Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Trip to the Printer

Recently, my 7th grade Adobe Youth Voices students and myself were incredibly humbled and fortunate to be invited by Chicago photographer John Batdorff to his gallery and printing space.  John volunteered his professional expertise and equipment (not to mention his time!) to create high-quality prints of the posters my students had created this past year in tech class.

Below are a few of these amazing graphic design creations.  You can see all eleven of the posters here or read about our creative process in a previous post here.

John gave us a demonstration and explanation of his printing process as he prepared their prints for his equipment.  My students buzzed him with questions about the printing and his amazing photography prints displayed in and around his gallery.  They were fascinated to hear about his world travels with his camera as well as the various photography books he has authored.

The prints turned out truly fantastic, beyond what my students or even myself had honestly hoped for.  The experience gave my students a peek into the world of a professional photographer.  They were able to see a professional artist and author speak about his craft and his passion.  The impression left was strong and I certainly recognize the need and value of connecting my students with professionals in the fields I am instructing them in, particularly with my middle school students with whom I cover a variety of media arts topics.

After the prints were complete and framed, they travelled along with my students a week later to an event showcasing Adobe Youth Voices student work from around Chicago.  You can watch a short, 90-second, film of the event below.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Slow Jams: Familiar Tools, Innovative Ideas

Estimated time according to Read-O-Meter: 2m42s

© David Lenker
All, or at least nearly all, acts of creativity that stand out as culturally or personally esteemed forms of expression are a result of an artist using familiar tools in innovative ways.  This seems to be particularly true of computer/tablet/electronic creations.  Regarding media on the web or that you might see at a conference, typically it is far too easy to pick out the tools used to create the media.  An iMovie title, a Keynote transition, a Powerpoint template (ack!), an Animoto slideshow, an After Effects effect… When you see commonly used tools being used in familiar ways, the result is almost always formulaic.

The memorable standout creations are the ones where you have to stop and say, “Wow, how’d they do that?

This very same thing happens with my students of all ages, from 5 to 14 years old.  It could be a 2nd grader discovering a new font, an 8th grader creating a painting with a new combination of brushes and effects in Photoshop, or a 3rd grader creating a complex animated story in Stykz - - news of an innovative creation travels incredibly quick around the classroom and inspires all who are witness.

GarageBand for Mac OS
Recently I had a wonderful occurrence of this sort of innovative discovery spread amongst one of my 4th grade classes while using GarageBand.  A student used a Loops project to create a song and slow the entire thing down by drastically reducing the tempo in the Project menu (see image below).  It is a very simple change to make, but this one minor change had a drastic effect on the end result.  She was incredibly excited with it when it was complete and invited me over to listen.  Being someone who has heard hundreds, probably thousands, of student-created renditions with the same batch of 300-400 loops, I too became incredibly excited by an entirely new sound.

She exported the song and I copied it to my desktop (with speakers and sub-woofer), and as students were straightening up before leaving I put the song on – without introduction.  One student asked, “Who is this?” as if it was a song from the radio or iPod while most of the rest of the room broke out into dance.  If you’ve never seen a room of 10 year-olds dancing in a computer lab to a GarageBand tune titled “Slow Beat Rock”, you are definitely missing out.

Changing the tempo in GarageBand

As the song finished and they really wanted to know where it came from, I informed them of the artist behind the creation, and instantly the reaction directed at the student was, “Wow, how’d you do that?!”  For the subsequent technology class with that group of 4th graders, I had the student-artist behind the creation teach the class how to slow down, or speed up, their songs in GarageBand.  One of the most valuable things I’ve learned over a few years of teaching is that the most effective teachers in the room are the students themselves.  This occurrence strongly re-enforced that idea for me personally.  Below I’ve shared a few slow jams from that class, of course preceded at the top with the original slow jam that inspired the whole group.  Enjoy!

The original innovation, "Slow Beat Rock"

Slow Beat Rock Inspired #1

Slow Beat Rock Inspired #2

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Students and their Evolving Search for Information

Estimated time according to Read-O-Meter: 2m22s

Recently I introduced first grade students to the online Encyclopedia Britannica as a way to locate information using the computer.  One part of starting this introduction, before ever mentioning the computer, is me asking the group, "Imagine that your teacher asked you find some information about dinosaurs, where would you look to find that information?"

