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 www.google.com/alert 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 mentalfloss.com:

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

100riffs.com 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 http://www.getaudiofromvideo.com/ 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.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Helping Students Represent Data: The Infographic

The TED Talk that Showed What Was Possible
In July, 2010 David McCandless gave this wonderful TED Talk about the importance of representing data visually.  The best part of the talk was near the end when McCandless talked about how looking at data can change your perspective.  The dataset can change your mindset.  When you change your mind, you change your behavior.  If we want students to be creative, we need to show them how to see the world from different perspectives; creating infographics is one way to see the world through a different pair of eyes. 

What is the Difference Between and Infographic and a Data Visualization?
This article from Business 2 Community breaks down the basic difference between an infographic and data visualization; if you care.

In other words, the real difference between these guys is in the process. For data vis, it’s about visually representing raw numbers and using those visualizations to come to interesting conclusions. For an infographic, it’s about curating already processed data.

Infographics in the Classroom:

Ultimate Guide to Infographics:  Kathy Schrock's website is a comprehensive and invaluable resource of teaching students about infographics.  The part that I liked the most, besides the numerous resources, was that students study infographics, critique their effectiveness and then begin producing their own.  If you only visit one website, this is the one!

5 Great Ways to Use Infographics:  A five step process to using infographics in the classroom.  This site also contains a link to Kathy Schrock's website and the McCandless TED Talk above.

Why Infographics Matter:  The Value of Data Visualization makes a compelling case for how infographics exploit visual clues like color, size, and graphic orientation to help us understand complex stories. Naturally, they use infographics to do it. Without further ado check out there short video.

Getting Started with Infographics:  Media and publishing professionals know that infographics are hugely popular, and are more likely to be shared via social media than a standard blog post or article. By combining images with data, infographics get much more mileage than text or graphics alone. You can use them for news, presentations, or press releases on your company blog or website to attract publicity and show off your expertise.

Consuming and Critiquing Infographics:

Learning Visually:  Another site that offers a number of infographics for students to consume and critique.  This is a good site to use to build up your library of infographics.

Chart Porn:  Alright, so the name of the website is not one you would share with your students but this website contains a vast amount of data visualizations covering more than 20 categories.

Quite Useful:  12 more sites you can use to find infographics and visuals to use in your classroom.

12 Intriguing Uses of Infographics:  "Infographics are everywhere. It seems as if they stormed out of the very recent Internet-connected past.  But if you think about it, the illustrated flow charts cavemen must have drawn on stone walls to demonstrate how to track and kill a wooly mammoth were really just infographics. They just weren’t called that back then. What the latest technology and design allow, however, are many wonderful new uses for these handy, attractive conveyors of data."

Creating Infographics:

8 Steps to Creating an Infographic:  Infographics have been one of the hottest forms of content marketing for quite some time now.  They benefit brands by boosting overall content marketing efforts, and benefit readers by showcasing data and other useful information in a visual format.  Michael Biondo of Mainstreethost has created an infographic on how to make infographics.

How to Create Outstanding Modern Infographics:  A step-by-step tutorial teaching how to use various graph tools, illustration techniques and typography to make an accurate and inspiring infographic.

The Anatomy of an Inforgraphic:  A walk of through the anatomy of an infographic, its different levels and sub-levels and a 5-step process to ensure that your infographic is not only conceptually sound, but accurate and easily understood.

Wordle and other word cloud programs:  Word Clouds are great tool to gather data on your own writing.  Kevin Hodgson recently blogged about using word clouds with his own fiction writing and his students persuasive essays.

 Piktochart:  Have graphics tell a story from your information. With a lite set of professional design tools, Piktochart helps you create presentations to engage your web audience. Combine themes, shapes, icons, vectors, text, uploaded images, chart exporter (8 types of visualizations) to create the story you want.

 easel.ly:  Create and share visuals online.  vhemes are visual themes.  Drag and drop a vheme onto a canvas for easy creation of a visual idea.  easel.ly is currently in beta.

 infogr.am:  You can create four basic chart types:  bar, line, pie and matrix.  Use information you have collected in a spreadsheet and upload to your infogr.am account.  The information will be represented in a customized chart.  You will be able to embed the visual in a website to share with others.

 visual.ly:  Explore, create and share data visualizations. Visual.ly is building a tool that will allow you to create professional quality designs with your own data. And when you’re ready to show your work to the world, publish it on your Visual.ly profile, your own personal showcase.

Sites that Provide Data Sets for Students to Compare:

Gapminder:  A great tool for visualizing data sets.  With hundreds of economic and demographic indicators, visual learners can see data in context.  Gapminder has support for teachers to help with the implementation of data sets in the classroom.

Datamasher:  Choose two different data sets and then mash them together to analyze trends.

 Better World Flux:  build an ideal composite of what you think matters in life by selecting the indicators, track the progress of countries and the world over the years and find interesting trends and patterns, save and share your most compelling visualization and discover what others are sharing and have a conversation and see which countries need the most help and find the ideal country to live in based on your preferences.

TargetMap:  Create customized Data Maps, locate & see your Excel data on GoogleMaps and share & enrich your knowledge. Just choose a country and a way to create your map by color, type values or by uploading your excel files.

ManyEyes:  Create visualizations based on your own data or use data sets collected by IBM. This is a good site if you just want to view different visualizations or have your students analyze different data visualizations.

Google Public Data Directory:  Google's Public Data Explorer uses data from 80 public data sets. The Public Data Explorer allows users to create visual representations and visual comparisons of data sets. Each visualization is given a URL and an embeddable code so that the data can be shared in blogs and websites.

 StatSilk:   Increasingly government institutions and organizations are releasing data free of charge. Through StatSilk’s StatWorld and the first-prize winning StatPlanet World Bank, interactive visualizations of thousands of indicators can be explored and analyzed. Lack of Internet connectivity does not need to be a barrier, as there are desktop and web versions.

Data and Maps:

Map A List: Map a List is a free tool that turns a Google Spreadsheet information into Google Maps placemarks. If you have a Google Docs account, you can use a spreadsheet to create a map from the data.  Map a List will walk you through the process of turning addresses on a spreadsheet into a visualization on a map.

World Map:  World Map is a free program developed by the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University where you can build mapped data visualizations.  World Map provides more than 1800 data sets.  To create a map you can use these data sets or upload one of your own.  You have a choice of five default base maps to build upon or you can create your map from scratch, layer by layer.  Finished maps can be embedded into a website, printed or viewed in Google Earth.