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My Grade 6 students are currently reading Jeanne DuPrau’s dystopian novel The City of Ember. As an exercise in comprehension and (let’s face it!) creating beautiful things, they set their hands to drawing characters, settings, or scenes from the book.
The students also crafted concise (300 character) descriptions for their artwork and ‘translated’ them into QR codes. QR (quick response) codes were created in Japan and can be ‘read’ using a QR reader on mobile devices like iPads, iPod Touches and phones. There are many such readers, but the favored one in my class is i-nigma. There are plenty of great places to learn more about QR codes in the classroom; good places to start are the Cool Cat Teacher Blog and Steve Anderson’s Live Binder.
My students really got into this assignment and worked carefully to create some stunning art. Once their work was complete we put together an ‘art gallery’ in our classroom. The students loved ambling through the gallery discussing and admiring each other’s drawings, and they had fun translating the QR codes with their mobile devices. After the gallery walk we discussed those descriptions that really captured the essence the characters, settings, or scenes.
Are you using QR codes in your classroom? My class would love to hear what your students are doing with these pixilated products of technological wizardry.
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A while back I posted ‘A Game-based Journey Through History with Google Earth‘ about a challenge to help my students address the essential question ‘How does WHERE we live affect HOW we live?’ I developed this project after reading some excellent stuff from Andrew Miller and Judy Willis on using the video game model as a learning tool.
The Grade 6 students have completed the project and there are now some excellent tours of Neolithic sites available. Check out an excellent sample here. Students can use these tours to compare and contrast how the first agriculturalists developed in different regions of the world. The final stage will be for students to demonstrate their understandings of our essential question.
The students really enjoyed the project. The first levels were content-based and required a good deal of research and writing. These were demanding but the students eagerly pressed on because they loved the challenge of moving from level to level. When the students reached level 5 and began adding their content to Google Earth, the excitement reached a fever pitch and things really got crazy! As expected the students really got into using Google Earth, but they now had the content to create a meaningful tour.
As the teacher I enjoyed the project because it helped my students to create content-rich digital work using an amazing tool. Throughout the process we examined the difference between content (the ideas) and form (how we present ideas), and I am satisfied that my students have a clear understanding of the difference. It will be easier in the future for them to see the difference between projects that look great but say little and those that express great ideas in meaningful ways.
This project created a wonderful opportunity for me to differentiate my instruction. Students worked on levels at their own pace, levels were adapted for different abilities, and those students who excelled had the chance to become experts and guides for others. I even had a team of students who served as ‘gatekeepers’ and checked work to see if students were ready to move onto the next level. All this gave me the opportunity to spend more time with individual students throughout the research, writing, and game creation.
These Google Earth tours are now a digital record that can be shared with classes across space and time. Students in schools around the globe can use these tours as a resource in their own studies, and next year my own students can tweak and improve upon them as we explore different questions about the first human revolution.
There are a few things I’ll do differently next time. The biggest change I will make is to have the students work in teams to complete the tours. I’m not sure why I didn’t go this route this time, but teams will certainly help to complete the tours more efficiently so we can spend more time using the tours to explore our essential question.
I had prewritten instructions for each level ready to be emailed to each student once they finished a level. The constant mailings often interrupted my work with students. Early on I’ll identify a couple of keen kids and put them in charge of emailing the levels as students progress. I will also add deadlines. Initially there were no deadlines as students worked at their own pace, but I think that even flexible deadlines will encourage the more ‘methodical’ students to work more efficiently. Finally, I’ll figure out a way for students to include their answers to the essential question into their tours to add depth to our journey through time to the sites of the Neolithic Revolution.
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Creating a game-based project is one way to avoid projects that look great but offer little in the way of meaningful content. My Grade 6 students are in the thick of a game-based research project on the Neolithic revolution, and things are going great!
Andrew Miller’s excellent article ‘Game-Based Learning Units for the Everyday Teacher’ inspired me to create a project to help my Grade 6 students explore the different places human’s first made the transition from hunting and gathering to farming. We are investigating the essential question ‘How does WHERE we live affect HOW we live?’, and by looking at different Neolithic sites, we can examine why people learned to grow different foods using different technologies, and why they developed very similar techniques independently across the globe.
