The Digital Math Book Project, part four

This is the fourth in a series of reflective posts I am writing about my Digital Picture Book Project (see post one, post two and post three). Today, I want to share some of the finer details, from a teaching stance, and give some pointers if you are considering such a project.

First of all, here is the basic plan that I follow. It obviously has more details to it in practice, but this gives you some idea of what it looks like:

  • Week One: Come up with a concept and target a specific audience. Develop a storyboard with sketch drawings and frame story ideas. Invite in an author/illustrator to talk about the process.
  • Week Two: Write a rough draft of the story in Microsoft Word and proofread. Begin work on the computers.
  • Week Three: Work towards completion of pictures and words; Consider adding multimedia elements such as audio narration, slide and image transitions, etc. Classmates read and critique the developing picture books, providing authentic input for revisions.
  • Week Four: Invite students from younger grades to tour the classroom in round robin format, reading and/or listening to stories and asking questions of writers; reflect on process and experience.
  • Week Five and beyond: Publish the picture books to the Sixth Grade Weblog (for families) and print out two copies of every book (one for writers and one for school library), if budget permits. Teacher grades projects.

I use a scoring rubric, which I share with my students at the start of the project that covers such areas as the story, the math concept, the design of the book, and spelling/grammar issues. (you can view the rubric here, if you want. Feel free to use it, adapt it or whatever).

We do regular check-ins as a way for me to monitor progress, but also as a way for students to reflect upon what they are doing. These check-ins begin as writing prompts and then move into a classroom sharing and discussion. I find that at these moments, many of the students who have a good grasp on technology emerge as leaders. They will often share some tricks they have discovered and offer to help others. I love those moments, particularly when the not-so-cool kid suddenly becomes very cool indeed.

I am noticing the quality of books are getting better each year (this is the third year of this project) and that may be that I have more models from previous years to show students. It may also be that I am giving them more time, even though some continue to feel rushed when the deadline emerges. The use of storyboarding and graphic organizers are crucial to keep focus on the story before a computer is even booted up, and while the story may change as they move along in a natural way, the outline they have created keeps them on track.

Here is something else I love: having my students share their books with younger students at our school. We set aside periods of time when younger grades can visit our classroom, or join us in the library (where our librarian is a partner in this project) and view the books on the computers. My kids become truly published writers and the younger students see some possibilities of technology. They are usually in wow-ed by the books. And anything that brings older and younger students together is something I am in favor of.

Finally, I should relate some of the technical aspects of what we are doing. Along with Powerpoint, we use a classroom Weblog (The Electronic Pencil) to showcase the stories for parents. I save the books as Powerpoint Shows, upload and share with my Box.net account so that kids can download them at home, if you want. Box.Net also allows me to track the number of downloads. And the blog allowed students from all four classes to be able to view the math books from friends in the other three classes, to their great delight. They also left some quick comments on the blog about the books they read.

I tinkered with using Slideshare, but then found that the books were flattened out (although the links to the web worked, so that was a plus). In the past, I have also made the books into PDFs, but I did not do that this year (although I offered to do that for any student who did have access to Powerpoint or Microsoft’s PP viewer software).

I turn the books into videos using some software I purchased called PPT to Video (by Wondershare). It’s quite easy to use and allows the animation to work, which is crucial. I wish there were a free service out there that would do the same, but I use the software for other projects, too, so it was worth the cost that I paid for it. I also turned to web-based Animoto this year to make a compilation video of various slides from everyone’s books. The kids LOVED seeing parts of their stories turned into a music video. (And Animoto has a service account for educators that allows you to make and then download a video file for free, which is a wonderful gesture on their part. You can also upload automatically from Animoto into YouTube for sharing on blogs, etc.)

Here is the final video collection of picture books:

Thanks for reading the posts and watching the books. I hope you try it yourself, and if you have a similar project, I hope you will share your own reflections with us.

Peace (in pictures),
Kevin

PS — I have to share this picture that one of my students did of our math teacher in front of the class, giving a pop quiz. It cracks all of us up to no end.

