Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Just Got Hit By an #Edcamp Bus

So, I was at my first Edcamp this weekend.  Edcamp Milwaukee (#edcampMKE) was held at South Milwaukee High School (my home district), put together by two incredible edtech leaders - Tammy Lind and Chad Kafka.  Edcamp Milwaukee was the 100th edcamp in the world and the first in Wisconsin.

I just don't think there is anything you can compare an Edcamp experience to in education today.  Seriously ... it's like getting hit by a bus of positive ideas and people.  Why else would people drive four hours or cross state lines to come to a conference with no set agenda?

The most amazing thing to me was how much learning a person could do at a time:
• You might be physically sitting in one session, listening and contributing.
• You find a few moments to tweet out the best ideas from the session you are in and jot a few notes into Evernote to remember later.
• At the same time, you might be watching a Google Doc of notes from another session take shape.
• Sending out message to teachers in other sessions
• And then, all of a sudden, someone who is not even at edcamp sends you a tweet because they are following and are interested in your session.

And that sums up a session at edcamp - a place where teachers are concerned about what is happening not only in their own room, but making an impact around the world.  This is what most surprised me about my edcamp experience - how fast learning can happen when you collaborate.

A few notes from my sessions:
Evernote - there is a real excitement with teachers to create digital portfolios with Evernote.  I would love to do this.  One of the great things about being a music teacher is having students for many years.  I have had some students for 8 years - wouldn't it be great to document that progress in an authentic way?  But I have one HUGE issue with this as a music teacher - I have about 350 students this year (and I think that's my smallest number in the last decade due to schedule changes).  With only one hour/week with each elementary student, is this possible to do?  Love the idea of emailing recordings to parents.
Here is a link to a site about creating e-portfolios in Evernote.

Giving the Classroom Back to the Students - This was my "deep thoughts" session of the day.  My brain was in overdrive trying to listen to others, participate, take notes, and send out an occasional tweet of the incredible thinking going on in the room.  My favorite notes from this session:
• The students know the technology.  Teachers know the content.  Make the connection.
• Technology can build face to face relationships.  When a teacher uses technology to open a student's mind, the student realizes how much that teacher cares about his/her individual learning.  That is a relationship.
• How many people in education have sat down and written what they really believe about education and learning - before writing any lesson plans or choosing any technology.
• Turn "just in case" learning into "just in time" learning.  Technology makes it possible to differentiate for students, making learning personalized.
• The thing that holds up most teachers is exactly the same thing that holds up most students - the fear of change.  Learning is supposed to be uncomfortable.

Google Certified Process - I hope Google opens up a bunch more Google Academies in the future, because I think there will be so many teachers interested in the GCT process.  I was interested in starting this journey prior to attending edcampmke, and now I am really interested.

Students as Content Creators - We must teach students the difference between cheating and collaboration. How many times do you see teachers sitting at lunch with teaching manuals, asking each other how they teach a particular lesson effectively?  That's collaboration - not cheating.  Students need to know the difference and how to collaborate effectively.

EdcampMKE schedule
Apple TV - My love of Apple TV is no surprise to readers of this blog (here and here).  The problem with Apple TV (and Apple even admits it) is that Apple TV is still a niche or hobby interest.  People don't "get" it because it is not as pervasive as other Apple products.  Those of us that "get" Apple TV and use it have to keep talking it up, because it truly is a game changer in education.

App Share - I was not in this session, but I was watching the Google Doc from another session.  Here is the link to it.

Going Google - Our district is about 6 months into Going Google.  It was good to hear the ups and downs from other districts as they make the same transition.  One note I took from this session was about the digital divide that going Google may exacerbate - the students with technology at home will do better with Google Apps, but those without technology at home may become frustrated with themselves and others.

Another note - Edcamps are free for participants and depend on the generosity of volunteers and sponsors.  Many thanks to the volunteers and sponsors of EdcampMke, especially Evernote (I won an Evernote premium gift card!)

