Passion Projects

My students have been completing Passion Projects since 2001, after I attended a Gifted Education Professional Learning session at Bialik College in Melbourne. I was really impressed and inspired by the projects students in grades 1 and 2 created. I vividly remember a scaled down model of a blue whale made out of chicken wire suspended from the ceiling. Facts were attached to it in a mobile-like fashion. It left a lasting impression on me, to the point that I still speak about it today. I recall going to school the next day and sharing my excitement with my grade 5/6 students. Within a week, two students had created a wire elephant – they had worked on it over the weekend. I suppose my intense enthusiasm rubbed off on them.

Over the past ten years, I’ve set few parameters regarding Passion Projects, other than the students having to list five things they already know about the topic and five things they’d like to find out. I think it is important to provide the students with some guidance regarding their research as a way of narrowing down their focus. I’ve also encouraged them to list where they think they can find information, to highlight the difference between primary and secondary sources.

imagesLast week, my team and I were talking about how to incorporate the Design, Creativity and Technology domain into our learning and teaching program. Passion Projects can easily satisfy this. The only problem I have is that I don’t want to set parameters for a project just for the sake of it. I’d like to present an idea to the students that they’d find interesting and exciting to explore, something to draw on their strengths, yet also allow their opinions and ideas to shine. It was then that I had a brainwave. Over the weekend I received a link to an amazing infographic about the evolution of the web: http://evolutionofweb.appspot.com/?q4114671=1. How good would it be for the students to explore the evolution of computers, from mainframes to mobile devices, including smart phones!? They could be a recently employed member of a technology firm whose first project is to design the next generation mobile device. Our students have used iPads for over a year now. They know what they like and what they don’t. I’m really excited about this. The students can sketch designs, label diagrams, even make their own prototypes. I’m currently writing the Design Brief. Please find a snippet of it below:

“Congratulations! You are the successful applicant! We, at MLC Technologies, are excited to have you as a member of our team.

For your first project, we’d like you to think about the development of technology over the years, i.e. computers to laptops to mobile devices, including smart phones.

In your interview, you mentioned you had extensive experience with current technologies, this being iPads. We’d like you to consider the positives of the iPad in your design. We’d also like you to add components you believe it lacks. Be as creative as you like! Money is not a problem!”

Check back soon for an update on how things are going.

Flickr

This week, the grade 6 classes went on an excursion to Serendip Sanctuary, Lara. It was truly one of the most enjoyable excursions I’ve been on in all of my 14 years of teaching. My students loved the excursion too, especially the ponding experience where they investigated and classified pond life.

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During the day, I took over 100 photos on my iPhone. I wanted to share the photos with my students and thought long and hard of ways to do this. Seeing my students have iPads, it wasn’t possible for me to upload the photos to the school server for them to access. Emailing all of the photos to them wasn’t an option either. I tried uploading the photos to Dropbox, but only 10 to 15 of them loaded. Then I thought about Flickr. I set up an account, looked at the settings and pondered possible privacy issues. I wanted the students to access the photos of themselves, but I didn’t want the photos to be visible to the public. At this point, I hadn’t uploaded any photos yet.

images-3At school the next day, I spoke to my team teaching colleague, James, about my dilemma – our classes went on the excursion together and there were photos of his students too. Together we decided it would be best to create a private Flickr account both of our classes could access, to upload the photos, then email out all of the log-in details to the students. In the email, I reassured the students that nobody, other than us, could see the images. I also shared that the photos would be on the site until the end of school on Friday, so if they wanted any particular photos, they needed to save them to their iPads prior to then.

This idea seemed to work well. The students were able to log in to the account, view all of the photos and save the ones they wanted. At no point were the photos visible or searchable outside of the log-in.

As part of sorting out the excursion experience, James and my classes came together to talk about what we saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted. James and I also shared that now they were to represent their time at Serendip Sanctuary in any way they’d like. We brainstormed ways of doing this, i.e. drawing, writing, performing, creating a presentation on their iPads, etc… It was wonderful to see so many students select different ways to complete this task. Some students drew pictures; others made collages of animals. Many students opted to use their iPads, but in saying this, they chose to present their experience using different apps, i.e. drawing apps, Strip Design, Popplet, Corkulous, Flip It, ReelDirector, Keynote, etc…

I love learning experiences like these, where you set the task and students select how they want to process and complete it. I’m a big fan of student voice and student choice… as are my students!

