The Beginnings of a Sea Change

In an area of Nigeria that is “as densely populated as Paris” but contains only one primary school, innovative architecture aims to make education available to all.

In the water community of Makoko just off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria, an exciting new project attempts to turn the tide of limited education and unstable infrastructure. Though the Makoko’s population is soaring, a lack of well-constructed buildings means that the community  houses only one primary school to serve its approx. 86,000 residents.

Why the lack or solid infrastructure? It’s because the islands of Lagos amongst which the fishing village resides are vastly covered in water. Residents of Makoko have for years built their homes atop stilts embedded deep in the seabed. Now a team of architects led by native Nigerian Kunle Adayemi will update that idea in order to build schools that will not only withstand the rigors of West Africa’s current climate, but hopefully also for many years to come.

As pictured above, the increase in rainfall and rising sea levels Lagos has experienced over time, due to global climate change, renders the local Makoko housing unsuitable. Adayemi’s solution is to create a completely free-floating building—one unchanged by any rise or fall in water levels. He and his team have also worked to make sure the new schoolhouses will be eco-friendly and space efficient to boot:

Adayemi is hopeful that the design will help more than just the people of Makoko: “The building can be adapted for other uses, such as homes or hospitals. Ultimately, it’s a vision that can be used to sustainably develop [African] coastal communities.” But of course, such an inspirational story is inevitably accompanied by typical political woes; the government of Lagos is reluctant to encourage the expansion of a water-based community. Just in July of last year, “Nigerian government officials destroyed dozens of residences after giving residents 72 hours’ notice of eviction,” an act that resulted in the death of one Makoko resident. The reality Adayemi faces—one greater than the threat posed by natural disasters—is that this mere slum (for lack of a better description) occupies prime waterfront, a commodity the politicians of Lagos won’t readily relinquish.

Thus the project, while furthering the possibilities of architecture, science, and education, faces its biggest opposition in near-sighted bureaucracy: a reminder that advancing education in Africa is never as simple a task it seems on its glass-like surface.

For more on this amazing project, head to the Guardian. Its article contains an interesting video that provides a bit of visual insight into life on the waters of Makoko.


Digital Learning Day Brings Technology into the Classroom

Yesterday marked the second annual celebration of “Digital Learning Day,” the culmination of a year-long focus to utilize the power of technology in more classrooms nationwide. But we’re not just talking about throwing iPads into classrooms in the hopes of engaging students’ short attention spans. No, the ideas employed in classrooms and libraries around the world yesterday were far more innovative than that. Here’s how a handful of educators around the country took Digital Learning Day and ran with it, as reported by School Library Journal:

  • Over at New Canaan High School, CT, library department chair Michelle Luhtala is asking students and faculty to download an eBook to their mobile devices, and setting up a support desk to help to anyone who needs it.
  • At Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel, MD, Gwyneth Jones is tying Digital Learning Day into the school’s celebration of National History Day with custom QR codes on history displays throughout the library with the phrase: “I DARE you to Scan this Code!” Digitally-savvy history buffs will be sent to an infographic on how to get the most out of the Library of Congress.
  • Digital Learning Day also happens to coincide with a project students are working on at Charlotte Country Day Middle School, NC—creating five-minute films about a topic in Ancient Roman culture. The kids are editing the pieces on Windows Movie Maker, and faculty will be awarding film prizes like the Oscars, but aptly called “the Caesars.”

Looking at the ideas of some institutions since the advent of portable learning tools like the iPad, it seems like some view technology in the classroom as having the innate capability to help kids learn, without the introduction of any out-of-the-box ideas. Some seem to think that just the presence of technology in the classroom heightens learning, the way fire radiates warmth. While I don’t believe in that style of teaching, I do think that technology in the classroom is a positive thing when educators harness their students’ ease with digital devices and use it in new ways that introduce fun to the learning environment.

Students often gravitate easily to these objects from laptops to tablets, e-readers to smartphones, plus they tend to be savvy users of online databases and web-based learning apps. But marrying these tools effectively into student learning—linking the fun to the educational element—is where many librarians and educators are focused today.

What say you? Do you use technology in the classroom, and if so, how? What are some creative ways to celebrate digital learning day, year-round? Is technology in the classroom stimulating, or distracting? We’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment!


