Tag Archives: literacy

Digital Scavenger Hunt PD

HaystackOver the summer holidays I spent quite some time thinking about how best to use 3 upcoming whole-staff professional development sessions planned for my school. In the past I have found that no matter how charming, funny, well prepared or handsome I try to be, PD sessions never come out as well as I hoped. It’s not that people don’t learn, it is just that they are never as good as the lessons I delivered to my students.

As I pondered this I wondered what would happen if I took one of my better lessons, and adapted it to fit the needs of teachers. The original concept was an online treasure hunt, and whilst it was centred around Sherlock Holmes, a lot of the tasks fitted with an area I really wanted to develop in our staff: basic web literacy skills.

What evolved was a digital scavenger hunt in which teachers collaborated in small groups to problem solve their way towards a final solution. Along the way, they would be exposed to the following skills:

  • Link Shortening – using bit.ly, goo.gl or tinyurl.com to turn long links into short links. This is useful when people need to write down a link, or if you want to track usage of a link.
  • Text Search – simply using Google’s web search functionality to answer a question, such as “second digit used in binary counting systems”.
  • Image Search – drag and drop an image into images.google.com to search for images based on an image, rather than on text. Very useful for identifying logos, art work, etc. Google Goggles is an Android app that does this, but not as well as the web site. Does not work well with Safari (this is a great teachable moment about browser foibles)
  • QR Codes – creating codes with links, pictures, text, etc, using a QR code generator (I like http://www.qrstuff.com, but there are tonnes). Scan codes using a mobile phone with appropriate scanning app (I like QRDroid for Android), or using a website such as webqr.com (as long as it is not blocked, only works with Chrome).
  • Google Street View – getting students to step out of the classroom into a real life setting and look for clues. Make sure you test it ahead of time to make sure things have not changed if the Google car has been around and updated the area.
  • Steganography – hiding a message and make students search for it. Use hidden ink, or the HTML equivalent of setting the background and foreground to the same color. This should work with word processing as well.
  • Music Search – use Shazam or SoundHound on a phone or desktop to identify a piece of music, and then search online for a lyric or piece of band trivia.
  • Twitter Search – use a popular hashtag, and hide a tweet instead a stream of other tweets. Beware of inappropriate content outside of your control.

Each of these skills can be applied in the classroom to make learning more interesting, whilst most of them also offer the benefit of allowing teachers to work smarter and faster online.

The first time I ran this session, the teachers got very caught up, to the point where it really felt like having a group of my regular students engaged and learning together. The feedback from the session was very positive, and led to teachers being encouraged to integrate some of these ideas into their classrooms.

This leaves me with the awkward question of how to top this and make use of my 2 remaining in-house PD session.

If you are interested in running this same session, or one similar, check out the complete documentation. Everything is available under a CC license, so feel share to reuse, remix and share.

Update: thanks to Janice Dwyer for taking this work, adapting it for Year 6 Maths, and sharing it back here.

Credit: Haystack image via Wikimedia Commons, under PD.

Snopes: Urban Legends Reference

www.snopes.com

Snopes is a fantastic website that has gathered together a massive number of urban legends, hoaxes and scams and provides information on their validity and origins. Think of it as Mythbusters for the web.

Whenever a concerned acquaintance forwards me an email telling me that aspartame will kill me, or that Bill Gates will give me money or that I should stop using my microwave, the first thing I do is check for a known hoax on Snopes. I then email the link back to the sender, and ask them to consider checking the validity of emails before forwarding them on.

In terms of schooling, Snopes provides students with an informative and fun tool for learning skills of information literacy and critical thinking. Try gathering together a set of emails and get students to guess which might be hoaxes: then get them to use Snopes to see how they did. Discuss with them the reasons why such legends become ingrained and accepted as true, and how they can protect themselves from them. For older students, get them to consider the validity of Snopes itself: can they find other sources to verify or counter the claims made on the site? Finally, students might be asked to consider the philosophical questions of “Can we be sure of anything?” and “What is truth?”.

I think my favourite Snopes moment of all time was when I learned that, contrary to popular belief, Bobby McFerrin (the composer of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) had in fact not committed suicide. From that day, I have become much less believing in things I read and hear, especially on the web.

Comics

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.