Curriculum Connections

For continuity I am archiving the text from some of the e-newsletter posts at 

Safe Social Classroom Sites – (Posted Jan 28, 2011)

Your students are at home, Facebooking and Youtubing away, participating in online behaviour that is socially, emotionally, and for the most part, appropriately engaging.

You would like to capture that intrinsic motivation and need for autonomy (Drive; Daniel Pink, 2010) in ways that connect with your students’ interests and create opportunities for rigour,and deeper thinking.

How do you compete with the lure of an external multi-media environment, where you can upload quick, emotion-laden commercials to mainstream television (e.g. those cute DisneyWorld vacation ads where the kids don’t know they are going till the last minute)? I personally know two families that are holding back for the big squeal!

There are an increasing number of blogs, animation editors, comic generators and websites that are offering controlled educational spaces for teachers and classes. So far we have discussed and Bitstrips for Schools which offer user-friendly teacher/class set-up and development. Both sites offer opportunities for writing for purpose, reflective thought and appropriate feedback. Two sites in an endless stream of possibilities; it’s a good idea to find one with which you feel comfortable, and get some fluency with it. Lesson ideas tend to flow the more familiar one gets with a particular media.

A different online environment which emulates Facebook, is which  allows the teacher to set up classes, post assignments on a calendar, provide feedback and comments, send alerts and notes, and create polls. Teachers can interact with students, and with other teachers in the same school, district and beyond. Privacy controls are extensive and teachers can control communication between students, if that is desirable. You can choose to be notified when assignments are submitted, or students post comments. There is a shared library for uploading files, videos and links. Maybe it’s not quite getting published on TV, but students could upload their own videos to Edmodo and share their thoughts on the creation process. Gr. 5 Oral Communication 2.3, 2.4, 2.7

Ministry Licensed Software – OSAPAC – (Posted Jan 19/2011)

(Ontario Software Acquisition Program Advisory Committee)

Have you ever wondered how the applications and installers that are part of the daily Ontario students’ school experience are determined and implemented? Do you use a piece of software that you would like to champion for sound pedagogical reasons? The answer to these and other educational software questions are found at

OSAPAC is a committee of Ontario educators “that assess provincial priorities in the areas of required software titles recommended by teachers in support of learning. They review software titles submitted under the Ministry’s Requests For Proposals (RFP) that meet the indicated needs of all Ontario publicly funded schools and forward the resulting recommendations for province-wide licenses to the Ministry of Education.”

Once software has been licensed by the Ministry, OSAPAC announces the release, and distributes CD’s to the school boards for installer or image builds. An extensive database is maintained which provides specifications, rights (for take home CD’s contact Hotline), curriculum connections and resources.

Teachers are able to fill out a survey indicating particular software they would like to have considered in the upcoming year. The FAQ page and forums offer support.

RAFT Reader Response – (Posted Jan 11/2011)

Digital tools are a great fit with multiple learning style responses to text. Working within the RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) framework, deep understandings of the Big Ideas can be developed and communicated using a variety of forms.

Reading (Gr.5) 1. read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, graphic, and informational texts, using a range of strategies to construct meaning;

For example, after reading and discussing the short story “Fox”, by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, students were asked to critically analyze, and justify an explanation for character motivation, choosing from a selection of formats, such as comic generation with Bitstrips For Schools or Comic Life, podcasts or newscasts with Aviary Myna or Audacity, and digital timelines and stories with Dipity and Photo Story 3. Further mashups were suggested by the students through collaborative discussion about importing or creating their own graphics into existing applications or combining print and digital images.

The over-arching thread through this discussion was how easily the students understood that by using digital media, they could choose a response that fit their learning style, excited their passion and gave an outlet for the online pursuits that they were already engaging in outside of school. When asked who had created a password before, a necessity for avatar creation in Bitstrips, all hands flew up, and a spirited conversation  about privacy and security ensued. Another teachable moment presented itself when a student asked how he could access his account at school and at home, and why it was that no one could tamper with his avatar. Insightful, thoughtful questions; these students were yearning for frank and knowledgeable discussions about their digital world.

