Monday, December 16, 2013

Only The Good Die Young

Teachers-Of-The-World probably don't spend enough time teaching digital literacy. I know this because, you know, YouTube comments. And also just because.

But it's not necessarily true that once you put something on the Internet, it stays there forever. It might not even stay for the duration of this year. There's a Murphy's Law smushed into a piece of Fruit Roll-Up stuck to the bottom of The Internets' collective shoe that says, "The more useful slash interesting a web tool is, the shorter it's life span."
Exhibit A

The flip-side of this rule of course means that the amazingly vacuous Ask.Fm will be around forever.

This post should be about that. It should be about cyber-bullying and the tools that make that possible. It should be about a morally bankrupt CEO so disconnected from humanity that he has made it his life mission to peddle and propagate a service that is designed to do more harm than good, and who feels absolutely no social obligation with a service that's been linked to such a detachment of the human spirit.

But this post is not about that.

This post is instead about inconvenience, maybe because its more convenient to talk about that.

This post is about celebrating the impermanence of the web for 2013 and how I'm doomed to be repackaging content over and over again because I'm a packrat and I fall for slick looking, well-designed web tools with terrible business models.

It's a Woody Allen post. Not an Allen Say post.

So without further ado...

Dearly Beloved,
     We are gathered here today in the presence of practically no witnesses to procrastinate and pay homage to these unsustainable tools, as they may make way for future tools with equally unsustainable business models.

Dearest Posterous, You Will Be Missed Most of All
I didn't love Posterous, but I loved the idea of Posterous. The reality of Posterous was often very frustrating. But it was pretty and so I put up with the extreme discomfort. I've used it as a platform for E-Portfolios after I first threw out Google Sites. It was a long process to initially setup but easy for the students to maintain. The next year I tried Weebly, but I still loved the pretty, pretty Posterous. So we used it as our online newspaper:

And then Posterous died.

And then I tried Edublogs as a Posterous-Substitute.

Do you notice the missing text on the blog posts that feature photos?
How about the enlarged pixelations that blot out whole squares?
The inconsistent layout as a whole?
That's Edublogs.

Somehow this decrypted old bag of a blogging platform is the preferred platform for possibly dozens of educators.

Dearest SlideRocket, You're A Fantastic Pain In The Butt To Replace
SlideRocket was a fairly convenient web based slideshow presenter that for some reason couldn't sustain its' economic model of being completely free.  I have a few of those trusty ol' SlideRockets embedded in some crotchety decrepit posts in this blog, and if I was smart I'd replace them with Google Presentations. At least then I'd know that they would be around forever because Google Presentations is boring and therefore horrible and eternal.

Haiku Deck is much better than SlideRocket, which is probably why it'll have a remaining shelf life of a fistful of months. It also means that there is no easy way to import my old SlideRocket presentations. I have to download the presentations as PowerPoints, and then convert the PowerPoints into a series of images, then upload the images one by one into a Haiku Deck presentation since Haiku Deck doesn't support batch uploads. To celebrate this process of banal minutia, here is one of my first Haiku Deck presentations:

Anyway this is all just to say it's painful to repackage old content so that it still displays on the 2014 Internet-of-the-Future. It's so painful that I decided to write this post instead of actually doing it.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Write About This: A 4th Grade Writing Club

I first heard about the "Write About This" app while listening to the uneven Techlandia podcast by the self-deprecating iPad Sammy. I checked it out and then dismissed it for a few months. Being a disciple of Writing Workshop, I wasn't a big fan of prompt writing. But one of the things I both love and hate about Writing Workshop is the length of time that's needed to spend on a single piece of writing.  This year in particular reminded me of the "hate" side of that equation, and in October I was thinking about how I could have my class writing both ways; to be able to develop a piece of writing over a period of time, but also to encourage a love of writing with shorter, more imaginative assignments. I remembered "Write About This" and decided I might actually like prompt-based writing after all.  I decided to try an optional "Writers' Club" with my class to see how it would go. My idea was to use the prompts from "Write About This" to get the kids to write almost every day.
There are several good things about this app, but the sheer number of interesting photo prompts is the big reason I decided to use it.

Each photo has 3 different text prompts associated with it. I go through the photos, save the prompts I like to the camera roll, and then print them out 6 to a page. It's an easy process that lets me generate prompts quickly for the children. Each morning I spend 3 minutes cutting up a new batch for the kids to grab when they first come into the class.

I introduced the club near the end of October to my class with the following criteria:
- I'd give a new prompt each day, Monday through Thursday.
- I didn't care how much or how little the kids wrote, as long as they wrote something from each prompt.
- The kids could follow the prompt exactly or just use the picture to help them write whatever they wanted.
- If they decided to join the club, I'd give them their own notebook with the agreement that they couldn't exit the club until the notebook was filled. If they wanted to stay in it though, I'd give them another notebook.

