Archive for March, 2011

Here is a great example of how stop motion animation can be used in the science classroom. Just a little background info on the video. The student who made this is a 4th grader, and did all of the film work on his own. He did get some help in recording his script, but beyond that, this is his work.

I want to emphasize the point that he did this on his own, not to show how extraordinary the student is, but to show that this is possible in every classroom if the teacher will allow it. This video is the result of real reasearch. The project included art, writing, reading, and some serious thinking which equates to real learning.

If you haven’t tried something like this in the classroom yet, do it this week. Find a way to work it in. Your students may learn more from this experience than any other thing you do in the classroom this year!


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Almost forty years ago, a many by the name of Carl Rogers wrote the book, On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. In this work, he outlined three processes that give a person the prime learning platform: acceptance of the individual, lack of external evaluation, and empathetic understanding.

To put it plainly, these three factors have big implications on any classroom. When students have a classroom that operates under these conditions, they are granted the permission to be creative. More of how this all works can be found in Alane Starko’s book, Creativity in the Classroom. She shows how Rogers ideas can liberate the thinking of students.

I want to focus on how this theory relates to students and computers. When students, or any of us for that matter, go online to create, whether it be writing, art, web design, or whatever, we do it because online, we find the conditions that Rogers discussed allowing us to be creative to our fullest potential. To put it simply, Rogers says that when we have a safe place to create we are more likely to do just that. We do it on our own without prodding, and we enjoy it.

Now, think of most classrooms. Students are given the assignment to make a poster. They are given a 10 point rubric with a detailed guidelines, though the guidelines are really a detailed outline of how the project needs to look in the end with little room for change. Students are asked to create this poster in a classroom, sitting in rows in desks, oftentimes with no music or interaction, knowing that when it is all done, a grade will be entered in the book dependent on their ability to follow directions.

And we as teachers create a great product?

What we usually get is a bunch of posters that generally look the same, and in most cases, this is not the best work for most students. They do what is needed to get the grade and not much more. It is not just art projects where this happens. Most assignments look just like this in one form or another.

Ever wonder why students can get on a computer and spend hours designing a Myspace page, or manipulating pictures to post on their Facebook? Look at writing sites like where there are hundreds of thousands of pages written by students, and this is done without a rubric or any pressure from anyone at all.

They do it because writing is fun.

Rogers was right. People can be intrinsically motivated to do great things, but the conditions have to be right. People need a safe place to create without a bunch of limiting conditions. People need feedback, but not limiting feedback in the form of a grade. People need others to look at their work with an empathetic eye that attempts to see things from the artists or creators perspective. These conditions are found in online communities, and that is one reason our teens spend so much time there. Their minds are free to explore, think, share, create, and wonder with no outside stipulations. There is no grade, only pure feedback from people who care.

The key here is finding out how to create these same conditions within a classroom, or maybe even better, utilizing these 0nline communities in the classroom. When that is accomplished students will learn. They will create. They will be poised to make great changes in our world. That’s the end goal, isn’t it?

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I just saw this on geoffallemand’s blog, Passion Changes Everything. I just had to repost it. First, I love TED talks. Second, this is totally cool.


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Today, I want to share one of my favorite classroom activities. One of the most effective ways for students to learn is through self discovery and research. However, turning students loose on the internet and telling them to research a topic often ends with a bunch of Youtube videos being watched. I don’t think that this is because the students are totally bored with the research. They just get distracted. A great way to help them focus is by using Cover It Live.

For those that are not familiar with the Cover It Live (CIL) platform, it is basically a chat room where the teacher can act as the moderator. The moderator has the ability to post pictures, videos, and polls throughout the session. The moderator also has control over the comments posted throughout the session. The other real neat thing about CIL is that the sessions are archived and can be posted on blogs or websites as resources for future use. This is great when the app is used to introduce a topic of study because the students can go back and see what they learned.

