Monday, March 19, 2012

A Big Day for Big Learning! Active Agents in a Digital World

What a great day in first grade! We had a big day of learning and saw exactly how our thinking matters in the larger community. Way to live a curious life first graders!

Each Wednesday we follow and engage in our "Wonder Wednesday" challenge. We view recent wonders posted to the website and then create our own blog posts, either responding to Wonderopolis or sharing our own wonderings.

This site has become a classroom favorite and kids now visit it throughout the week. On Friday, one student was thinking ahead to St. Patrick's Day and asked, "Are leprechauns real?"

As we pondered the question, someone said, "Hey! I know! Let's send the question to Wonderopolis." So we did. I modeled how to submit a question on my iPad and projected it for the class to see. We submitted our question and then several students submitted additional wonders to the Wonderopolis website.

Well on Saturday morning, you can imagine how THRILLED I was when I checked my Twitter feed and saw the Wonder of the Day.

I could hardly wait for my students to enter the building! As soon as they came in, I had them get their iPads and go straight to the website. When my class saw Wonder #531 the room erupted in squeals! Such joy! Total amazement! What a feeling of empowerment!

I have been teaching my kids all year that they need to live a curious life. Ask questions. Seek answers. Look for deeper meaning. Have a set of resources that can help you find the answers to your questions. Access experts in your every day life.

Today Wonderopolis gave them a foundational experience for what it feels like to be a digital citizen and member of the global learning community. My kids have now experienced curiosity and the "search curriculum." They are inspired to ask again and are moved to let the world know their thinking matters! Today they truly believe that others are interested in their ideas and the thoughts and questions they have to share.

After celebrating this milestone, my students got right to working letting people know that their wonder had been answered. Nearly every child posted a new blog announcing the "big news." Six students created iMovies with student interviews and screen shots from Wonderopolis. Four children created instructional eBooks on how to use Wonderopolis and another is currently working on a Keynote to share with the kindergarten class.

THIS is the type of thinking and learning that matters.

My students know how to ask, use and share information. They can name and employ tools to document their thinking and take it public to teach others. They are active agents in their own curriculum development and they confidently promote learning.

What more could a teacher ask for?

THANK YOU Wonderopolis for making this monumental day of learning possible!
I know that this experience has changed my students as digital citizens and will serve as a catalyst for future learning. Three cheers for Wonderopolis and the curious kids in Room 106!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Photography with 5th Grade Students

Last week I had a very short technology class with 5th grade students in their classroom. I debated how much we could accomplish with new material in a grand total of 30 minutes on a day when students spent a tremendous amount of energy on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. Enter the iPad.

In the next few weeks these 5th grade students are going to be focusing on photography to accompany their writing with both their classroom teacher as well as with me during Technology. The remarkable thing about having only 30 minutes to introduce this very large topic with my students but doing so with iPads, is that all 29 5th graders are sitting on the rug in front of me with a camera, digital darkroom, and publishing suite resting on their laps!

I did not have to do much of an introduction for the camera function on the iPad since they have used it frequently throughout the year. However, there are a couple of keys to crisp photographs on any point-and-shoot camera, and I’m putting the iPad in that category.

The first key is making sure your image is in focus. To assure you have the desired focus using the iPad’s built-in camera app, all you need to do is touch the area on the camera screen that you want as your focal point. The iPad will then display a blue box around that area and attempt to focus on it.

The second key to crisp photographs is reducing camera shake. This is not an easy task with the iPad, which is rather large and awkward for photography when compared with a camera. The strategy I gave to the 5th graders, was to make sure to hold the iPad with two hands in opposite corners to reduce the amount of shake. Then make sure one hand is positioned so that your thumb can stretch over to the “take photo” button on the screen. The last part with the thumb will be somewhat alleviated when the iPads are updated to iOS 5, in which case you can use the “volume up” button on the side to snap a photo.

Now with the limited time we had, I gave students three minutes to move about the classroom and take at least three photographs where an inanimate object was the main focal point. I had them arrange their compositions so that none of their classmates appeared in the photos, as the inclusion of “each other” in the images ends up providing a large distraction when sharing.

Students completed their photo-snapping, and I then gave them an introduction to an app called Snapseed. Snapseed is a very easy-to-use image manipulation app with a lot of pre-loaded effects and corrections. The regular cost of the app is $4.99, but if you keep an eye on it (perhaps with AppShopper), you can download it for free when they temporarily put it on sale as we did. Students used Snapseed to manipulate one or two of their chosen photographs, and then saved them to their Camera Roll.

The last step in this 30-minute activity was sharing our favorite photograph with classmates. This “publishing” step is made possible by a recent update to the Edmodo app (updated February, 16th), where students can now share saved iPad photos directly from within the Edmodo app. (To read more about using Edmodo on the iPad, see this earlier post by Katie!) Amazingly, there were still a few minutes left of our short time for students to comment on and provide feedback to each other via Edmodo. Here are some sample photographs by students: