Saturday, January 18, 2020

Our Best Interactive Story Project Yet

I've been experimenting with interactive story projects for a couple years now and this past week we worked through our best one yet. Sample resources and tutorials are included below.

What Is an Interactive Story?
Like the others I've written about, this project gave older students (from high school Creative Writing this time) a chance to write short stories for younger students (3rd graders in this case). It's interactive, because after each short piece of the story we include a feedback survey. The younger students fill out the survey to give the authors input on what happens next.

I originally started working on these projects as a way to motivate writers and to encourage younger students to read for pleasure. I was able to be in the classes at both grade levels this time and it really seemed to accomplish that goal. We had high engagement at the high school, since they knew the younger students would be reading their work. And the younger students loved seeing what the high schoolers had written. All teachers involved were very pleased with the project.

How Did We Do It This Time?
In this case, students wrote their introductory "chapter" in a Google Doc. The teacher required three parts:
First came the introduction to the story. We encouraged students to introduce a character or two, establish a setting and lead up to a problem. 

Next, students added a link to a Google Form that asked some questions of the readers. We required students to ask at least two multiple choice questions and one open ended question. See below for more information about gathering feedback.

Finally, we required an author bio that included the students' interests and goals. In our case, most of the stories were written by two students working together. 

You can see the sample document we showed the class here. Check out the sample story (written by a student, with a few edits) and the sample survey to see how those might look.

The survey and link to the survey were the only steps of the project that required the students to learn some tech skills. I walked them through the process in class, but this document shows all the steps. The final part of it includes a link to a video tutorial. 

Other Details

  • We were pressed for time at the end of our semester, so we only did two sections of the story that asked for reader feedback, then a third part that wrapped the stories up. It took us just about two weeks of class time to complete that. In the future we hope to keep the project going longer, with at least two more chapters.
  • I shared the stories with the younger students by creating a Google Site that linked to each story document. Whenever I share stories like this, I make a copy of the student document, edit it if necessary, then post the shareable link to the document on the Google Site. 
  • The authors should be encouraged to use some of the reader input, but they certainly don't have to incorporate it all. The open ended questions especially can bring in too many ideas. Ultimately the decision is up to the author on how the story proceeds.
  • For the second chapter, we had students write an author note in place of the "About the Author" section. The note thanked the readers for their input, then explained just a little about how they used that input to write their story. Again, most of these documents, including the story, link to the survey and the authors' note, were only a page long.
  • If you want more information about gathering feedback, see this summary I made for a similar comic project. You can read more about that in this post from a couple years ago.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Holiday Classroom Game and Creativity Activity

Here's a free resource that can be used for a few fun, creative activities in the classroom. At its heart, it's just a way to generate a random pair of words that students use to write a holiday themed haiku.

I'll list a few ways I've used similar activities in class, along with a brief explanation of each. Some will link to previous posts with more details.

First, click here to get your copy of the Google Slides presentation. It will open in your Google Drive.

Generating a Prompt
No matter which way you choose to use the activity, you will be generating a random prompt and students will use it to write a haiku. To generate the prompt, open the presentation so the class can see slide 2. Don't present it. Just display it as shown below. Draw two random words from behind the gift. You can grab them and drag them by the circle at the far right of the screen.

In the above example, the two words drawn are "gift" and "peace".

Students will then create a haiku using the two random words. You can require them to use the exact words, any variation (such as singular or plural) or maybe they just have to use the general idea of the word in their haiku. Of course, if you're using it for the holidays, that will be an implied general theme for all haikus they write. How generally or specifically you want to make this is up to you, but be sure to explain your requirements before they start any of the activities explained below.

Note that you can change the words too if you want. Just drag the words off to the side of the slide, so you can see the word. Double click on the word and it should let you delete the text and replace it with whatever you want. If it's a long word, you might have to stretch the text box to make it fit. Then drag the word back under the present, so it can be randomly selected during the activity.

A Class Writing Prompt
This is the easiest way to use the activity. The teacher can draw two random words from behind the gift. Every student in the class uses those two words (and any other requirements the teacher provides) to write their own haikus.

