I’m always on the lookout for tools that make it easy for students to be digital storytellers. I just took Microsoft’s Sway for a test ride and I am impressed. (Sway is part of the Office365 suite and free for students and teachers.)
I found Sway to be very intuitive and I figured it out without much need to go the Help section. I could easily add images, text and variety of digital content from my drive or other external sources. A built in search tools allows users to limit searches to Creative Commons. Once content is selected, the source citation (with link) is automatically added to your creation – a great feature for students working on their digital hygiene skills.
There are some styling options that let you explore a few different looks. With some trial and error I eventually got the look and interaction I wanted. Sway has a long list of embed options that add external content to it’s native tools. I’ll be exploring those next.
Sway has built-in collaboration options so teams of creators can work on the same project. Sharing tools make it easy to promote your work across social media and as you can see here – it’s easy to embed your Sway in WordPress. Designers can set permissions to allow viewers to export, duplicate, copy or print. Or set the project to view only. It even has a built in “Accessibility Checker” analyzes your project and shows where alternative text is needed.
Sway projects are responsive and look great on desktop, tablet or smartphone. Android and iOS apps allow you to design or edit via your smartphone. It provides minimal analytics. But one interesting aspect is it sorts your viewers by “Glanced”, “Quick Read” and “Deep Read.”
I recently blogged from the 2011 US Innovative Education Forum (IEF) sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning. This is part of a series of IEF guest posts. For more, click my IEF tag. ~ Peter
More than 700 teachers, school leaders, education leaders, and government officials from more than 70 countries attended this year’s 2011 Partners in Learning Global Forum – an action-packed week of education workshops, inspiring networking events, awards, and announcements by Microsoft. Eighteen recipients of the Global Forum Educator Awards were announced at the event. This year’s winners were selected from more than 115 projects, narrowed from more than 200,000 applicants.
The winners in ”Knowledge Building and Critical Thinking” were High Tech High’s Margaret Noble and David Stahnke. “Illuminated Mathematics” is a curated multimedia exhibition produced by the 12th grade class of 2011.Students in Margaret Noble’s digital art class and David Stahnke’s math class were asked to find the beauty, humanity and intrigue behind math in history, philosophy and the applied arts. The goal was to promote math awareness through art, media and design. The event was hosted at the Sushi Performance and Visual Art Center on December 16th, 2010. Projects developed into an array of math abstractions and celebrations in the mediums of sound, video, animation, photography and interactive installation.
~ A guest post written by Dave Stahnke ~ High Tech High Media Arts ~
“Everyone, open your books to chapter 7 section 2 as we will be learning how to factor degree 3 polynomials.”
I can imagine this statement being said, in some fashion, within the vast majority of high school math classrooms across our seemingly broken educational system. Almost all of us have at some point taught something that was completely irrelevant to the lives of our students. And we knew it!
Nobody has ever come up to me on the street and asked for help with factoring, or called me late at night, unable to sleep, because they were curious as to why the square root of two is an irrational number.
The fact is that nobody has ever come up to me on the street and asked for help with factoring, or called me late at night, unable to sleep, because they were curious as to why the square root of two is an irrational number. It is unfortunate that this doesn’t happen, but I would be kidding myself if I thought these were genuine student concerns within the realm of what we call “life.” I think it is time for us as teachers to be honest about what we teach, and to question why every student needs to know the entire breadth of standards associated with a particular subject.
Deep vs. Wide
There was a study published recently in Science Education (2009) that made a comparison between teachers who “sprinted” to cover all of the standards with teachers who slowed down and went deeper into the material. The students who “sprinted” ended up scoring higher on the standardized test due to covering more material. But the students who learned through the slower, in-depth approach earned higher grades in their college classes.
Like any great symphony, mathematics represents a pinnacle of human creativity. We teach math to enrich the lives of our students in a way akin to reading poetry or composing music
Is our goal to have students performing better on standardized tests or to be prepared for what they are going to encounter in college and life? The ideal would be that they would be prepared for both. So the questions become, what do we want to leave the students with? How are we going to prepare them for the real world? What do we want them to learn about themselves? And how do we do it? To clear the air, I don’t believe that students are taking my calculus class because they need help doubling a recipe or balancing their checkbook. I believe it is because we want to expose students to the poetry of numbers, to have a new outlook on how to solve problems, to be able to think outside of the box, and to see how the unbreakable human spirit has conquered problems that once mystified the greatest of thinkers. Like any great symphony, mathematics represents a pinnacle of human creativity. We teach math to enrich the lives of our students in a way akin to reading poetry or composing music.
