Thursday, January 27, 2011


Here's an example of an iMovie my 7th graders have been working on. Half of the project was finding out how to do solid internet research, and the other half if learning how to create an iMovie with the images and research they did. Here's one finished example: (If it isn't clear, they got to choose their own topics. The only rule was that if they did a person, it couldn't be someone who was alive.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I touch learning!

Wow! Today was the first time in a long time I've been at a workshop for content that 1) I was not teaching/assisting with, and 2) was essentially completely new knowledge to me. Our district kindly organized a workshop with Tony Vincent, guru of all things ed tech, particularly hand-held learning, (starting in the early days with PDAs and now iPod Touches).

While I've been aware that this technology has been in use for quite a while in various forms, I've never had personal access to it or knew if we'd have any access to it at school. Lucky for us, this is the innovation of the year in our school district Instructional Technology department. So, now I can start researching new things on this level! (Basically, before I felt like I needed to focus my limited time on things I had immediate access to.) Oh, and another reason I've been interested in this area is that I just got an iPod Touch for Christmas ;-) That definitely helped. (I'm a little addicted to it.)

So, here are some of the highlights of a sort of Highlights of iPod Touch Labs workshop, which mainly focused on some cool apps that can be used for academic purposes. Specifically, these are the ones that I thought could be most useful in the classroom and my everyday life. Hence, they now reside on MY iPod :-)

1-Bump This app lets you share files just by bumping your iPod/Phone holding hand with the other person's iPod/Phone holding hand. In everyday life (EDL) that might be used with resumes, contact information, etc. In education (ED) it might look like students turning in assignments like photo illustrations, voice recordings, etc to a single iPod for the teacher to grade or combining research information into a central location.

2-Doodle Buddy This app is a simple drawing program with standard features like different colors, text boxes and a plethora of designs to use as backgrounds and to stamp on drawings. While all these things are to be expected of a free app, it really becomes applicable when you import photos you've taken or from the web to draw/write on. For EDL, this could be useful to help write notes on an image to emphasize a particular feature. For ED, it could be particularly educational to have students find examples of a specific item online and write a fact about it (find a picture of cloud and write what type of cloud it is, submit it to the teacher via Bump). This app is similar to Comic Touch Lite, which allows you to put comic speech bubbles on pictures, which is a slimmed down version of a program I LOVE: Comic Life.

3-Dragon Dictation This free app is much more than just a simple voice recorder, which comes by default with iPods/Phones. It records your speaking and translates it into text, which can then be emailed or copied and pasted into other apps. While you do have to speak a bit slower and include end punctuation, it is an excellent speech translator. Obviously, for EDL, this would be super-useful in any of those situations where you 1) don't want to use the iPod/Phone's TINY keyboard, or 2) when you are, say, driving, and shouldn't be texting, but you need to remember something or send someone something. In ED, I think this would be fantastic when a teacher wants to give ELL students instructions. They could just record them, and then students could see the written instructions (particularly if they might be different from those for other students). Another idea: it would be a fantastic way for my photojournalism students to interview people for their articles.

Hope this gives you some new ideas to try with kids and iPods! It sure helped me out!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who cares?

While most of my 8th graders are doing photo essays on their neighborhood, 2 classes are working on developing their own blogs, at the request of their teachers. Since I spent a good bit of time blogging with my students last year, I didn't think it would be too daunting of a task. However, the way I did blogging with my students is quite a bit different from what these kids are doing. The main difference is that I've always had my students use one class blog, as opposed to having each kid have their own blog. I have no issues with either method, and always intended to have my students develop their own blogs, but just never got to it. Hence, most of the time, I told them what to write about.
Not so, with this group of 8th graders. In this case, they each have their own blog, and I'm not using this as a writing lesson so much, as how to create and keep up with a blog. After they initially created their own blogs through, we began discussing what it is that they might be writing about, since it was more or less up to them. The main thing I encouraged them to do was to choose a theme for their blog, so that they were always writing about the same general topic (like sports, movies, school news, etc.) I explained this by saying that people were much more likely to want to read their blog on a regular basis if they knew what was going to be there and if they're interested in that topic. 

