Thursday, June 27, 2013

Zombies everywhere: Smart phone addiction among the youth

I've been reading more and more about rise of "Digital dementia" and smart phone addiction in Korea. It's reflective of what I see every day here: Most everyone has a smart phone and they're constantly using them. For your consideration, here are a few situations regarding smart phones during my time here thus far:
  • At lunch in Samcheok: An elementary-age boy was playing games on a portable game player. His grandpa got up and gave him an ice cream cone. The boy ate it without taking his eyes off the screen and handed the wrapper back to grandpa when he was finished. The grandpa took a step and threw the wrapper away.
  • At dinner in Sincheorwon: I look over and see a father having dinner with his two young boys. They look to be around 10 years old. They proceeded to play video games throughout the dinner. The three hardly spoke to each other. I wondered how the dad felt to be a ghost.
  • In the standing section, on the train from Seoul to Chuncheon: Though it's called the "standing only" area, there are benches for 3 on either side of the car. One college-aged couple couldn't sit together, so they sat on opposite sides of the train car. They could have easily spoken to each other. The man set down next to me. They spent the 1.5 hour train ride sending messages to each other over KakaoTalk.
  • In the men's room of the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal: a man watching TV on his phone while urinating.
  • At the high school: Many teachers bring their phones to lunch with them. Some check messages during or after eating.
  • At the high school: Students charge their phones between classes with the outlets in hallways.
  • On the way to and from school every day: I dodge students walking slowly because they're holding their phones a foot in front of their faces. Many do not see me walking by.
    • I once watched a high school girl walk into a stoplight pole because she was too busy texting to look up and see it.
I've included examples from daily life and school to illustrate how pervasive smart phone use is here. While not every example is symptomatic of addiction, they show even bus station bathrooms to be fair game for phone usage. 

In an editorial linked below, the Joongang Daily weighed in how to curb phone addiction. They think that the Korean government should lead the way with research and regulations so they can filter down to the individual level. While that's certainly an idea to consider, they have it backwards: It's individuals like students, parents, and teachers who need to change first. Regulations can come later. As people learn from what they see, parents need to teach their children how to handle digital devices and how to avoid growing too attached to them. They can set an example. Teachers can as well. Normally I would say "Parents and students" only, but since Korea's youth spend spend more time at school than at home, I added teachers to that sentence because of their prominence in students' lives. As noted above, many teachers bring their phones to lunch with them and take time out of eating and conversing to check messages. They are in a prime position to change students' behavior by simply not spending as much time on their phones. Parents can do the same. Parents the ones who can show show their offspring how to regulate themselves.

But therein lies the problem: Students won't change unless their elders do, and the elders around me show no signs of changing. They  are glued to their phones and devices day and night. They're the ones who're setting the example for the youth, and they're the ones who are normalizing this behavior. I see moms with baby backpacks or papooses punching the touchscreen while they stroll about. I see dads at the playground looking up from whatever's onscreen to check on the kids. They as engrossed as the kids are. If Mom and Dad don't bother putting their phones away, why would little Min-su or Ji-hye?

One profound irony is that the high school grade 1 textbook includes a chapter called "My Smart Life," in which students discuss the merits of technology. The chapter warns against excessive phone and device use, but the message goes unheeded. No one's taken time to reflect that maybe they shouldn't send the nth Kakao message or play another round of the game du jour. Instead they carry on as if it doesn't matter. They tell me that phones are important for relaxing, but I wonder relaxed they can be when they're compelled to spend every spare second staring at their touchscreens. The kids don't seem particularly at ease when they're bent over their desks squinting at the small letters they're trying to read, either.