To run a session, first get an account and set up a session. It is helpful to post the link on a blog  so students have easy access to the session. This is much easier than trying to get the students to correctly type a chunky clunky URL, which never works right.The class will be over before all the students get into the session.

Once all of the students have logged into the session, start by asking the students to write their name and a short message on the board like “Hi” or “I’m here.” Then you will see who is there or who is still having problems. This reminds me of another rule. I tell students that they can only post with their first name and last initial. I don’t let any other comments through, so the student who thinks he is funny and posts with some crazy name, doesn’t get any comments approved. This also keeps them from posting rude comments under an anonymous name. Most students want to participate, and once they see that I am serious about this, they usually stick to the rule.

After all the students are on the board, ask them a first question like “What is the definition of a narrative essay?” The students will then go out, get the definition off the internet, and post it to the CIL board. This means that the board is loaded with 25 definitions of a narrative essay. Sure, some of them are the same, and this may seem redundant. However, many of them are different, and after reading several different definitions, students get a better idea of their own definition.

Next, have the students look for an example. Ask them to post the links to these examples to share with the class. This is where some real learning can take place on a very individual basis that also helps the whole class. As the examples come in,  examine them. Some are going to be good. Comment on those as being real good examples. Then there are the bad, the ones that are not a good example at all. Gently tell the students that these are not good examples and give them reasons why. This works well because the whole class starts to see what are good examples and bad examples. When it comes time to write their own narrative essay, they will have a good idea of what the essay should look like.

CIL works great for this kind of activity, and I have used it numerous times to start several different units. This technique can be used in just about any class. What I really like about it is that having the students learn on their own in a collaborative atmosphere seems to help them learn better, and with CIL, the teacher has the ability to guide students to some extent.

One other note. This activity is a great way to get students involved in a class discussion who do not usually participate. Those “wall flowers” in the room really tend to open up in this classroom setting. Interestingly, many of the students who usually dominate a normal classroom discussion don’t handle this platform as well.

For something different, try Cover It Live in your classroom this week. It can be used with any class or subject. It is totally free, and after the initial setup, easy to use.

Click here to go to Cover It Live.




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Here’s ten reasons to plan a stop motion animation project in your classroom today!

1. Improves writing skills. If you are new to reading this blog, this one may sound a little crazy, but I put it at the top of the list for a reason. Any video project needs to start with a script which is purely writing. This is a great opportunity for teachers to focus on writing because the students are highly engaged in creating a quality product.

2. Engages students in the content. When making a movie, students get so wrapped up in the work, they forget they are learning.

3. Engages students in highest levels of thinking. Creating a video takes some heavy brain power, but as was stated in #2, students won’t even realize they are thinking hard.

4. It’s cheap. Making a stop motion animations doesn’t take a bunch of high dollar equipment. All that is needed is a cheap digital camera, which most students already have access to, some toy figurines, and a free editor like Movie Maker. Chances are, this project will be one of the cheapest you ever do in the classroom.

5. Works for any classroom situation. I don’t care what class you teach, stop motion animation can be a part of the curriculum and should be. Movies can be made with any grade level of students from kindergarten to the college level, and student will love it.

6. Fosters group work. Small groups work well for stop motion projects. They are great opportunities for students to learn how to work together. Because students generally like the project, group members are highly motivated to  pitch in and create a great movie.

7. Standards based project. Again, this applies to any subject. Stop motion projects will meet the standards, and you aren’t going to have to stretch the standards in order to make the project work.

8. Anonymity. One of the problems with video projects, especially if students want to post them on Youtube (which they all do) is that some students aren’t allowed to participate if the video will be displayed publicly. This won’t be a problem with stop motion because no student ever has to show their face.

9. Appeals to different student interests. I won’t even scratch the surface with this list, but creating a stop motion can involve skills and interests such as reading, writing, drawing, painting, sewing, singing, dramatic reading, video editing, and photography. Honestly this list is only limited by the imagination of the teacher and the students involved in a project.

