Diving Into Tumblr: Some ‘Splaining to Do

comic tumblr
So, it’s not that I don’t know what Tumblr is. It’s just that I never had any real reason to create a Tumblr blog site. But this weekend (Thanks, Greg!), I took the plunge and began a site called Got Some ‘Splaining to Do where I will share out comic-style tutorials for apps and technology that I use. I won’t guarantee that it will be all that regular, but as I work within Walk My World and YouShow projects, I figure it can be a resource/portfolio of some of my work.

Check out Got Some ‘Splaining to Do

You will see this as a recent post, as I share out using the free Make Beliefs Comix app on the iPad. It’s nifty, free (I said that, right?) and fun, with some limits.

Making A Make Beliefs Comic

See you on the web!

Peace (in the frame),

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),

The Science/Persuasive Essay w/a Multimedia Twist

You should have heard the collective groans last week when I told my sixth graders we were moving into an essay project. Yikes. But I explained (again) our progression over the last few months — from learning about the origins of words, to how words are used in sentences (parts of speech), to sentence structure and usage, to paragraph writing. The next logical step is now to develop an idea into an essay (and our standards-based report card requires me to do this anyway — the essay is its own line item.)

So, we are moving into a persuasive essay project in which students are choosing a science theme to write about.

Why science?

First of all, they are very interested in the world and its many issues, and a persuasive essay allows them a “voice” an important matter. Second, I am really working on writing across the curriculum ideas so that they don’t see writing as an isolated activity. Third, I want to have them create a multimedia aspect of their project (via Glogster). And fourth, I intend to publish as many of the essays and media posters as possible with The Voices on the Gulf, giving my students an authentic writing experience. I am also interested in extending the concept of the Voices on the Gulf site into other scientific areas. Some students might address the Gulf; others will be working on other topics.
Meanwhile, I am also working on my own project as a way to talk about my own writing process. My topic is about Fuel Cell Technology and its potential as an energy source in the future.

Curious about the assignment? Here is the handout package.
The Environmental Science/Persuasive Essay Project

Peace (in the planning, writing and publishing),

TTT: Using Current Events to Shape Learning

A month or so ago, I was one of a handful of guests (including Suzie Boss) on Teachers Teaching Teachers, where we discussed how to tap into current events and unfolding news for learning in the classroom. While our main focus was the Voices on the Gulf site (which is up for an Edublog award for best use of a social network in education — vote for us!), the conversation was pretty wide-ranging.

Listen to the podcast

Here’s the blurb:

When the Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year, teachers across the country recognized an opportunity to bring real-world applications of math and science into their classrooms. Similarly, the rescue of 33 Chilean miners has triggered student discussions about everything from heroism to human biology.

In the wake of such dramatic events, some teachers are eager to do more than host current-events-style conversations. They want to use the news as a launching pad for in-depth student learning. But making that happen requires teachers and students to dive into topics for which there are no texts or guidebooks. What’s more, maintaining student interest can be challenging once the headlines start to fade and media attention shifts to tomorrow’s hot topic.

How do you plan for academically rigorous projects that are “ripped from the headlines”? Here are a few suggestions, along with some timely resources.

Thanks again to Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim for hosting the TTT show each week at EdTechTalk.

Peace (in the sharing),

Saving some turtles, one leaf at a time

turtle adoption nov10 (2)
I teach four classes of sixth graders and right now, two of those classes are finishing up the novel Flush by Carl Hiassen. This engaging and often-funny book centers on pollution of waters off the Florida Keys by a gambling boat and the efforts of a boy and his family to stop the pollution and protect the beach where endangered Loggerhead Turtles come to lay eggs.

We’re on a year-long inquiry around the environment, thanks in part to our participation in the Voices on the Gulf Project, and I saw an opportunity here with this book to try to do something constructive. So, we agreed that we would “adopt” a loggerhead turtle that is being cared for by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Jones Beach, Floriday.

The catch was that my students could not just go home and ask for $2 for the turtle project. They had to earn it, and the suggestion that they came up with was raking leaves (we’re in New England and leaves are everywhere right now).

The packets of information for our turtles (each class adopted one) came in yesterday and the kids were very excited. Sure, there were some jokes about “why didn’t they ship the turtle?” But overall, I could tell they were satisfied that they had some something good for the environment with this simple turtle adoption project, and it connected perfectly with our reading of the novel and our research around turtles.

Now, I’m thinking: they might need to invent a story with our adopted turtles — Andre and Gilda — as characters. Hmmm.

Voicethread, Tech Troubles, and Student Voice

(see the voicethread)
It was too late yesterday when I suddenly remembered an old blog post from my kindergarten colleague, Gail, about her difficulties last year with using Voicethread in the classroom with all the laptops up and running. And so, I found out what Gail had earlier discovered: the wireless “pipes” soon became overloaded with data flows as my four classes of 21 students podcasted their voice into our Voicethreads of Vehicles of the Future. The browsers had trouble loading, and to top it off, our Microsoft virus/spyware protection was downloading updates in the background.

