Student Contest | Our Fourth Annual 15-Second Vocabulary Video Challenge

A winner of our 2016 contest Killjoy, by Erika Kluge

We’ve been publishing a Word of the Day every school day since 2009, and in 2013, just as we were about to hit 1,000 words, we worked with Vocabulary.com and together announced our first Vocabulary Video Contest.

We liked the results so much that we’ve brought it back every year since.

So, for the fourth year in a row, we invite you to create a short video that defines or teaches any of the words in our collection, which is now over 1,600 words strong.

You have until Feb. 28 at 7 a.m. Eastern time to enter. All the rules and regulations, as well as some inspiration from past winners, are below.

As we like to remind you each year: Tenacity + a desire to edify + an enterprising nature – sloth = a beguiling result.

A winner of our 2013 contest Serendipity, by Nina T.

Q. I’m in! What are the rules and guidelines?

A. All words must come from our Word of the Day feature.

— Each word must be pronounced and defined, and the part of speech must be given. Please don’t forget: every year we have to disqualify many who fail to heed this rule.

— All definitions must come from either the Word of the Day or Vocabulary.com. If there are several definitions, you may use just the first one if you like.

— You must be 13 to 19 years old, but can be from anywhere in the world.

— Your video should be no more than 15 seconds, but can be shorter.

— You can work alone, with a partner or in a group, but only one submission per student, please, whether you’re working alone or with others.

— Use your imagination. You can act the word out, animate it, use puppets, draw, sing a song, create a dance, incorporate photographs, create a Claymation, or anything else that will help viewers understand and learn your word.

— Post a link to the video in our comments section with the name or names of everyone who worked on the video. We will watch the videos first to make sure they are appropriate before we approve your comment, so don’t worry if you don’t see your link for a day or two.

— Please make sure your video is public so that we can see it without a password.

— The contest ends on Feb. 28 at 7 a.m. Eastern time.

Here is a PDF of all 1,631 words we have published through Jan. 11, 2017.

Q. So we only post a link to our video on your blog. Where do we post the videos themselves?

A. Anywhere that you, your teachers and your parents or guardians are comfortable with, but please make sure we don’t need a password to access it.

Video hosting sites students have used in the past include YouTube, Vimeo, WeVideo, Magisto, Musical.ly, GoAnimate, PowToon and Google Docs. Make sure your video is shared with the public so our judges can watch it — especially if you are using Google Docs.

Of course, please follow the Terms of Service for whatever platform you use.

A winner of our 2016 contest Finesse, by Eric Seeliger

Q. Where can I look for inspiration?

A. Your first stop should be the posts featuring our 2016, 2014 and 2013 winners.

But if you’d like to learn more about developing vocabulary through multimodal expression, you might read some of the work of Prof. Bridget Dalton. In this article for Literacy Beat, she describes the step-by-step process she went through with her graduate students to have them create short videos.

Q. How can I choose a word, then learn enough about it to make a video?

A. To choose your word, you can scroll through our Word of the Day feature. Or, you can scan this lengthy PDF list of all 1,631 words we published through Jan. 11, 2017. (Teachers, you might choose the specific words from that list that you would like your students to use.)

Next, look up the word by putting it, along with the phrase “Word of the Day,” into our search, which you can find if you scroll down past the band that features our Lesson Plan subject areas. Read the entry to learn its definition, see how it has been used in The Times, and take a quick quiz to ensure you understand it.

You might next head to the Vocabulary.com dictionary, where you’ll find a friendly explanation and a rich supply of authentic usage examples from both current and classic sources.

Take a look at the entries for gnarled and disenfranchise— both from the Word of the Day — as examples. Once you have a handle on the word’s meaning and how it is commonly used, you can start to think about the most effective way to teach that word in a 15-second video.

A winner of our 2016 contest Disheartened, by ackstackful

Thank you for participating. Post the link to your video, along with the name or names of all those who worked on it, in the comments field.

You can also post your questions there, and we’ll answer them as soon as we can.

And if you want to know what other challenges we’ll be featuring on our site this year, check our contest calendar.

