Monthly Archives: September 2013

My Pop-Culture Influences – The X-Files

David and Gillian at the X-Files' 20th Anniversary panel at Comic Con - Photo by Genevieve719 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
David and Gillian at the X-Files’ 20th Anniversary panel at Comic Con – Photo by Genevieve719 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As some of you may know, this year marks 20 years since The X-Files began.  Wow, does that make me feel old!  The X-Files was one of my biggest pop-culture influences as a teenager, and it is still having an impact on my life today.

The X-Files began in 1993, when I was just starting high school.  It didn’t take me long to become completely obsessed with this show, and involved in the fandom associated with it.  I watched each episode over and over (taped from the TV onto VHS!), bought every magazine with even a small mention of the show and collected everything X-Files related that I could.  When Gillian Anderson visited Australia in 1995, I was one of thousands of screaming fans crammed into Indooroopilly Shopping Centre trying to catch a glimpse.  At a time in my life when I felt awkward and was frequently bullied, this show became an escape for me, and communicating with other fans made me feel like I belonged.

Later on, when studying for my Bachelor of Education, I met a man online who had many shared interests with me – one of which was The X-Files – in fact it was seeing this on my profile listed as an interest that made him want to contact me in the first place.  Seven years later, we were married, and we are now expecting our first baby.

Aussie X-Files Fans @ Facebook - Photo is a screenshot from the website, © 2008-2013 Aussie X-Files Fans - Unofficial X-Files Group @ Facebook
Aussie X-Files Fans @ Facebook – Photo is a screenshot from the website, © 2008-2013 Aussie X-Files Fans – Unofficial X-Files Group @ Facebook

This one television show continues to have an impact on my life.  A few years ago, I came across an Australian fan group called Aussie X-Files Fans @ Facebook.  This amazing group of people, who have been using X-Files fandom not only to build friendships, but also to raise money for charity, welcomed me in with open arms.  Since joining the group, I have gone to fundraisers, participated in TV Club (which involves everyone watching the same episode at the same time and chatting about it via Skype), and met up in person with many of the group members.  I feel privileged to have been involved with such a wonderful group of people.

I am an example of the profound effect that popular culture can have on someone’s life.  I know my life would be very different today if I had not become an X-Files fan.

What are your thoughts?

What were your own popular culture influences in childhood or adolescence?  Were there any books, television shows, movies or games that had a major impact on your life?

How do children spend their “screen time”?

Innocent Girl on Laptop by PictureYouth (Flickr image, CC BY 2.0)
Innocent Girl on Laptop by PictureYouth (Flickr image, CC BY 2.0)

“Screen Time” – the amount of time spent in front of media such as television, games and computers – is a controversial issue.  Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (2010) and the CSIRO (2013) recommend that for health reasons, children should spend less than 2 hours per day in front of a screen.  However, Sweetser, Johnson, Ozdowska, & Wyeth,(2012, p. 95) argue that these recommendations do not take into account the different ways children spend their screen time, and that cognitively and physically engaging in ‘active screen time’ should be classed differently to more passive activities such as watching television.

So what about the children in my class?  How are they spending their screen time?

This week, I investigated the popular culture influences on my class of 8-10 year old students, with particular focus on how they spend their ‘screen time’ – time in front of the TV, movies, computers and devices such as tablet computers.

I asked the students in my year 3/4 class about what they liked to watch on TV, what their favourite movies and games were, and how they spent their time on the Internet.

The most surprising thing I found was the sheer diversity of answers.  There were few students who wrote down the same answers – there was a huge range of favourite TV shows, movies and games.

Television

The children in my class cited a very diverse range of favourite television shows.  Animated shows were popular, with many children explaining that these are their favourites because they are “funny”.  These shows included Adventure Time, Kids WB, Phineas and Ferb and Pokemon.  Also included were television shows I would consider inappropriate for the age group, such as Family Guy.  A smaller number of students cited drama programs such as H20: Just Add Water and Dance Academy.  Other types of programs mentioned were reality shows such as Big Brother and Wheeler Dealers, as well as ‘educational’ programs such as Backyard Science.  Only 2 students mentioned watching sport on TV, with both citing Soccer as a favourite program to watch.

Movies/DVDS

Once again, I was surprised by the sheer diversity of movies mentioned by students in my class as their ‘favourites’.  The only movie which came up more than once was Despicable Me, which was cited as a favourite by 3 children.  The remaining students mentioned a mixture of different genres, including action (The Wolverine), animated movies (Epic, The Incredibles), fantasy (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings) and drama (Pitch Perfect, Australia).  Once again, children mentioned movies which I felt to be inappropriate for their age group, such as Ted.

student_ipad_school - 079 by Brad Flickinger, (Flickr image, CC BY 2.0)
student_ipad_school – 079 by Brad Flickinger, (Flickr image, CC BY 2.0)

Games

On the survey I used, I asked my class “What is your favourite game, and why?” which produced some very interesting and varied results.  Students interpreted this question in different ways.  Some students wrote down computer games (with Minecraft and Naruto Shippuden being the most popular), while others wrote down more traditional or party games, like Pass the Parcel or Fruit Salad.  Still others mentioned sports like softball or board games like Monopoly.  It would be interesting to see what the results would have been if I had asked a more specific question about computer games.

