Saturday, September 24, 2011

Best Spelling Lesson Ever

This post describes an innovative and effective use of Google Docs forms and a class blog to engage students in a cooperative word study exercise.

As you may know from following this blog, Mr. Mitchell has a class blog (Google Sites) which he uses to describe each day's agenda and post review and assignment materials. This blog is open to the parents and students and is a well-used avenue of communication between all parties. For this lesson, Mr. Mitchell has posted a spelling quiz using a Google Docs form which is published on the web and linked in the blog so that parents and students can access it.

To take the quiz, the students open the blog, follow the link to the quiz, and complete it. Form contents are automatically returned to a Google Docs spreadsheet, which Mr. Mitchell opens live on the projector for the class to see. And that's where the word study begins.

By sorting the form responses, Mr. Mitchell and the class can immediately see the results of everyone's work. Patterns of errors can be recognized and discussed; basic concepts can be reinforced. The entire class is engaged in the process. Initially, I was concerned that students might not like to be singled out for errors, but that's clearly not the case. Students treat this as a comfortable opportunity to learn, and they are not afraid to make errors and learn from them. "I don't know" is a perfectly acceptable answer. Students get immediate feedback and have multiple opportunities to hear about rules and conventions.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Getting Out of the Way

Here's a great idea for a lesson plan:
  1. Give the students the tools they need.
  2. Get of of the way while they explore, collaborate, solve problems and create.
  3. Refocus by having the students review, criticize, and learn from each other.
In the video below, you'll see Mr. Mitchell do just that. At the end of the fourth week of school, the students had sufficient experience with their technology tools to focus on the task at hand--in this case, to create a project that could be shared with others that would provide some level of instruction or information for the audience. The students' choices were varied--using ScreenChomp to demonstrate factoring, drawing, calculation, or a variety of other topics, creating an App of the Week or other informational podcast using Audio Memo, or working through some social studies topics with Keynote. Students had to negotiate both content and output with their partners, agree on a course of action, create a script or outline, locate the tools they would need, create the project, and finally present their work to the class for critical review. The latter is significant as it also allowed the students to show new things they had learned and become teachers for the rest of the class.

Along the way, the students had to solve several problems--how to have three people listening to a project through headphones when the audio splitters only allowed two headphones at a time, how to manage more than one iPad as needed for the presentation or recording, how to cooperatively create scripts that were easy to follow, and how to do this without the familiar pencil and paper tools. As you can see, they were able to come up with solutions for just about everything.

Mr. Mitchell's role in the process was to facilitate their learning in whatever ways were appropriate to the task at hand. In some cases, it was direct instruction; in others, it might be asking extending questions, making suggestions for apps, or helping to locate resources. Student engagement was strong and pervasive. You'll see students rehearsing their work and revising it based on feedback. The lesson lasted for 2.5 hours--from the end of lunch until the final bell.

What a great way to end the week.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Word Games at Lunch

One of the fascinating things about observing Mr. Mitchell's class is the extent to which students use their time productively. This is even true at lunch, where most of the students choose from a variety of word games to play alone, cooperatively, or even against each other over bluetooth or wi-fi. It's significant that all of the word games in this video were located and suggested by students.

In this short video, you'll see students playing Word Abacus, Worcle, and Word Warp X. The latter two are particularly interesting because you can touch words from the word lists to find their definitions and usages--something that the students often do, particularly when they create a word by trying plausible combinations of letters.

Word Warp is interesting because you can challenge other players in real time. In the video, Karli and Monique are challenging Mr. Mitchell.

The other fascinating thing I observed is the extent to which the students interact with each other in the process, and the extent to which the conversations that they have revolve around words, spellings, and meanings. Who said learning can't be fun?

Practicing Podcasts

Nels and Jerry spent some time on Friday composing a podcast on how to use one of their favorite apps, TouchBand. They used two apps for this process: TouchBand and Notes. They wrote their script using Notes on one iPad while composing and recording demonstration clips with TouchBand on a second iPad. After an hour or so, they were ready to try out their podcast. We found a quiet spot in the library to try out a few new ideas. We decided to make a video of the process so that other classes could learn how we did it.

We wanted to use our new Samson Go Mic for the recording. This is a USB mic that attaches to the iPad using the camera connection kit from Apple. The sound quality is excellent and it comes with a 10-foot USB cable so that you can record audio clearly without having to be right next to the event you are recording. It's also great for interviews and recording live instruments.

