Thursday, February 26, 2015

TLR Radio - Students Finding Their Voice

A couple of years ago, we created the Teen Lit Review (@teenlitreview), a way for students to review YA Lit for other students, teachers, librarians and other interested parties. We have posted hundreds of student reviews. The key difference between our review and many others is that the kids are the ones offering opinions about books. Too often, adults are the ones recommending books to kids that they "should" be reading. Often those books are the very ones that turn kids off to reading. The success of the Teen Lit Review demonstrates that there is a market for the kids' ideas and views.

We have tried to expand and publicize so that we can showcase the kids' work to a larger audience. We tweet out every review multiple times, have had some nice response comments on the blog and have even had authors contact us and send us their books to review. The kids get a kick out of the responses but I try to remind them that it's a big deal that their work has gone global. That fact hits home when they hear from someone who lives far away.

A while ago, I got the idea to do a podcast of students chatting about books. I wanted the podcast to be as if a few kids were in a room talking and the listener was just eavesdropping. Nothing stilted with questions and answers but rather a free-flowing conversation about the books the kids were reading was the goal.

Yesterday, we launched TLR Radio. Earlier in the week, I told the kids that we were going to have a name contest and a logo contest. Kids designed logos and invented names. The winners of each contest are the things we use. TLR Radio is the name of our podcast and our logo is below.

Everything has been student-created: the logo, the name, the podcasts...everything. I do the technical stuff like recording, publishing to Podbean (our podcast host), and getting the podcast on iTunes. The content and design, however, is all done by the kiddos. Each part of the process is owned by the students. They truly are finding their voice.

Monday, February 23, 2015

They Game, They Learn

One of the downsides to having a 1:1 laptop initiative is the students' constant effort to game. No matter how closely we watch the kiddos, a few are able to access their favorite game during the school day and play for a few minutes before we ultimately catch them (although some will tell you that we never do catch them). What is the big draw? Why are they so insistent on gaming? Why can't they give as much effort to learning as they do to gaming? These are the questions that we teachers ask ourselves daily.

Gaming is learning. Now, the kiddos may not be learning exactly what we want them to learn, but they are learning. We know that there is something about learning or figuring out a puzzle that draws people in. We all love it, kids and adults alike. We are all up for the challenge. If you think about it, games provide the best kind of learning. Kids will enthusiastically try to win the game or solve the puzzle. They will work tirelessly because it is a challenge. They feel like there is an opportunity to accomplish a "win". If they don't make it, what do they do? They immediately try again and again and again. In fact, they try until they actually win the game. How much would we teachers give to have a classroom full of kids who showed those qualities when it came to the learning we wanted them to experience? A lot, I'll bet.

I decided that I wanted to tap into the tenacity that kids show while gaming. I found several games that revolved around Classical Rome. One game was a trivia game that allow kids to design their teacher and catapult that teacher if they were able to answer some trivia questions about Rome correctly. One game gave kids an opportunity to dress a gladiator so that he would not die in a fight. The game made the students learn about how gladiators dressed for fighting and allowed them to demonstrate that learning. If they didn't learn it well enough, their gladiator died and they had to try again. Another game was an archaeology game called "Dig It Up" where students learned all about Roman artifacts while their cartoon figure dug through ruins, finding all kinds of things along the way. 

During this class period, the kids were focused and intent on winning the games. Sometimes, a couple of kids collaborated on different strategies that would ultimately succeed and some would troubleshoot until they figured it out on their own. NOT ONE kid felt like they were a failure if they didn't win the game. They simply tried again. That tenacity and acceptance of "failure as a first effort" are characteristics that I want my kiddos to exemplify on a daily basis. When their mindset changes from "I got it wrong so I am bad at it or stupid" to "I got it wrong this time but I'm going to keep trying because I know I can get it" then I will feel like we have succeeded in helping nurture a growth mindset; the kids will be well on their way to becoming lifelong learners. For me, it starts with trying to incorporate some tenants of gaming into the classroom because when the kids game, they learn.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

They'll Show Me How

After getting the 3D printer from our grant, we set it up and printed off two of the demo items that came with the printer. Everything worked out A-OK. Making the leap from printing demo items to printing student creations was a whole other ballgame. We had to figure out the process. We had to create a diagram in TinkerCad, export it in the correct file format, import it into the XYZ proprietary software, and somehow get it to print. Once we figured out that workflow, we'd be in business.

During third hour, I approached Yensen and Ethan to see if they wanted to re-print the logo that they created on the eighth grade 3D printer. I figured that they already printed on the MakerBot printer and might be able to figure out the work flow on our printer without me having to spend hours solving the problem. While Ethan worked on other things, Yensen and Evan, another computer whiz, worked tirelessly for an hour to work out a viable process. By the end of the hour, those two had to get to another class. While they made progress, we still could not print.

Yensen working on the solution

At the beginning of the next class, Jacob asked if the printer was ready to print yet. I told him, "Sadly, no. If you want to try to solve the problem, give it a shot. Yensen worked on it last hour but couldn't get it. Want to try?" 

"Sure, I'll do it!" he said. 

"I want to do it!" Quin added.

Jacob and Quin got into the programming, looking for a viable work flow in order to print. They managed to get the design exported in the .stl file format and imported into the XYZ software. From there, they worked through the steps that seemed obvious to them, and lo and behold, the printer fired up. Not knowing if this was another dead end or a "Eureka!" moment, we waited. The light came on in the printer, the printer started heating up, and finally we heard the sound of the machine preparing to print. Wow! Our printer was humming along. After ninety minutes, the pieces for Yensen's and Ethan's 20% Time project were printed out on the platter. They had done it. "Jacob, Quin, you guys have to show me how you did that," I said. 

Jacob and Quin troubleshooting the printer software

"It's pretty easy," they chimed. Well, easy or not, I figured that they'll show me how. Since that print, we printed out the pieces of a house that one of our students, Ben, is using to design new, sustainable architecture. His prints were near perfect and he is now in the process of assembling them. All in all, this has been a cool week of learning.

Fiona watching through the side window as Ben's model house prints

Several students watching the 3D printer work

Some of our products

Monday, February 9, 2015

Book Trailer Video Production

The projects that we do in class are centered around creating. We do not do "recipes"; we do projects. A recipe is an event where the kids are given a set of step-by-step instructions and, after following those instructions, they each turn in nearly-identical products. A project is a learning event where the kids reach the learning goals by creating something original that demonstrates their learning. The product could be anything: a video, an audio piece, a building, a piece of writing, or whatever the kiddo decides. The student piece is the creativity and originality that they bring to the project material. The material is the teacher-piece. When I, as the teacher, also provide the process for demonstrating the learning, then I have taken over the student-piece, making the "project" a recipe. That is something we don't do on our team. We demand that the kiddos cultivate their creative and innovative selves. At first, they may flounder a bit but eventually they realize some of their talents and completely take off.

We are producing book trailers in English. The kiddos must use a video production tool (Animoto, WeVideo, Wideo, Powtoon, Magisto, etc) to create a video. I introduce several tools to the kids and they choose the one that fits them the best. I know enough about each of the programs to be dangerous but I am by no means an expert. It is more likely that during class, if a kid has a question, I'll point them to another kiddo to help solve it or try to figure it out with the student. Learning together - that's what we're all about. The kids are immersed in video-production, creating the most lively, vibrant, funny, meaningful videos that they can. On Wednesday, we are having a mini film festival to showcase the creativity of these kiddos. Above are some photos of the kids working. The kids have chosen different programs according to what they like. I have no say in that. We'll see how these turn out!