Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Making the Most of Mobile Phones in the Classroom

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the implications of allowing mobile phones and other devices in the classroom (http://bit.ly/2w5W5Xc) -- all tinged with a bit of nail-chewing and angst.

My position has always been to ALLOW MOBILE PHONES IN THE CLASSROOM and use them to inform instruction. We want to bridge the gap between students' in-school and out-of-school literacies, and phones are one way to do this. Students can use their Smartphones to participate in activities that can be reviewed later or shared with a friend (or parent). They will be less likely to hide the phone under their desk/hoodie/book if they can "play" with it in class.

Here are my FIVE GUIDELINES for using Smartphones in ELA:

1. Set limits. Allow phones for specific moments and activities, but don't give in to a free-for-all, or you will have a room full of distracted students.
2. Design a parking pad. Make this out of construction paper and chalk and place it in the center of a collaborative table. Ask students to "park the phone" until you give the signal to use it. 

3. Offer a phone break. Give students a 5-minute break during class to check their Facebook, texts, etc., and you will find they are less anxious and more willing to focus. Plus, they probably need to answer the texts their moms sent.
4. Take advantage of online tools. Ask students to download apps like Discovery or NYT to view films and content relevant to class. Create Kahoot quizzes so that students can use their phones to record responses. Use Twitter to respond to current events or argue positions.
5. Encourage use of the camera. Students can use their phone's camera and video recorder to snap pictures/video of items around school. Let them use digital images to respond to prompts, reveal information about themselves, create mini movies, record mock TV newscasts or talk shows, and illustrate the themes in a poem or short story. 

After all, we are preparing students for college and life, so we want to show them ways to use that all-important phone. Plus, allowing phones in the classroom means we can check our OWN texts, etc., without looking like hypocrites. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

5 Tools to Try This School Year

It's a new school year! Yay! Time to try out some new tech tools in your ELA classroom!

However, you can't know everything or keep up with the latest gadget at all times. Instead of going wide, go deep. Focus on one or two tools and get really good at them.

 So, here are 5 tools I'm using this year and how I will use them.

1) Google Cardboard. This is a Virtual Reality tool that I keep finding new ways to use. It is inexpensive ($25 for two), and pretty indestructible. Use your smartphone to download a few VR apps (NYT VR or Discovery VR are my favorites). Then, put your phone in the Google Cardboard and immerse yourself in the world of...sharks, sunflowers, hang gliders...  the list is endless. I am using these as prompts for writing (View the bottom of the ocean and then write about it!), as well as a way to enhance background knowledge.

2) Slack. I am enjoying using this collaborative meeting site as an educational tool. It is meant for business, but I have found that students can use it to plan projects and communicate with each other. I recently used it to set up a project between students at two different schools. They never actually met in person, but used Slack to create a presentation.

3) Flipgrid. This is really a video selfie tool. What I mean by that is that students talk into their computer's camera and record their faces and voices. Then they post their responses to a shared page. They can use the tool to record reactions to stories, reviews, or to create a persuasive argument.

4) EDpuzzle. This tool has been around for a few years, and teachers are finding new and amazing ways to use it. I have used it extensively as a way to flip my classroom. You can record videos or screencasts, then upload them to EDpuzzle. You also can imbed questions about content on the videos as students view it. Finally, you can use the questions to act as a quiz or assessment to check for understanding.

5) Visme. Infographics are huge in the world of Pinterest and Twitter. Teach critical digital media literacy to your students by asking them to design their own infographics on a non-fiction article or research topic. The graphic above was made using Visme, which is one of the easiest infographic tools I have used.

Most of all, have fun, and don't be afraid to try!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Kindness for the New Year

Kindness in Suffering - Anne Barbour

Kindness Journals
For this new year, in the wake of a difficult 2016, I have decided to try to commit a random act of kindness every day. For me, this means quietly and anonymously doing something kind, generous, or unselfish for someone else without expecting praise or even acknowledgement. 