Internet Use

Internet use by students in my class could be broken into 3 main categories: Games, Images and YouTube.

Graph showing how internet time is used by students in my year 3/4 class
Graph showing how internet time is used by students in my year 3/4 class – Image created by Kirsten Bailey using Microsoft Excel

The most common use for the internet was games, followed closely by searching for images using Google and watching videos on YouTube.  Of those students who answered this question (some left it blank), two students said they had no internet access at home, and only one student mentioned using the internet for research or schoolwork.

When asked about what sort of videos they liked to watch on YouTube, students again provided a wide diversity of answers.  Several students mentioned looking up videos of their favourite movies and television shows.  Popular choices also included tutorials (particularly Minecraft tutorials), music videos and ‘funny videos’ (such as funny cats, Fred, and The Annoying Orange).

Conclusions

Conducting a survey such as this one posed more questions for me than it answered.  With such a huge diversity how students spend their screen time, what do we really mean by the term “popular”?  If a larger sample size were used, how would the results have varied? How many students are regularly viewing inappropriate material?

Nonetheless, I found this to be a very worthwhile exercise.  Hunt & Hunt (2004, p. 82) suggest that teachers who want to build connections with their students should “spend time in their cultural worlds”.  I certainly feel I know my students a little better after asking them about their interests.

What are your thoughts?

How similar are these results to your own children’s (or children your work with) interests?  Have you noticed a similar diversity?

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2010). Media Education. Pediatrics, 126(5), 1012-1017. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-1636
CSIRO. (2013). Recreational Screen Time. Retrieved September 24, 2013, from http://www.csiro.au/Outcomes/Health-and-Wellbeing/Prevention/10-steps-for-healthy-families-ScreenTime.aspx

Hunt, T., & Hunt, B. (2004) Popular Culture: Building Connections with Our Students. English Journal, 93(3), 80-83. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/stable/4128814

Sweetser, P., Johnson, D. Ozdowska, A., & Wyeth, P. (2012). Active versus passive screen time for young children. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood 37(4), 94-98. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/fullText;dn=195789;res=AEIPT

Why I love social reading

After reading Darcy Moore’s blog post Social Reading: Fad or Future?, I got to thinking a lot about my own reading habits.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been a reader.  I can clearly remember as a child trying to sneak my bedside lamp back on in the middle of the night so I could finish reading my book (Mum and Dad always seemed to hear the click and tell me to turn it off again).  I love talking about books with other people, and until recently, this has usually meant begging them to read the books I love and then nagging them until they do.

When I discovered Goodreads, it opened up a whole new world for me.  Here were online communities who wanted to talk about the books that I was reading!  Not only that, there were book clubs reading books in genres I enjoyed, recommending new titles for me to try.  Two of my bookclubs began holding Google+ hangouts to discuss the monthly book choices, and I got to meet and talk to some wonderful people, some of whom I have now met in person several times.

woman reading Kindle on mountain
My wife reading her Kindle on a mountain by Ryan G. Smith (flickr image, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Not that I’ve always been so embracing of change.  When e-book readers first came out, I always swore I would never get one.  I was adamant that they could never replace the tactile sensations that go along with reading a paper book.  Fast forward to a few years later, and I was having trouble finding all the books I needed in time for my book clubs.  There are no bookshops near where I live, and I was forced to order online much of the time.  After receiving my books after the month was finished (and not being able to read them in time for the discussions), I finally ‘bit the bullet’ and went out to buy a Kindle.

Now, I cannot tell you how much I LOVE my Kindle.  I love being able to buy a book an instantly begin to read it.  I love being able to highlight my favourite parts of the book (very handy when you know you will be discussing the book later in the month) and see what others have been highlighting.  I REALLY love the fact that my book can be synced across devices – so if I’m out and about and have  a few minutes to read, I can take out my iPhone and read, and it will remember where I am up to on my Kindle at home.

Of course, Kindle does have its down sides.  Don’t get me started about the fact that some books are available in the US but not in Australia, or the ridiculous price difference between Australian and US titles.  I miss being able to put the books up on my bookshelf for all to see (although, at the rate I am going, I will need a bigger house if I keep buying books).  I recently met author Hugh Howey, and could have gotten him to sign my copy of his book ‘Wool‘, only I had bought it on Kindle rather than paper.  He told me he actually gets asked to sign people’s Kindles fairly often these days.  I don’t think it’s quite the same!

Despite the drawbacks, I am grateful for the changes that have happened in my reading habits over the last few years.  I have made some great friends, read some books I might never have otherwise tried, and made myself a to-read list that seems never-ending.  I love the opportunities for social reading new technologies have given me.

