Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Magic Box...

... is the title of a poem by Kit Wright. As the link to Poetryclass suggests this is a great model for students making their own poem. It's been one of my standby teaching days for some years now. After a mad Easter "holiday" I needed a M.A.D (Media, Art and Design) project that would occupy the "first week back slot". In fact the project was so successful with both staff and students we went on to use it for three weeks with every class engaging with each of the three activities on offer.
For Design I gave away a folded box design I acquired ultimately, I believe, from the Woman's Institute. In Art, students made mini-books full of "jewel-like images" to put in the box. This link will download a set of instructions that make up into a mini book.  I may post the resources for the former at a later date.

In media we made Magic Box slideshows.


 I rarely use Powerpoint these days: mainly because most of my teaching resources are online and I prefer to use tools that students can access. Our fffilters prevent students uploading powerpoints to Slideshare. Google Apps converts powerpoints to Google Presentations,  losing most of the animations and transitions along the way, so you may just as well use GA to start with. I was intending the students to explore some of the newly added features of Google Apps presentations. But then discovered that SlideRocket was available free through Google Apps for Education.
Hypocritically, having recently blogged about student's lack of self-restraint in our media sessions,  we really let our hair down this time. SlideRocket is a magic box: full of snazzy effects, each one capable of almost infinite customisation, so I actively encouraged them to go to town, discovering and using: falling snow/stars, waving waves, bouncing balls. drop shadows, borders - the lot. Why? Well (with only a hint of  self-justification here) because the poem is full of magical imagery.

I asked them to avoid being too literal in their choice of picture i.e. using images like the one on the left for the line "a snowman with a rumbling belly". I urged them instead to take the line more poetically, to find images that added to the poem rather than simply illustrating it.  I asked what  the inside of a snowman's empty stomach might look like and sent them googling for ice caves and crevasses, and choosing the most striking and beautiful image - to be discriminating. It emphasized for me that, with the ubiquity and free accessibility of images, students can often become lazy in assessing their appropriateness for the task. Most students love googling for images but can easily be overwhelmed by a sweetshop mentality.

I added the sound effect of an avalanche to my slideshow demo and encouraged them to do likewise... until we discovered it was not possible to upload the mp3 files SlideRocket requires - fffilters again I suspect . If necessary they might edit pictures using layers and enhancements in Paint.NET, though SlideRocket allows cropping and a range of effects for images. Many chose to make images with transparent backgrounds, dragons especially. One even composed a slide of a dragon with a separate image for the flames animated with SlideRocket's "flag" effect.

One hazard of note:  Students login to SlideRocket through a link on our Google Apps startup page but, for unclear reasons, students would occasionally find themselves logged out of SlideRocket. I emphasized the importance of saving their work. My suspicion is that our network version of Internet Explorer is to blame. We have Chrome available on most of our machines and I encourage them to use it, as Google Apps works best with Chrome, but it does unaccountably disappear from their program menu sometimes. The majority of the logging-out problems certainly seemed to be with students running IE.

I spent very little time introducing them to the application itself as the lesson's aim was for them to explore independently and collaboratively. Judging by the number of times I heard variations on "Cool! How did you do that?" remarks I think we succeeded.