How College Is Like That Juicy Hamburger You Just Don’t Want to End

Just come with us on this one…

eNotes’ intern offers more advice on how to savor college and prep for the real world, which in foodie-terms can only be likened to that salad bar at the Souplantation–a bottomless pit of just “meh.” So, now that we’ve livened your spirits…

Picture this. You’re at a restaurant, and it’s around 3 or 4 o’clock. You woke up late and didn’t have time to grab any breakfast, and you had class for a couple straight hours without a break. Essentially, you’ve gone all day without a single bite of food, and MAN you’re hungry. So hungry, in fact, that the moment the waiter brings you whatever it is you’ve ordered (probably something with french fries), you praise him for his good deed, nearly yank it from his hands, and devour the entire meal before you even realize it’s happening. The next time you look at your plate, you realize it’s just you and a couple crumbs left. You aren’t even sure what you just ate.

Now, I didn’t just use this example because this is my life on a near regular basis… I used it because it’s really applicable! Watch me go, I promise, this is totally going to resonate.

That hamburger and french fries you just savagely took down in 2 minutes flat—that’s college (Oh my GOODNESS, what is that you say?). Chances are, you (you near graduate, you) feel like college “whoosh”ed past you in 2 minutes flat, or something close to that. You’re looking back at all those fragments of memories and experiences, and probably freaking out a little bit. Okay, maybe a lot-a-bit. I know I’ve spent the past couple nights rehearsing lines like these: “where’d all the time go?” and “I can’t believe it” and maybe some “…” (that’s just some silent wall-staring).

Fret no more, fellow sorry souls. We’re all in this together. We’re going to make it through. We’re going to savor all the best things about college while we still can. For those of you who aren’t as close to the end of the plank as us, pay heed to this list of top 10 things that are awesome about college (and maybe try to chew a little slower).

  1. When someone asks you what you’re doing with your life, you are allowed to answer “I’m a student,” and just like that, the “I now have to tell a stranger I have no idea what I’m doing with my life and I’m unemployed” conversational crisis is averted. Seriously, just like that. Enjoy this. Even if you have to awkwardly linger around people until they ask you that question, just do it.
  2. You essentially live in a weird village full of likeminded, crazy 18-22 year olds, and you’re friends with a ton of them- this is something that could only be crafted by a spirit above. Seriously…you live surrounded by your friends. Surrounded. This will likely never happen again in your life. Ever. Go hang out with your neighbors (and by neighbors I mean those that live: next door, across the street, down the street, and anywhere from 1-10 blocks away from you).
  3. This weird village you live in has its own set of moral codes and ethics. Close to 50% of the things you do in the little microcosm of a world that is your college town will never be accepted outside of that bubble. Revel in it.
  4. On the same vein, once you graduate, you will no longer be able to recount events of the past night or week and shrug it off with a smirk and the words, “college, man.” Self explanatory.
  5. The opportunities your university provides for you are endless. Clubs, events, speakers, concerts, special lectures, counselors, employment- the list goes on and on. You should participate as much as you can and take advantage of it all. Don’t be lazy, you’ll miss out on a lot of experiences you won’t be able to get anywhere else.
  6. You can cook like you’re a survivor on the series Lost, and no one will judge you. Pre-packaged foods, a microwave…who needs a stove or forks or knives? I mean, even if you wanted to have a dinner party, Trader Joes has some frozen meals that serve at least four people. You’re all set! Once you leave college, people actually may start expecting you to use fresh ingredients and things like spices (not the kind that comes inside your top ramen package—mmm, MSG). Eat as many microwavable chicken nuggets and taquitos as you can, while you still can.
  7. You get to learn the things you want to learn about. I know everyone complains about school because of all the work and studying and blah, blah, blah. But we all know, deep down, we like it at least a little bit. The fact that we get to fill our brains with new information on a daily basis, and that that information may lead us in one direction or other, building our interests and leading us to new ones…that’s just awesome. You know it, I know it. We just don’t like to really admit it all the time. College students are stubborn.
  8. You can wear sweatpants whenever you want because your day job isn’t really a job at all. Your job is to sit in a lecture and try to stay awake while learning things. Nowhere in that description are the words “business casual.” Pajamas are only pajamas if you’re in bed and sleeping- otherwise, they’re just clothes. Think about that.
  9. You’re allowed to dabble in things without being talked about as if you’re a lost soul searching for your way. Hey, it’s college. You’re encouraged to try new things, regardless of what they are. Literally, you can do anything and people (essentially by law) have to just nod and say, “that’s what college is for,” and they’re right. So explore, a lot, and do the weirdest things you can possibly think of because you never know what’ll stick. Soon it’ll be too late and your dreams of being a figure skater will be looked at a little more critically (Not that that should hinder you. You should always chase your dreams, even if people laugh at you, or think you’re nuts. I’m just saying, take advantage of the head start college is intended to give you).
  10. You are told, around three times a year, that you must stop doing schoolwork and instead, “relax.” Winter break, spring break, and summer vacation are some of the best inventions that have ever been created in the history of the world. Fire, the wheel—they pale in comparison. It’s mandated, enforced relaxation. This will most likely never be permitted at any other time in your life.

