Gaw — I didn’t let them play

(Note: I am scattering some of our essay podcasts throughout this post)

I had such grand plans that I completely forgot my own mantra of “let them play” when it comes to trying out new technology. The result? I was scrambling, feeling frustrated, watching the clock roll down and building a larger headache as the day went on — literally.

Let me back up.

Yesterday, I showed my students how to use Garageband to create podcasts. The idea is for them to create a podcast version of the Persuasive Environmental Essay Project they had just completed. The essay was to be their script. Once the podcast was done, they were to go to a Voicethread that I have set up, and upload the audio file.

I also knew that we only had the Mac cart for the day, so I decided that we just did not have the time or luxury to “play” with Garageband. I am a big advocate of when you put a new tool into the hands of students, you need to give them ample time to experiment, play and get used to the tool. I didn’t do that, to my regret. Some students played anyway, wasting precious time making loops of little yells and sound effects. Others didn’t quite understand how to remove tracks that you didn’t like, and start over at the beginning of the track (why doesn’t Gband do that automatically? I mean, come on). So, their audio has stretches of silence at the start. And so on.

Which isn’t to say that a lot didn’t get done. Many of my students in the four classes did the tasks I gave them: create a podcast and upload it into our Voicethread. But I need to catch up with a few students in the next week and see if I can help them finish up what they started.

Even with my growing headache, though, I could tell the podcasting idea was successful on other levels. Many of them were making revisions on their essays after reading it for the podcast. This connection between reading, listening and revision is something I am very interested in. (note to self: don’t forget it). The essays are pretty powerful, and meaningful, and hearing students read their own essays gives the topics a further punch.

Today, the media projects are due, and I am already seeing some fantastic work in multimedia expression, and I wonder what else will be coming into the classroom. This partnership of essay writing, multimedia composition, and podcasting/publishing really ties together so many strands that I find important.

I need to be patient, though. I need to remember that time to play is not time wasted. It’s a time of learning that pays off with the quality of work at the end of the line. I need to remember that.

Peace (in the play),

We have an Essay … Now let’s build a Legacy

I’ve never quite been a big fan of the five paragraph essay, although I am required to teach its beginnings to my sixth graders and I do see the merit of developing an idea over a longer stretch of time. Today, my students will come to class with their essay projects built around a persuasive stance on an environmental topic. They have worked hard on the writing, and the last thing I want to do is be the sole audience for their work.

I keep coming back to a term that a keynote speaker used in a recent conference (it may have been Alan November) about technology giving young people the means to leave behind a “legacy” of ideas for other students following in their footsteps. I really love that concept, and that remark reminded me of one of the things that technology can do: provide an authentic writing space that doesn’t disappear when the school year ends.

So, today, my students will be learning how to use Garageband for podcasting (some, for the first time). They will record their essays with their own voice. Then, we will head back to Voicethread to upload those podcasts on a thread that I built around their environmental topics. And we won’t be done yet. Along with publishing the Voicethread at our classroom blog site, we intend to publish the work at the Voices on the Gulf site (which we have been using sporadically this year as our inquiry focus touched on environmental issues) and possibly, over at the revamped Youth Voices site, which now has a space for elementary students.

We’ll also be finishing up and publishing the various “media” and technology projects that are associated with the essays, giving more depth to the traditional five paragraph essay venture. Students are working on glogs, videos, powerpoints, and more.

These various components around composing — technology, publishing, voice, audience — are really motivating many of my students during a time of the year when their motivation often sags a bit. I’m very proud of their work, and best of all — so are they. And their voice is part of the Legacy they will be leaving behind at the end of the sixth grade.

Peace (in the legacy),

Student Environmental MultiMedia Projects: Glogs, Powerpoints, Webcomics

The media projects that my students are working on as a component of their persuasive essay assignment are starting to come to a close this week. Many are using for creating a media experience that complements the message of their essay (this correlation idea was at the heart of our class discussions yesterday — how to align the message of an essay with the message of a multimedia project).
Here is one student example about Rainforests:

And here are a few Powerpoint Presentations — one on saving Armadillos and the other on water pollution:

And finally, one boy is looking into why bats are disappearing and he used our BitStrips Webcomic site to do his project:

Peace (by looking at the world),

Connecting Student Essays to Media/Technology

As my students wind down their work on their persuasive/environmental science essay projects, they are also beginning to work on the accompanying “media project” that will complement the message of their essay through some other means. It may involve technology, but it may not, too. Right now, some are working on Glogs; some are working are webcomics; some are developing Powerpoint presentations; others are shooting and editing video; and others are doing some traditional posters and 3D projects (one girl is developing a model of the three worst nuclear disasters in the world).

I shared the three samples that I did with them last week for my essay on Fuel Cell Technology. What I wanted them to see is that while the platform may change, the message of supporting research into this alternative fuel is something that remained constant. How to use media to create a rhetorical, argumentative stance is what this is all about.