Bringing Math to Life
This year I wanted to do something big that would change the perception of mathematics for my students and the surrounding community… It was time for math to become art and art to become math.
This year I wanted to do something big that would change the perception of mathematics for my students and the surrounding community. My goal was to create a math exhibition that would allow students to showcase their depth of understanding in a creative way. I wanted nothing to do with the poster-board type of science fair displays. I wanted math to come alive through the work of my students. It was time for math to become art and art to become math.
In order to pull this off it was clear that I was going to need help. After all, having the students for only an hour a day seemed to be great limitation to this type of creativity. I enlisted the help of Margret Noble, a sound artist, multi-media teacher, colleague, and friend. I also got help from as many math/physics friends as I could. I contacted about thirty people. Fifteen were willing to act as mentors, spending time meeting with one or more groups of students and/or corresponding through e-mail. All of the mentors were physics Ph.D. students, or had their PhD and were working in labs or as engineers. The students found the mentors to be a great resource. As one student said, “I got a lot of positive feedback from adults. They helped me understand a very complicated topic in a very simple way.”
Student Voice and Choice
Margaret and I envisioned mixing multimedia with mathematics by having students create video, sound, photography, and mixed media installations that explored math-related topics. We started the project by creating a list of 50 topics for the students to pick from, though they were not restricted to the list. Once the students had selected a topic we had them brainstorm possible creative ways of expressing it (i.e. their product). Each student also completed a research paper on their topic and gave a power point pre-production oral presentation to explain their topic to the rest of the class.
Along the way, students participated in four in-class critiques of their products, with opportunities to revise after each one. For each critique, students displayed their work on the large screen and the rest of the class would give kind, specific, and helpful feedback. These peer critiques were key to ensuring that students produced beautiful products. As they pushed each other’s creativity and offered new ideas, students’ projects evolved into a variety of forms:
A video with animated fractals, another on chaos theory, an artistic representation of tessellations, a flash video on relativity, music produced using Pythagorean scales, photography that displayed entropy, Pi and mental illness in mathematics, a beautiful silent film which used cryptography to crack a love letter, photography and video of the golden ratio, a video/sound installation on algorithmic compositions using Markov chains, a Leonardo da Vinci model airplane explaining the physics of flight, a comical rap on the life of Pythagoras, and many more.
A student who has struggled with math in the past noted that these peer critiques were instrumental in helping students reach their goals:
During the first two critiques I was a little scared because I didn’t think that our project was good enough and had thoughts in my head saying it could be better. But after the second critique I caught fire. I had many more ideas for our project and I was motivated to make it better. On our last critique a lot of good things were said about our project and it felt good knowing that we were that much closer to having a completed senior project.
Student choice also played a critical role. Contrary to what one might assume, having students choose their own topics to explore created some of the most rigorous and authentic student work I have ever seen. Not only did the students have choice in what they were learning, they also chose how they wanted to display it. Furthermore, as the project work progressed, I realized that once the students’ buy in was there, the usual achievement gap between students almost entirely disappeared. This same student found that this project gave him something to be proud of:
I honestly am proud of my project, because our animation came a long way from what we had in the beginning. A lot of hours were put in, learning Adobe After Effects, perfecting the animation, making the concept of infinite monkey theorem as simple as possible, and staying during lunch and after school so we could finish up and meet the deadlines.
Students exhibited their final work on a Thursday evening at Sushi Contemporary Performance and Visual Arts, a gallery and performance space in downtown San Diego. The venue had professional lighting and ample wall space for multiple projections. It took us two days to set up the exhibition, hanging photos, placing installations, and installing projectors throughout the space. When the lights were turned down and the student work was illuminated it seemed almost magical. Prior to the exhibition, we had reached out to CNBC (video), Voice of San Diego, and City Beat Magazine to help promote the show. The most common phrase I heard that evening from the parents, media, and other visitors was “I can’t believe that high school students did this!”
As an educator, this experience proved to me that mathematics can not only be enjoyable for students, it can be downright memorable. This was possible through giving student choice and by letting them explore math through their own creative personalities. In the words of my teaching partner, Margaret Noble, “This project worked because math moved from the abstract realm into the tangible. Numbers and concepts became people, culture, history and philosophy that students could illuminate to the public.”
Or, as one student said, “It definitely widened my view of math. At first I thought math was only useful to scientists and mathematicians, but this project showed me that math is everywhere.” What more could a math teacher want?
Schwartz, M., Sadler, P., Sonnert, G. & Tai, R. (September, 2009). Depth versus breadth: How content coverage in high school science courses relates to later success in college science coursework. Science Education, 93, 5, 798-826.
