A Lesson in Copyright

A few days ago pictures started to appear in my moderation que on my 7th grade class Ning. Two of my students had found a site that had pictures they liked from the Manga series Vampire Knight. Not wanting to break copyright law I deleted the pictures and talked to my classes about copyright, creative commons, and how to ask for permission to use copyrighted images.

One of the students that had posted the pictures wanted to ask for permission to post the pictures so I had her bring in a copy of her book to get the publisher’s information. The book was published by Viz Media LLC.

I went to their website and found an online form to fill out.

I had Hou type on the form and ask for permission to post the pictures.

I like the Vampire Knight to put on my blog…..but my teacher wants me to ask permission if i could put it on my blog.

Then I added:

My student was posting pictures found on websites from the Vampire Knight series. I would not allow them to be posted because we don’t have the right to publish these pictures. We decided to contact you and ask for permission.

The site she would like to post the pictures on is at: http://noelclassof2011.ning.com/

Thank you for your attention to this matter,

-Wm Chamberlain
Noel Elementary School
Noel, Missouri

It isn’t enough to discuss copyright with our students, we need to help them find solutions to copyright issues. While I don’t know if we will be given permission to post these pictures I do know that Houa has learned how to ask instead of just take. The process is more important than the outcome.

Why Blogging Can’t Work in the Classroom

For over a year now I have been using my class blog for a way to assess my students’ learning. First I used my blog posts as a way to ask a short answer question and had my students give me an answer using comments. Finally last spring I created blogs for my home room and aggregated their posts into a single blog.

Typically when I have my students post I allow them 20-25 minutes to write their response. The students are never surprised by the question, they are always based specifically on something covered in class. If they know the answer to the question, the time is more than enough for them to answer. If they don’t know the answer, they don’t have enough time to do research to find it. Since I have a 1:2 student computer ratio this takes one class period to have every student respond.

I realized pretty quickly that my students were not getting the most out of the experience. The reason people blog is for the community, the give and take of posting and commenting on posts. My students didn’t have that opportunity. I wanted them to have that opportunity.

In the spring I created individual blogs for my homeroom class. I wanted them to post and have other students comment on their posts. I made a mistake and did not give them time to spend commenting on each others blogs. The students that took time to make comments were very encouraging, but I realized my mistake and decided that I must create time for my students to comment on the posts.

Now I have come to the point where I realize that student blogging won’t work. When my students write answers to my questions, they should already know the answers. The time they are given is simply the time it takes to respond. This would be similar to an in class assignment. How long should it take to comment on another students post? I want my students to think critically about the response they are commenting on. I want them to address their thoughts coherently. How much time will this take?

If I truly believe that posting online is a better option than answering on paper, then I better have a reason. The reason is because the size of the audience increases and the ability to provide feedback also increases. If I think students commenting on other students’ posts is what makes blogging the best tool, then I must give them time to do it. I must also provide time for the students to read the responses and respond to them if necessary. Now a 25 minute assignment done once or twice a week has become a 75+ minute excercise. This amounts to one quarter of time my students spend in class each week. Worse still, because I have a 2:1 ratio I can only have half my class online at a time.

What do you think? Is it worth the extra time? Should I have my students post less often? Or, should I give them the time necessary to do it right?

Deconstructing The Biome Project

I was reading a post by Elaine Plybon on her blog Cruel Shoes. On her post:
Teaching Truth #7: Bells and Whistles to You May be Same Old to Your Students she asks the question, “…teachers must really look at the technology, say “is this the best way to deliver this instruction?” and know what they are doing.” This made me think about the number of times I have talked to other teachers about things I am doing in my classroom without ever explaining why I choose to do it the way I do. So, I decide that I should write this post and explain how and why I came up with the idea for The Biome Project.

