Animal Farm 3D #1

Some may know, I’ve been working on and with Jo Kay to build a middle school virtual world based on Animal Farm. It would be easy to build a ‘set’ but we want to build a game based learning world, in which students work in world and in other online spaces – using cybergogic theories and processes. It’s complicated. Here is a look at the rolling hills as Jo shows me the Windmill. Anyone recognise it?

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Tales of Utopia

In the beginning part of the year, I started collaborating with Jeff in Montana on a Gifted and Talented project, where middle school students undertook a unit on Utopia.

The study book was Animal Farm. We developed a series of activities to meet the standards, which ultimately had the goal of engaging students in creating their own original short stories that used themes taken from the book and other texts.

The project culminated in his students publishing their book online. The stories they created are excellent! Proving once again that students can be really amazing.

I was trapped. I reached the end of the long hallway, out of breath and scared out of my mind. They were coming after me, I could feel their presence. I knew I never should have spoken up. Now I was the enemy, and they were going to execute me.

Now the book is published, and what would be even more amazing for them, would be to see people actually buy it – outside of their class and parents.

You can preview the entire book online; and have a browse though their work. Imagine telling middle-school kids that in a few weeks they are going to publish a 10,000 world novel!

Watching the clock definitely didn’t make school go by any faster, if anything it just dragged it out. Waiting for the bell to ring was like watching grass grow. My teacher seemed indifferent to our suffering, as she squeezed everything she could out of her lesson to make it last until the very last second. Please let something interesting happen, I thought. All I need is a little explosion, that’s all. It was as if the sky read my thoughts.

So consider buying it – or at least reading a few stories and leaving them a comment.

It costs under AU$40.00 (less with the discount of $10!) and will make a great resource for anyone teaching Animal Farm and interested in creative writing.

As a bonus (bribe), we’ll give you the entire unit so you can teach it.

This includes a series of lessons, writing tasks and the theory behind how it was designed – (as the project is founded more in games archtypes than Blooms). Even more tempting, we’ll work with you online so you can ask questions. We’d love to see the project grow.

If you put the following code in at the appropriate time and you will receive a $10.00 discount. Click here to buy the kids book and preview their work.

$10.00 off discount code = eduCreateQ31

I have to thank my friends Angela and Kerry for their help in this project, their advice was invaluable (again) – and a massive thanks to the students for their enthusiasm and creativity.

This project has become a significant influence on my project with Jo Kay in Jokaydia GridAnimal Farm 3D, where we are taking this from two dimensions to three, as a transmedia project. Creating a world for students to learn is no small task and really has taken a year to get to the point where we have started the design and development of the world – and the supporting documents needed to teach and learn with it. This will be ready in late June. The final project will allow schools to drop students into a secure, private, immersive work, explore a new narrative and ultimately create their own writing.

But right now – if you scrape up some money and want to grab a great unit of work at the same time … then click the link!

Animal Farm 2.0 – Reading and Talking in Google Docs

In my previous post, I talked about the balance and opportunity between instructional learning and inquiry (or project based learning).

My last project with Lucy Gresser in Project Based Learning at my school.

I was a real attempt at combining the two methods of learning. If you’ve not read the other posts on Animal Farm, then here’s the gist of part one of the project.

The students were charged with reading the novel in a week, in preparation for a second week of learning about creative writing. At the end of the second week, they work collaboratively to write a 7000-8000 word novel in groups of 6 in a day using Google Docs and Blurb’s Booksmart application.

These 9th grade students did not know what the second week project woud be about, whilst reading Animal Farm – but they knew it was connected somehow.

Lucy is an amazing teacher, and I’d put my kids in her charge without hesitation. She demonstrates what I think are the critical characteristics of a 21C teacher – and engages and enthuses students and uses technology fluidly to connect with students.

Part of the task, for students to select an online group – in which they would talk to a character in the book – who asks them questions – Each day, the character asks a few questions on each chapter as the student progresses – using Google Docs. The ‘teacher’ is blind to know who the teacher is online – though they do know their classroom teacher – so in effect many students online teacher was not their face to face one.

We wanted to create a feeling of a third space, in which students would undertake conversational learning. They would debate the classroom discussion online, and answer questions that we not set ahead of time. Whatever topics the students raised, the teacher expanded upon – we didn’t want the teacher to be the ‘expert’ in the conversation – so took the approach of using the various characters of the book as the students online conversational tutor.

This is a link to a PDF file of the Google Doc ‘learning’ conversation that took place over the week. The teacher comments are in green, the student’s are in black. I would really like comments on what you see going on here – in contrast to ‘instructional’ learning only.