OK, it’s not really a better mouse trap…. but it is a better mouse. Winners of the third annual 2011 UIST Student Innovation Contest (SIC) have been announced. Student teams were given a new Microsoft TouchMouse and provided with a pre-release of the TouchMouse API. The goal of the contest was to design new interactions using this state-of-the-art hardware. For more on the contest and all the winners.
I recently blogged from the 2011 US Innovative Education Forum (IEF) sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning. Here’s a guest post from, Kelli Etheredge, one of the IEF finalists I met at the competition. For more on the competition and other guest posts click the IEF tag. ~ Peter
Kelli Etheredge, St. Paul’s Episcopal School (Mobile, AL)
Project: What’s the Verdict? The Count of Monte Cristo Murder Trial
In this project, 10th grade World Literature class students used a shared Microsoft OneNote notebook, Office Web Apps and Windows Live SkyDrive to share information and prepare for a criminal trial of the character Edmond Dantès after reading the novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Students develop many 21st century skills including critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration while they move beyond rote memorization and regurgitation of facts and read the book with a critical eye and goal in mind — to either prove or disprove the liability of Dantès in the downfall of his enemies and the seven deaths, two kidnappings and the loss of wealth. They gain experience in using the art of persuasion, writing in various formats and enhance civic literacy.
Kelli has written the following guest post. For a full description of the project, see her blog.
They are either reading the novel from the eye of a specific witness and discovering how Edmond Dantès impacted their lives, or they are reading from a lawyer’s perspective. They are solving the mystery, gathering evidence, looking for connections.
Intrigue. It is the key to any great story. For me, it’s also the key to any great literature lesson.
I teach World Literature to 10th graders. As with most literature curriculums, the focus is on the classics. 10th graders are generally not interested in classics. Not surprising, I know. If it wasn’t published in their lifetime, students frequently classify all classics as “boring” without every reading it. Even when they are interested in the work, nothing kills the inherent qualities of a story like the “traditional” qualities of a literature classroom. We all know the class – assign chapters to read for homework, lecture about plot and theme, repeat until done. My goal, therefore, for every unit is to bring classic literature to life. I love the day in my class when kids shift from saying, “I have to read this…” to “I get to read this!”
How do I create intrigue? For The Count of Monte Cristo unit, I use the mock trial. Now, don’t get me wrong. The Count of Monte Cristo oozes intrigue without a mock trial – love, jealousy, betrayal, vengeance. It has it all. But, with an 1844 publication date, some students may never read it without the mock trial. Therefore, when I introduce the unit, I tell the students that at the end of the novel, although Edmond Dantès never directly kills, kidnaps, or steals from anyone, we are going to put him on trial for murder, kidnapping, and theft. Intrigue. They are curious; they start reading to see how in the world such a trial can happen.
Students are then given a deadline for the first fifteen chapters and asked to tell me whether they want to be either (1) a lawyer or (2) a witness in the trial. Starting with chapter sixteen, students have a specific role. They are either reading the novel from the eye of a specific witness and discovering how Edmond Dantès impacted their lives, or they are reading from a lawyer’s perspective. They are solving the mystery, gathering evidence, looking for connections.
classroom mock trial
Students are given time in and out of class to read the novel. At specific chapters, the class analyzes the events in the novel and creates cause and effect charts. When the students are finished reading the novel, they then move into prosecution and defense teams to prepare for the trial. All of our work in the novel study and the trial preparation is shared via a Microsoft OneNote notebook. Prosecution and Defense teams have password protected sections. During the mock trial they can quickly search their OneNote notebook and find facts that help them respond to cross-examination remarks.
Witnesses play the part and write a letter from their character’s perspective; lawyers use an analysis chart to determine how each witness impacts their theory of the case. During the trial preparation stage, I teach the students about trial procedure, questioning witnesses, and introducing evidence at trial. When trial preparation is complete, we conduct the mock trial. Other teachers and former students sit on the jury. I’m the judge. When witnesses are not on the stand, they are taking notes to help prepare for their persuasive essay. The trial usually lasts four to five days, and we have had both defense and prosecution verdicts.
Once the trial is over, everyone writes a persuasive essay answering the question: Were the punishments of Danglars, Villefort, and Fernand Mondego really God’s retribution or wholly the cause of Edmond Dantès?
From start to finish, students are thinking critically, connecting their knowledge of the novel to their own world, and expanding their experiences. Watching each student use the facts of the case to (1) demonstrate their understanding of the novel and (2) prove their team’s case is one of the proudest moments I have every year.
