Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Updated Workshop Presentation For Digital Literacy

Today I got the news that I've been chosen to present at the NESA (North East South Asia Council of Overseas School) Educators Conference this Spring.

I decided I'd spend the afternoon updating my presentation. I'll go into it in depth in later posts, but below is my updated "Developing Digital Dendrites: Teaching Internet Literacy" Prezi.
The changes I made are primarily from feedback I got from my initial presentation at Lincoln, but they're also from some new blogs that my kids and I were trying at the end of the semester. They are:

- Added selected posts from both student blogs and our class blog.
- Trimmed the embedded videos to be much shorter and relevant.
- Added duckduckgo's tracking page to the presentation.
- Dropped the Play It Off Cat video showing the dad yelling at the son. Some people were uncomfortable with it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Class Economy Part 5: The Christmas Firings

On December 25th, I'll send my class a mass email outlining how they were each an invaluable resource during the first semester economy, but I no longer need their services. In short, they're fired from their classroom jobs. They'll receive a small severance package upon their return to the classroom in January. Good luck and Godspeed.
Trust me.
This is not as nearly as cruel as it sounds.
Or cold. Or hairy.

In fact this might not even warrant its own post. But the Christmas firings of all classroom employees marks a fundamental shift in how I run my fourth grade class economy, and I thought it was important to highlight not only it, but the shift in thinking that occurs in my students.
During the first semester all students are my employees. I call them government employees, and I represent the government. They all get more or less the same salary, which varies slightly according to their work. The bankers work the hardest, so they get paid a little more than the rest, but it's not a huge difference. That changes second semester, because the security blanket of a steady paycheck evaporates. 
My Objective Was Never To Recreate Joe Versus The Volcano

The sole goal for the first semester though is to prepare my students to be entrepreneurs. That means to teach the kids how to deposit and withdraw money, but also give them the tools and lessons to help them succeed on their own.
By the time we have our last class-economy-class in December, most everyone is begging to be fired. Not because they don't enjoy their jobs. But because they're ready (or they think they're ready) to venture out on their own. To help with the transition, I provide business grants for startup businesses in January and a couple other opportunities for grant money.

My Christmas Email To My Class

Despite how I prepare them, here are some lessons that can't be taught, but must be learned with experience:

1) Don't Partner With Anyone.
No matter how many warnings I give or cold hard numbers I throw at them, my students want to partner with each other to open their own business. This is because partnering with someone does two things that will hurt a small business in our small microcosm economy. 
- It takes away a potential customer, since that customer is now your partner, and
- It forces that business to make double the amount of money to make rent.
Partners 'Til The End

The second point is the key. Instead of the business having to make 700 moneys for rent, it now has to make 1400 moneys in a month. This is a crazy amount of moneys, because no one knows how to price anything in the beginning. Up until January, no matter what a child did, they would get a paycheck at the end of the month. To go from that to the harsh reality that you now have to make your own money is something that has to be experienced to fully understand. 
Partners do expedite my discussion of welfare and taxes however. As soon as someone doesn't make rent, I introduce a tax on rent. The students that can afford to pay rent have to pay a little more to cover the students that can't. The alternative is that the entire economy collapses. The more students that can't pay, the higher the tax is.

2) Spending Money Is The Best Way To Make Money
I artificially encourage buying when we do start selling to each other. If I didn't, no one would dare buy anything, and I'd be stuck with a buch of hoarders on welfare. So I have the following mechanism built in for our second semester class economy:
For every product that you sell, the government will buy something from you of equal value.

Shut Up And Take My Money!

Collectively if this rule was fully realized, everyone would make a ton of money and probably create a class of millionaires. It's never fully realized though, and the rule does what it is supposed to do: encourage students to spend and make deals with each other to scramble enough to make rent. 

3) You're First Entrepreneurial Idea Won't Sustain You
Customers are a finicky lot, and there are only so many bookmarks you can sell to one person. If your customer base is only between 11 and 20 people, you'll need to diversify your product.
Gaze Upon My Colorful Wares

In order to succeed during the second semester, a student entrepreneur will go through several reincarnations of their business. Those that get stuck into selling only one product are usually the ones that suffer in March.