The four individual responses from the group were:
  • "I'd search on the computer."
  • "I would type in 'dinosaurs' in the corner of the Safari."
  • "I'd Google it."
  • "I'd look it up on the iPad."

This was a first in my time as a tech teacher, that six and seven year-olds' first inclination to locate information at school was to simply Google the topic.  In the past, students have always first suggested books as the place to go, but clearly that has changed.  This is certainly not too surprising, as each new year our students are coming in more and more 'connected' via a slew of mobile devices at home, and that change is reflected in their school experience since they have been using iPads and having tech instruction since the first week of Kindergarten.

Search results for 'dinosaurs' on Britannica

After some demonstration of Britannica and a lot of exploration by the students, one student said to me, "I like these pictures and that it will read to me, but I think it's easier to just Google it."  I told the student that easier does not always mean better, but of course the answer is not that simple.  As my students continue to grow with their investigations and inquiries throughout this school year and the years to come, it will be a great benefit to know a variety of online sources of information - Google and Britannica included.

Part of me wants to immediately meet the students with their habits they have already formed in their personal lives, but I know it’s not entirely about that, but instead guiding them towards practices that fit the need and that provide the highest quality results.  In the perfect situation, the information literacy instruction would be powerful and valuable enough to resonate with students when they are outside of the classroom.  For that to happen, they have to see an authentic benefit during their classroom experience and not just think, “at school we have to suffer through Britannica research, but at home I can just Google it.”

Search results for 'dinosaurs' on Google

In this information literacy lesson with first graders concerning Britannica, I don't think I achieved the sort of resonation that will spill into their personal lives just yet.  But now the door is open to a conversation where we can consider together the differences between sources, authors, websites and other online resources.  It will no doubt be a lengthy and continually changing journey, luckily I have always found my primary grade students to be incredibly curious and enthralled with investigation and discovery.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Exploring with Google Earth through Children and their Toys

Estimated reading time according to Read-O-Meter: 2m36s

A few weeks ago I visited an amazing collection of photographs recommended by Jennie Magiera on Twitter.  The photographs were aesthetically stimulating and also provided an incredible amount of insight into the lives and experiences of others around the world from a variety of diverse locations.  Soon after that, Jennie wrote a blog post about sharing the images with her students and the subsequent conversation had on Schoology.

I was inspired myself and made plans to share the photos with my 4th graders the next day.  On a whim, I reached out to Jennie and we made plans to connect our students in a Google Hangout video chat to share our reflections together.  My students were extremely interested in the photographs and could hardly contain their excitement during our video chat.

So what are these photographs?

© Gabriele Galimberti
Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti traveled around the world for 18 months and photographed children with their favorite toys.  He titled the series, "Toy Stories".  There are 34 different children (and locations) from five different continents.  The photographs not only give insight into what children around the world play with, but also something of the children themselves as you see the child in their play space.  Visit his site and see his Toy Stories collection.

After the first lesson, so many students wanted to know where these places were that they were seeing, so I went to Google Earth for help.  Following the tutorial videos from Google, I was able to create a .KMZ file with the images and placemarks embedded in the file (click here to download the .KMZ file, then open it in Google Earth).  When I saw my other 4th grade class the next week, the experience was dramatically different as they could not only browse through only the images, but they could browse the globe in Google Earth and click on the camera icon to see a child with their toys from that place.

Browsing the images in Google Earth
This allowed for two different conversations for my students, the images on their own versus the images on the map.  It was easy when using the map to compare and comment on images from the same region of the world.  Students had a variety of insights and reflections from taking in the images.  Most were surprised that children everywhere had toys like their own.  Many had a strong reaction to the variety of play spaces shown with each child.  The most talked about photographs by far were the few that show children surrounded with toy guns as their favorites.

I did the activity with all of my 4th and 5th grade classrooms and tried a few different methods for an accompanying online conversation:  Edmodo, TodaysMeet and Kidblog.  Each method had it’s own pluses and minuses, and in all honesty the conversations that happened verbally with neighbors were more intriguing as it was everyone’s sudden reaction rather than a planned out written thought.  But the online record provided an opportunity to hear from everyone for both myself as teacher and for all the other students.

