Sunday, September 26, 2010

Flip Cameras in the Classroom

In a few days, I will be giving a Flip Video presentation to our teachers along with our tech coordinator. We will only have an hour to show them how to work with the cameras and the videos the create as well as discuss all the different ideas for how to use the cameras with students. What I would like to share with them is a resource that will have many different types of ideas. And I'm hoping my PLN will help me create that resource.

If you use Flip cameras with students or if you have ideas of how you would like to use Flip cameras with students, could you take a few moments and answer the following questions for me? We would all greatly appreciate it! And, of course, I'll make the spreadsheet available to everyone.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Learning to Blog Using Paper

That's heard me! And it's one of my favorite activities all year long. Paper Blogs. I use them to introduce my seventh graders to the idea of blogging and, more importantly, commenting.

Let me just be clear right from the beginning. This was not my original idea! I first heard about it at a session on blogging at our East Bay CUE Cool Tools mini-conference a couple of years ago. The presenter, Matt Callison, had each participant create their own "blog" on a piece of paper (cardstock, I believe). If I recall correctly, I believe our topic was food...or something food-related. I definitely remember writing about food. Perhaps I was just hungry at the time.

We also had to decorate our new blogs so they might reflect our own personality. I shudder to think what my "decorations" said about me that day. So instead of showing you the one I created that day (you don't think I actually kept it, do you?), here's an example that Cassidy created last year:

I didn't require that their paper blogs actually look like blogs (we use Google Sites, in case you were wondering), but several of my students chose to be tech-creative. Jack had a similar idea, even going so far as to make up a URL for his blog!

Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself a bit. Back to me.

After we were done writing and decorating our blogs in our blogging workshop, it was time to read some blogs. We exchanged blogs with other participants and practiced the art of commenting. First, of course, we had to read the blog post can't write a proper comment unless you totally understand the message. Then we wrote our comments on 3 x 3 Post-It notes and attached them to the blogs. Naturally, if you wrote a comment to a commenter, then you would attach your Post-It to that comment.

As you probably know, teachers are just great big kids at heart. At least the ones I was with that day were. We could not wait to get our blogs back and see what others had written in their comments! It was a fun way to introduce the idea of blogging to a room full of teachers. I knew middle schoolers would love it as well.

Before I continue with my take on the lesson, let me share with you the original lesson developed by Leonard Low and shared with us at our workshop:

In the comments on that post, you'll also want to take note of Sue Rockwood's reference to her lesson plan based on Leonard Low's activity:

The McTeach Version

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I use this activity to introduce the idea of blogging to my seventh graders as we start our year together. Not only does it help my students understand blogging and, more importantly, the art of commenting, it also helps me to learn a lot about my students.

Step One

Before I give them the writing assignment portion of the activity, we have a class discussion about blogging in general. I ask them what they know about blogging and whether or not they've read any blogs. There were only a couple of students in this year's class that have read any blogs.

We discuss why someone might want to blog and the kids come up with a lot of different ideas: sports, news, favorite activities, personal journaling, one student even said, "for school." Bonus points for that one! I explain that we'll be using our blogs throughout the year for educational purposes and I want all of my students to feel comfortable posting their work to their blog. And that means they need to feel safe. "Why might a student not feel safe blogging?" Not a tough question to answer in a class with only eight boys and twenty-six girls! "Somebody might be mean."

Thank you. I was hoping you would say that.

And that's when I pass out the 7th Grade Blogging Rules handout that we read through together. They then must take the form home and read it again with their parents. Both the student and the parent sign this form which is based on the Academy of Discovery - Discovery Blogging Rules.

Step Two

I explain to my students that we will be practicing several aspects of blogging on paper before we hit the computer lab. To begin, they need to create their Paper Blogs. The assignment:

Write one to two paragraphs about something you are passionate about; something that you could do all day, every day and not even realize time had passed. It could be your favorite sport or hobby, or a topic that is of particular importance to you, like the environment or ending poverty or increasing teacher salaries. (Hey, it could happen.)

I have my students write out a rough draft first which they bring with them the next day. I want them to have every opportunity to create a product they can be proud of; a Paper Blog without a thousand eraser smears is a good place to start.

Step Three

The next day we start creating! I provide each student with a heavy piece of cardstock, about 9" by 12", which they will use to write their "final" draft of their blog post. After they finish with their post, they need to decorate their blog, adding color and artwork that speaks to their own personality. Of course, the decorations also have to go with the topic of the blog, and I preface this portion of the activity with a discussion about what types of photos or artwork you might see on different types of blogs. "Do you think a blog about soccer would be decorated with pretty flowers?"

"Yes! It's the field before you trample everything in site."

"Yes! I like to wear a flower in my hair when I play soccer."

Note to self: Ask better questions.

I give the class plenty of time for this part of the activity. It's the beginning of the year, they have a lot to talk to each other about, and it gives me a lot of time to wander around and chat with my new students.

Step Four favorite part. Commenting! Before beginning this portion of our Paper Blogs activity, the students and I go over in great detail "The Art and Aspirations of a Commenter." While looking for lesson ideas to help me teach commenting, I was fortunate enough to happen upon A Pirouette: Commenting blog post where I found exactly what I needed! On the reverse of the handout, I added a list of possible comment starters for those who needed a little kick-start to get going.

When I'm fairly certain that they understand how seriously I take this portion of the activity, I point to the baskets I have placed around the classroom. Each one contains 3x3 Post-It notes for them to use for their comments. Before they start wandering around the room, I give them four more pieces of instruction:
  1. One person at a blog at a time. I don't want them to start talking about the blogs and finding out what someone else thinks about them. I want them to think about what they think about the blogs.
  2. Read the blog thoroughly. In order to write a proper comment, you must first give the blog post full consideration. No skimming!
  3. Quiet please! Let's provide everyone with the reading environment they might need. [This works quite nicely for the teacher too!]
  4. Enjoy! This is their first real blogging experience and I want them to see that they can have fun and be considerate of others at the same time.
And they were awesome! I didn't hear one peep out of these seventh graders for about 30 minutes. That's right...half an hour of peace and quiet for the teacher, but more importantly, my students spent thirty solid minutes reading and writing. And they didn't even realize it! Love that part!!

Afterwards, we spent some time reflecting on the activity. I asked them their initial thoughts as they got started, how they felt about writing comments - was it easy, challenging, fun? [Their responses were overwhelmingly positive!] We talked about the blogging process itself and whether or not they felt this activity would be similar to what they might experience with their "real" blogs (they didn't at first, but changed their mind afterwards). What did they learn in doing this activity?

I teach at a Catholic school. Most of these kids have been together since kindergarten; they think they know everything there is to know about each other. They're always so surprised after this activity that there is still something they can learn about their classmates. I love that! It's my cue to remind them that people can change and we need to allow them the space to change and not hold them in our own definition of who they might be. It's also a great lead-in to a conversation about being open to everyone they meet; if they pre-judge someone before they get to know that person, they may miss an amazing opportunity to make an important friend.

After the activity is over, I am left with a bright and colorful stack of Paper Blogs, and a room full of seventh graders ready to become full-fledged bloggers!