Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Tag: Google Docs

Fiction to Nonfiction

Yesterday I met with Ms. Thomas to come up with a good way to transition from fiction to nonfiction in her Language Arts classes. I think the resulting project will be great to see executed.

The students are reading the novel Stand Tall by Joan Bauer. In the book, the main character helps his grandfather recover after he has a leg amputated. In the process, he learns about his grandfather’s experiences during the Vietnam War. To transition from fiction to nonfiction, the students will select an event mentioned by the grandfather in the book and conduct some research. Based on the research, the students will write a newspaper article as if the event had just happened. Then they will adapt the newspaper article to film a news segment for a television show.

I really like this project because the students will explore the differences in the portrayal of a historical event in a fictional context, then in a nonfiction context meant for an audience to read, and agin in a context meant for an audience to listen and watch. There have to be stylistic differences in how information is presented and how detailed the language must be.

Look for samples of the newspaper articles and the news reports in a few weeks on Ms. Thomas’s blog.

Exploring Europe

Students in Ms. Curfman’s class (blog) have been exploring Europe in their World Studies class. Today we brought the iPads and we are working on comparing European countries to the United States.

Working in pairs, students are using the data provided in the GeoMaster app, along with the If It Were My Home website, to create a table in Adobe Ideas. The table will contain the statistics they find most relevant in deciding where they would live if they were to move from the United States to Europe. Next, students will use Google Docs to write a paragraph justifying their choice based on their findings.

As students finish, they may play the games in GeoMaster, locating European countries on a map, or identifying capitals and flags.

Romeo, Juliet, and the Apology

Last week I spoke to Mrs. Abbott and Mrs. Whisler who have been reading Romeo and Juliet with their students. To evaluate the students’ understanding of the play, they have assigned some letter writing. Students have to create a letter written by Friar Lawrence explaining his role in the whole affair to the Prince, and apologize for the way things turned out. This is a great idea.

First, the students are not being asked to summarize the play, or to answer simple questions. Students are being asked to think through the events in the play assign guilt to all involved. This requires that each student evaluate and interpret the actions and thoughts of each character. There is no correct answer, and there is no way to Google an answer. Second, students can be creative in writing the letter and make the explanations as simple or as complex as they wish. This provides for instant differentiation.

Of course, there is also tech involved, which makes me so happy. Students are using Google Docs, sharing their letters with a partner, and working on peer editing and critiquing. And, there will be no printing.Yay!

What can we do so this assignment does not get old in a few years? Come up with variations. Have the Nurse write the letter, resigning her post and explaining the events from her point of view. Write the eulogy one of the relatives would have given at the funeral. Write the newspaper account, with interviews, or the report a CSI character might file after an investigation. There are endless possibilities to help everyone avoid a dry summary that can be copied off any website.

Fan Fiction in the Classroom

Last August, while I was at the Scratch Conference at MIT, I got to hear Henry Jenkins (blog) discussing participatory culture as an integral aspect of what makes Scratch so great. He gave a brief history of fan fiction and its transition from “fanzines” to online publishing, and discussed several notable examples. While listening to all this, I realized that people who write fan fiction enjoy writing, and their writing is scaffolded by what is already there: the setting, the existing characters, the known events.

I realized fan fiction could be used in the classroom to help students practice their writing skills. Some people can pull a story from thin air easily. Others, like me, are intimidated by a blank page. Fan fiction fills up some of that page, but still allows writers to exercise the imagination and hone their skills.

To bring this idea to Goochland County, I held an after-school session for teachers yesterday afternoon. We got together and broke up into three teams. Each team wrote a new scene for the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs story, a non-existent scene portraying a dinner party. In less than an hour, each team had a hilarious, complicated story taking full advantage of the known characteristics and shared experiences of the dwarfs and Snow White.

After sharing our stories, we discussed the benefits of utilizing elements of fan fiction in the Language Arts classroom. We agreed that publishing student writing to give kids an authentic audience to critique their work raises the level of performance in the classroom. We also spent a lot of time looking at examples of fan fiction at various websites.

Of course, the issue of copyright versus fair use came up. I showed them where some authors like JK Rowling have expressed their delight that people care enough to write fan fiction. We read about LucasFilm, their tolerance of fan fiction, and their request that any Star Wars fan fiction be clean and family friendly. And, I showed them where some authors are appalled that readers appropriate what is not theirs and do everything in their power to stamp it out. In conclusion, when in doubt, ask before publishing online, but feel free to let students write for in-class enjoyment.

It was one of my most enjoyable after-school sessions so far this year. The teachers were engrossed in writing their shared Google Docs, wrote fantastic stories, and generated lots of very good ideas for using what they learned in their classrooms.

Manage the Crowd

Are you organizing the next potluck lunch at school? An awards ceremony? How about asking for your colleagues’ opinion?

Don’t ask for emails. You’ll have to filter, cut, paste, sort, ask for clarification, work, work, work.

Our Google Docs makes it very easy to create a form and collect all the information in a searchable, sortable, readable, exportable spreadsheet. Get exactly the information that you need in exactly the format that makes it most usable to you.

Stop by my office or send me an email if you would like to learn more.

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