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Archive for May, 2012

As I write this blog post, I am watching a 6th grade class Skype with the author of a book that they have recently read. This has to be one of the most powerful experiences for students in terms of giving them insight into the writing process and also instilling in them a love for reading. They are talking to the brains behind the story that they all enjoyed reading who is now telling them how the characters came  to life in his own mind.

This is not just a lecture on reading and writing, which students get in school all the time.

What is so cool about a Skype session with an author is that it is real. Students (and teachers alike) look at authors of books as mythical creatures, beings who are name on the front of a book and are never seen. Right now, the students are talking to this mythical being.

Just now, he showed them his system for writing which is a cork board that covers his entire wall with all of the characters for his current book. Below the characters are all of the different things the characters are doing in the story. He also showed the students his current manuscript with all of the handwritten edits that he does on one page. The page is totally trashed with grammar marks, an eye opener for students who think the teacher is just out to get them.

Students no longer have to read about the author on the dust cover of the book. With a little planning and a teacher who is daring to take a risk, students can meet the author.

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This morning, I was watching CNN Student News with my 7th grade class. In the episode today, there was a story about the International Space Station. One of the students asked, “There’s a space station with people living in it?”

I looked at him kind of funny and thought,  “like what do you mean, there’s a space station up there with people in it. Of course there is!”

He wasn’t joking, and he wasn’t the only one who had never heard of the space station. I don’t think any of the students had any knowledge of the space station.

This presented a great opportunity to show how the internet can be used as a tool for learning, and not just to find book sense, standardized test knowledge. All too often this is what we force students to use the internet for; the task has to be tied to a standard and learning that can be measured. I am not saying that this is all bad. I’m not bashing the state standards here, but I do think that sometimes in the focus of what we “should be learning”, we forget about the wonderful world of knowledge that is at our fingertips. From my experiences, most students have no idea.

When a students asks a question in class, modeling the use of Google (or any other search engine) is an excellent way to teach students the powerful nature of the tool. It’s a little scary to do this in front of a class. Every once in a while, a page description or picture will pop up that makes the teacher a bit uncomfortable, but that is what is going to happen when students are working on their own. Honestly, not much can shock students, especially once they hit middle school, so don’t panic and show students how to find what you want. Ignore the junk. That is an important lesson all in itself.

Today, we Googled a few different search terms and ran across NASA’s site for the International Space Station. There were several short videos and a slew of pictures showing what happened there. For about fifteen minutes, we surfed through links and videos. We shared observations and feelings, what was cool and what would be weird or scary. All of us in the classroom learned.

This was learning in it’s purest form: Exploration of the world around us for the sake of expanding our minds.

 

 

 

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Humankind is innovative. Just think of how far we’ve come. Thousands of years ago, ancient man stared deep into the embers of the campfire and decided to change things up a bit. Now we are staring intently into the glow of a computer screen or portable device, and still, we want more. It seems that we are always wanting to change things up a bit.

This is a good thing, I think.

Yesterday morning, I went to Wiffiti to set up a board for a quiz game in one of my classes. I have used the app several times for this, and it works well, at least it had up until yesterday. They totally changed the layout of the app, and as far as I could tell, Wiffiti was not going to work the way I used to use it with my students. From the looks of it, the creators of Wiffiti wanted to change things up a bit.

I would have been a little more distraught if this didn’t happen on a regular basis. For those that work with technology much at all, change is a daily ritual (or maybe I should say rite?). Apps, sites, browsers, and interfaces are changing evolving on a daily basis. A new computer device comes out weekly that is more slim and sleek than last weeks model and has twice as much power and memory.

There are two choices here: 1. Get mad and frustrated and just quit altogether. 2. See change as progress and embrace it.

There is a camp of people out there who constantly complain about change. This is especially prevalent among users of Facebook. How many times have you heard someone complain about Facebook changing their layout or privacy settings in the last week. I bet it’s more than you can count on one hand. Complaining about these changes is not going make Facebook change their mind, and from the looks of it, they are not going to slow down any time in the near future as far as “changing things up” goes.

This is an important lesson for students (and for all of us) to learn. At times, though frustrating, having a site go down when students are in the middle of a project is good experience.

This happened to me in class today. My students were using Easel.ly to make infographics. For some reason, in the middle of class, the app stopped working. We couldn’t access the students work that was done last class period. The students got irritated and started mumbling under their breath about “dumb projects” or something along those lines. You can probably fill in the blanks there.

What did we do? I explained that we would see if the site was working next class, and we moved on.

There was no use getting all worked up about something that was totally out of our control. if the site never comes online again, we will do an alternative assignment or just scrap it and find another learning activity. The internet is growing exponentially, so much so that keeping up is like running a hundred mile race. Right now, the end is nowhere in sight.

All we can do is just keep running and drag the classroom full of students along with us.

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Yesterday, I wrote about having students create infographics. Today, I put together a rubric so the students have something to loosely guide their work and also to give me a standard for grading their creations.