The writing can be done in class or as an assignment outside of class. Once the teacher has time to look at the submitted haikus, she can choose up to five of her favorites and type them on the A - E spaces  of that slide. At any time after that, the class can vote on their favorite using a poll/quiz application like Socrative or Kahoot, or they could just use a show of hands or submit a vote on a paper slip.

A "Game Show" With a Few Contestants
I used to do all my creativity games this way. It is a challenging exercise for the contestants, but if you have a creative group it can be fun. In this case, 3 - 5 contestants sit at the front of the class. The teacher draws two random words from behind the gift to form the prompt. The contestants each write a haiku using those words and the teacher's requirements. They should have 3 - 5 minutes to write it.

When they are finished, the haikus are read aloud and typed into the spaces A - E (or just summarized). The class votes on their favorite using a poll/quiz application or some other non-digital method. Each contestant gets points equal to the number of votes they receive. Points can be kept on the Score slide. Usually we have time for about three rounds when we do games like this.

If you don't want to give such a strict time limit, you could combine this format with the above activity. The contestants could write their haikus outside of class and turn them in the next day for the vote.

See this post for more details and tips for running these "game show" style creativity games.

A Game Played in Small Groups
More recently I started running these creativity games in small groups. In this case, you can do a sample round with the whole class, just so they see how to play. Then have them work in groups of 3 or 4 students. Each group will have one device to access their copy of the Holiday Haiku slide presentation.

They will play multiple rounds. Each round one student will be the judge. He or she will randomly draw out two words from behind the gift and show the other group members. Everyone other than the judge gets a limited amount of time to write a haiku that uses the two words and follows any other requirements the teacher has given.

When finished, the haikus are gathered and shuffled up. One student reads each of them to the judge. The judge chooses one as his or her favorite. The player who writes it gets a point.

Now the next player becomes the judge and another round is played. Rounds are repeated until each player has been the judge once. The player or players with the most points wins.

See this post for more details about playing creativity games in groups.

No matter how I use these activities in class, I like to seal the learning by adding some reflection.  Here's the reflection sheet I used with one class after doing a similar small group version of a creativity game. Depending on how you presented the material and what the lesson content was, you will probably want to modify the questions somewhat.

Fun Holiday Tech Project With Google Slides

Students can use this process to make animated holiday cards for family members or just for fun. Everything can be created using Google Slides.

I'll give a brief overview of the process below. If you want to see my usual directions with video tutorials (not just for holiday animations), you can find everything you need to introduce it in class for $2 on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Here's a summary of the process:

1)  Make a Plan - Students really need to decide in advance what shapes they'll use and what's going to happen in the animation. Once they get going on later steps, it's hard to make a big change. In my example above, I knew I wanted the ornaments to float up on the tree and some words to appear.

2)  Create the Shapes - When you first use this process, it's easiest to make everything and have it be part of the first frame. Just start a new Google Slides presentation and start building.

I like to have students create their art using basic shapes in Google Slides (instead of looking for clip art online). In my example, I did use a graphic from Pixabay for the border. I created the other elements myself. Here's how my first frame looked*:

3)  Create the Animation - This is the heart of the process. You duplicate the current frame, then move the animated elements on that frame just slightly. To duplicate the frame, click on it in the left panel and (if you're on a Chromebook or PC) press ctrl-d. (You can also right click on it and select Duplicate slide.)

So in my example, I duplicated the first slide. Then on the second (new) slide I moved some of those ornaments on the floor up, just a centimeter or so.

You continue that process of duplicating the slide and moving the objects until all the animation is complete. As I said above, it's hard to fix a mistake once you get going with this. That's why a plan is important. Here are some other tips:
  • I frequently click through the slides to preview my animation to make sure the objects are moving like I want them to. Sometimes they're not and I have to delete some frames to do a section over.
  • Some frames should display a little longer, so I duplicate those a few times without changing anything. For example, I made several copies of the first frame, the last frame and that frame where the star lands on top of the tree. I wanted a pause at those points.
  • You can animate text the same way. I made the text box, then had one word at a time appear. I've seen some people who like to have each letter appear one by one. It's up to you. When you do text, you especially will want to duplicate some frames multiple times to pause it at times. Otherwise the words go by too quickly. 
Click here to see all 40+ slides of my animation in slideshow format.

