Just Hanging Out…and Learning

This week has been crazy to say the least.  On the other hand, it has been phenomenal!

Tuesday, my 2nd hour seventh grade class began an adventure I felt was worth taking.  For quite some time a writing project colleague and myself had discussed having our classes collaborate with each other using Google Hangout.  If you do not have prior knowledge of Google Hangout, it is just that, an online space for people to collaborate via web cams and voice chat, or…hangout!  I believe up to 10 people can chat at the same time. The idea was brought on by our discussions we have had previously about using digital portfolios.  Eventually we decided we wanted our students to collaborate and discuss the myths that each our classrooms were reading and writing along with have the students publish their writing to a broader audience.

As we searched for a common time for our students to meet online, it occurred to us that we needed to introduce our students to each other before we did any real collaboration about the myths.  Each of our classes had written “This I Believe” essays, and we decided we would use these essays as a mean for our students to get to know one another. Because my own students had already written their essays at the beginning of the year, it was a great time for my students to reflect back on their writing to polish it and decide if their beliefs had changed at all.  Furthermore, they needed to understand their writing was going out into the bigger world for people to see and they needed to clean it up before publishing.

Prior to work with the essays, we showed our classes our school websites, discussing  with students what they noticed.  In addition, any questions they might have.  Before our meeting on Tuesday each of our classes composed questions to ask one another.  As we were hanging out, the students went in front of the camera  and asked questions about each other’s school.  For example:

  1. What types of writing have you done this year?
  2. How many students do you have in your middle school?
  3. What sports can you play at your school
  4. What do you do for fun?
  5. Can you choose your own electives in middle school?

After the students took turns asking questions and answering them, we talked with the students about what we were going to do next with them.

As I mentioned earlier, the students are using their “This I Believe Essay”  to get to know each other more. My colleague and I decided we would have the students post their essays on Youth Voices. Youth Voices is an online platform where students can publish their writing where other students can discuss the same topics or issues.  By having the students post here, they could read each other’s essays and respond appropriately.

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

This allows the students to see what beliefs they may have in common or what they may not have in common as well.  Regardless, we feel that our students are now publishing their writing for a broader audience besides their teacher or classmates. Furthermore, they will get feedback that can have the potential to make them better writers in the future.  After our students have posted to Youth Voices and everyone has had a chance to be paired up to respond to at least one other student, we will move forward and participate in doing more live hangouts where our students can discuss myths.

Reflection

Doing something this simple with technology has long lasting impacts on the students from each class.  First, I would like to say our schools are very different when it comes to the dynamics of the number of students and the cultural diversity.  My middle school consists of 120 seventh and eighth graders.  My colleague has just over 500 in the same two grades.  My school consists of about 98% whites where his school has Latinos, Hispanics, Arab, African American, and whites.  With this being said, I felt it was wonderful for my students to be emerged into this type of cultural diversity.  Our students need to learn they will be working with a very diverse culture when they enter the work force.

I was also surprised at how my students “locked up” when it came time to talk on camera.  They were dead silent and if it wasn’t for the fact I had students assigned for each question being asked, I would not have had volunteers.  My students were very shy and I was shocked at this.  In the end, when it came to them talking on camera, they needed to speak up too.  My colleague actually felt his students were rude and too loud.  A concern, I actually thought was going to arise.

Overall, Google Hangout and Youth Voices are great tools, especially ones that can help meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. The ideas behind using the online tools were to:

  • Collaborate
  • Practice communication skills
  • Publish student writing to a broader audience
  • Receive feedback on student writing
  • Become connected with other learners
  • Be exposed to more diversity as is such in the real world

Cheers!