Out of the 20 children in my class, 17 decided to join, and I'm astounded by the number of different ways the kids decided to do this given such a small sample size.
Several kids decided to do the prompts without any change. The children that decided to do it this way also tend generate less writing than the children who change the prompts to what they think is more interesting.

Some kids type or write outside their notebooks and put it in later.

Most kids choose to put the prompts in as they are writing, but one student chooses not to put the prompts in at all, but to use the prompts as a launching point for his stories. Another student chooses to put the prompts at the back of her writing notebook, along with the dates for each prompt.

I have another student who has decided to tell a single story that runs through every prompt. She has a family tree at the beginning of her notebook that keeps track of all the different characters she introduces. 

I also like this app because it's easy to generate your own photo-prompts. I can use my own photos, but for now I've decided that every Thursday I'll use a photo from "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick". 

I give the Harris Burdick prompts on Thursday, to allow the kids to write a little more with them.
The hardest thing about this is finding time for the kids to share their writing. To help with this, I have a book basket in our class library where the kids can put their writing notebooks so that others can read their stories during our reading time. It's not a perfect solution, but it's a start.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

iPads in Grade 4: The Other Stuff in Week 2

My 2nd Week Reflection, Part 2
My school lent my classroom five iPads two weeks ago to see if I could find things to do with them. If I can then they might make them more widely available for other upper elementary classrooms. My class gets to use them for three weeks and then I have to give them up. In the meantime I've been asked to make weekly reports on how I used them. 

In my last post, I talked about using Aurasma in our class.

For this post I'll discuss the following:
1) Finalizing our Book Trailers (continued from Week 1)
2) Extending our Math Tutorial Playlist (continued from Week 1)
3) Recording our Thinking For Assessments

Finalizing our Book Trailers (continued from Week 1)
I initially talked about this project in the Week 1 blog post. The assignment was to storyboard and create a book trailer for Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin. On Monday of this past week we spent the period filming, so the total amount of filming was a period and a half (about 90 minutes). There were three groups, so we have three finished trailers using different trailer genres telling the same story.

It's hard to recognize exactly what's going on unless you are familiar with the book. That's okay. But equally as important to the fluidity of the trailer storyline is the use of words. For these types of trailers (where speech is taken out of video and the setting always has to be somewhere in the school even if that's not the setting in the book), the words drive the story more than images. Each group handled the words in a different way. I tried to get the groups to start out with a question, so that the audience could connect with the trailer from the beginning. 

There's a fine balance with words in a trailer. It's easier (but less effective) to write generalized language if the story that is being told isn't clear to the storytellers, or if the trailer assignment's objectives aren't clear. Using the end products as a reflection next week can help clarify this. 

Extending our Math Tutorial Playlist (continued from Week 1)
Speaking of reflection, the next step in developing our Youtube math tutorials that we started making last week is feedback. This would be a great opportunity to begin to teach comments and how to use them effectively. But we wouldn't be able to make any comments on our Youtube channel, because Youtube changed their comments policy.
Youtube comments have always been a magnificent representation of the dredges of online behavior. It seems though that Youtube's new comments policy was put into place not so much to clean that up as to get people to sign up to Google+. My kids can't sign into Google+ and therefore can't comment on each other's Youtube videos (The dredges can't either because they are unlisted). We needed an alternative way. 

We have E-portfolios in Google Sites. And if we embed our videos into our e-portfolios we can leave all the comments we want. So this week we tried to look critically at each other's tutorials, using the "Two stars and a wish" template; two things you found good or interesting, and one thing that the tutorial author could improve on. 

The effort, mechanics, and detail range from kid to kid of course. But this is a good starting point.
The next step is to look at these comments as a class and ask ourselves some questions:

  • What types of comments are the most helpful for feedback? 
  • Which ones can help us improve our mathematical thinking and explanations? 
  • Are there any types of comments that we would want to respond to? 
  • How can we write a comment that starts a conversation instead of ends it?

Here's a final thought on this math tutorial project for this year: So far the focus has been about the authors of these tutorials learning how to explain what they are doing, and to help me understand the gaps in their thinking. They were never set up to be actual tutorials for others to learn from. But I'd like them to be. And maybe Khan Academy is a good template for how to do this. For example, that site doesn't have a "comments" section. Instead the section is labeled "questions." We could use a platform such as Wikispaces, and have the students be the curators of the content. Each student could be in charge of a section that they are responsible for designing, maintaining, updating (and perhaps responsible for encouraging page traffic and collaboration).

Recording our Thinking For Assessments
The final thing I did with the iPads this week is use them for individual assessments. I'm strictly using the iPad as a video camera here. I could easily replace it with a FLIP camera or whatever, but because I have an iPad stand* and it is so easy to upload video content onto the cloud, the iPads make sense. The following video is a little dry, but as a teacher, it's an invaluable piece for me to assess individual's understanding.