Phone addiction's not a new issue here. Several students have admitted to feeling addicted to their phones in their writing assignments. They've written about how they need to have them around at all times. Furthermore, not a day goes by without kids talking about how tired they are because they spent another night staying up sending messages and playing games. The time the kids spend texting and gaming cuts into their sleeping and studying time and thus helps prevent them from remembering what they learned at school. This happens and they know it. I take it that the parents have a foggy notion about it, too. Yet, the addiction persists in spite of having the solutions in plain sight. Evidently no one takes turning off the thing off too seriously. The same goes for parents taking charge. In the "'Digital dementia'" article linked below, a mother worries about her 15 year old son's "dementia," yet the article notes that he's spent the last 10 years in front of the computer and the TV. The immediate question here concerns why she didn't step in herself. She and the father had the power to change their son's habits. They could have stopped him from hurting himself. Parents everywhere should take more time to monitor their children's device usage, cut the cord altogether. Better yet, hold off on letting the kids have digital devices for as long as possible. There are few, if any, good reasons why elementary school students should have smart phones. Ditto for middle school and high school students, especially in this country town. All of the messages, games, and Internet page viewings can wait. The same goes for the parents and the teachers. Surely, it's better to protect the head (literally) than to get further ensconced in digital devices. The kids need guiding.

For further reading and explication:

Korea Joongang Daily: ‘Digital dementia’ is on the rise

  • The opening paragraphs concerns the 15 year old mentioned above and how he couldn't remember the code to his own home thanks to all his screen time. (Reblogged here)

"Smart phones cause rifts in families"
  • Key passage from the article:
Another mother found that her daughter, in her first year of middle school, had a naked picture of an unknown man on her phone. The mother called the hotline and said, “When I mentioned what I saw on the phone, my daughter lashed out by saying, ‘why are you looking at my smartphone without my permission?’”  
  • If mom's paying the bill, it's mom's smart phone. The daughter's only borrowing it. As a middle school student, she had no right to whine about asking permission to use the phone. Furthermore, the pohoto of a naked man is an immediate red flag. The mom's right to ask about it. 
 "Smart phone addiction has experts talking"
  • Key passage from the article:
A 49-year-old housewife surnamed Hyeon recently arranged a family gathering at her house in Bundang, Gyeonggi, to celebrate the birthday of her father-in-law. About 10 people gathered for the meal, but it was quieter than it ever had been before.
Hyeon’s two daughters - one a freshman in college and the other a freshman in high school - both had their eyes glued to their smartphones throughout the family dinner.
    •  Again, she's the parent. She needs to get them off of their phones. It's her responsibility to explain and enforce appropriate dinner behavior.
The editorial: "Protect teens from digital addiction"

Korea's Information Society----한국의 정보 사회: Smartphones, Youth and Addiction

Korea's Information Society----한국의 정보 사회: Smartphones, Youth and Addiction: Starting a few years back, South Korea established a pattern of building its broadband networks, both fixed and mobile, years or months ahea...

Monday, June 24, 2013

A 3rd lap around the track

Staying another year.

I chose to stay another year a while ago. I dont recall exactly when, except that it happened somewhere shortly after signing the renewal papers for a 2nd year. There are many reasons for doing so. The nearly two years of posts on this blog should make this clear, but, to reiterate:
  • Love of the job and everything that teaching here entails: Teaching the students has never been more enjoyable and rewarding. Their speaking abilities have continued to grow. I want to stay on to nurture that growth a little longer. Teaching at the boys middle school has proven an interesting contrast to teaching at the girls middle school. It'll be fun to continue examining how they're alike and different.
  • Love of living in Cheorwon. Its neither cool nor fashionable, but the area cant be beat for serenity and space. The slower pace of life and abundant greenery suit me better than the apartment towers and noisy roads of the cities right now.
    • I did consider moving away from Cheorwon and starting anew in a different area of Gangwon, but decided against it. Going somewhere new sounded exciting, but the time didn't feel right. Why?
      • I've established myself here and know the town and its people well. 
      • I've built a rapport with the co-teachers.
      • The need to carry on with the current group of students.
      • A dislike of moving.
  • Love of living in Korea. My Koreans getting better, but its still rusty. Its my fault because I dont practice speaking it enough. This past weekend allowed for ample opportunity, but it's still not enough. Kirsten did indeed set a high standard with her machine gun Korean, but it's something to strive for anyway. Still, theres more to be learned from this country. By now Ive seen a good amount of it, but it's not over yet. I haven't been to Gwanju, Jeonju, Gyoungju, or Jeju yet, and it'd be a shame to leave Korea without seeing any of those places. 
  • Love of friends and colleagues Ive met here.
Gangwon Dispatches will carry on. R's renewing for another year and transferring out of Seoul, so we're looking forward to our next year here.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dongmak Beach, Ganghwa Island (동막해변, 강화도)

