Supporting our Students with “Talking Text”

Over the past few years, I’ve had some of my students use the Livescribe or Echo smartpens for various oral assessment pieces. These smartpens contain a camera at the tip of the pen which read the unique pattern of dots on the special dot paper which the user of the smartpen has written on. By creating a pencast, this pattern is replayed as it tracks your handwriting.

The dot paper is regular paper which can be reproduced using a colour laserjet printer. Students using a smartpen can write as much or little as they need with the pen. The built-in microphone allows the students to record audio, adding details to their answers that might have otherwise been lost due to their struggle to write. The audio recording of their voice is added to what they write, creating a pencast. This pencast is uploaded to the computer where the teacher can see and hear the student’s thinking.

This year in my classroom, there is an increased need for accommodations during assessment, specifically reading the test to the student. While all the students had initially been trained on programs which provided text-to-voice, the students weren’t using them, finding them “glitchy, took too many steps”. Without extra support in the classroom, it’s difficult to meet the students’ needs. For this reason, I was determined to learn how to add an audio recording of me reading the test which the student could easily follow and replay as much as they needed.

Here’s how:

1. Convert text to pdf: I write my test in Google Docs, then download it as a PDF (File, download as..). Save where you can easily find it.

2. Print the test onto the dot paper: Make sure your bottom margin is large enough (1 “) so your text doesn’t overlap the record/stop buttons on the bottom of the dot paper).

3. Record your reading of the text: Use this printed test to complete your audio recording using a smartpen. I draw a circle or star beside each question as I read the test so students know where I am. You could also click stop after each question was read, then record. Regardless, students can replay as much as needed before moving on.

4. Upload pencast to Livescribe: Connect the smartpen to the computer and the recording is uploaded. The only visuals that appears on the page are the circles that I drew (see below – no printed text).

5. Convert recording to a pencast pdf: right click on the page, choose computer, choose audio pdf. Save.

6. Add the text to the pencast: Open Adobe Acrobat Pro, then find and open the just saved pencast.

7. Add the text as a watermark: Click – Document, watermark, add.  Browse – find your text pdf on your desktop. Unclick “scale to relative target page”, OK.

8. Email the file(s) to your students. They open it with Adobe Reader (version 10 or higher should be loaded on their computer (free)).

Link to the actual pencast. Download, then open in Adobe ReaderCellular Transport Quiz pg 1 final pencast pdf (1)

So what did the students think?

photo (14)

“It was easier.”  “I could just click the download, and it started.” And the surprise comment (and my favourite)..

 “I liked hearing my teacher reading to me.”   :)

The Idea Hive 2013/14 Begins

Today the tag line that follows my blog title “Teaching with technology in a Gr. 7/8 classroom means sometimes you fly by the seat of your pants.” was relived-in a positive light. The Idea Hive, heading into another year, was set for our first Skype call at 10:55 EST.  While my teaching partner, Clarence Fisher, in Snow Lake, Manitoba, has very patiently tolerated the many snow days, and therefore class cancellations, we’ve put him and his students through over the past few years, I’m sure he (well, no one actually) expected today’s potential cancellation due to fog and bus delays, that almost offset our first classroom connection.

Actually, it was perfect! It gave me time to train two of my students, Jake and Riley, to run and broadcast the event live from our internet radio station, 105theHive, which I’d thought of while setting up this morning (there’s that “flying by the seat of your pants” mantra). They were awesome!

And by the time the students arrived and were directed into the largest classroom that could hold all 80 +, we were right on time.

With a grade 8 student body this large, none of this happens without the support of my fellow gr. 8 teachers. Mlle. Riley, the French teacher, offered her large classroom as the Skype site. Mr. Westra, my Language teaching partner, is supportive of jumping our language program into whatever unfolds during this adventure. And Ms. Martin, the math teacher, was willing to give up teaching time, in an unusually chaotic day, so all students could participate. As we re-introduce the Wingham end of the Idea Hive with gr. 8’s on a rotary schedule, we are not only bigger in student number, but in supportive teaching staff as well. I’m excited for this new transition.

Jump over to the Idea Hive to view more pics and listen to the broadcast recorded live today.

New Connections in the Idea Hive 2013/14

Book Club Revisited with HT Recorder

I haven’t done Book Clubs (also called Literature Circles) with my intermediate students for a couple of years now for a variety of reasons (size of class, off-task chatting) but I decided to try them again, with a few changes. Glad I did.

