These games are fantastic, not only for geography, but for any subject where teachers wish to promote teamwork, encourage students to solve problems, remember patterns, learn more about the world or just get engaged. In the past I have used these games with EAL students as a way to get them talking and interested.
During a CPD discussion on risk assessment yesterday, the issue of taking children with autism on field trips came up. In particular, we discussed the fact that seemingly innocuous changes to routine and surprises can have unexpected and potentially disastrous consequences. Whilst my own experience teaching students with autism is limited, I feel that Mark Haddon’s book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has given me a solid understanding of what these students go through.
The book follows a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome (which is on the autism spectrum, despite claims that it should not be) as he tries to solve a mysterious murder. Although the book is disarmingly simple, it does an amazing job of shifting the reader’s perception of reality, allowing a brief glimpse into one of the many ways that the human mind can function. If there is one book all teachers should read…this might perhaps be it!
Project Gutenberg is an online repository of books that are out of copyright, and thus freely available for anyone to use. With over 30,000 books currently available, this site provides a great source for gratis reading material. However, more important than this, it provides a massive amount of text that can be mashed and remixed in any way you or your students can dream up. Free from the constraints of copyright, and available in unfettered digital form, why not try some of the following ideas:
- Use Wordle to create fantastic word clouds, which can be used to pick out themes or learn vocab.
- Give students part of a text and ask them to write an extension or introduction to it.
- Take a famous novel and come up with some crazy alternative endings.
- Use Flickr Storm (free photos) and Storybird (digital storytelling) to create a picturebook version of a text.
- Work as a class to produce an audio version of a book, publish it with Creative Commons and give it away on the web.
- Take a novel and remix it into a song, poem, play or game.
I am sure there are at least a hundred other uses for Project Gutenberg’s texts. Let me know if you can think of any, and I will include them in this list.
I love comics, and am often amazed not only by how funny they can be, but also how much can be learned from them. Growing up I was a regular reader of Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side and Mad Magazine. As I grew older I began to appreciate the intelligence and sophistication of Dilbert and XKCD. From this reading I developed my own sense of humour. More than this, however, I learned to question and reflect on the world around me, to understand that different situations could be understood in different ways and that I was not alone in my feelings and views on the world and its inhabitants.
Whilst many children love comics, too many teachers and parents dismiss them as childish distractions from serious reading and learning. If you are of this opinion, I ask you to read this short strip and see if it changes your perspective on this issue. Whilst reading comics can be beneficial in the ways described above, creating comics provides an even richer opportunity for learning. Consider some of the following ways in which comic creation can be used in the classroom:
- Discovering the joy and power of remixing and mashing up the work of others.
- Drafting stories before writing.
- Encouraging creativity and self expression.
- Character development to extend understanding of texts.
- Learning about graphic design and layout.
- Learning about persuasion.
- Honing online research skills.
- Learning computing skills.
- Developing an understanding of issues surrounding intellectual property and copyright.
- Digital storytelling.
- Summarising complex ideas.
- Putting events into chronological order.
- Learning about visual literacy, social conventions and suggestion in the media.
Interestingly, these ideas apply to almost all subjects. If you are teacher, stop for a minute and consider the multitude of ways in which this could be applied to the subjects you teach. Certainly within both of my subjects (ICT and ESL) I can see plenty of scope for applying these approaches. In fact, in terms of promoting multiliteracies, I can think of few more powerful tools.
Computer technology provides us with some great tools for quickly and easily creating comics. These technologies afford one great advantage to users: they lower the barrier to creating great work because they do not require traditional artistic abilities, such as drawing. The following are four pieces of software that can be used to empower students:
- Comic Life is the premier comic creation software in terms of ease-of-use and pure joy. It focuses on arranging existing images and applying effects to them. It is desktop software, and runs on Windows and Mac OS. Unfortunately, payment is required, although it is very reasonable, especially when purchasing in bulk. The 30-day trial is completely free and unrestricted, so this is a great place to start.