My original idea was driven by the need to give my students a learning experience that they could get really interested in. There was only two weeks of school left and I knew if I didn’t have enough time to introduce something new so I decided to review some of the learning they had from fourth grade. I know students like animals and therefor I chose to go with biomes. I would use biomes to teach biotic and abiotic factors.

I also wanted my students to give an oral presentation of what they learned, and I wanted them to make a physical representation of the biome they researched. I decided to have students create representations of their biomes using cut paper, which I use every year for a weather cycle assessment, or dioramas. This allowed for students to have a choice between how they created their representations.

We had used Voicethread before and many of my students liked to work with the medium. They could narrate their project without having to stand up in front of the class. This allowed students that did not feel comfortable in front of the class a choice. I decided that students would use Voicethread if they chose to use cut paper. I thought two dimensional representations would work better for Voicethread.

Creating video in my classroom is a pretty normal experience and I knew that many students like to be in front of the camera. I chose to have those students make the dioramas. I gave them a pointer to use so they would not be covering the camera and they could point out what they needed to.

Another option I gave them, but one I eventually dropped, was creating travel brochures. I have used this before when I taught my reading unit on the book “Holes” by Louis Sachar. The students were to use the brochures to describe the biotic and abiotic factors for a biome that could be visited. They were to also give an oral presentation that would be video recorded.

I used video and online resources to introduce the biomes we were studying as well as what biotic and abiotic factors could be found in them. Of course I wrote a blog post on the class blog linking the biomes for my students to refer to.

When I gave my students the assignment I created a document using Google Docs. In it I explained the assignment and gave them more links for them to explore. Unfortunately, due to time I decided that creating the travel brochures was too ambitious and so I dropped it as an option. I chose to put the assignment on Google Docs instead of just adding it to the blog because I wanted my students to become aware that it could be used to create word documents that could be accessed online. Hopefully this is something they can remember for future use.

I took pictures of my students working on their projects and created an Animoto video. This is an example of my using technology. This can be a very good motiviation tool because the students know you are taking their picture and it could end up on the blog.

I had given my students a firm date when their projects were due, but I knew that Voicethread can take a lot of time for each student and I only had one computer set up for the students to use. I had students finish their cut paper projects early and I had them do their Voicethreads as they completed them and this helped keep away from a big wait for the computer.

Finally, on the day the dioramas were due I set up a web cam using my laptop and Ustream, a streaming webcam site that I use to stream live video from my classroom every day. Ustream has a record function which I used to record the videos. After a quick briefing of what I wanted them to do, the students stepped up and gave their presentations. Although a few students mixed up biotic and abiotic factors, I thought that overall presentations were excellent.

I created a blog that I linked to the class blog called The Biome Project. I spent a couple hours adding the Voicethreads and the Ustream videos to the blog and tagging them so the students could find them easily. (I did have difficulty with the Ustream videos because of some left out code, but I figured out what I needed to add to the code to make it work. I had the same problem before and that saved me a lot of trouble shooting time.)

There are several lessons I took away from this project. One, students like to have options with their work. Two, students work harder and produce better work when they know there is a larger audience than the peers in their room. Three, although students only directly used technology for research and Voicethread, the technology was a driving part of the assignment. The last thing I learned which has had a big impact on what I want to do is that students need time and access to critically assess each others project. This year all my students will be expected to not only post on a blog, but to comment critcally on other students blogs.

I hope this walk through of the unit helps you think critically about what how you use technology in the classroom. Remember, always use the best tool to meet your students’ needs.

Is Fluency Important?

The University of Oregon has a few web pages devoted to fluency. The explanation is that fluency allows students the ability to focus on the meaning of the word, but only when word calling is automatic. This means that students understand what they read better when they are not having to sound out the words. If you accept this conclusion, the next step is to ask, “How do I teach fluency?”

I don’t remember being taught fluency. I do remember reading along as my teacher read to me. I remember rereading stories over and over again. I even remember doing round-robin reading. I think all these are pretty good strategies. I think that our reading series are obvious ways to teach fluency, if for no other reason than we only have one story a week and can cover it several times and in several ways.