Getting back into Book Clubs was a bit of a daunting task. I have several (many!) boys in my grade 8 class this year who boast about their hatred for reading and writing. Luckily I have a few good books up my sleeve for these tough nuts!

Similar to previous years, I used smaller pieces of work to model and practice making connections, determining emerging theme, inferring and asking evaluative questions. And similar to those boys that say they hate books, their written answers looked like carcasses after the feast. A few bones, nothing meaty.

It’s during the book club discussions where the rich conversations and evidence of understanding usually pour out of many students. I saw the same phenomenon recently, during an observation of a 12U english class where students had to write, then discuss, an issue. The girls wrote and wrote, while most of the guys sat back. When it came time to discuss the work, again, many of the boys said little until they were asked by the girls in the group to contribute and clarify their answers. Then their opinions poured out. With that in mind, I decided this year to take a colleague’s advice and sit in on each meeting rather than having all 6 or 7 going at once while I circulated. I didn’t want to miss any of these conversations which I would eventually be using as a reading assessment piece.

Books were chosen by the students, and groups were formed based on those choices. I set up a small table and chairs at the back of my classroom (yes, it’s crowded). During the week 1 meetings, I was part of the discussion, prompting them to share their written, point-form answers from the Book Club prompts and asking clarifying questions. Their voices low and shy, some of them clearly did not want their buddies overhearing their responses while the rest of the class worked quietly on an independent assignment. And yes, that part took time to establish as well. But by week 2, after each student had been through one cycle of book club meetings, they realized the importance of keeping the room quiet so they could hear each other.

As we moved through weeks 2 and 3, I began to pull back from the conversation as students gained confidence in their discussion skills.  On the 4th and final week, I didn’t sit in on the meeting, but I had them record the discussion using the ipad app, HT Recorder ($6.99). I had already recorded their conversations the week previously so they wouldn’t be distracted by it. HT Recorder picks up even the quietest voice, and skips sections where no one is talking, so you’re not wasting time while listening to the recording later. It’s easy to make clips and share full or partial recordings. Reading a student’s bare-bones written response while listening to their recorded conversation makes assessment much more satisfying as students prompt and question each other for richer, more detailed answers. The fact that I’m not sitting with them, obviously marking them, I think allows for a more fluid and natural, on-task conversation.

HD Recorder

But while my kids sit in groups on a daily basis, it was clear during this book club, they need more work on asking clarifying questions and having the confidence to challenge each other’s answers.  These skills are coming, and we’ll keep working on this in the next round.

While looking for a way of changing up the next book club, I recently read  Mardie’s Muse Literature Circle prompts which I’m going to adapt for my students. Mardie generously describes the process, including examples and prompts her grade 7 students use.

Book Club Novels Used
Skate by Michael Harmon (great for reluctant readers)
A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
Lush by Natasha Friend
Four Steps to Death by John Wilson
Wounded by Eric Walters
Summer Ball by Mike Lupica
Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Favourite Holiday Memories on #105theHive

As part of an oral and written language arts assignment, the grade 8B Mustangs made their premiere on #105theHive. While they were nervous, they all presented their favourite holiday memory, and they soon realized sharing over the airwaves isn’t that bad. Stay tuned for more shows from the 8B Mustangs at FE Madill.

You can listen to the students in the following order by clicking the link below. Order of presenters:

Bianca, Kendall, Craig, Niah, Logan, Brittany, Jacob C, Savannah, William, Melissa, Ryan, Nicole, Preston, Guin, Brayden, Nicole, Karissa, Jacob P, Shelby H., Amy, Dylan, Shelby A. and Emily .

Pop Art Shoes

One of my favourite go-to blogs for grade 8 art lesson ideas is Mrs. Art Teacher! Recently I came across an art teaching community, The Smart Teacher, and found an activity I knew my students would love where they Create their own dream shoes at Converse, Nike, Vans or Adidas sites. I combined the later lesson with the Pop Art Shoe lesson as listed below.

Steps:

-students created their own dream shoe online (45 min.)
-drew the enlarged version using contour lines, colour with tool of choice (90 min.)
-created a background using lines and patterns as described in the Pop Art Shoe lesson
-painted their background using tints and shades (1 ½ – 2 hrs.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not an “artist”, but in spite of my ability, I think my students did a great job.

