Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Getting out of the PowerPoint Rut with PowToon

Sometimes we, as teachers, get caught in the "comfort" of a tool that is there for us... Perhaps we like it because it is "reliable," or we are "experts" with the given tool. One of the best pieces of advice I have gotten in the past year is to never get too comfortable in any aspect of life. Comfort can often breed complacency. I think our teaching methodologies can take the same advice to heart.

Powerpoint is reliable. Everyone knows how to make a Powerpoint. Powerpoint accomplishes a task - it presents material. Students might need to give a Powerpoint or two after they leave a K-12 education. However, comfort does not mean beneficial or conducive to creativity and engagement. PowToon can challenge students to create innovative messages for a variety of purposes.

1. PowToon is a living PowerPoint. All of the objects - characters, props, text, etc - can pop onto the stage at a given time. Each item can be manipulated through flipping, moving to the front or back of other objects, or the duration of its stay on the "slide"stage.

2. Customizations like adding voice and user images allows for extra creativity and engagement. Every single model PowToon I create for students to view has my voice added. I use this as a challenge - all students should rise to the moment and record themselves speaking as an authority on their topic. It is a valuable skill, and it adds a level of professionalism to their work as a result.

3. PowToons are perfect for teacher-created mini-lessons. I have been placing a large focus on flipping the classroom using engaging videos related to course content. I live by three rules for my PowToon video lessons: 1) Start with a hook 2) Keep your content focused and brief, and 3) End with a challenge. This video (a little over a minute) clearly explains a thesis and challenges students to create their own on a specific topic, allowing the in-class teacher to go back and check it later for comprehension:

4. The Basic level of PowToon is FREE, and the district edition is reasonable. There is no fee to hop on an account and start playing. The basic version also gives you 20 video uploads to YouTube, which means simply pulling the link and posting it to a class website, wiki, or throwing it up on the board for students to visit for a quick mini-lesson.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Kaizena: Providing Differentiated Feedback on Essays

Although I love my job as a Technology Integrator in my district, sometimes some new webtool comes along that gets me jealous that I don't have a group of students ready and waiting to get some good, old-fashioned essay feedback, 21st-century style! (Then I typically remember how long essays took to grade, and my jealous attitude fades)

However, Kaizena, a new version of 121writing's "Voice Comments" feature, makes it an exciting time to be an English teacher. Here are a few of the great aspects of Kaizena as a feedback tool...

1. Improved Voice Comments

In 121writing's old version, the voice comment feature was a bit clunky. The recordings were contained in bars across the top that weren't very intuitive for the student, and they felt "tacked on" rather than a natural part of the essay itself.

In Kaizena, the comments are snapped to the highlighted section they describe, making it clear for the reader where the comment belongs and how to find it.

The above picture shows how the recording is embedded right with the highlighted text - pretty slick!

2. Typed comments for old-school types

For those who hate the sound of their voice, or those who think students would prefer or benefit from written instead of verbal cues, you still have the "old school" typed comments to use (obviously I am using "old school" loosely here). This gives teachers options to choose what feedback method is most appropriate. In the same vein as the voice comments, this type snaps to the highlighted text, as seen below:

3. Adding web-based resources to help "re-teach" important concepts

I might have accidentally pushed my favorite feature to the bottom... I think this particular addition is wonderful. Teachers have the option to start adding web URL "Resources" to their Kaizena account, allowing them to stockpile web-based grammar instructions, videos on how to construct a body paragraph, and any other web tools that would benefit a student refining an essay.

Here's where Kaizena could really shine - I picture teachers creating customized essay refinement videos and uploading them to a SchoolTube or YouTube, then stockpiling the videos in Kaizena. After they are in, teachers now have the option to "attach" a resource to the part of the essay where the student needs individual guidance in that issue. 

If Billy struggles with Fragments, attach the Fragments URL. If Susie doesn't understand a thesis statement, attach the PowToon cartoon of what makes a good thesis statement. The student clicks on the area, watches the video, and makes the changes, all with a couple of clicks by the teacher. The attached resource option comes up as a green eye by the highlighted text:

Kaizena aligns with Google Drive to let you open your documents, so it is available across platforms. I can't wait to see English departments in my district experiment with this new technology! If you want to find out more, go to