Starting From Scratch

A Return to the Beginning

What ever happened to a blank, white piece of paper?  Why is it that every app or tech tool claiming to inspire creativity simply has the user fill in a template?

I’ve recently switched jobs, and in the process (thanks in part to @sadieclorinda), have become enamored of a couple of concepts, one of which is teaching students the design process with the end user in mind. Instead of simply assigning a PowerPoint project where the students choose a template and cram each slide with as many facts as possible, have them think first of the end user.  What will their experience be like? What types of presentations do they like to view, and why?

One of the first steps is to toss the word ‘project’ and replace it with ‘product’.

The next step is to have them go through the design process, and start with blank slides (or docs, or whatever), thinking about what mood they want to portray, the feelings they want to convey to the audience.  Then, they can match color scheme with fonts and layout to create a product that is pleasing to the end user.

As an example, here is how I would make a slide that would present my winter haiku

Step 1: Write Haiku

blizzards swirling ’round / erasing summer palettes / blinding I now see

The message I want to convey is confusion, cold, with limited color.

Step 2: Find my Palette

There are color palettes already chosen in just about every creative tool, but what’s the fun in that? My new favorite tech tools are the palette generators.  I use Adobe Capture for my phone, and coloors.co for my desktop.  Nature seems to do a bang up job of combining colors, so if you take a picture of something in Nature, the color combination should be a winner.  Today, I took a picture of the morning sky with its great cool colors, and put it in Adobe Capture:

WinterSky_Palette

Then, I thought about font.  I like the idea of pairing two contrasting fonts, one to show the swirling snow (a script font) and another to show the weight of blindness and the feeling of loss of control and color (a bold headline font).

Font_Pairings

Then, on a Google Slide, I can easily arrange all my elements (a GSlide is much easier for this than a GDoc!).  Normally, I would use Canva.com, but I’m using what a student would likely have as part of their Google Classroom toolbox.

Blizzards

In making this slide, I actually lightened the lights, and darkened the dark since I couldn’t alter the transparency of the photograph.

Looking at the finished product, I wouldn’t give myself a good grade for finding a photograph that illustrated the poem (or in this case, writing a poem that fit the photo!).  BUT, I started from scratch, and used the design process to visualize what I wanted the end user to view.

***LATER***

OK. So, I gave it back to myself and redid it – just as I would expect a student to do.

Blizzards (2)

 

Another perk to starting from scratch is that everything here is my own work, so I don’t have to worry about copyright!

 

 

 

 

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Google Hangouts for Lunchtime PD

The Literacy Coach and I put our deviously creative hats on to come up with a new form of Professional Development.  We developed a semi-monthly, 30-minute session that repeats three times during lunch from 11:00 – 12:30.  So far there have been five dates, and the fifth one which occurred today, was the most successful by far.

The Technology

Photo: roe17.org

Photo: roe17.org

We chose Google Hangouts for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s on everyone’s classroom computer.  It’s also an amazingly simple tool to use, and one that I think the staff could really use, considering we have seven buildings (8 if you count the District Office).  However, it’s a hard concept to demonstrate and fully understand the potential without actually participating.  And goodness knows I already make enough videos that they don’t watch.

The Content

Google Hangouts provides the framework, but the content had to come from elsewhere, and where better to look than other district-wide initiatives.  The Literacy Coach in our district is amazing: 30+ years of elementary teaching experience in all grades, not to mention a growth mindset like nobody has every seen.  She was always trying new styles, techniques, and ideas while in the classroom and hasn’t stopped.  She and I brainstormed about what teachers still weren’t ‘getting’ when it came to Daily 5/CAFE implementation, and also what they might like to learn with PARCC (our annual Common Core Standardized Test) on the horizon.

  • GHO #1 – Classroom Innovation
  • GHO #2 – Vocabulary Instruction
  • GHO #3 – Citing Evidence
  • GHO #4 – Paired Texts
  • GHO #5 – Constructed Responses on PARCC

The Details

Ms. Witkus and I created a Google Doc in advance, and developed an agenda, complete with questions and resources that we could share out through the Chat feature.

We wanted a safe topic for our first one, since we realized people were really going to be learning how to use GHO.  We added Vocab Instruction because a mutual pet peeve is the use of DOL (Daily Oral Language) by the many of the reading teachers, and the fact that some of the vocabulary lists that students learn every week contain words for no apparent reason (but I digress…).

The next three topics cover Common Core skills that seem to be difficult to teach.  Citing evidence correctly at the secondary level is easy, because your school follows a specific format, like MLA or APA.  However, at the elementary level, where citation is introduced, can be more tricky:  how do you know what proper citation for a 3rd grader is compared to a 5th, for example? Paired texts seems easy to accomplish with such websites as ReadWorks, but I think many teachers have a fear of, or don’t like to, create their own material.  Therefore, we thought it beneficial to introduce some online resources for Paired Texts.

Finally, helping kids write Constructed Responses for the PARCC is huge.  As I assist teachers in the computer labs as their practice PARCC with their kiddos, MANY students get to that question, and then write a two- or three-sentence response. Not cool. So, Ms. Witkus shared some lesson ideas to get kids writing daily, especially with responses to informational text (say in science or social studies) that kids finish in 30 – 40 minutes. I then jumped in with a plan to help students actually complete a constructed response, the crux or which was for them to use the scratch paper explicitly allowed in the directions to make an outline at the very least, and an outline with textual evidence source as better yet.

The Reflection

The first two GHOs were held for an hour after school.  I suggested an hour, because Twitter chats generally last that long, and I have been in several that FLY by.  However, attendance seemed low to us, and feedback indicated that many teachers would like to join, but had family obligations after school.  Therefore, we decided to move it to the lunch.  Better, but still not where we would like it.

It seems best if we divide and conquer, too.  If we are in different buildings, and can drum up business in each of THOSE buildings, we have better attendance.

Topics with immediate relevance seem to elicit better attendance as well.

The Future

With every session, more people have experienced GHOs.  At the end of the year, Ms. Witkus and I will look at attendance stats and determine if the Return on Investment was really worth the effort.

Have you ever used Google Hangouts for PD?  I would enjoy reading about your experience.

TextHelp: One of the New Add-Ons in GDocs

This week, a powerful new feature appeared on Google Docs.  You and your students can now run little sub-programs called ‘scripts’ on your Documents. These scripts can be found in the new ‘Add-ons’  button located in the main ribbon:
Add-ons new
There are tools in there for making bibliographies, adding charts, making labels, flowcharts/mindmaps, tables of contents, and even for writing music.  The one that caught my eye is the highlighting tool called TextHelp.
TextHelp
Students can highlight parts of a text in different colors, and then this script will collect the different colored highlights together in a new document. Check out this page of suggestions on how to use this in the classroom.
How else could this be used with students?