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Positive Social Media

My brain has been swirling around a lot of 21st century learning this past week and I know the only to keep my thoughts straight is to write about it.  There is no doubt social media is becoming more and more apparent in the classroom.  Though school policies may ban it from districts, teachers and students are fighting for it. Yes, I know, I may not be saying anything new, but I wanted to share what will be taking place this year in my classroom and at my school and how I came to this point.
What to choose?
Twitter, Facebook, Celly, Edmodo, Schoology, Remind 101, Etc.  I am sure I am missing a few. It is tough to decide which social media platform to choose.  It can be really overwhelming and rather perplexing.  First, I suggest choosing something you are either familiar with or you can familiarize yourself with and won’t take up too much of your time.  My wife uses Facebook. She is a band director and at the beginning of this summer she launched a group page. She know I am technology savvy and asked me how to do it and I honestly could not give her an answer because though I have a Facebook account, I am not the huge of a fan of Facebook and didn’t know how to complete the task she was asking. She trudged through, figured it out and now has a over two hundred parents and students as part of that group.  She uses it to send out reminders, answer questions, create events, and keep an open line of communication of between herself and parents.  It works for her and she is having success. For example, she had a fundraiser event and she had over forty student volunteers because her students are a part of that social media page/group.  Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t work for me.  Facebook was never intended to be used in schools and therefore, you have bullying issues and students can private message each other and that opens a dangerous door.  Other social media platforms are simpler to navigate and upload images,files, assignments, etc.
During the 2011-2012 school year, I tried to use Edmodo in my classroom. Edmodo is a great social platform that mirrors Facebook and students can dive right in and they don’t skip a beat as Facebook users. Messages can be posted along with links, assignments, etc.  The issue I have with Edmodo is that students can get off topic easily (This can be an issue with any social media website) and students can still send private messages to each other like Facebook.  My student’s wound up creating digital debris this past year because the more I worked with it, I didn’t care for it.  Teachers can belong to groups and get other ideas from teachers.  I am sure with more training and practice, I could have made it work, I just wasn’t sold 100% on it. This doesn’t mean it won’t work for other teachers.
Celly was my main social media platform I used this past year and you can read about in my other blog posts or go to the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website and read about it.
What I Am Doing 2012-2013
At the end of the school year we had a department meeting. My high school colleague introduced Schoology to myself and another language arts teacher.  Like a professional poker player, I am all in!  Schoology rocks because my students and parents can join it once I give them an access code (Edmodo does the same).  Students can NOT private message each other.  All messages are public and viewable by me the teacher, eliminating cyber bullying.  Resources can be shared amongst teachers, assignments can be uploaded to students along with links.  The greatest thing about Schoology is the fact students can upload Google docs to the site, which I have not seen with other social media platforms. I use Google Docs in my classroom and essentially had a paperless classroom by the end of the year.  We are going to be a Google Apps school this year and we will house the students portfolios there.  We agreed between the three of us we would incorporate this social media platform into our classes.  It makes sense for us to keep our lines of communication open with our students and parents and we want to properly assess our student writers by using a writing portfolio that can be passes from grade to grade.  We will at least have grade 7-11 covered using a digital portfolio.
What ever you consider or choose, just keep in mind that there will be students and parents who may not have internet access.  Also, consult with your principal and read your policies on using such a tool.  Also, create a sample student so you see things from their perspective too. Believe me, it helps! Each of these social media sites have apps for smartphones too.  I believe the Celly app is still in the beta stages. Also, investigate Youth Voices too. I will be blogging about this site this year as I incorporate into my writing lessons.  Social media is a digital writing tool that should be considered for any classroom as we teach the 21st century learner.  The collaboration can be endless with using such a tool.  It isn’t just about students sitting in front of their computer, phone, or mobile device.
Look for more blog posts this week. I am going to try and do one at least 3 times this week. Connected Learning kicks of this week too at NWP.
Cheers!

CRWP Middle School Writing Camp: Day #4

With the final day of middle school writing tech in the books as of yesterday, I can officially say it was a huge success.  I would have completed this post yesterday, but I needed to catch up on some much needed rest.  The very last day I did a video writing prompt with the kids. We watched the Duck Song which is easily accessible on Youtube. If you type in Duck Song in the search box, you won’t have a problem finding it!  Upon completion of viewing the video, I asked the campers how the video was related to writing and what made it so appealing.  We also discussed the idea of visual literacies.  The campers really wanted to make their own video that mirrored the Duck Song, but unfortunately we didn’t have the time.  It may be something to consider for next year.

