" UndoDog

Friday, August 21, 2009

New possibilties for Choose-Your-Own-Adventure

The fourth grade Choose-Your-Own-Adventure project was always one of my favorites, but was too difficult for many, even with lots of scaffolding, and not as relevant a skill set as blogging, so I've relegated it to an after-school club.

I've always hoped to expand the project, though--to incorporate video into the adventure, for example, or to include a historical fiction element, for example, as with the revolutionary war-based adventures or the age of exploration ones that included one branch that was what really happened in the life of the student's chosen explorer and others that imagined what might have happened had the explorer chosen differently.

Here is a lovely example of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure done by design critic/novelist Rudolph Delson that serves as both a witty and entertaining adventure, and a thoughtful critique of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I love that way Delson has used the CYOA structure in a fresh new way, and will keep this in mind as inspiration for future projects.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Safety, Citizenship, and Facebook

A friend on Facebook has friended some former students, so I was privy to a severely disappointing batch of comments on a video put up by one of those former students. The video was fine, in fact it was the fifth grade graduation video of the class that is now going into tenth grade.

The comments, however, fell into one of several categories:
1) sweet and nostalgic
2) gratuitously profane and absurdly vulgar
3) rude, arrogant, and hateful
4) some combination of the above with appalling spelling and grammar errors.

Now, I don't think of myself as naive, and I am no stranger to the pottymouth, but I was really shocked by some of the things these kids were saying to each other. It made me think about my "internet safety and citizenship" curriculum.

I used to formally teach internet safety and citizenship in fourth and fifth grade, in addition to including informal lessons in the earlier grades. The safety part was actually pretty fun and engaging--I made a mask that had Miley Cyrus on one side and a scary picture of Harvey Keitel on the other and did a schtick to demonstrate that you may not know whom you're actually chatting with online; I showed PSAs; I had kids review a selection of internet safety sites for information and tips; and I had them make comics and posters to teach other kids about internet safety. But since the reports came out from the Crimes Against Children Research Center and the Internet Safety Technical Task Force indicating that the threat was much less than we thought, I reduced the emphasis on safety.

I still teach kids to keep certain information (including passwords) private and to be careful talking to strangers online or off, and I make sure they understand that anyone can put anything on the internet, and that it's their responsibility to stay on task and to close the window and let me know if they see anything that seems inappropriate, but I dropped the rest of that part of the curriculum. (This also ties into the part of the curriculum where they learn that you can't believe everything you read on the internet. (or elsewhere!))

The other part of the curriculum, the citizenship part, has basically been "be the same nice person you are in real life." (With some closing thoughts on leaving the internet a better place than you found it) And I leave it at that as if to say "of course you guys would never say anything mean or rude online, or log in to someone else's account, or vandalize a website. We don't even need to discuss it, right?" And this has seemed to be working, as we've had very few problems even though fourth and fifth graders have email and Blogger accounts. (Though, perhaps significantly, the kids now going into tenth grade did not.)

But then this Facebook experience. Should I have spent more time teaching them good internet citizenship? Or would that have been long forgotten by now, and their middle and high-schools should be teaching it? Or their parents? Or are these kids simply not nice in real life either? Or is it a passing phase, just part of the tempest that is adolescence? I'm inclined to believe all of the above. At least some of them have been smart enough not to use their full or real names, so they won't get caught when they're Googled by college admissions departments.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Blog's not dead

The spring semester flew by, and with the yearbook and graduation movie, a huge personal movie project, the school newspaper, and 2 kidsclubs on top of the usual workload, I've been a delinquent blogger. I've also been a delinquent blog reader, so I've been looking forward to the quiet of summer to catch up on some of that reading.

The numbers of unread posts in my Google Reader were lower than I expected, so I figured other educators had a busy spring as well, but then I read this at Alan Levine's CogDogBlog:
I admit it.
I still regularly review content RSS feeds in that archaic, pre-twitter-is-all-i-need thing called a “Feed Reader”. Me and 3 other holdouts.
Go ahead, call me a throw back.
At first I was concerned: I love blogging, reading blogs, and having my students blog--am I to understand now that blogging is over? All of my favorite non-education-related bloggers are still blogging as usual, so I investigated further.

First I went back to some of the old reliable edu-bloggers, the Will Richardsons, Steve Hargadons, Wesley Fryers, and Kathy Schrocks. There may have been a slight drop-off in the frequency of some of their posting and commenting, but nothing to worry about.

Then I tried Twitter again, since Alan seemed to imply that Twitter was replacing blogs. I registered for Twitter when it was new and read a few tweets, followed a few twitterers for a little while, and then tired of its glibness pretty quickly. I appreciated Alan November's use of it to get quick answers from his personal learning network, but can't use it that way myself, not yet having gotten around to developing my own PLN. I'm all for economy of language, but the 140 character limit seems to incline most writers to either superficiality or snark. Then there are the twitterers who treat their tweets like a Facebook status. If you are an edu-twitterer, you have no business using the media to tell me the cute thing your cat just did. But following Alan's post, I decided to revisit Twitter. I searched for the best twitterers in technology and education. Three frustrating hours later, I came to the conclusion that my initial impressions were still valid, and that blogs are still the best medium currently available for the kind of information and ideas that I want to read and share.

