Thursday, September 27, 2012

What I've Been Using Lately - Screen Casts

I know I know, screen casts are nothing new.  I've been teaching middle school students how to use them for several years now.

Usually at some point during the year, almost every student in one of my tech classes wants to share with me about a new tool they have found that they are very excited about.  Enter - screen casting! This is really an ideal time to show them how to screen cast, and then have them create a screen cast showing off their new tool, and describe how they are using it.  They share these with their class mates, post them on their blogs - fun all around.

I don't know why it's taken me so long, but last year it finally occurred to me that I was spending way too much time searching around YouTube and Vimeo for the perfect short instructional videos to post on my course sites.  One day that bell went off in my head and I said, "Duh, make your own!" I have been a screen casting fool ever since. Here's an example of one of my Hollywood-worthy screen casts about adding a gadget in Blogger.

Why is screen casting better than making a regular instructional video?

One word - time.

I've made plenty of regular instructional videos over the years using my camera and iMovie, and I love them and reuse them at every opportunity.  However, the main downside is, they are more time consuming to make.

It takes very little planning to make a good screen cast. Here are the stages for making a basic screen cast:
1. have a general outline of talking points - if you don't, a lot of your screen cast will be sounds of you going, "aaaaand, uuuummmmm, sooooo," and so forth.
2. Have the pages and tabs you are going to use already open. No sense wasting screen cast time waiting for your lethargic browser to load a page.
3. Keep it short - focus your screen cast on ONE thing.  This is infinitely more useful for students, and far more flexible for you in terms of being able to use the screen cast over again.

What to use?
Nowadays I primarily use Screencast-o-Matic, because it's easy and free.  However, there are other good tools out there. Two others I have used quite a bit are Jing and Screenr - both very easy to use.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Want to increase reading comprehension and engagement? Try making a Book Trailer

Let's face it - book reports are a thing of the past. They are boring to write and boring to read. It's one of those activities that sucks the life out of a a great book for the student, and doesn't give a teacher any more information than what a short discussion or a few quick comprehension questions could address.

However, just because a student has read a book doesn't guarantee a depth of understanding - that's why we do lots of comprehension activities and formative assessments as we go along. But when they are all done, how do we know what they got out of that?

One way to help teachers understand, and to help students engage more deeply with the reading and understand the importance of the elements of literature, is to have them create Book Trailers. 

Book Trailers for Readers is actually a site I found awhile back that contains pre-made book trailers for kids to watch - they are like watching a movie trailer to get you excited about watching a movie.  I used to show them in class once in awhile to build anticipation for a new novel we were about to read.

Book Trailers for Readers also features trailers created and submitted by students. They even have a slideshow (Prezi) that helps show kids how to do it.
Last year, my junior high students started making their own - here's what we did:

1. We reviewed many of the book trailers on the Book Trailers for Readers site, as well as their "How To" page and documentation. We looked for elements they had in common (narrator taking on the 1st person voice of the main character, asking leading questions or making leading statements, setting the scene, building anticipation to the "conflict" point in the story and not going beyond that, use of images, sound, etc.). We used these to develop a checklist of elements crucial to a good book trailer.
2. We built a book trailer as a class using a novel we had recently read.  We used a story board to plan the video and plugged in some of the elements we wanted to use.  Students took on the jobs of script writing, gathering images, narration, filming, finding sounds, etc.We put it all together in iMovie and that was it. As a class we were able to complete this in about 2 class periods.
3. Students selected a favorite book from class from the past year (it's ok if some selected the same), and went through the same process to build their own book trailers - they had to peer review at points along the way.
4. Once everyone had the idea, they looked forward to making book trailers about much of the literature we were studying in class. 

Book trailers are a great way to encourage students' creativity and enthusiasm for reading, and also help them to spread the word about great reads!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What I've Been Using Lately - BibMe

In an attempt to try to be more regular with my postings, I'm going to initiate a series called "What I've Been Using Lately".  This will mainly feature tools that I find myself using often and transparently either with my own prep work or with students.  I have many of these kinds of tools in my arsenal, and over the past few years I've written about many of them in this blog.  It struck me as I looked through my archives recently that many of the tools and techniques I've featured here are ones I still use - I would call those kinds of tools "worth it".

So today, I'm going to highlight a great little tool that English teachers probably hate but that I LOVE!  It's called BibMe and the sole purpose of the site is to help users create bibliographies in MLA or APA format.  Now I learned how to do all of this stuff the hard way back in high school, but after college, my need for such skills kind went way down.  However, now that I am once again taking courses, as well as publishing once in awhile, I do have a need.  Granted, once you learn the system, citing your sources is not all that difficult, but it is time consuming. Besides the usual - books, magazines, newspapers, websites, journals and films - BibMe makes it easy to cite weird sources like interviews, lectures, radio and tv shows, encyclopedia entries, and even photographs.

BibMe searches lots of internet databases so you have to do very little, if any, entry yourself.  Citing a website? Just copy and paste in the URL. Citing a book or journal? Type in the ISBN. Citing an article or something where you don't know the ISBN? Just type in the title and author.  BibMe is fairly accurate at coming up with what you're looking for.

Best of all, if you sign up for a free account with BibMe, it keeps a list of all of the sources you've listed in your account, so you can go back to them any time.  Even if you don't sign up for an account, it still keeps a listing of your works cited for quite awhile.  BibMe allows you the option to download your lists to Word as well. 

With the click of a button, BibMe will change formatting between APA and MLA - simple!

Citing sources can be a time consuming process. I would say that if your high school students have a good handle on how these formats are supposed to look, let them use BibMe!