4)  Publish the Slides - You can publish the animation so it plays as a full page in a browser tab. Click here to see how this would look.

You can publish a presentation by going to the File menu and selecting Publish to the web. This window will open up. Check the boxes as shown, then click Publish.

That will make a link that appears as shown below. Copy that, as it says, by pressing ctrl-c. That's the link (more or less) that you need to share with others so they can see your animation. But don't share it yet! See the next step.

5)  Share the Link - You can paste that link in an email, add it to a website or share it any other way you like. Just remember one important thing. At the end of the link you'll see a 3000 when you paste it. Change that 3000 to a smaller number such as 100 or 150. 
I usually paste it into the address bar in a new tab and then change the number, so I can play the animation and see how it will look. You can keep doing this, adjusting the number how you want, with larger numbers making it play slower. Experiment with a number that works how you like it to. Once I've got a good number, I paste the link again, change the number, copy it again, then share that link.

6)  You can also turn it into an animated GIF! - I use the site Tall Tweets to do this. They have something called Tall Tweets Studio now, but I suggest scrolling down and clicking the Classic version. I also recommend teachers make copies of students' presentations and convert those for them, since there are some privacy and terms of service matters involved with granting access to Google Drive for this process. Since it has some other settings to experiment with, this option is only recommended for older students.

Again, the above 6 steps are a brief overview of the process. See my published lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers for a "ready to assign" document with everything students need. You'll want to show them my examples from this post, though, since the general directions are not just for holiday animations.

*Actually, if you want some behind the scenes info on my animation, I used a slightly different process. I worked backward to build my animation, because I wanted to start with the final image of the decorated tree. I did this just to be sure I had enough bulbs and that they'd look right. 

This is an advanced technique and I'd only recommend it to students who have made a few animations as described above. Besides thinking backwards, the only real change is that after duplicating a slide, I dragged it above the slide I just duplicated. So instead of duplicating slide 10 and moving the objects on frame 11, for example, I was always duplicating frame 1, then dragging the new frame up so it became frame 1. Then I moved the objects (in a backwards direction) on frame 1. This is harder to describe than it is to do, but I don't recommend it for beginners.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Chromebook Activity for Kindergarten

The kindergarten teachers in my district asked me to do some very simple activities that would introduce their students to Chromebooks. Below you'll find the link to the one I've been staring out with this year.

The goal of the activity is to let students practice using the keys and touchpad and to show them the joy of creating with technology. See the notes below about how I set it up and get started in the class with it.

Click here to get a copy of the Google Slides presentation I use for the activity.

It is simply a series of images with clip art objects (all from that the students can move around to "tell their story". Every class I've used this with has greatly enjoyed it and the teachers thank me for sharing it. It takes about 30 - 45 minutes of class time.

Setting Up the Activity

  • We use a generic Google account with a short username for many early elementary activities. I and a classroom helper log onto all the Chromebooks using that account. 
  • As the admin for our Google domain, I set that account up so the Chromebooks will open to our elementary "launch page". If you don't have these options, talk to the person who manages your Google domain to have it set up.
  • On that launch page, I post a simple graphic (like a sun in this case) with a link that will force a copy of the Google Slides presentation. It's important that the link will open as a copy (like my link does above). This helpful post from Kasey Bell shows how to get the link you will need for your slideshow.
  • Usually I and the class helper sign into all the Chromebooks when the students are at lunch or recess. Sometimes we do it during some other activity that has them away from their desks.

