The wiki story goes this way? or That way?

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Yesterday, on my last day with my students (before I head off to the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute), most of them finished their Make Your Own Adventure Stories. I’ve written about this project for a few days but we used Chris Van Allsburg’s Mysteries of Harris Burdick as a writing prompt and then we used our classroom Wikispaces site to create stories with “branches” that the reader chooses. I have noticed that this writing activity has really sparked some critical thinking skills and basic Internet skills, too, such as how to use  a wiki and how to create hyperlinks and navigation of text.

I wish I had two more class periods with them (note to self: this project takes about 5 or 6 class periods to accomplish) because I could tell a good number of students really needed a bit more time. They were all working so hard on their writing yesterday, which is something to see at the end of the year for 12 year olds.

I now wish I had been able to have them move the images from the prompt they chose (the Mysteries book is a series of illustrations and captions, and the stories are “missing”) into their stories. Right now, it is all text driven. Another cool possibilities: what if they could have added a podcast (of the story or a mysterious introduction?) or a video? Some things to ponder for the future.

Anyway, here are a few of the stories that did get completed:

Peace (in the many branches of imagination),

Psycho-analyzing My Tweets

There are sorts of strange data engines popping up from time to time, and this one — called TweetPsych — supposedly presents a psychological profile of a Twitter account based on their tweets. I figured, what the heck … (and I did not have to give them my password, which always stops me cold in my browsing tracks)

The site’s study of me shows that I tweet a lot about learning, and media, and seem to reference “time” a lot (as in, I don’t have enough?). On the low end, I don’t tweet enough about sex and thinking and work (although, that would be learning for me, right?).

See my full report.

Peace (on the couch with the virtual shrink),

Kevin (aka @dogtrax)

Can I blog a complaint?

My son is a sixth grader in a district where I don’t teach, so I always try to pry info out of him about what he is up to (no small feat, with a 12 year old boy). I’m interested, and yes, sort of competitive, too.  Yesterday, I asked him how his six-week “exploratory” block in technology went for him. My question came on the heels of his shocking (to me) remark that “Tomorrow, we get to play video games on the computers for 48 minutes.”

Now, I know that 12 year olds are not always that reliable for the entire tale, so I listened to him explain what they did for six weeks. But even after some thorough grilling, it became clear that “technology” is the wrong word for this exploratory block.

They learned some typing skills and, as he said, “He taught us how to do shortcuts in Microsoft Word …. and we played online games.”

And then, “Oh, he showed us how to put an image in Word. But we all already knew how to do that.”

“And if you didn’t, it would take you … what …. five seconds to figure it out?” is what I muttered back.

Shortcuts for Word? That’s technology in the classroom? I am beside myself with frustration that this is the best exposure to technology offered to a sixth grader? I’ll bet that curriculum is 10 years old and hasn’t changed a bit since then. What about creating? Composing? Publishing? Exploring (not games)? Web 2.0? There is a movement underway, folks, and if you can yourself a technology teacher, you better get on board.

I do show my own children a lot of technology (although I should write about that someday now that he is entering the ‘Can I have a Facebook’  phase and we try –not always successfully — to balance access to our technology with limited screen time). Here at home, we make movies, create music and do more than most, I am sure.

But what about those other kids who don’t have parents who are teachers into technology? What about them? Shortcuts and image placement in Word is the best we can do for them? I’d even be happy if the gaming was them inventing their own games or something of value. Instead, they are going to sites that are probably bombarded with advertisements in order to play a simplistic flash game.

Peace (in a huge sigh),

Those who “get it” vs. those who don’t

(This is a map that I began to create for my own story example, showing the paths of the narrative.)

We started working on our Make Your Own Adventure Stories yesterday, using a wikispaces site. The students used a short story they started writing the other day and then began to plan out “story branches” that will become hyperlinked pages on the wiki.

Here is what I noticed: some kids “got it,” some just didn’t.

What I mean by that is that this idea of creating alternative paths for a story really taps into critical thinking skills. You have to envision possibilities and move beyond the linear telling of a story (lord knows how the authors of full-length Make Your Own Ending novels do it). Given our limited amount of time left in the year, I told my sixth graders they only had to create one branch, but that the ambitious of them should try multiple branches.

That concept clicked with some of them and they were off to the races with their ideas. The others, though, seemed very befuddled. They understood the concept of Make Your Own Adventure, but they could not envision it for their own stories. The had difficulty imagining any moment when the reader might be asked, should it go THIS way or THAT way. These are the same kids whose critical thinking skills have not yet developed on pace with peers, something we notice with them in other areas, but never so dramatically, I think. This project really delineated a critical thinking dividing line for me as the teacher.

In some ways, the fault is mine.

This project requires more time than I can give it, and more modeling (which Tony asked about in my other post), and more experimental time. I did show them my story map (see above) that I made in Google Docs (with the flow chart template) for my own story sample and pointed out the ways the story that I wrote unfolded. Still, I was hoping that by this point in the year, they would all be ready for this kind of story adventure. I guess not.

I can’t wait, though, to see what they complete on Friday, which is our last writing day of the school year and my last day with my young writers (I head off to a New Literacies Institute next week).