This is not an original idea, of course. But it somehow makes me feel like I am contributing something worthwhile to the world at large. Instead of simply tolerating the bad and ugly, I am doing my only tiny part to help counteract the growing movement of incivility in America. 

I started this on Jan. 1, but then it dawned on me: Why not ask students to do the same thing and document their efforts with a digital tool? 

This is a Random Acts of Kindness Journal!

Kindness can make you feel amazing -- or, sometimes, unappreciated, or sometimes, ashamed or guilty. All of these feelings are part of the human experience -- But my students may not know this. So, using the new GIF Maker digital tool, they can document the feelings they have while participating in a type of digital writing or storytelling. 

This tool makes creating a GIF so easy! You simply paste the URL share code from a YouTube or other video into the  large window, then the tool takes over. This is a screenshot of the window:

After the video downloads, you will get an active window with sliding bars that you can adjust to select a small clip from your chosen video. A GIF typically is about 1 to 3 seconds. You just slide the bar, watch the clip in the large window, and then scroll down to the bottom and click "Create GIF."

Once the GIF is created, you can download it to your desktop or share on Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest. (Click on the Advanced tab to access the GIF's share code.)

For the Random Acts of Kindness Journal, students TWEET a daily digital journal entry, each one marked with a note of what they did and how it made them feel. They can use a hashtag to keep them all in the same digital "bucket," such as #Katieskindnessjournal.

Here is a sample:

Here's to more kindness in 2017!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Great Thanksgiving Listen

I am a huge fan of public radio, and one of my favorite features is the National Public Radio (NPR) program “Storycorps.” Storycorps features shorts excerpts of interviews between two people. Often the interviews are on an interesting subject or with interesting and unique people. 

Using Storycorps as part of the English classroom can be a deeply moving and affecting exercise. My own students absolutely LOVE hearing the stories of real people and their authentic experiences.

A wonderful smorgasbord of Storycorps interviews are available at the website https://storycorps.org

In addition, there are beautifully animated short films that accompany some of the most affecting interviews. My favorite one features an older couple and their demonstration of love for each other, despite the man’s diagnosis of cancer (and eventual death). You can find this short here: https://youtu.be/WNfvuJr9164

I have been using Storycorps as a way to integrate writing and technology, and this year the Storycorps folks are HELPING ME OUT! (thanks, guys) They are offering The Great Thanksgiving Listen as a way to involve secondary students. How great is that?!

For The Great Thanksgiving Listen, students interview a family member or guest at their Thanksgiving dinner and then upload the interview to the Storycorps website via an app on their smart phone (or directly from the website). The interviews are logged into the Library of Congress for posterity. For students without Internet access or a mobile phone that records, you can have them interview someone at school (the lunch lady!) with a device available through school. The students then share the link to the interview with you.

I have been so humbled to hear interviews about parental love, death of loved ones, undocumented immigration, survival of war, and many more experiences.

I ask students to write out thoughtful interview questions and then write a reflection AFTER the interview. This integrates writing with critical thinking. A win-win!

There is even a PDF Teacher guide that you can download.

My students love interviewing family members and reported that they learned so much MORE about people they thought they knew. Beautiful.

Here’s to Storycorps, family stories, and a peaceful Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Transcendentalists and Technology

This is the time of year when thoughts turn to...


What? Yes, Transcendentalism, the darling of English teachers, is making its way into classrooms about this time of year, according to the pacing guides of several states. Like many of you, I have always loved the Transcendentalists. The whole convening-with-nature-questioning-authority-promoting-self-actualization thing just really resonates with me. Likely, it also resonates with you.

But for our students? Well, maybe not so much. For many students, particularly those who will become engineers and businesspeople and make more money than all of us combined, Transcendentalism feels a little artsy-fartsy. A little too touchy-feely. A little too...well, English teacher-y.

This is where the Electronic English Teacher can help you. 

