Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Two Minute Tech - Becoming a Bookmark Baller

Did you know you can save dozens of your bookmarks, right in the top of your Chrome Browser? It makes it so easy to have all your favorite websites handy and available at a moment's notice! Check out this week's Two Minute Tech Tip to find out how it works!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Baby's First Podcast Studio: Google Slides

I know that podcasts are totally exploding right now. Everyone has a podcast! And it's awesome! I think it's wonderful that anyone that has a story to tell or an idea to share can put it out so easily for the world to see. And the amazing thing about podcasts is that they are super easy to create. They require just a microphone and a basic way to present media. No cameras, no fancy-schmancy editing, just good old fashioned recording.

Since it's so easy to create and share a podcast, what better medium to have our students share their own ideas and stories? Over the past few months I have been working with students on creating their own podcasts. First I looked into some popular tools like Soundcloud, Anchor, or even iTunes. Because of technology and privacy concerns, none of this worked. So then I thought -- we have Chromebooks and Google -- how can I have students create their own audio stories with these tools? The answer was simple! Google Slides!

You might remember I did a post a while back covering how you can "edit" videos with Google Slides. I decided to use the same premise here, only augmenting the process with a few other tools.

Read on to see out how we make student podcasting simple with Google Slides and Screencastify.

First, we need to plan out our podcast. For this project, students were discussing books, so we created this Book Podcast Organizer. Once you had it planned out, then we would proceed to record. For this, I had students use Screencastify -- for a few reasons. One, every student already has it on their Chromebook, and the videos you record drop automatically into your drive. No moving files around makes us all very happy.

Now you might be wondering why I use Screencastify, a screen recorder, to record a podcast. Well, it's simple really -- Google Slides allows us to embed video, not audio. And we can record a video of ourselves talking and pop that into a Google Slide to simulate an audio track.

You can just have students turn their webcam off. Really, they just need to have their microphone on. Screencastify can either record their screen or their camera, doesn't matter -- the key is the microphone audio.

At this point, with visuals being inconsequential, you are essentially recording an audio track. This is great for those kids that get hung up on people seeing their pictures, or don't want video of themselves out on the internet (and these are completely valid concerns for my students).

Next, you record your audio. For our book project I had students work in pairs and have a structured conversation about their books using the aforementioned organizer. All the while, they are recording the entire thing. Some kids can do it in one take. Others goof up all the time. Either way, I tell the students to never stop recording -- we can use the slides to clip the pieces together later if we need to, like I discuss in my video editing blog post here.

Another thing I have students do is enable "Tab Audio" while they are recording, this way, they can use YouTube Audio Library sounds and music as transition bumpers. This adds a level of professionalism and personality and goes above and beyond simple dialogue. And since I stress with students to complete work that is artfully done with high quality, this is a simple way to help make that happen with our podcasts.

Once the audio is recorded, we just need to embed it into the slide. That process is very simple. Since Screencastify backs up your videos to Google Drive, all you need to do is go into your slide, and insert the video file directly.

With the audio in the slide, all you need to do now is create your "player". The nice thing about a lot of podcasts on the web is that you can embed a clickable version of the podcast or individual episodes right into most websites. And we can simulate this quite easily with Google Slides. A happy coincidence of inserting videos into slides is that it adds a play button to the inserted video. This looks a lot like the play buttons on most embedded video and audio players. We use that to our advantage. We'll just design a little scaffold so folks know where they need to click....

With our podcast now complete inside of Google Slides, we can embed it! When we made our class versions, we created a class Google Site to share them all, but they all end up looking like the embedded example I made for students below:

And here's a student example with a bit of a different design:

And here's a link to the whole class's podcast series: Class Book Recommendations.

These came out AMAZING! The students loved them and it was a simple and safe way to simulate podcasting with younger students. The best part is that they were able to take content they were going to be working with in class and make a digital project that covered the same information. This really hit the sweet spot for digital integration. If you are looking for a safe and fun way to have your students or class start their own podcast, definitely consider using Google Slides and Screencastify to do the job.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Six Principles for Classroom Discussion

I was in an ELA classroom a few days ago listening to students engaged in a discussion. I am always surprised to hear student led discussions in classrooms, because they vary wildly based on the teacher and the content. In this particular conversation, students were discussing Facebook and the issues with privacy being breached and user data being misappropriated. Very quickly things got personal and uncomfortable. There was a total breakdown in discourse because the students weren't on the same page with how classroom discussions should be managed.

I taught ELA for several years at the middle school level, and for most of those years student led discussions intimidated me quite a bit. That was until I realized that, like any other student behavior, I need to teach appropriate behaviors of discussion to ensure that students interact appropriate in that setting. Here are the six principles of discussion that I shared with my students:

1. Dignity

Above all, when we have discussions in our classrooms, we treat each other in a dignified way. This means we honor and respect others, regardless of what they think or how different their ideas or opinions are. With my 7th graders this was often a struggle, because when an argument falls apart, it's easy to resort to name calling or immature bickering. I want students to feel passionately about what they believe in and argue with conviction, but there can be no tolerance for disrespecting a classmate over a difference of opinion.

2. Listening

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen Covey.

People, in general, don't listen to understand. We listen to RESPOND. We already think we are right, so there's no incentive to listen. We are oriented to make you understand our side rather than listening to understand yours. This is usually what breaks down most classroom discussions. Students stop listening because they only want to respond and attack. It takes a lot of time and practice to learn how to actively listen while another human being is speaking. Something I often required my students to do was to keep notes about other people's thoughts, and use those words to start their reply. For example, "I hear you're saying ----------, but I believe --------". Sometimes hearing the words out of your own mouth helps make them real to you. Sometimes having to fit your words into the actual context of another's argument can make you rethink what you were going to say. It's makes listening a far more valuable tool.

3. Equality

Everyone in the room has an opinion. And we are obligated to listen to every opinion equally. As teachers we totally understand this -- students share their harebrained schemes and half baked ideas with us all the time. Teachers have unending patience to listen to wackiness. But students can go from zero to indignant very fast. We must model for students that we consider every idea before dismissing it out of hand. Think critically about it. Question it. Ask for clarification. But never allow someone to be shut down just because in your heart you believe an idea has no merit.

4. Question

In my opinion, students are getting worse at asking questions every year. They just don't seem to be curious, interested in truth, or care to have things clarified. They are either accepting things as they are, or too lazy to try and know more. This is probably a reflection of the way we teach. We must do more to push students to ask more questions, particularly when in discussions with each other. When we don't agree, we should ask questions about why you believe what you do. We should SEEK understanding rather than to win an argument. The only way we can understand each other is if we ask more questions in those moments of discussion.

5. Disagree

While we should seek to understand and we should have an appreciation for those who think differently than us, we should also be unafraid to disagree. Not every discussion has to have a winner and a loser. The true power of discussion comes from the exchange of ideas given with respect to the opinions and feelings of those on the other side. Growth happens within the simple experience of the discussion.

6. Change

Even if your conviction is strong, if you realize you are wrong or you witness an undeniable truth that completely changes the footing of your own argument, it's totally acceptable to change your mind. There is little to be gained from holding on to a belief that has been proven demonstrably false or incorrect. And you're only making things needlessly personal by doing so. 

Practicing these principles with students didn't ensure productive conversation 100% of the time, but I would say we were generally successful in having respectful discourse most of the time. The most important thing here is that you shouldn't magically expect students to be able to have discussion and debate without preparation and practice, especially when those debates are led by fellow students. Find some structure to allow your students to work within and you'll see a dramatic improvement in the conversation in your classroom.