As an exciting culmination to this project the students will use Google Earth create a tour of these different Neolithic sites. My students love this tool! In the past, however, I have struggled with projects that are amazing and fun because of the tools but are often weak on content. For most kids it’s more fun to shoot and edit video, write a play or tinker with tools like Google Earth than to do research and explore difficult questions. Miller’s game-based learning gave me a way to deal with this dilemma. This project isn’t about using the tool, it’s about creating an authentic experience to demonstrate an understanding of our essential question.
The project is designed as a challenge where the students must move through successive levels to complete their tour. In the early levels of the game they are locating Neolithic sites and researching their unique characteristics. Since students can only move onto the next level once they complete a previous one successfully; they must persist until they complete the level correctly (Angry Birds anyone?). Content-rich levels are first, and the fun of learning and building their Google Earth tours comes later. The problem of students getting distracted by the tools and not getting the content is solved.
The Polls Are Still Open
We are still in the early stages of the this project, but already I’m impressed with what my students are demonstrating. They are excited about the game and are enthusiastically conducting their research in the early levels because they are motivated to reach the later levels of the game where they’ll get to learn to create a tour using Google Earth. There is both independence and collaboration. Those who prefer to go it alone are quiet and focused next to those who, in small teams, are divying up tasks and sharing information. All are persevering, asking good questions, and uncovering deep and important aspects of our history.
A large spreadsheet in the classroom keeps track of each student’s progress and, as expected, the field is beginning to spread out. This is just fine because the differentiation allows students to work at their own pace, and frees me to work more closely with students who need my assistance. Throughout the game I can depend on the students who are in the more advanced levels to assist those in the earlier levels of the game. I love watching my students teach each other. A bonus ‘Super Star’ level requires the students to reflect on what they learned and explore our essential question.
For more information check out the Google doc: Google Earth Tour Project. Comments, suggestions and edits are always welcome.
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This year I have the wonderful opportunity to explore technology to Grade 8 students. One of the first things I introduced them to was A Google a Day. I figured it would be a great way for them to spend a few minutes before the class begins, jump starting their brains and learning to search like a ninja.
For those who aren’t familiar with A Google a Day it’s basically a scavenger hunt. Everyday Google presents a tricky question and players are meant to search for the answer. The questions often require one to hunt for some pretty obscure, but fascinating information. As a player, you can take your time or race the clock. My students like the race aspect. If you get stuck Google offers hints on how to search. I like this because it teaches my students different ways to look for information.
We started the year by completing A Google a Day together, and many of students were hooked immediately. Now I walk into class and look around to see the students with Google a Day on their screens and focused on finding answers to quirky questions like ‘What major historic attraction can [be found] on the road from
Xcalacoop to Piste?’or ‘[Who] threw Sicily’s highest mountain on top of a mythological monster?‘
Playing A Google a Day motivates students to use search engines more effectively and to find information more efficiently. This is cool! But my favorite aspect of A Google a Day is that it introduces them to fascinating people, places and ideas that they might not have stumbled upon elsewhere. And for me, I truly get to learn something new everyday.
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Ahhh…the first days of a new school year. Thirty-nine new students, dazed, confused, but full of anticipation, came through my Grade 6 door last week. Moments before, I watched them through the window of my classroom. With their shiny new bags filled with celophane-wrapped school supplies, they eagerly greeted each other as they huddled around their lockers. As I surveyed the scene I reflected on the wonderful opportunity ahead. Of the nearly seven billion people on this planet, I get the chance to learn about and appreciate thirty-nine more of them. How cool is that?
Like most teachers I begin every year with an understanding of expectations: my students’ expectations for me, mine for them, and those they have for each other. As I see it, my number one priority is my relationships with my students. To get these off to a good start we spend a few days exploring our expectations for each other. We talk about our goals for the year and how our expectations will support these goals.
Students brain storm their ideas and generate lists of expectations for the different relationships they will have throughout the year. As you can imagine this list can get rather long, even when we account for repeats. It would be difficult to keep track of and remember them all so the final stage to this process is to help my students see that nearly any reasonable expectation in a relationship can fit into one or more of three simple, but very profound ideas: Taking care of yourself, taking care of others, and taking care of this place.
And so we proceed through our exciting year together with opportunities everyday to practice being the best people we can be by learning to care for life’s great treasures: ourselves, others, and the world around us.
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Several weeks ago I wrote a post ‘One Person’s Trash…’ about the resourcefulness of the resourceless here in Burma. I made the silly claim that developed countries like the US couldn’t hold a candle to the Burmese when it comes to ingenuity in the face of want. How wrong was I?