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What Do Teenagers Want? Potted Plant Parents

Photo

CreditKim Murton

Many parents feel that their adolescents hardly need them anymore. Teenagers often come and go on their own schedules, sometimes rebuff our friendly questions about their days, and can give the impression that interacting with the family is an imposition that comes at the cost of connecting, digitally or otherwise, with friends.

So here’s a complaint one might not expect to hear from teenagers: They wish their parents were around more often.

I spend part of my time as a consultant to schools, where I see teenagers as they go about their regular days. On several occasions over the years students have explained to me that their parents are rarely home. Sometimes, they tell me why — a single mother works long hours, the parents have saturated social lives, a sibling is in crisis — and sometimes they don’t.

Regardless of the surrounding circumstances, the teenagers who say they are longing for more time with their folks invariably seem self-sufficient and independent. Knowing this, I often suspect that the same adolescent who laments her parents’ absence might only faintly acknowledge their presence when they are in fact home.

A new study from Australia confirms the importance of a parent’s physical presence on adolescent health. Researchers from the University of Western Australia studied 3,000 middle- and high school students, including 618 adolescents with one parent who lived away from home for long stretches because of work, like a job on an offshore oil rig or a distant construction site. The researchers wanted to know how the extended absences of these “fly-in, fly-out” parents might affect the emotional and behavioral health of their children.

Overall, most adolescents felt their parents were present in their lives regardless of their work hours. However, a slightly higher percentage of teenagers who experienced the long work absence of a parent had emotional or behavioral problems compared with those whose parents worked more traditional hours.

This echoes research finding high rates of emotional distress in teenagers who routinely returned to an empty house after school or whose parents were rarely at dinner.

Notably, research also shows that Australian “fly-in, fly-out” parents often stay connected during their long absences by regularly checking in by social media, texts and FaceTime — letting their kids know that even though they were away, they were still watching.

And findings also suggest that parents don’t have to be home all the time to be present in their children’s lives, but it helped to be home at certain times. A classic study connected the total time at least one parent was home before and after school, at dinner and at bedtime to improved psychological health in adolescents. Importantly, the studies of parental presence indicate that sheer proximity confers a benefit over and above feelings of closeness or connectedness between parent and child.

In other words, it’s great if you and your adolescent get along well with each other, but even if you don’t, your uneasy presence is better for your teenager than your physical absence.

That there’s value in simply being around should come as a source of comfort for parents raising adolescents. With younger children, we have plenty of opportunities to put our parenting muscles to work. We can read stories together, make up knock-knock jokes, build towers, or go to the museum. Our youngsters still like to join us for a trip to a grocery store and they usually come to us first with their questions or problems.

But with teenagers, it’s not always easy to know how to connect. By their nature, adolescents aren’t always on board with our plans for making the most of family time and they aren’t always in the mood to chat. Happily, the quality parenting of a teenager may sometimes take the form of blending into the background like a potted plant.

Many parents of adolescents instinctively know this to be true and find ways to be present without advancing an agenda. One friend of mine quietly folds laundry each evening in the den where her teenagers watch TV. They enjoy one another’s company without any pressure to make conversation.

Another routinely accepts his daughter’s invitation to work or read nearby while she sits and does her homework. Of course, sharing the same space sets the stage for the possibility of actively interacting, and we have plenty of research attesting to the benefit of talking with or advising our teenagers.

We don’t really know why our mere company would have such value for teenagers, but decades of research on parent-child attachment suggests an explanation. Ideally, children use their parents as a safe and dependable base from which to explore the world and exert their autonomy. Indeed, studies tell us that securely attached toddlers quietly track their parents’ movements from room to room, even while carrying on with their own activities.

While normally developing teenagers seek new levels of emotional and physical distance from their parents perhaps they, like toddlers, feel most at ease when their folks balance active engagement with detached availability.

The giving season is at hand and the holidays hold the promise of families having more time to spend together. Our hopes for joyful engagement with our teenagers shouldn’t keep us from embracing the benefits of simply playing the role of a potted plant. In the swirl that can come at this time of year, we might offer our teenagers a gift we know they can use: Our quiet and steady presence.

My Kids Are Obsessed With Technology, and It’s All My Fault

The New York Times

Illustration by Tom Gauld
By STEVE ALMOND
Published: June 21, 2013

A few months ago, I attended my daughter Josie’s kindergarten open house, the highlight of which was a video slide show featuring our moppets using iPads to practice their penmanship. Parental cooing ensued.