7 Apps for Special Ed Communication

The elementary school at which I teach houses the CD program for our district.  We have incredible special education teachers and aides.  And one of the most important skills to teach any student is how to communicate.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is meant for students who are non-verbal, but whose cognitive and physical abilities abilities are strong enough to use assistive technologies such as choice boards and visual schedules.  (Forgive me if I did not state that correctly - I am not a special ed teacher.)

For many reasons, communication apps often go unused in favor of (very) low-tech solutions.  Some of the reasons for this include:
• Visual schedules and choice boards get a good workout every day.  They get folded and stuffed in pockets, dropped, lost, and all sorts of things you wouldn't do with your iDevice.
• Visual schedules and choice boards sometimes have to be changed in an instant.  Clicking through technology can take up precious seconds if you are not comfortable with it.
• Creating schedules from scratch using an app you are unfamiliar with has a learning curve.
• Schedules are custom made for individual students, therefore sharing an iDevice among several students does not work well.  You would need several devices.
• You want a fairly consistent program of AAC assistive technology in your school, unless the educational needs of the student call for it.
• Special ed communication apps can be incredibly expensive.
• A very common special education assistive technology, PECS by Pyramid Educational Consultants, does have a few apps out, but none of them are meant as choice boards or visual schedules.  If they do in the future, it would be a game-changer.

So, perhaps this list can give us some insight into what educators might appreciate in special education communication apps.  A special ed communication app needs to be easy to create on the go, easy to change on the go, shareable with other teachers, and inexpensive.  In the end, they all have the same goal - enabling expressive communication.  These apps could be used in addition to other existing systems.  With that in mind, let's look at some budget-friendly special ed communication apps and see how they compare.

Scene Speak (Good Karma Applications, Inc)  $9.99
Speak All (Purdue University)  Free
First Then Visual Schedule (Good Karma Applications, Inc) $9.99
Choice Board Creator (Techno Chipmunk)  Free
Talk'n Photos (Intermediate District 287)  $2.99
Click n'Talk (Intermediate District 287)  $2.99
Sounding Board (AbleNet)  Free

Scene Speak by Good Karma Applications allows you to add audio "hot spots" to an image.  You can also type in text and choose from a selection of voices for your hot spots.  Your image can come from the in-app camera, your camera roll, or a Google image search.  You can export/import your entire library, meaning not only can you backup, but also share your library with other Scene Speak users.  Works in portrait or landscape mode.
My own kids love playing with this app - it really works well.
Possible uses - Getting used to a new space, safe/not safe, a real life choice board with all the choices in one image.  Elementary social studies could use it for maps that speak, and science could use it for environments or animal studies - anything that would benefit from multiple audio hotspots in one image.
Drawbacks - Takes a little bit of time to set up the hot spots, so this is not something you can easily use "on the fly".  Little on the pricy side at $9.99, but watch for discounts.

Speak All comes with about 20 images.  You can import more images, but only from your photo library camera roll.  Stores your photos and audio in a kind of "in-app library", meaning it is easy to load up choices in a flash IF you already have them imported from your camera roll.  But there is no way to organize the library, so I could not imagine scrolling through 100's of choices to find the correct one.
Possible uses - The purpose of the app is to create sentence strips that will say a sentence when put together (such as "I want ______.")  Images can set to either drag into position or be set to drop with a single touch.  Works only in landscape mode.
Drawbacks -  no in-app camera, meaning there are several steps to get custom images into the app, and then the library is not organized.

First Then is a visual schedule that does exactly what it says - puts your images in order to tell a student that "First you do X, then you get/do Y."  You can have multiple steps in each schedule, not just two steps, meaning it can also be a visual schedule.  There are three ways to view schedules:
• Full view (1 picture at a time)
• Split view (First, Then)
• List (all steps)
You can export your schedule to PDF, which would make it possible to print.  You create a library of schedules or common routines, and it is easy to create or edit these schedules on the fly.  There is a built in library of over 100 images, and you can add to that library by using the in-app camera, photo library, or google image search (First Then is by the same maker as Scene Speak, so there are many similarities).  Other nice features:
• can add a checkmark when a task is completed
• can set a password to protect
• can back up to iCloud and file share through iTunes to another device
• Appears that Android version has a LOT more features (for now?)  The iOS app needs an update.  The current version is for iPhone which means the graphics suffer when enlarged for iPad.  The android versions looks really great.
I have used First Then with my 2 year old at home.  In fact, if I say something like "First eat strawberries, then pudding", she'll respond "like on iPad!"

