Friday, March 22, 2013

Maker Kids - DIY

First of all, Happy Spring Break Eve!  It's hard to believe it is already nearly the end of March, but like many of you I am looking forward to two weeks of rest and rejuvenation.  A few weeks ago a friend introduced me to a great online resource through Facebook,, I thought some of you might be interested in exploring with your own children over the break.

I know what you're thinking, "DIY? I'm not working on painting my house or ripping up kitchen counters."  However is very different than  DIY is an online club where children earn skills by learning how to build things from kites to clubs and stop-motion videos.  Children try out different challenges and then upload images or videos of their artifacts and earn badges they can display on their online portfolio.  A part of the maker movement the whole idea behind DIY is that "anyone can learn anything just by trying."  It is a great resource for helping students develop their artistic creativity and innate engineering skills through play and challenges.

Last week DIY posted a series of videos called Meet the Makers where children share their own stories for using the site.  Naturally, the kids are the best storytellers for using the site, so check them out.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Creating Producers Instead of Consumers Using Twitter

This is less a blog post and more of a call for ideas. Let me start from the beginning.

Three months ago, Joe Wood CC’d me on an email asking for teachers to be a part of the KQED DO Now project. The email was from Paul Oh of the National Writing Project. I replied yes before I knew what I had gotten myself into. (I mean come on, it was the National Writing Project!) Do Now is a weekly activity for students to engage and respond to current issues using social media tools like Twitter. I was not on Twitter nor had I ever wanted to be on Twitter. I grudgingly signed up and instantly, I saw the potential for students to actively engage in discussions about art, politics, and current events.

However, I think that the most important thing is that students understand the power they have over this emerging digital genre. As part of a discussion about digital literacy with my 9th grade Honors English class, we watched Evan William’s TED Talk about Twitter’s growth.  During one part of the talk he says that he is going to “Twit” something. My students were appalled. Didn’t he know that you “Tweet” not “Twit”? I laughed and said to them, “Wait a minute, he is the President of the company, doesn’t he get to decide what it is called? Their response came with a roll of the eyes, “No because we are the ones who use it”. They were right, in fact Twitter did not start out by using hash tags. That was something the user created and Twitter decided to integrate. Never before has a generation been so involved in the development of a new genre at the age of 14 and had the genre recognized by respected, old school institutions. The Modern Language Association even has an offical method of citing a Tweet.

Twitter may also transform our students into citizen scientists.  Last week Nic Russo invited his students to post their experiment results on Twitter as a way to compare data. As part of an introduction to evolution, Biology students looked at how the human hand has adapted to allow us to use tools and eventually has led us to the advancements that we have made as a species - including using Twitter.  Students did a series of trivial tasks utilizing their hands.  They timed themselves, recorded the data and then re-did the trials, with one minor modification; their thumbs were taped to their palms.  The final task was to Tweet one of their results (without the use of their thumbs) in order to share their data with the rest of their classmates.  Think of the implication. If students are engaged in meaningful observation of real life scientific work and use Twitter to contribute the data then their audience is becomes the Scientific community. Imagine how cool it will be when Nic coordinates an experiment with a class in another state and Tweets the results with the same hash tag!! Twitter allows students to be more than consumers of information. Twitter allows them to be published Scientists.

So what other ways do you think our students can utilize the genre that they have helped to create?  How can we help them to develop a culture that values intellectual thought, research, and discourse? How can we help them find real audiences?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Studying Earthquakes with Collaborative Flip Books

This week we are fortunate to have Karisa Bibayoff from Leading Edgeshare how her students made interactive flip books as part of their earthquake unit.


Over the past few weeks we've been studying earthquakes in the sixth grade science. While textbooks are fantastic for telling us science concepts behind earthquakes (types of faults, stresses, and importance of tectonic plate boundaries), the human impact of these occurrences is often lost in the technical terminology.

