Monday, April 20, 2009

Podcasts in Language Arts

This week we're starting our Shakespeare Unit for Taming of the Shrew. It's my favourite comedy by Shakespeare, but before technology this unit was quite boring in my Language Arts 9 class. 

Picture the old class: students struggling to decifer the original text, answering mundane questions, and tuning out on a daily basis because this "Shakespeare stuff" was "too hard". Students sat through note-taking in a lecture about the life and language of Shakespeare. Students did a Reader's Theatre in front of the class and that was it. A couple of quizzes and tests later and a final essay and we're done the unit!

Jump to my unit this time with technology infused and we are starting with Shakespeare's Life and Times podcasts. Students are given a topic, and must create a 1 min enhanced podcast with complimentary photos and Elizabethan era music. The podcasts are then posted on the class Shakespeare wiki for download and studying. There will end up being 22 separate podcasts for listening and studying from. I have never done this research style project this way, but so far it's been well received. While researching students were also asked to add to their delicious bookmarks and add our class tag for the unit (LA9Shake). Students are not catching on to Delicious as I would have liked, probably because I don't use it as much as I should. At some point all of the web tools out there reach a saturation point in your life and you're not as open to some things. Delicious is amazing, but I just don't find I have the fortitude to use it. 

Taking information from the podcasts, I will use their research to make quizzes for the unit. Once they are handed in tomorrow I will post them on our class Shakespeare wiki. Students will be responsible to upload more information as the unit progresses.

Technology wins again as students use the web to access  modern language versions beside the original text, which helps with answering their knowledge and comprehension questions. So should students still answer questions? It many cases, yes, but many teachers live by "chapter questions" for learning which I feel can become a crutch, a safety net, and a distraction from deeper themes that can be explored within literature. 

Today we finished the podcasts and watched the first 15 minutes if the 1960's version of Taming of the Shrew. Instead of Twitter we tried Chatzy with a private room and had great success. If I had a choice between Twitter and Chatzy for student backchannel, Chatzy wins hands down. Great control features and the ability to clear the chat room make it an excellent choice for educators. It's immediate and is not plagued by a bloated whale screen! If you're looking for a longer term discussion over a period of classes or really like to have outsiders participate then Twitter is the choice. I noticed today though that students didn't respect each other as much with their comments and tone due to the fact that they knew the chat room was private and password protected. After 5 minutes I stopped the movie, cleared the log and reviewed the backchannel rubric I developed for my Twitter adventure a couple weeks ago. 

With podcasts finished, I'll be using many of the teaching strategies described in Barrie Bennett's book Beyond Monet. In the next few weeks we'll be creating online mind-maps and concept maps, studying original source documents to learn about attitudes towards women in 16th Century vs. the 21st Century, and using our Kodak Zi6 cameras to record, edit and post modern interpretations of selected scenes in iMovie. 

I'm also contemplating the idea of students doing an audio essay instead of a traditional hand written essay. Has anyone done this before? Ideas on how to approach/plan it? How have you used podcasting in your teaching?

Stay tuned! 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Twitter in the Classroom Part 2

So here's the real deal on using Twitter for a backchannel in the classroom. It was a very rewarding experience that overall students responded positively to. Read my previous post to see the marking rubric I developed for the activity and how I introduced Twitter to my class. 

Some things that didn't go very smoothly.

1. Twitter was having major pains while we were trying to tweet! I don't know why this was the case, but I've never seen the bloated Twitter whale so much! Some students' accounts were so slow that they were only able to tweet a few times in the 80 minute class. Consider using Chatzy or some other chat provider that you can control.

2. We started to trend on Twitter, but then we got outside spam for all sorts of things. This could be a privacy issue with your students. IF you have educated your class about their account settings in Twitter and teach them how to block unwanted followers you should have no problem. The cool things about trending was the exposure and the conversations that it lead to.

3. Watching a movie and tweeting at the same time is too much for some students. This was a common feedback item from the activity. (3 out of 22 said this).

Other things were awesome about using Twitter for a backchannel discussion:

1.  The majority of students were highly engaged in the task at hand. The side conversations were almost nil, and as part of the assignment they had 3 windows open on our iMacs. One was the rubric, plus their twitter account and a window with the search for our class tag, #nicholLA9. They were busy and HAD to be engaged. Take a minute and check out our tweets.

2. Students had a voice. So much of our work this year with blog writing and using web 2.0 is increasing the students' role in learning. By asking them to be partners in education with me and being willing to be guinea pigs to try these tools out, they have really bought into and have taken more responsibility for their own learning. Backchannel is another tool in the technology toolkit that teachers should definitely look into.

