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!

How technology ‘changed’ my (work) life

I have been listening to the audiobook version of How Starbucks Changed My Life by Michael Gates Gill. In this book, Michael, gets a new lease on life after being fired from his high-powered adverImage from: job. This life-change occurs, you guessed it, as an employee of Starbucks. Basically, Michael learns about who he really is and what is most important in life; something he couldn’t have done if he was still in his high stress job.

So, what does this have to do with me? While listening today, it dawned on me that technology had a similar effect on my life; well my work life for certain. About 12 years ago <choke>, I was in a rut professionally. I had taught the same grade in the same place for a number of years and was looking for something to energize my teaching — enter computers! I was excited by the possibilities for both my students and myself. As I began to use computers with my students, I saw an energy in them. They were excited about learning, able to challenge themselves whatever their level, and be self-directed in their learning. Students who had been in the ‘background’ had begun to fine success and in some cases emerge as leaders.

Now all of this didn’t happen overnight. The implementation of computers into my classroom started with simple word processing. But I was motivated to learn more about the potential of their use with students and understand the importance of technology in students’ lives. The move to integrate technology into my teaching and students’ learning also created a philosophical shift for me. Technology caused me to examine what I felt was most important for students and look at my teaching to see if I was meeting their needs. I hadn’t really thought about learning theory since college. Teaching for me, at that point, was about the curriculum and helping students to learn it.

Now, as a technology integration specialist, with a master’s degree in educational technology, I help other teachers feel that spark that I felt many years ago. I didn’t think I would ever step away from being a classroom teacher prior to my retirement date, but technology changed my life, my career, and now I attempt to change the professional lives of our district teachers. It’s not always easy, but very rewarding. I love when teachers share with me their pride in an accomplishment they have made, or remark “That was painless” as we complete a project with their students. And I love that technology has cemented me as a life-long learner.

How has technology changed your career? Your classroom? Your attitude/philosophy about teaching and your role in educating your students?

Podcast Apathy ~ What’s my problem?

I am struggling with why I am having a difficult time embracing podcasts. Many (many!) edtech folks I admire create, consume, and promote podcasting, yet I don’t feel the same enthusiasm. I’ve heard some good podcasts; loaded with info, catchy music, well-produced. I think that listening to audio isn’t my preferred learning style. I long for something more interactive. Listening to a podcast while driving or walking the dogs doesn’t work for me, either. I want to write down what I hear, access the sites mentioned, or contribute to a backchannel. Video podcasts seem to hold my attention better, but again, I want to stop them and browse the resources mentioned. And I just never seem to find a good time to watch them if they are longer than about 10 minutes.

Because of my apathy about listening to podcasts, I tend to shy away from having students create them. I do know how to create them easily with GarageBand, KidPix, etc. I just usually find another way for kids to express themselves with audio; like with a VoiceThread or recorded Keynote. I have heard some great student podcasts. Radio WillowWeb is still among the best. I just don’t see students or their parents sitting and listening to a 20 minute podcast about Native Americans or whatever.

What’s wrong with me?

I must be #51

Congratulations to all those attending the Google Teacher Academy in Chicago on September 24, 2008. Out of over 220 candidates, 50 were chosen. I was sent a very nice email stating that I was ‘waitlisted’. So, if for any reason Miss America can’t fulfill her duties, I guess I’m in. I’ve done some thinking about what I will do differently next time I apply. Until that time comes, here are my essays as a Wordle chart. I was pleased to see that the most prominent words are those I would hope they would be.

Blogging with a plan

I’ve struggled with the fact that I just can’t get into blogging. It seems like the right thing to do. Most everyone in the Ed Tech Community blogs on a frequent basis. So what’s my problem? I completely subscribe to the PLN idea; I can’t imagine this past year without my ‘network’ and throughout my 20+ years in education I have tried to practice professional generosity. I read lots of blogs and have learned much from them. Yet I’ve completed 2 posts in 2 years.

I figured out why I don’t blog. Fear. Not fear of writing something that wouldn’t be worth reading. Not fear of no one reading it. Fear that someone would read it. What I mean is, say I complain (or even describe) a situation at work, what if the person I wrote about reads it? I guess I’m not really feeling confident in being able to consistently write wonderfully profound posts about technology in education. What I would write about would be my experiences, both good and bad. I’m worried that people would feel violated for ‘airing my dirty laundry’ if they were part of the laundry. Sure positive ones are fine to post, but sometimes it the adversity that make us reflective (aka more interesting to read, I think) Who only wants to read, or write, about all their successes? That gets a little boring.

So I decided to make an effort to blog regularly (once a week?) and model my posts after blogs like Larry Ferlazzo and iLearn Technology. I plan to write about a web site, gadget, piece of software, etc that I think others should know about. It might be a something new, it might be something more ‘tried and true’, but it will be something of worth to the K-8 teacher or student.

By putting this kind of structure on my posts and having a plan for what I write, I hope that at some point I will feel freer to write about my experiences. If you’d like to learn about some great ed tech tools and how to use them with students, then please add me to your Reader. Please grant me a little catharsis from time to time, too.

Thanks for reading.

Comments transferred

I know this is unconventional, but I have copied and pasted the comments from my blog here. Why? The very day I decided to get back into blogging, I also decided to switch to another blog hosting site. Unfortunately, I posted to my ‘old blog’ before switching over here. The comments below are inspiring me to continue and I didn’t want to lose them. I hope Classroom Queen, Dean Shareski (wow!), and Diane won’t mind. I also hope they’ll follow me here.
BloggerClassroom Queen said…
Welcome back to the land of blogging. I look forward to your thoughts and commentary on integrating technology into the curriculum. 8:14 PM
AnonymousDean Shareski said…
While I see value in twitter, it’s much more of a “snacking on learning” rather than the full meal. This is the place to truly share and extend your thinking. 2:15 AM
Bloggerdiane said…
Maybe we should all go back and re-read our first posting!I’ve been blogging for less than a year, but I can already see a change in my focus and expectations and, I hope, real growth in my understanding and connectivity.I don’t think of twitter as “snacking” but more as jotting down notes or leaving quick voice mails. It’s my short hand for things to investigate further and a way to keep in touch with colleagues and friends around the world.But my blog is for deeper thinking, more extended exploration.I need both in my life to fully round out my Voice.Glad you’re not confined to just a whisper any more! 9:32 AM