A little technology can sharpen the blurry edges of a study of nature writing. Here are two ideas:

1. Geocaching. https://www.geocaching.com/play 

In this activity, your students will actually get out of the classroom and into the world (like the Transcendentalists) to explore nature. Geocaching involves looking for hidden packages and treasures that others have placed and then tagged with a coordinate. Using a GPS-enabled phone, users hunt for the package/Geotagged item with the navigation program on their phone. It's as easy as asking Siri for directions to the mall.
Ask your students to hunt down a geocached package that is hidden in a local park or nature site and then write a journal entry or reflection about the experience. They also can take a photo of themselves in nature with the item. This is a screenshot of a Geocached map:

 Here is someone looking for a Geocache in a park:

2. Digital photography and online journaling. https://penzu.com/

Penzu is my favorite online journaling site. I use it with my students in my writing class. It is an easy interface that allows users to post pictures and then write about them. For this activity, you can ask your students (or take them) to convene with nature. They can take a few nature photographs, then write journal entries about the experience. Here is a screenshot from my own Penzu journal:


Friday, September 30, 2016

Remixed Trading Cards for Iliad

Since I know many of us are teaching survey courses that begin "at the beginning" and then move through literary time, I have pledged to do a few posts to get you through the first weeks of the school year. Last week, I wrote about an Internet scavenger hunt for those of you who are teaching The Scarlet Letter in American Lit courses.

This week, I am turning to those of you who might be doing the Greeks or The Iliad in a Western Lit course. Thanks to Dr. Jennifer Dail, I have been working with my own students on remixed digital compositions. Jen has a great article in The Alan Review on her own adventures in remixing. Following her lead, my students have been creating remixed trading cards on literary figures and world leaders.

 Your students can use the same idea to create trading cards on characters in The Iliad. Whether it's Hector, Achilles, Agamemnon, or even Helen... there are so many characters to keep track of! The trading cards allow students to think about characters in terms of allegiances, strengths, and characteristics.

There are several sites that allow users to create trading cards. The best ones are:
1) ReadWriteThink Trading Card Creator. Allows students to create trading cards on any character or literary figure.

2) Pokemon Trading Card Creator. This is my favorite, because it allows students to use prior knowledge of Pokemon characters and then remix that knowledge with a literary character.

3) Yu-Gi-Oh Trading Card Creator. This is another site that calls on students' prior knowledge about specific Manga characters from the Yu-Gi-Oh cartoon and applies it to the new Iliad characters.

The easiest way to allow students to save what they create is to ask them to make a screenshot of the finished product and then save that to their desktop. They can then export the screenshot into a Google Drive folder that you have created.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Scarlet Letter Scavenger Hunt

In recent conversations with English teachers, I have learned that many of us are struggling with how to integrate technology into specific units/novels/texts. One teacher said to me: "I get that I need to use technology, but I also have to teach The Scarlet Letter. I need to know how to merge technology with Hawthorne."

I can really appreciate this task. We need a lesson for TODAY that uses a TPACK framework, engages kids, and doesn't create havoc in the classroom.

Here is one idea that I have used to introduce The Scarlet Letter. A current student teacher of mine has used the film "Easy A" as an introductory tool -- which also is a great idea. If you want to go a bit further, then consider an Internet scavenger hunt that directs students to specific informational sites to provide a bit of background before they begin reading. Remember to hold students accountable for what they are reading and learning. You can ask students to simply write their answers to the questions on a piece of paper, or you can create a Google Form for them to fill in.

Here is one ready for you:

Seven Things You Should Know 

Before Reading The Scarlet Letter

1. Who is Nathaniel Hawthorne? Why do you think he wanted to write about Puritans? Click here to find out:

2. Name two interesting facts about Hawthorne. Click here:

3. Visit the House of Seven Gables. Which room is your favorite, and why? Click:

4. What happened to you if you were caught exhibiting "lewd behavior" during Puritan times? Click here:

5. Is adultery a crime in your state? Click here, then click on interactive map:

6. What was life like for Puritan women? Click here:

7. Watch the official movie trailer for a new Indy movie version of The Scarlet Letter. 

Now watch the trailer for the movie "Easy A," loosely based on The Scarlet Letter. What similarities do you see?