Choice Board Creator does what it says - it creates choice boards.  There is a box at the top to type in your question.  Then, you can have 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6 boxes for choices (not sure 1 is a choice, but ok).  Each box can have an image and a sound.  You can set any or all of the images to be the "correct" choice and add applause.  You can make the boxes bigger and smaller and add multiple pages of choices.  And the app automatically mixes up the order of the choices each time.

Images come from the in-app camera and your photo library, but this app adds two other interesting features:
• the ability to use text in a choice box instead of a picture
• the option of using audio from your iTunes library.
The audio feature is both good and bad - since the only way to add audio to an image is through your iTunes library, it is great if your audio is a song.  But if you want to record a voice, you would need to record in another app (such as Garageband) and then place your recording in iTunes.  Not likely to happen if you need a lot of short recordings.  But if you were going to record your kids singing and make a choice board of their own songs, this would be a great feature.  There is also no backup feature or sharing with this app.

The next two apps, Talk'n Photos and Click 'N Talk, are very similar and both created by teachers in Intermediate District 287 in Minnesota.  I love the idea that teachers had an idea and made an app to help students.
Talk'n Photos is simple and straightforward to use.  You create an album of photos using your photo library or the in-app camera.  Attach a caption and record a sound for each image.  Your iPad will show a 3x4 grid of photos before you have to start scrolling down.  You can password protect.  Best uses would be a choice board or simple schedule.
Click 'N Talk is essentially the same as Talk'n Photos, but the difference is that this app allows the photos to be full screen.  Therefore, this app might be easier to use for students with vision or motor difficulties.  It also would be a great app to create social stories on the go.  You could easily have a student record the social story using Click 'N Talk.

Finally, Sounding Board by Ablenet used to be $49.99 but has recently become free.  It does have in-app purchases for more boards, but you wouldn't need them if you are creating custom boards.  It comes with approximately 200 preloaded images, and you can also choose images from your photo library or use the in-app camera.  You can record sounds for each image and also record prompts for Makes boards with 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, or 9 images.  The neat feature here is that you can link each image to another board (kind of like a choose your own adventure book) so you can create sub-schedules or routines for each part of a master schedule.  It is an iPhone app, which means the graphics don't display as well on the iPad.  Perhaps the recent price drop means an update is coming?

One I have not purchased yet is Visual Schedule Planner by Good Karma Applications.  Judging by its sibling apps (Scene Speak and First Then), I would imagine it to be another good app, but I will wait for a price drop from the current $14.99.  I did get many of these apps at discounted prices on my own - no promo codes provided.

So that is a list of seven budget-friendly, fairly simple to use AAC apps that I have found.  This is certainly a great use for the iPad and I am sure there will be many more apps like this in the future.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

But what do the students say?

This the 14th in a series in which 5th grade musicians are collaborating and researching using Edmodo and using Google Apps to create Sites, Docs, and more ... oh my!

Our school is in the midst of MAPS testing, which means the computer lab is mostly off limits during this week.  I have scraped together a little bit of lab time, but the break is good for the kids.  They are going to camp next week, and we need some time to work on camp songs (we need both tambourines AND technology to make life happy).

But before singing camp songs together, I took a few minutes of each class to do some reflection on our Google Apps project so far.  What's going well?  What's not?  What's easy?  What's hard?  Why?  The answers were honest and positive.  And generally, if a student said something in the project was "hard", we talked more as a class and came to the conclusion that it is hard for one (or both) of these reasons:

• Research in general is hard work
     - and -
• Students are wanting to go deeper than they are accustomed to working

Student reflections so far, collected on
Some other discussion points came up:
• Some students said they were going slower than they would normally go.  But not because the technology was slowing them down - because they were collecting so much research.  Some expressed frustration when they developed questions in their mind to which they could not find answers.  Some wanted more sites for research.  What they haven't learned is that sometimes in research, you have to draw the line and say "enough", but it's a good problem to have.
• We talked about "digging deeper" in our project.  The students seem surprised at the amount of work research takes, but they remain enthusiastic about it.  Like planting a large tree, research is a big project, and it takes more work to dig that hole.  If you don't dig deep enough, the tree will not flourish.
• General excitement over the use of Google Apps.  Everyone loves it.