Yesterday I came across Sam Seidel’s Hip Hop Genius where he presents a brilliant ‘essay’ about how America’s urban environments offer a kind of adversity different than I find here in Burma, but the results are the same: “a creative resourcefulness in the face of limited resources.” Sam calls this ‘Hip Hop Genius’, and because of it the poor, urban environments of America are fertile ground for bold innovation in music, dance, art, film, photography…you name it. That Hip Hop culture has become a ‘global phenomenon’ is testament to the power of its genius.
As a teacher, what’s particularly striking about Sam’s polished, heartfelt essay is the challenge he throws down for educators to customize learning for our students like they are doing at the High School for Recording Arts in Minnesota. Equally captivating is the way in which Sam presents his essay. Michael McCathy’s DRAWNALONG is such a fresh approach that I can’t help but wonder what new power my students would find in writing essays given the chance to present them in this way, or in some other inventive manner. Most certainly it would encourage them to collaborate. I like this. For sure they would need to draw on their creative instincts. This is always good. And finally, they would communicate their ideas in ways that…who knows?…others will feel compelled to build on in bold, innovative ways. Now that’s fresh!
Check out Sam Seidel’s ‘Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education’
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Next time you’re in the grocery store, pick up a product and look on the packaging for something that looks like these:
These are QR codes and you’re going to start seeing them all over the place. You’ll find them in magazines, on TV, and even on t-shirts. That’s right, the Grade 6 students at ISY have made a class t-shirt using QR codes. It’s the ultimate in geek-chic! Wearing one of these ultra-cool codes tells everyone: “I’m standing at the cutting edge of technology, and the view is amazing!”
So what are QR codes? QR stands for ‘quick read’ and these codes can be read by smart devices like iPods, iPhones and other mobile devices with a camera and a QR reader like ‘i-nigma‘. QR codes are like bar codes but offer richer information. QRs can generate text, direct you to a website, connect you with a phone number or send an SMS.
QR codes offer some very exciting ways to interact with the environment. Imagine standing in front of a building. You whip our your smart phone and point it at a tiny QR code mounted by the front door. Immediately a website appears on your screen that gives you the history of the building, or links to the websites of all the offices inside. Or imagine marveling at a piece art with a small QR next to it. With a smart phone you can read the code and link to a website that tells all about the artist, displays videos and photos of her creating it, and a list of other venues to view more of her art. All very exciting, indeed.
Making QR codes is simple and fun, and it reminds me of how I loved creating secret codes as a kid. There are many places on the web to create them. My students and I use a site called qrcode-kaywa.
For an excellent and more detailed explanation of this amazing technology, check out Vicki Davis’ ‘QR Code Classroom Implementation Guide’. I learned about QR codes from Vicki at the Flat Classroom Conference in Beijing and have been hooked ever since. While still a beginner, I sense a great potential for these cool codes to add another exciting dimension to education in the same way that they augment the reality around us.
For now, my students and I are just going to strut around proudly wearing our QR codes like members of an elite team. We’re out to let the world know that geek is the new cool.
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Inspired by Sarah Kay’s TEDTalk on becoming a spoken-word poet and suggested by Keri-Lee Beasly whose class recently blogged on the same topic, I asked my Grade 6 students to blog on ’10 Things I Know for Sure.’ Their results were inspiring, illuminating and often just plain fun to read. So, I thought I’d follow their lead and give it a try. So, here are my 10 Things I Know for Sure.
1. Two wrongs don’t make a right. But three rights do make a left.
2. ‘Those who can’t do, teach.’ Poppycock*! Those who can see the future, teach.
3. With a little trust and encouragement, students have a delightful habit of exceeding expectations.
4. Ride a bike instead of driving; it makes the world big again.
5. Practice makes permanent. Practicing mindfully makes excellence.
6. The harder you pull back the rubber band the farther it shoots; sometimes it snaps your finger. Great deeds require much effort and occasional sacrifice.
7. We are all tourists here. Enjoy the view, take lots of photos, and be a gracious guest.
8. Rivers are more fun than lakes. There something about water that flows, and swimming against a current can make you stronger.
9. Given the choice between intelligence and curiosity, I’ll take curiosity. Intelligent people often know too much, curious people never know enough.