Here is my Glog:

Here is my Webcomic:

Here is my Powerpoint:

Peace (in the argument),

Post-Conference Reflective Catch-Ups

I realized this morning that I have a lot of notes from two recent conference/events, so I am going to try to share some of the notes out here from both the National Writing Project’s Urban Sites Conference and the Massachusetts New Literacies Initiative. As it happens, both took place in Boston in the last two weeks. I’ve shared some bits from both events on the blog but these are more specific notes about specific sessions.

The Massachusetts New Literacies Initiative

At our last session of the year-long project, teachers shared much of what they had developed and implemented around New Literacies and learning. The projects and links will be shared later at our wiki site, but as I went around on our “gallery walk” and watched a few presentations, I took some notes.

  • One project teamed up a librarian with a fifth grade teacher on the topic of the Revolutionary War. The librarian helped with teaching research techniques and using the Web for search queries while the classroom teacher taught the history. Together, they helped the students create Glogster posters to represent what they had learned about the events leading to the Revolutionary War. I liked how the search and research lessons were part of the overall unit. It was a nice model for easy integration of technology into a traditional lesson.
  • A math unit that dealt with linear relationships had students using Google Earth to track the bus routes they took to get to school, graph out the data points (slope), and then share their findings on a Glogster page (Glogster was a big hit with a lot of the teachers in the institute). The use of a Sketchpad software program allowed students to create interesting and visually-appealing graphs. The use of the Google Earth — particularly the application that allows you to make real-time videos of a certain path — gave the project a very interesting angle (oooh, good word choice for a math project, right?). I am going to bring this project to my own sixth grade math teacher and see what he thinks about it.
  • A teacher shared a new program that is putting iPad devices into the hands of at-risk and special education students, as a way not only to motivate learning but to try to make the technology as invisible as possible. She noted that the district now has about 40 iPads in special education settings, and all new teachers to the districts are receiving iPads for their classroom. She noted that the apps for reinforcing learning have been invaluable, and that they are collecting data to determine any gains made by students who are using the iPads.
  • A teacher talked about using persuasive writing, a literature study around a book on modern-day slavery, and the use of collaborative writing on a Moodle site. He noted that his students, who are at-risk writers, have never been as engaged, and have never developed the kind of writing that he saw, in the past. He used videos to complement the reading, and then the persuasive writing pieces (written in small groups) were written for and mailed to politicians, pop culture icons and others as a way to talk about slavery in modern times. That use of authentic audience, and technology to enhance resources and writing, made a different, the teacher noted.
  • A teacher talked about the use of gaming in her high school classroom, particularly the use of Myst/Riven as immersive worlds that can spark writing of reluctant students. As a class, they played the games together, and then she would use scenes from the game to get her students writing. She noted such elements as narrative and expository writing, point of view, non-linear composition, complex and evolving plot lines and more.
  • Another teacher talked about using the Edmodo social platform for online literature circles, embedding other tools such as Voicethread and videos and other media to enhance the discussions. She noted that one thing she learned is that many of her best practices from the traditional classroom still have a lot of value in online spaces. That’s something for us to keep in mind, for sure.

And then, the week before, I was at the NWP Urban Sites Conference.

  • I attended a session entitled “Turning Distractions into Tools” that focused on ways to use technology that are in the lives of students in the classroom. They focused in on the use of video as a tool for reflection in the writing process — which I found interesting. One of the topics was developing consumer product reviews that were published, including for a local newspaper. We talked a lot about mobile devices and how they might make their way into classrooms.
  • Another session I attended was called “Bring It! Using Pop Culture to Develop Academic and Critical Literacy Among Urban Youth.” Here, the presenters talked about how to engage students in learning by tapping into the things they love — music, sports, culture and more. one of the presenters discussed how the launch of a sports magazine at his school had boys, in particular, writing with length and complexity that did not happen much prior to the project. But the magazine, which was online and on paper, gave these writers a voice, and access to sporting events.
  • I attended a session called “Empowering Student Writing through Filmmaking” that had us making movies in the workshop and reflecting on the compositional approaches that go into creating a video project, as well as all the writing that must happen in the pre-production and post-production stages.
  • Finally, a late-afternoon session entitled “Using Commercials in the Classroom” was a fascinating look at pop culture media and advertisements. We learned how to give students the stance to be critical viewers of media, and how to pick apart the rhetorical stance of advertisements. It was quite fascinating.

Phew. That is the fast lane of my notes from two conferences. I have a lot to think about, and a lot to consider when it comes to my own classroom, and both events were very thought-provoking in their own ways. What is clear is that technology, culture and learning are continuing to evolve as the world changes all around us. There’s  a lot for us to learn about.

Peace (in the sharing),

NWP Writers and Six Word Stories

Over at our iAnthology Space, which is a home for those of us affiliated with the National Writing Project, we’ve been writing Six Word Stories this past week as our weekly writing prompt. I took all of the stories — about 20 of them — and made a video montage. But I decided that it would be cool to open it up to anyone in my network — blog readers, Twitter friends, etc. — so I put the video into a Voicethread and now, I encourage you to add your story to our Voicethread. Come on along! You’re invited to write with us! You can use text, audio or video.