Am I missing something? Do you know of any twitterers who might change my mind?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reflections on the Fifth Grade Movie Project

I have been so impressed with the fifth grade movie work this year. We haven't had enough time together, and I've had to rush them a lot, but many have chosen to come in early or during recess, and their hard work really shows. (Wish I could show some here, but a) didn't do permission slips and b) didn't have time for them to cite their image sources)

A couple more new things I tried this year (in addition to the new planning elements):
1) Incorporating real video with the zooming and panning of still images
Most video sharing sites are blocked at school, and it can be incredibly time-consuming to find the right bit of video within a longer clip, so I told students that all they had to do was write me a note or email requesting a particular kind of video clip (eg. someone making sushi, golden retrievers fetching, Ozzy Osbourne playing Crazy Train) and I would get it for them. This turned out, not surprisingly, to be a lot of work, but so worth it. It brought a whole new element into the project--both technically and artistically. It was too bad that only about 20% of kids opted to use video, but if everyone had I don't think I would have been able to collect it all.

This brings up the question of sustainability in designing a technology curriculum. I can't count on other teachers wanting to spend 8 hours a week at home doing prep work for a particular project, which makes the project not duplicatable at that level. If I want to share this work out in a way that others can try it, it also has to work without these elements. In this case I think it does, but I also thought the movies that mixed video and still images with voice-over were much more effective.

Here's the example I made for them. Some of the still images and the music are copyrighted, but I'm claiming fair use here:

2) Having kids take control of recording their voice-overs.
We use the built-in iMac microphones, which are nondirectional and record all ambient sound, which doesn't work well in a collaborative classroom setting. In the past, I've had kids come up during recess to record voice-overs for their movies, but since they get only 20 minutes a day for recess and they understandably value this time a lot, and I have 120-150 fifth graders, this meant not very many kids got to record. This year, I started out having kids record during class and I would get the room quiet for each student before they started recording, but it didn't take long for me to realize that they were capable of doing that for themselves. It was so satisfying to hear kids independently calling out "quiet on the set!" before and "clear!" after recording, and negotiating with each other so that everyone had a chance to record. I'm considering using this strategy in combination with a good usb mic next year.

How this project will evolve next school year depends on whether I'm able to have the fifth grade for the whole year. It was such a disappointment to have to rush this project and not to get to the "I Have a Dream" GarageBand remix project. Another semester would allow us to reflect and talk more about what we're learning, to collaborate and share work in progress, and to do research, which (in addition to its inherent value) would give kids more possibilties when choosing topics.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fourth Grade Bloggers Hitting Their Stride

I am so proud of my fourth grade bloggers! We're in week 4, and though the spelling and conventions may not be perfect, most of them are posting and commenting regularly and thoughtfully now, and some are including links and copyleft images, too! Check them out!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Giant All-Powerful Robot Librarian

When I'm teaching 3rd graders about the internet research process, one of the things I spend some time on is how even though it is the most popular search engine now, and even though it happens to be my favorite for most things, Google is not the only game in town.

I go back to an analogy that I used with them in first grade, imagining that the internet is like the biggest library you could ever imagine, except instead of being in a building, it lives in computers all over the world, and anyone who wants to can put their stuff in there for others to see. I suggest that if you think of it like this, then browsers are like the glasses that let you look at the internet and search engines like Google are like the not-nearly-as-smart-as-real-live-ones robot librarians that help you find what you're looking for.

So, for the not-just-Google lesson, I remind them that there are other librarians in this crazy library, and ask them to imagine what might happen if there weren't. I suggest that as other librarians went away, Google would get bigger and more and more powerful, and soon might be the only search engine left, and then what if Google said "Sure, I'll find a picture of a puppy for you...if you give me a dollar!"

I don't want to have them use search engines that are less user-friendly or less effective, and I sure do like the ease of the built-in Google box in most browsers, (Will Richardson makes valid points about how AltaVista and others can be useful for some types of advanced searching, but I haven't found that relevant yet for my 3rd-5th graders.) so I still let them use Google if they choose, but hope that the image of a gigantic evil robot librarian sticks in their mind.

In a perfect world (ie. if I could see every class every day), I would love to do an inquiry where we compare results for a variety of searches from a variety of search engines, but I'm already packing too much into each class period and we haven't even gotten to helpful keyword add-ons (eg. history, biography, kids), choosing from search results, tabbed browsing, the Wikipedia conversation, navigating a page, dissecting a url, evaluating sites, or taking notes.

How do you all teach internet research skills?
(Image from Flickr user Mykl Roventine)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Benchmarks: Phase 2

Trying to hone my benchmarks down to something comprehensive that I can use for assessment, here's what I've come up with so far for 5th grade. It would mean changing my thinking from how students do each week to how they do over a 5 month period, and it's certainly more rigid and less applicable to students' creativity, innovation, and effort. It seems to reduce their work to a set of skills--an idea at which I bristle--but it could still be useful, and it's what my administration is asking for.