Feedback on the approach and what you see in the document is much appreciated. How has the student reacted to online conversations, is it effective learning, do you see him grow in his understanding of the text and wider issues? How?

Thanks!

Animal Farm 2.0 – Reading won’t hurt

 We are almost the end of the first week of the two week Animal Farm 2.0 project. Our goals have been clear. We want the students to get back into reading books, talking about books and thinking the language of books. We also want them to use what they are reading to help them learn about basic creative writing techniques, start to repack ‘language’ in a formal context and then to produce a series of books containing short stories.

It’s fast and furious. I am not the ‘classroom’ teacher – in fact there are 8 of them. I think that the design of this project has created for the teachers a real feeling of ‘unity’. Casual conversations with the teachers suggests that they feel enthusiastic, becuase of the way the students have taken to reading and asking questions. It has not been perhaps the ‘battle’ to get 15 year old boys to get engaged with reading that it might have been in the past, but that is just a feeling I get from talking to them.

The students have shared a simple GoogleDoc with their teachers online, and have been actively responding to questions. These questions are individual to each student, so the teachers have mapped the ‘key learning’ and been able to explore the student’s ideas as well as meet the objectives of the unit. The classroom lessons are given to explore the text in groups, take part in writing exercises to support it. The deconstruction and reflection of that classroom activity – is done in GoogleDocs, and it may well be that the students are talking to a different teacher.

In effect they are talking to an advisor and mentor. When they return to class – its clear that the students are bring a number of persectives to the class.

They can say to the teacher ‘That is what I thought, but then Snowball said ….”. It gives the student some ‘expert’ feeling, that they are bringing information and new ideas to the teacher – creating a greater democracy in learning.

Around the campus, students can be seen reading. They have also formed discussion groups with teachers at lunch time – because they want to know more and get more from the text. In the 3 years I’ve been at the school, I have never seen this in 9th Grade. The actual manditory tasks this week are actually quite low, yet the effort and enthusiasm is remarkable. We have a new teacher in the mix, Brad. Lucy has taken on the project in her usual creative and enthusiastic manner and Brad has falled right into line. Her understanding of how technology can be used strategically to create a sense of drama and mystery in learning is fantastic.

The students know that there is something about to happen in the project, and not sure what, but it has something to do with the meaning that they need to get from Animal Farm. (I’d say more, but they might read this). What is important is that when I ask the students about ‘how’s the project going’ … they talk about the meaning of the book, and how it might apply to all manner of things, no least the way the school operates. They are not retelling the story. At the end of almost a year, these kids are now looking well beyond the immediate ‘task’.

In this project, I think we’ve got a strong ‘content’ and ‘learning’ balance. One of the critisisms of PBL is how kids stack up against kids learning the same content in more traditional ways. I guess that really depends on how you define the summative assessment – but I do think that there is a danger to skip content milestones in favour of other goals – which are valid – but make it hard to draw direct comparisons.

This project, so far, has created unity in the teachers – each has a part to play, and has been able to teach in their own style. The enthusiasm that the teacher brings to class is picked up by students. At times I think teachers can be lost in the fog of technology, or the process of project based learning – and students know it. When putting this task together – a major goal Lucy and I had – was for the teachers. To create a project that let them do what they do best, to learn a new tool (GoogleDocs) and create unity and engagement as a teaching team – that has the ability to focus on individual students. I am learning just how critical that is – and unity is as much of a key word as collaborative to me right now.

The next phase of creative writing starts tommorrow – so I really want to try and capture that – with the end ‘book’ writing the week after.

Animal Farm 2.1 How To Enter a Project

This is the entry video I made for the launch of the Animal Farm / Creative Writing Project.

The images in here are going to be the ‘graphic’ content that the students will include in their 8000 word ‘books’ in about 2 weeks time. Why bother making a video? – because we reinforce the idea of drama and context. A few students will watch it several times, and many more will ask questions. It is a visual aid from which we can talk about creative writing.

It provides boundaries – and presents opportunities to discuss ideas.

We don’t simply introduce a projects as ‘you have to read Animal Farm then write 1000 word creative writing task’. When we open the project – we give them just a small part of the overall task.

The ending text tells them how they have to write 8000 words in one day – the first thing they are going to ask ‘how am I going to do that!’ – which means the ignition light is on to learning.

Animal Farm 2.0 – How to

Just spent a fantastic day off and on with Lucy Gresser, who is part of our PLP leading teacher project team. Lucy is one of the most creative, democratic and inspiring teachers in the schools Project Based Learning. She has an absolute passion for English which resonates with her students. I constantly think as a parent – what kind of teacher do I want my kids to know – and Lucy is exactly that.