10. One wife. Two daughters. Priceless!
*Incidentally, the word ‘poppycock’ comes from the Dutch words ‘pap’ meaning ‘soft’ and ‘kak’ meaning…um…er…uh…’kaka’!
Wait, this would make 11 Things I Know for Sure. Man, I go to ’11′!
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One of the very inspiring aspects of living in a less economically developed country is the incredible ingenuity of people who have so few resources. Daily I am wonderstruck by the Burmese people who, with so little, can do so much.
A couple of friends and I were recently dropped off with our bikes on a remote road in the delta. Fifty kilometers of hot, hilly landscape lay between us and the Bay of Bengal. As our families sped off in air-conditioned vehicles, we climbed in our saddles and began our slog to the sea. Seconds after the cars disappeared from sight Mark’s rear tire blew out with such force that the tire bead was ripped away from the sidewall. With no spare tube or tire, and a few small patches pitifully inadequate to close the two-inch gash in Mark’s tube, we stood on the side of the road feeling helpless.
As luck would have it, just down the road stood a ramshackle group of bamboo huts and shelters; one of which had an old bicycle tire hanging from its roof. In Burma this is how bicycle repair men advertise their services. Mark popped the wheel off his bike and handed it to a young man sitting on the swept-dirt floor. Around him were the tools of his trade: some scraps of old inner tube, a small bowl of grimey water, a pair of rusty, old scissors, a steel rod flattened at one end (tire iron) and a mangled tube of rubber cement.
Within ten minutes the tube was fixed and reinflated, but the tire wouldn’t stay on the rim because of the ripped-out bead. By now several men stood around discussing what was to be done with the tire. For the next half an hour several creative strategies were tried to no avail. Finally, the young repair man disappeared into an adjacent hut and reemerged followed by a white-haired man. The growing crowd of men parted and the old man squatted in front of the wheel, and for several minutes stared at tire bulging off the rim. Without a word he stood up and returned to his hut. He was back moments later with a stout needle and heavy thread. An old spoke was bent, hammered and sharped into an awl, and the old tire master (who we suspect was also the village surgeon and tailor) cross-stitched the tired back to health. Two dollars later (an exhorbitant but justifiable price) we were on our way heading toward the sea in the heat of the day.
Where I come from we tend to solve such problems by throwing money at them because we have so much and are encouraged to buy more. The old tire would have been tossed in the trash, and for a new tire I would have shelled out more than our Burmese tire surgeon makes in a month. For all our wealth and technology, if such ‘resourcefulness’ were an Olympic event, I know we’d never make it to the podium with the Burmese, the Ethiopians, or the Pakistanis.
My students and I are fortunate to work with wonderful technology to support our learning. But I want my students to understand what the Burmese know so well- that their ‘headware’ is more important than their hardware, and that being resourceful is more critical than having resources. As I see it, my job is to keep my students from ending up stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire and so many places they just can’t go.
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As I was drifting through cyber space the other day I came across this startling claim from APScience: Your mobile phone has more computing power than all of NASA in 1969. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but it is quite fantastic. A quick search yielded some answers, but for me the power of this statement isn’t so much it’s truth but the imagination it inspires.
Many of my students have mobiles which means on any given day I’ve got a dozen or more NASAs in my classroom. Now, my students are motivated and smart but we ain’t sendin’ a man to the moon anytime soon! For one thing our admin strictly prohibits students from bringing rocket fuel on campus. More importantly, my students tend to be more interested in ‘launching birds into pigs’ with their mobiles than putting anything on the moon. But the potential is there and it’s exciting. With a little innovation and guidance, imagine what a bunch of feisty sixth graders armed with smart phones could do!
Underlying this statement about mobiles and computing power is an important idea: in 1969 NASA was obviously so much more than it’s computers. Mission Control was a room full of brilliant people with a singular purpose, hundreds focused on one, unprecedented achievement- to land a man on the moon. NASA was not so much about computing, it was about collaborating. I’m not going to pretend that my students are of NASA caliber (yet), but we’re also not trying to send someone to prance about on the moon. We are, in our own way, quite capable of achieving great things. With clear goals and a couple of smart phones we can put our heads and hearts together and work magic.
I’ll let NASA create the moon walks and Apple design the phones. For my students I’ll provide what I can so they can think creatively, feel deeply and, like NASA, work together to make great things happen.
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