A quick Google search brought up a bunch of different rubrics, but as usual, most of what I found was a little too lengthy for my taste. I want a loose guide that will force students to think hard, not an intricate map that will lead students to the revered “A” by following explicit directions. If they are going to get that grade, they are going to have to get there, in large part, powered by their own creative thinking. I have also included the links to a couple other noteworthy infographic project resources and rubrics that I ran across this morning.

My Rubric – This rubric has 4 different points which should be a decent guide to get students headed in the right direction.

Infographic Resources – This site has a bunch of links that will be helpful in preparing for an inforgraphic project including rubrics, examples and tips and tricks for creating great infographics.

Kathy Schrock’s Infographic Rubric – Kathy Schrock comes through with another great resource. This rubric is more suited for upper level students due to the technical language.

Cache Public Schools Infographic Rubric – A very detailed rubric. This is the road map, if that is what you like to use for a rubric 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Infographics are quickly becoming “the way” to show information. Graphs and charts have always been used in the past, but an infographic is like a bar chart on steroids, with a number of charts, pictures, and text on one page. Some of them are quite lengthy and extend far beyond the end of the screen. I like them because they help to convey ideas and concepts that may be hard to comprehend and perceive by the reading of a text in a highly visual and engaging manner.

After looking at several different infographics with my seventh grade current issues class this week, I decided it would be fun for them to try and make their own. Knowing that there had to be a way for them to do this on the computer, I started a search. There are several apps out there, but most of what I found required either payment of some kind or  the download of the app to the local machine. Then I ran across easel.ly on Larry Ferlazzo’s blog.

Today, my seventh graders started making infographics using the easel.ly app. We are into the early stages of the project, but so far, the app has worked great. At the moment, easel.ly is in beta, so registration is free. One of the things I like best about using the app with students is the easy registration process. Students do need an email, but they don’t have to validate their registration by going to their email. This is a big plus when students are not able to check email at school.

As far as training for students on how to use the app, I did nothing. I just showed them the app and let them go. The figured it out in about one minute. The app is intuitive and easy to use. At the moment, I have no student examples to share, but they should be coming in the near future.

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Students use all kinds of technology, but most do not understand or even ever think about the process behind how the technology works. The Story of Send, by Google, explains how an email makes it from one device to another, and despite what we might think, it’s not just magic. There is a lot that goes into the transfer of that one email, especially when it is multiplied by billions, the number of emails sent in one day.

I am going to use The Story of Send today with a logic class that I am currently teaching. The hope is that students will examine all of the thinking that goes into the creation of a process like sending an email. Students should be quite engaged in the discussion as the “tour” is supplemented by several videos and pictures of the different stops the email takes along the way, as well as a good explanation of how Google manages all the power needed to make all of this work. In the half hour I took to preview the story, I learned a great deal about a service that I use multiple times on a daily basis.

Understanding the complexity of something as seemingly simple as Gmail gives students (and teachers) a fresh perspective on the importance of problem solving and the outcomes of great thinking minds.

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I think it on a daily basis, something along the lines of I sure wish those kids would just leave their phones in their pockets for just a few minutes. I’ll even admit downright irritation when trying to give the directions for an assignment and a student is slyly texting under the desk. There is a time and place for technology. I wanted to write, “There is a definite time and place for technology,” but then I changed the sentence. Here is the reason, and much of it has to do with a recent article I read about the speech Adora Svitek gave at the recent Mashable Connect.

Before reading any further, if you haven’t heard of Adora Svitek, watch her TED Talk. This girl is amazing. From an early age, she has been educating adults on what the younger generations have to offer the world.

At the Mashable Connect, Adora talked about how youth are much more engaged in the world around them  because they are no longer spectators of what is happening in the world but are participants in a global community. To see more of what she has to say, go to Mashable, read the article and watch the video. She makes sense.

I really like this idea of teenagers being participants rather than mere observers. In the past thirty years (and I am sure we could find the numbers to show this) people spent a great deal of time sitting around watching television. They were observers of a creative world  where anything could and does happen. Watching television is purely an observation activity, so much so that the brain function is greatly lowered during the activity.

This is not so much the case in the tech charged world of today. I would be wrong to say that teenagers don’t still spend a lot of time in front of the 56 inch flat screen at night. I know they do, but unlike their parents, that is not all teens are doing while watching TV. While watching television, they may be engaged in a chat room discussion about the show or updating their Facebook status. Assuredly, most students will be also texting a number of different people during this time on various topics. This is the point that Svitek makes in her talk. To those who do not know how to text, or update a Facebook, or talk in a chat room, these activities look quite distracting and unrelated, but in all reality, they might be quite closely related. Svitek is trying to show that teens are not distracted, but engaged in the world around them.

This might very well be the case for a classroom where students are allowed to text, tweet, and update during class.

As a teacher, this is still a little hard to think about and accept. However, I think it merits some serious thought. Just think of the possibilities for a teacher who can learn to harness the power of all these different modes of communication and thinking. In my mind, there is more and more validity in using the tools students use in their everyday life.

 

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