Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How To Design "Choose Your Own Adventure" Stories in 4th Grade (part 1)

It occurred to me about about a month ago that crafting "Choose Your Own Adventure" books has too many learning opportunities to ignore. I was thinking about forests. More specifically, how could I teach all the cool things about forests without having to do whole-class teaching.
But instead of reading, we could write it...

There's a lot of forests in the Czech Republic, and I think our grade-level team has done a really nice job of taking advantage of the many opportunities available to us. There's a great forest in the back of the school that we can take walks through. We've visited an animal sanctuary outside of town. And we planted some trees:

But as I searched for and gathered my resources for the unit, I kept coming back to the idea that most interesting and most natural way to disseminate knowledge would be to have the kids develop their own stories where choices are the backbone. That's important for this unit in particular because it's a unit that's based on cause and effect.
This jerk of a brood parasite knows what I'm talking about.

We have three essential questions for this unit:
  • What are the elements of a forest?
  • What happens when an element in a forest system is changed / modified (taken out, reduced, introduced)?
  • How can we live in ways that help sustain healthy forests?
The last two questions in particular are questions that don't always lend themselves naturally to whole class teaching, research projects, forest walks, or planting trees. The last two questions scream, "Cause and effect," and,  "For every action there is a reaction," and possibly sing, "You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run."
Except instead of cards and guns, its forests and biodiversity

So I set out to design a "Choose Your Own Adventure" series of projects. Here is a quick guideline that I gave the kids:

Guidelines For Your “Choose Your Own Adventure” Story

A) Create a character. To create your character, use the Character Questionnaire in Google Drive.

B) Write a story with different paths. To create your paths, use the following format:
-       Each decision should have two paths. One path will be a "Dead End" where the story ends. The other path will be a better choice, and the story will continue. 
      C) There should be at least four decisions your character makes.

D) After a dead end decision, your page will have two parts:
-                   The Story part tells what happens in the story.

-                   The Facts part tells what happened in real life.

I decided we'd use Google Docs to write the stories, and Google Forms to put the stories in the "Choose Your Own Adventure" format. More on those particulars in the next post.

Because we've never done anything like this before, I expected a rather large learning curve.
I decided to divide this unit into three parts:

1) A whole-class introductory story making project.

2) A partner project where the whole class draws upon the same resources but creates their own individual story.

3) A partner project where each pair chooses from one of five scenarios to create their own story.

1) The Whole-Class Introductory Story Making Project
To introduce how to do everything we used a text that I used as a read-aloud for this unit:

There are many poor decisions made by the main protagonist, Harriet. In fact the whole point of this picture book is that loving nature and understanding nature are two different things. Loving nature exclusively can get you in a lot of trouble. Spoiler Alert: It eventually kills Harriet in the book.
I stripped much of the story down, and read selected pages that could result in our character choosing between a poor and a good decision. As I read the pages it was up to the children to rewrite the voice from 3rd person to 2nd person. The outline ended up looking a little bit like this:

And since I used Kidspiration to make that, if you like the outline better, here is the storyboard converted into an outline:
So that's the setup. In my next post I'll get into the nitty-gritty of how the students used Google Docs, Google Forms, and the other resources I mentioned to make their first stories. In later posts I'll share what the partner projects were that came after There's A Hair In My Dirt

Monday, April 28, 2014

Creating Unit Resources Just For Parents

One of the cool things about teaching is that I get to learn new stuff all the time. This year I needed to teach a forest unit for the first time. I enjoy hiking and camping, hate Malaria and snakes in my hair, but my knowledge of forests was pretty much like any average adult. Maybe it's slightly below average. 
My knowledge was on par with Harriet

But as a teacher I get to study this amazing topic in-depth, and I come across some fantastic information that can be equally amazing if you're a child or an adult. 

I decided to pull together some of the coolest resources I found that I thought parents would really enjoy.

I decided to use Learnist as my depository because I really like the design and I never used it before. What I don't like about it is that you can't embed these boards. Apparently it was possible back in 2012, but for some reason they pulled that feature soon after. 

In any event, here is the board I made of the best forest resources no matter what age you are... as long as your age is over, say, 12: 

The board combines the greatest forest resources I found from Radiolab, NPR, Stuff You Should Know, MinuteEarth, and Global Forest Watch.

Some of these resources the kids will use directly. Some will be used indirectly. And some, not at all. But each of these resources are amazing. 

If I get a decent parent response for this one unit, then I think it would be great to make boards like this tailored just for parents for each of our units. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Makey Makey In The Classroom (Innovation series part 3)

To compliment our innovation unit, where we tried to answer the question, "What triggers innovation?" by creating our own innovation projects, our 4th grade class developed a side project where we used Makey Makey and Scratch.
If you're not familiar with Makey Makey, here is a quick intro video:

And here is the TED talk:

Makey Makey is a natural fit in our 4th grade class, because it bridges two concurrent units. The first is a unit on electricity and magnetism. The second is a unit on technology and innovation. Since Makey Makey relies on completing a circuit using conductors, it's a great extension for exploring completed circuits and the use of conductors. Used in conjunction with Squishy Circuits, it can really expand students' concept of conductors. But because Makey Makey blends the physical world with the virtual world, it's also a great way to explore innovation. 