What strategies do you use to teach fluency? Do you think it is an important skill?

Everything Old is New Again (The Rap on Shoolhouse Rock!)

I pulled out my Schoolhouse Rock! dvd last week in class when I was trying to remediate my class in subjects and predicates. I showed then “The Tale of Mr. Morton” which focuses on subjects and predicates. After going through the video a couple times through which I would stop and point out the subject, Mr. Morton, and the predicate, walked up stairs, my students responded with “Oh” and “I get it!”

The next day I gave them a rather simple assessment of subjects and predicates and all but two failed miserably. Obviously they didn’t “get it”.

I think music and video are wonderful teaching tools. They can really emphasize points and help with memorization. (We use “The Preamble” to help our students memorize the Preamble to the Constitution which they recite as part of their public speaking requirements.) Unfortunately, they are not necessarily the best tool when it comes to application of material in new situations. I remember watching the Schoolhouse Rock! videos when I was a child, but I can’t ever remember using them to help me remember anything in grammar, or any other subject. Is it because I failed to make the connection between Saturday cartoons and Monday learning, or is it that it is simply not a natural thing for kids to make those connections?

Whichever the case is, I now realize that if I want them to apply things they learned, they have to learn the material by applying it. Basic knowledge is important, without it we would not be able to learn new things, but critical thinking comes from application, not memorization. Schoolhouse Rock! and other forms of media have their place in the classroom, but they shouldn’t be used as the bridge to travel from basic knowledge to application.

Why I Stream From My Classroom

Ever since I started streaming video of my classroom at NoelTigers.com using Ustream people have asked me why. It really started as a lark. I was in another teacher’s room helping her with a tech problem when I saw a internet cam sitting in her drawer. I asked her what she was using it for and she told me that she had it because of a satellite class that was going to be held in her room that had not panned out. I asked her if I could borrow it and she told me I could have it. I skipped back to me room wondering how I could use my new toy.

After I got it up and running, which took considerable effort because I didn’t have any software to install so I had to find some streaming software to use, I showed my class that I could stream video. At the time it was simply something new and interesting to share with my class.

After hearing about two streaming services on a Leo Laporte podcast I decided to check them out. I looked at Ustream.tv and Stickam.com. I thought they both looked really complicated, but finally chose Ustream because it seemed a little easier to figure out. (I think it still is easier, although Stickam has some compelling tools that you can use too.)

After messing around with Ustream I discovered I could record video. Now I can see a reason to use the webcam, I can record stuff we do in class for the blog. I really like the idea of digital records for my students. Unfortunately, I discovered a big problem. The web cam did not have a built in microphone. So, I can record video, but I can’t record audio. Once again I ran into a roadblock.

A few weeks passed and I put making video’s out of my mind. Soon I received a digital camera that could take video (lousy video) that I could use so I now had no reason to use the web cam.

I don’t really know what really made me think of doing the live stream all the time, It may have had something to do with watching videos of Steve Spangler doing science experiments. Surely watching Chris Pirillo taking skype calls on his net show was part of it. I know some of the seeds were planted when I read Friedman’s The World is Flat and I realized my students needed to think more globally.

Finally, a real reason to stream from my classroom started to form. I wanted to share my classroom with people outside of my school. I wanted my students to show what they were doing to anyone that wanted to see. I wanted a connection to form between my students and the world.

The obvious people coming to watch were parents. Unfortunately, most of my students’ parents don’t have access to computers on the internet. My video stream to this day is still more likely to be seen by someone outside of the United States thanby a parent of one of my students. That is the reality I face.

The natural extension to this is: What does streaming mean for my class? It is a constant reminder that our world does not end at our city limits. It is the means by which my students come to realize our world is literally an internet connection away. It is my way of showing my students they can more than what my town can offer.

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