Here are my tips for making a literary mock trial successful:
Choose a novel that involves culpable activities but no one in the novel is punished for
Assign only important roles (lawyers and characters) and assign the roles as early as you can
Provide students with scaffolding devices that help them in their critical thinking – cause/effect charts, organization tools, analysis charts
Make sure everyone is active during the trial; if students aren’t testifying they should be taking notes, preparing for their persuasive essay.
Use outside experts- lawyers from your hometown- to teach students about trial procedure
The following site has a mock trial manual (pdf) for teachers to use – (note I did not assign follow this manual completely because I wanted my students to only be witnesses and lawyers. Positions like bailiff did not provide any opportunity for critical thinking and application of their knowledge of the novel.) Additionally, this website – provides guidance on questioning witnesses, introducing evidence, etc.
Encourage healthy competition – the students’ level of commitment to the project intensifies with a healthy competition.
Remind students that they are capable of the task; students need to know that they are capable of hard work and critical thinking, and they need to know you have confidence in their abilities.
About the Author Kelli Etheredge is the Teaching and Learning Resources Director for St. Paul’s Episcopal School. In her role, she supports PK-12 teachers in effective integration of technology and innovative lesson design. She is also a trained peer coaching facilitator through the PeerEd group. Additionally, Kelli teaches World Literature at the 10th grade level. She is in her twelfth year of teaching and her eleventh year of teaching in a 1:1 environment. Before her teaching career, Kelli practiced law for five years.
I recently blogged from the 2011 US Innovative Education Forum (IEF) sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning. Here’s a guest post from, Betsy Weigle, one of the IEF finalists I met at the competition. For more on the competition and other guest posts click the IEF tag. ~ Peter
Betsy Weigle, Adams Elementary School (Spokane, WA)
Project: Connecting Classrooms with Skype and PowerPoint
The objective of this project was to open the classroom to the world by bringing children from Washington state and North Carolina together virtually to share insights on Native American cultures. Students used presentation and interactive conferencing technology, which allowed in-depth, real-time interaction on shared content. Students prepared short PowerPoint slide shows or posters, verbal presentations and question/answer sessions.
Nearly every fourth grader in the country studies state history. Students usually read textbooks, do research projects and perhaps create posters or brochures about their state. That’s good. But it can be better. Understanding a state’s culture is so much richer if a student’s place in the world is compared to somewhere different. Here’s how to open your classroom to the world using Skype.
Find a Partner
Although you can Skype with your teaching partner across the hall, the greatest effect comes from out-of-state partners. I found my partner, John Paul Sellars from South Carolina when I attended the Mickelson Exxon Mobil Teaching Academy for Science and Math. A brief visit to a teaching forum (there are hundreds) will reveal many teachers eager to participate.
Narrow the Subject
The result: 100% of students in both classrooms showed they understood that environment was the driving factor in creating the differences between tribes.
“State history” is far too broad. We chose “Native American culture” because both regions had tribal structures and traditions to study.
Assign the Research
Our students determined what they wanted to know about tribal culture. Topics included food, shelter and clothing. They formed small groups for research and used texts and websites to create presentations.
Skype is visual. I focused my students on finding unique ways to communicate their findings. They rose to the challenge, creating colorful posters, PowerPoints for screen sharing, life-sized cutouts of salmon, and even a 30-foot construction paper canoe.
But, as one student wisely pointed out, “Environment’s not to blame if you can’t get a wife due to bad flute playing.”
Live, on-camera rehearsals help kids do their best, both as presenters and as engaged, questioning audience members. Classroom Skyping also helps work the bugs out of your system. Don’t forget to hold at least one technical check with your Skyping partner to be sure there will be no show-stoppers on the day of the event.
Plan your Assessment
Both classrooms planned a common assessment: Students were required to fill in a Venn diagram on the similarities and differences between the tribal groups.
Present and Learn
With thorough preparation, your students will be fully engaged and ready to not only be great presenters, but involved audience members. We had great questions and answers on similarities and differences between cultures. The favorite difference was finding a wife: In the Northwest arranged marriages were the standard; in the Southeast, a man played a flute outside his intended’s home.
skype classroom 2
Push for Higher-Level Thinking
As I outline on my website, I’m a huge fan of forcing young brains to work harder. At the end of the presentation, my partner teacher and I sprung the bigger question on the students:
“Why were the tribes different?”
The result: 100% of students in both classrooms showed they understood that environment was the driving factor in creating the differences between tribes of the Northwest and tribes of the Southeast.
But, as one student wisely pointed out, “Environment’s not to blame if you can’t get a wife due to bad flute playing.”
Betsy Weigle is a National Board Certified Teacher with 13+ years of elementary school experience. She is a respected math, social studies and science curriculum developer and creator of a Classroom-Teacher-Resources.com, a detailed website for new elementary school teachers.