Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Toontastic Review

Like most educators with iPads, I’m constantly looking for apps and apptivities that I can use in my classroom to foster higher level thinking.  We had iPad training in the fall where I was introduced to Alice in New York.  This app is so creative, and I knew I wanted my kids to create something similar, but I had no idea how to do it.

I first heard of Toontastic before Christmas and downloaded it immediately.  Within minutes I could tell it was the app I was looking for.  I loved that the kids could animate and narrate their own stories.  We’ll get into that later.  However, I also appreciate that students begin by charting their story on a Story Arc.  We call it a plot hill in my room, but it’s the same concept.  They see that hill and they know what to do.  Brilliant! 

We had just started a group project in my fifth grade Reading class where students had to act out a chapter of a book.  One of my students was sick that week and could not participate in the group activity, so I assigned him a Toontastic project instead.  He finished it and could not wait to show his classmates. They were all as amazed as I was, and I was happy that I found an app that could enable my students to create animated stories quickly and easily.

We played with Toontastic a week or so later during a station day.  (I created Station Day years ago as an opportunity to use centers in the classroom.  It seemed that my students never had the opportunity to do centers on a daily basis, so I brought the centers to one lesson.  Students have roughly ten minutes at each station and can learn through a more laid back activity.)  Each student was asked to experiment with Toontastic and give me their impressions.  The feedback was unanimous.  We had a winner! The only complaint I got from the kids during station day was that it was too loud in the room to do the voices. 

After the holiday, we embarked upon our class wide Toontastic project.  For this first project, I gave the kids wide parameters, basically allowing them to write whatever story they wanted to.  I did, however, require them to create a Story Arc and a script before they got into the animation.

Unfortunately, I got called into more professional development halfway through this project, so a sub handled a lot of the production phase.  We tried to counter the noise problem by utilizing different classrooms in my hallway.  Two of the rooms are rarely used so we could divide and conquer.  The times I was able to be in the room with the kids, it was the organized chaos I love so much.  I had small groups of kids gathering around iPads helping each other with their projects, lending their voices.  I even got to be a voice in one boy’s cartoon.  I was a Golden Tusk, and I was honored to help out.

We had one day where all the iPads were on student desks, and the kids went around watching each other’s presentations.  They loved it!  I’m recommending that a few kids publish their cartoons on the app but leaving that up to their parents. 

I gave them a questionnaire about the experience.  In general, everyone loved the project because they could create their own story and help each other.  I also saw comments about enjoying the stock characters and props and music background.  My favorite comment… “It was fun to see my drawings move around and talk.”  I also asked then to think outside the box and tell me how we can use this app in other classes.  Most kids talked about using it to reenact historical events in history class, but I also got suggestions for using it to animate chapters in a book or teaching scientific principles. 

I’m excited to use Toontastic again in the near future.  It’s great to have a tool at my disposal that the kids enjoy and can help them think creatively.  Now my sixth graders want to use it too.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

iPad Training, Round 2

Last week, we had more iPad training at our school.  I was excited to hear that it would focus more in depth in how to integrate iPads into our teaching.  Here are some good ideas I walked away with.

  • StoryKit is a digital book creation tool.  You can type text, add pictures, draw pictures, and add audio.  The one drawback is that it's only viewed on StoryKit.  You can email a copy to your friends, but it won't be book like.  Here's my example from the Stamp Act. This version has less bells and whistles than what you would see on your iPad, but you get the idea.  
  • Popplets is a graphic organizer creator.  I love it!  It's more fluid than the software our school requires, and students can even insert pictures.  You'll see my example also from the Stamp Act here.  My link is the free version, but our school is going to use the paid version which has more capability like putting a popplet in Drop Box.
  • SonicPics helps you create stories using pictures and audio. I have the lite (free version) which only allows three pictures.  The paid version has more capability.  
  • ScreenChomp is an interactive white board.  You can start with a blank screen or a picture background.  Then you draw on the board and talk at the same time.  I told my social studies class about it, and they looked at me like I was crazy.  I told my advanced math class about it, and they looked at me like I was crazy.  I told my regular math class about it, and they got excited.  I think they are excited to have another way (verbal) to explain how their understanding of math procedures.  I have not had the opportunity to use it in class yet, but I will soon.  I've had kids play with it already and the enthusiasm is  obvious.
  • PhotoCard is a postcard app. I plan to do this on my next vacation. Take a cute picture of my daughter.  Put it on the app.  Write a neat note.  Email it out.  Cheaper and more personal than a real postcard.  However, this could be a good way to get a one short snippet of information out of a kid.  See my example below.

Funny.  I never was into professional development till someone handed me an iPad.  Now I love it! 

Consumption vs. Creation

How does your school use technology?  How do you integrate technology in your classroom?

I recently read this post, in which the author spent a bit of time on my soapbox.  As I see it, there are three ways technology can be used in schools.  Today I read this post about a fellow tech integrator who is just plain struggling to bring technology into his lessons in an effective way.

The more I research best practices in technology integration the more I get frustrated.  When I read other people's blogs or tweets, there is a lot of talk about how computers are going to revolutionize the education system.  The advent of the iPad raised this talk to a whole new level... so it would seem.

I just went to the App Store and hit the "Education" category.  Top six results sorted by relevance were... Color Mix HD (Fairy Princess), Color Mix HD (Dinosaur), If you're happy and you know it, Monkey Preschool Lunchbox, Math Puppy - Bingo Challenge, and Timmy's Preschool Adventure.  Raise your hand if any of those title get you excited to go to school tomorrow.  Next, I merely typed "Math" into the search window.  My top six results were mainly drill and practice apps. Math, Math (R), Motion Math: Hungry Fish, My Math Flash Cards App, and Motion Math Zoom are all some form of drill and practice.  I'm pretty sure that my school didn't spend thousands of dollars so my students can learn their math facts.  My mom spent a buck or two on index cards and few minutes to write it all down for me to learn my facts.

I was intrigued by the first result though.  It's called... Math..  (No, that double period is not a typo.  The name of the app is Math., and the other period is the end of the sentence.)  I installed it on my iPad, and it looks good. They work you through concepts step by step and have video accompaniment too.  Not a bad thing... but still a consumer product.

I may have rambled a bit getting to this point, by I do have a point.

My research is turning up two distinct categories.
1.  It's all focused on consumption products. I'm not poo-pooing consumption, but do we teach higher level thinking through these products?  Kids spend most of their life consuming technology: TV, video games, and music.  Do we need to overload them in school too?  Do we need iPads to do what my mom did with index cards when I was 10?
2.  "These computers are going to change everything!"... but very little practical application to go along with it.  There is a large group of educators out there who are itching to change the educational system and rightly see these electronics as the means to get there.  We all know that these tools can do something special we could not dream of when we were kids, but very few are giving practical suggestions of how to get there.

This summer I got my first iPad and started in on Twitter.  It wasn't long before I found @coolcatteacher and @thenerdyteacher.  I love following them because they give practical suggestions of what they are doing in class and how they integrate technology.  However, they teach high school, and I'm in upper elementary.  I'm still struggling to find someone in my grade level who is using these tools to do cool things (creation tools, not consumption tools).

So, here's my promise.  I'm going to keep plugging away.  I'm going to find ways for my students to create using iPads, and I'm going to post those projects here. If you or a friend are on a similar quest to use project based learning and creation apps in the upper elementary classroom, please send them my way.  I would love a buddy to bounce ideas off of. Imagine what we could do collaborating together.  If you stumble across this post and you realize that we're barking up the same tree, please send me your blog address, twitter handle, or facebook friend request.

I originally wrote this post over a week ago and stopped since it sounded so obnoxiously cocky.  I went back today and deleted whole paragraphs and tweaked a few things.  Please don't read this and think that I'm promoting myself or what I'm doing.  I'm just showing my frustrations and struggles to find what I'm looking for out there.  Instead of this blog being self-promotion, I'm getting my voice out there trying to find some sense of community so we can learn and grow together.

Thanks for listening to me ramble.  I'm not even sure if I ended where I started with the title, but I feel better now.  


I Love It!

We are wrapping up a unit in my 5th grade Social Studies class on the events leading up to the Revolutionary War.  We read the chapter really fast and focused this week on a project.