**Update: All photos including students have now been deleted from the Flickr account.

Twitter

Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 10.38.46 PMIn 2009, I remember attending a training day where the presenter shared how he was using Twitter with his class. Many of the teachers at the training day with me had no idea what Twitter was, nor how to use it. I recall helping many teachers set up their accounts, then encouraging them to follow me… and each other… as a way of forming a Professional Learning Network (PLN). @MichelleMeracis is my personal Twitter account. I follow many people who inspire me and share my interests in the effective integration of ICT, flexible learning spaces, 21st Century learning, etc…

Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 10.39.29 PMAt this training day, I remember sharing with teachers on my table some ideas I had regarding the use of Twitter with my class, i.e. posting a request for my followers to respond to. This thought stemmed from a Marco Torres session I had attended earlier that year, where during our session, he communicated with colleagues from around the world (his PLN) and demonstrated the powerful nature of real time interaction.

images-1Marco also shared a project he completed with his class with the help of his PLN. His class was looking at the environment, so within a 24 hour time frame, he asked his PLN to go outside and take a photo of a leaf, then email it to him. He compiled the images, created a movie and shared this with his students the next day. Marco shared that the conversation he had with his young students was incredible because they noticed the leaves were different, so it opened up the opportunity for them to explore their curiosities, i.e. seasons, northern and southern hemispheres, night and day, etc… Inquiry learning at its best!

This year I discovered a number of classes at my school had set up class Twitter accounts. I thought this was a fantastic way of reinforcing the home-school communication channel. Students could tweet comments during the day to keep their parents and other classes up-to-date with their learning experiences. Within a few weeks of setting up my class Twitter account, @MLC_6Michelle, a number of my own students joined Twitter. I was a little concerned at first, but used this as an opportunity to talk about Cyber Safety and Cyber Bullying. A lot of my students have parent-approved Facebook accounts, so talking about social media and the dramas that can arise, should it be abused, proved to be beneficial. One thing I did stress to my students was to protect their tweets and not follow or allow themselves to be followed by someone they did not know. I also encouraged them not to use their full (real) name.

At present, there are quite a few classes at my school using Twitter. It is wonderful, during the day, to read tweets mentioning the learning experiences and discoveries of prep through to year 8 students. It is also flattering to see positive tweets regarding the day’s lessons by my students.

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Tutorials

Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 9.07.18 PMThis year, my students have created a range of tutorials to demonstrate their learning and understanding of concepts covered in class, mainly for mathematics. To begin with, my students used a number of apps to create a short movie, i.e. a drawing app and ReelDirector. They would take screen shots of their work as they progressed through the equation, then import their screen shots from their Camera Roll to ReelDirector. In ReelDirector, they’d place their images in the correct sequence and voice record over them the steps they took to complete the equation, eg. Addition and Subtraction. This process proved to be quite time consuming, but it displayed my students’ ability to use a number of apps to create an authentic piece of work they could embed in their iPortfolios. This tutorial also revealed any problems and misunderstandings a student had regarding the concept/s and the calculation of the equation. What a fantastic form of assessment!

Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 8.53.32 PMShow Me Interactive Whiteboard is an app my students now use to create tutorials. It is a simple drawing app that integrates the steps the students had previously taken, as outlined above. Students are able to record their written and verbal explanations at the same time, similar to a screencast. There are now quite a few apps similar to this one available. I suppose it is up to you and your students to find the one that best suits your needs. I was actually involved in trialing the beta version of this app, so I am a little biased… hehehe…

iPortfolios

Portfolios and digital portfolios have long been a way for students to share and celebrate their learning and selected work samples throughout the year with family and friends. This year, the students were asked to think about what they wanted to include in their portfolios. This allowed them to have a greater sense of ownership over their iPortfolios, as well as a greater connection with what they selected to present. We discussed the purpose of iPortfolios, as well as the possible apps they could use to showcase their learning. This was uploaded to our class wikispace (http://manorlakescollege-6michelle.wikispaces.com/iPortfolios) so students could regularly refer back to our agreed class expectations.

Having worked with students on digital portfolios for over 10 years now, I must admit I was blown away by the standard of work my students produced using their iPads. The capability of the devices compared to laptops and netbooks was phenomenal. My students’ creativity and ‘eye for design’ reinforced the impact of digital media on the youth of today. Their colour choices, font selection and general layout looked professional. Their iPortfolios were actually of a better standard than my students from the year before… and they used MacBooks!

**Screenshots to come**

iPlay

Gaming is a big part of my students’ experiences with the iPads. They love exploring and sharing the apps they have downloaded, comparing their scores and levels and assisting each other to improve their progress. I thought long and hard about incorporating gaming into my learning and teaching program to promote higher order thinking and reflection. I was hoping that by relating these skills to gaming, something my students do with ease and so naturally, the transition and transference of similar thinking and reflection processes about concepts covered and learnt in class would be much easier.

I posted my expectations on my class wikispace (http://manorlakescollege-6michelle.wikispaces.com/iPlay) and shared with my students my latest addiction to Angry Birds. My students loved sharing their successes with the app and I loved hearing the tricks to pass certain levels.

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Brief:

During iPlay, I’d like you to play a non-violent game / app for around 20-30 minutes. I’d like you to take screen shots of your game / app and think about the strategies you use to score points, pass each level, etc… I’d then like you to create a presentation for me outlining the following:

  • Name of game / app
  • Purpose of game / app
  • Strategies required to score points, pass each level, etc…
  • Important information future players of this game / app need
  • Hidden features
  • Why do you like playing this game / app? (At least 5 sentences.)
  • What improvements can be made? Why?