Two teacher observations from this discussion:
• The comments from the students really focused on the research aspect of the project and less on the GAFE aspect.  At first I was disappointed about this - but then I realized that perhaps we hit a "golden mean" at which the technology creates excitement but remains a tool.
• After this discussion, I am convinced even more that Google Apps does impact student achievement.  And the comments from the students about research and digging deeper reveal that they are putting pressure on themselves to create a product that the world will see.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dogs, Lambs, and Little Beethovens - 1st Grade Composers

This is the 2nd part about how I teach first grade students to notate and compose using a single line staff.

In the first class, all of the students learned to play, read, and notate "Hot Cross Buns".  And they can explain it to you.  Ask the students to tell you how to notate the music as if you are a brand new student.  You can clear up any misconceptions from the last class this way.  But what to do next?

Day 2 - I give them a sheet of paper with a song they have never heard before and tell them to figure it out.  The song is "Bow Wow Wow" (lyrics - "Bow wow wow.  Whose dog art thou?  Little Tommy Tucker's dog.  Bow wow wow".)  I have notated the first, second, and fourth phrases, leaving a rectangle in the middle that says "Little Tommy Tucker's dog" that I tell them not to play.  Sing the notes using low/middle/high, Do/Re/Mi, and C/D/E.  The hardest part for them will be skipping from Do to Mi at the beginning.  Great chance to talk about steps and skips.  Then send them off to xylophones to play it.
Bow Wow Wow

After they can play it successfully, sing the song together again.  But this time, teach them a dance to go with it - here's what we do:
Bow Wow Wow - stomp stomp stomp
Whose dog art thou - pat legs 4x
Little Tommy Tucker's Dog - wring the dishrag (hold partner's hands and turn back to back in a circle without letting go of hands)
Bow Wow Wow - head, shoulders, hips (Mi/Re/Do)

At the end, ask the students to tell a partner and tell you how they figured out how to play Bow Wow Wow on the xylophone.  Self-reflection is good fit with this unit because of the critical thinking involved.

Day 3 - The next class, let the students compose their own melody - make them into Little Beethovens.  Give them the black strips of paper from Hot Cross Buns (to be the single-staff line) and about 12 little circles for notes (all the same color this time).  The kids will want to play the xylophone right away.  Teach them to notate first and then play what they notate.  They can always change it, but it will be easier to notate first, then play.

After composing with manipulatives, the hard part here it to have students write down on a piece of paper what they created with manipulatives.  Give students a legal size piece of paper with a single black line across it.  Make sure they do not squash notes together to create chords instead of melodies.  Students can play each other's melodies if there is time, or the teacher can demonstrate a few in front of the class.

Day 4 - Another day, give the students a copy of "Mary Had a Little Lamb", but do not tell them what the title is.  One of the skills here is that Mary Had a Little Lamb is long enough that you will have to split it up into two lines of notation - remind students that reading music is like reading a book - you have to go from the end of one line to the beginning of the next line.  At this point, the students should be able to look at a single line staff and tell you the letters they should play.  In fact, they should be able to sing the letters, but don't let them sing it right now - they'll figure out the song!  Just read the letters together.
Mary Had a Little Lamb

Also, it is important to teach students how to sit next to each other with the music facing them (I write the word "top" on the sheet so that students know which way it goes).  Just last week I did this lesson with three classes - one class got it almost right away, and the other two classes took about 15 minutes.  It seemed that they could play it well, but just couldn't put the tune together in their mind to come up with a title.

Ideas for Extension - Depending how much more time you have, here are a few other things I have done in the past with this unit.  Not sure what I'll do this year, since time is running out.
• Continue finding more Do/Re/Mi songs for xylophones
• Try playing the songs on boomwhackers
• Have students try the songs starting on other notes, exploring major/minor keys
• Record students playing their original compositions from Day 3 in Garageband or Voicethread and publish to classroom website.
• Transfer students original compositions into standard notation using software or an app to give students a professional looking copy of their song.