10. It’s a blast! Most of my lists end with this one feature. I can’t help myself. If it’s not fun, they why do it?

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For the last two days, I have spent the afternoon taking pictures of small groups of students. For a week, they have been studying the different aspects of climbing Mt. Everest and are in the process of making a climbing guide as a part of their World Geography class.

For this project, small groups of students worked together to research a different aspect of climbing the mountain like documentation, first aid training, physical fitness, and climbing gear. Between the teacher of the class and myself, we were able to collect some climbing gear: ropes, helmets, ice axes, and various snow gear. The students staged Camera LCDsphoto © 2007 Hamed Saber | more info (via: Wylio)
several pictures to include in the climbing guide. In the end, all of the research and the pictures will be collected in one large document, and in the future I plan on sharing the details of this project with you.

For now, I want to focus my thoughts on using the digital camera for this project. We had a blast taking the pictures. It didn’t take much time and didn’t cost any extra money. Digital cameras may be one of the most overlooked technologies for the classroom. We need to be using them. Here’s why:

  1. Digital Cameras are an easily accessible technology. Most teachers already have a camera. Most students either have access to a camera or own one. Most phones have a camera. Most schools already have cameras. One of the schools I work with had 3 digital cameras in a box in the library for checkout and none of the teachers even knew they were there.
  2. They are cheap. At one time, cameras were quite cost prohibitive, but a decent camera cost less than a hundred bucks, and if you watch for sales, a good camera can probably be found for around fifty or sixty dollars. This is good for two reasons. One, if you don’t have one, even on a teacher’s salary, you can probably afford one. Two, if the students break a camera, which is bound to happen, it’s not a great loss (though it still might be quite irritating 🙂 ).
  3. There is no film to develop. Students and teachers can take as many pictures as they want, and the only cost might be batteries, though most of the newer cameras also run on rechargeable batteries.
  4. Cameras are easy to use. I don’t care how old a student is, even a kindergarten student can point and shoot, and the picture will be half decent.
  5. Students love to see themselves in pictures. Want to engage students? get a camera out and do a project. The main focus of the project doesn’t need to be the pictures, just a part. Students love it.
  6. Pictures are easy to share. Not too far in the past, sharing pictures was limited to hanging them on the wall in the classroom, after costly developing,  but this is not the case anymore with computers, the internet, social sharing sites like Flickr, and blogs. Student work can now be shared with the world.
  7. Most cameras, even the cheap models, have video capabilities, a big bonus. This is definitely something to consider when trying to justify buying a camera to use in the classroom.
  8. There are bunch of ways to use a camera in the classroom to enhance  instruction and increase student engagement.

I am not going into all of the ways that a camera can be used in the classroom in this post. There’s not enough room! However, if you have an idea or example of how you have used cameras to support instruction, leave a comment. I want to know what you are doing with cameras in your classroom. In the near future, I plan on putting a list together with all of these ideas.

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Wordle is a great resource to use in the classroom, especially for warm up exercises or as an introduction to a discussion. Do a little searching and you will find a bunch of blog posts showing how to use the app for instructional purposes.

This week, a teacher came to me wanting to save a Wordle to use in the class at at later time. There are a few different ways to do this. The easiest is to bookmark the URL after the Wordle has been published in the gallery. This way, the Wordle can be used again, but only as a web page. The picture can’t be transferred to documents or enlarged. It is good for show, but doesn’t make the Wordle usable for much else.

Another way to save a Wordle is to print the page as a PDF. However, in order to do this, the computer has to have a PDF writer, and I am guessing that most teachers do not have this option, at least without some extra work.

The best way I have found to make a Wordle usable is to take a screenshot. The Wordle can then be formatted as a jpeg which makes it quite useful. For some, making a screenshot sounds like a scary proposition, but with a little help, it’s not that bad. Actually, learning to take a screenshot is a useful skill that can be applied to all sorts of work on the computer.

I have written out the directions on how to take a screenshot and posted them on their own separate page for your convenience.

Click here for directions on how to take a screenshot of your Wordle.

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