This year I had the students take a closer look at one specific earthquake by creating both non-fiction and narrative writing pieces that were compiled into class ebooks. Students chose an earthquake based on their birthdate using the USGS’ “Today in Earthquake History” page to give them a personal connection to the event. Then, they researched more information about the specific earthquake event online (putting their Google power-searching skills and/or Google Ninjas learned earlier in the year to use).

Initially, students wrote a news article in a Google Doc about the basics of the event (who, what, when, where, why) along with some science earthquake facts and some safety tips as any good news reporter would do.  Next, they wrote a companion historical fiction piece putting themselves or a character they created into the events. Last year, when I first created the assignment, I just had students publish their two stories using Google Docs and left it there.  I was so impressed by the level of creativity used by last year’s students that this year I felt I needed to take it further - publishing for others to see.

So, this year after typing them up in individual Google Docs (and sharing them for me and/or another student to edit), I had them add their stories into a collaborative slideshow via Google Presentation.  To prepare, I created a shared Google Presentation file for each class period with a title page. I linked the Google Presentations into the assignment instructions page (also in a shared Google Doc) for easy access. Each student copied and pasted the text of their stories into slides and added images for visual impact.

Once the deadline passed (8pm Wednesday night), I took their editing privileges away and downloaded the Presentation file as a .pdf.  Using the free digital bookmaking website SnackTools, I converted the .pdfs into flippable books for a fun picture books on a shelf effect.  Finally, it was easy to share out the link with students via email and embed the bookshelf into our student anthology site.

Reflecting on the process for next year, I think I need to emphasize properly siting their images more. They’ve been taught to do this in the past, but I think we were all so caught up in illustrating their slides, reading each other’s work, and changing fonts that we let this important detail slip a bit unfortunately.  Next year, I’d also like to have them peer edit each other’s work in a more formal way (using a rubric) instead of just sharing docs.  Overall, my students and I are very proud of all their hard work and ready to show off our final products!


Friday, March 1, 2013

Through Fahrenheit 451, RSA Animate, and Twitter We Discover Cultural Context

Most of my best lesson plans are serendipitous. This was no different. Tired of my “go to”s for getting students to engage in text and big ideas, I trolled Twitter and came upon Paul Bogush’s Blog about his classes’ experience making RSA videos. It occurred to me that this would be a great way for students to explore societal change in Fahrenheit 451 by forcing them to engage with the texts without pulling out quotes and asking them, “so what does this show about society.” Instead, they would walk me through their analytical thinking process!

I picked  a mentor text with a thematic element that connected to our discussions surrounding 451.  Another RSA video, Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity” provided an opportunity to discuss genre and thematic elements. Before showing them the mentor text, I announced, “ I know what I want to do, but I don’t know how to do it. I am confident we can figure it out together”. You can read about the process or view the videos. However, there was some unexpected learning that was perhaps, the most valuable part of the project.

Joe Wood tweeted about my project and shared it with the author of the blog that inspired the project. He showed his students the videos. Soon I received the private Tweet, “take a look at the last video on the page you sent class gave a bit of a gasp at one of the speech bubbles :)” from Paul Bogush. I immediately interrupted my students. “Okay, who did something ”? They looked at each other. I read the tweet out loud.  Knowing glances passed all the way through the room. I furiously started viewing videos. Should I have previewed before allowing them to post?

Come to find out one video contained a cartoon image of an asian stick figure with a bubble saying, “Ching Chong” and a characterture of a black stick figure saying , “Yo”. The creators of the video, two Asian females and a black female student, immediately defended themselves by saying, “...but I am Asian, I can say it!” Three minority, female students appropriated stereotypes and used them to demonstrate power over their own identities. They used the stereotypes to create humor in much the same way as Margaret Choi.

This experience led my class to discuss the importance of knowing the cultural context of their audience and being aware that they did not have to worry about what I thought when I saw the video, but what the world thought when they saw their video. This authentic discussion regarding audience never occurs after an essay assignment. It took a wider audience to bring about this awareness to my students.