I happened to be sitting next to the teacher, and I asked her about the rumor I’d heard: that next year, every elementary-school kid in town would be provided his or her own iPad. She said this pilot program was being introduced only at the newly constructed school three blocks from our house, which Josie will attend next year. “You’re lucky,” she observed wistfully.

This seemed to be the consensus around the school-bus stop. The iPads are coming! Not only were our kids going to love learning, they were also going to do so on the cutting edge of innovation. Why, in the face of this giddy chatter, was I filled with dread?

It’s not because I’m a cranky Luddite. I swear. I recognize that iPads, if introduced with a clear plan, and properly supervised, can improve learning and allow students to work at their own pace. Those are big ifs in an era of overcrowded classrooms. But my hunch is that our school will do a fine job. We live in a town filled with talented educators and concerned parents.

Frankly, I find it more disturbing that a brand-name product is being elevated to the status of mandatory school supply. I also worry that iPads might transform the classroom from a social environment into an educational subway car, each student fixated on his or her personalized educational gadget.

But beneath this fretting is a more fundamental beef: the school system, without meaning to, is subverting my parenting, in particular my fitful efforts to regulate my children’s exposure to screens. These efforts arise directly from my own tortured history as a digital pioneer, and the war still raging within me between harnessing the dazzling gifts of technology versus fighting to preserve the slower, less convenient pleasures of the analog world.

What I’m experiencing is, in essence, a generational reckoning, that queasy moment when those of us whose impatient desires drove the tech revolution must face the inheritors of this enthusiasm: our children.

It will probably come as no surprise that I’m one of those annoying people fond of boasting that I don’t own a TV. It makes me feel noble to mention this — I am feeling noble right now! — as if I’m taking a brave stand against the vulgar superficiality of the age. What I mention less frequently is the reason I don’t own a TV: because I would watch it constantly.

My brothers and I were so devoted to television as kids that we created an entire lexicon around it. The brother who turned on the TV, and thus controlled the channel being watched, was said to “emanate.” I didn’t even know what “emanate” meant. It just sounded like the right verb.

This was back in the ’70s. We were latchkey kids living on the brink of a brave new world. In a few short years, we’d hurtled from the miraculous calculator (turn it over to spell out “boobs”!) to arcades filled with strobing amusements. I was one of those guys who spent every spare quarter mastering Asteroids and Defender, who found in video games a reliable short-term cure for the loneliness and competitive anxiety that plagued me. By the time I graduated from college, the era of personal computers had dawned. I used mine to become a closet Freecell Solitaire addict.

Midway through my 20s I underwent a reformation. I began reading, then writing, literary fiction. It quickly became apparent that the quality of my work rose in direct proportion to my ability filter out distractions. I’ve spent the past two decades struggling to resist the endless pixelated enticements intended to capture and monetize every spare second of human attention.

Has this campaign succeeded? Not really. I’ve just been a bit slower on the uptake than my contemporaries. But even without a TV or smartphones, our household can feel dominated by computers, especially because I and my wife (also a writer) work at home. We stare into our screens for hours at a stretch, working and just as often distracting ourselves from work.

Our children not only pick up on this fraught dynamic; they re-enact it. We ostensibly limit Josie (age 6) and Judah (age 4) to 45 minutes of screen time per day. But they find ways to get more: hunkering down with the videos Josie takes on her camera, sweet-talking the grandparents and so on. The temptations have only multiplied as they move out into a world saturated by technology.

Consider an incident that has come to be known in my household as the Leapster Imbroglio. For those unfamiliar with the Leapster, it is a “learning game system” aimed at 4-to-9-year-olds. Josie has wanted one for more than a year. “My two best friends have a Leapster and I don’t,” she sobbed to her mother recently. “I feel like a loser!”

My wife was practically in tears as she related this episode to me. It struck me as terribly sad that an electronic device had become, in our daughter’s mind, such a powerful talisman of personal worth. But even sadder was the fact that I knew, deep down, exactly how she felt.

