Friday, October 5, 2012

See How Easily You Can Teach Tone

I slammed my hand down on the desk.

"What are you doing?" I bellowed.

Frozen, terrified students stared at me, looked at their classmates and back to me.  Shock swallowed their breath and turned every fiber of attention to me, the psychotic teacher, standing in the middle of the room.

I stood up, waited another moment and then asked, "How did my tone affect your mood?"

A collective sigh lifted the tension, numerous hands went to chests and a few "Oh my Gods" slipped into the growing murmur of relief.

That's how we started talking about the concept of tone and mood.  The key idea being that an author's tone can affect your mood.  Often times students confuse the two ideas because they are so closely related so I wanted a concrete, shared experience that we could all refer to if there was any confusion between tone and mood.

That was about two weeks ago.  The students still talk about my tone that day.  They laugh about it now, though I still notice a hint of nervousness in their chuckles.

Students in sixth grade have to analyze pieces of literature for the tone the author used in a particular piece of writing.  It is a skill that is often tested on our state assessment, as I am sure it is in other states.  Also, in seventh grade, students have to be able to create well written responses to prompts using text evidence to support their viewpoint.

This has been a difficult concept for me to teach in the past.  This year I mashed together a continuum of lessons that builds towards those ideas.  So far I am very happy with the results.  Of course it all started with a very concrete understanding.

Analysis of Art - Transmediation

To help children develop their creativity I look for ways to blend my content with other disciplines. With the internet it has become easy to share the art work of great artists with my students. Which makes it much easier to begin the process of transmediation, the process of recreating meaning of a text from one medium to another. In these lessons students will recreate meaning from a painting by observing, interpreting and creating their own art interpretations that display the tone of a written piece of text.

As with any new process, we have to scaffold the learning. My goal is not so much to teach them how to analyze for tone (important ELA skills) but to develop the universal process of observe, interpret and create. There are many beautiful pictures that lead wonderful discussion like these ones from Winslow Homer painted in the late 1890's.
After the Hurricane, Winslow Homer, 1899

A great way to get started is with this lesson idea from which introduces the students to the ideas of finding implicit and explicit details in art. 

Portrait of Dr. Gachet, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Students observe the portrait and interpret how Dr. Gachet is feeling.  His feeling, or the tone of the piece, is an implicit detail, the evidence to support that thinking are the explicit details.  The students often say that Dr. Gachet is sad.  The tone of the portrait is sadness.  That is an implicit detail, the students have inferred or interpreted that he is feeling sad based on their observations.  Then the students have to find the explicit evidence to prove that he is sad:  his frown, the dark colors, the hand on his face, his droopy eyes.

When students are finished they can begin to compose or create a short paragraph to describe the tone of the painting.  The implicit detail is the topic sentence.  The explicit details are the supporting sentences.  Very structured, well-thought out and meets the goals of our state learning objectives.  But with my students I wanted to continue to go deeper with the idea and to also show them that a well written paragraph is not always the end all be all of our class.

Analysis of Tones in Videogames

Motivating students often comes form tying into their interests.  Looking at outstanding art has its place, students need to be exposed to the work of the master artists.  But looking at still pictures can only hold their attention for so long.  (I wrote about keeping students attention in this blog post last year) So the next level of tone analysis tapped into their love of videogames, it could also include movie trailers as well.

The lesson comes from and requires students to watch video game trailers and analyze the tone of the trailer.

Using what the students learned from analyzing art, they watch the videos two or three times, use their tone word list to identify a suitable tone (implicit detail) and then find three explicit details from the video to support their thinking.
The Limbo preview leaves much more of an impact on them than Little Big Planet 2.  Some students will begin to put their hands over their ears when the musical dissonance increases towards the middle of the clip. Ori and the Blind Forest can be broken into segments, allowing students to analyze how the tone of a piece of text can change as the story progresses.
There is a high level of engagement when students are watching these previews and it is easy for them to remember their writing lessons from Dr. Gachet:  implicit is the topic sentence and explicit is the supporting sentences.
Analysis of Tone in Literature
The next piece was to take the concepts of tone and analyze written work; at least that is what the state wants us to do.  
Until now the students had been practicing in their notebooks with me walking around, spot checking their work.  I wanted a  quick way to gather data on their writing without taking home 140 sheets of paper. 
Thank you Google Forms.  I created a form and embedded it on my class website.  The form begins with a quick review of the concept of tone.  Then students read a short paragraph and write a well-formatted paragraph explaining their perspective on the tone of the paragraph.
When the students submit their form I get a spreadsheet that looks like this:
Now I can quickly assess how my students are doing with the concepts of tone and explicit and implicit details.
But like I said earlier, I do not want well structured paragraph writing to be the highest pinnacle of academic achievement in my room.  So enter one last piece to the puzzle:  humumet.  A concept I discovered while reading a post from a classroom blog that is no longer online.
Students skim The Conch Bearer for passages that display obvious tones. Students identify the tone (implicit detail), and then identify words (explicit details) on the page that could be used to create the tone. They circle these words and then use art to edit out all the other words on the page with a picture that matches the new tone and/or narrative. Their work as an artist is to create an atmosphere in images that matches the words on the page; thesis statement as picture.
Below are examples of some of the work done in my class. I think you should be able to infer the tone based on their art and the words they chose.
My students still need more practice with writing well structured paragraphs based on analysis of an author's tone.  But I can honestly say that my students this year have a much better grasp of the difference between tone and mood and how explicit details work to explain implicit details. 
It all ties back to transmediation the process of observing, interpreting and creating. For more in depth lesson ideas and full unit descriptions pick up a copy of Stand Up! Speak Out! The Social Action Curriculum for Building 21st-Century Skills available from Prufrock Press and Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Teaching Design Thinking: Week One is in the Books

Tina Seeling writes in her new book inGenius that we keep telling our students that they can always invent their future but we ignore the fact that the heart of invention is creativity.  We do not teach creativity in schools.  We are selling our students an empty promise.

This year I have the unique challenge and thrill of teaching seventh and eighth grade students about creativity and problem solving.  For almost a decade I have been coaching students for creative problem solving competitions for Destination Imagination and Future Problem Solving.  However this is the first time I have had to design a class around those principles.

Thankfully creative people are so open to sharing.  I am borrowing heavily from the Stanford K-12 site and from numerous e-mails to the Texas A&M University Institute for Applied Creativity.

My challenge this week was to embed two fundamental tenets of the class:  the opportunity for innovation is everywhere and to be a great problem solver you have to look at the challenge from different perspectives.

To begin our discussion on perspectives I used the Marshmallow Challenge.  I have used this challenge in class for a couple of years for a break away from the routine of school.  This year I used it to give the class a shared experience on the importance of perspective in problem solving.

I had eight groups of children attempt the challenge on Thursday, only three groups had a standing structure at the end of the eighteen minute time limit.  The lesson:  You forgot about the marshmallow.

The key to solving the challenge is to start with the marshmallow and build the structure from there.  The marshmallow is a metaphor for the people we are solving problems for - we can never forget to take their perspective into account when designing solutions to their problems.

We did the exact same challenge on Friday and seven of the eight groups had standing structures with the tallest being 24.5 inches.  They started with the marshmallow and worked their way down.

For homework this week the class had to post their reflections on the first week of class.  Here are their thoughts on the impact of the marshmallow challenge:

I learned that when solving problems, you should always be thinking about the person you're solving them for. 

In this past week I have learned to work better with others and--in the case of the marshmallow challenge--"always put the customer on top" (haha).

I learned that you should always be open minded and make several prototypes before the ta-da moment.

Also I learned that everything we build has a marshmallow, all designs and innovations should cater to the customer, and that design plans should include several prototypes.

We learned that good design has to go through many prototypes before reaching the final product, and that throughout the designing process the customer must always be kept in mind.

As the year goes on we will keep building on these concepts:  the world is ripe for innovation, fail fast and fail often and most importantly never forget the marshmallow.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tech Integration - An Easy First Step

This a great post by Bill Ferriter a sixth grade ELA teacher from North Carolina. He posts a sentiment I have long agreed with:  technology has promised to fix education for 25 years and it has yet to do so. The only thing that will is great teaching.

What kids want is to be social, to share and to work together - is that really any surprise?  That is how we are hard wired to survive, that's how humanity evolved, in tribes - live together or die alone.

