Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Powerpoint + Animoto + KidBlog = Rock on!

These last two days I've been working with some kids in my school on a poetry project. The teacher wanted them to be able to publish their poetry in a creative way and then link it to their blogs. We decided to go with the following process and it's worked out really well- in just two class periods, all the students were able to create 10-15 pictures that represented each line of their poem, export them as jpg files, sign up for Animoto, import pictures and select music, finalize their videos, then embed them into their Kidblog space. Very cool!

Here's what we did:
  1. Each student created a Powerpoint show where each slide contained a line from their poem as well as a visual representation of what their poem meant.
  2. We exported the Powerpoint slides as jpg's. To do this, just go to "Save as" and choose the JPEG option. It asks if you want to export every slide (say yes). This creates a folder with each of their slides turned into jpg pictures.
  3. Have students sign up for Animoto. We did this by creating gmail accounts for each class period, signing up for Animoto for educators here, then having students sign up using the g-mail sub-account trick. Note: students must be 13 or older to sign up for Animoto
  4. When students sign up for Animoto, remember to display the promo code you were given from Animoto so that they can enter that to be able to create full-length videos!
  5. Once students were in Animoto, we had them upload the pictures they had exported from Powerpoint, add a title slide that had the title of the poem and their name, select music, and finalize.
  6. Once the movie was complete, we had students grab the embed code, copy and paste it into a new post on their Kidblog (which is very simple- all they have to do is make sure they click the HTML tab and paste it into a new KidBlog post).
Voila! 2 days and some really cool projects, ready to be reflected and commented on by other students, staff, and parents! I'd throw a link to some of the finished products, but the teachers are not quite ready to take the final leap of widespread publishing to the world and I respect that. :)

Let me know if you need any help with any of these steps- it really is a simple, fun way to get kids involved and can be used with far more than just poetry- any type of visual representations in Powerpoint can be turned into an Animoto movie pretty painlessly and it offers students a way to express themselves creatively. In fact, the best one of the bunch these past two days was done by a student who is very much a loner and not very outgoing- well it turns out she's quite the artist and was able to put her talent on display. I couldn't be more proud!

G-mail sub-account trick for students

This has been documented in other places, but I wanted to write the steps down for anyone interested in this...

Email accounts for students should be something done in every school. Unfortunately, it's not. In order to use a lot of the best digital tools out there, you need an email account. Here are some steps to take to get around this particular barrier, all while keeping email monitored and safe.

1. Create a gmail account for your class (or classes). MrJohnsonPeriod2@gmail.com, for example.
2. Whenever your students need to sign up for a tool (like Animoto, for example), have them use this as an email address: MrJohnsonPeriod2+BillyB@gmail.com (Billy being the first name and B representing their last initial).
3. I'd also suggest telling your students to all use the same password (MrJPD7, for example). This way, you can easily log into student accounts if you ever need to.
4. All emails sent to the student email address go straight to your root gmail address. In other words, the registration email for the tool that the student signed up for will go straight to MrJohnsonPeriod2@gmail.com. Since students do not have your password, they never actually access the email address- it is just a safe front for them to be able to sign up to use some of the tools that require email addresses.

Until all students have email accounts (as they should...so they can manage their own tools, content, and communication), this can be an effective stopgap technique!

Monday, February 7, 2011

What I'm Reading, What I Plan on Reading....

Thought I'd throw this out there, because I'm always interested in hearing what people are reading (which is the main way I found the books below):

Have read recently:
-Drive, Daniel Pink
-The Stand, Stephen King (got halfway through, then lost the book...doh. But I've read it before)
-Teaching the iGeneration, Bill Ferriter (need to write an Amazon review of this one yet...good book!)

Reading right now:
-Mindset, Carol Dweck
-Also rereading parts of Drive

In the queue:
-The Element, Sir Ken Robinson
-Making Learning Whole, David N. Perkins
-Alfie Kohn- still need to read more of Alfie, but not sure which book to start with

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why aren't we talking about poverty?

Where were the discussions at Educon about poverty? I was shocked to see not a single conversation about what I consider to be the largest root cause of most of our education issues in the US. It seems like we're all busily attacking the effects of poverty instead of the causes. Why is the subject so often avoided? Because it's uncomfortable? Because the topic usually carries racial and cultural undertones to it? I just felt like Educon would be such a golden opportunity to really get some of these issues on the table in a respectful, intelligent way so that we can really make a difference in the lives of so many...

To me, we've got two main problems to address if we're going to seriously talk about improving schools in the USA:
1) Generational poverty
2) Boredom

I think we're doing a pretty damn good job of talking about the latter, but we've got too many crickets chirping on the former.

So my main thought going forward is that I'm going to put this topic out front and center with all you smart people and see if we can't make some real strides. I plan on trying to get some conversations going at ISTE this year as well as throughout the fall and then submitting a conversation about it for Educon next year, if I'm fortunate enough to make it back.

Lingering Questions about SLA, Magnet Schools, and Exclusivity

This is a stream of consciousness, be forewarned....

I came to Philly in the middle of a stream of thoughts about my own situation at school. My school, JN Fries Middle in Concord, NC, is smack dab in the middle of a transition from a traditional middle school to a STEM/IB Magnet school next year. As I type this, applications are being filled out, submitted, analyzed, and either spit back out or accepted for my school.