3. Friendly peer pressure and positive reinforcement reaped high rewards in terms of participation. I retweeted (RT for those of you who aren't Twits yet) many students' questions that were ones that were more in depth. I also praised the first student who included a quality link to reinforce his tweet, which encouraged others to follow suit. A nice by-product of this was that they wanted to know how to shorten their web links, which became a teachable moment about and!

4. Social connections to the outside world. I was hoping there would be more interactions with my students' discussions as we went live. Unfortunately my own Twittersphere is not very large, and most of my followers are teachers so they were probably teaching while we tweeted. Consequently there weren't many outsiders that tweeted with us. Then came @anniemalia. Her comments created the most discussion and buzz in our class and really demonstrated the social power of Twitter. This would NOT have happened if we were in a private chat room. Her question was the perfect compliment to wrap up our discussion.  
5. Feedback Galore! Using this online self-assessment in Google Forms, I included an opportunity for the students to tell me what they really thought about this. Very encouraging indeed. Do not forget when using technology in the classroom to ask for your students' opinions. They are brutally honest and this is very helpful.

6. Accountability and responsibility.  Discussing the rubric and impressing upon them that the whole world could see what they were tweeting was a motivator for many students. Very often students think that as soon as the lights go out they get to turn off. Teachers have tried worksheets, questions, fill-in-the-blank pages, quizzes and many other mundane methods to make students pay attention. I haven't been teaching for very long (8 years) and this was the best experience I've had with showing a movie in class. 

So there you have it. The real deal on Twitter in the classroom. Based on feedback I will try another chat provider for the backchannel next time. Twitter did present some problems but it was overall a worthwhile experience. 

Where could you use backchannel in your classroom? Would you use Twitter?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Using Twitter in Language Arts Part 1

A quick post today about the Twitter experiment I performed in my Language Arts 9 class. Following what many are doing at conferences, I introduced a tag in Twitter for my students to use while tweeting about the movie Into the Wild. 

Introducing Twitter to Students

None of my students had Twitter account, nor did any of their parents. So, I started with introducing them to Twitter in general with a Commoncraft video, and explained how we can use tweets in many different ways. Showing them my own Twitter account I had them see the difference between a personal/social and a professional/educational tweet. 

We then look at a quick rubric I developed. The rubric included the following 4 criteria:

1.  Responding to 'teacher tweets', questions and topics I give them and they need to respond to.

2. Student initiated topics that encourage discussions.

3. Student responses to topics/discussions started by their peers.

4. Respect for their peers and the online community.

Note About the Rubric
After a short meeting with our Technology Integrator Terry Kaminksi, he came up with the idea for the "Respect for classmates and online community" portion of the rubric. I am still working on connecting the wording in the rubric to the students in a meaningful manner, and this is what we came up with. I explained to the class that they need to be thinking of their Tweets in terms of a conversation with various groups  that they might encounter during the day, and how much 'off topic' talk there might be in each situation. 

4/4- a conversation with adults that would make your parents proud.

3/4- a discussion in class with teachers and peers with the occasional off topic comments.

2/4- a discussion during a student led project that goes off topic quite easily.

1/4- a discussion among friends in the hallway that is often off topic and is sometimes not appropriate.

Introducing Twitter Took Time
This pre-movie introduction of the concept of Twitter, showing the difference between a personal/social and professional Tweet, and the explanation of the rubric took about 40 minutes of our 84 min period. It proved to be very helpful and the vast majority of Tweets were on topic while watching the movie.

But then Twitter threw us a curveball...

Twitter was extremely slow while the internet raced right past it. I suggest you don't try this on a Friday afternoon when everyone and their dog is trying to waste time Tweeting what their plans are for the night instead of working. We kept getting the Twitter whale message that the service was overloaded. Tweets were taking several minutes to show up in our search. Check out our tag search here and see what we did with the first few minutes of the movie. 

Will We Tweet Again?
The short answer is YES! We will try again on Monday afternoon with the rest of Into the Wild. I will definitely use Twitter again in the class for discussions, watching films and if was lecturing (which rarely happens, but I can see it's application). The slow afternoon of Tweeting will not deter me from seeing Twitter as a great educational tool with many applications. How could you use Twitter in your class? Will you give it a try? 

Participate in the Discussion
Remember to follow our tag starting at about 12:30pm mountain time on Monday, April 6th. Feel free to tweet in about the movie or book and answer or ask questions of my students! I'll drop a few lines to summarize the experience after tomorrow's class!