4) You'll Never Make Bank If You Price Your Bookmarks/Stickers/Pictures/Comic Books So Cheap
In the beginning, students have no idea how to price anything. Many will start by pricing their products between 10 and 20 Moneys. This means to make rent, they'll have to sell between 35 and 70 products each month. There are two problems with this: 
- They don't have 35 - 70 products to sell.
- They don't have a customer base that will buy that much. 
The biggest class I have had the past three years is this year's class of 21 children. My previous years I've had 11 and 12, respectively (I know, that's crazy). But figuring out the right price model- what people will pay and how much they will buy- is an important lesson that can't just be taught. It must be experienced. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Class Economy Part 4: What Does It Mean To Produce Something?

During the first semester, besides working and getting pay checks and paying rent, we also start looking at what it means to produce something.
We start on UN Day in October. One of the things we do is watch and discuss The Story of Stuff.

We talk about Extraction, Production, Distribution, Consumption, and Extraction.
A few days later we take field trips that emphasize two different sections; Production and Extraction.

This field trip focuses on Production

We also start reading books about entrepreneurship. I've used Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies in the past (which I think is excellent), as well as Lawnboy by Gary Paulsen and Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill. The last two titles didn't really serve my purpose so well.

Great! Good Not So Much...

The best book I feel though that teaches not only the value of putting quality in production, and appeals to a greater good is Lunch Money by Andrew Clements.

Mr. Z's Toilet Theory is one of my favorites

We make the comic books just as the main character Greg outlines in the book, have several discussions on the arguments that the main protagonists, Maura and Greg have, and discuss Mr. Z's Toilet Theory with regards to wealth and big houses: Most people can only use one bathroom at a time

By the time we finish reading and writing about and discussing the book, many kids have already started researching on their own different ideas for making their own products.  The children are primed and ready to be fired, and itching to start their own business.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Twisted Journeys With Book Buddies

This is my 100th post! I want to thank the Academy and this blogging platform for slowly sucking the life out of me over the past year and a half.
My young, vibrant self before I started blogging

For my 100th post, I thought I'd take a short break from the "My Class Economy" series to write about something really cool I discovered this week. Every Wednesday for the past five years, I've had a "Book Breakfast" in my class. The idea came from my cooperating teacher in Ann Arbor, who used Time for Kids for a "News Breakfast." Neither Sudan nor Nepal could get regular shipments in, so I adjusted the magazines for picture books.
The idea is that one family each week brings in breakfast for the class, we partner up, read together, and eat.

This year my 4th grade teaching partner moved to third grade, but we still wanted to do the breakfast together, so we made it a Book Buddy Breakfast.
This week I decided to try something different. Instead of picture books, why not graphic novels? And why not Twisted Journey Choose-Your-Own-Adventure graphic novels specifically?

I thought this would be a great way to share books, since Twisted Journeys are fun to watch and read, and you have to collaborate and make decisions throughout the storyline. I've written about Twisted Journeys before, but this is the first time I considered using them with Buddy Reading. 

It was great! There was a level of involvement that I hadn't seen among the boys especially. 

But everyone loved the interaction and the stories. There are about 19 different Twisted Journeys. The reading level is actually pretty high (Level U/V using Fountas and Pinnell level system), but because the stories are so interesting and interactive, they draw in both low level and reluctant readers.

Friday, December 14, 2012

My Class Economy Part 3: Managing Accounts, Writing Checks, Workshops, and Bonuses

During the month of September, after everyone has gotten a job, we have special "workshops" that do two things:
1) Expose the kids to extra ways to make money outside of their monthly paychecks, and
2) Teach them how to deposit checks and write checks.

Each child gets their own bank book. The bank book looks like this:

Except it's nice and folded...

The bank book lets each child keep track of their bank accounts, and it helps them keep track of Math Bonuses; extra ways to earn money. I used a modified template from Adobe's InDesign to make the bank books.
The first step is to give each child some free money. I tell them that this is for our special workshops, and they won't be able to use it to pay rent.
I give them each a check for 60 Moneys. This covers three workshop costs, at 20 Moneys a piece:

Except that the check is signed.

