Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bitstrips fun

Fun learning history, fun with writing. Those are two things that happened over the course of a couple of months thanks to Bitstrips.
It was also a very relaxed way for me to teach a new app, thanks to the folks at Bitstrips for Schools. Most of my students were unfamiliar with the software, but after setting up all six classes, I selected four pre-made learning activities, which were a great success. In fact, for some students, those introductory tasks were how I differentiated. They were well-designed so that everyone at all ability levels could succeed.
Then it was on to narrative writing. Each month at our school we have a character education topic, and it is always nice to get some additional thought happening. For the month on Responsibility, students were asked to write a six-panel story showing a teenager in a position of responsibility. Characters and plot lines were developed from questions such as "Did it go well?", "Were they successful?", "Did something terrible happen?". It was also much easier for me to comment, by referring to the panels and asking, if necessary, "So how does this show responsibility?" It seemed to be an easier, less confrontational and more positive way to teach the writing of character and plot, and students stated explicitly how much fun it was to write using Bitstrips.
This assignment captured their imagination like few others. Perhaps due to their ages, they are always being told to act more responsibly, and this causes them to think a lot about that quality. It was vastly entertaining for me to see how the most catastrophic situations were resolved with teens showing how responsible they were! Or other stories that laid out systematically how a teen was acting responsibly.
In history, my grade 7 classes had an open topic, Life in New France. We brainstormed in advance and even that was illustrative of how little many students absorb from texts and pen and paper learning. After extensive units taught over a period of weeks if not months, they were hard pressed to come up with any ideas about what life might have been like in New France. Once they got going however, it was amazing to see them use the Internet to resolve some of their questions. How did the king die? They had a purpose for finding the information, then creating an image to convey the life and times of the king, not to mention his demise.
It was as always a joy to watch the students teach themselves the mechanical and artistic aspects of the app, going way beyond my own knowledge and what they garnered from those initial four activities. And the task could also be easily expanded by those wishing to use more than 6 panels to develop a scenario in more detail.

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