Rochelle and I journeyed to Gangwha Island off the west coast yesterday.

While we didn't have as much luck with getting grilled  eel as I had thought, we're  having fun. We did meet some fellow English teachers at lunch. More later.

The makgeolli chronicles: 1.5 liters of  Ganghwa ginseng makgeolli. 5000won. The dark bits near the top of the liquid are the ginseng. Tasty!

Note: Ginseng makgeolli in Korean is 인삼 막걸리. I'd misspelled 인삼 in the original post.

More game board blues: Scrabble edition

I finally got around to ordering more sets of Scrabble for the kids, so we have 5 sets to work with now. I also ordered 4 sets of the venerable UpWords, which I plan on playing with the kids very soon. I predict that that game will be easier to explain than Scrabble, for as fun as Scrabble's been, it's proven difficult to explain. 

The middle school has Scrabble games and I figured it was time to bring the game into the classroom. as the middle school classes are all over 25 students or more, I did this for the high school classes. Because my coteachers hadn't heard about the game, I briefed them on the fundamentals of it so they could help too. They were all interested, so perhaps they'll use the game themselves in the future. And because I can't let a lesson go without a writing component, I made a simple graphic organizer which allowed the students to keep track of the words they used and the points they earned from them. I'd planned on having the students use the words in sentences, but we ran out of time. Perhaps I'll try it again in the future. One step at a time.

I'll be easier next time anyway because I won't need to use the PPT of directions again. Explaining the game took more time than I thought, but the kids loved playing it once they figured out what to do. They even enjoyed doing math in English. Some of my more reluctant students couldn't stop moving the letters around to form new words. This wasn't the real purpose of the game, but I let some groups bend the rules because they were otherwise participating and enjoying themselves. Sometimes it's best to let things ride if the kids are into it. These were kids who hardly spoken all year and suddenly they were showing off this word and that word with aplomb. 

Boys will be boys...

Vocabulary building 101...aww yeah. Special thanks to Miss Ho-bo for taking these pictures. That's her group's board above. Well done.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Inside Korean culture: Aegyo

[Source: Seoulistic/Youtube]

Aegyo is, as the video below explains, the act of being cute (to get something you want). I came across this while gathering materials for a lesson on talking about Korean culture in English. The HS grade 1 textbook includes a long section on aspects of Korean culture and I thought I'd expand on it. As aegyo's an integral part of young Korean girls' speech, it seemed a natural fit for the class: Everyone knows what it is, what it does, and what it looks like, but few knew how to explain it in English. Until now. 

I've long known about aegyo though various sites about Korea and have even done some of the expressions in class before. It never fails to excite the students! Evidently the sight of a grown man acting like a teenaged/twenty-something girl is simultaneously hilarious and wrong to them. No matter, I do it anyway because aegyo's hilariously childish. The boys may loathe it and the girls may laugh self-consciously, but the boys usually fall for it anyway. Aegyo's everywhere around here. 

For the class, I brought up the subject and passed out the Y-chart I linked below. I asked the students to consider what aegyo looks like, sounds like, and what it can be defined as. We discussed the subject for a few minutes to get them thinking before I showed the video. After the video finished, we talked some more about what they saw and whether they agreed with it. Doing so brought out some of the students out of their self-imposed shells and we had fun talking about aegyo. From there, we continued on with discussing other aspects of Korea. The lessons have been good so far, but the more I think about it, they can get better. It may be better to give the students some time to pair up and get some ideas down before talking to the rest of the class. I'll try that one today and see how it goes.