Head to the Six Word Story Voicethread.

Or use the embedded thread below.

Peace (in the short story),

Voicethreaded Reflections on New Literacies Institute

Yesterday, we gathered together for the final session of the Massachusetts New Literacies Teacher Leadership Institute to wrap up a year-long program to explore and use technology to engage students in our visions of New Literacies. The initiative is sponsored by our state education department. Since last June, I have been using Voicethread to reflect on the week-long seminar and the various follow-ups during the year. The Thread is in chronological order, so if you want to hear yesterday’s reflection, you can go to the last thread.

Feel free to leave comments or questions on the thread. In particular, you can see my video of “three words” to define New Literacies. I wonder what your three words would be? I invite you to add them into my thread.

Peace (in the reflective practice),

Bringing the Mass New Literacies to a Close

I am up early (even for me), and out the door soon, to head out to the Microsoft Center in Cambridge for the last session of the year for the Massachusetts New Literacies Teacher Leader Initiative. Since last summer, we have been supporting groups of teachers around the state on how to think about this idea of “new literacies” and then implement action plans into reality in their school districts.

Today, they will be turning in their lesson plans and sharing out their learning with the larger group. I will add some thoughts to my ongoing Voicethread Reflections sometime this weekend. My hope is that the projects go beyond the tools — the “technology — and push into the question of what is literacy these days, and how can we help students tap into that multimedia, global world for composition.

My fear is that our discussions may get bogged down into the ways things didn’t happen and the various obstacles: harsh firewalls, lack of time, equipment issues. These are all very legitimate concerns, and certainly they impact instruction, but I am hoping our discussions go beyond that and into the learning that comes with the age of technology.

It helps that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is the sponsor of the New Literacies Initiative. That shows forward-thinking on the part of our state officials and a recognition that our classrooms need to better reflect the reality of the world in which our students are living, and composing.

Peace (in the literacies of the age),

Ten Reasons for Teachers to Celebrate Free Comic Book Day

It’s probably not on your Hallmark Calendar, but this Saturday (May 7) is Free Comic Book Day all across the nation. That means that comic book stores and other book sellers (although, mostly independent shops — which are always worth supporting) will have stacks and stacks of free comics for people. That includes you!

So, why should you celebrate? We love lists on the Internet, so here is my mine.

Ten Reasons Why Teachers Should Love Free Comic Book Day

  1. The comics are free. If you are a teacher like me, you love free stuff for the classroom. That said, the comics are shorter than normal and have snippets of stories. They’re free, but limited between the covers.
  2. They’re comics. I know. Duh. But there are still plenty of teachers who dismiss comics as “not legitimate literature,” even though there are places like PopGun Chaos and The Graphic Classroom (where I write reviews) that bring to light the potential of comics in the classroom.
  3. It will bring your students into a book store (ask them if they remember what those places are? Just kidding. Sort of). Let them know about Free Comic Book Day. Use the handy “store locator” to find the nearest place. Get their feet in the door and who knows: their interest in comics might lead to another shelf of books.
  4. If you are a teacher, I urge you to at least go to the event. Look around the room. What kind of kids are there? In my experience, I bet you will see many of our “reluctant readers.” My own visits to a local comic book store opened my eyes. Here were all those boys, in particular, reading on their own time.
  5. Think Common Core Standards. (sorry). The fusion of media, art, writing and story in a variety of narrative formats is what comics are all about and which do so well. And there are more and more graphic novels with a non-fiction, informational stance, too.
  6. As a way to teach writing, comics offer one way into lessons around inference (what is not being said), character development (strengths and flaws), dialogue, figurative language, and story lines that often connected to traditional stories (The Odyssey is everywhere).
  7. The day might break you free of some stereotypes of comics. Or it may not. I can’t defend which stories are going to be free. But dig deep for the comics that go beyond your expectations (last year, I was happy to get some copies of Mouse Guard, which became a minor hit in the classroom).
  8. Do you ever give out prizes in the classroom? I sometimes use the free comics as a replacement for candy (which we don’t do anymore) or pencils (which I do do). You might want to ask the comic book store manager if you can get extra copies for the classroom.
  9. There’s plenty of humor in the free comics. Whether you find it appropriate or not will be up to you. But it is always a good idea to lighten the mood with some funny stories. Comics can be a nice anecdote to serious reading.
  10. There an app for that. Of course there is. The free Comic Book Day App comes with free e-comics and the store locator built right into the app itself. I’m going to give it a try and see how it looks.

This is the 10th year of Free Comic Book Day. Ten years of anything is worth celebrating, and worth mentioning to our students. Go get yourself some comics!

Peace (in tiny little boxes),
PS — If you have time, read the post on Popgun Chaos entitled A Letter to a Prospective Comic Reader. It is well worth your time, particularly if you are ambivalent to the idea of comics in general.