Tag Archives: book

It’s Complicated

10326436_303815836450062_376544952_ndanah boyd‘s It’s Complicated (full PDF) is a book which seeks to change the way we view teenagers and their use of digital technology. Viewed as a vulnerable demographic, teens, it is commonly believed, need our protection to thrive. At the same time, many adults feel threatened by the boisterous, physical confidence that teens often exude. These forces combine to make many adults nervous of how, why, when and where teens use Internet-connected technology.

boyd, working from primary research, presents a very different and compelling view of teen technology consumption and use. Cleverly, she points to the many social and structural factors which lead teens to do what they do. For example, she argues that teens find social media so compelling because they have relatively few opportunities to socialise with peers face-to-face. In her view, the highly structured, timetabled and restricted lives of modern teens (think school, tuition, organise sports, lack of free play time, fear of strange danger, etc), dictated by adults, pigeon hole them into behaving in a way adults dislike .

Over the course of the book, boyd returns often to the theme that generally “the kids are alright”, whilst also highlighting some of the positives that come from teen engagement in social media. She astutely notes that often the kids who struggle with misuse of technology are those that struggle with other areas of their lives. This is much the same as adults who struggle with, say, gambling, suffering from some other difficulties from which gambling is simply a release. Ergo, technology is not the problem, but simply a symptom. The question then, is why overreact to the symptom, when we should be looking at the underlying human condition.

The book has certainly reinforced my existing beliefs in terms of not blocking technology use, but rather helping students to learn from their mistakes. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who works with, or has to parent, teenagers.

The book is broken down into the following chapters, which gives a good idea of the range of ideas covered:

  1. Identity
  2. Privacy
  3. Addition
  4. Danger
  5. Bullying
  6. Inequality
  7. Literacy
  8. Search For A Public Of Their Own

The following are two passages which really stood out in terms of capturing the spirit of the book:

Hard Lesson #11: Guns are not glorious

ExecutionHaving been invited to read to a class of students for reading week, I looked for a chance to work with a group of older students who I have not taught in two years. The Y11 group I wanted to work with stuck in my mind because so many of the boys were obsessed with guns and violent video games. This seemed a perfect fit for one of the 12 Hard Lessons: guns are not glorious.

To approach this one I chose to read from a book of first hand accounts from World War I: Max Arthur’s Forgotten Voices of the Great War. This amazing book, which is part of a series, gives a history of the war as a collage of first hand accounts taken from the Imperial War Museum. I read two individual accounts, one by a German soldier who had bayoneted a French soldier, and another by a British soldier who participated in the execution of a deserter.

These two passages are very intense, and I was actually quite emotional reading them aloud in front of 20 students. I think the students picked up on this, and the room was perfectly still. As way of introduction I told students that whilst they may enjoy glorified violence, the truth is far from glorious, and I wanted them to understand and feel this. I think the result of this session was not a teacher preaching “guns are bad”, but a chance for students to really appreciate why guns are not glorious.

Credit: execution image by Underwood & Underwood via Wikimedia Commons, under PD.

The Curious Incident

During a CPD discussion on risk assessment yesterday, the issue of taking children with autism on field trips came up. In particular, we discussed the fact that seemingly innocuous changes to routine and surprises can have unexpected and potentially disastrous consequences. Whilst my own experience teaching students with autism is limited, I feel that Mark Haddon’s book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has given me a solid understanding of what these students go through.

The book follows a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome (which is on the autism spectrum, despite claims that it should not be) as he tries to solve a mysterious murder. Although the book is disarmingly simple, it does an amazing job of shifting the reader’s perception of reality, allowing a brief glimpse into one of the many ways that the human mind can function. If there is one book all teachers should read…this might perhaps be it!

Project Gutenberg


Project Gutenberg is an online repository of books that are out of copyright, and thus freely available for anyone to use. With over 30,000 books currently available, this site provides a great source for gratis reading material. However, more important than this, it provides a massive amount of text that can be mashed and remixed in any way you or your students can dream up. Free from the constraints of copyright, and available in unfettered digital form, why not try some of the following ideas:

  • Use Wordle to create fantastic word clouds, which can be used to pick out themes or learn vocab.
  • Give students part of a text and ask them to write an extension or introduction to it.
  • Take a famous novel and come up with some crazy alternative endings.
  • Use Flickr Storm (free photos) and Storybird (digital storytelling) to create a picturebook version of a text.
  • Work as a class to produce an audio version of a book, publish it with Creative Commons and give it away on the web.
  • Take a novel and remix it into a song, poem, play or game.

I am sure there are at least a hundred other uses for Project Gutenberg’s texts. Let me know if you can think of any, and I will include them in this list.

Library Thing

For all the book lovers our there (of which I am one), I have recently been playing with a great online tool. It is called Library Thing (http://www.librarything.com) and it can be used to catalog the books you own, have read and want to read. You can see my current library at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/rossdotparker, and an example book (given to me by a lovely former colleague) at http://www.librarything.com/work/4986/book/51122473. All the books can be reviewed, commented upon, rated and tagged for others to see your views and for you to track your thoughts on the book.

Where this gets interesting is the ability to link it into other places, such as  embedding a particular set of books into a web page. 

Plus, the site will recommend books you might like based on the books in your catalog.

BibMe: Fast & Easy Bibliography Maker


Whilst citing references is certainly a vital part of academic research, it is also very tedious. By helping to create and format references according to a given system (e.g. Harvard, APA, etc), BibMe makes this task a lot easier. Simply search for the item you need to cite and select it for addition to your reference list. If the system cannot find the item, just enter the details by hand, letting the system format it for you. Select your desired style and simply copy and paste into your document.

Whilst there are other systems that do more (such as integrating into your word processor), BibMe cannot be beaten in terms of balancing functionality with ease of use.