Dear Bob … Our Spam Anti-Hero

This is one of an occasional email that I write to an author after reading their books. I have no idea what possesses me, but that non-reflective stance has never stopped me before. Today, I am writing an email to Bob Servant (or is it Neil Forsythe?) who wrote a wonderful tome entitled: Delete This At Your Peril! that centers on Servant’s email exchanges with spammers who clog our inboxes with harrowing tales of royal riches, Russian brides and other adventures.

Bob, of Scotland, decides to join in the fracas with wit and humor, and I was laughing so hard my children were worried about me.

Here is a blurb from his website:

Delete This At Your Peril features the anarchic exchanges between Bob and the hapless spam merchants. As they offer Bob lost African millions, Russian brides and get-rich-quick scams he responds by generously offering some outlandish schemes of his own. The spammers may have breached his firewall, but they have met their match as Bob Servant rises heroically to the challenge, and sows confusion in his wake.

Also at Bob’s website, I found his email address and wrote him a letter.

Dear Bob,

I am a little reluctant to send you an email, knowing as I now do the possibilities of your replies. I don’t have the time or energy for that kind of relationship. So let me just start out by saying that I do not have a load of cash sitting in a vault in Africa, nor am I the long lost heir to some royal seat in Zambia. I will never be considered a Russian beauty with a well-endowed chest (although my wife thinks I am cute enough for her) who seeks a hubby for love and life, nor will I give you 15 percent profits if my “friends” wire you some cash that the government shouldn’t know about. In addition, Bob, let me make it clear that I have no interest whatsoever in Chinese rubber belts or plastic planter pots of any sort. Neither do I intend to fall for your “Bobby” babe routine.
And, just so we all understand and are on the up and up, I never took your window-washing ladders that day that will clearly live in infamy in your mind, Bob.
That said, Bob, I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book, which I read yesterday afternoon in one long stretch. My kids were running amok, the chores were not being done, and in general, I let the world go to hell as I laughed my butt off about your exploits with email. I may never look at one of those spam emails again without thinking of you, Bob. Come to think of it, though, I had finally found myself not even noticing the spam anymore. Kind of like the kids screaming and you just tune them out completely? You know how that works. It just falls outside your field of vision. Now I will notice the spam again. I’ll see it in my inbox and think, should I forward this to Bob or has he already seen it?
So I am now wondering if I should be thanking you or be getting pissed off about spam coming back into my sight.
Let’s leave it at thanks, Bob. I bought the book, after all. You only wrote it. Staying positive about this whole spam situation keep us on some good footing, don’t you think?
Bob, I want to say that it’s not often that you run across someone who has the intellect to parry with the unknowns of this world, but you, Bob, have done it, with grace and humor and just enough vulgarity to make your adventure fun for the rest of us. I pictured you, with all of your Jazz magazines piled like rocks around you, punching keys in Scotland and meanwhile, somewhere in the world, some other fool was trying to string you along with only one goal: to gain your Cheeseburger Van fortune.
The real question is: are there really people who send along their bank numbers? Is this world littered with such imbeciles? Are we all such fools?
No need to answer, Bob. I think we both know the answer is, sadly, yes.

I come, then, to another sticky matter: Are you real, Bob? Or are you just some imaginary device from your pal, Neil? I guess it doesn’t matter. In the wired world, an imaginary fellow has as much chance to do damage as the real one.

Keep up the good work!

A pal from across the seas,

Kevin

The book can be ordered via Amazon. (Bob promises to ship me two talking lions for promoting his book, so tell them I sent ya)

Peace (in humor),
Kevin

The Digital Math Book Project, part three

This is the third part in a series of posts in which I am sharing and reflecting on my Digital Math Picture Book Project in which sixth grade students (ages 11 and 12 ) use MS Powerpoint to create original picture books with a technological publishing aspect. (See post one and post two for more information).

Today, I want to share some of the reflections that my students wrote as they completed their books. Along with taking the survey, whose results I wrote about yesterday, my students had to write a few sentences about things they liked about the project and ways that I could improve it for next year. I also ask this question because it gives them some power in how to shape a project and I often do make changes based on their reflections.