Upon completing their writing into the day with the video prompt, we had our last guest speaker.  Our last speaker was an individual who was a head of some of the food services at CMU.  He actually runs the small bagel shop in the EHS building.  He discussed with the campers what someone in his position does on CMU and how the food service works at CMU.  I myself was really amazed at the processes that took place to meet the needs of all of the CMU students when they are all on campus.  Creating surveys and reports on student population were just a few of the items he discussed dealing with the writing world.

When our speaker was done speaking, he took us on a tour of one of the dining places on campus.  It was huge!  The kids really were able to understand better what has to take place to feed over 6000 students who attend CMU.  The students really enjoyed their free ice cream too.

After returning from our tour and eating a quick lunch, we talked to the students about fast food and doing research on some of their favorite fast food restaurants or foods.  The students learned about the research process and what to look for in a trustworthy source, especially when it comes to the internet.  Though the students didn’t have an enormous amount of time because it was the last day, the students were given more specific topics dealing with food and asked to research their topic online and then report back what they find.  Some students wrote a small blurb, others showed a short video.  This lesson/activity they did is great, but I would like to introduce it to them on the first day next year and then by the end of the week they can present their findings in a digital video, podcast, or a glog of some sorts.  They could even create a cartoon on toondoo.com to create some sort of venue to show what they have learned.  It was a lot for them to do in one day.

At the end of the day, the campers worked on their piece they were going to submit for our anthology.  Each student contributed one piece to our anthology and as co-directors we are putting together an anthology which will be mailed to them.  After they were done polishing their piece and sending it to me via Google Docs, they anxiously waited for their parents and guardians to arrive.  The participants then took some time to go over all of the work they completed throughout the week and showed them Youth Voices.  This lasted about a half hour and then we came back together as a whole group and volunteers shared with the whole group.

Overall, I feel the camp went really well.  The students seemed to have a really great experience using the Ipads, listening to various speakers talk about writing, and visiting different places to get inspired to write.  It was incredible how many of the campers came up to me to say thank-you for the week.  It meant a lot to me!  In addition, there were many parents who commented on the fact that they would be back next year.  With this being our first year, there are a lot of thing we can improve upon.  On the other hand, we are hoping this group can be a solid base and all of them return next year.  I definitely want to direct again next year and incorporate Youth Voices once again too.  Thanks to all who have followed our adventure this week!

Cheers!


CRWP Middle School Writing Camp: Day #2

With our second day of middle school tech writing camp complete, I am no doubt more fired up about the campers and their writing, but I am also exhausted.  Today was a huge poetry day along with tying up some loose ends with our writing yesterday.

We started today with the students writing 25 word stories in their composition notebooks.  I showed the campers the examples on Kevin Hodgson’s Prezi.  The campers enjoyed the many stories that were in the Prezi.  We then proceeded to share our own 25 word stories out loud.  Participants did an amazing job!  We then quickly transitioned into our poet coming in and speaking to them about writing and what it means to be a poet/writer.  Robert Fanning was our poet and he did a super job with his presentation.  He had the students create this huge word wall on our whiteboard and then he read some poems to the kids.  He discussed the power that words have, something that students today need to hear again and again. At the end of his presentation, he took the campers down the hall and opened a box full of words on pieces of paper.  He then had the students throw them in the air and once they landed, the students needed to form lines of poetry. He instructed them to be silly and non-traditional and I was impressed with how our campers worked on this.  I was even more impressed by one young man who had some really powerful lines.  Below are some pictures of the activity and the lines individuals came up with:

            

When our poet departed today, the students wrote three different poems.  They wrote something called a diamond poem where they started with a topic like female and then end up at the complete opposite which would be male in this case.  In addition to their diamond poems, they wrote haiku poems and then collaboratively wrote a poem that rhymed.  You can see student work on youthvoice.net. Their work is under CRWP and writing poems.  I encourage you to check out some of their work.

