Portable On-Demand Learning

I thought I knew quite enough about podcasting to say I was ready to use it in my classroom. Explorations of podcasts in iTunes and reading about them on the web proved me wrong: I have had only a slight understanding of what this tool truly is and how powerful it may be in daily instruction. My head is spinning with ideas for podcasting in elementary classrooms, and I am eager to share this tool with teachers. Podcasting is an easy way to build lessons in which students are provided with opportunities to think critically, be creative, communicate, and collaborate with each other.

As I try to analyzes what has stopped me from trying out podcasting before, I realize that I always wanted it to be perfect: smooth transitions, no background noise, and studio-like performances from kids. Listening to many examples similar to Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Leiphart’s classes helped me realize that a podcast is a raw genre of communication in which “cracks and pops, obscure music, and “ums” and “ahs” are all part of the podcast genre” (Richardson, 2010, p. 113). Teachers do not have to spend hours polishing audio creations because, with technology tools available today, podcasting is a very time-affordable tool that allows learners to focus on developing powerful content and make technology integration invisible in a classroom. Students need to learn that the quality of the stories they share matters the most, while all technical bells and whistles of putting podcats together will improve with every try.

iTunes offers a colossal collection of podcasts on any topic. I focused on locating some that can be used with elementary students, and I was overwhelmed by the number of them. Using Storynory, a weekly podcast for young children, could be implemented in a classroom as a Listen to Reading center in which students would enjoy classic stories read by professionals. Brains On by Minnesota Public Radio should be a part of every science classroom. The topics discussed in this podcast are intriguing, and invited experts engage listeners in fun learning. Digital Inspiration podcast caught my attention because I love to learn different how-to tricks when it comes to using technology tools. I also found The Reading Room, a newly founded podcast in iTunes and an outstanding resource to learn strategies for teaching digital reading with Common Core curriculum. For my guilty pleasure, I subscribed to Life Habits by Karel Vredenburg, a podcast that addresses topics on social interactions, building relationships, and leadership skills. Listening to different podcasts made me think of how comfortable it was to access them. I was able to take breaks when I needed, go back when I wanted to hear something again, and share podcasts with colleagues by emailing out links directly from iTunes. It made me think that podcast is a perfect tool for portable on-demand learning.

There are many ways podcasts can be integrated in a classroom. Richardson (2010) speaks of recording audio conversations with experts via Skype and integrate them in podcasts – a strategy of which I have never thought before, but find useful. I also want to share the blog post from ClassroomTech on podcasting. It offers step-by step strategies for podcast integration that can be adopted by teachers in any grade level. Podcasts erase the cultural definition of communication as we’ve known it and offer opportunities for kids to unleash their interests and creativity.

References

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company.

Magic Touch of Wixie

Frequently, I stumble across tweets that refer to blog posts about best Web 2.0 tools for education. Over 20 Free Digital Classroom ToolsThe 100 Best Web 2.0 Classroom Tools Chosen By You, and 10 of the Best Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers are just a few to mention. I always get excited when I read these posts because novelty is a key to engagement in any classroom. Unfortunately, my eagerness dies out quickly since most listed tools can be used only by students older than thirteen years of age. The feeling of disappointment always makes me feel as though elementary students are left behind when it comes to having an access to a wide variety of online tools. 

Thankfully, there is a magic pixie that comes to my rescue every time students need to create digital stories, prepare presentations, publish writing, make posters, complete graphic organizers, or design comics – Wixie, a Tech4Learning program that offers many possibilities for students to unleash their creativity. The software is completely web-based, and Wixie apps are available for Androids, iPads, and Kindle Fire that makes it a perfect tool for a BYOT classroom. Shapes, stickers, voice recordings, text features, layering options, and drawing/paining tools provide students with multiple options to express their thinking and demonstrate what they learn in unique ways. The library in Wixie is full of public domain images (Pics4Learning), backgrounds, and graphic organizers that can be used by students. Users can collaborate on projects and export/import each other’s pages to put together and present their group’s work. Students have ePortfolios in which they can place their best work and collect projects throughout a school year. Publishing projects cannot be any easier: students are able to copy and share a unique url for each project or embed them into blogs, wikis, or other online tools. In addition, creations can be exported as MP4, MOV, HTML, Flash, PDF, or ePub files. If needed, students and teachers can choose to set a passcode to access projects online. Such option may be a handy tool when students work on narratives and share personal information.