The 2nd half of the document includes all of the criteria/understandings that go into each column, which would vary by grade, though most of the column headings could be the same for 3-5 and for k-2. 

The other big question is whether it's doable to assess 750 kids for 14 different elements that have so many sub-elements...

How do you assess students? Do you have a set of benchmarks you use?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Website evaluation lesson: Who's behind this site?

One of my favorite website evaluation lessons: I send kids to the website healthyfridge.org, and ask them to figure out who or what is behind it. (I try to do this around the time that 5th graders are studying nutrition, so there's that tie-in. That's actually how I discovered the site--when a teacher recommended it for a nutrition study before evaluating it herself!)

It seems like a friendly little educational website to teach kids about nutrition, right? But no, I tell them, there is more than meets the eye! I encourage them to use common sense, to scour the website like detectives, and to think about what the people who made the site might be trying to "sell" us. It usually takes about 20-30 minutes before they start getting close (sometimes they get distracted by the word search, but even that has clues in it), and if they aren't, I'll ask questions like "Do you notice any particular food they mention a lot? Or anything that stands out or seems strange?"

Sometimes they'll do a separate search for the organization named at the bottom of the page, sometimes I teach them about whois, sometimes they find the "about" page, but it's always a fun mystery to solve. I won't tell you who's behind it, so you can have the fun of discovering the nefarious masterminds for yourself!

(Also, there are usually a couple of kids who have never heard of the thing they're trying to promote, so I usually do a few minutes at the end about what it is and why it's not healthy.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Alphabet Line

Over at the Elementary Tech Teachers Ning (which I am so happy to have found!), I posted some photos from my lab, and this one elicited requests to share the alphabet line file, so here it is!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Digital Documentaries 08: Phase One

Past years' fifth grade movies have been somewhat mediocre overall, so I decided to a) start giving them more iMovie experience before fifth grade, and b) have students put more time and energy into the movie planning process this year so that when they are making the movies they're really just assembling ingredients they've prepared beforehand.

To that end, I had students first create GoogleDocs presentations of movie proposals--one slide each for 3-5 possible topics.

I had them use GoogleDocs both so that they could work on it at home if they chose (a few did) and so that they could use GoogleDocs smoothly when they need it for their class writing pieces later in the year. (They set up accounts last year, but not everyone used them, so we spent the first 2 periods resetting their passwords.) Then I chose or helped them choose the topic that would work best from the 3-5 they had proposed, and their next task was to create a presentation of 4-6 slides that would be a specific plan for their movies: what pictures (These are KenBurns style iMovies, not video), words, and sounds they would have in each part.

For both presentations, I gave students step-by-step direction sheets, shared my example presentations with them in GoogleDocs, and taught minilessons. They had 3 class periods for each.

I realize now I should have taken this much more slowly. I should have had them read the direction sheet aloud in a distraction-free environment. I should have had them "unpack" my presentations in class and talk about what they noticed and what they could do in their own presentations. (I also should have spent more time with them at the very beginning watching actual examples of 1-2 minute documentaries like the ones they'll be making. I'm sharing these examples after the plan is done, but should do some before as well.) I didn't do this, and as a result had about half of the kids confused in a variety of ways, like doing presentations all about a particular topic instead of 3-5 proposals. After getting this sorted out, some kids only wrote 1-2 proposals, or very incomplete proposals, but I let them move on to the second presentation because I didn't want them to get further behind.

Yesterday was the last class period for the second presentation, and out of 27 kids, 6 finished and are ready to start their movies, 8 are close, 12 will probably need 2 more class periods, and for 2 of them, I'm finally accepting that I will need to set up their Google accounts to remember them because they have wasted so much type mistyping their email and password, which is written on a piece of paper in front of them.

(In fairness to some kids, we did have some browser incompatibility problems, too. It used to be that GDocs worked with Camino, but not Safari, but with presentations it seems to be the other way around. Firefox would be ideal, but that's a story for another post.)

The moral of the story seems to be this: 6 class periods is not enough time for most fifth graders to create a proposal and a plan for a 1-2 minute movie in GoogleDocs, and if I want this project to succeed in the future, I will need to either:
a) have the fifth grades twice a week (sadly, this term I don't have 3/4 of them at all.)
b) get classroom teachers on board (a likelihood with some and very doubtful with others)
c) give students an option to use paper or the program of their choice (a word processor, presentation program, or mindmap program) instead of GoogleDocs
d) make sure that strugglers have helping partners set up beforehand, and get those kids in separately in small groups for extra support. (Some teachers do digital documentaries as a group project to help support strugglers, but I really want kids to get the whole experience, which doesn't happen if you break down the project into smaller jobs.)

The good news is that I can use what I've learned here with the other 3 fifth grade classes I hope to have in the spring. The bad news, as always, is that this class ends up the unfortunate guinea pigs.

There are so many great teachers doing digital documentaries with their students and posting about it, but I haven't found any yet who are doing it with classes of 25-32 kids in a once-a-week setting. Surely they must be out there, right?