Edmodo conversation about Toy Stories

TodaysMeet conversation about Toy Stories

Kidblog conversation about Toy Stories

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Purposeful graphic design with 7th graders

Estimated reading time according to Read-O-Meter: 3m19s

Finished poster painted in Photoshop by a 7th grade student

This year for Adobe Youth Voices (AYV) with my 50 seventh grade students I have focused a lot of technology instruction on Photoshop and a few relevant graphic design techniques using that software.  This was a very lengthy process for me and my students, but I believe they gained a lot valuable technical and design knowledge while I learned many lessons in project management for this number of students.

After a handful of technical lessons with the software, we dug into the AYV program by looking at successful projects from past years.  A successful AYV project is one that has a clear message, an intended audience, expresses youth voice, and showcases creativity and innovation with the software.

View some of last year's award winners

Next I wanted to help students find an issue or cause that they were particularly concerned with.  For some students, this is simple and apparent while others benefit from guidance and suggestions.  I had students do some private free writing and then go through and highlight words or thoughts that stood out to them as important.  Students then filled out an anonymous Google Form where I asked them three questions:

  • What topics are you concerned about in the world?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are you worried about or what pressures are you facing?

Having that questionnaire be anonymous greatly helped me discover what themes or trends they were really engaged with; and three trends emerged:  friends/cliques, bullying, and getting into their chosen high school.  As a specials teacher, I only see my students one time each week and it is challenging to develop the kind of trust needed to openly speak with ALL students about their personal life concerns – so an anonymous Google Form was extremely helpful.

After students decided a topic, they began planning the design for an 11”x17” poster on their chosen message.  Some students worked purely with brushes and text to create an original design and message, some found Creative Commons-licensed images and manipulated them in Photoshop to remix as their own, and some took original photographs to use in the creation of their poster.

A Creative-Commons photograph remixed in Photoshop by a 7th grade student

After a few classes of working with images, I showed them Karen Kavett videos about typography to get them thinking deeper about the typefaces they ultimately choose.  At the end of every class students shared in small table groups their creations and changes in order to give and receive feedback.  It took a bit longer than I had planned, but all students eventually wrapped up the design and creation of their original poster.

After everyone was finished, myself and another teacher selected 12 posters from the group of 50 that we thought should be submitted to this year’s Aspire Awards.  Those posters, though “turned in”, now needed a lot of fixing of details both big and small, as well as written artist statements.  That is where we currently are in the process, I am working with 12 students after school to refine and write.

Revisions of a student's poster (original at top, finished at bottom)

I learned valuable lessons from this experience that I will definitely apply to similar situations in the future.  The first is that when doing 50 different projects that are artistic and technical, it is vital to include peer feedback consistently throughout the process.  This saved time and students became skillful at it once we began practicing a quick critique at the end of class.  The second is that although it was wonderful to tell students they could create anything they wanted, in practice it ruined some students’ ideas from the start.  I should have seen that some ideas were too ambitious for the time we have and in the future I will give more guidelines as to what specifically can be accomplished in the amount of time we have during tech classes.

I can’t wait to share their finished posters in the next few weeks and wish them the best of luck in the Aspire Awards!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Use a camera in your classroom everyday!

Estimated reading time according to Read-O-Meter: 4m23s

CC-BY-SA-2.5 Nicolás García
Cameras continue to become increasingly ubiquitous in 21st century life.  They exist in a variety of forms and formats, but they can be found everywhere.  Traditional formats still exist in digital point-and-shoots and DSLRs, but cameras are much more present in our daily lives as a feature on tablets, MP3 players, portable video games and mobile phones.

So what?  Well as camera technology has infused our daily lives, so too should it be infusing your classroom on a daily basis!  Using cameras in the classroom is certainly not new, but with the emergence of cameras that are more accessible and services that make sharing or archiving simpler, I encourage you to reassess how often a camera is put to use in your classroom, and below you will find a few suggestions.

If you have a tablet or phone with a camera, these items are probably never too far out of reach throughout the school day.  These ever-present cameras are extremely handy for archiving a variety of classroom items:  anchor charts, bulletin boards, your neatly organized classroom library, handouts from professional development, paper schedules, and student work done on paper to name only a few.

