Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Epic Full-Length Stop Animator Project

In my seventeen years of teaching sixth grade, I can honestly say it's rare to see every student engaged, enjoying a lesson, and learning something.  That's why I'm so excited about the Epic Full-Length Stop Animator Project.

The goal of our project is to create a 90-180 second stop animation video.  A few weeks ago, we did a short video project, and the kids enjoyed it.  While the video-making process was fun, the final product left me wondering if we could do better.  I enlisted the help of a friend of mine who is an animation guru (media professor at a local university) and got started on creating a great project.  You can see our instructions here.

Today was the second day of the project, and the kids were merely planning.  They were working on storyboards, drawing on the white board, trying new camera angles, and figuring things out.  It was so cool to just look out over the class and see every student working, interacting, and...enjoying it.  The plans are diverse: clay, Legos, ants in love eating watermelon, construction paper sandwiches, poodles in Paris, and an action figure-eating toy.

Next week, they will do their actual filming, but I had to share this one short practice video of the creation of Clay Man.

This is going to be cool!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Math Book Monday!

A few weeks ago, I started reading a math story to my 5th and 6th grade math classes.  This is my first year since I started teaching in 1994 that I don't have any language arts classes.  I think this is a way to keep my inner reading teacher happy.  Little did I know that we would have a huge Common Core Standards realignment this year, with one major focus of language arts across the curriculum.  Math Book Monday, coupled with Kid Blog, is really helping to get ahead of that change.

I think the kids are liking it.  We've read four books so far (listed below).  Some are a bit hokey, some are funny.  Some are directed toward a younger age.  All of them are teaching math concepts, which is a good thing.

I started compiling my list from on this blog post and by asking friends on Facebook.  Slowly a small list started, then I emailed my local library.  Fortunately, my local library is the Cincinnati Public Library.  A bigger city library, means more resources.  My list is starting to grow, and I'll be happy to continue to share that list here.  I wouldn't mind if you added your thoughts, comments, and suggestions on the document. (Ironically, some of these books were recommended to me by a former student who is studying to be a math teacher.)

Later this week, I am heading back to the library for another armful of books.  I can't wait for Round 2!

Math Curse

Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone

Sir Cumference and the First Round Table

How Much is a Million?

Educreations and a Parent Email

This morning, I had a student come in early to work on long division.  We spent about 15 minutes together, and I think I was able to help her figure out her problems.  However, I could tell that she still had a lingering doubt that she had mastered the skill. In my followup email to her parents, I struggled with how to put her mistake into words.  Then, it dawned on me -- EDUCREATIONS!  I was able to create a video and link it to my email in mere minutes. I hope it can help the parents understand the long division issues better.

Feel free to watch the video here.

How do you use Educreations to help make your job easier?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

LIKE us on Facebook!

I need your help getting a project moving forward.  Can you please check out our new Facebook page and click the LIKE button?  You'll get to see all the cool things we do at MVCA.  Thanks!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Native American StoryKit Projects

Our 5th grade history curriculum takes us through the entire history of the United States of America. Yes, you read that right. We start with a unit on geography, climate, and such. Then we delve into Native Americans. From there... It's Christopher Columbus to Barack Obama. In one year. As you can imagine, we can't stop on one topic for very long. I gave the students a research project for the Native American unit. Instead of a stuffy report or oral presentation, we went with StoryKits.

StoryKit is an iPhone app that simulates creating an eBook. Students can load text, pictures, and audio on each page.  It has more of an eBook feel on the actual iPad it was created on.  What you'll see on the links below will be more of a checkerboard of pages.  You just have to imagine it with me.  With my Apple TV and projector, students can show their projects to their classmates.

Here are some great examples.

How are you using StoryKit in your classroom?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Stop Motion Videos

Lesson ideas can come from a strange place.  I work with 5th graders at my church, which is where I met Billy (name changed).  Within seconds of meeting Billy, he was showing me stop motion videos on his iPod Touch. I immediately saw an opportunity to make a connection, so I whipped out my iPad, downloaded the Stop Aminator app and had myself some fun.

Little did I realize that I'd be using it in my 6th grade computer class a week and a half later.  I'm going to present you with four videos here.  The first is an example for the kids to see.  The middle two were made by students.  The last -- the chair video -- was an attempt I made while the kids were playing around.  I'll be the first to admit that our first efforts at stop motion videos needs some help, but I'm excited to try it again later.  I'd love to do a "feature-length" video -- say one to two minutes long.  

The best part is that I now have students in 5th and 6th grades who are excited to get iPad time so they can create more videos.  

Enjoy our first attempts!

Tech for Primary Schools

I was asked by my principal to put on my parent hat for a moment and consider what the perfect Kindergarten or first grade room would look like for my daughter, technologically speaking.  My daughter is three and a half and is currently enrolled in public school preschool.  The plan is to keep her there through Kindergarten when her speech IEP will be reviewed.  Hopefully, we'll have her in my private school for first grade.  So, my quest for the perfect technology-centered primary class is well-placed.

I fear that my answer will be a bit of a surprise.


Don’t overdo the tech in the lower grades.  I know my research is 10+ years old, but I read an interesting book for my thesis entitled Failure to Connect.  Since I know you’ll never read it, I’ll just give you my big takeaway.  Technology can be damaging to young minds.  They think concretely.  Technology is abstract. The letters I’m typing now don’t really exist, except in pixel form.  I tap a picture and something happens, but not really.  It can be confusing to a kid who thinks in the concrete stage.  (Sounds like Piaget, but I’m not sure of all the stages.)

