Making ‘Magic’ (schoolbus) with 1st Graders

At the suggestion of Ann Oro (aka @njtechteacher) and Kelly Tenkely (aka @ktenkely) both ladies from whose blogs I learn much, I am writing up the information on how I created the “Magic Schoolbus Goes to the Ocean” project with 1st graders.

Classroom Teacher’s Role:

After reading the book, The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor by Joanna Cole, the 1st graders did some research on ocean topics of their choosing. From the research, they wrote a few sentences on their topic. The teacher took photos of each student in various poses (like swimming) in front of a green screen. If a green screen is not available, the photos can be taken in front of ANY solid color background, like a bulletin board. It’s best if the background doesn’t have a texture, so a cinderblock wall is not a good option.

Tech Facilitator’s Role:

Preparing the images: To prepare the images, you need to remove the green screen background. There are many ways to do this with image editing software like PhotoShop, but I used the ‘Preview’ program on the Mac. I opened each photo in Preview and used the Instant Alpha tool to remove the background. The Instant Alpha tool, or magic wand, is located in the “Select’ menu. Work carefully so as not to eliminate too much from the photo. Changes aren’t finalized until pressing ‘Return’. Resave each cropped image with the name of the student.

Drawing the background and adding the child’s photo: The next step is to have the students draw their background images in KidPix or a similar drawing program. As they are creating their drawings, it is important to remind the children to think about where they will place themselves in the picture. Save the KidPix drawing and then insert the cropped green screen image of the child. To insert the image in KidPix, go to the top menu and select Import>Graphic and navigate to the desired image. Once the image is imported there will be green handles at the corners to resize the image. The 1st graders were able to resize their images and place it in the desired location. Once you click off of the image and the green handles disappear, the image cannot be moved. This happened a few times, so we had to ‘Quit’ and open the drawing again. That is why saving BEFORE importing the child’s image is important. Once the image is in place, save the KidPix file and export as a jpg (File>Export).

(The next two steps could be completed in Word, PowerPoint, or Keynote. The steps may be different, but the same result can be achieved)

The Comic Life template: In Comic Life, turn the page to Landscape (File>Page Format>√ the Landscape box). Drag an image box onto the page to the desired size of the book page. Add a rectangular textbox in the upper right (or left) corner and fill the box with yellow. This replicates the notes seen on pages of the Magic School Bus books. This yellow box is where an adult will type the sentences about the ocean topic written by the child. After typing in the facts, save each Comic Life document with the child’s name.

Adding the children’s drawings and speech bubbles to the Comic Life page: Navigate to each KidPix jpg and drag it in to place into the saved Comic Life document. The image will slide under the yellow text box with the facts. Have the students add their speech bubbles and comments. Save as a Comic Life document.

Publishing: There are many different ways to publish. We have printed them to make a class book. We are also recording the students’ voices in a VoiceThread. If using VoiceThread, you will need to export the completed Comic Life document as a jpg (File>Export>Export as Image) before uploading into VoiceThread. Here’s our finished product:

We worked on this project 2x a week for 30 minutes each time. My involvement didn’t occur until after the research was completed. To complete the ‘tech’ portions of this project, we completed it in about 3 weeks (9 meetings). The children loved putting themselves into their drawings and really saw the connection to the actual Magic School Bus book. They are enjoying reading and rereading about their ‘journey to the ocean’.


Rethinking my work with teachers

I spent a wonderful 2 hours with Diane Sweeney, author of Learning Along the Way: Professional Development by and for Teachers. Diane has been working with the literacy ‘lab teachers’ in my district for a few years helping to develop a model for ‘gradual release’ with our district teachers in their journey to learn more about comprehensive literacy and guided reading. This session was for those in our district who take a leadership and coaching role with our teachers.The two hours flew by; which is a feat to accomplish on a sunny Friday afternoon!

Three things really resonated with me:

1. Diane’s ability to connect with her audience.

I was thrilled at how quickly Diane was able to connect to the diverse roles of those of us sitting in the meeting. There were literacy coaches, gifted teachers, and technology facilitators (like me!).

2. The idea of ‘coach’ as a verb, NOT a title.

When I was hired, I asked that we change the name of my position from ‘tech coach’. I didn’t think it sounded collaborative enough. I envisioned a coach barking out orders and drills (as many of my athletic coaches did). While those being ‘coached’ may be better after these drills and orders, for some it means breaking them down and building them back up. I didn’t want to work that way or to give the impression of Me=expert You=novice, so listen up and do it MY way.

3. The Continuum of Student-Centeredness in School Based Coaching

The model for coaching she presented led me to begin thinking about changes I may want to make to improve my effectiveness as a ‘tech coach’. I like thinking about the idea of student-centered coaching with regard to technology. I have implemented the relationship-driven and teacher-centered coaching, but at times, I am not as effective with teachers when I ask about the students.

This is an oversimplification of a conversation, but represents a typical scenario. This type of encounter often takes place as I pass by a teacher walking her class through the hall.

Teacher: “I want my kids to do a PowerPoint for social studies”.

Me: “What are the students learning?”

Teacher: “They’re doing Native American research.”

Me: “What are you hoping the kids will gain from using PowerPoint for this project?”

Teacher: “They’ll know how to use PowerPoint and how to add the fancy elements.”

Me: “How will the learning be evaluated?”

Teacher: “They’ll be sharing with another student.”

Me: “There may be some other ideas that would accomplish the same thing. Would you be open to other suggestions?”

Teacher: “No, they need to learn to use PowerPoint.”

Sigh! This interaction does nothing to examine the value of this experience (or lack thereof) for the students. The focus is solely on the tool; not even the best tool! When I have an opportunity to talk with teachers about their goals for their students, not only does it help me to best tailor an appropriate learning experience for the children, but it allows the teacher to focus on her students’ needs. The biggest obstacle to this kind of planning is TIME; there is never enough time for teachers. These conversations needn’t be lengthy or numerous, but they need to happen, and not while passing in the hallway.

The second largest obstacle is teacher tech-phobia. Teachers often see my role as solely about them and what they are not able to do. I think that is why many teachers don’t contact me. There are those who say, ” I already use technology, so I don’t need your help.” or “I hate technology and I don’t see the value for students”. Again, a slightly dramatization of actual comments but the message was similar. By focusing on what the students’ needs are, the topic of conversation is about learning — not technology!

I have begun the first chapter of Learning Along the Way and am thrilled that Diane will be returning next year to work with my district. I have already requested time to sit and talk with Diane for some student-centered coaching of my own!