So the biggest tech improvement I think any teacher can make this year is the most basic:  move the desks. Allow conversation, allow collaboration. Then once you get to know the students, add in the technology that would best fit their needs; not the other way around.

My principal shared our state testing results earlier this week.  If my districts annual state test scores showed anything it's what we already know:  the kids are dying alone. Moving the desks together and allowing conversation isn't going to lower our scores.

When I am evaluated this school year on tech integration in my classroom I hope my evaluator takes into account that I integrate technology everyday. I leverage the power of sharing and communicating; our species greatest innovation.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Leveraging Hope

There is one universal constant that will hold true for as long as we continue to use the current model of education:  there is no day of school like the first day of school.

Is it because of the weird schedule and near fanaticism to get our first day attendance right?  Is it chemical induced euphoria created by the scent of all the new markers? Is it the awe inspired by perfect rows of unused crayons? Flat, pristine paper?  Is it the extra long lunches that give teachers just a few more minutes to catch their breath?  Is it the secret joy the teachers hold knowing the parents have homework filling out all the forms and cards? Is it because they only job of a school on the first day is to get them in, get them fed, get them home?

All those are good reasons why the first day is so abstractly different than any other day of the year.  But, what really makes the first day special is the one thing we can't see:  hope.

Every human being who walks into a school building on the first day of school is hopeful.  The slate has been wiped clean, we have all been given a fresh start.  We hope that we can be better teachers, better parents, better students, better administrators, better ____________________.

Our challenge, as communities, is to keep the hope alive in the building as long as possible.  How do we leverage hope?

It always starts with building relationships, communicating, talking to others, walking a mile in their shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, empathy, perspective, taking a different POV.

I read a great blog post by seventh grade history teacher Elizabeth Miller about how she is connecting with students on the first day of school.  Read her post, it's brilliant.  I already plan to steal parts of it.

The key to Elizabeth's idea and what I have done in my classroom, which I will share in a moment, is that the students have a chance to communicate.  We keep forgetting, as a society and a system, that human beings are meaning makers.  And we make meaning in a tribal setting.  Banding together, working together, surviving together is hard wired into our DNA.  You remember the old adage:  live together, die alone.  It's the same with school.  Students want to share, to talk, to collaborate and technology gives us one platform to live together.  Unfortunately we have created too many classrooms where students are dying alone; trapped in their own development.

In order to build on my students sense of hope I did three things:
  • introduced myself to my students
  • asked them to tell me about themselves
  • sent a "letter of welcome" to each of their homes

The Introduction
Transitioning from elementary school to middle school is a big deal!  It is.  So I began my introduction with where I was 30 years ago, as a sixth grader in the early eighties and built from there.  Before a student ever steps foot in my class they know me.  Maybe, just maybe I have made them a little more hopeful about the upcoming school year.

The Survey

I created a Google Form and posted it on my website  You are more than welcome to borrow the questions and format. I already have about 20 responses and I will share some patterns I am already noticing in a later blog. But I am very excited to be able to have something to talk to the students about, to build a connection with them, to build hope.

Letter of Welcome
In my district we use Skyward (I often call it Skynet in reference to the Terminator movies) as our online grade book. Skyward has many nice features but one I appreciate is the ability to e-mail all of my students parents at one time. Very convenient. So my letter of welcome was sent out yesterday, with a link to my website and a few words of hope and excitement about the upcoming year.

Hope. How do we keep it alive? How do we leverage it build communities and schools that succeed? I think it begins with building a community in your classroom. Connect to your students, allow them to connect with others and then build from there.

No day is as hopeful as the first day, maybe we can change that.

Monday, August 20, 2012

See How Easily You Can Design a Lesson for Creative Thinking

In 1941 the U.S. Air Force had a problem. A large proportion of their aircrew trainees were not graduating, they could not pass their performance tests.  You want to talk about high stakes testing...scantrons and number two pencils have nothing on a young pilot behind the stick of a high powered plane taxiing down the runway. The least of his problems is making dark neat marks inside the circle.

Enter JP Guilford, a psychology professor from the University of Southern California.  Guilford had been studying the diversity of individual differences in intelligence; he noticed that intelligence was a combination of multiple abilities.  Taking this into account, and based on his research of intelligence testing, he worked with Air Force and discovered there were eight specific cognitive abilities that were needed to fly an airplane not just one.