I have done this unit for a few years now - it is one of those units the kids love and learn so much at the same time.  If you have suggestions or questions, let me know!

New Reflections on Reflection

I know I'm going against the stream here, but I have fallen out of love with the Reflection App.  The problem is that it just has too many hiccups, especially when compared to Apple TV.

My middle school choir room has a new Apple TV set up.  I have not a single issue with it in a month of use.  When I am working in my elementary school's computer lab, I plug in my personal Apple TV.  I never have a problem.  But in my elementary classroom - the room where I spent about 75% of my time, I do not have an HDMI projector.  So thus far, I have been using Reflection in this classroom.  I have many problems.

First, Airplay through Reflection cannot be launched as quickly as with Apple TV.  In my situation, I need to first set up an ad hoc network, have the iPad connect to that network, launch Reflection on the laptop, and then set Airplay to mirror to the laptop.  Now you have a window that I usually move from my laptop screen to the Smartboard (I choose not to mirror my laptop so I can have two monitors at once), maximize the Reflection window, and hope that I don't accidentally turn the iPad to portrait orientation because then the window reverts back to a smaller size.  I can do this all pretty fast, but do you know what kids will start to do by this time?

To make matters more difficult, you can get through all of these steps and it freezes or doesn't work.  Some apps crash Reflection completely (I have a recorder playing app that does this).  Displaying photos last week caused Reflection to freeze up many times, leading to several force-quits.  If I did not have the photo on the iPad before launching AirPlay, it would freeze.

I realize there is a very good possibility that the problem is with my ad hoc network, or some other issue.  But the fact remains - Apple TV never gives me a problem (I do not need to create an ad hoc network for Apple TV).  As Steve Jobs would say "It just works".  Apple TV does not require me to change networks mid-class, freeze, or revert to a smaller size just because I change orientations.

So, I have ordered the Kanex ATV-Pro Apple TV adapter for my elementary classroom so I can hook up my Apple TV to a VGA projector.  When it arrives, I'll let you know how it works.

1st Grade Composers & Sight Singers, Part 1

One of my favorite end-of-the-year projects with 1st grade students is using a single-line staff to read and compose music.  Basically, you teach students to read notes that are either below a line, on the line, or above the line (Do, Re, and Mi) and then compose songs using those same three notes.  Not as easy as you might think if you are a first grade student.  When reading music, "up" on a xylophone is not the same direction as "up" on the staff.  And when it comes to composing, anyone can make up a song.  Notating it with manipulatives, writing it down permanently, and performing someone else's song are the hard parts.

My inspiration for this unit is Mark Burrows, a music educator who has written books, songs, and mini-musicals.  I have never been disappointed when purchasing something by Mr. Burrows, and when elementary music budgets are tight, there is little worse than spending $20 on a resource that disappoints.  His book, Outside the Lines, is great for introducing composition to students in a natural, constructivist way.  (I have never met Mr. Burrows, nor am I receiving commission on this - his stuff is just awesome).

Here's how I start this unit (first 30-minute class):
We start this unit by figuring out how to notate Hot Cross Buns, a song the students already know.  To do this, you need the following:
• a long strip of black construction paper (to be the line),
• 3 circles* of the same color with the word "hot" written on them
• 3 circles of another color with the word "cross" written on them
• 3 circles of a third color with the word "buns" written on them
• 1 small white rectangle with the words "one a penny" typed on it
• 1 small white rectangle with the words "two a penny" typed on it

*To make the circles I use as "notes," I use a die-cut machine to get circles that are all the same size, about 1.5" diameter.  And be careful not to use red/yellow/green because the students will equate that to a stoplight.

Sing Hot Cross Buns with the regular lyrics.  Then sing it a few more ways - using solfege and also using "high, middle, and low" to replace "Mi, Re, and Do".  Put gestures with it - head/shoulders/hips for high/middle/low and Curwen hand signs for Mi/Re/Do.  We have fun talking about the history of Hot Cross Buns, too.