Step 1: Select a topic.
I broke them into groups of 2 or 3 then gave them a number of topics to select.  We have Stamp Act, Boston Massacre, Common Sense, Boston Tea Party, and Lexington and Concord represented.

Step 2: Research.
We are using popplet to record the research.  This is a graphic organizer creator.  Students had to give me 6-10 facts and at least two pictures.  At least three of the facts had to be found outside the textbook.

Step 3: Create.
We are using StoryKit to create a book.  Each page had specific information required.

·         Page 1 – Define the topic.  Include the date of the event.  Include a picture and audio.
·         Page 2 – Why did this happen? (What was the cause?) Include a picture and audio.
·         Page 3 – What was the effect of this event? Include a picture and audio.
·         Page 4 – How did this event lead to the American Revolution?  Include a picture and audio.
·         Page 5 – Source information.  Include author, title, and date for books and web address and date visited for web sites.  (Search engines don’t count.  Give me the address of the site that gave you the information or picture.)  If it gave you information or a picture, you need to list it!

My five groups are spread around the room and in the hallway creating now.  It's so cool to see them writing and speaking into the iPads.  They are learning.  They are creating!  They aren't bored!

I love it!

How have your students created a book on their iPads?  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Toontastic Week!

I just sent my kids working on their very first full-fledged Toontastic project.  My directions to the students are copied below.

I can tell you that these kids are excited to be creating something fun, and they haven't even touched an iPad yet.  Just the thought of writing and animating their own story has them full of giddiness.

I'll let you know how it goes when we get on the other end.


Toontastic Week!

You are going to spend this week creating your own cartoon using the Toontastic app.  However, I am not going to just let you grab the iPads and start creating.  You must plan first.  So, follow these simple steps so that you can create a wonderful Toontastic cartoon.

Step One:  Plot Hill.  I want you to create a simple plot hill (on notebook or computer paper) with the following items…
·         Introduction.   Introduce your main character(s) and something about the setting.  Do NOT just say, “Main Character is Bobby.  He lives in Cincinnati.”  Be creative about it.  Think about how your favorite stories and TV shows introduce character and setting. 
·         Initial Incident.  Give one event that introduces a problem.
·         Rising Action.  I only need two events in the rising action.  Feel free to do three if you want, but I think that two will be plenty.
·         Climax.  Give one event that is the major turning point.  Remember, your problem isn’t solved yet, but it’s really close.
·         Falling Action/Denouement.  You need one event to solve the problem and wrap it up.  If you’re dying to have two, you may. Keep in mind that too many events will make your life harder later in the week.

This is a class work grade.  Come show it to me when you are done. 

Step Two:  Draw.  When you get on Toontastic, you’ll see that they use different vocabulary than I do.  That’s not a problem.  Here’s the translation…
·         Story Arc = Plot Hill
·         Setup = Introduction
·         Conflict = Initial Incident
·         Challenge = Rising Action
·         Climax = Climax
·         Resolution = Falling Action and Denouement combined
·         Be sure to draw one square for each item on your plot hill from Step One. 
·         This is important!  DO NOT RECORD SOUND AT THIS TIME!

This is a class work grade.  Come show me when you are done.

Step Three:  Write a script.  Yes, you need to write a script to go along with your cartoon.  Your script should include everything you are going to say and every sound effect you are going to create. 

This is a class work grade.  Come show me when you are done.

Step Four: Record your voice.  I am going to try to separate you into different places in the building so you aren’t all causing a ruckus on each other’s cartoons.  You are allowed to have assistants and/or props to help you with this step.  Just remember that this is your grade, not theirs. J

You have only five class periods to do Steps 1-4.  I will also host a Toontastic Finishing Up Party after school till 3:15 on Monday, January 9, if you need to finish up.  I am expecting that you will be done by that time.

This is a test grade.

Step Five: Watch each other’s cartoons.  We’ll do this in class when everyone is done.

Paper work (Steps 1 and 3) can be done at home.
iPad work (Steps 2 and 4) can only be done at school since the iPads stay here.  Use your time wisely.  If you can find other time (study hall) to work on it, you may but you may be restricted to only class time.

Parents, you may come after school till 3:15 on Thursday, January 12, to see your child’s cartoon. Please shoot me an email to let me know you are coming.