We survived, by adapting. I channeled students to my two computers, and when one of the laptops was working, we shuffled students around. I had a secondary activity waiting for them, so mostly, they all had something to do even if they were waiting. But I was running to and fro like a madman teacher, fixing problems and helping students with Voicethread, which they had never used before but liked it.

The result is that MOST of the students in three of the classes were able to complete their podcasts on Voicethread, and the remaining ones I will find a way to get to today, I hope.

The funny, and good, thing is that they didn’t seem too flustered with all the problems. I kept my calm demeanor (sort of), and came up with solutions as needed, and they mostly just went right with it. In the past, I have used Voicethread by having students come up to me and podcast with me working the computer. I didn’t want that for this project. I wanted the tools in their hands.

(On a sidenote for teachers considering voicethread: I used my teacher account to create the four voicethreads — for four classes — and then had a secondary Voicethread account for students to use. I did this so they could not edit the thread beyond adding voice or text, and because we don’t have student email. I then embedded the thread at our blog, which is where they worked from. This system seemed to work fine.)

Next time, I am going to do things a bit differently. I will have them pair up on a single computer, alternating, so that we can reduce the flow of data on our wireless server. Yes, there will be a “next time,” because I try real hard not to let the technical difficulties get in the way of using a tool that brings out the creative voice in my students. We’ll figure it out.

Peace (in the threads),


What vehicles may look like …

We’re moving towards the end of our Vehicles of the Future project, in which my students are envisioning a time when we move beyond fossil fuels to power our transportation vehicles. Later today (fingers crossed), I will be showing each of my four classes how to use Voicethread, and they will be adding a podcast descriptive paragraph to each of their illustrations of their vehicles. They’ve been working on the pictures on and off for a few days now, and yesterday, I said: that’s it! Everyone is done today!

And they were, except for about three students who had been out of school for a day or two in the last week and were a bit far behind.

As luck would have it, in my mailbox yesterday afternoon was the latest issue of Time for Kids magazine, and the cover story is all about the world of electric cars. Yep — another perfect fit with Time for Kids (a few weeks ago, just as I was about to talk about our work with Voices on the Gulf, TFK ran a cover story about the recovery efforts in the Gulf.) And I see there is a cool timeline of invention of the electric car, which is a nice touch for our work around informational text. (Now it makes me think: could I create a timeline of when my students’ imaginary cars would be released to the public? How would I go about doing that? Hmmm.)

The Voicethread projects will also be for Voices on the Gulf but I will try to share out how it went here.

Peace (in the future),

Envisioning the non-Fossil Fuel Future

My students are in the midst of a class project in which they envision a time when we move away from fossil fuels as the source of energy for transportation vehicles. The Vehicles of the Future project is something I often do at the start of the year, but this year, we are tying it into our discussions around the Gulf Oil Spill and our work at the Voices on the Gulf website.

We had some rich conversations this week around our reliance on oil and gas, and why that was, and what were some of the positives and negatives of living in a society that relied so heavily on these non-renewable energy sources. Then, they got to work with their creative ideas.

This Wordle image is the result of using an AnswerGarden prompt, where students submitted their proposed alternative energy source. You’ll notice a wide array of products.

I am trying to determine now if I want them to podcast their descriptive writing with their illustrations, or whether there is a better way to go about it. I might do Voicethread, if I can things set up for them do the voice easily enough. Hmm.

Peace (in the future),

TFK Comes Through with Gulf Cover Story

Magazine Cover

I am inching towards getting my 80-plus students involved in the Voices on the Gulf project. We have a lot of begin-the-year activities going on (reading Rikki-Tikki-Tavi in order to talk about protagonist and antagonist, creating Dream Scene digital stories, etc.) and I have been searching for something to read about the Gulf Oil Spill to slowly ease our way forward into what I hope can be a year-long inquiry and community action project.

It arrived in the mail yesterday, with the first issue of Time for Kids magazine. The cover story — After the Spill —  is all about the recovery efforts and endangered turtles and more. That article, and a related video about the process of saving oil-covered pelicans, will be perfect. It reminds me that one thing I want my kids to do is clip newspaper/magazine articles about the Gulf for a News Wall in the classroom.

One writing activity that I often do near the start of the year can be re-aligned a bit with the Voices on the Gulf project, I think. I often have students create designs of Vehicles of the Future that do not run on fossil fuels. It’s a mix of expository writing (informational text on the picture) and descriptive writing, and I am going to get them started on it this week, I think. What I am wondering is how to showcase so many of the designs. I might use Animoto or create a slideshow or something. Hmmmm.

Peace (in the news),