Some common themes in their reflections is the aspect of time (mostly, not enough time, even though we spent weeks on the project) and freedom to choose the topic (I force them to use math — or science, last year — as the underlying theme of their books so that we can tie it into the curriculum and our district’s huge pressurized push to boost math skills).

Here are some of what they said:

  • I enjoyed the math book project. One thing I would change would be to give less time. I know some people take a while to do the project, but I was done fairly quickly. Maybe it should be done independently because a lot of people are more efficient when working alone.
  • I think you should have different learning topics. Learning and teaching (some subject area) should still be part of it, but if everyone did different topics then it wouldn’t be the same thing in a different story or form for the audience. If we had different topics, like science or social studies or writing, then it would be better for the audience and for the writer. The writer would have more topics to choose from.
  • What I would change about the project is the deadline. I think you should give kids way more time. That way, kids would be able to spend more time on their pictures.
  • I think doing math kind of ruined it. It would be better if you could pick your own topic.
  • I really liked how we could draw our own pictures. But I think next year, kids should be able to have about two or three pieces of clip art in their stories.
  • I enjoyed using Microsoft Powerpoint to make a book. I think having it based on math was enjoyable. I like math a lot and it was fun to make a book around it. This was so fun I didn’t want to stop.
  • One way I think you could improve the project is to have a key or sheet on how to do certain things (in Powerpoint). There should be a paper that tells us how to do backgrounds, fill effects, animation. Then, you won’t have to go everywhere in the room and people don’t have to wait for you with a question. People could still ask questions if they are confused. I know I would have liked a key instead of always raising my hand.”

I think that last comment — on creating a sheet of paper with some basic technology instructions — makes a lot of sense and now I think, why didn’t I do that? I was running around the room quite a bit, helping out individually and doing mini-lessons here and there and everywhere. A sheet with some basic instructions would have freed me up. Great idea.

The comment that “math ruined it” is an extreme expression of a reaction that I got at the start of the project, and which quickly faded for many of the students as soon as they had a story idea in their mind and the laptops open. It’s true that math is not the most engaging theme, but it does allow me to justify the time spent on the project, allows students to think about math in a different way, gives them a chance to write for an audience (of younger students), and pushes them a bit outside of their regular comfort zone.

The first comment about having too much time on their hands was the only one of its kind in the stack of student reflections. I do have a series of bonus activities and different layers of the project for a variety of learners, so most always have something to keep them going. Last year, we even tinkered with embedding video into the books, but we did not get to that this year. But we do have students use audio to narrate their books, add hyperlinks to game and resource sites on the web, write biographies of themselves as published authors, and other activities. Even so, some kids cruise through and some are move slow (one of my students is still working on his book, which is looking great but it has been in progress now for almost five weeks).

Here is another video collection of the books:

In my next post, I will share out some thinking on what I will do next year based on my experiences from this year.

Peace (in pictures),
Kevin

Digital Math Book Project, Part two

This is the second part of my attempt to share out a month-long unit in my classrooms around creating digital picture books that center on the theme of math. Yesterday, I shared some of the links to the books themselves and one of the movies that I made by converting the Powerpoint files into video. (see part one) I will be sharing another movie with each of these posts.

By the way, this idea of digital picture books is also the topic of a chapter I have written for a book I am co-editing that centers on the concept of how technology may be changing the way we look at writing in the classroom, with a special emphasis on how teachers are handling the assessment of such work and balancing these changes with the increased state and federal push for standardized testing. (We’ll be sending off the book to our publisher in the coming weeks!)

At the end of the project, I have students take a quick survey as a way for me to gauge how things went overall (I have 80 students in four classes) and also write a quick reflection. I will share out some of the written reflection in the next part of these posts. But I gathered up the results of the survey and turned some of the questions into graphs. I had about 75 students take this survey.