Managing Wixie projects and assessing student work are very simple processes that can save time for teachers. They access classes with a teacher account to monitor student work, align assignments to standards, and comment on individual projects. In addition, teachers are able to assign Wixie activities to students based on their individual needs to differentiate instruction. Creating a built-in rubric for each activity is a powerful feature that helps with standard-based reporting and academic progress monitoring. Teachers do not need to carry home loads of papers to grade and provide feedback to students.  All of it can be done in Wixie. Collaboration among teachers is supported as well. They are able to develop projects/activities with specific rubrics attached and share them in the school’s shared folder where they can be copied, edited, and assigned by others. If sharing resources within one school is not enough, Creative Educator is an online community for teachers to share project and lesson ideas, post examples of student work, and support each other. Communication, collaboration, and creativity are evident components of Wixie.

Like with any online tool, users may face some challenges when working in Wixie. First of all, this tool is not free. An annual subscription is required for every student. We are lucky to have a county-wide license for this wonderful tool. I know I would do everything possible to get the subscription if it was not provided. PTA, technology grants, and Book Fair fundraisers can be used to sponsor the program. Another possible problem with Wixie is connectivity issues that can cause a disastrous lesson. To avoid it, I suggest using this tool for small groups, center rotations, independent work, or homework assignments instead of in a lab setting. Lastly, kindergarten students may have difficulties learning their usernames and passwords and not be able to quickly log in to Wixie without assistance. Implementation of Techno Buddies (a partnership between kindergarten and fifth grade classrooms) can be a solution to help young students learn the procedure quickly. Why not to think of a collaborative project between them, too? 

As you may have noticed, I am a little be-witched by Wixie. Some teachers call it Wixie Wonderland, and I cannot agree more: the program is definitely has a magic touch that can transform any classroom into a student-driven learning environment.

4Cs of Student Blogs in Elementary School

Five years ago, Konard Glogowski shared his experiences with blogs in the high-school classroom and described the Ripple Effect as a method to facilitate reflective talk with students and help them become evolving writers. It amazes me that today his post still has the ripple effect on readers, myself included! It is a thought-provoking, want-to-do-the-right thing kind of a post that inspires me to reflect on my teaching craft. If the focus of blogging is not mechanics of writing, then what matters? Since secondary and elementary levels are quite different, I’ve started thinking of what Glogowski-style blogging would look like in an elementary school. My ideas have shaped into 4 Cs of blogging in elementary grades. 
 
First C is for Connections…Writing a blog challenges students to search and connect with a topic. Blog writing is not journaling about events in one’s life, but thinking about information and connecting it with personal experiences (Richardson, 2010). Such writing requires critical thinking skills (Educational Origami refers to them as Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy): searching for information, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating multiple texts, and contributing new ideas by writing them in a blog.  
 
Second C is for Clarity…Writing down own thoughts may be easy, but formulating them in a clear and well-organized manner is usually a challenge for many elementary students. We teach organization and structure of many writing genres required by Common Core Standards and make students practice them in writing journals. Writing a blog makes writing process relevant and meaningful. Students write with a real audience in mind, and, therefore, they are interested in making themselves understood and excepted. With specific, targeted feedback from teachers and peers, students incline to revise, reorganize, and clarify their blog entries.  
 
Third C is for Comments…As I mentioned in my last blog post, comments are the pulse of blogging. This is when real teaching and learning take place. As teachers or students comment on each other’s posts, they become a part of “connective writing”, and that’s when the true learning begins (Richardson, 2010). While writing or reading comments on blogs, students revise their thinking, ask questions, clarify their thoughts, and become passionate experts of the topic. The Ripple Effect is what makes blogging a powerful tool for teaching and learning writing process. 
 
Fourth C is for Conventions…Of course, writing online should include correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Students should learn to revise and edit their blog posts multiple times before letting them go “live”. In addition, blog has its specific conventions that students need to learn to understand and integrate: good title, tags, properly hyperlinked sources, and references. 

Based on the 4 Cs described above, I developed a rubric that can be used to assess student blogs posts and comments in elementary classrooms : 

References

Educational Origami. (n.d). Rubrics – Bloom’s digital taxonomy. Retrieved from http://edorigami.wikispaces.com/Rubrics+-+Bloom%27s+Digital+Taxonomy 

Franker, K. (2012). A rubric for evaluating student blogs.Retrieved from https://www2.uwstout.edu/content/profdev/rubrics/blog_rubric_revised.pdf

Long, C. (n.d). Blogging scoring rubric.Retrieved from http://www.personal.psu.edu/cpl2/blogs/cplportfolio/Blogging%20Scoring%20Rubric.pdf

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company.

Richardson, W. (n.d). Retrieved September 6, 2013 from the Will Richardson’s Wiki: http://weblogged.wikispaces.com