Thursday, May 30, 2013

May this Gobstopper (Now Called Curriculet) be Ever Lasting!

UPDATE AS OF 1/15/14:  
The company Gobstopper has changed its name to Curriculet, but this update hasn't changed how I use Curriculet with my students. The stories and information in the below post still hold true despite the change in company name.

While I've written quite a bit about assessing writing (ad nauseum) via digital means, reading instruction and assessment have remained a primarily paper-based enterprise in my class. While students can create projects, take quizzes, write responses digitally via BYOD and 1:1 using Google forms and docs, I've been missing a digital method for close reading of texts in my bag of instructional tricks. I've tried incorporating e-texts, PDF's, Google doc versions of texts and encouraged my students to use the Kindle Cloud Reader app on their devices and home computers, but I've been lacking a method for reading to be interactive as a whole class. I could not figure out a way to accomplish close textual analysis in an efficient and digital manner...  UNTIL NOW!

I can't tell you how ridiculously THRILLED I was when an article on Gobstopper appeared in my Techcrunch feed on Feedly.  I almost dropped my phone. Gobstopper is an e-reader platform that allows teachers to input and customize annotations, resources, questions, and quizzes linked to the Common Core Standards directly into a public domain text, and provides the students with immediate feedback, and the teacher with analytic data on student and class performance. Canonical texts found on the public domain are available in Gobstopper for FREE. And pair Gobstopper texts with FREE public domain Librivox audiobook recordings of the texts and you will strike gold with digital reading instruction.

Seriously?!  YES!  JACK.... POT!!! Don't believe me? Try out the student demo.

AND THERE IS MORE....  Gobstopper also offers a summer reading program. Available texts are already embedded with annotations, quizzes, and questions. The content creation is already done; all the teacher has to do is assign the books. No wonder Gobstopper's name alludes to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, because this is SWEET!

From Flowergirl to Dutchess

Appropriate, considering the themes of identity and transformation in the play, I first used Gobstopper with Shaw's Pygmalion. While on the public domain, Pygmalion was not listed as a text in the Gobstopper store, with an email request to Gobstopper support, the text was quickly added and I could begin customizing the "curriculet" with my own annotations and questions. The process was fairly simple: highlight the text, choose the option, enter the content.  Questions, annotations, and quizzes can be loaded anywhere in the text and the teacher can choose to have the corresponding excerpt highlighted as well as select the appropriate Common Core Curriculum Reading Standard for each question. For annotations, I embedded  screencasts I've created, links to Librivox recordings,YouTube videos, Google Forms, Google Docs, webpages, Edcanvas ... the list is never ending; anything living on the web can be linked in an annotation. Quizzes for each reading section were also easy to create. Students received their reading assignment and due dates, and I would check on their progress and accuracy.

In addition to Pygmalion, my students also read Romeo and Juliet via Gobstopper. My instruction for both texts though differed: Pygmalion was read independently out of class while we watched excerpts of My Fair Lady and West Side Story in class, and Romeo and Juliet was read synchronously as a whole class.

Prior to Gobstopper, the students were given a packet of worksheets and materials for understanding Shaw's play and we focused more so on projects that connected to the theme of the play as opposed to close textual analysis. I was never really sure if the students actually read, truly understood Shaw's play or just opted for reading the Sparknotes and viewing the film online. Pairing the Librivox recording of Pygmalion with the enhanced Gobstopper text, I had clear indicators for student performance and understanding. By hearing the text, they were able to better read along and understand, and with the Gobstopper curriculet, they could demonstrate understanding while reading instead of having to answer questions on a worksheet at the end of each act.

"Never was a story of more woe..."

For Romeo and Juliet, prior to using Gobstopper,  students read the text that I put in a Word doc with arrows and boxes pointing to what I wanted the students to know. Students would pick parts (aka me coerce students into volunteering). We'd read together in class; I'd  try to get students to act their parts, and stop every page and scene to go over the answers to the questions in the boxes, as well as explain to them the nuances and artistry of the language. While we got through the reading, it wasn't until that I would show the movie clips that students "got it" and understood the language. WHY? Because Shakespeare is meant to be performed not read statically sitting in an uncomfortable student desk, and seeing the actors' movements solidified understanding. While I would encourage students to act their parts out, what that really amounted to was them standing in the front of the room reading monotonously from the text. I was asking them to do too much at once: read, comprehend, and synthesize into a performance. We were also taking at least 1 week to get through each act. With 5 acts in R&J, that amounts to 5 weeks of reading-- in case you didn't know, the play is only 2 hours long....   5 weeks vs 2 hours: no wonder students couldn't remember the opening brawl scene when we finally got to end, we were reading slower than Friar John riding a donkey in the Zeffirelli version.

