Infographics – key to concise writing

When I taught high school English, I asked my students to write a full essay on a persuasive, current topic of their choice. We’d review it, critique it and edit it. Eventually, when they thought it was final, I’d ask them to transform it into an actual letter to the editor. They were required to choose a local paper of their choice, find the word count required, and cut their words to meet the requirement. They moaned. They groaned. They became concise writers.

When you are challenged to state your argument in fewer words or in another medium, you force your brain to think creatively and critically. You cannot afford to waste space on words without impact.

Infographics are a great way of setting up this challenge. An infographic must state an argument in words, pictures, and engaging design. When creating an infographic, you are challenged to meet your audience’s needs. This is not to say there is no purpose for a full essay. But, there is something to be said for writing in multimedia.

To show that point, I’ve transformed by Infographics presentation of my favorite resources into an infographic! I used Piktochart to create the infographic, but Canva to create many of the presentation slides.

Recently, I transformed a standard thesis writing assignment into an infographic. Students were challenged to write a simple thesis statement and support it with three pieces of evidence, with each piece of evidence written with contextual notes. Essentially, students wrote a small paper, but without the hype. As a teacher, I was able to dissect elements of their writing to offer better help going forward. Check out the assignment here.

Check out fennovation.org for more writing tips (fennovation.org soon to move under fennestudio.com). Enjoy!

Becoming a search ninja

Knowing how to search and evaluate are two of the most critical skills. I search and evaluate sources multiple times every hour – not to mention each day. They are not only critical; they are often the most used.

However, it’s something we take for granted that students – and other adults – know how to do effectively. This is typically far from the reality. When would students have had to the chance to learn these skills? When do we allow for it in the curriculum?

As a former English teacher, I can vouch for the fact that these tasks are often given to the English/language arts teachers. But, they are everyone’s jobs. They are not unique to any teacher or subject.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled some of my favorite Google searching tips and tricks to transform you and your students into search ninjas. I’ve also begun adding some of my favorite sources for teaching Web evaluation to the list.

See slide 65 for new updates

Enjoy! Check out fennovation.org for more literacy resources.

Who are the digital natives?

Recently, I was having a discussion about online textbooks.

Who are digital natives? Well, it’s not the students.

The term “digital natives” has become part of common speech – so much so that the meaning has been lost.

According to Google’s definition, it’s “a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and therefore familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age.”

In talking with teachers about online textbooks, the point was raised that many districts go online because “students are digital natives” and “students are doing everything online.” And, though, I’m a proponent of most things online, I have to disagree with this assumption.

Even with my Warrior Tech students – students who run Linux on their HP Chromebooks – I would disagree that they are digital natives.

Rather – I would say that they are digital users. They are not native to this environment. Native implies they are from a place. However, students are not from the digital age. WE ARE. We are the ones who witnessed the evolution of digital tools. We are the ones who created those tools. And, we are the ones who have the foundation in it. Students have been transplanted into this digital age. Additionally, digital native implies that students must also be familiar with computers and the Internet.

However, as students born in a digital climate, they are immediately exposed to the current digital world, with little foundation in the previous digital worlds. This is where the disconnect occurs.

We make the assumption that our students know the digital history that we know, but they were not around to witness that. And, as a result, we have students coding and running systems, with little background as to why its necessary or what power it has.

We cannot make the assumption that students are digital natives until we also have proven that they are familiar with computers and the Internet. As a whole, we assume that since the first half of the digital native definition is true, the other half must be true of students. However, that is a great fallacy.

Students are brought up in a world where there are textbooks on almost any concept. However, we cannot assume that, therefore, they are familiar with the concepts in those texts. Computers and the Internet familiarity are the same. We cannot assume students know and understand it.

What are students familiar with:

  • Social Media
  • Collaboration
What are we familiar with:
  • Content
  • How the pieces fit together
We can use what students do know to help them become fluent, but we must not assume they are digital natives. 
What do you think? Where do you expect students to be now? Are they matching up to those standards?

An oldie, but a goodie, App #2: Audacity

Audacity: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/beta_windows (Click here for downloading the Beta version–only version Windows 7 can use).

Note: When downloading, you must download the Audacity file AND the LAME MP3 encoder (also available on the Website above) in order to export MP3 files. It runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Synopsis: Audacity is a great example of open source software. It is free for the public and it only asks that the public use it for the common good. It has all of the capabilities of Apple’s Garage Band, but without the Apple requirement. Its features include:

  • Record from microphone, line input, or other sources.
  • Dub over existing tracks to create multi-track recordings.
  • Record up to 16 channels at once (requires multi-channel hardware).
  • Level meters can monitor volume levels before, during, and after recording.
  • Easy editing with Cut, Copy, Paste, and Delete.
  • Use unlimited Undo (and Redo) to go back any number of steps.
  • Very fast editing of large files.
  • Edit and mix an unlimited number of tracks.
  • Use the Drawing tool to alter individual sample points.
  • Fade the volume up or down smoothly with the Envelope tool.
  • Change the pitch without altering the tempo, or vice-versa.
  • Remove static, hiss, hum, or other constant background noises.
  • Alter frequencies with Equalization, FFT Filter, and Bass Boost effects.
  • Adjust volumes with Compressor, Amplify, and Normalize effects.
  • Other built-in effects include:
    • Echo
    • Phaser
    • Wahwah
    • Reverse
  • Record and edit 16-bit, 24-bit, and 32-bit (floating point) samples.
  • Record at up to 96 kHz.
  • Sample rates and formats are converted using high-quality resampling and dithering.
  • Mix tracks with different sample rates or formats, and Audacity will convert them automatically in realtime.
  • Spectrogram mode for visualizing frequencies.
  • “Plot Spectrum” command for detailed frequency analysis.

Audacity offers everything from the most technical skill to the beginner skill. When done editing Audacity files, users can choose from a variety of export options including MP3 format. The MP3 formats can be inserted into a Windows Movie Maker movie, iMovie, or another digital storytelling creator. Tracks can also be shared on RSS feeds. 

Integration: Think of Audacity as the backbone for digital storytelling and the backbone for any assignment or application that involves auditory skills. Audacity can be used in any class and in any grade level. And, though, students in the younger grade levels may not be able. When I taught high school English, my students used Audacity when working with Windows Movie Maker and Premiere. Since Movie Maker only allows two tracks to play simultaneously, users cannot have narration going while a song is also running. Therefore, my students used Audacity to mix the audio tracks into one file for an easy import. They did this from simple voice narration over song to a mixing of various songs and interview clips. Students were able to trim out background noise and accentuate voices over background sounds. Through Audacity, I was able to teach my students how to tell a story and how to communicate with only sound: audio literacy. And even though elementary students may not be able to manipulate sounds on their own, they can all record sounds and choose sounds for the class to mix into one.

Another application that produces a similar product is Aviary, free for Google Apps for Education users. However, it allows users to generate an embed code for the audio file when it is generated. This code can be embedded within school Websites. For instance, students can compose an audio file highlighting the upcoming school play. Then, they can embed that file into the district Website for all viewers to hear.

Audio literacy is at its finest with Audacity.