So we’ve modeled a two week descriptive writing project today and going to try and share how this collaborative project works, and maybe give people some idea of what I consider 21C practice.

Why? Well at the end of very interesting week in which I was asked to ‘describe what it is I do’ in my role as LTST. It’s hard to explain something like this to people who really don’t have a context for it, suffice to say, this is not what LTST does as far as I know. Confused? Yeah, me too.

This is what I do because I hope teachers will do with my own kids in the future.

Overview

Once again, we’ve opted for ‘classless’ grouping of students. I am a massive believer in the ‘collaborative discourse’ community approach to learning.

This means we have 6 teachers working with 160 students – online, but in class, 2 teachers work with about 55 students in two hour blocks – in one room. In this way we blend learning between virtual and face to face.

Components

The project runs over 2 weeks.

Technology

  • it is a digital storytelling set up.
  • It uses reflective writing as formative assessment
  • final product and presentation as a summative assessment.

The first stage is the entry document and project launch – and that is very important. The initial introduction of the project needs to create plenty of questions in the minds of students. As we move through the project, the teacher’s role is to scaffold the learning – to navigate students though ‘way points’ – from the syllabus. How they get to those is largely the students choice.

Preparing the project

To get to the launch – there is preparation. That I did using Second Life. Quite by chance as it happens. One goal of the project is to prevent students ‘creating graphics’ – but to focus on reading and writing. We know that we also need to general visual scaffold and stimulus material in reaching our end product and I’ve been thinking about that. How to make it interesting, but not schooly.

I was talking with Jo Kay, Al Upton and Leigh Blackall at the tail end of a small event – and Leigh got talking about the changes in graphic themes and styles that is maturing in lots of Second Life builds now. Lots of this is soft, organic and a kind of steam punk/manga feel. Korean and Japanese designers are often ellustive to talk to, but they are creating some amazing visual effects and spaces with that are edgy and at the same time highly detailed.

Once such space Jo took us to was JAPAN : Tempura Island. As anyone who knows me, I am an Art Director by trade – so I love to look at the technics of builds. Tempura Island is outstanding.

As we looked about, I took ‘photos’. These images show lots of interaction between characters, elements of nature, man made items etc.,

I was using SL to create a portfolio of images that the students will use as part of their final work – where they will produce descriptive writing.

There are 3 reasons for this. 1. The students respond to this type of ‘gamer’ visual representation. 2. It is very easy to do and 3. It provides the students with a ‘core’ visual stimulus to work around – in what will be a single day of final work.

Observations

Collaborative Web2.0 projects have greater impact if they are broken down into fast and furious hands on activities – followed by more sedate reflection. There has to be a degree of pressure and urgency in the task to push the students in the task – but well resourced so that the distance between a thoughts and a ‘win’ is not too far and reinforced through reflection via Google Docs. The book itself is a class text – but we also provide a Google Books link to the online text, but we want students to go home and READ.

Process

Week 1 uses Moodle and Google Docs.
Week 2 uses Google Docs, Blurb and the images from Second Life, via a Flickr account.

The reason for this lies in the formative assessment tools developed to support this format of learning.

Formation of Groups

  1. We created 6 ‘themes’ for the final product. For example, ‘Equality’.
  2. Each theme is presented to students as a 50 word ‘outline’.
  3. This gives an ‘idea’ of what the end product might entail – but by no means exhaustive – it is named and described to create curiosity.
  4. 160 students are broken down into 7 groups. 6 groups are ‘mainstream’ and 1 group is hand picked based on differentiated needs or students that are identified as needing ‘special help from past performance’.
  5. Moodle is used to form the groups. Here’s how we do that – We open the themes for online enrolment. First in bessed dressed is the way we do it. Kids opt into 1 chosen theme on that basis. They do not know who the ‘teacher’ is who is mentoring the group online. This stops kids trying to get with their mates or hooking into the ‘best worker’ groups – as they fill up fast – and kids soon learn that if they want their pick, then they’d better get on, else that group gets filled out.
  6. Group names. We used ‘Snowball’, etc, to name the study groups – rather than a classname. This again is there to build curiosity and links to the text.
  7. Google Docs – We created 7 Gmail Acccounts for each group. Students invite their mentor – using the given gmail address – to share their individual documents for the project. This makes it simple – and private for teachers.

So at the end of formation, kids have chosen a group, set up a Google Doc and shared it with a teacher – via a special email address. Each teacher will have about 26 shared documents to work with.

Its important to note that the kids in their Google Group – may not actually be in their class. This means that the kids they teach face to face may or may not include those they teach online. This ensure’s teacher buy in and also is a stragic way of norming Google Docs in professional development.

