Wednesday, May 20, 2015

CapsuleCam for Class Album Sharing

When my kids finally got to take pictures for the Literary Photo Booth, I wanted them to be able to share their pictures with me and the rest of the class. I thought about using Twitter, but my kids figured out how to tweet privately, so no one would see their pictures but me. I went to my iTeam to see what options they could offer, and they came back to me with the app/website CapsuleCam.

CapsuleCam is great photo sharing platform usually used for weddings and other big social events. Users can easily join the album by entering a passcode, and then add their own photos directly through their app, website, or through Instagram. They can then go back and create captions for their photos.

Things I like about CapsuleCam:

  • It's EASY to set up and to use.
  • It's free!
  • It's an app and a website, so learners can use their phone, iPad, or computer to upload pictures.
  • It allows you to add captions. Since part of our project was to include reflective captions about the pictures the learners took, this feature was non-negotiable.
  • You can easily order prints of your album.
Things I like slightly less:
  • You can get a custom passcode for your album, which makes it easier for users to join, BUT it's a paid feature. 
You can check out our class Literary Photo Booth album here!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Literary Photo Booth

At the beginning of the year, I set out to come up with a new way to review for the AP Literature and Composition Exam. In the past, I've had my kids keep track of the details of the novels they read on fairly generic forms. I wouldn't call it ineffective, but it wasn't a particularly fun way for any of us to remember what the details of texts they read from August through May.

This year, we reviewed for the test with a Photo Booth.

Literary Photo Booth Directions
After each whole class novel or play, my learners created props to represent the characters, genre, setting, symbols, and themes of the work.

They came up with some pretty cool props that would make any photo booth fun. You can see some of my favorite props below. They key is that they remember that the best photo booth props are one that "dress up" the character in the photograph.

Check out our class album here!

Each prop gives a description of the character, setting, symbol, theme, or characteristic of the genre as well as a quote or quotes from the text.
Mr. Charrington is represented by a spy hat.

This prop notes the novel title, author, genre, and provides a brief synopsis of the text.

O'Brien is represented by a disguise. His character's mustache is noteworthy in the novel.

Parsons is represented by a sheep because he blindly follows the Party.

Of course there's a paperweight!

The creature is represented as having a heart of gold trapped in ice.

Forbidden knowledge is explored in the novel and represented as an owl mask.

The torch reminds readers of the story's subtitle, The Modern Prometheus and the parallels between his story and Frankenstein's.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Friday, May 1, 2015

Get Your Kids Engaged with Mastery Stations

Using stations in the classroom is nothing new. Teachers have been using stations for years, and I've done them from time to time.

For our Social Injustice Unit in English II Pre-AP, we used Mastery Stations as the primary learning model, and the results were outstanding! The reason we call them Mastery Stations is because the learners had to master the station before they moved on to another one.

Here's what I like about using Mastery Stations:

Learners play Social Injustice Charades and
act out different types of injustice.
1. Mastery Stations get the kids up and moving - something we know they don't do enough of by the time they hit high school. (Check out Grant Wiggins' blog post on the subject.)

In Pic Scene, learners draw a card with a different social injustice
on it, then create a still image of the injustice.
Learners are really not engaged when they're sitting for an hour at a time. It's surprisingly tiring to just sit. (Ever spend a day vegging on the couch watching Netflix? You're exhausted by the end of it, even though you haven't done anything.)

Mastery Stations keep the learners' blood flowing because they have to physically move from station to station. In addition, the stations are all different, so some require them to be up and moving.

In our first round of Mastery Stations, the learners were exploring exactly what social injustice is, how it's different from injustice, understanding different types of social injustice, and connecting to our past reads while determining the social injustices that occur in literature before defining it in their current novels.

Learners identify different social injustices that are explored in
different texts we have read this year.
Learners choose a social injustice and create an
acrostic poem to depict it.
2. Mastery Stations create individual learning pathways. Learners get to choose which Mastery Stations to do with a minimum requirement. I get to decide the skills and concepts they need to know, but they get to decide what their learning will look like. If they don't want to create a poem about social injustice, they can record a two-minute narrative inspired by an image depicting social injustice instead. If they don't want to play charades, they can create a physical interpretation of a social injustice. So many options - learners truly feel empowered when they can make those choices for themselves. Interesting note: Many times all of the learners or groups ended up completing all of the stations because they were having so much fun!

3. Mastery Stations are wonderful for formative assessment. There is nothing more powerful for me as a teacher than knowing exactly what each of my learners needs at any given moment. Mastery Stations allow me to track learner progress continuously during class, using the simple red/yellow/green approach.

I used a chart to track learner achievement. I used a red highlighter to indicate a learner who needed one-on-one or small group help; yellow to note a learner who hadn't quite hit the level of mastery, but could keep working through it independently or with peer support; and green to indicate that a learner had mastered the station and was ready to move on.
What's really nice about this is that I can make quick and easy decisions regarding our next steps. Sometimes just a handful of learners needed one-on-one help with a particular skill. In my classroom, I have tables that seat 4. Two of the tables are pushed together. That area became the small group table where I could sit and really work with learners struggling with a certain concept until they grasped it. Sometimes I found that an entire class was struggling with a single concept. When that happened, it was time to slow down and do a whole-class re-teach. Sometimes my learners were all exceeding my expectations of mastery and I had to come up with extension activities to keep them engaged and learning. Whatever happens, Mastery Stations keep us all on our toes!

Example of Mastery Station directions.
4. Mastery Stations are learner-centered and empowering. ...Sometimes to the point where I feel useless in my own classroom!

The Mastery Stations are set up so that all directions and supplies are ready to go, and I don't have to do anything to get the learners started. All I have to do is support the learners when they have difficulty understanding a concept or skill.

I use QR codes and brightly colored paper to supply the directions to each Mastery Station. The directions look something like the navy picture.

The learners then compared the use of Google vs.
Databases. Since I have chalkboard tables, they
did this directly on the tables and then took a
picture of it to keep their findings.

A simple color-coded cup system allows my learners to communicate
their needs with my while continuing to work through a problem
they might be having or signal that they're ready for feedback.
I started using cups about halfway through this year as a great way for my learners to communicate with me. No surprises here: Red means I need Mrs. Neal's help right now - I can't move forward on my own, yellow means I'm doing fine on my own but am not ready for Mrs. Neal to check my work, and green means I'm ready for feedback.

What's great about this system is that my kids don't raise their hands anymore. (Do you know what happens when a learner raises his hand? He isn't thinking or problem-solving, he's just sitting there waiting for his teacher to solve the problem for him.)

When a learner puts up a red cup, he knows that I'll get to him as soon as I can. And guess what - many times, he continues to work through the problem and figures it out - without my help! It's not that I don't want to or am unwilling to help my kids. But think about how empowered a learner feels when he thinks he can't do something and then does it anyway.

That's a Wrap.

All in all, Mastery Stations have been wonderful for so many reasons and are a strategy I will continue to use. As always, questions and feedback are welcome!

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