Strengthening Compassion via Half Brother & Project Nim

This year the Idea Hive read aloud featured the book, Half Brother by Canadian author Kenneth Oppel. The Idea Hive is two grade  7/8 classrooms located 2 700 km. apart in Wingham, Ontario and Snow Lake, Manitoba.  The story which was included in this year’s Red Maple selection (and the resulting winner) centres around 13 yr. old Ben and his relationship with a baby chimp Zan. Ben’s scientist parents are trying to prove that chimps can communicate with humans by teaching them sign language. Oppel’s synopsis:

“Ben Tomlin was an only child for thirteen years. Then his parents brought home a baby chimp. It isn’t long before Ben is Zan’s favourite, and Ben starts to see Zan as more than just an experiment. His father disagrees. Soon Ben is forced to make a critical choice between what he is told to believe and what he knows to be true — between obeying his father or protecting his brother from an unimaginable fate.”

Similar to our read aloud last year, my teaching partner Clarence Fisher or I read the novel to the students via Skype or on our radio station, 105theHive. One of us interacted with the students in the chat room while they listened. At the end of each reading, students posted their comments and reflections on an online sticky note. You can find links to all the chats and reflections on the Idea Hive site. Throughout the readings, students were asked a variety of thought-provoking questions including whether or not they agreed with the researcher’s distant approach to Zan, or life lessons that emerged as the characters developed. Some questions dealt with the humourous sections of the story as Ben attempted to win a girlfriend and so they provided relationship advice for Ben.

Once we were finished the book, Clarence and I planned to have our students watch the documentary Project Nim which mirrors the storyline in Half Brother. Before doing so, I posted the following on the Idea Hive website:

Summary from NPR article:

“In 1973, an infant chimpanzee was taken from his mother’s arms and sent to live with a human family as part of a Columbia University psychology experiment. The goal of the project was to see if the animal, named Nim Chimpsky, could be conditioned to communicate with humans if he was raised like a human child in a human household. He learned some very basic words in American Sign Language, but Nim continued to act like a chimp — he bit the children in the house and didn’t understand how to behave like a human child. It was decided that the family could no longer care for Nim, and he was shuffled from caretaker to caretaker for several years.”

Sound familiar?

We will be watching this recently released documentary, Project Nim, over two class periods. Afterwards you’ll be asked to write a blog post addressing the following issues:

What similarities and differences do you notice between Half Brother and Project Nim (characters, story line, setting etc.) ? What surprised you most in the documentary? What were you most disturbed about? What were you happiest about? What did you learn from the documentary that you hadn’t thought of before?

Students noticed a number of similarities, particularly the traits between the two key researchers. They were shocked at the differences portrayed between the chimps’ behaviour. In the novel, Zan was portrayed as a cute and intelligent chimp with a tendency for mischief and the odd bite. In the documentary, the dangerous, aggressive nature of mature chimps was much more evident. Students were disturbed by the scene showing chimpanzees being strapped onto a table for injections. Chimps who were raised as humans were stripped of their comforting toys and surroundings once the research trials had been disbanded. Frank and honest comments were posted on some of their blogs. “They made a huge commitment to Nim, treating him like a human,  and then they left. That’s animal cruelty.”

“We learned about how much of a traumatic change it was for Nim to go from living with humans to living with other chimps.  He wasn’t comfortable with them, and he suffered a lot.” Alyssa

After students had commented on each others’ blogs, they had questions surrounding the ethics of animal testing, so we asked a local veterinarian, Dr. Suzanne Baird, to address these. Dr. Baird visited our Wingham classroom and both classes listened to her either live or via 105thehive and a chat room. Dr. Baird provided a very balanced approach to the topic. Students learned not only about regulations regarding animal testing as well as the advances in human health that have come as a result. You can listen to the entire broadcast: Interview with Veterinarian, Dr. Suzanne Baird. Following her visit, students raised money by selling freezies at their annual ball tournament. This money was donated to Dr. Baird with the students’ request that it be used for the treatment of an animal where finances were limited.

Half Brother paired with Project Nim not only engaged our students, this project forced them to address some powerful, challenging questions regarding issues of animal testing. It strengthened their compassion for others.

Little Bees on #105theHive

Today the grade 1 students at Turnberry Central made their first appearance on #105theHive as they presented the radio play, “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type“.  Following their presentation, the Gr. 7/8’s followed up with sports rants and recent happenings at the school. The Gr. 7/8’s were patient and quiet as they shared their expertise and supported their young schoolmates in their first radio adventure. Intermediate and primary students collaborating in online spaces. Listen in…Click Clack Moo and Sports Rants