We attached the Go Mic to Mrs. Mitchell's iPad and placed it between Jerry and Nels, close to them and to the iPad they were using to play their sound clips. Mrs. Mitchell used the Camera app on her iPad to record over-the-shoulder video of Jerry and Nels while I recorded the process using a video camera. The sound you hear in the video came from Mrs. Mitchell's iPad and the Go Mic, as it was superior to the camera audio. You can see the Go Mic sitting on the table between the iPads in the video.

Here's the video that we created. It's going to make a great podcast.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Week 3 Review

Week 3, though short, continued to amaze me with how quickly the kids are adapting to mobile technology and how smooth and flawless the process is.

I introduced the Videos app to the kids this week by preparing and loading 8 videos I made with Screen Chomp in preparation for their first math test.  Key terms such as "Factorization" were reviewed and demonstrated which I felt made a difference in their final grade and overall class performance.  I saw a 4 percentage point gain from last year's class and I could correlate directly the skills that showed mastery with the number of times the movies were watched.  Not completely scientific yet but an interesting thing to note.  The same results seem to prove themselves with the 5 videos they had access to online which they were able to view from home.  Will have to keep working away at this one as we begin moving through Unit 2.

We also had the chance to dissection a moose heart this week ... something fairly unique to Alaska but not so uncommon as many of the kids have hunted, have parents that hunt, or simply see moose as a source of food in the fall.  Our dissection was unique, however, in that we had one iPad using Facetime to broadcast the dissection to a university class that my daughter was in, we had another iPad filming the dissection and I encouraged the kids to take their own pictures and movies with any devices they had in the room.  I was a bit surprised when 13 different devices appeared and also had a chance to explain the difference between acceptable use and unacceptable use as defined by our school board.  And last, but not least, I only used an iPad to put together a short video of the dissection using iMovie and the iPads normal filming/picture capabilities.

Other apps used this week included Notes, Adobe Ideas, Neu.Annotate, Photos, Math Facts, Word Abacus, and Word Warp.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Week 2 in Review

What is the learning curve of a 5th grader?  It is based on interest or experience or simply curiosity about what could be around the next corner.

This week started about with a bang as the kids have quickly and efficiently taken to their iPads and are using them with increased efficiency and speed.  We used a lot of apps this week including Worcle, Word Warp X, WordWeb, Adobe Ideas, iBooks, MathFacts, Safari, Movable Write and then an almost endless list of musical instrument apps as the kids learned about podcasting and the creative thought behind it.  The kids have become masters at searching for free apps based on interest and content as well as multitasking the iPads with a double click of the front power button. And almost more impressive, I did a quick count and was surprised to see that I received almost 350 emails this week containing student work, fixed work, and final work in a range of topics including math, grammar, writing, and drawing.

We also had the pleasure of dissecting a caribou heart in class on Thursday and were able to invite about 50 other 5th grade student in for the process.  The whole process was filmed using my iPad II as well as a digital camera and the video is still in process so a few pictures will have to do.  I was extremely pleased to see my youngest daughter, college sophomore in education, perform the dissection after reviewing the heart and circulatory system using her own iPad.  Interesting site to see an iPad projecting, another iPad shooting video, and yet another taking other video from around the room.

Next week ... well actually, now ... I have downloaded another interesting app, Screen Chomp, that allows me to build tutorial videos, upload them to the web or download them as movies, which we will be using in class on the iPads (Video) and at home on YouTube.  Should provide an interesting comparison regarding student preparation for this week's unit test.  If you would like to take a sneak peek, follow the link.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

We Learn About Podcasting

It's the end of the third week of school. Mr. Mitchell and I decided it was time to let the students start to create most of the content that will appear in this blog. To that end, we set up a short lesson on podcasting so that students could start thinking in those terms.

Beginning right after lunch at 1:00 pm, we taught a brief session starting with listening to a few short podcasts to learn more about how they are produced. We brainstormed some ideas using Popplet Lite, and then suggested that the students start exploring some scripts and resources for their podcasts. We had no idea what would happen or how long this process would hold their interest.

We shoveled them out the door at 3:30 after 2.5 hours of solid exploration, writing, rehearsing, composing, rewriting, and collaborating. The students decided to skip their usual 3:00 - 3:30 outdoor time when they realized it was already 3:15 and everyone was still actively engaged in producing podcasts.

As a musician, I was particularly encouraged to see how much time and effort the students put into creating their own theme music. Even the non-musicians (if there is such a thing) were engaged in experimenting and listening to sounds and finding apps that would suit their very clear intent. I'd love to see more opportunities for students to explore and create with music, particularly in the context of larger project-based activities.

The immediate goal is to produce at least one student podcast each week, but I wouldn't be surprised to see more than that.