Let me give you some background on me. I've always taught and worked in high poverty schools. My first 8 years were spent at rural Vass-Lakeview Elementary, I spent a year in impoverished Rockingham County Schools, and the past 3 years at JN Fries, which has a large population of kids that do not have a lot. I've loved working with these kids. These are my kinds of kids- the kids that need help most. I'm just one of many teachers/educators that have bought backpacks, writing materials, covered field trip fees, and on and on for these types of kids. If you've never worked with these kinds of kids, let me tell you- it is both extremely rewarding and heartbreaking. It just is. There's no way around it. You want to give them everything they don't have when they arrive at the school's doorstep.

Which is why it pains me to see and hear what has been happening at my school the past few weeks. I've started asking kids if they're going to apply and come back to JN Fries next year. The overwhelming response is "No way- it's gonna be a school for the smart kids." Over and over, this is the reaction- Science, technology, engineering, and math? Nope....not me- not smart enough. When we've held parent nights about the school, we have received an overwhelming positive response....but a shocking lack of diversity in income level. What I see is a bunch of upper/middle class parents rushing to get their students into a school that will challenge them and push them.

Which is all well and good. But my point is, ALL kids deserve a challenging, project-based, real-life centered school. And I can't tell you how disappointed I feel when I think about all these kids at my school that will no longer be there next year because they don't know that this is exactly the type of school environment they would THRIVE in (finally, for a lot of them). So I've been on a mission this week, handing out applications and pushing kids towards applying- the standards to get into the school really are not that stringent, academically speaking (for STEM, anyway- the IB program carries it's own stricter set of standards). I think a lot of them will take me up on it, but we'll see.

Which all leads me back towards Philly. You see, the students of SLA told us that in order to get in, you needed to have all A's and B's in middle school (with one allowed C) and also have a project that you have done in middle school to show what kind of student you are. Students are screened and interviewed (this year, there were 1,000 applicants for 150 slots), then either accepted or declined. This is awfully exclusive. Which, of course, is completely in SLA's right. But my worry is that magnet schools that function in this way will only serve to WIDEN the gap between good schools and bad schools, the "smart" kids and the "not smart" kids.

It bothers me to think that at my school we're going to be offering a much better program, with much better materials, with a dedicated staff...as soon as all the current students leave. That just feels wrong to me. And I'm going to try my hardest to convince as many of these kids as I can to stick around- and, in the future, I'm going to push hard to spread good strategies out so that every student can have the opportunity at creating, working with their hands, and being challenged on a daily basis by school.

Educon Thoughts - Thanks and Miscellaneous Awesome Sauce

I had the pleasure of heading to Philly last weekend to attend Educon, an education conference hosted by the staff and students of the Science Leadership Academy. My thoughts before, during, and after the conference are scattered, to say the least. Maybe it was the fact that I got nailed with a stomach bug just before arriving in Philly so I missed Friday and was in mostly a fog on Saturday.... Regardless, I think I'm going to break my scattered reactions into several shorter posts, instead of rambling like a madman.

First and foremost, I want to say thank you to Chris Lehmann and the rest of the staff and students of SLA for hosting the event. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself, your staff, and your students out front and center for a group of highly intelligent educators from all over the country. The flexibility of the planners was outstanding and the conference had a wonderful, laid-back feeling. The vibe of the school is very powerful- pulsing with energy and filled with awesome kids.

I want to say thanks to all those awesome, smart folks that made it. Not only those facilitating discussions, but those that really spoke up and pushed the debate and thinking. I regret to say I wasn't feeling up to this, but will certainly throw my hat in the ring next time more fervently! I went to three sessions on Saturday:

1- Gary Stager's presentation on Reggio Emmilia preschools. I love the model of learning described within. There are many lessons to be learned here, and I am happy that my own daughter attends a preschool that shares a lot of the same qualities as these amazing examples in Italy. Very student centered, taking long looks and attempts at projects, letting the pace flow from the children instead of a script or pacing guide. The really groundbreaking piece was how these exemplar schools were such an important part of the larger community they were a part of. I really enjoyed that. Plus this was the first I'd been in a session with Gary, and he lived up to what I expected- smart, funny, abrupt. Works for me.

2- In this session, I went to hear from the two student co-chairs of SLA, Cody N and Alaya. I hated missing Friday because the main thing I wanted to do was speak more to the kids....after all, that's where you get the real scoop on a school- by probing the students themselves. These two students were very impressive and excellent leaders. They handled themselves very well. I learned about the SLA selection process here, which was the big piece I had questions about, as my school embarks on turning itself into a magnet school next year, much like SLA. Stay tuned for the next post on this...

3- This was a cool session. Since my school is turning into a STEM school next year, I took the opportunity to listen to a mathematician speak about K-12 education and how important math is in the picture. It was headed by Dr. Idris Stovall, a math professor from the University of Pennsylvania. The conversation in the room flowed wonderfully, with lots of folks taking things in different directions, which worked just fine for Dr. Stovall, who rolled with the punches! We talked about why it seems to be ok in the US for people to say they simply can't do math. We shouldn't stand for this... We talked about how important math and mathematical thinking is to the jobs of the future. In the end, my mind had a lot to chew on as we embark on the M piece of the STEM puzzle.

Saturday night was a blast as well! After going out to dinner with my sister (and actually eating something...for the first time in more than 2 days..) I met up with the Educon peeps at the Field House. It was great seeing some old friends as well as meeting some cool new folks as well. I got to finally meet @plugusin, otherwise known as Bill Ferriter, and we got to speak about writing, our books, and what kinds of projects we're heading toward. I met Meredith Stewart from the Cary Academy, Larry Fliegs, Carey Phoanka, Chad Evans, and a bunch more. I also got to reconnect with others... And even though I missed karaoke, I know when I come back in Philly the party will once again be hearty.. And I'm looking forward to it!

Thanks again to SLA and all those that came to connect and share!