This is the moment we live in, the one our childhoods foretold. When I see Josie clutching her grandmother’s Kindle to play Angry Birds for the 10th straight time, or I watch my son stuporously soaking up a cartoon, I’m really seeing myself as a kid — anxious, needy for love but willing to settle for electronic distraction to soothe my nerves or hold tedium at bay.

And if experiencing this blast from the past weren’t troubling enough, I also get to confront my current failings as a parent. After all, we park the kiddos in front of SpongeBob because it’s convenient for us, not good for them. (“Quiet time,” we call it. Let’s please not dwell on how sad and perverse this phrase is.) We make this bargain every day, even though our kids are often restless and irritable afterward.

Back in the day, when my folks snapped off the TV and exhorted us to pick up a book or go outside and play, they did so with a certain cultural credibility. Everyone knew you couldn’t experience the “real world” by sitting in front of a screen. It was an escape. Today, screens are the real world, or at least the accepted means of making us feel a part of that world. And they can no longer be written off as mind-rotting piffle. “The iPad is an educational tool, Papa!” Josie declared last month, after hearing me grouse about Apple’s efforts to target the preschool demographic.

Her own experience learning to read is a case in point. We spent a year coaxing her to try beginner books. Even with the promise of our company and encouragement, it was a tough sell. Then her teacher sent home a note about a Web site that allows kids to listen to stories, with some rudimentary animation, before reading them and taking a quiz to earn points. She has since plowed through more than 50 books.

Josie never fails to remind me that “the reading” is her least favorite part of this activity. And when she does, I feel (once again) that I’m face to face with myself as a kid: more interested in racking up points than embracing the joys of reading. What I’m lamenting isn’t that she prefers to read off a screen but that the screen alters and dilutes the imaginative experience.

It is unfair, not to mention foolish, for me to expect my 6-year-old to seek redemption in the same way I did, only at age 25. Her job is to make the same sometimes-impulsive decisions I made as a kid (and teenager and young adult). And my job is to let her learn her own lessons rather than imposing mine on her.

Still, I can’t be the only parent feeling whiplashed by the pace of technological changes, the manner in which every conceivable wonder — not just the diversions but also the curriculums and cures, the assembled beauty and wisdom of the ages — has migrated inside our portable machines. Is it really possible to hand kids these magical devices without somehow dimming their sense of wonder at the world beyond the screen?

In the course of mulling this question, I stumbled across an odd trove of videos (on YouTube, naturally) in which parents proudly record their babies operating iPads. One girl is 9 months old. Her ability to manipulate the touch screen is astonishing. But the clip is profoundly eerie. The child’s face glows like an alien as she scrolls from app to app. It’s like watching some bizarre inverse of Skinner’s box, in which the child subject is overrun by choices and stimuli. She seems agitated in the same way my kids are after “quiet time” — excited without being engaged.

As I watched her in action, I found myself wondering how a malleable brain like hers might be shaped by this odd experience of being the lord of a tiny two-dimensional universe. And whether a child exposed to such an experience routinely might later struggle to contend with the necessary frustrations and mysteries of the actual world.

I realize the human brain is a supple organ. My daughter may learn to use technology in ways I never have: to focus her attention, to stimulate her imagination, to expand her sense of possibility. And I know too that most folks view their devices as relatively harmless paths to greater efficiency and connectivity.

But I remain skeptical.

Because aren’t we just kidding ourselves? When we whip out our smartphones in line at the bank, 9 times out of 10 it’s because we’re jonesing for a microhit of stimulation, or that feeling of power that comes with holding a tiny universe in our fist.

The reason people turn to screens hasn’t changed much over the years. They remain mirrors that reflect a species in retreat from the burdens of modern consciousness, from boredom and isolation and helplessness.

It’s natural for children to seek out a powerful tool to banish these feelings. But the only reliable antidote to such burdens, based on my own experience, is not immersion in brighter and mightier screens but the capacity to slow our minds and pay sustained attention to the world around us. This is how all of us — whether artists or scientists or kindergartners — find beauty and meaning in the unceasing rush of experience. It’s how we develop empathy for other people, and the humility to accept our failures and keep struggling. It’s what grants my daughter the patience to wait for the cardinal who has taken to visiting the compost bin on our back porch.

