How Has Podcasting Helped Me With My Learning?

Last summer at about this time I published a post, " So what do you think the children get from Podcasting?" Since then I have extended my adventures, using Podium as a tool to support talking for writing and having posted my thoughts for the past 6 months, I thought I should share my students ideas about how the tool has supported their learning. I am currently writing student reports. Part of our reporting process is a series of Teacher/Learner Conferences, where we share and set targets and review our progress. The children are asked about things they feel they have made improvements in, things they still need to develop, and finally the things that they think have helped them to move on with their learning. Last week I began my end of year reviews, and several students mentioned how the podcasting process had helped them. I will not expand on this any more for the time but hand you over to the voice of my class. Here are some quotations lifted directly from conversations with students in my class.
  • Podcasting and talking for writing have helped me to, think about if my sentences and the things I am writing make sense, so I can go back and change them
  • Podcasting has helped me because I could listen to myself and then go back and correct the things I have written.
  • I like podcasting because it is fun, and it has helped me to think about full stops and capital letters in my reading and writing.
  • I really want to work on my reading, I want to make better sense of things, and read with expression, because I really like podcasting... We do lots of talking for writing before we write things and this also helps me get my ideas sorted before we work.
  • I like it when we get the chance to go over stuff again, so I can see where I went wrong. I have really liked podcasting too because it has helped me think about my punctuation, and what kind to use.
I Look forward to any thoughts you may have.


Storyphones: Language for Learning

With the increased availability of cheaper MP3 players, I have pondered buying a few to use with portable speakers. The main problem is that this would further add to the cacophony that already exists in my talk driven classroom, or require children to take turns with headphones. I could not really see a way of enabling multiple access to the device without a portable speaker or docking option. Then today this was published on Ictopus, about a new device the Storyphone. What a cool idea, essentially a wireless mp3 based listening centre.

I love the effect that podcasting and audio recording has had on my student's perception of reading and its purpose, and have wondered for a while about how we could use this to our advantage, in having students prepare stories for others around school. Either performing from existing texts or preparing their own for sharing through the network. The recording part would be fairly straightforward but individual or group access as said above to the completed texts more of a challenge, requiring either computers to be tied up or access to individual mp3 players. I realy like the idea of the storyphone on soooooooo many levels! Or something similar, and would encourage the company to ask the question "Why stop with selling this idea as a foundation stage tool?" I would love to have something similar available to use more widely with students of all ages across my school, how about you?

Softease Branch, Y3 and the Properties of Shape

As we aproach the end of term and the end of another school year, I am in the process of what might be called mopping up, looking at areas from the Mathematics framework that we have either not yet engaged with, or which the students have found tricky. Alongside this are some ICT curricular elements that I have not fully developed with the students. We have used data handling environments to for example present data from Science Experiments and as teaching aids with the IWB, but the children themselves have had limited independent access to the tools, other than in small groups at classroom based PCs.

This week we have been involved as a class in a Using and Aplying Mathematics unit, to consolidate our use of vocabulary relating to the properties of 2d shape. At the same time I wanted to embed and develop key skills from the ICT curriculum through the use of a Branching data base. The tool I chose to use for this series of tasks comes from Softease Studio, and is called Branch.

The sessions began however, not with Branch, but with a drag and drop sorting tool I had made using Smart Notebook. Other whiteboard users could make something similar, and an image of the tool is presented to the left for reference. The key to making and using Branching Data bases, binary trees or "dichotomous keys" is an ability to generate, ask and use "null" questions to divide a set of objects into two sets initially, gradually refining questions to distill the set until the branches at the end of the tree have only one object. This involves asking questions that have "yes or no" answers. This is process I have found easiest to develop using the observable features and properties of sets or collections of familiar objects. We often use Carrol Diagrams and Venn diagrams to do this, and the whiteboard tool I used as an introductory frame to support student and teacher discussion around this process before engaging with Branch itself, was designed to act as a link between these tools.

Since our task had a mathematical focus, we began with the shapes to the left of the book engaging the children in paired discussions around questions such as
  • What can you see?
  • What is Special about this shape?
  • How is this shape different to or the same as this shape?
These were used to focus the students attention around the visible properties of the shapes, and to begin drawing on their prior experiences to describe them, for example

"It has four sides and four corners, all of the corners are right angles."

A great set of reponses describing the properties of a rectangle, however in our set we had two rectangles, a square and an oblong. Developing this we began to use the sorting tree model above dragging the two rectangles to the top of the simple tree, and asking the students to propose questions that focussed how they were different. Is it a rectangle ? Or does it have right angles? don't work since both shapes have right angles and by defintition are both rectangles. Are all the sides the same length? Provides a yes or no answer and allows the two shape to be separated.

We used the notebook to practice this idea together, comparing a number of shapes from our collection and then, testing our questions to see if they worked. The children were then introduced to branch and starting with only two shapes each time initially were were encouraged to make a series of trees practicing and rehearsing their questions together.