I wanted my students to be invested in both the physical and the virtual world when they were designing their Makey Makey projects, so I had them design their virtual world using the Scratch programming environment. The virtual and physical worlds needed to be connected in some way as well, so there had to be some thought about how to connect these two types of spaces. 

As an example, I hooked up Makey Makey to a banana, and made a quick digital story in Scratch about a banana. When I poked the banana with my finger, the banana in Scratch would complain about a tummy ache. 

Here are a couple of ways the students used Makey Makey and Scratch:

This student used a cup of water to move his programmed fish.

This student attached Makey Makey to his led pencil drawings.

This student made an alarm clock. The idea was that when you are sleeping and roll over on a conductive pillow the alarm clock would wake you up. To simulate the pillow, he wrapped it in tinfoil.

This student touches a wall to change the backgrounds on her program.

I think Makey Makey shows real creative and academic potential in the classroom. But it's new. And with anything that's new, it'll take a little bit of time to sort out the kinks. Not from the tool itself, but from the teaching of the tool.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Showcasing 4th Grade Innovation Projects (Innovation series part 2)

Here is why that didn't work:
1) One of the categories I was most excited about "Performance Art". And the angle I went for was Performance Art that improves the world. Performance Art isn't a Kickstarter category. And when I introduced this category I used selected videos from Improv Everywhere. The selected videos focused on how performance art can improve the world by making it a little happier one innovation at a time. It worked with at least one student. From the inspiration of the example videos, he decided he wanted to see what would happen if he put up a sign in hall that said "Dance" and some music. He set this up as his classmates were coming into school one morning. We placed hidden cameras in the hall, he put together a playlist and a sign that said, "Dance In The Hall" and watched what happened. Then he put this video together for his project:

2) The only category I didn't have a video exemplar for was food. Instead we discussed possibilities as a class. From that short discussion born two great ideas. One of my students decided he wanted to invent a new flavor of chocolate. What he ended up with was hot pepper chocolate.
Another student decided she wanted to create her own breakfast cereal. She experimented with combinations of ground oats, brown sugar, ground walnuts, ground cinnamon, honey, vanilla, and other ingredients.

Originally she wanted each piece of cereal to have a smiley face. She didn't have time to perfect the design, but the taste was perfect.

Here is why the whole Kickstarter angle might have worked:
Several projects were created using the Kickstarter exemplars and categories. Here are some examples:

After watching the happy cane video in the fashion category, one boy decided to create flower hair:

Several students decided to make their own board games:

One student decided to make his own table-top RPG game out of Legos:

There were several innovative comics. One student decided to write two comics. Both used the same story, but from two different perspectives: The perspective of the protagonist and the perspective of the antagonist.
The Antagonist Story

The Protagonist Story

A couple of students had some great ideas using augmented reality.

The first featured project extended his comic using Aurasma and Scratch. When the reader pointed their smart device with the loaded Aurasma channel at the dragon in the comic (see below), the following video played:
What the reader would see in Aurasma:


Another student decided to use Augmented reality for an instruction manual. When the reader pointed their Smart device with the loaded Aurasma channel on a photo, a demonstration of the description would pop up:

What the reader would see in Aurasma:

What I really liked about this unit is that it emphasised real ideas, and my class was able to build upon and mix ideas that already existed to come up with something new. So what triggered their innovations? An individual desire to build something new in an area that interested them. All they needed was conversations, categories, and examples to get them going. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Using Kickstarter To Kick Start Innovation (Innovation series part 1)

This year I taught a unit called Technology & Innovation. One of the three essential questions for this unit is, "What triggers innovation?" There are a few ways I thought that one could teach this question:

1) The first is to study famous innovators and their motivations.

2) The second might be to create theoretical innovations on existing things. After all, every innovation is essentially a remix:

3) We could try to make something new.

4) We could design an online "Innovation Station" (like the one featured on the "The General"episode of Techlandia), create Innovation projects and challenge others to try the projects out.

5) Instead of virtually setting up an Innovation Station, we could physically set up a Makerspace and see what others could come up with.

I really like ideas 3 through 5. Because this is my first year with this unit though, I decided tackling idea 3 was enough. I hope to implement ideas 4 and 5 next year.

To get kids thinking about making something new, I turned to Kickstarter for the format and exemplars.

I liked this grouping a lot, and made some minor changes to fit with my kids. The first is that I deleted "Film & Video." We do a lot of film and video in class already, and I didn't want this to be redundant.

I also changed "Theatre" to "Performance Art." This would give my kids more freedom with performing if I could expand a theatre to include anywhere.