Peace (in the branches),

Creating Alternative Story Branches

Time, I realize, is running out but I am determined to do one last interesting writing activity with my sixth graders. Although I was off from school yesterday on some family errands, I had them writing a short story inspired by The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg.

Today, I am going to show them how to create “branches” for their stories — alternative narrative paths — and use our class wiki to create Make Your Own Adventure style stories in which the reader chooses which branch to take and follows the story. I don’t imagine the stories will get too complex, given the time frame, but I do want to show them some of the possibilities of using hyperlinks to your advantage when writing in an online space.

I did a sample story this morning based on the image called “Oscar and Alphonse,” if you are interested, and if any of the stories really rise to the surface as superior, I’ll share those out, too.

Using the wiki seems right for this, although I had to set up a visitor account for my students to use. While I have it set that anyone can edit a page on the wiki (which I will lock down later), only visitors with a wikispaces account can create a new page, which is how you create the story branches. So, it got a little more complicate than I had expected.

But not insurmountable, and once again, my own experimenting with the writing activity paid off, as it allowed me to do some troubleshooting as if I were writing like one of my students.

Peace (in the branches),

The Roc: A Cool Music Loop Creator

Here’s another free tool in the Aviary suite of tools: Roc. It allows you to create short loops and I had blast working with it yesterday. I think the loops you create here can later be added into the Myna audio editor (note to self: check on that).

The interface is built on the idea of dragging tracks to the editing station, where you then click your mouse to add “beats” of that sound to the loop, so you can visually see the sounds you are layering (sort of like a musical cake, but not quite as filling).

Here is what I created:

Peace (in the roc),

A “Play”-ful Artifact of My Beliefs

As I get ready to head off as  a teacher-leader of the New Literacies Initiative next week in Cambridge, MA,that is sponsored by our state Department of Education and features some bigwigs in the field, we are being asked to bring an “artifact” that represents our views on learning and working with teachers.

I thought about how I might do that. Honestly, I wasn’t interested in bringing a digital piece of work. It seems disjointed to have an artifact as a file on my computer. Or am I caught in some conundrum of the digital world of wanting something that doesn’t exist in my hand? No, I want something physical. But what? What represents my views? (And what is easy to travel with?)

It dawned on me that I could bring a Wiki Stix dude, which symbolizes (for me) the use of “play” with students in the classroom and with teachers during professional development sessions that I lead. I always view the work and learning through the prism of having time to play and explore. With teachers, that time set aside in a session is invaluable. Often, we teachers are lectured to by PD folks and then told to implement, but we rarely are given time to just explore a tool or technique or whatever.

Just like kids, adults need time to play around, and through that sense of play, we can try to figure out the possibilities of a tool or idea for the classroom.  If I want my students to make movies, I should be making movies, too. If I want my students to create a collaborative document, then I should, too. Glogging? Podcasting? All of it — I do it, too, so that I can share my experiences with my young learners.

My Wiki Stix guy — OK, I need a name here — is a representation of that concept because if you put some of this bendable material (often, I have used clay) in someone’s hands, it is unlikely they will be able to resist the urge to “create” something and that is what learning is all about.

I’m interesting in seeing what the other folks bring and whether or not my off-kilter artifact will fit right in. Or not.

Peace (in the sharing),

Teaching Online Reading Habits

Here is an area that I am weak in as a teacher — how to successfully guide students to read accurately and appropriately on task and with clear reading intent when it comes to online documents that integrate multimedia, hyperlinks and more. I was thinking about this yesterday as I was reading through a research article co-written by Dr. Donald Leu, who is one of the main leaders of a New Literacies Institute that I am taking part in next week as a teacher-leader.

The article is entitled New Literacies and Online Reading Comprehension and it quite interesting. The authors note how quickly the world of literacy has changed, and how we don’t really know all that much about how young people are learning not just to navigate content online, but how to read and comprehend the information there. Like many of you, I talk to my students about authenticity of content — to be critical readers online — but I don’t often guide them through how to read a webpage or a multimedia document.

Why is that? Do I think they just know how to do it? (a rationale that too many of us teachers make when it comes to kids and technology) I don’t make the same assumptions when it comes to thinking about theme and character development and point of view when it comes to our novels? Why don’t I do the same for the world where they spend most of their time — the online space?

The authors of this study adapted a reading comprehension strategy called Reciprocal Teaching, which has steps that move from teacher-centered work towards independent student work, and it seems to center around making reading comprehension strategies visible through talk-outs and other activities. Their Internet Reciprocal Teaching method does the same, through guided reading and questions around online reading activities with a push towards student inquiry around what they are reading.

In the article, the authors point to the difficulty of assessment, but give out two resources. The formative assessment tool known as Formative Assessment of  Students’ Emerging Knowledge of Internet Strategies (FASEKIT). It is referenced here in this book, but I could not find an actual tool online (kind of odd, eh?). This has to do with students verbalizing the strategies they use when they go online to read or encounter text. A performance-based assessment can also be developed along the lines of multiple choice and short response answers, according to the authors, who cite the ORCA test as one model (which I am not familiar with, but may be in line with the concept of the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark System?)

So, I look forward to chatting with Dr. Leu next week and maybe, even as a teacher-leader at the institute, I need to come up with my own action plan that puts some of these ideas into motion for next year.

Peace (in the mulling of ideas),