Throughout the time the participants were working on their writing they used Ipads for the duration of the day.  Some campers had experience with using Ipads, others did not.  Students were actively engaged in writing using Google Doc/Drive and Youth Voices.  There were very few gliches and overall, the students did a plethora of writing today incorporated with the use of technology. They finished out their day responding to other camp participants work on Youth Voices and trying to polish their detective skills by solving some of the staged scenes that were posted on to the Youth Voices website.

With all of the writing the campers have done so far, our goal for this camp is to look at a way we can incorporate the three major areas of writing the Common Core State Standards focuses on: narrative, informational, argumentative.  Yesterday we asked our participants to be detectives and try and solve a murder which led them to writing a police report, a great lead into argumentative writing.  Today, we focused on poetry, part of the narrative world of writing.  Thursday we will look at research, a type of informational writing.  Our adventure continues tomorrow as we embark on our writing marathon and hear another guest speaker.

Cheers!


CRWP Middle School Writing Camp: Day #1

It is without a doubt a whole different world when you are talking to middle schoolers about writing when they actually care and want to be writing.  All in all, the first day of middle school tech writing camp was a success. I now understand what NWP directors go through with logistics on the first day. My co-director and myself spent a good portion of the morning getting a majority of our students signed up for their Google accounts so they can use google docs.  Unfortunately the Ipads were not ready today so the students had to use their composition notebooks, which isn’t a major set back, it was just frustrating when it is a middle school tech camp and they couldn’t use the technology.

After their writing into the day was completed, we focused on argumentative writing with the campers and we used George Hillock’s Teaching Argumentative Writing and Crime and Puzzlement by Lawrence Treat.  The campers looked at two different cartoon murder scenes and wrote down what evidence or facts they saw in the picture.  Then, they used that evidence to form a rule or warrant.  If the evidence did not answer all of the questions the campers had, they wrote down those questions.  The students worked in groups on this and eventually they wrote a police report.  Before the students wrote their reports we had a detective from the CMU police department come in and speak to the campers about his job and what police reports look like and why writing is important in police work.  The students asked great questions about his profession and they asked really smart questions about the reports they were writing.  In addition to the detective, we showed a model of an actual police report that was done on a car theft.  I also showed the campers a short youtube video on writing a quality police report.  The video had to be slowed down because it went to fast, but the students were able to understand what we were asking.  When the students were done with writing their reports, all four groups shared out their report.  Next year, I am hoping they will be put into a google doc and then be shared with the other groups so they can collaborate and get feedback from their peers.

The really fun part came in the afternoon when the students got to use the digital still cameras and the digital video cameras.  The campers were instructed to make their own murder scene and take digital still pictures of the staged murder scene similar to the ones that were given to them earlier.  In addition, the campers were to take the digital video cameras and record a narrative that would explain the scene for others to follow.  Before the students were allowed to wander the building and stage their murder scenes, they needed to develop and write out their plan for what they wanted to do.  Furthermore, they needed to write out a script for their narrative. Once their scripts and plans were approved, they were able to start staging their scene.  What I want to do is load their images and videos into youthvoice.net.  Then, I want the camp participants to go to youth voices and watch other groups videos and look at their pictures.  After viewing other groups work, I want them to comment on their work. I have to upload their work tomorrow morning to the youth voices website.

The last item I had participants complete today was write a short reflection on the days events and discuss what they might have learned about argumentative writing, visual literacies, writing as a whole, etc.  Reflecting on my own work today,  I want students to have more time to play with the digital cameras.  I would also like to bring them in props to use next year (if we go this route).  It would also be beneficial for the participants to have more time to plan for their murder scene and script.

Again, it was a very successful day. I feel that it went well and it extremely fast.  Tomorrow we are exploring poetry and we have a poet lined up to come in and speak to the students.  It should be a blast!

Cheers!