The Air Force needed to be more divergent in their training.

I think we forget  sometimes about looking for divergent thinking in school.  We are victims of our own schooling, trained for years to play the game of "what does the teacher want?"  But like the trainers in the Air Force 70 years ago, we can remember to teach for more than just one answer.

Educational writer and consultant Ian Gilbert shares some ideas in his book Why Do I Need A Teacher When I Have Google? 

Give students a group of pictures the one below (which, like Ian Gilbert in his book, I just made up):

Which one of these doesn’t belong? Why doesn’t the pencil belong? The headphones? 
What would come next in the series?  Why should one be outlawed? 

Which should be a national symbol? 
Which of these is most like a geometrical proof?

These are just questions that popped into my head, I am sure you can do a better job asking questions that will push the students thinking.

Another benefit to using these types of questions is helping students understand differing perspectives and explaining their own perspective. Some gifted students are often frustrated when they have an idea in their head but do not have the words or opportunity to translate the thoughts into explanation. Quick warm-ups this gives teachers a chance to help students listen to each other but also work on their ability to explain their divergent ideas.

Lets make this idea do double duty: work on perspective building and add rigor to our content.

Divergent Thinking in Science:
You could stick with the theme from above...
Why is your science lesson like a dog or earphones or a pencil?
What would you get if you combined all three together?

or put up a slide like this:
Which one of these doesn’t belong? Why doesn’t the Potassium belong? Nitrogen? 
What would come next in the series?
Why one should be outlawed?
Which should be a national symbol?
Which of these is most like a geometrical proof?
How would the world change if all three were banned from the United States?

Divergent Thinking in Social Studies:

Which one of these doesn’t belong? Why doesn’t Enron belong? Spindletop?
What would come next in the series?
Why should one be outlawed?
Which should be a national symbol?
Which of these is most like a geometrical proof?
Why should all three of these be legal forms of tender in Washington D.C.?

Divergent Thinking in Math:

Which one of these doesn’t belong? Why doesn’t 1.5 belong? 2.67?
What would come next in the series?
Why should one be outlawed?
Which should be a national symbol?
Which of these is most like recess?
If these three numbers ran a race, which one would win?

Waiting for Right Answers

The lesson from Guilford and his time with the US Air Force is that if we want students to be able to think on their feet, they need to interact with our content in divergent ways. The charge to us as teachers is do we give equal footing to divergent answers in our classroom?  Do we light up imaginations with possibilities or dim student thinking expecting the right answer?

If you would like to read more about using divergent thinking in the classroom please pick up a copy of Stand Up! Speak Out! The Social Action Curriculum for Building 21st-Century Skills available from Prufrock Press and Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Design Thinking for Educators: My Reflections on Week 1

I just finished my first week in the Design Thinking for Educators Workshop sponsored by edutopia, IDEO and Riverdale County Schools.

This week we had to redesign the morning commute of someone we knew.  The project required us to interview the person to "...learn about how they feel, what they wish for, what gets in their way." Our job was to ask great questions, listen and learn. And to never be afraid to ask "Why?"

My user initially mentioned being tired in the morning and then the discussion drifted over to stress because of all the road construction going on in front of her school.

But the stress wasn't so much about the traffic but the feeling of having so much to do before her students arrived in the morning; she didn't have enough time to feel prepared for the day.  It's hard for her to stay late after school because she has three children of her own and they are involved in activities that she wants to be a part of.

So her biggest need was to lower her stress level by being prepared for the day. So that no matter what happens at home or during the commute, she is prepared for her day and happy to see the students walk in the door.

After interviewing her for about ten minutes I brainstormed six different ideas. Then, and this is a really cool part of the whole process, I went back to her with my ideas to get more feedback and understanding to what she really needed.

She looked over all of my ideas and found that she liked the combination of two separate ideas: an automated teaching assistant and a smartphone app.

She liked the idea of the AITA (Automated Integrated Teaching Assistant) managing the day to day shuffle of papers, copies and printing through a mobile app.  

AITA will save teachers many trips to the copy room and stressful mornings putting together last minute lesson plans for subs or even themselves.  Never again be frustrated by a colleague jamming the printer again!