Pointing your camera at a piece of paper might feel unusual at first, but even the relatively low-quality camera on the back of an iPad 2 captures the details well enough to reference later.  Personally, I use my phone for this purpose.  The beauty of having documents (which were either created on paper or delivered only on paper) all “scanned” on my phone is that I always have access to them wherever I might be working.

Student Portfolios
Digital portfolios are becoming increasingly common, Evernote being one tool educators are using to have students freely and easily maintain a portfolio (or, explained in video).  If you are a 1:1 device classroom, the cameras on a tablet, laptop or Chromebook not only allow your students to snap a photograph of their paper work, but they also can sit in their device’s “photo booth” and record a video explaining their thinking or offering reflections.

Photography as Art
A camera in the hands of your students opens up an entirely different form of creative expression through photography.  In my own experience, I have found photography to be an excellent way for all students to become engaged in artistic expression and starting to consider elements of visual literacy.  Students, and people in general, tend to lump themselves into groups like, “I can’t draw” or, “I don’t sing.”  Hand them a camera though and teach them a few composition guidelines and suddenly you have 30 little Ansel Adams’ in your midst.  Here is some excellent photography work done by my students, which I generally teach as a unit in 2nd, 5th and 7th grades.

Family Connection
As teachers, we all have heard from parents that when they ask their child what they did at school today, they receive a vague response like, “Stuff” or, “Different things.”  Generally in the past teachers have been able to share classroom photographs by taking the time to connect a digital camera to a computer, transfer the photos, pick out the ones worth sharing, then upload them to a classroom webpage.

Enter ShutterCal.  ShutterCal is an online daily photo calendar and is one of many solutions to the time-consuming ways of the past.  It is totally free, although it does offer advanced privacy features for a small fee.  ShutterCal can be used from a computer, but the true time saver is if you have an iOS device in your classroom with the free ShutterCal app.  In less than a minute, you can easily share a daily photo to your ShutterCal calendar and have it automatically displayed on your classroom homepage as well – without ever touching a computer or taking out any cords.  If you are truly brilliant, like my colleague Katie Muhtaris, you could create a class job for a student to snap the daily photo and upload it from their iPad.

Things to Consider
If you have any intention of the photographs you snap of your students or of their work being shared beyond your classroom walls, be sure you are in compliance with school and district policies.  In my case, there are district policies in place and at our school we send home a media release form to every student at the beginning of the school year.  I keep a list handy of students whose families have declined consent or have not returned the form and I do not share any photographs or work of those students publicly online.

A Good Classroom Camera
Beyond the tablets or phones you or your students have in your classroom, a dedicated digital camera is still an excellent tool to have available.  I would like to explain all of this in more detail in a future post, but basically I believe a good classroom camera should be able to take decent photographs, record acceptable videos, and have macro photography capability.  Cost is always an issue, so one option I’d suggest is the Canon Powershot A1200 which fits all three points above and at the time of posting costs only $90.

Questions or suggestions on other classroom camera connections, please share them in the comments!  Now, go forth and photograph!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sharing Student Work

It has been many months since I've taken the time to sit down and write a blog post, but the ICE Conference came and went (too quickly!) and has re-energized my thirst for both absorbing and sharing.  In particular, I attended a spectacular breakout session led by Pernille Ripp all about blogging - - students blogging, teachers blogging, personal blogging.  It was a heartfelt call to action and I know I wasn't the only one who left her sessions inspired.

Although I have not shared anything new here since the start of school year, I have been busily updating and sharing a Digital Showcase which features my students' work from Tech Classes and after school Tech Clubs. Collecting student work has been incredibly easy for me ever since I realized I could search and copy from all 32 computers in my classroom at the same time using Remote Desktop.

Burley School Digital Showcase

I added a link to the Burley School Digital Showcase in the right sidebar, please visit and feel free to provide feedback to my students!  Though I am the one posting the work, they frequently look at the site and of course I direct them there as soon as their work receives feedback.  I just added a fresh round of Stykz animation movies with full soundtracks created by my 3rd-5th grade after school Tech Club - check it out!