Tell the students they have to figure out how to play Hot Cross Buns on the xylophone and write it out with the supplies.  Ask them how many different notes they will need - they will come up with the correct answer of three.  Give them only one hint - that the first note is E.  Demonstrate what to do with the supplies, and remind them that you read music from left to right, one note at a time.  Let them get to work on their xylophones and give them a little struggle time.

After a minute or two, it will be time for this question: "Which way is low on a xylophone?"  Kids want to equate low with little, and they think smaller bars are lower (wrong!) Another misconception is that the black keys are higher because they are spatially higher than the white keys.  Other students will recognize correctly that Left = Lower on a xylophone.

Once they have figured out how to play the song, they need to notate it using the supplies you provided.  Two of the biggest problems will be placing notes above each other (making chords instead of individual notes) and squashing notes too close together.  Teach students to write music like we read a book - left to right, one word at a time.  The most difficult parts will be the "one a penny" and "two a penny" papers.  If you play what they have notated, they will quickly see what is incorrect.

After everyone figures it out and you have played it together, call the students back together.  I like to use the Smartboard at this point and have students notate what they just made with manipulatives on the Smartboard.  I have a notebook file with colored circles and rectangles that match their manipulatives.  Using the notation on the Smartboard, we close by singing it again using normal lyrics, high/medium/low, and finally solfege.

Next up - Dogs, Lambs, and little Beethovens

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Most Underrated Google App

This is the 13th (lucky #13) post in a series in which 5th grade musicians are collaborating and researching using Edmodo and creating Sites in Google Apps for Education.

Ahh, Google Apps!  How do we love thee?  We love your Docs.  We love your Forms. We love your Presentations, your Sites, your Mail, and Calendar.

But what about the Video app?  Is it the ugly stepsister of the other apps?  Is it the Rodney Dangerfield of Google Apps for Education, begging for respect?

I have come to really like the Video app (I am talking specifically about the Video app within your Google Apps domain).  If I am uploading a screencast that will be shared with students, I absolutely put it in our domain's Video app.  Putting a screencast in Videos allows you to share with anyone (or everyone) in your GAFE domain at any time just like you would share a Doc or a Site.

 Here are some of the great benefits of the Google Video app:
• If you are already in Google Apps for Education, then uploading to Videos is easier than logging into another service such as SchoolTube or TeacherTube (both of which I use).  The uploading to GAFE Videos is simple and straightforward.
• If you collaborate with other teachers, you can easily share Videos with each other.
• You don't have any of YouTube's problems with inappropriate comments, related videos, and advertisements.  With the Video app, none of these problems come up.  Comments are allowed in the Videos app, but they cannot be anonymous.
• You can embed the video on other websites.
• You have the same tight security you enjoy with other Google Apps
Best thing - you can share it to everyone in your domain, groups of people, or even just individuals.
Google's own comparison chart from their online training modules
Only recently have I realized how great the Video app is.  It allows you to be in more than one place at a time.  At this point in the project, I have students all over the spectrum of completion.  I need to provide extension for the leaders and provide more support for those struggling.  So what do you do?  For your those who are ahead, you pick another web 2.0 activity (such as Voki) and record a screencast about how to create it and put it on your Site.  For those who are struggling or were absent, you have screencasts they can review.

Videos allows you to create "Just in case" content for students and deliver it "Just in time".  Talk about personalized learning and differentiation!  By not sharing the video with everyone at once, it does not distract the other students who really need to stay focused on writing biographies.  I am recording several screencasts of extension activities and keeping them in my Video tab.  When a student is ready for a new activity, I just go to my Video tab and share it to them.  Instantly, the Video is in the student's account so they can view it and start creating.  And this does not take the teacher out of the equation at all - in fact, as a teacher, you have to be even more aware of where your students are at so you match content to their abilities and deliver the content "just in time".

(Embedding content like a Voki in a Google Site is an advanced skill for young students because you have to create the Voki in one sitting (so you do not have to create an account), get the embed code, and insert the code as HTML in your Site.  To make it easier, my screencast told the students to create a new page for just the Voki.  That way, when the student pushes the HTML button in Sites, there won't be any confusion about where to paste the code.  Your student leaders can handle this.  One of my 5th graders did it entirely at home, and he had never even heard of Voki previously.  All because I shared a 4 minute video to him.)