The strategy behind this : The kids are selecting the topic, and have no bias to the teacher and visa versa. The teachers we involved in the process of choosing the ‘theme’ from Animal Farm that they want to teach. This is a strong bargain.

Week 1

Reading is not a normal 9th grade activity. Reading a whole book in a short space of time is even less so. In week one, the students read the 100 pages or so of Animal Farm – which is made of 10 chapters. Our expectation in the classroom is simply reading. 2 chapters a day in class/home. At the end of the lesson the teacher asks one question – relating to the text. This formative assessment is based on comprehension and communication, and equates to 30% of the end mark. The teacher has the ability to vary the question – depending on how they feel the previous responses were made.

I think that it is critical – in 21C learning, that we leverage the teaching experience and skills of staff – and not dictate inflexible lesson planning.

Students respond to each question (2 per day) using Google Docs – together with the a reflective addition – “things I wonder about right now”.

During the first week, the students are learning that sustained, personal reading is valuable. The teachers can allow quiet reading – or model reading with all or some of the students in break out groups.

We are not seeking to explore Animal Farm in a historical context – that is another project. We are also aiming to use scaffold thier comprehension though rising taxonomy as the week progresses.

Week 2 – Descriptive Writing

The first lesson is 2 hours. In the first hour, we show them one image from the Tempura set. In the hour they are asked to write a descriptive text. A saga. So they need to research that. More specifically, they have to write a 50 word saga. This is a soft exposure to descriptive writing – and an introduction of the final assessment criteria. This is 10% weighted and sumbmitted via Moodle. Most kids will nail this – and its really important to start ‘new’ projects with ‘easy wins’.

In the second hour, the kids are given a ‘writing brief’, and watch a short video. This is just an Animoto – using the 6 themes and images from Tempura. This is called the entry document. This informs them of what they will do to create their final product – but at this point the have little idea how to reach the goal.

The end product is a book using Blurb – and the images supplied from Tempura.

  • Each book is a collection of short stories.
  • There are 6 chapers. The chapters are based on the themes and the Google Doc Groups.
  • Each chapter has three short stories (one per student).
  • The story is constructed around the images – and the themes that they chose at the outset – taken from those in Animal Farm – so there is immediate meta-cognition for the students to scaffold from.

This is where collaboration returns. In the first week, they worked in a Google Doc Group as individuals, now they need to work together, so each book is produced by taking 3 students from each theme.

During the week, the teacher models the descriptive writing process. For example a teacher may ask students to write an alternative last chapter for Animal Farm or perhaps the first chapter of a sequel. Again this is open to the teacher to decide.

The end product

Using Blurb, the students produce a short story of 800-1000 words – on a single day. For example, they may create a story called ‘Julies crisis’ – their contribution to the chapter. In effect it means that we have a ratio of 1 teacher to 15 students during the writing day. They will have to use Google Docs to submit an outline by a deadline – which will be graded, then the majority of the day given over to writing.

The final product is the assembly of the book itself – largely a cut and paste task from Google Docs.

Students then submit their final work as a .pdf file into Moodle to time and date stamp it.

Evaluation and Real World relevance

I like everything to have a real world aspect in learning. We’ll invite an external ‘friend’ to read the books and to select a ‘winner’. Each student will then get a copy of the book using Blurb as a hard copy. Each book is then evaluated and feedback given to students.

This gives them incentive – the chance to have a quality portfolio piece  – A professionally produced book, with cool illustrations containing 8000 words on average.

In addition to this, we will offer each of the books for purchase online. Students are invited to consider how to market their work, and as a default position, they will be offered for sale to parents and community using PayPal or Blurbs ecommerce engine via the schools website or their personal blogs.

Summary

I think that giving students not only the opportunity to write a book at the age of 14/15 – but also to sell that book to everyone and anyone is poweful. The proceeds of sale go to the authors. We often talk about each of us having a printing press – but in this case I think its important to show them that not only can they complete this task – but you can put a value on the work.

Designing a project is FUN. Its fairly manic – and we constantly are looking to encourage some activities – and negate others. For example, there is no value to a student in attempting to Google any element of the project and there is not opportunity to move away from reading and writing. There is no ‘graphic design’ and so no need to worry about ‘design’ or allow students to ‘bling up’ their work – that is not the focus.

To me being a 21C Educator is not about delivering ‘content’ but developing learners to achieve authentic goals using technology. This kind of project, and working with teachers like Lucy to unpack ‘how they learn’ not ‘what they learn’ is the difference between so many teachers, but anyway – this is what I do (or did).

If you want to know more, talk about it, comment on it – then I’m more than happy to do so!