During follow up sessions the idea of working with 4 shapes was introduced and the children challenged to devise questions that would begin by dividing their shapes into two equal sets. This sounds easier than it is. Eg I have a square, an oblong a triangle and a pentagon. A good starting question might be does the shape have right angles? Does the shape have 4 sides? And because of our previous activity the children suggested these? From here the next question was also fairly straightforward for them based on the practice sessions of small trees the day before. However what happens if we drag a circle, a triangle, a square and a pentagon into the tree? Is it curved? Does it have three sides? Although having yes or no answers don't work in relation to the challenge question set at the beginning of the session. What is needed is to ask a question such as does the shape have "more" or "less" than x numbber of sides/corners/angles? The students were then encouraged to use Branch to explore these ideas, Before during our final session requiring the children to begin with 8 given shapes to design a game for their friends to play and test out.

The children really enjoyed this series of tasks, which challenged their thinking and enabled them through paired discussion to use and apply vocabulary developed in previous classroom based sessions to a decision making process. The UK Primary Mathematics Framework says students in the course of their work should

  • Follow a line of enquiry by deciding what information is important; make and use lists, tables and graphs to organise and interpret the information
  • Describe and explain methods, choices and solutions to puzzles and problems, orally and in writing, using pictures and diagrams
  • Use Venn diagrams or Carroll diagrams to sort data and objects using more than one criterion
  • Relate 2-D shapes and 3-D solids to drawings of them; describe, visualise, classify, draw and make the shapes.
As a guided and collaboratively based series of activities, using Branch in this way really helped support and scaffold this particular group of students engagement and discussion around these processes. It also enabled me to give context to the use of a tool that I have found frequently to be used because it is expected within the ICT scheme of work structure. As with many ICT tools I feel Branching data bases are incredibly useful and powerful tools, if they are used in designed and considered cross curricular learning situations where they can act as a "person plus," or a frame and scaffold to support use, application and transfer of skills and experience from one subject domain to another.


How to write...

in 1000 words or less. Just found and skim read this post from Lifehack, really like what I have read so far something to come back to later.


Pondering on visual storytelling

We have been sharing adventure stories and traditional tales with a twist, during Literacy Sessions for the last couple of weeks, and this week we have particualrly focussed on another of my favourites The Paper Bag Princess, By Robert N. Munsch.

My students seem to really enjoy, my taking a story I love and then trying to retell it in my own words. Perhaps this has come from the podcasting work we have done and their appreciation of how challenging this can be for them at times, or perhaps it simply comes from watching and listening as I try to recount and embellish the tales going through the mental processes I expect of them, visualising, mentally rehearsing and then retelling the tales as they develop. Hopefully though it is also because they recognise the magic of ideas. A story although in existence can still be reshaped, reformed, and refined in the mind of the teller. Even great stories and books such as this are made and altered through performance and enhanced by our interpretations and imaginings. This story telling process however I feel closely models and mirrors the path I currently using in encouraging the talking for writing process. Multimodal views of literacy see written text as "oral text," a symbolic permanent or semi permanant record of what it is we want to say or wish others to hear. Maybe as experienced writers this is something we have lost sight of in the teaching of writing. How many times do we say to ourselves, "hang on that doesn't sound right!" Perhaps we have forgotten over time that the voice we hear, and link to our actions as writers, took years not only to perfect but also to internalise. A forgotten part of our writing repertoire, however this is something which in the primary sector particularly many of our students are either only beginning with or are still in the process of developing. It took an introductory course in Semiotics, communication and representation recently, to actually challenge my perceptions and help me to realise just how complex this process must be. It was great this week then, when the students having eventually read The Paper Bag Princess themselves for the first time, to hear expressions about how they had already read this story, not heard it as I might have expected, and beginning I hope to make the link even if inadvertently between the spoken word and written text they were engaged with.

Over the last couple of days the students have begun to move on from the reading process to begin talking together, planning, mapping out and rehearsing potential plot elements for their own versions of the story. We have discussed and collected new titles for the story to help us innovate on the text, these include such barnstormers as; The Trash Can Princess, The Wheely Binbag Princess and so on, all of which have potential to influence the reactions of other characters in the story, and effect closing dialogue between the princess and the kidnapped prince charming she sets out to rescue. In the process the children have also created some fabulous story maps, and it is these that have prompted this post.

Stimulated by the discussion which began to emerge from the class and the quality of the illustrations the children generated around the story, I have decided to trial something a little bit different in tandem with the story writing process itself. We often use role play and freeze framing as part of our talk for writing process and in a previous post I talked about how interesting it might be to use elements of the Commoncraft approach to animation to support visual storytelling. Having watched the recent release of the Indiana Jones trilogy that featured some really great animated storyboards, I was really fired up to have a go at using this to frame my in to the process. This week we began making scenery and cutout characters, to support the idea of multimedia storyboarding. I am hoping this will inspire the children and help with rehearsing story sequence, something one or two are still finding difficulty with. The idea revolves around using the scenery and character cutouts to frame scenes from the story, capturing these as digital photographs and then using Photostory to sequence the scenes and events. From here I would like the children to add voice overs to tell the story with completed outcomes for publication as simple group movies.

For my more able students I hope this will help extend and expand their vocabulary use and help with the text revision process as they write, while for others, some who are still reluctant to record, or having problems in maintaining logical sequencing as they move from plot element to plot element, that this visual and oral story prompt will help scaffold their progression through the story events they want to tell.