Monday, June 22, 2015

Storytime with StoryKit

Sometimes the simplest apps can make the most powerful lessons.

A few weeks ago, I was brainstorming a lesson with a 7th grade Life Science teacher at my school. She had a unit on symbiosis coming up and she wanted to assess the students in a new way. We bounced around a lot of ideas: green screens, music videos, cartooning sites but what we landed on was StoryKit. StoryKit is a free app from the folks at the International Children's Digital Library (which is a great resource in itself if you aren't already familiar with it!).

StoryKit lets you create a digital book. For images, you can draw your own, import from the web or use your camera roll. You can simply add text with a text box. You can arrange and format the images and text as you like. A great feature of StoryKit is that you can add audio. Just click and record yourself reading the story out loud. You can even record word by word or sentence by sentence! This was just what we were looking for, a tool that let's the students' creativity shine without too many features or distractions in the creation. And... and.... what if we planned on reading the stories to an 2nd grade class at a nearby elementary school?

My job was to introduce the tool which was easy because StoryKit is so intuitive. I just walked the kids through the features and made a silly story as a sample. Students literally had no technical questions or problems. If there weren't sure how to do something, they quickly figured it out or asked a friend. It was seamless.

Their stories were fantastic. The teacher assigned a symbiotic relationship to each group of students. The task for the group was to write a children's story that told a story about that relationship. She made a model first to show them and reinforced Language Arts skills by using the same story graph that their Language Arts teacher had used with them earlier. Kids came up with adorable ideas and clever plot twists to demonstrate what they knew about symbiosis. And the best stories would go in person to an elementary school to read to a class. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Sloth and Algae Reunite
Lola and Charlie
Sandy and Randy's Adventure: Lost at Sea

I might have loved these stories, but the 2nd graders loved them even more. We had a great morning where the 7th graders first had to explain the four types of symbiotic relationships in 2nd grade terms (smiley faces did the trick) and then read their stories in small groups. The 2nd graders learned so much - they could identify the type of relationship in every story. And the 7th graders learned so much - how to explain what they know in a compelling, interesting and memorable way.

What I learned from this lesson:

  1. The simplest apps are often the best
  2. Having a real audience for school work results in better school work
  3. Asking students to explain what they know in simple terms demonstrates whether they know or understand an idea
  4. 7th graders are their best selves for 2nd graders
  5. Kids learn when we tell and share stories
And guess what app the 2nd graders asked to use next time they could use iPads?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

3D Printing in Social Studies

People who know me know I've been talking about 3D printing for years. I get giddy when I think about how accessible 3D printing has become and that my children are growing up in a world where they can print their own tools, toys and trinkets. Therefore I was over the moon when my director purchased a 3D printer for us to bring into the schools where we work.

I had one teacher who was interested right away. A sixth grade social studies teacher had been going through our technology professional development program, Teacher Leadership Program, and was looking for a project he could dig into. Together we developed an idea to have his students design a coin about one of the first five presidents (a topic directly from our state standards). Each class would vote on the best design and then we would print the best ones.

There was a serious buzz in the room when I brought the 3D printer in. We have a Makerbot Replicator Mini which is compact and light-weight, so I carried it into the room myself. Students were full of comments and questions:
  • "It's smaller than I thought it be."
  • "How much did it cost?"
  • "How long does it take to print?"
  • "I want one!"
First I reviewed some key aspects of the software we were going to use to design the coin. We decided to use 3D Tin by Lagoa. This software allows students to log in with a Google account and since our school has Google accounts, this was perfect. 3D Tin has some great starter tutorials as well so students were encouraged to watch several of these before getting started. Students took to the software well and taught each other many of the less intuitive aspects of the program. 

Designing in 3D is definitely easier for some students than others. Some got frustrated quickly while others drew complicated objects while I was still getting some students logged in. Showing students how to return to a home view or rotate objects were two key techniques.

What I loved about this lesson was that students got more creative due to some of the limits of the program. They drew images using small blocks (like one might in Minecraft). They got more symbolic than they might have been given other projects where they could copy and paste images or long passages of text. I also loved how they inspired each other. One students would figure out how to draw, say, the Washington Monument, and suddenly you'd see others working on a drawing of the Capitol. Our English Language Learners did fabulously with this lesson. Since most of the modeling is visual, they had no problem creating great images for their coins.

I also loved all the natural curiosity the 3D printer brought out. Students started showing up before school and during lunch to watch it print or to ask questions about how it worked. Some students that aren't your typical high achieving or tech-geeky students were the best at finding creative ways to make their 3D model or to help out with the printing process. My heart is always lifted by lessons that draw new students into the learning process.