Phew.

Good luck.

If all else fails, listen to some ‘90s music. Or to Hall and Oates (specifically, “You Make My Dreams”). You will feel like a kid at Disneyland who’s eating a churro (and we all know that’s the best feeling in the world).


“Mediocris Scholaris”: The Average Student Scholarship Contest

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Whether you’re preparing to attend college or you’re already there, you’ll probably have figured out by now that applying for scholarships to fulfill that expensive education is almost as difficult and as time consuming as attaining the degree itself. With the massive amount of competition out there, you might feel you have about the same chances of attaining a scholarship as you do of winning some sort of sweepstakes; there will always be somebody smarter, luckier, more talented or more involved in school than you to snatch the prize. It’s hard to be that student in the middle, believe me, I know. As I found out when I was applying to universities, my parents (who were by no means “well-off”) earned too much for me to receive any government aid, while my grades (a 4.3 GPA) were caught in a no-man’s land in the scholarship world–not as high as my valedictorian friend’s, not as low as the struggling students’ who were given opportunities to break the cycle and go to college (quite rightly).

But in all of that, I ended up with scholarship fatigue. It felt like it’d never be me receiving the helping hand. How I wish the following scholarship had existed back then, when I could’ve been granted a scholarship for doing what I do best–being me.

College Humor is offering two students the opportunity to win $5,000 a piece. The requirement? Be that typical student caught in the middle.

Did you sign up for 3 clubs but never attend meetings? Is your GPA a 2.1? Would some of your professors have a hard time remembering if you were in their class? If so, enter now! We hope you’re not exceptional.

If you’re looking for ways to pay for college and are coming up short, definitely give this scholarship a go. What’s the downside of rejection, after all? That you’re not average enough? Head over to the scholarship’s home page to watch a funny video and find out more on how to apply. Good luck!


Catcher in the Rye To Be Dropped from Curriculum? Puh-lease

New Common Core Standards drop classic novels in favor of “informational texts.”

The US school system will undergo some big changes within the next two years, chiefly due to a decision to remove a good deal of classic novels from the curriculum, or so the recent media reports would have you think.

The idea behind discouraging or reducing the teaching of old favorites like The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird is to make room for non-fiction “informational texts” in the curriculum. These should be approved by the Common Core Standards of each state. Suggested texts include, “Recommended Levels of Insulation by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Invasive Plant Inventory, by California’s Invasive Plant Council,” among others.

Mmmm, I just love me a good read on insulation levels while I soak in the tub.

So, the idea behind this is that children who pass through such a school system will be better prepared for the workplace, their brains packed with useful, practical knowledge rather than brimming with literary fluff (my personal summation). It has the backing of the National Governors’ Association, the Council of Chief of State School Officers, and even the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which partially funded the directive.

But is that estimate correct? Will reading more non-fiction in favor of fiction breed better writing, or more informed graduates? The discussion is extremely divided. One Arkansas teacher wrote in this Telegraph article,

In the end, education has to be about more than simply ensuring that kids can get a job. Isn’t it supposed to be about making well-rounded citizens?

Meanwhile, another reader weighed in for the pros of teaching more scientific texts:

I don’t understand how adding non-fiction books to reading lists REDUCES imagination.  Hard science is all about imagination–the “what ifs” of nature and the universe… I am sick of English professors acting like English Literature is the only bastion of imagination/critical thinking/culture.

When I first read that article stating that The Catcher in the Rye and other novels specifically would be gone from curriculums nation-wide, I was alarmed and frightened, though I now know it was needlessly so. The reactions of protesters are a tad hyperbolic, given that the two soporific texts I named above are found amongst a long list of alternate suggestions in various subjects, for instance Circumference: Eratosthenes and the Ancient Quest to Measure the Globe by Nicholas Nicastro, and The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story by Richard Preston, interesting and well-written books in their own right. English Literature classes will not be barred from teaching certain classic novels, as some of the reports would have you believe, though they may have more limited time to teach them than before. Yes, the school system will be changed and possibly not for the better, but Salinger and Lee aren’t going anywhere.

All in all, the arguments for both sides make overblown assumptions: on the one, that students will miraculously be better prepared for the job market, on the other, that all imagination and creativity will be drained from impressionable young adults. So, which side do you stand on, if either? Is the teaching of informational texts merited, or best left to vocational studies? Tell us in a comment below!


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