Flipping the reading of Romeo and Juliet using Gobstopper and Librivox, students read asynchronously in class. I signed out the mobile lab and a class set of headphones, and assigned an act a day. What was not finished in class was for homework. I reviewed the class report the day at the beginning of the next class and clarified any misunderstandings, then let them return to reading independently.  If a student had a question in class, I was able to speak to him/her one on one and address his/her concerns as needed. This process was much more successful then demanding students to be compliant and pay attention as we read together. No longer did I hear complaints of "you're going too fast!" or "can't we just move on already?!" Now that the reading of the play took only a week, we had time for creative projects that included group performances of chosen scenes and skyping with an author (that's for another blog post!).

Gobstopper allows me to efficiently and effectively flip reading instruction from synchronous and static instruction to asynchronous, supported, and student paced. By embedding instructional elements in the text and linking it to an audiobook, students can listen to people read who already understand the text and control the pace of their learning while reading. Independent and whole-class reading of complex texts while aligning with Common Core Standards is no longer a Sisyphean endeavor when using Gobstopper.

I like Gobstopper so much, I shared it at #EdCampPhilly. Photo credit: K.Jarrett



I will be writing more about using Gobstopper in the very near future, but I couldn't wait to share this...

Curriculets are now share-able   Let me SHOW YOU!
Sign up/in to Gobstopper first, then click on this link, and you can see the curriculet I made for A Midsummer Night's Dream.

...AND, the feature I have been waiting for! Gobstopper is MOBILE!
That is some sweet candy to have in your pocket! 

Gobstopper employs some awesome people, too! I got to meet Jason, Sean, and Marika at EdmodoCon 2013. A highlight of my experience!

From Left to Right: Sean, Marika, and I at the EdmodoCon
after party.  Where's Jason? 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Happy Birthday Blog!

My blog turns one-year old today!

21,263 page views

Thank you to all who have read my blog this year!

I know I haven't posted much lately, but I have a list of topics to write about once I get through the end of the school year. Please continue reading and sharing my posts!

Coming Attractions:

And in case you missed them, here are some of my favorite posts...

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Existentialism of Candy Crush

So, I've been playing a lot of Candy Crush lately.... yeah, that addicting Facebook game.... yup, that one... I know I shouldn't admit it, but... there is some relevancy. While I usually write about technology in the classroom, I think it's appropriate considering the events of the past two weeks to talk about how seemingly silly games serve an important purpose.

I've been playing a lot of Candy Crush as a distraction. I don't want to focus on or exist in the moment, so I will use Candy Crush as a way to check out. But the more I look at the design of the game, and the more I look at how the game board is laid out, I realized that it is a metaphor for life. Now I'm sure the creators of Candy Crush are not as philosophical as I am about their game, but bear with me.

When I look at the design of it, each level is a little square puzzle, connected by a track,  and as each puzzle is solved, I then move on the track to the next level. Some levels are easier to pass than others and, I'll admit, there have been a few levels that I got stuck on. When faced with this "adversity,"  I could have given up.  I could have thrown my phone.  I could have researched cheat codes. I could have whined and cried,  lamenting my misfortune.  I could have paid for an upgrade.  Instead, I relied on the generosity of friends (ie. free lives and extra moves) and just kept persisting until I got to the next level, knowing that eventually I could beat it.

But isn't this what we do our own lives? When faced with the difficulty, we keep persisting and trying, accepting help from others, until we finally get through the moment and on to the next, and while I was using Candy Crush as a distraction for the moment, it helped to give me a break or some quiet "un-contemplation",  because I do not want to think about the moment I've just been in.  Descartes says, "I think, therefore I am;" I use Candy Crush to not think, so I can just be. After a few minutes break, I can get back into the real game of life. 

This makes me wonder about students who persist in playing games in class on their device. What are their reasons for playing?  Do they need a break, too? Can they realize when it is time to put the game down and return on their own with out my harping? How can my classroom be a place where they do not need the distraction or break?