These are the areas that seem to suck up the most time and lead to the biggest source of stress.  The mobile app feature was her idea when she thought how she could start AITA working on a project on her way in to work so that the copies or printing was done before she ever walked in the door.

Design thinking is much more than just solving problems.  The heart of the idea is seeing the world through other peoples eyes and understanding that opportunities for innovation are all around us - we just have to look.  That is, look with a different perspective.

What great life skills for students:  in one hour I had to understand another person's perspective, see the world through their eyes, design solutions with them in mind and then get their feedback to design the absolute best solution.  

It is not too late to take part in this great five week course that is free.  

Week 1: Design Thinking Mini-Challenge - Design Thinking for Educators:

The course is well set up and utilizes all the best parts of social media:  sharing and inspiring. It changes the focus of the learning when you know your work and feedback is going to be shared among a community of creators and problem solvers. No longer can you hide in the corner; you are accountable and others will be paying attention.

Active, Independent, Producer: Student 2.0

Create your own Playlist on MentorMob!

Last year I experimented with recording my lectures so that students could access them at anytime:  for review, if they were absent, for homework if time ran out in class. Unfortunately the recording of lectures for homework has become the one aspect of the flipped classroom most teachers attack with a zombie grip of death.

To be clear, in my opinion, a flip classroom is one in which students are active independent producers not passive dependent consumers.  I do my best, though not always successful, to make sure that is the environment my students create in, recording lectures seems to be one good way to make more time for creation.

In the spirit of creation, combining and remixing, I took some resources that I have used in the past, my screencasts and some other videos I found on The Hero's Journey and mixed them together in MentorMob.

This is a playlist that my students can use this year to build their schema for the Hero's Journey as we dive into Greek Mythology, story analysis, fiction writing, character development, personal development and metaphor.  Wow, just writing that is getting me jazzed up for the new school year!

Working through this process has got me thinking about areas of the curriculum I may have, to put it lightly, glossed over in the past.  The biggest frustration that I have had with my curriculum is the abandonment of grammar the past few years; it's been pushed into the abyss.

I am going to fix that this year using MentorMob, google docs, and screencasting.  The principle behind the idea will be to find examples of grammar in what they are reading and what they are writing.  I am going to create short MentorMob playlists about each grammar concept, embed a scavenger hunt type aspect to the project and then students are going to create an archive of their understanding of grammar.

I do not foresee much direct teaching of grammar this year, like usual, but by making students active independent producers that have a chance to share their learning I think I can build in some love for the building blocks of language.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Google Alert: Monitoring the Web for New Content

The amount of unique information created on the internet is staggering.  On YouTube alone over 70 hours of video have been uploaded in the last 60 seconds.  Talk about information saturation.  

I like to stay up to date on a number of topics for my 6th Grade ELA class, my 8th grade class on creativity and coaching creative problem solving teams.  I use a number of tools right now to help organize the information:  livebinders, diigo, twitter lists, pocket and Google Reader.  

All those tools are great but they require me to go out and find the information.  I need the information to find me.  I found a tool last week that does just that:  Google Alerts.

Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your interests.  I am sure this service has been around for awhile but its like a shiny new toy to me right now.

A Google Alert is easy to set up.  Just type in in the address bar.  You get a customizable menu that allows you to enter the topic of personal interest.  

From there you can decide what type of information you would like to receive, how often, how many results and where you would like it to be delivered.

Once a day the newest information on the topics I follow comes to me and from there I determine if the information is worth reading, worth saving, worth sharing.  

I am excited about sharing this tool with my students when they are curating information for current events research.  The part that excites me the most is that students can set alerts for the topics that they are passionate about.  Instead of taking time to find information they can begin collecting the information as it comes to them.

Google Alerts is a big time saver and a tool that will make a difference in my class this year.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Metaphor Experiment with PowToons

I found an invitation to try out Powtoons in my inbox the other day.  The program merges comics with Power Point.  

I decided to give it a try and see if I could use it in my classroom next year.  

If you are experienced with presentation software then the user interface with Powtoons will be fairly intuitive.  I used Audacity to record my voice and then converted the file into a mp3 format.  Once I uploaded my voiceover I put together a few slides and imported some images to reinforce the analogy.