I teach the kids to endorse the check and fill out a deposit ticket:
They update their bank book, and hand over the check and deposit ticket to their banker. The banker keeps track of the individual accounts as well. This helps out a lot. Sometimes the banker makes a mistake, and sometimes her customers make mistakes. Being able to have two written records of each bank account fixes this. 

Our first workshop is Sudoku. I teach the kids how to do it, and they practice. I have a Math Bonus Box where I keep the sudoku puzzles. They can also be downloaded from our class website.
After the kids learn Sudoku through a practice puzzle, it's now time for them to pay for the workshop. They each get a blank check, and we go through the process of how to write a check and update their bank book.

Throughout the month I introduce them to other ways to make money. These are some of the ways children can make extra money:
Sudoku Puzzles
Tangram Puzzles
Scratch Projects
Logic Puzzles
Kakuro Puzzles
- Drawing Fractals ( Sierpinski triangle and Apollonian Gasket)
- Something called a Zoo problem. I picked this up in a Thai book of puzzles. It's a geometry problem where you have to arrange square "cages" around animals on a grid.

We also have our "class economy" time during the last period on Friday. This is the time when everyone works at their job. At the end of the month each student gets a pay check that they deposit:

And the next day they write me a check for rent. We go through this routine throughout the first semester.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Class Economy Part 2: Creating Meaningful Classroom Jobs

The first stage of my class economy is to introduce "government" jobs, i.e. jobs that I have created and defined for the children. Since I'm the government, I'm also the students' employer. They work and they get paid. At the end of the month they get a pay check which they deposit in the bank. The next day they pay rent with their own check.
I wanted to create jobs that the children would be excited about, and that appealed to different areas of the brain. I've come up with the following jobs:

Banker: The heart of the class economy, and also the hardest job. The banker has to keep track of everyone's money, and make sure that everyone is keeping track of their money in their personal bank books too. 

Room Boss: The room boss orders supplies and organizes are common spaces. If there are visual aids that need to be displayed, or schedules that need to be created (for example, a schedule for who runs our afternoon routine), the room boss is in charge.

Desk Jockey: The desk jockey helps organize the semi-private spaces; the desks, the bags, and the cubbies. The desk jockey doesn't do this alone. Instead (s)he will schedule times to look at the spaces with whoever is using it.

Graffiti Artist: The graffiti artist draws on the windows, glass doors, and fish tank.

Paper Maker: The paper makers are our recycling center. They make new paper from old. 

Hollywood: Hollywood chooses a class agreement, writes a script that shows it off, and makes a movie out of it. They edit it in iMovie.

Biographer: The Biographer chooses someone in class, sits down with them, and asks them questions about their life. They film and edit the interview in iMovie.

Fact Finder: The fact finder reports on two facts each morning during our morning routine.

Morning Reporter: The morning reporter tells current events twice a week during our morning routine.

Class Clown: The class clown tells two jokes each morning during our morning routine. 

Game Master: The Game Master learns the games in the game center, writes directions, and holds game workshops during break.

Lucky Librarian: The Lucky Librarian takes care of the class library. They also get to check out twice as many books as everyone else.

Read Aloud Reporter: The Read Aloud Reporter keeps an up-to-date Shelfari widget for our class read alouds. They also poll their classmates and find out which books to order to expand the class library.

Postmaster: Makes mailboxes for each of the elementary classrooms, teaches everyone how to address and send letters, and collects and distributes the mail.

Grader: Grades spelling tests, math homework, and Scratch projects.

Here's the presentation I show the kids on the day I give them the job applications.

There is an error when I imported it into slide rocket; some of the text repeats itself.

After I present the kids with the jobs, I ask them to apply for multiple jobs. It's never a problem. The children are always excited by at least two of the jobs.

After the break, some example applications...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Classroom Economy Part 1: An Introduction

When I was in 5th Grade I took part in Exchange City, a simulated grown-up town in a warehouse. It's not nearly as creepy as it sounds, and it looks like the company is still working with kids today. Longevity proves legitimacy- or so I'm told.
In the month leading up to the simulation, our class learned how to balance personal checkbooks, apply for jobs, and vote for elected officials. I was voted judge and was busted by the policeman (who I employed) for eating popcorn out of the designated area.  It was fantastic!
In 2005, when I was the math and social studies teacher at Kasintorn St. Peter School in Thailand,  I recreated the experience with my 5th and 6th graders.
While I was working at Khartoum American School in Sudan, I started using bits and pieces of Rafe Esquith's model:

But there was something lacking in these approaches. At the time I wasn't sure what it was, but it was something big- an entrepreneurial embrace and cultivation of spirit.