Until next time...

The picture of the chalkboard features notes from one of the classes and includes a drawing of what aegyo can look like. The girl who drew it employs the technique daily, as it happens. 

Mimi drew the picture. It's a variation on one she'd drawn in class before.


Gentleman Crab vs The Great Catsby

A little while ago I did a middle school lesson in which I gave groups a series of photos and asked them to make up conversations the people in the photos might have. They were free to say whatever they wished, but they could lean upon what they'd learned in class up if they needed ideas. The purpose was to see what they'd come up with. The lesson also meant I could use some funny pictures that had been lying dormant on the USB drive. At first, I thought the plan might backfire because how English grammar scares the students, but they delivered some interesting work. This sheet has some standard expressions on it, but I'm including it because who can resist Gentleman Crab and a cat dressed in a business suit?

Also, I didn't have time to tell the group about it, but they accidentally nailed the slang and irony of saying "What it is?" especially in the context of a rich office.

Special thanks to my old friend Mike from DIAD Designs for finding the Gentleman Crab picture. Note the sunglasses the kids drew on him.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Thoughts on the news article "Character building, not bullying"

The Joongang Daily ran this timely article about one's schools efforts to embed character education into its curriculum.

Character education's something I've long known about through my teaching courses. It goes in and out of fashion every so often because it's a nebulous term. It can mean instilling positive traits into students, for schooling centers on shaping productive minds who can benefit society. Questions remain on exactly how to do this, but it's good to see a school whose focus goes beyond preparing students for tests.

Tests form the foundation of Korean schooling and, to a large extent, society. Getting anywhere hinges upon tests and the ability to take them. With that in mind, readying the students for tests need not involve memorizing interminable facts and dates. The above article spotlights one science teacher who used storytelling to humanize the scientist Faraday and his life's work. In doing so, he not only told the students about Faraday, but showed them what he did and how it contributes to modern science. Until now, I'd never heard of Faraday, but he sounds like someone to learn from. Indeed, in showing how different people overcame problems, we can learn about their character.

In my courses, I've endeavored to use examples from historical figures to emphasize punctuality and preparedness, which are two things students usually struggle with. Part of it comes from adolescent feet-dragging, and the other comes from not having learned it before. Neither the classroom nor society can hardly function if no one shows up on time or, failing that, within a few minutes of on time. Anyone who's spent any time in a classroom's surely seen the perpetual stragglers and slackers, the ones who never have materials and never arrive on time. They don't know it, but they're hindering their peers as much as they're hindering themselves because their lateness always disrupts the class. Their lack of materials makes them depend on others for charity as well. Those two problems will probably never go away, but they can certainly be alleviated. 

It's teachers like those at Yangseo High School who are making school a better place by making lessons blending character education into their curriculum. They're breathing some life into dry or difficult subjects like science and art. In a time when news stories about incompetent and misbehaving teachers are everywhere, it's refreshing to see a positive news story about teachers. I wish them the very best.

The comeback/ Pictures of home

I've been away from the blog for a while, so I thought I'd break the silence with some pictures of Wasu. I've been meaning to post something like this for a while, for as much as Wasu and Cheorwon are written about here, I haven't said too much about what the towns actually look like. I took these pictures a couple weeks ago and forgot about posting them until today. Some "sudden free time," as one co-teacher put it, has come up this week thanks to a combo of getting ahead on lessons and not having to teach HS 2nd grade because that co-teacher's away on honeymoon. If things go well, there may be more posts in the next few days. 

Below you can see pictures of the Wasu Cheon, some of the fields, one of the parks, and the library. The fields have since sprouted up with growth and everything's gotten greener in the past couple of weeks. The first picture shows why I love this place: the space. I can get on the walking path and be alone between the mountains in a matter of minutes at any time. It's good to get away and regroup for a while. 

Enjoy the pictures...