What I really like about this program is that you have to be succinct with your words and use images that create a clear image for your students.  The recordings can be posted on your class website for students that need a quick review or have been out for a few days.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Taking the Advice: Stealing Like an Artist

Austin Kleon is an advocate of the remix.  In his bestselling book of poetry, Newspaper Blackout, he redacts newspapers in black marker, creating poetry out of the words that remain.

In his book, Steal Like an Artist, he makes the case that we all steal from each other. We steal out of love, not vindictiveness.  Remixing is a nod to the genius that has come before us, a tip of the cap to that which we find amazing and want to incorporate into our own lives.  

Austin gives a nice summary of his work in this short talk from TEDxKC:

In order to keep the tradition alive, I have made my own Newspaper Blackout poem.  I plan to show this idea to my students this year.  It is an interesting way of looking at textbooks.  I imagine copying pages from the textbook and letting the students create something better, or if not better, something different.  It should be easy to compile and publish the poems in a class anthology. 

Original article take from the community newspaper someone left in my driveway

Circling words and phrases that really stood out to me; they left an impression.

After the blackout; the remaining words are what became the poem below

Sunday Morning

Mischief strikes 
      in trolling cars
Residents awoke
      to shattered damage
Sheriff's deputies wore
     on more and more folks
Mischief officials identified
     thousands of BB gun(s)
$5,000 in rewards to anyone

What I enjoy most about this poem is the twist it takes at the end; rewarding those involved.  

A great resource for teachers to share with their students comes from the New York Times. This interactive link allows students to create black out poetry online.

For more in depth lesson ideas and full unit descriptions pick up a copy of Stand Up! Speak Out! The Social Action Curriculum for Building 21st-Century Skills available from Prufrock Press and Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Monday, July 9, 2012

Structuring Creativity: Greeting Cards for Offbeat Holidays

Creativity is often seen as an academic free for all.  Where divergent thinking is allowed to run unchecked, leaving students laughing and giggling on the floor with very little accomplished.   Or maybe that was just my poor classroom management on my part.

Either way, constraints are important.  Constraints force students to evaluate their divergent ideas and converge those ideas into one or two solutions that they feel will do the best job solving the challenge they have been given.  It pushes students to the top of Bloom's Taxonomy and they see the creative problem solving process through to the development of an idea.

Students can simulate the process using the lense of the developer.  Students will look at a challenge the same way a developer at a company would look at creating a new product.  Developers will tell you that development is a process that requires months of researching, brainstorming and designing.  Your student developers do not have a lot of time or money to create a new product.  They are being hired because they are creative and they work for free.  Their challenge is to develop high quality ideas with only a few materials and a finite amount of time.   

I read about this idea in Tina Seelig's new book inGenius, a book I wish I had found 10 years ago.  I will be reviewing the book in a later blog.  As any great teacher or creative person will tell you, the best teaching ideas are stolen and ripped off from others.  I am shamelessly taking Tina's idea and remixing it here.
Your students have a class period to create a line of greeting cards.  (If you feel your students have not seen many greeting cards you may want to take some time to look at them and study their purpose and format.) 

There are a number of creative constraints built into the process.  

The first is time.  You will give your students x amount of time to prototype the cards.  Tina has college students complete the task in 30 minutes.  Elementary school students may need an hour and middle school students may need 45 minutes.  The amount of time is a variable, that as the teacher, you can change as you see fit.

The second constraint is the number of cards to be created.  The college students have to design four cards in the allotted time.  That seems to be a good number, especially if you have four people working in a group.  I would say one card per person is a good starting out point.

The third constraint is the supplies.  Tina gives her students markers, paper and scissors.  If you wanted to add another level of constraint to this task you could give each team $10 in classroom money and charge them for the use of those supplies. You then add in the idea of the team trying to accomplish the task for the least amount of money.

The fourth constraint is the holidays that will be used in the assignment.  Tina randomly assigns the students a specific day.  If you would like to add a little more difficulty to the task you could avoid common holidays altogether and use some of the days below that I found on

December 21st:  National Flashlight Day and 8 Other Obscure Holidays in December
January 7th:  National Old Rock Day and 17 Other Obscure Holidays in January
February 4th:  Ice Cream for Breakfast Day and 14 Other offbeat Holidays in February
March 7th:  Alexander Graham Bell Day and 11 other Offbeat Holidays in March
April 5th:  Read a Map Day and 16 Other Offbeat Holidays in April
May 4th:  Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You) and 16 Other Obscure Holidays in May 

The fifth constraint is the presentation of the greeting cards.  Tina has her students display four (or whatever number you have chosen) prototype cards that will be sold and then give a sales pitch.  I emphasize prototype because some students will think these cards need to be "finished", they do not, remind your students that the cards are still in the development phase, the first draft so to speak.  