Introducing It to the Students

  • I prefer to have students sitting on the floor at the board when I first talk to them. If they're at their seats with the Chromebooks set up, I make a point that they have to know when to listen and when to use the technology. The students are always good about this! Of course, I'm the guest speaker, so I always get my free 5 - 15 minutes of their undivided attention!
  • I tell students that I enjoy using my iPad and Chromebook to play games, but in school I can't use them to play. Instead they should be used for learning and making. This is so important, as it's tempting to use the tech as a plaything during less focused time at that early age. "Just get on Starfall or ABCYa," I often hear. I am so grateful for the chance to plant seeds early on about the appropriate use of tech in school.
  • Using the teacher's computer and projecting on the board, I show them exactly how they will click the icon on the launch page to get a copy of their presentation. I show them that the computer does some thinking time after I click "make a copy", so they shouldn't keep clicking the link. 
  • I show them how they can add their name to the first page, so we will know who made the stories. I also let the teacher and any class helper know most students will need some help at this point double-clicking in the text box. 
  • I model how they can click to the next slide using the thumbnail images on the left. 
  • On the first page with the clip art, I show the students how to select it and move it to where we want it. There's the option of dragging it, but that is hard for some students (and adults) on a touchpad. I also show them how they can move it with arrow keys. It's helpful to have a Chromebook handy too, so they can see where those keys are or how I'd use the touchpad. 
  • We talk a little about how the image can be arranged to make a story. They like the idea that maybe the crab was holding the umbrella and blew into the sky for the beach scene, for example.
  • As a challenge, I show them how they can make a shape bigger or smaller by dragging the handles. I just like to plant this seed and see later who figures it out.
  • I then review the directions to get started then I set them loose.
As I mentioned, we usually have a helper in the class and the teacher. With me as well, a class of 25 or so students is fairly easy to manage. Some students definitely will struggle at first, but they do quite well once they realize they can use the arrow keys. 

There are plenty of things that can go wrong as they try to use the touchpad. Here are some common ones:
  • They end up swiping with two fingers and go back to the previous page. Just click the forward button and their slideshow will load.
  • They accidentally right click and open the right click menu. Just press the esc key. Show them clearly so they remember how to solve this themselves the next time.
  • They might double click an object, putting it in crop mode. One student had a good laugh when he cropped the kids' heads off on one slide and I was a little surprised how he did it myself at first! If this happens, just double click again if necessary and slide the crop handles so the full image displays correctly.
  • Remember the goal is to give them practice and to let them create. I really have no expectations for how they make their images look. 
Getting Access to the Stories
When students are working more independently, I sign in on one Chromebook using that same generic login. I go to Google Drive, create a new folder and then drag all the newly created slideshows into it. 

For whatever reason, there are always several more than I'd expect based on the size of the class. I'm sure some students start over a couple times when we don't realize and maybe creating all those copies at about the same time cause an odd error. All the extra copies can be spotted pretty easily (since they usually do not have a name on the first slide), so they're easily disregarded. 

I then share that folder with the teacher's Google account so she has access to the students' stories.

Using the name on the first slide, it's fairly easy to see who made each one just by browsing the thumbnails on the teacher computer. Sometimes we have enough time in class to show some stories, which is always fun for the class. Students who successfully stretched the images to large proportions become quite popular.

I hope you and your students also have as much fun with this activity as we have!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Practice Making Comics with Google Slides

For over five years I've been teaching students and teachers how to make comics with Google Slides. We still use the process in my district and students still love the creative possibilities.

Recently I started introducing it in a new, interactive way that has worked well. It will allow you to just assign it and let students learn and practice right in the one presentation. It's basically a hyperdoc created in Google Slides.

Click here to get your own copy of the Google Slides presentation.

Some notes:
  • The easiest way to assign this would be through Google Classroom, with the option to make a copy for each student.
  • This is written on the first slide, but remind students not to click Present to go through the slideshow. They need to keep it in edit mode so they can do the practice on the later slides.
  • The final slide tells them to download it as a PDF and turn it in through Classroom. I like them to get the practice of downloading as a PDF, but you can change that if it's not a priority for your class.
  • We use this presentation as the first step in a comic creation project. You might have a specific project in mind or you could introduce them to the process just so they have it as a creative option for any project in the future.
  • Usually after students learn the process, I show them a tutorial like this one so they can use the Google Slides app to take photos on a phone or tablet.
If you like this simple, self-contained introduction to comics, please consider purchasing one of my inexpensive tech activities on Teachers Pay Teachers: