Using comic strips

This is the 8th entry in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning’.

Although some people may not take the medium of the comic strip seriously, comics are a very powerful medium of communication, and are used by people of all ages for political, satirical and explanatory reasons, as well as for simple humor.

We as educators can use comic strips, to explain or highlight an issue, or better still, we can get the learners to create their own. I have seen examples in Modern Foreign Languages where the learners get to grips with different grammatical elements by creating comic strips. In history we can recreate significant events through creating comics, or even create higher order thinking activities by asking the students to imagine a meeting between people from different eras e.g. what if Napoleon and Hitler had met? – how may a conversation have followed?

There are many free comic creating options available. 2 free examples are:-

ToonDoo, which has a really good clipart gallery and is really easy to manipulate the images. You can then export the result, or embed the output into a VLE, blog or similar e.g.

Plagiarism

Another option is Stripcreator has less options than ToonDoo so is simpler to learn and use, but has less output options. An example (not created by me) can be viewed at http://www.stripcreator.com/comics/wirthling/37299

Or we can simply use the basic features of something like PowerPoint (with its array of clipart and the ability to easily import other images) to create comic strips, the advantage of this is that the students can then use some simple animations to get the speech bubbles to appear in sequence, or for characters to move around, get bigger, blow up etc. To make live easier you could create a Comic template within PowerPoint – which is something that Champagne Design have done on their blog, including a template that you can download and use.

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Using technology to create paper based games

This is the 7th entry in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning’.

As a lecturer, I quickly identified that traditional ‘chalk and talk’ was not an effective method of teaching especially for someone like me with a monotonic voice and really bad hand writing. It was this that guided me into the area of using technology in my teaching, but I also looked at different ways of creating little activities to do, and over the years I produced dozens of non technological resources out of card, paper, wood and laminated sheets.

Most of these were very bespoke to a particular topic, but 2 of my ideas are transferable to other areas.

The first I have called ‘multi-choice’ patience, The tutor enters 36 multi-choice questions and the answers into an Excel grid, which then converts these into a 36 card activity, where you pick a card out of the pack, answer the question, then choose the card identified by the answer. You keep doing this until you have answered 6 questions, if you have all 6 questions correct, then the 6th card should point back to the first card in that set. You then pick another card and try to complete the next set of 6 cards.

Multi choice patience

Screenshot of the multi-choice patience activity

The difficult part of this is thinking of the 36 questions, but once they are created, very easy to print out the cards, cut them up (and laminate if used more than once).

The template can be found at http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources/MultipleChoicePatience.xls with the worked example (anatomy and physiology based) being http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources/MultipleChoicePatienceEXAMPLE.xls

The second activity that I created is ‘Buzz word bingo’, and was originally for myself and colleagues to use at boring meetings, to make them more interesting, but they can be easily used in a teaching and learning situation.

All you need to do is add a list of buzz words (which could be the answers to questions) into an Excel grid. This will then convert these into different bingo cards of different sizes, which you print out, cut up and give to the learners. Very easy to do especially as an end of topic revision activity, or something to do in that last week before Christmas.

Buzz Word Bingo

Buzz Word Bingo

Buzz Word Bingo can be found at http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources/BuzzWordBingoGenerator.xls

All of the resources listed here can be found at http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources_class_management.php which also contains links to resources that can be used to split classes up into random groups, and allocate topics to students.

Creating an instructional video

This is the 6th entry in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning’.

One of the best ways to learn something, is to try to explain it to someone else, which we often do in the classroom by getting students to explain a concept to the person sat next to them, or stand up in front of the group and do a presentation, but this can become a bit samey for the learners, and they are always presenting back to people at the same levels as themselves.

One option is to ask them to create an explanatory video – the beauty of this, is that you can then give them a different target audience (e.g. younger people, people outside of the subject area etc) making them think not just about the material and information but how it is communicated.

In terms of what technologies to use, learners could use their own mobile phones and the camera facility within, or you could provide them with cameras if you have access to that resource, or you can use the screencasting ideas mentioned in an earlier post (which then doesn’t require a camera at all).

However if you do have access to a camera, and possibly a few tripods, then asking the learners to create an instructional video for their subject area in the style of the ‘Commoncraft Plain English‘ videos, could be a very interesting learning activity, an example of such a video being:-

Obviously these are very polished, well planned out resources that must take hours to produce, so we are not looking for the same level of quality as these, but the idea that we break down a topic into into key elements, and communicate them in a way that is easy for other to understand.

The real beauty of this idea though, is it requires very little planning time from the tutor, the tutor does not need to have any high level technical skills, it promotes higher order thinking skills, and good Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS) and it should be fun for the learners to do.

Using QR codes for explorative learning

This is the 4th entry in a series of ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning

QR codes are like a bar code, but rather than being made up of lines, are constructed of squares. An example QR code being below. A QR code is a graphical representation of a string of text, and they can be created by anyone, using something like http://qrcode.kaywa.com/

qrcode

The above code is for the web address of this blog (https://davefoord.wordpress.com)

Most mobile phones that have the ability to take photos can read Qr codes – some will need to download some software (or an app) onto the device (usually free) – you then take a photo of the code, and it will convert it into the text that it represents. In the case above, because the text is a web address – if the phone is internet enabled, it will then go to that website.

There are many ways that QR codes could be used in education, some examples are:-

  • Land based colleges having QR codes next to plants in the grounds, so a learner can point their phone at the code to get more information about that plant.
  • Providing stretch information following an activity – lets say you have a printed worksheet that the students complete with pen and paper. If you want to give them additional reading materials, or additional optional questions – to put a long URL onto the page is of little use, as hard to type in a long URL accurately – but putting a small QR code in the bottom corner, allows them to just point their phone at it, and away they go.
  • Having a set of questions (which may be used on paper in the classroom) – but having some help information, or feedback information stored on a web address somewhere (this could be on the VLE, a Blog, a wiki etc.) create a QR code pointing to this, and then put this onto the document. This allows the students to attempt the questions first, then go to the additional information later on if they need to.
  • Creating information treasure trails. Setting up a trail, where the learners move around the site, locating a QR code – which contains information to do with the subject, possibly asking them a question that points them to the location of the next QR code. Yes this would take a bit of time to set up, but as allows, there is the option of setting the students the task of creating a QR code trail for their peers. The students would need to think about what questions to ask, where to place the codes, etc. Then create them (quite easy to do) and go and put them in the right places, then have fun following each others trails.

An example of something like this, has been created by an Australian PE teacher ‘Mr Robbo

With further details on his excellent blog – http://thepegeek.com/2009/03/26/using-geocached-qr-codes-for-revision-in-a-pe-classroom/

Using a phone to capture audio and make learning more fun

This is the 4th entry in a series on making learning more fun.

Students carry mobile phones around with them, and something that mobiles phones can do very well is record audio, either into the phone itself, or into a web based system such as Ipadio. (Which I have blogged about before)

We can use these ideas as a way of bringing variety (and therefore more interest / fun) into the learning process.

To listen about how this may work, here is an ipadio recording on this topic, that I have linked back into this blog.

Visit http://ipad.io/Txv to hear my latest ipadio phonecast

If you use things like Moodle or Blackboard then the embedding mechanism works even better, providing more information and a more attractive player.

Ideas of how you could use this technique:-

  • Ask learners to interview each other, whilst they role play characters within a scenario
  • Ask learners to explain the topic just taught using audio only (and therefore no visual information)
  • Ask learners to create memory rhymes for key information
  • Ask learners to reflect at the end of the session on what they have learnt
  • For the teaching of languages, the possible uses of this is enormous – the tutor could send an audio file to the learners each day in the language they are learning, or the learners could practice their speaking and then the tutor / peers can provide feedback.

This is an area where teaching can be radically transformed with just a bit of imagination.

Using screencasting to explain a concept / revise

This is the 3rd entry in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning’.

I have become a huge fan of screencasting, especially since I discovered screenr – a free web based tool, that is really easy to use for this purpose. I often use screencasts as a way of producing ‘how to videos’ as part of my work. In a previous post on this blog, I highlighted how this idea could easily be used to create revision aids. Which either the tutor could create for the learners, or the learners could create themselves (and then share with their peers?)

Another slight twist on this would be to challenge the learners to create a concise screencast (which if you use screenr limits you to 5 minutes) that explains a concept succinctly and accurately to other people. Maybe setting a series of criteria against which the screencasts will be judged, and offering a prize for the best one (out comes my trusty air guitar that I keep giving away). Criteria could be things like accuracy of information, artistic merit, communication skills used, etc.

If you had students working in small groups where they had to plan what they were going to do, how they were going to do it, who was going to talk etc. then you have a really good activity, covering lots of Personal Learning and Thinking Skills, as well as some Functional Skills. You may need to think about where the learners actually do their recording, as doesn’t work having lots of people in the same room, but if you have access to another small room nearby which once prepared the learner(s) can sneak into to do their recording then brilliant.

If you don’t want to use screenr, which is web based and therefore needs accounts etc, then the free camstudio, would be an option – this can either be installed onto the computer or run from a USB memory stick (and is part of the eduapps suite). This will allow you to create more than 5 minutes of recording, and keeps the output off the internet (unless you share it later) so some may prefer the extra ‘safety’ of this method, but it is more fickle to set up and get the audio settings right etc. Or you can use screenr, but in a way that you keep the end products private, as shown in this screencast.

Creating a quick fire PowerPoint (Pecha Kucha)

This is idea 2, in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning‘.

One activity that you can ask learners to do in any subject or topic, is to ask them to create a PowerPoint presentation that explains a topic or subject, which they then present back to the rest of the class. The problem with this, though is that the learners often produce very bad presentations (based on having seen many bad ones delivered to them) which they then proceed to bore the rest of the class with, which if you have lots of learners in the group, then takes about 3 weeks to sit through each presentation.

One idea to help reduce these problems would be to introduce the idea of Pecha Kucha. Pecha Kucha was an idea from 2003, where the presentation is limited to 20 slides, each of which is on the screen for 20 seconds exactly, limiting the presentation to 6 minutes and 40 seconds, and with presenters rolling on one after another during a Pecha Kucha event. More information can be found at http://www.pecha-kucha.org/

The presentations become very punchy, to the point, and non-waffley. At first some learners will probably find it challenging, but all the learners will be in the same boat, and as long as it is managed in a light hearted way (and don’t assess them, or at least not at first attempt) it should be more engaging than sitting bored through each others 10 minute presentations of lots of text that no-one can read.

An example Pecha Kucha on Pecha Kucha can be seen at

The easiest way to manage this, would be to give them the starting PowerPoint template which has the automatic slide transitions created, so all they have to do is to add the content. I have created a Pecha Kucha template that can be used by others. This has the timings already built in, as well as a black horiztonal bar at the bottom which acts as a 20 second timer on each slide. All someone has to do is add the content (e.g. images) to the slides.

We then need to encourage learners to use graphics more than words – so I would point them to image searching techniques such as Xpert, and Compfight which I have blogged about before. Show them how to do screen capturing, and then cropping images, resizing etc. This can be simply done using the PrtScn button on keyboard and then pasting into PowerPoint, then using the formatting options to crop, resize, rotate if desired. You can even blur parts of the image by placing a semi transparent shape on top of the image, to blur parts, leaving the important bit clear etc, but basically you can let the learners artistic ideas to flourish, and if using this technique a few times, it would develop higher order thinking skills, as the learners have to think about what the key pieces of information are, and how best to represent them visually and to communicate them succinctly etc.