It wasn't until I got to Lincoln here in Nepal though that I started really thinking about a year long unit about economics, and I started combining not only these experiences, but other things I was already doing in the class as well. The change came because I knew it was necessary, but also because my class challenged me into thinking outside of traditional class economies. If it wasn't for that group of kids, I probably would have been too afraid to give them so much choice. The overview that I came up with after that year is something I posted before. It's this presentation:

But this series of posts will attempt to get into the specifics of what my classroom economy looks like today. Here are the posts that I am planning:

Part 2: Creating Meaningful Classroom Jobs
Creating classroom jobs that kids will be both interested in and learn from

Part 3: Managing Accounts, Writing Checks, Workshops, and Bonuses
Learning how to deposit and withdraw money from our bank.

Part 4: What Does It Mean To Produce Something?
Videos, Books, and Field Trips to help us prepare to be Entrepreneurs

Part 5: The Christmas Firings
The mid-year switch from "Government Jobs" To Entrepreneurs

Part 6: A Study In Advertising Genres
Critically looking at advertising genres, and creating our own.

Part 7: The Stockmarket and Welfare
Introducing two important concepts at an elementary level

Part 8: The Fourth Grade Film Festival
Bringing in the outside community for buying and selling

Part 9: Where We Need To Go
Plans for a flower farmers' market with our sister school.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Exploring the 6 Levels of Moral Development In The Classroom

In my last post I outlined how I explain the 6 levels of moral development in class. For this post I feature some of the resources I've collected over the past few years to help with understanding the 6 Levels.

1) 'The Wizard and the Hopping Pot" by J.K. Rowling

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot" is the first story in The Tales of Beedle The Bard. It's a pretty fun read aloud, even though the vocabulary is slightly advanced for fourth grade. What makes it fun is all the disgusting stuff that this hopping pot does. 
The vomiting, crying, braying, wart-filled hopping pot

The pot is so disgusting and disturbing, that the evil wizard who is plagued with it is forced to turn good. It's a happy ending for all the wrong reasons, and is a great example of: Level 1: I Don't Want To Be Punished. It's one of the first things I read to the children after I introduce the 6 levels. I challenge them to think about why the evil wizard turned nice, and what level he decided to make that choice.

2) is a great resource. There's a lot to use there, and some day I'll write a post that features how I use all of the site's resources. One of the great resources is their public service announcements. Their PSAs are non-denominational and exemplify a lot of values. Here are some of the ones I use to feature certain levels:

Level 3
Peer Pressure

Level 5 and 6



Let 'Em In



3) Jerry Spinelli
Jerry Spinelli's characters exemplify a moral center in both interesting and fresh ways. For many years I called Level 6 simply The Stargirl level.

I've read Stargirl as a read aloud for the past couple of years despite it not being a great read aloud. It's the wrong age group for elementary, it's missing too much back-and-forth dialogue relies on deep description and metaphor. It's a great read, but not a great read aloud. But the children enjoy it despite this because it's a great story, and introduces them to a character they've never been exposed to before. Stargirl lives a level 6 life, and the book is full of amazing examples of level 6. But Stargirl has a great personality too, and so every day that I read, my students takes notes divided into 2 columns. In one column they note what they think is level 6 behavior, and in the other column they note simply "different" or "interesting" behavior. Then after I read, we talk about what they observed.
But Stargirl isn't the only character that Jerry Spinelli has created worth examining. Penn Ward from Crash, Donald Zinkoff from Loser, and even Maniac Magee... although I have a few issues with how that book is sometimes used in teaching.* Spinelli fills his worlds with memorable characters that flow with virtue and face relatable problems.

4) Groundhog Day vs. 11 Birthdays
Groundhog Day is a movie starring Bill Murray about a man trapped in a day. 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass is a book about a girl trapped in a day.

Bill Murray's character, Phil Conners, escapes his day by reaching level 6. It took him approximately 10,000 years. Amanda escapes her day by silly magic, and she's trapped in her day for slightly less time. She tries to be a level 6 person so that she can escape her day. Of course by trying to do nice things for other people to achieve a reward (in this case the reward is to get to the next day), she's actually only achieved level 2. Comparing similar plots but different motivations lead to great discussions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Explaining The 6 Stages of Moral Development in the Classroom

Ever since I read Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair Is On Fire, I've tried to incorporate Lawrence Kohlberg's six stages of Moral Development in my class and my teaching.
Or was it his other book, There Are No Shortcuts?

Here is Mr. Esquith's explanation of the six levels:

I've re-worded the levels slightly to make them more accessible to fourth graders. First, I changed the title, "Six Levels of Moral Development" to "Six Levels of Good Choices." My reasoning here is that the language is more natural, and I can refer to it easier. So I can say, "Why did you make that good choice?" As opposed to, "What stage of moral development were you at when you made that choice?" And can get to the same response, without as much confusion.
Below is a table of how Rafe defines his 6 levels, and how I choose to define them:
His WordingMy Wording
Level 1: I don't want to get into trouble Level 1: I don't want to be punished
Level 2: I want a rewardLevel 2: I want a reward
Level 3: I want to please somebodyLevel 3: I want to please somebody
I care about
Level 4: I follow the rulesLevel 4: I follow the rules
Level 5: I am considerate of other peopleLevel 5: Empathy: I think of others
before I think of myself. 
Level 6: I have a personal code of behavior
and I follow it
Level 6: Integrity: I think of others before
I think of myself, and I don't seek
recognition for doing so.

The big differences are the ways I choose to communicate levels 3, 5, and 6.

On rewording level 3:

When I first started teaching this several years ago, I found that students had a hard time explaining the difference between level 3 and 5. This was because the wording for each was so similar. Being considerate of someone and pleasing someone can be similar things. So I thought about what each means. To me Level 3 doesn't mean wanting to please random people. Therefore I made the distinction that this is really about making a good choice for the people that we care about.

On rewording level 5:

For me level 5 is all about empathy, and for me empathy is one of the main values that I want my students to understand and appreciate. It's critical. Here's one reason why:

On rewording level 6: 
This level is the hardest to understand and explain, so I need to use wording that is easier than the phrasing that Rafe Esquith chooses to use. A few years ago, I simply called this the "Stargirl" level or the "Groundhog Day" level. I'll get to why in my next post. But that title was simply not sufficient, so I changed the title to be an extension of my level 5 title, with the addition, "...and I don't seek recognition." Along with the examples I use to illustrate this in class (again, I'll talk about those in my next post), the wording makes this level more clear.  But this year I decided to add that one word, "Integrity" to the definition, because along with "empathy" this is an important concept to understand. It is also a concept that gets thrown around a lot in elementary. It's a value that our school as a whole trumpets, but it is often misinterpreted as a synonym with "honesty," and it's not. It's bigger. It's level 6, and that is why I changed it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

3 "Talking Photo" Apps: A Review

The iPad was built with one thing in mind; to easily create photos with audio. Everything else the iPad does is just peripheral.
The original vision for the iPad

So for this post I'll be looking at three apps that claim to do this: Fotobabble, Pixntell, and Skqueak.

1) Fotobabble

I've used Fotobabble in class for a couple of years now. We've used the online version to create talking slideshows of our work. It's a great way to show off a portfolio, and to reflect what we've done. I have some issues with it though. The first is that we embed this on our websites, and from there it can take a long time to load. Sometimes forever. The second is that it is written in Flash so those ridiculous "Adobe Flash Player Settings" pop-ups pop up all the time. This would be okay if Adobe hadn't designed the pop-ups so that they could never be closed. Often times, no matter if we click "Allow" or "Deny" nothing will happen. The box will still be there. Because Adobe decided to add the special feature that they are completely unresponsive no matter what button you choose to click. You want kids to hate computers? Introduce them to a random, unresponsive pop-up that forces them to refresh the screen and restart their work. Finally, to create a slideshow, you have to first give each slide a unique identifying tag, and then search for that tag, and then you have the option to view the slideshow with all the photos that have that tag. It reminds me of some of the hack programming I did when I was in college.
Anyway, this post isn't about that. There's no native support of Flash and so the Fotobabble app doesn't have the Flash problem. The app allows you to "tag" the photos. You can't create the slideshows from the app, but once you log into your account, you can do the tag search and create a slideshow from there.
Like with all of these apps, you can either take a photo and record audio over it, or choose a photo that's already in your photo library. Your "Fotobabbles" are saved online to a free account. I like that.
The Fotobabble app also has a photo editor in it. There are basic enhancements and filters, a crop and orientation tool, and a dumb "stickers" pack if you want to fill up your photo with terrible clipart.
My Conclusion:
The most frustrating thing about this app is that it is hard to make slideshows. If that is not a necessary tool that you need, then the Fotobabble app is nice.

2) Pixntell
Pixntell must have heard me complain about Fotobabble just now because it's super easy to create slideshows with this app. There is no cloud storage device for your creations. Instead, once a talking photo or a talking slideshow is done, the user can uploaded to a Youtube account (or Facebook, but that's not applicable to my students). Our class has a Youtube account for their work, so that is a good solution for us.
My Conclusion:
Simple and easy, Pixntell takes about 10 seconds to learn and does exactly what it is supposed to do. Creating slideshows is a snap.

Skqueak is the most powerful of the three apps reviewed here. Like Pixntell, making a slideshow of talking photos is easy with Skqueak. One of the things that makes Skqueak stand out though is that as you are recording your voice over the photo, you can also draw on it. When the talking photo is played back, your drawings appear, synched with your voice. It's very cool. The other thing that is great about Skqueak is that you can zoom into your photos as you are talking and drawing on them.
There are a lot of options to share something made is Skqueak; Facebook, Twitter, email, SMS Message, or just copy a link. If you want it on Youtube though, you'd have to first export the video to the i-Device's camera roll, and then upload the video to Youtube.
All of your "Skqueaks" (that can't be what they're called) are saved online to your Skqueak account, and like Fotobabble, once you are in that account they provide you with embed code to put your Skqueak-thingy anywhere you want.

My Conclusion:
Skqueak takes about 30 seconds to learn instead of 10 seconds. But with the extra learning curve, you get the added benefit of being able to draw and zoom in on your photos while your talking. This is the best app of the three. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sign Up Genius: An Intuitive Online Sign-Up App

Since I took over as the elementary after school activities coordinator, I've wanted to migrate away from paper sign ups and do all information sharing online. I created this website to share information, but I wasn't sure how to do electronic sign-ups. The problem was that at the same time I took over, we also decided to institute "caps" on the activities, so that 20 people, for example, wouldn't sign up for drums when our school only had one drum kit.
...Even though that strategy worked well for Trip Shakespeare*

So any online tool I used had to only allow for a certain amount of sign-ups. This meant that the school's recent push to use Google Docs for everything wouldn't fly here.
Keep trying little one.

I started looking at online survey tools; Survey Monkey, Fluid Surveys, and a few more that I can't recall. Fluid Surveys seemed to have the most potential. Their paid service allowed caps to be set on questions (which they called "advanced quotas"), and they had some nice logic commands so that I could control what grades signed up for certain activities. So I paid the monthly fee, designed the survey and tested it. I didn't work. I emailed them. They told me it was a bug and that they'd fix it eventually. I cancelled my monthly subscription.

I might have gone back to Fluid Surveys this year to see if they'd fix the bug, but our school's IT coordinator told me I might want to try SignUpGenius. I got this tip at around 9:00 at night. By 11:00 I had a perfect sign-up tool for after school activities ready to be rolled out.
A screenshot of my first sign-up 

SignupGenius allows for a maximum number of people to be enrolled in a certain activity. When that number is reached, the activity is grayed-out. I can also set it so that it can only be reached by password. Since I started using it for after school activities  I've started using it for parent conference sign ups as well. I absolutely love it; it does everything that I want it to and it's free.

*When I saw Trip Shakespeare way back in 1991 or 1992, they all migrated to the single drum kit during this song (I think). It's a four person band, so it was fun to watch four people banging out a synchronous rhythm on a single kit. 
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