 Using a familiar reading response tool, we were able to reach deep understandings of text, think critically about choice and purpose of response, and connect to students’ online lives. Now that’s a RAFT worth floating!

Accountable Talk/Peer Feedback (Posted Dec 27/2010)

As mentioned in The Tech Times (Sep 23/10), Bitstrips was the tool being used for a discussion of Character Ed traits. It was quickly noticed that the students were demonstrating acceptance, appreciation and respect in their cooperative approach to learning and their positive comments to peers on their finished stories.

 Looking more deeply, and reflectively, at the comments, we were soon discussing what constituted accountable talk and effective peer feedback. Students could be asked questions such as “How could your comment help the author develop his or her meaning?” or “What could you ask that would help the author understand how this connects to a safe and caring learning environment?”.

As further peer comments were analyzed it was noted that chronology played a part in the content, as is often the case when a blog is posted and the “long tail” of comments occurs. Often people comment, not on the original post, but on other peoples’ comments.

Many teachers have asked for a recommendation for a safe blogging site for their classes. Bitstrips has potential for a rich, interactive environment. Teachers can post a discussion question or graphic, using the Visual Language of the medium, which engages multiple learning styles, and students could comment using directed Accountable Talk. The teacher can easily jump in for “just in time” responses that ask for deeper connections, respectful disagreement with mindful rationale, or extensions of opinion. This activity could be done in a lab (partnering would elicit collaborative thought), or in a small group around a classroom computer.

Visual Language – Bubbles and Gutters (Posted Dec 20/2010)

Media Literacy 3.3 Conventions and Techniques; Reading 2. Understanding Form and Style

The comic and graphic novel genres have specific codes and conventions, just as text-based language does. Exclamation, question, and declaration (spoken, whispered) are clearly identified through the use of speech bubbles and formats that are as widely known as quotation, exclamation and question marks, and periods. Bitstrips defines these bubbles clearly for the student. A number of shared activities could be designed, such as create a comic with different speech bubbles and have an elbow partner fill in the text, or match different texts with the appropriate bubble.

 Another important feature of panel writing is the space between the panels, called the gutter. The gutter can indicate the passage of time and indeed graphic novelists such as Scott McCloud will be very deliberate when deciding how large the space will be.

 Reading 1.5 Making Inferences/Interpreting Texts

Another use of the gutters is for making inferences or predicting. Students can infer what has taken place to move the story from panel to panel, predict what will happen in the next panel or fill in missing panels. Working in small groups, students could storyboard a strip and then leave out a panel for other students to fill in.

 Comic Life allows the ultimate manipulation of gutters.

For a detailed description of the codes and conventions of the comic genre, plus over 40 activities, check out “In Graphic Detail” by David Booth and Kathleen Lundy.

Copyright /Copyleft (Posted Dec 10/2010)

 Voice 2.2 (Gr.3) – establish a personal voice in their writing, with a focus on using concrete words and images to convey their attitude or feeling towards the subject.

 There is a lot of software readily available to help students establish their personal voice and activities can be developed according to which software is used. For example, using Bitstrips, students can communicate their feelings and emotions by manipulating the body language of the avatars and using speech bubbles. Indeed the comic genre lends itself to concise and well-chosen words. Comic Life and Photo Story3 require the importing of images to start the digital story. (Bitstrips now has this functionality.)

 But how to acquire appropriate images for students to use? Elementary teachers can upload images onto the school media drive. Teachers, and students, should be aware that there are some copyright restrictions to using images from the internet. The term Copyleft refers to those licenses that have been created to enable people to openly share their work, in various ways.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization committed to collaborative sharing of online creative work. People can select how they want to share and post their work with this license clearly labelled. You will find a detailed description of the various licenses at Basically a contributor can decide to share with a combination of attribution (by), share-alike (same license), non-commercial use and/or no derivations (no changes, remix).