I imagine the iPad Josie receives at school next year will have access to a vast archive of information and videos about cardinals, ones she’ll be able to call up and peruse instantly. But no flick of the thumb will ever make her suck in her breath as she does when, after five excruciating minutes, an actual cardinal appears on the porch railing in a flash of impossible red. I hope Josie remembers that all her life. I hope we both do.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 23, 2013, on page MM44 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: ‘The iPads Are Coming!’.

Brain, Interrupted

Brain, Interrupted, The New York Times

By Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson | New York Times – Tue, May 7, 2013

  • Yahoo! Finance/Getty Images –

Technology has given us many gifts, among them dozens of new ways to grab our attention. It’s hard to talk to a friend without your phone buzzing at least once. Odds are high you will check your Twitter feed or Facebook wall while reading this article. Just try to type a memo at work without having an e-mail pop up that ruins your train of thought.

But what constitutes distraction? Does the mere possibility that a phone call or e-mail will soon arrive drain your brain power? And does distraction matter — do interruptions make us dumber? Quite a bit, according to new research by Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab.

There’s a lot of debate among brain researchers about the impact of gadgets on our brains. Most discussion has focused on the deleterious effect of multitasking. Early results show what most of us know implicitly: if you do two things at once, both efforts suffer.

In fact, multitasking is a misnomer. In most situations, the person juggling e-mail, text messaging, Facebook and a meeting is really doing something called “rapid toggling between tasks,” and is engaged in constant context switching.

As economics students know, switching involves costs. But how much? When a consumer switches banks, or a company switches suppliers, it’s relatively easy to count the added expense of the hassle of change. When your brain is switching tasks, the cost is harder to quantify.

There have been a few efforts to do so: Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, foundthat a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. But there has been scant research on the quality of work done during these periods of rapid toggling.

We decided to investigate further, and asked Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology, and the psychologist Eyal Peer at Carnegie Mellon to design an experiment to measure the brain power lost when someone is interrupted.

To simulate the pull of an expected cellphone call or e-mail, we had subjects sit in a lab and perform a standard cognitive skill test. In the experiment, 136 subjects were asked to read a short passage and answer questions about it. There were three groups of subjects; one merely completed the test. The other two were told they “might be contacted for further instructions” at any moment via instant message.

During an initial test, the second and third groups were interrupted twice. Then a second test was administered, but this time, only the second group was interrupted. The third group awaited an interruption that never came. Let’s call the three groups Control, Interrupted and On High Alert.

We expected the Interrupted group to make some mistakes, but the results were truly dismal, especially for those who think of themselves as multitaskers: during this first test, both interrupted groups answered correctly 20 percent less often than members of the control group.

In other words, the distraction of an interruption, combined with the brain drain of preparing for that interruption, made our test takers 20 percent dumber. That’s enough to turn a B-minus student (80 percent) into a failure (62 percent).

But in Part 2 of the experiment, the results were not as bleak. This time, part of the group was told they would be interrupted again, but they were actually left alone to focus on the questions.

Again, the Interrupted group underperformed the control group, but this time they closed the gap significantly, to a respectable 14 percent. Dr. Peer said this suggested that people who experience an interruption, and expect another, can learn to improve how they deal with it.

But among the On High Alert group, there was a twist. Those who were warned of an interruption that never came improved by a whopping 43 percent, and even outperformed the control test takers who were left alone. This unexpected, counterintuitive finding requires further research, but Dr. Peer thinks there’s a simple explanation: participants learned from their experience, and their brains adapted.

Somehow, it seems, they marshaled extra brain power to steel themselves against interruption, or perhaps the potential for interruptions served as a kind of deadline that helped them focus even better.

Clifford Nass, a Stanford sociologist who conducted some of the first tests on multitasking, has said that those who can’t resist the lure of doing two things at once are “suckers for irrelevancy.” There is some evidence that we’re not just suckers for that new text message, or addicted to it; it’s actually robbing us of brain power, too. Tweet about this at your own risk.

What the Carnegie Mellon study shows, however, is that it is possible to train yourself for distractions, even if you don’t know when they’ll hit.

Bob Sullivan, a journalist at NBC News, and Hugh Thompson, a computer scientist and entrepreneur, are the authors of “The Plateau Effect: Getting From Stuck to Success.”