Some things I find interesting:
  • I always hope this project might spur more students to see themselves as authors and publishers of their own books. Last year, the numbers did not show this interest but this year, more students indicated they might be willing to try to self-publish their own book in the future. This means that writing has value to them. Yeah.
  • It’s clear that the technological aspect to the book creation has drawn their interest and made them invest more energy into this project than if I had given them paper and pencils. I see that in the classroom, but it is nice to see it reflected in their own reactions, too. They were very engaged for few weeks on this project. Every day, the question from their mouths: Are we working on the books today?
  • The question of whether their book would be different if we had not used technology is an interesting one. Last year, the numbers were high in the column of “yes” but this year, there were a lot of “not sure” responses. I wonder if this is because we could not print them out and they could not see the flat version of their books. Almost everyone used some sort of animation within Powerpoint — moving characters, shifting scenes, etc.
  • I ask the Comfort Level question because at the start of the year, only a handful of my students had ever used Powerpoint before. The software has many drawbacks, of course, but I like to show them how to use programs in creative ways. I like to think that I am sending them forth with some knowledge that not everything has to be used as it was designed for and that it is OK to play around and dig deeper into technology to discover possibilities.
Here is another video collection of picture books:
Stay tuned for Part Three, where I share out some student reflections.
Peace (in pictures),
Kevin

The Digital Math Book Project, part one

My students have finished up their Digital Math Picture Book Project and I am going to share out some of the work and some reflections over a few days. The basic premise of this project is that students use MS Powerpoint as a platform for designing and creating a digital picture book. They can’t use any clip art. And the theme that must woven into all of their stories is math (last year, it was science). Some students go deep into Powerpoint and animate their stories in pretty neat ways. Others spend a lot of time on the illustrations. Everyone is fully engaged in the work during the entire unit and many students emerge as leaders and helpers of others.

Typically, this project takes a good three to four weeks, including planning time, rough draft writing and storyboarding, and then working on the computers. The final results are shared on our class weblog for families and shared with younger students at our school. Some years, we have money to print out hard copies of all the books, but not this year. Which is unfortunate, because there is value in their perceptions of their books from the digital canvas to the printed page.

Here are some samples of the books from this year, including a few that I experimented with my converting into a video. It’s not perfect — some frames move too fast and some of the writing is too small. I need to keep working with the software and figure out a better method. But I like turning the books into little movies, however.

I’ll share out the three little movies that I made as part of this series of posts. I would include them all here but the new Edublogs platform seems resistant to more than one embedded video media.

Here some links to download and view some books in Powerpoint mode:

I am now in the process of grading all of the books (more than 50!) and I am pleased with many of the results. This weekend, I’ll post out the results of a survey I gave to students and then I will share some of their written reflections on the project. The reflections provide an interesting insight into the process from their viewpoint (hint: why math? is a common thread).

Peace (in picture books),

Kevin

Photo Fridays

My good friend, Bonnie, is launching a new challenge called Photo Fridays, in which folks share photographs on Fridays via a Flickr Group. I am not much of a photographer but I am going to give it a whirl when I can because I have been interested in capturing scenes around my house (without people, if possible). It will be a sort of minutia of the small world unfolding around me.

Bonnie has set up a Mr. Linky widget at her site, so if you post a photo on Friday on your blog or website, be sure to add your link to her blog widget, and we can all connect together.

So:

Yesterday, I looked out at my front yard and saw the perfect image to capture the spirit of baseball at our house. A ball, a catcher’s mask and a pitch-back. It was just right. I love the contrast of the rich green grass with the white ball. The black of the mask and the pitch-back kind of fade, but I think the tree gives a bit of a backdrop and you can just make out the design of the netting. I did add the softening edges just to give more focus to the center of the image.

Peace (in pictures),
Kevin

Self-Publishing Student Poetry

This year, as we ended our unit on poetry, I decided that I wanted to try something a little different with my students’ poems. In the past, I have collected voluntary submissions of some poems, gathered them into a Microsoft Publisher document to make it look pretty, hit the photocopy machine and cranked out a bunch of stapled booklets. It worked just fine for what it was.

But I want my students to see themselves as published writers as much as possible. So, this year, I decided to be bold and use Lulu, the self-publishing site, to create a real book of student poems. I had tinkered in the year with using Lulu for some of my own work, and I was inspired once again when I saw that the collaborative @manyvoices project that had students using Twitter to write a story across the world published a final version through Lulu (I bought myself a copy). My students were excited about it, too.