Some things to know about Videos:
• Google intends that Videos is only meant for teachers and faculty.  At least at this time, it is not meant to be a place where students can upload their own videos.
• Your GAFE administrator has to whitelist each user individually for uploading.  I am not a GAFE administrator, nor am I a GCT, but I do not believe Videos can be opened to an entire domain or organizational unit en masse.  Each user who wishes to have uploading privileges must request permission.  On the other hand, no whitelisting is needed to receive the videos - meaning a teacher can share to students in their domain.
• There are size limits for file uploads.  Currently, it is 300 mb per upload.  I also believe there is an overall domain limit for uploaded videos, meaning it would not be an appropriate repository for videos that do not need to be specifically shared within your domain.
• Do not use the Google Video app to embed videos on Sites that are intended for the general public.  The video will not show up on the page unless the viewer is logged into his/her GAFE account and the video has been shared to him/her.  For this reason, if I record a video of a student performance, I would upload to SchoolTube or another similar service.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rounding 2nd Base

This is the 12th part in a series about 5th grade musicians as they research composers using Edmodo and create Sites using Google Apps for Education.

Last week, we reached a major tipping point in our project.  Students are finishing up research, the Sites have all been created, the biography Docs have been created, inserted into Sites, and shared to me.  Now the worktime has begun.  I think the students and I all realized this at the same time, and you could actually feel the atmosphere in the lab relax.  I think there were even some audible sighs of relief. Definitely rounding 2nd base - what's next?

Our Sites are going to be more than just biographies and maps.  Students have several other pages to create and insert content.  Students are now at the point where I have given them an example website, and they need to create similar pages and content.  Not that I want them to copy mine - they just need to see what the expectations are at this point for finishing the project in their own way.  Each Site must have five required pages:
Biography - embedded Google Doc biography (formatting text and paragraph structure does not work as well in Sites as in Docs, and inserting media into the Site is an important skill in this project).
Composers and Me - answer these two essential questions:  What makes a musician successful?  What character traits [composer name] have that made him/her successful?  These are two of the questions we  used to start our unit.
Famous Songs - embedded YouTube video from a teacher-created playlist which was added to our Edmodo library.  All the students need is the URL from the playlist.
Historical Connections - What else was happening in the world when your composer was alive?  Name an author, scientist, and artist who was alive at the same time as your composer.  Again, I have put timelines into our Edmodo library.
Where in the World? - Maps of where the composer was born or lived.  Can also be images of important places from composer's life.

This is a lot of work for 5th grade students who are both new to research and to Google Apps.
I really wrestled with this question a few months ago:
Should I create a template website and have students change content?
Should students create websites from scratch?

To template or Not to template ... that is the question.  I chose to have students create website from scratch.  Looking back, it was the right decision, because the students can definitely handle it.  But now, I need to communicate to the students the expectations for completing the website.  We have always had an example website, which I shared at the beginning of the project, but now I added a few more directions on each page for the students.  Students should be able to create pages and insert content because we have already done that with maps and biographies.  Here is a link to the example Site.  But I change it when needed for students.

A note about the decision to have students create Sites from scratch or from a template:  It comes down to three things:
• What do you expect the students to create?  How complicated will it be?
• What is the student's prior experience with Google Apps?
• How much time do you have to devote to the project?

You have to start with a clear view of what a proficient project should be.  An easy Site (working only within Sites and not inserting other media) could be accomplished by younger students.  Also, in a few years, students that have had more experience with Google Apps could do this same project faster.  I have spent a considerable amount of time teaching Google Apps (yeah!) because this is a pilot project in our district.  And if you don't have enough computer time, perhaps using a template Site is the way to go - it is still not cheating the students out of great research and collaboration.

But any teacher that embarks on a GAFE Sites project will need to determine for themselves if students are ready to create Sites from scratch.

Finally, I am excited for kids who will be ready to go above-and-beyond and insert other content.  More on that in an upcoming post ...