I changed "Games" to mean only boardgames and tabletop games. We do a lot of Scratch already, and again I didn't want this to be redundant.

Finally I removed "Technology" because we would create something new using Makey Makeys and Scratch later.

The next thing I did was to look for exemplars for each of these categories that I felt could inspire 9 and 10 year olds. The only category I did not find was "food." So instead we talked about what could be possible.

Here are the exemplars I found. I shared them a category at a time, and after each category had the kids brainstorm ideas of their own. In the next post I'll share what my students created.




Or any Rube Goldberg Machine



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Adopting Boom Writer For Elementary Students

I really like Boom Writer. It's a site that has a huge bank of story starters in a variety of genres. Boom Writer gives you the first chapter of a bunch of different stories. And then it's up to you to write the rest.

What I really don't like about Boom Writer is the following:
1) You have to type the stories.

I think this is a big problem with adapting cool writing tools like Boom Writer and Write About This.
When kids are still learning to write, and just learning to type, they aren't nearly as good at writing when they are typing. That's my personal experience with my students as well as with myself. Some some other opinions that corroborate mine can be found here and here.
This just isn't always conducive to good story writing

So it's important for me to adopt any cool app or online writing tool to paper. I've written how I adapted Write About This before.

2) Everyone is in direct competition with each other. I think gameification sounds really cool. I'd love to implement it full speed ahead. But I have a fundamental problem with extrinsic rewards and public competition in Elementary. I don't see the difference between a Leaderboard and putting up a poster with all the kids names on it to show how many gold stars each has received. At its worst its public humiliation. Boom Writer really only awards the best and doesn't humiliate the non-best, but I've been reading a lot of gamification literature lately and it's on my mind.

But the source material of Boom Writer is awesome. More than anything I think it gives the students the opportunity to learn what it takes to complete a real story. So we write our chapters on paper. The students choose their genre, get the first chapter and review the rubric for the chapter. But the rubrics I make only focus on one thing: answering the questions that are formed in the first chapter. They have three chapters to do this, and it's not easy. We talk about the pitfalls of answering the questions too soon or too quick, and brainstorm ways to do it creatively.

I won't list the first chapters here because Boom Writer would probably not appreciate that too much. But here are the titles, a quick summary from the website, and the rubrics I made for each one. To access the first chapters, just register with Boom Writer.

Gone! by Nancy Viau
Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery
Summary: Dorie and her older sister Meg love to surf. Catching that "perfect wave" is a rush and Dorie is desperate to get out and ride a few. But with the appearance of a mysterious green light on the water, Dorie's world gets turned upside-down.

Hunted by Ella Kennen
Genre: Myths and Monsters
Summary: Elliot is like a human lie detector, which comes in handy when potential pop quizzes might be assigned. He's never been wrong yet, and that's just one of the things that make Elliot an interesting  foster brother. Elliot has another special skill and now he's being hunted. 

Monsters Need Heroes Too by Mike Grinti
Genre: Fantasy
Summary: Corin can't wait to be summoned to a magical world where he can be a real hero and save a kingdom. Then his best friend Julie is summoned away right in front of him! Luckily for Corn, he gets summoned, too. Unluckily for him, he seems to have been summoned to fight for the bad guys... a group of trolls!

Mr. L's House by Helen Kampion
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Summary: Just before dawn, Eva is woken by a strange noise and discovers an eerie light around Mr. L's house. She's never spoken to Mr. L, but rumor has it that he can supposedly read minds and predict the future. Eva's twin sister Lacey doesn't see or hear anything, so Eva decides to investigate herself. What she finds however is the last thing she expected.

PowerKid by Greg R. Fishbone
Genre: Action/Adventure
Summary: Terry believes that his father is the masked superhero, PowerGuy. It's the only explanation for his absence, his mother's reluctance to talk about superheroes, and the way his mother moves  them around so frequently from town to town. Terry aspires to be a superhero as well, but will things go the way he plans?

The Great Treasure Hunt by Ashleigh West
Genre: Action/Adventure, Mystery
Summary: It's been a lazy summer for Keith and his best friend Jake until, through a clumsy accident, they make a discovery which could turn out to be the greatest adventure of the summer!

The Shell Game by Diane Bailey
Genre: Mystery
Summary: It's easy to spot a tourist in the city. New Yorker Abby knows the shell man's game and knows only a tourist could be conned by the act. She warns the foolish tourists, but before the shell man can finish his trick, the police pull up and suddenly the street is empty. That is except for one of the shell man's bags, and what Abby finds inside is more than she could have imagined. 

World's Greatest by Johnny Riley
Genre: Humor
Summary: Kenny Jenkins set the Guiness World Record for crab walking at one-point-seven-three miles. Everyone else just rounded it to two miles and treated Kenny like some sort of superhero, but Tommy wasn't buying it. Tommy was sick of all the hype about Kenny and his stupid crab walking skills, and is determined to become the World's Greatest at... something.

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