Google Earth in the Classroom – (Posted Dec 1/2010)

If you are looking for interactive, higher order thinking resources, check out Google Earth. Google Earth combines satellite imagery, maps, 3D terrain and 3D buildings, and the curriculum uses are boundless. You can find your neighbourhood, your school, or your house, explore the stars, or swim with the whales! Pop-up information cards from organizations such as NASA (link is for NASA for Students) and the Jane Goodall Institute are full of statistics, links and information.

There are beginner and intermediate tutorials at  as well as curriculum links and real-world, contextual projects for all grades and subjects. Your students can calculate the volume of the Great Pyramids, estimate the land area lost to Amazon deforestation, search the Louvre or study tectonics and earth movement. Who doesn’t love volcanoes?

Google Lit Trips track the journeys of novels that use the “road trip” as setting. Students can create their own Lit Trip using an age-appropriate story, marking significant events in different locations, using the pop-up menu to invite discussion using text, images, videos or links to real persons and historical events.

Information adapted from Google Workshop for Educators.

The Digital Writing Process  –  (Posted Nov 9/2010

We have been using a comic generation application ( in a Grade 5/6 class since September as a tool for expressions of understanding of character education traits, bullying and its impact, and plot analysis of a story.

A discussion of whether we should move on to a new application with the students ended with our questioning what instructional purposes would that serve. The students are adept with the tool, and are ready to get on task as soon as they login. There certainly is a new tool out there that might work in a slightly different way, or bring in more media, but why fix it if it isn’t broken? If the activity is rich and engaging, and creates opportunity for critical thinking and ease of communication, then a single, flexible tool can be adapted for many desired outcomes.

But successful, mindful use of the tool when students are on a computer is part of a planned, instructional process. What is the desired result of the activity? This was determined, and supports and instruction were done in class, long before the digital writing commenced. Knowing what was acceptable digital evidence was key to the planning of the units. Did the students demonstrate an awareness of bullying, and articulate how they might feel, which was the task, or was it just a series of panels showing what bullying might look like, in the case of most girls, social, and for the boys, physical?

Writing for Purpose (Posted Sep 28/2010)

An overarching question to start inquiry into different purposes of digital text might be to ask your students how the purpose of their writing might influence their choice of the various digital tools. Specific questions might include: Is the language of texting and blogging the same? Would you text your teacher? How does publishing your work on the internet affect your language choice, idea support and revision? Would you use full sentences when collaborating online on a group project? How is writing a script for a comic strip different than writing a narrative? (Pop Quiz – What do you call a Narrative Script?) Answer below

Marshall MacLuhan said “The Medium is the Message” (1960).  Never more true, digital tools can be used to carry, and make, meaning. Blogging is generally used for opinion and comments and is a great way to substantiate Point of View and peer assessment. Popular blogging sites are and Teachers can moderate all comments prior to posting. The site can be expanded to include class newsletters, uploaded images, videos and files, or an online extracurricular club.

 A wiki is another kind of collaborative website for online discussion, group projects and a perfect place to house an e-portfolio. Each student could have his/her own page for uploading files, images, and scanned or digital work. is an extremely intuitive website that will import your students’ without the need for an email account. You can also post homework, a class calendar, forms and invite parental discussion. You will find lots of help and resources at 

 Google sites are great to use within the inter-related Google environment, or as a stand-alone interactive space. They are similar to a wiki. Google docs provide synchronous or asynchronous collaboration on familiar looking documents and can be shared with a targeted audience. There are also a presentation document and a spreadsheet. These collaborations can be embedded into your wiki, as can Google calendar.

 A great feature of wikispaces and Google docs is the History record of contributions. Student participatory levels are easily determined and inadvertent deletions can be restored. TIP – most web hosting sites provide help and FAQ’s for self-directed learning. All of the above sites are free to educators.

Answer to Pop Quiz – A screenplay!


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