- Comiqs is an online alternative to Comic Life, with comparable functionality: it seems extremely promising, but is in beta and currently seems to have some bugs. Hopefully these will be ironed out in the near future. The service is free, and there is no need to install any software onto your computer.
- Pixton is an extremely flexible online comic creator. Unlike Comic Life and Comiqs, which are primarily concerned with working on existing images, Pixton allows users to create and edit their own comic characters. This is a great tool that is worth some serious exploration, and whilst it does seem a little tricky to use, it does provide a huge range of flexibility. Pixton is free for individual users, but there is also a paid educational version with enhanced tools for teachers.
- BitStrips works along the same lines as Pixton, but is somewhat easier to use. That said, you do not get quite as much flexibility in terms of creating and manipulating your creations, although the results can be just as good. I would recommend this for use with younger students. As with Pixton, it is free for individual users, but there is also a paid educational version with enhanced tools for teachers.
Having sung the virtues of comic creation, I will end with a cautionary note: as with any tool, it is essential not to overuse this approach. Whilst kids will love the novelty and freedom that these activities can bring, if they do it every year in every subject they will very soon lose interest.
If you adopt any of these ideas in your classroom, please feel free to send over some student work, which I will gladly post on this page.
Recently I have been thinking about how I can set up my classroom to inspire my students. I was looking online for some interesting posters, and to be frank, there was very little that appealed to me. I was mulling over the idea of producing my own posters, when I was struck by an idea that now seems very obvious: why not get prints of great photos from the web, and have them framed.
The images are related to my role within the school, which is not only to teach ICT, but also to promote environmental awareness and positive values amongst the students. I am thinking of grouping the images into two collections: Our World and Personal Heroes. The remaining two photos (which are very large) will be displayed on their own. Once the images are up, I will post some photos here.
Despite the fact that many teachers have rejected Wikipedia, I maintain that it is one of the richest resources available to teachers. As proof of this, consider the fact that all of the images shown below are from the Wikimedia Commons, which acts as Wikipedia’s media gallery. What’s particularly neat about this is that the images are all provided under permissive licenses (such as Creative Commons): this means that all of this work is legal, provided I follow a few simple rules.
Nick Vujicic may have neither arms nor legs, but what really sets him apart from most of us is his attitude. Whilst it is hard to imagine someone with more to complain about, he maintains an extremely positive outlook on life. In this video we see him use his unique outlook to move and motivate high school students, showing them that being different does not have to mean being limited. If you ever feel like complaining, you might want to stop, remember this video, and then think about whether you really have anything to complain about.
Originally designed as a blogging platform, WordPress has evolved into a fantastic system for publishing all manner of content. Whilst it is not quite as flexible as Drupal, it is far easier to use, and has a great variety of high quality themes, making it relatively easy for anyone to build a website. If you have your own server or hosting, you can download and install a copy of the software within 5-10 minutes. With such a setup, you have are afforded great flexibility in terms of site setup and content. Alternatively, you can use the free hosting service provided at www.wordpress.com, which uses the same platform, but applies controls on content and functionality.
I like WordPress so much that I used it in the creation of this website.
This collection of 10 interesting photos can be used to stimulate students in a variety of ways. For instance, in small groups they can be asked to produce a story based around any 5 of the pictures, in any order, which can then be presented to the class (with the pictures in a multimedia presentation). This is useful to get students working together as a group, using a short time to apply some pressure.
Download the file.
Pupils love these and a great way to promote lateral thinking. Each square contains a word or phrase with visual clues as to what it is. The number of letters in each word of the phrase is contained underneath.
As part of a UWS “Interactive PowerPoint for Teaching” workshop I helped out at today, I was asked by quite a few people how to remove the background from a picture so that it could be integrated into a presentation more cleanly. I showed a few people some relatively simple tricks using free, open source software called Gimp. In order to make this information more widely available, I have put together a short guide on how this can be done. The guide can be downloaded here.
Of course, there are other (more powerful and complex) ways to do this, and it can be done using other applications. However, Gimp is free, and this method is pretty straightforward, making it accessible to almost all users.