The difficult part is to find the time to do this for every single one of my kids. As I have it set up now, I can do about two children a day. I might not be able to do this will all the children, but I can do it for the ones who aren't used to sharing their thinking in a full classroom.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

iPads in Grade 4: Using Aurasma

My 2nd Week Reflection, Part 1
My school lent my classroom five iPads two weeks ago to see if I could find things to do with them. If I can then they might make them more widely available for other upper elementary classrooms. My class gets to use them for three weeks and then I have to give them up. In the meantime I've been asked to make weekly reports on how I used them. 

This is what I'll talk about for Week 2:
1) Using Aurasma to Recommend Books
2) Finalizing our Book Trailers (continued from Week 1)
3) Extending our Math Tutorial Playlist (continued from Week 1)
4) Recording our Thinking For Assessments

Because I have a small history with Aurasma that extended beyond this past week, I'm going to use this post to talk solely about this. The other three topics will be covered in the next post. 

1) Using Aurasma to Recommend Books
I love the potential of Aurasma. If only every adult and child would have it installed on their smart device, and then subscribed to our class channel, and somehow have that device soldered into their brain stem, Aurasma would be the coolest thing ever.
This rainbow screams, "Hook me into your medulla oblongata."

But there's no easy way to plug this app into your body, and that's a shame because unfortunately to understand the next section, you'll have to go through these steps to understand what the heck I'm talking about.

      1) Download Aurasma on either iOS or Android.

      2) Subscribe to my Aurasma channel: In the Aurasma app, you can search for channels. Our classroom channel is called ISP Grade 4-R

      3) With the app open, hover your device over selective pictures and text in this section.
      I'll give you a few seconds to do that. In the meantime, I'll entertain myself with a logo that I wish Aurasma would have used as their own:
This rainbow screams, "Hook me into your medulla oblongata."

      Done? Great. Now, back to Aurasma. 
      There are dozens of ways to use this app in the classroom. I have an iPad, so I wanted to do something for Open House this year. One of our first "Get to know each other" activities in the class was to do a small writing project based on the photo book, The Best Part of Me by Wendy Ewald. 

For our open house, I published the photos with the children's writing around the room. Then I videoed them reading their writing. The idea was that parents could try to guess their children based on a black and white photo of close-up body parts, then use Aurasma to see if they were right. You can try it with the photo below: 

The best part of me is my left eye because its like a black moon. 
It never shines so it never gives me away when I am hiding.

But I haven't really been able to use the app to benefit the kids, because we didn't have any that were readily available in the classroom. So what else would I use the app for? Here are a couple of ideas that I really like:

A) Extending the meaning of a Word Wall
During our "Rights and Responsibilities" unit, we were trying to increase are vocabulary so that we could better describe and identify intangibles that we value. To do this, I had the kids choose a word that they previously didn't know, and create a 10 second pantomime to demonstrate that word. I eventually wanted to create a word wall with each word attached to its own silent video of the students demonstrating what that word meant. Because of the one iPad restriction, I never ended up setting up that wall. But here is what it would look like. Point your device at each of the big words below to see the attached videos:



Making an Aurasma Book Basket
This past week I wanted to start collecting book reviews from classroom books, and attaching those reviews to the books using Aurasma. The idea was that if someone was trying to figure out what book they wanted to read, they could grab an iPad mini, and peruse the Aurasma book basket to see what other kids thought about the books. 
I first had the children treat their book reviews like I have them design their reading response letters: A summary followed by what they think about the book. Here is an example of book talk that was well put together, but probably doesn't fulfill its intended purpose because of the format that I asked him to follow:

Although the reviews were informative, they really didn't fit the purpose. If someone wanted to know what the book was about, they could just read the back cover. What we needed in these reviews was less of a summary and more opinion. We needed a hook, and we needed the reviews to be much shorter.
Later in the week I developed this template to hopefully help us achieve those goals:

      A)   The Question:
Start with a question that connects the listener to the book. I got this idea from watching tons of movie trailers. I've often incorporated the criteria in our book trailers. It only makes sense to also use it in our book reviews. 
      B)    The Bridge: Connect the question to the book your talking about. If you have a summary, make it as short as possible.*
      C)   The CritiqueWhat are three good and/or not-so-good things about this book?
D) The Example: Give a specific example on your last like/dislike.
E) The Recommendation: Do you recommend this book and why? What rating do you give  it?
We went through this process as a class with a read aloud book we finished a couple of weeks ago: No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis:
Then I had the kids make their own. What I didn't do but will need to do, is show how all the pieces can fit together. The ingredients are there, but the kids still need to learn how to mix them so it sounds more fluid. Anyway, here is an example of the book reviews the kids did yesterday:

It's not too wordy, the audience doesn't get lost in a long summary, and there are a lot of opinions. I really think it's a beginning to producing actual reviews that are useful to more than just the student who wrote it and the teacher who assesses it. 
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