While I know that kids don't like to be told what to do, I was quite surprised at the level of resistance they had to essentially being required to limit their writing to one general idea. In fact, not only did they not want to choose a topic, they didn't understand why it was necessary in the first place. This was perplexing to me at first, but then I realized that it made perfect sense for the developmental level of 14 year olds. 1) They don't want to do anything suggested by an adult, which at 29, I guess I am. 2) Their entire brain is essentially designed to be focused on themselves right now. They just cannot fathom why someone wouldn't be interested in every single thing about themselves. 3) Culturally speaking, our culture is excellent at emphasizing the beauty in randomness. The best example of this is, of course, the ipod, in which kids can carry all of their music with them at all times, and switch instantly between any genre, artist, or song at the drop of a hat.  Hence, the idea of limiting themselves to just one topic seems like a huge drag. 

So, what can I do to remedy this? I think I'll start by using non-examples of random blogs from other students that won't matter to anyone outside of themselves. Then, I think I'll track down some high-quality student blogs that address one topic that other people would care about, like the excellent OmniTechNews blog. [If you have any suggestions or additions to add to my list of quality student blogs, let me know!] Hopefully, this will clear up the distinction that people do care what you have to say IF its something that they are also interested in and know where to find it. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Photo Essay

While my 7th grade Computer class is right on track in terms of the original projects laid out of the year (albeit behind schedule), my 8th grade Photojournalism class gets rewritten on what seems like a weekly basis! Most weeks, I am disappointed by either the lack of progress, or the lack of motivation 14 year olds display. Hence, the weekly re-working of what we might do next. (I exaggerate, it's not weekly.) 

So, after some major brainstorming prior to beginning the next quarter, I am on track to start another new project. We'll be creating a photo essay about the neighborhood that the kids live in, known as Maryvale

I plan on introducing the project to them this week with some brainstorming on what they think of when considering the neighborhood. Next week, we'll do a photo walk around the block that surrounds the schools. Following that, they'll write captions and introduction text for their photos and then post them in a blog post, or some other tool to display a photo essay. (I'm open to suggestions on this.) 

Below is the sample I made :-) 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Online vs. Paper Writing

Over the holidays, I had a lovely conversation with a friend about her next job and how educational technology relates to it. A few things you need to know about her to preface this discussion: 1) She's going into her 3rd volunteer job in Africa, adding up to about the last 8 years of her life. 2) The job she's beginning this year is heading an English department at a girls high school that is opening in February in Rwanda. 3) She's an amazing writer and just finished a master's degree in creative writing. 4) She's in the editing stages of writing her first novel.

With these things in mind, we had a discussion about whether or not (or when) it would be appropriate to have her forthcoming students do online writing in any form. Her first assumption (being a very pen and paper type), was that it would be better to spend quite a bit of time getting the students used to doing general writing on paper before heading them into theoretically uncharted territory of writing online.

My response, (after she told me that they'd be on a wired campus) was that they should absolutely give online writing a shot. I do think students need to practice writing thoughts out on paper as this form of writing hasn't been completely outdated yet, especially in Africa. However, I think that it's critical for students all over the world to learn how to write online for many reasons.

I believe this is an imperative part of writing instruction in this day and age because it gives students incredibly real audiences. Through this, they can learn about writing in a form that is useful and/or interesting to an audience that does not know you and does not have to read your writing. Too often, classroom writing takes on topics that do not engage an outside audience at all, and are merely exercises in the conventions of writing, not the content of writing. (Ex: No one cares about how your basketball practice went outside your family, unless you can find a way to make it useful to others.)

Also, in online writing, particularly through blogging and other kinds of technology that allow commenting by readers, students learn about giving and receiving useful comments and criticism. While it does leave them open to ridiculous comments, it teaches them that those types of comments do occur, and how best to respond to them. If we leave students to discover this kind of reading and writing on their own, we take the chance that they will become those ridiculous people who make the internet feel like the crazy, wild, wild, west.

Without these kinds of opportunities to write for real people who care what students have to say and give and receive comments and criticism for others, students will be missing out on instruction in something that WILL [eventually] be part of their online lives, no matter where they live.