11 June 2015

Creating Memes as Modern-Day Political Cartoons

Finding or drawing political cartoons to express the absurdity or irony of a historical perspective has long been a staple of history class. I remember creating a political cartoon in my study of Romeo and Juliet 18 years ago and one of the first lessons I wrote in undergrad social studies ed classes revolved around this cartoon, published after China's first manned spaceflight:


During my planning for my summer school government class last week, I wanted to think through the idea of filibuster, but I was looking for something that my students (and myself) would relate to contextually. As the print newspaper has declined in readership and influence informing the public, we've of course seen a concurrent rise in digital media and freedom/ease of expression through social media. (I did a precursory Google search before I wrote this post to see if anyone else had already written it and found this piece from journalism professor John Schacht - "Why Internet Memes May Replace Editorial Cartoons" - it didn't suggest any role in the classroom, but it exactly expressed the increasing prominence of memes beyond picture of grumpy cat.

Recently, Senator Ted Cruz gained some notoriety for reading Seuss's Green Eggs & Ham while holding the floor with a filibuster to delay vote of a funding bill for the Affordable Healthcare Act. I played this video from CSPAN of the reading, and then asked my students to create memes showing their understanding of the concept of a filibuster as part of our study of the legislative branch.

Most of my students used createameme.org - it worked well enough on the iPads - but you could use any app/website that allowed you to layer text over an image. Here's what they came up with:










The best/worst part of this activity was the giggles that ensued the rest of class because students didn't want to get off of the meme websites. :)

07 June 2015

Give Your Students "College Ready" Texts They'll WANT To Read

Its no secret that the ACT (and success in college as a whole) is dependent upon a high-level of reading comprehension. The science section on the ACT has much, much more to do with reading and understanding a non-fiction, technical text than it does your memory of mitosis or Newton's 3rd law.

That being said, it be hard to avoid the importance of raising reading skills in my ACT Prep class this summer. I haven't looked at my students' benchmarked reading scores from the school year, but given the
"don't-you-dare-call-on-me" silence of death I've gotten our 2 days of class when I asked for a reader, I'd be willing to bet they are not high. I don't think the students at my school WANT to be poor readers, and most of our low readers probably carry some shame about and would put in work to raise their skills, but putting in the hard work of catching up using reading texts that are not of personal interest to them creates a mental barrier. Rather than hurdle/climb/scratch/claw over it, many of our readers go the easier route of blaming something/someone else for their deficiencies, or they resign to "I'm not a good reader."

As I was perusing the Chrome Web Store this week looking for more utility to add to my Chromebook, I ran into Newsela, a news aggregator that promises to give my students articles that will be of interest to them at a lexile/grade level score that I can set to best support them.

I had really hoped Newsela ran on some super platform that used some fancy coding to take any article a student could throw at and replace synonyms, interpret meaning, and chunk long passages into shorter ones, but apparently I live in the future.

Newsela DOES have a respectable amount of articles to choose from (updated daily), and I was even able to find one about the dance team from a school in my district that the +St Louis Post-Dispatch profiled last fall.

Here's what Newsela allows you to do with any of the articles on the site:

  • Assign to students for reading. From their student account, they pull up their "binder" to find what you have curated for them.
  • Set a lexile level for them to scaffold vocabulary weaknesses while focusing on comprehension
  • Assess comprehension with a quiz that they put together or a writing prompt
  • Highlight and annotate passages to give your students extra insight or further scaffold their reading.

To share some of how it works, here's a few screenshots of my perusing that article:

This is the layout of an article on Newsela. You have options to assign the article (or to hide it) at the top, the text in the main column with sharing buttons above the title, and choices to differentiate reading levels and assessment on the right in blue.



Newsela doesn't ONLY replace "higher" words for lower, the editorial staff also provides subtitles and headings the lower you go down lexicles. This is the same paragraph on the 5th grade and 12th grade reading level.



Is it a PERFECT tool for getting your students relatable content? Probably not, but it gets you a long way in its ability to provide choice and scaffolding for your readers, and its faster than a classroom trip to the library for students to find and choose books on the appropriate level.

05 June 2015

Using Visual Notes for Memory and Understanding

Are you an doodler? Associating notes and terms with images is helpful for recalling information later, so doodling (or finding images that relate and then pasting in) is a good strategy for taking something mundane like note-taking and creating an "experience" that will be easier to call upon during test time. I still remember the tank I drew with icicles hanging from it in 10th grade on my Cold War notes.


This brings me to today's use of visual notes. As much as it pains me to say, "victory" on the ACT does not always go to the "smartest" students, but instead, to those who can best play the game. In a bubble, I'd much rather teach math concepts and skills, but when it comes to gaming the ACT, sometimes those get in the way.

This is best exemplified in my experience from my 2 experiences taking the ACT as a student. The first time, I had a TI-83 at my side, checking every graph and solution I could, searching for just the right formula. I didn't finish that section - I don't even remember being that close. The second time I took the ACT, I did not have the graphing calculator (I have no idea where the graphing calculator I'd been using went) - I didn't even have a scientific calculator! I told my dad on the way to the test that I needed to get a calculator, so we stopped at a supermarket, bought a 2 dollar four function calculator. The magic of my 2 dollar calculator test was that I HAD to skip around to the things I could do easiest. I was much more agile in my thinking, skipped around more quickly when I felt stuck, and actually did 5 points higher that time. My "knowledge" got in the way the first time from me showing what I definitely knew, and there were probably some questions I could have done that I never got to.

I found a list of strategies for each section of the ACT on sparknotes.com for my students and I've tasked them to make a "poster" for each section and the included strategies. My skill set and interest leans toward illustrating in any whiteboard or drawing app, but I left open the option for using the PicCollage app to bring in images and text or Haiku Deck to make a slide show with an image for each strategy.

Here's the example I created using the Paper app based on tips from this video that I showed earlier in class:

Here's a preliminary student example:
My favorite part of this one is the crossed arms emoji for "eliminate answers". :)
More visual notes resources:
6 Apps To Visualize Notes on iPad
Sketchnotes and Visual Thinking Note-taking - This page summarizes and links to many OTHER resources
Show with Media: Visual Note-taking

Happy note-taking!