Ava has a LeapPad and uses my iPad on occasion. I have apps on the iPad for her, and we do them together.  We’re not anti- technology in our house. We use Skype and watch YouTube videos.  However, with the exception of the LeapPad, she does it all with parent supervision.  AND it’s limited.  She gets maybe an hour of screen time in a day (and that’s a stretch), unless she’s getting some at school. 

As a parent, I’d be most happy if the technology for the little tikes was present but peripheral.  I would want the software/apps to be selected carefully with a specific goal in mind.  I would want to know that the screen time is limited.  I’d be more happy to know that she’s being stretched to think deeply using the harder Bloom levels.  I’d be looking at 2nd and 3rd grade to see the technology really start to fly.  I’d want to know that she’s learning how to use the Internet safely and that online security was important.  I’d like to see her blogging and using web tools to create art… but I’d want her to get her hands dirty with graphite and ink and paint and colored markers.

I’m sure that’s not the answer you were looking for, but I really believe that a kid has to learn to use hands to do something physical before she learns to use her fingers to do something digital.
So, I ask you.  What does the perfect technology-centered primary classroom look like?  What software/apps/hardware/practices work best for young minds?  What have you seen or read or done that would make me giddy with excitement?

Thanks for the help!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

KidBlog and Educreations: A Beautiful Combination!

In my attempt to combine language arts and math, I have converted our note-taking process out of the spiral notebook and on the web. We're using KidBlog, which I'm learning to love.

Imagine a blog site built just for students to use.  However, it looks and acts just like WordPress.  My personal blog is on WordPress, and I love working within that format!  In addition, the blog is private, presumably only in our class. I love the privacy and security! Toward the end of this post, I'm going to give you links to good examples.  You'll have to let me know if you can access them.

The teacher creates the class and uploads a class list with passwords.  The kids log in and start typing away.  So far, we've done simple things. This last post was "summarize chapter three."  In essence, students merely wrote the lesson headings rather than really summarize.  Soon I'll be giving them harder writing assignments.  "Tell me the steps in long division."  I'm looking forward to them putting these steps into words. 

Since I am a blogger (maintaining both a professional and personal blog), I want to see my students doing their writing online as well.  Publishing online is a great practice to learn in a safe environment and helps them see that their work is important to others.

I've added another piece to the puzzle -- an Educreations presentation.  I give the students a specific problem they need to solve and talk through using Educreations. This gives me a chance to see exactly how a student solves a problem and hopefully gives me the reasoning too.  

In one blog post, I can read, see, and hear how a student solves a problem and can connect writing and math together.

I had one glitch connecting Educreations and KidBlog.  The steps to embed the video to the blog were complicated for a 10 year old.  Since it's set up like WordPress, I could figure it out, but it was too many steps for the students to put together.  So, I emailed both companies.  Chris at Educreations, Matt at KidBlog, and I had multiple emails back and forth (and I assume between them) to make the process easier.  Once again, I love how these developers work along with teachers to make sure things work easily in our rooms. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Virtual Toolbox

Growing up, my family affectionately called me the mechanically declined one. It’s not that I don’t know how to fix things and build things... Ah! Who am I kidding? If you need a handyman, don’t call me. I’ll gladly help you with a project, but don’t count on me to be the brains or to do anything technical.

I know what a saw does, but there are so many different kinds of saws! Depending on what you’re cutting and what you want your cut to look like, there are all sorts of saws you can use.  One day this past spring I was using a standard hand saw to cut branches off a tree.  I’m sure I looked hilarious to my neighbor who brought me a...I don’t know what it’s called...a tree saw.

I have many tools in my garage, and I know how what to do with half of them. Some tools can be used for multiple jobs.  Some tools can be made to work for other jobs they weren’t intended for.  Some tools can be broken by using them for the wrong purpose.  

Sometimes I’ll be hanging out with other men who can talk tools and projects and use a language that I can only pretend to understand.  I’ll confess, there are times when I feel a bit inferior and not “one of the guys.”  


I wonder how many of my colleagues feel like that when us techies start talking shop around them? Do they feel inadequate?  Do they feel lost? Do they look at the iPads in their rooms and feel like I would feel if someone told me to change a carburetor? (Wait! That would be a fuel injector now, wouldn’t it?)  

There are things I would love to be able to do as a school. Collaborating with another school in another state, country, or continent. Going paperless. Create exciting iPad apps. But, I know that these are only dreams till teachers are able to lead students to do them.  That is still a long ways away for our school.

Educational technology is not going away. You may find a school that emphasizes technology less than another, but it’s a driving force behind education today.  

Will putting more tools in their toolboxes help them do a better job using those tools?  If the amount of unused tools in my garage can testify to this question, the answer would be a resounding NO! I have tools out there that I remember being excited to get, only to use them twice, or once, or never, and now collect cobwebs in some forgotten corner.

Here’s a thought that hit me only a short time ago.  Maybe less is more.  Ponder this briefly.  

Let’s be highly selective of the software and apps we ask our colleagues to use and train them well in how to use them.

Right now, my school is embarking upon a huge common core alignment.  I can feel the blood, sweat, and tears coming out of this non-planner. It’s going to be a tough road for a couple years till we have it all figured out. Do we also want to stress our colleagues out with every cool app that comes down the pike?

What if we picked a few important objectives for our apps and software and only put our precious resources (time and money) into learning and training those?  If we can do that well, then maybe our colleagues will enjoy some technological success and want to explore some more.

Then again, maybe one day I’ll enjoy a side business in furniture building. (Hey! Don’t laugh! It’s a worthy dream!)

Help me out, please.  I’m going to share these thoughts with my principal soon.  What are your reflections on what I’m saying? What are your thoughts? How do you arrange your virtual toolbox?