And, so, after all of us doing proofreading and choosing some basic designs from Lulu, our book of poetry, entitled Exploration, is now for sale via Lulu. The cost is about $5 per book, which isn’t too bad, but shipping costs another $5. If I had another month in the school year, I would just use order forms for parents and buy a bunch in bulk. But time is running out (two weeks left) and so I have been directing students and families to the Lulu site, in hopes they will order a copy. (I have also set it up so the download of a PDF version is free, although one student asked why you would want that when you can have a book that you can hold in your hands — nice insight in the digital age).

buy this book on Lulu.

This is what the cover of the book looks like:

This file has been created and published by FireShot

I think I will do more with publishing next year, knowing how easy it really is with web-based platforms. My hope had also been to do a fundraiser in which we publish short stories and sell the book collection for a little bit more, and use the proceeds to benefit an organization in Darfur, which my students learned about and became advocates for earlier this year. But, again, time ran out on us.

Peace (in publishing),
Kevin

Nancy is host to Days in a Sentence

Our very-much pregnant friend, Nancy, has agreed to host this week’s Day in a Sentence (Will she write her sentence on the week of the baby?) So please join this week over at Nancy’s Blog and follow her suggestions for this week’s submissions.

I look forward to your words.

Peace (in rainy days here in New England before the blast of summer about to arrive this weekend),
Kevin

My RSS-ed World

This file has been created and published by FireShot

I was lucky enough to be asked by the National Writing Project to write an article on how I use my RSS feeds and blogging to connect with the world and other teachers, and also to move myself forward in thinking about technology and information flow as a teacher and as a blogger. The article was published this week at the NWP’s revamped Resource site. (See the article entitled” “Bringing the World to my Doorstep“)

How do you use RSS?

I would be curious to know if other folks see RSS as a way to control the wave of information. What I am finding is that I need to continually nurture the RSS (I use Google Reader now but I used to be a fan of Bloglines, until it would not play nice with Edublogs one time too many) and weed it like a garden: I add new sites as they pique my interest and remove old ones that just seem to take up space, and worry about the sites that I don’t even yet know exist but would be important to me.

Peace (in connections),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 10

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Yesterday, we all sat around and wrote. It was another freewriting opportunity for the kids and for me, too. I didn’t give them any directions, really, just space to write. We didn’t share. We didn’t talk. We wrote and then when it was time to leave, we put our notebooks away and that was that. While they were making comics or writing stories or reflecting on their past weekend, I was hit by an urge to write some poetry, and my mind was wandering around the idea of the End of the School Year.

So, these are three of the four poems I wrote during the freewriting times of my four writing classes yesterday. The fourth poem didn’t make the cut, but there still might be some fragments to pull from the fire on some other day. Words are never lost, they just await their time.

Let You Go
(listen to the poem)

I’d count the days
if I had the time
But time is elusive here
as the days slip past.

I am torn
between who you were,
who you are
and who you are becoming,
and wonder where
my place in your story will be
when the years have washed ashore.

You are more than
what my pen can hold
and beyond a form
to take shape on this paper
beneath fingers.

I watch you — I whisper
farewell
and let you go.


Stage Presence
(listen to the poem)

On stage
you were transformed
into something unrecognizable
even to me –
the silent one no longer silent
but with a voice
like a wolf
pouncing on those words
like prey.

I was there, with you, on stage,
in the moment
behind the curtain
I believed you in a way
I (perhaps) had not believed in you before

I wonder where that person lives
in you –
when I call on you,
I am only met with confusion.

Thunderstorm
(listen to the poem)

Another summer awaits you;
your parents are content to let you sit
and simmer in the heat –
and you, thinking your thoughts of no way out;
I know you need structure
an excuse to write,
to learn;
to move among us in the living
from your world behind the mask.

In the days ahead,
I will mail you a book — some pens and paper –
anonymous, as always –
and cross my fingers that it reaches you
in time ….

before the doldrums move you
into the path of the thunderstorms
of summer.

Peace (in the waning days of the school year),

Kevin