Two of my students decided to use our classroom Cinch podcasting app on our iPods to create a podcast version of their essays. We talked about how to condense down the ideas into a short podcast. Here is what they came up with. The first is about solar energy and the second is about two kinds of engines (two stroke and four stroke) on the dirt bikes they like to ride. In other years, we often use Voicethread to have everyone do some podcasting with this project, but we ran out of time this year.
I played a bunch of my students’ video games yesterday as part of my assessment of their essay projects, which I have been writing about for a few days now (and more to come …) I decided that I would grab screenshots of some of the games made in Gamestar Mechanic and then dump those videos into Animoto, for a quick video collection.
I’ve written my fair share lately about Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy but I guess I am not done yet. As part of one of our Scholastic Book orders, I saw this collection of “completely unauthorized” essays about The Hunger Games calledThe Girl Who Was On Fire (edited by Leah Wilson). I know this is just a book marketing gimmick to sell more books, but I have been very curious about all the ancillary books that my students are reading about the book and the movie.
The first few essays didn’t interest me much, as they covered the love triangle (Katniss, Peeta, Gale) and how love becomes an enduring theme in the series. I love love, but I wasn’t all that interested in the analysis of it in the book. (Is that a guy reaction? Maybe. Most of the writers here are female, by the way. And my most avid readers of the series are girls. Why is that?)
But the next few sections centered on the parallels to modern reality television and the games (as well as connections to classic literature that Collins references in the books), and the use of rhetoric and “smoke and mirrors” in the politics of Panem, and how Katniss navigates those ideas to her own advantage. There’s also an intriguing essay about the science of The Hunger Games, and how maybe some of the strange things in the books (such as the genetic mutant Mutts) are not that far-fetched after all, if you consider the scope of modern science. There’s even a piece about the impact of Post-Traumatic Stress on the characters (particularly Peeta) and how those events shape a life.
Overall, it was interesting to read The Girl Who Was On Fire collection after just finishing the series, even if the book is part of a marketing campaign by Scholastic. Now, where is that copy of the parody of the books called The Hunger Pains (by National Lampoon, of all things)? That’s what I need now to lighten up the mood a bit.
A few of my students tried out the use of Word It Out to create word clouds of their persuasive essays. They were intrigued by the visual rendering of their essays, and I pointed out to them the question: if someone looked at your word cloud, would a viewer know the argumentative stance that you took in your essay based on the words in your cloud? (And it occurs to me now that this should be a required part of the essay project next year .. mental note)
The first one here is mine, which I shared as an example.
Peace (in the loaded words),
Our inquiry theme of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project in the coming year will be “digital composition” and yesterday, our leadership board and assorted members (including our WMWP Technology Team) began mapping out some ideas to keep that theme working throughout the year. Our hope is to highlight the ways that technology is impacting or changing our perceptions of writing, and how to help teachers see the change and be part of it. Here are some of the ideas we are chatting about and planning for:
We’ll be using the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site as our “text” for the year, using pieces there for inquiry reading and reflections;
One of our possible goals as a board is to develop and publish our own “resource” at Digital Is by the end of the year — this will help our board members experience the shift from users to producers of content, with a real audience;
Our annual conference in the fall will feature a keynote address around digital literacies, and connections to the Common Core curriculum;
We’re considering ways to support teachers around place-based digital storytelling ideas, with hopes of getting students across a wide range of communities to produce pieces that could be shared at a regional Digital Storytelling Showcase event;
And more …
It’s exciting to be on this path, and our WMWP Technology Team (we have about eight members of the team) will be the leaders of the inquiry initiative. And as it is the 20th anniversary of the WMWP site (which is quite an accomplishment), the idea of looking ahead to literacies as well as remembering our history is a balance we are striving to achieve.
I introduced my students to Google Search Stories the other day as one extension activity for their persuasive essay/multimedia project. Many of them were intrigued by the short digital storytelling tool, and we had a discussion about why Google would provide such a tool: search queries equals profits for Google, and there was an appetite for people creating their own search stories after a famous Superbowl ad ran a few years ago. I want them to understand both sides of the equation around “free” technology.
A few of them are using the search story idea within a larger media project (such as a Glog or video project) but we are collecting and hosting them at our classroom YouTube site. Here is a playlist of the search stories, so far.
I have a significant number of students working in Gamestar Mechanic to develop the “media component” of an environmental essay project. I have been modeling my own essay with students every day — pulling out paragraphs and making observations about my strategies — as a mentor piece, and I have been doing the same with the media pieces. My own essay is about fuel cell technology. Yesterday, I worked on, and then finished, a short video game about fuel cells that I shared with my students yesterday.
What I pointed out to them is how I used the text of the game (in the form of the introductions, rules, and even text messages within the game itself) to reflect the “stance” of my essay that fuel cells are a good idea and need more investment and research. I’ve really been pushing the ways to marry the media project with the argumentative stance of the essay, so that the two work together to create one single powerful message.
As a teacher and parent, I am most focused on teaching digital citizenship skills to my students and my children. But let’s face it: adults need help learning about how to effectively read and understand technology, too. I was reminded of this the other day when my wife told of a friend of a friend who fell for one of those email scams (“I need $40,000 and a plane ticket to America.” — man in Nigeria). And then, I had another reminder when I saw that my state (Massachusetts) had put together a new website resource to teach residents about Internet business scams and how to protect yourself from them.
Hosted by the Massachusetts Consumer Affairs Division, the website (Top Massachusetts Deals) lets folks know that the links are all fake websites, but if you stumble on one of them (such as the one about weight loss, or medical billing, or great Internet deals) and click on any of the “pay links” or “free stuff” links, you get a nice, large alert that THIS IS A SCAM. The scam part of the site also provides very details explanations of why it is a scam, and what you need to be looking for before you pull out your credit card.
I love that our state is doing this, and I hope it becomes part of a larger campaign to educate people about the need to be literate in many ways, including the ability to “read” a website, determine its origin, think about the legitimacy of product and owner, and make an informed choice based not on the flash and graphics, but on the content of the material.
CommonSense Media just put out a handy guide to summer technology activities, broken down by age levels. I might share this with the parents of my students, as I often get questions about what kind of technology is appropriate for my sixth graders (I often say, the kind that gets them creating not just consuming). This guide is worth checking out and maybe sharing.
I like that Minecraft, Machinarium, Scramble with friends, and other games that stimulate the mind are on the approved list here. And the apps are grouped around themes, too, as if it were a summer camp flier. I appreciate that stab at humor. Keep in mind that CommonSense has a pretty strict filter for technology — they are a bit narrow in what is good for kids. I’m fine with that, but it is important to be aware of that bias around technology, too.
These videos were in my Google Video archives as part of our Collaborative ABC Movie Project from a few years ago, as my friend Bonnie and I sought to explore digital storytelling with a bunch of other connected friends. The other videos are scattered about in other people’s collections or hard drives, no doubt (we had used the now-extinct site, JumpCut, to pull them all together and even edit them together on Jumpcut, which was a pretty neat experience). I still got a kick out of seeing what we were doing with that project, and thinking about how much I learned about digital storytelling, collaboration and coordinating a huge project.