Friday, December 14, 2012

Amazing Moments in a Classroom

Thinking and learning!
I pushed my kids beyond the point I thought was possible yesterday, and they responded with enthusiasm.  It was one of those amazing moments we savor as teachers.  And since it is music & edtech related, I thought I'd share it.  Here's what we were doing:

• While working on our Nutcracker unit, we were learning about the harp (Waltz of the Flowers).  But thanks to, instead of just directly teaching them about the harp, I could send the students a link to a website about the harp and have them find the answers to my questions about the harp.  Then, students could submit answers through infuselearning which we could discuss as a class.  

But it gets better:
Screenshot of the various tabs 3rd grade students had open for work
• I also asked the students to have another browser tab open and logged into Google Apps.  When designing this unit, one of my essential questions was "What choices does a composer have when writing music that tells a story?"  A simple shared document was all we needed to gather all sorts of answers.  These students had never experienced a collaborative document - there was no need to explain it, and yet they got it.  Great discussion followed, more revision, and ideas shared.
This was a 30-minute class with 3rd grade students!  It was our fourth class on infuselearning so far and they had prior experience on Google Apps.  They had all sorts of browser tabs open, constructing their own knowledge and defending it in front of the class.  

All I had to do today was ask questions, such as:
How many strings does the harp have?
How many pedals does the harp have?  Why?
What are the colors of the strings on the harp?  Why?
Which finger do you not use to play the harp?
What choices do composers have when they write music that tells as story?

The students had to do the work and the thinking.
I just needed to provide the questions and the right tools for the learning.
Questions from Smart Notebook file for students

Saturday, December 8, 2012

InfuseLearning - Student Response System

Every year, I teach a 3rd grade unit on the Nutcracker Ballet.  When I first started teaching elementary, the 3rd grade homeroom teachers would read the story, a dancer would come in and work with the students, and we would take a field trip to watch the Milwaukee Ballet's amazing version of the Nutcracker.  That left me (as a music teacher) plenty of time to focus on Peter Tchaikovsky and his music.  

Over the years, money grew tight (no more field trip) and time grew short (no more story or dancer).  That left me to teach as much as possible about the Nutcracker - Tchaikovsky, his music, ballet, and a video performance - in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Needless to say, the way I have taught the Nutcracker has changed every year.  This year, I decided to use InfuseLearning while teaching.  I had used InfuseLearning with 8th grade students earlier this year, and thought I would give it a try with 3rd grade.  
InfuseLearning is a free, web-based tool which calls itself a "virtual learner response solution".  It is a student response system, but with some really great customizable features.  A teacher logs in and is given a virtual "Room ID" to provide to the students.  The students log in with the Room ID and name and then wait for the teacher to initiate "activity" in the room.  The activity can be questions, links, or drawings.  

Of course, 3rd grade students being who they are were surprised when their screens started changing when I would initiate activity.  The students would get excited anytime I would begin a new activity.  I had to tell them, "I know what your screen says - you don't have to tell me - I made it say that - go ahead and do it!"
InfuseLearning's teacher homescreen
You can ask many kinds of questions in InfuseLearning.  True/False, Multiple Choice, Sort/Order, Numeric, Likert Scale, and Open Ended Text Questions.  But I think the two features that make InfuseLearning stand out are InfuseDraw (which lets the students submit drawings to the teacher) and InfuseLink (which sends a link from the teacher to the student devices which open in a new browser tab).  You can also set up quiz questions ahead of time, and InfuseLearning offers options such as reading questions aloud, grading text answers by establishing key words, enabling a "don't know" option, setting up multiple classes, and more.

One drawback to InfuseLearning is that the entire class must be on the same activity at once.  If everyone finished a quiz except Johnny, then everyone must wait for Johnny before moving on to the next activity.  It is not exactly self-paced.  We also had better success on Google Chrome than Internet Explorer.  Absolutely no problems on iPads or iPhones using Chrome.  If I had students in a BYOD environment, I might use this tool every class, either for reflection, feedback, or formative quiz.  With 3rd grade students, we used a cart of 15 PC laptops, 3 iPads, and my iPhone and I gave students a partner.

The students loved seeing immediately how they performed, and they loved to see what everyone else's answers were, too.  Everyone was accountable for their learning, and sometimes the correct answer came from surprising students!  It created a collaborative community.  

Here are some examples of how I used InfuseLearning with the Nutcracker on just the first day:
• A quiz that I pre-created about Tchaikovsky
• Sending the students a link to the story of the Nutcracker to read
• Listening to selections from the Nutcracker and replying with instrumentation in the "Open Ended Text Answer" response box
• Sending students a link to ballet feet positions and having them Draw the various positions of the feet, labeling left/right in the InfuseDraw tool.

If you are looking for a great student response tool, give InfuseLearning a try (and of course, I am not receiving anything from anyone for this blog post).  

Thoughts from an iBooks Author Rookie

My first iBook has been published in the iTunes store - it really is a great feeling of accomplishment because it took quite a bit of work and time.  But the results are worth it.  It is free from the iTunes store:
My Voice Sounds Like This - Chris Sepersky

The iBook is a showcase of student work.  My 5K kids "composed" songs with pipe cleaners.  The purpose is to explore high and low sounds by bending the pipe cleaners into various shapes.  Every year, I record students performing these songs.  In the past, I would make a Voicethread out of these pieces and post the recordings on my classroom website.  This year, we also used an app called Soundbrush to create "virtual pipecleaners" as well.

A pipe cleaner composition

But how could I show parents all of this work in an easy format?  I decided that it was time to take the iBook plunge.  I could make one page for each student (video of pipe cleaner performance, the image of the student work, and the Soundbrush creation) in an ibook that I can use in my classroom and parents can download at home.  Add some explanatory comments in the introduction and "voila"!

Here are some thoughts from an iBooks Author rookie:
iBooks Authoring is an entirely new skill set.  Many skills in edtech are transferrable.  For example, if you can make a Wikispaces page, you can make a Google Sites page.  If you use Prezi, you can use Realtime Board.  But iBooks Authoring is different.  In order to put all of that media into an iBook, there are a lot of buttons and menus to learn.  You could start with an easier project (i.e., no videos), but what would be the point of making an iBook without interactive media?
Don't stress about it being perfect.  If you are creating a showcase of student work, remember that it is about the student work, not your iBook.  It's an interactive, take-anywhere bulletin board.
Take time to plan.  I made a lot of mistakes until I finally made a template for the pages of student work.  Then, all I had to do was change the pictures and videos of each student page.
Use the iBook to educate parents, too!  I used the introductory pages to explain the purpose and goals of the project.  As the parent of young children, I know kids have a way of forgetting by the time they get home.  The iBook gives you a chance to explain clearly and completely to parents in a way that a website does not.
Be prepared for the publishing time once the book is completed.  After all that work of uploading videos, images, and editing, you have to send the book to the iTunes store.  This was another learning curve.  Apple sent me an email letting me know that I had made a mistake and had to lock my iBook in landscape mode.  That meant more uploading and waiting for publishing.
Of course, student anonymity is respected.  The pages of student work do not have pictures of students - only images of their work and their voices.
The joy of seeing it published is really cool.  I had been holding onto all the student work until the book was published.  Once published, I sent home the pipe cleaner papers with a note to parents saying how they could find the iBook.  I am excited to use it in class, and hopefully encourage other teachers to try out iBook Authoring.  In fact, I have so many ideas for classroom iBooks, I'm not sure which one to do next.