What are your thoughts?

Do you enjoy reading eBooks, or do you prefer more traditional, paper books?

Moore, D. (2012, July 29). Social reading: Fad or future?. [web log post]. Retrieved from http://darcymoore.net/2012/07/29/social-reading-fad-or-future/

Popular Culture as ‘Funds of Knowledge’

girl reading Harry Potter books
‘arry potter 63/365 by lozikiki ^_^ (flickr image, CC BY-ND 2.0)

In my first assignment for this subject, I was investigating the way in which popular culture can be effectively integrated into the curriculum.  One interesting reading I came across while researching this assignment was ‘Rethinking Sponge Bob and Ninja Turtles: Popular culture as funds of knowledge for curriculum co-construction’ by Helen Hedges, published in the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood in 2001.

In this paper, Hedges argues that popular-culture can be seen as ‘funds of knowledge’, and that the use of popular culture in the classroom may be a way for teachers to engage meaningfully with children’s interests.

As part of her literature review, Hedges explains that research has shown popular culture can be used to motivate and extend children’s literature learning, but that the extent to which popular culture is integrated into the curriculum is highly influenced by teachers’ own experiences and beliefs about popular culture.  She goes on to say that ‘contemporary’ play such as watching television or using computers can be seen by teachers are negative or dangerous experiences.

This got me thinking about my own experiences, and whether they are colouring my perceptions about what is acceptable or beneficial to students in my classroom.  Are my own personal preferences about popular culture having an impact on what is encouraged in my classroom?

Hedges’ qualitative study of interest-based curriculum explored two questions:

1.  In what ways do teachers recognise and engage with children’s interests in relation to children’s experiences and funds of knowledge?

2. How do teachers choose whose and which interests will be engaged with in building a sociocultural curriculum during both planned and spontaneous teaching and learning interactions? (Hedges, 2011, p. 26)

In investigating these questions, Hedges found that children represented their pop-culture interests in a variety of ways, including bringing objects to school and through play and conversations.  Another interesting finding was that children’s popular-culture influenced play and discussions were often deflected or diverted in the presence of the teacher – children waited until the teacher had left to resume play.  I found this fascinating and wondered whether the same thing is going on in my own classroom?

What I really liked about this study was that after collecting data in classrooms about the way in which popular culture and children’s interests were not being appreciated or acted on by teachers, Hedges provided the teachers involved with her field notes, and the teachers began to change their practice, considering the potential for popular culture in the curriculum.  Those of us who teach are very familiar with the fact that we need to be constantly reflecting on and updating our practice in order to maintain a high standard of education for our students.  Hedges was able to provide teachers involved in this study with meaningful insights to help them improve their teaching practice.

Hedges concludes by asserting that:

“if teachers overlook children’s interest in popular culture, they may be ignoring a rich source with which to engage and extend children’s knowledge and understandings” (Hedges, 2011, p. 29)

What are your thoughts?

Hedges explains that teachers need to realise that their own childhood experiences may be very different from those of their students.  Do you agree with this?  How do you think your childhood experiences are different from those of children of today?

Hedges, H. (2011).  Rethinking Sponge Bob and Ninja Turtles: Popular Culture as Funds of Knowledge for Curriculum Co-construction.  Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 36(1), 25-29.  Retrieved from  http://search.informit.com.au.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/fullText;dn=950170717489010;res=IELHSS

Diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Today one of the members of my book club posted the following video on Facebook, which really got me thinking about the diversity shown in the books I have been reading.

When I looked through my own reading list (thanks, Goodreads!)  I found that of the 66 books I have read so far this year, the split between male and female authors was about half.  However, I could not find *one* book written by an author who was not Caucasian.  I must admit, I was a little shocked by this!  Is this a trend that is just common to speculative fiction, or is it a common trend in popular culture as a whole?

It got me thinking about our responsibilities as teachers and librarians to create collections of books the represent the diversity we are seeing in our students.   How are different races, cultures, genders and sexualities represented in the books available to our students?  What about the books our students are choosing for themselves?

It’s definitely something to think about.  I know I will be thinking about this the next time I choose a book to read.

What are your thoughts?

How does your bookshelf shape up when it comes to diversity?  Is the trend I have noticed a common one?

Booksandpieces. (2013, September 11). Diversity in SFF . Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECo-5Ggvqk8

Introducing myself

poison ivy

Yes, this picture is me.  Dressed as Poison Ivy.  From this, it is safe to assume that I am no stranger to pop culture.  A book nerd married to a Star Wars geek, I feel I have a good understanding of some of the ways that popular culture can influence society.

So when I found out one of the subjects I would be studying as a part of my Master’s Degree on my way to becoming a teacher-librarian was Youth, Popular Culture and Texts, I was excited!

I’ve been learning more about pop culture and participatory culture, texts and how they influence and are influenced by the youth of today.

The aim of this blog is to share with you the insights I have learned as I explore this subject.  Stay tuned!