13 July 2014

Little Brother - Book Review

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

If ever I read a book that advocates the teaching of code to school kids, this is it!

All teenagers need to read this to think about the implications of technology - about how it helps but more importantly, WHO it helps. It paints a dark portrait of a not-too-distant future in America, where our every move is tracked and analysed. BUT it also shows how those who can get beneath the surface of computers, can change the world.

Computers are not new anymore - but the facade that we see masks what is really going on. Children need to be able to go behind the facade that presents our interface as beautiful and learn to control and manipulate it. The future is not about those who can use a computer because let's face it, two years olds can do that. The future is about children who can get behind the pretty and into the nitty gritty.

Many educators are coming around to this notion and lots of us are introducing basic code into our classrooms (see my post, Future of Fiction), though I read this book after reading an article on how a school in the States had banned it due to its '"lauding" of hacker culture'! What better publicity and what better way to sell a book to a teenage audience than to tell them that it is banned! And that is how I will sell it to my learners next year, when this book goes into my recommended reading pile.

6 June 2014

Testing Times

The end of term is always fraught, but we just received news that our new positions have fallen through. This is stressful to say the least; not having a place to live, move to, job, school for my kids - it's hard. However, I am hoping that, and believing in, the adage that everything happens for a reason. I am also hoping for some good news and something positive to come out of this incredibly difficult twelve months.

As if to foreshadow this, on the same say I receive this devastating news, I am also nominated for teacher of the month. Is this the edge of a silver lining? It smacked of irony - but at the same time, did help a little.

22 March 2014

Ties That Bind, Ties That Break

Year 8 have been working on a unit about customs and traditions around the world.
Final Preparations on the Exhibition
The unit stems from the novel Ties That Bind, Ties That Break by Lensey Namioka, set in China in 1911, about a young girl who fights the tradition of foot binding.

In addition to reading and talking about the issues raised in the novel, learners have also worked collaboratively to research customs and traditions of a country of their own choosing. In teams, they decided on a country and set off to find out about it in order to produce an exhibition at the end.

The unit has covered essential information literacy skills as learners explored strategies about how to search for information, as well as how to evaluate the information they found. They also explored how they best take notes, and how to use and reference the information they find.

In order to present their information clearly, learners also looked at how to use presentational devices such as headings, sub-headings, labels, diagrams, bold and bullet points to guide their readers to relevant information. They analysed some non-fiction and focused on how the visual layout can help you understand a text and locate specific detail. Using these skills, learners went on to develop a display using their research and non-fiction knowledge.

Each group had to fill one display board and include:

- a title
- a clearly labelled map
- one piece of non-fiction, informative writing per person with references
- at least six images with caption and references
- one relevant physical object

The exhibition has been set up in the reception and will remain for a fews weeks to be shared with the school community.

See the full unit at bit.ly/nisstiesthatbind.

19 March 2014

The Future of Fiction

Creating an interactive book using iBook Author, Makey Makey and Scratch.
In January, I wrote a post about a unit I was planning that would explore the Future of Fiction with my Year 7s.

We have just come to the end of this great unit, and the work they have produced is amazing.

Creating a story to record on iMotion
This post outlines what we did and what the learners achieved. It also links to the learning site that I built to deliver this unit, which was successful in teaching not only story elements, storyboarding, drafting and creating, but also problem solving and critical thinking.

Our aim was to try to re-tell a story using a technological tool, to see if we think technology can help tell a story. Ultimately, we were trying to decide where we think the future of fiction might be going.

We began by learning about the elements of stories and then used the classic book Where the Wild Things Are to learn about the story mountain as well as plot, character, setting and theme.

Learners had to think about how to retell the story using a storyboard with only eight spaces - meaning they had to concentrate on what was important in order to communicate the story's plot and theme. This helped them really think about how to introduce their story and characters, how to build tension, and how to offer a satisfying resolution.

Creating an interactive book using Makey Makey and Scratch
We then moved on to deciding on a story to retell and a tool to use to do it.

Initially, my idea had been to use one story to focus on the technology not the story. However, as my lessons adapt organically according the needs of the learners (see my post The Book Whisperer) this was discussed and changed.

The learners decided to use their own choice of story, as they all had different ideas and could not agree on one.
I did impose a limit of two people per technological tool in order to allow a spread to be explored (there was much fraught signing up to gain that coveted Minecraft spot). Again though, these were changed along the process according the needs and skills of the learners.
Using iMotion to retell The Very Hungry Caterpillar

As per my previous conversations with the Tech Integrators, I and gave them lots of choices about potential tools to explore before deciding on a final choice.

The learners spent the next two weeks storyboarding, drafting, scripting, painting, crafting, coding, drawing, writing, filming, photographing, creating...

Today, we began to showcase their work. They will look at all the final products and then complete an evaluation.

The Three Little Pigs using iMotion
We ended up with stories re-told using:
- iMotion,
- Inklewriter,
- Book Creator for iBooks,
- Powerpoint,
- iBooks Author,
- iMovie, - MinecraftEdu, and
- Makey Makey and Scratch.

Finally, they will reflect on their learning and write about what skills they have developed, what they think they have learned, what they'd like to improve upon, and what they are proud of.
Creating dough characters for The Girl Who Cried Wolf

At the bottom of this post, there is a video of one of the final products.

Watch the Three Little Pigs interactive book in action -  
created using iBooks Author, Makey Makey and Scratch.

Visit the SHOWCASE for more!

We also incorporated Reading Circles into this unit, to encourage more reading. This tied in with the Red Dot Awards Singapore 2014. The whole learning site I built, can be found HERE.