We want to see it through.’ One of the goals is gender equity in science moving forward; this seems to be helping that out quite a bit.”

The Fort Collins and Moncton students shared their designs with one another electronically. Winey explains the Moncton students knew more about circuitry than her middle school students did, and her students had more experience in virtual collaboration and 3D printing. In addition to collaborating on circuitry with Winey’s students in Colorado, Fogarty’s students worked across the Atlantic Ocean with Gareth Hancox’s fourth-grade students at Pheasey Park Farm Primary.

“My students taught those students about circuits and sent them a design task [to create] cases. Each kid spent five [to] eight hours of [his or her] own time designing lights. They pitched their designs to us and really challenged what my high school kids were thinking…They’ve helped us with brainstorming design,” says Fogarty. The elementary students’ designs included glow-in-the-dark cases, dimmer switches, and options to make the lights wearable.

Hancox notes this “revolutionary approach to learning…between elementary and high school students on different continents has been a giant leap forward in learning. Both sets of students had interesting, sensible, and exciting ideas on how best to approach the problem of supplying light to students in the Dominican Republic. What happened next was true collaboration; the younger students presented their designs over a Skype video presentation with immediate feedback from Canada. Ideas however ‘out of the box’ were discussed, and certain elements were further developed until a final design was agreed upon by all the students.” He adds that it has been incredibly important for his students “to work on a real project with definitive outcomes that will change the lives of others.”

Fogarty and Winey also tapped into resources in their local communities. He has had an engineer “loaned” from a technology company check that the students were designing with safety in mind, and a university professor visit while students worked on circuit boards. Volunteers from Intel worked with Winey’s students on soldering, and the school’s computer science and electronics teacher checked students’ circuits. “The beauty of it is that people who want to come, come. It’s truly motivated by people…serving for the sake of serving,” Winey says.

UNESCO has declared 2015 the Year of Light to raise awareness about light-based technologies and how they can be used to promote sustainable development and resolve energy, education, agriculture, and health challenges. Winey and Fogarty hope more educators will be inspired to make philanthropic engineering part of their curriculum.

With Howe, they launched a website, http://www.philanthropic-engineering.org, to share how they have made creating reliable light sources for others central to their students’ learning experiences. Fogarty hopes to eventually add more philanthropic engineering materials—such as designs for an automated greenhouse a group of his students have been working on to support a community garden—to the site.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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Kids Talk Radio Needs More Student Journalists

How would you like to report the news from your country to students from around the world?

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Kids Talk Radio can use your help.   We are looking for student journalists from grades 5 thorough 12. We need you for our new volunteer intern program. You must have parent permission to participate. Your job is to report the news from your country in the areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). We will provide you with free training.

How to apply?

  1. Your parents, guardians or teachers must send us a letter asking permission for you to participate in this program.
  2. You must write a sample news story and send it to Suprschool.com.
  3. We will need an MP3 or Wav file of you doing a sample news report for radio.

Questions:

Contact: Bob Barboza at Suprschool@aol.com

You can follow our work at:

www.KidsTalkRadioLA.com

www.KidsTalkRadioUSA.com

www.OccupyMars.WordPress.com

www.SuperSchoolUniversity.WordPress.com

www.KidsTalkRadioWorld.WordPress.com

www.Youtube.com/user/KidsTalkRadio