Here is a great example of a prototype presentation for a new app called Elmo's Monster Maker:

Once you have determined the level of challenge for each of the five constraints you are ready to let the children start prototyping!  If your students are young, or have little creative problem solving experience, use easier constraints.  You can do this challenge again later in the year, just adjust the constraints as you see fit.

The entire class votes on their favorite designs and you can award the winning team with some kind of design award.  The students should be surprised and proud of what they can accomplish in such a short period of time.  

The life lesson for the students is not about making greeting cards for obscure holidays; it's about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Too often students sit in classrooms, watching the slow-motion minute hand finish one more rotation around the clock.  We have to push students out of their comfort zone so that they can be confident in dealing with stressful situations.  We know that stress shuts down the problem solving areas of the brain, our students need to learn to cope with that stress, calm down and work through the problem.  Adding constraints to creative problem solving helps them learn to deal with the stress.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Creative Mash: Music, History and the Web 2.0 Alex Chadwick plays 100 famous guitar riffs in one take giving you a chronological history of rock n' roll.

This would make an excellent backdrop for students to remix media to create a historical timeline.  I thought it would be a cool project to work on, seeing history through the eyes of a musician.  Changing their historical perspective or lens, so to speak.

Students could research the release date for each song sampled in the video.  Find images or news articles from that date and then overlay the images to the music as it is playing.  I made a quick example of how this could work using a few free Web 2.0 tools.

First, I found the video on YouTube searching "100 riffs."    

Next, I clicked on the share button located at the bottom of the video to get the video specific URL. 

I then went to and used their free service to convert the audio from the 100 Riff YouTube video into a .mp3 file.  After the conversion was finished I had the audio version of the video.

With the audio version of the YouTube video I could now upload the music to a free video editor like WeVideo.  WeVideo is a free web based video editor that can be accessed through Google Drive.  It is pretty to use and has some pretty advanced features.  And did I mention it is free!

I know some of you may not like this, talking to the librarians out there, but I did use Wikipedia to find the release dates of the songs Alex played.  On YouTube, under the video, each song that Alex samples is listed in chronological order.  

I searched through Wikipedia and found the dates with a little bit of hunting and searching.  I messed up the first song "Mr. Sandman" because I used the date it hit number one on the charts.  I will definitely lose points on the rubric for such carelessness!  A good lesson to show your students about how careful they have to be with their searches.

Once I knew the release date of the song I could then search for notable news for that date in history.  To make it easy for this example I used the Time Magazine database and looked for covers of the magazine.  I saved those images to a file on my computer.

So, with the music and few magazine covers I went into WeVideo, uploaded the audio track and covers, lined up the covers with the music and dropped in a title and ending slide.  Fairly easy, took a few minutes to line up the Time Magazine Covers with the transitions in the audio track.

WeVideo allows you to shorten music samples.  I cut mine down to about 45 seconds. One thing I need to do a better job of is properly citing my sources at the end of the video.  

Here is my quick version:

Overall I could see this project taking a few days to complete.  You could differentiate in number of ways:

vary the music sample length
vary the number of images required
vary the number of sources required
vary the number of students working together

There could be another component to this as well.  Students could create a digital scrapbook of the stories/images they collect and use in the video and then briefly summarize the events they chose to display.  Groups of students could then come together and compare the information they found, the pictures they chose.

You could focus their discussions:

What significant patterns do you notice in your historical analysis of the US from 1954 to now?
What unanswered questions do you have about the significance of music in the development of our country?
What possibilities do you see for the future based on the trends of the past?
How did past events converge to influence future events in US History?

When they are done they may have a very different perspective of history having used music as the background.  

Before you begin working on this, students would need to know some basics about WeVideo, how to get images from the internet, how to cite their sources and how to focus their search queries so that they do not waste a lot of time on dead searches.