Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Reflection on student videoscribe projects

My sixth-graders are about to finish up a project using Videoscribe to create plot diagrams. Working cooperatively, they have created original images to represent the main events in a novel they read, written a script for the events, and placed the events on a plot diagram in the form of a movie. Today I hope my students will be able to AirDrop me their product.

We have two more steps as a class. The first is to debrief. I intend to ask the students about the problems they encountered and prod them for solutions or ways they can foresee these problems in the future. The second step as a class is a celebration party where we look at all of the finished products. I hope to post them on a blog I just created for student work (empty still) at

Here are some of the lessons about cooperative work and technology that I have observed with my students. I look forward to hearing their feedback about what they think did not go as planned and what did.

1.     During class, students may need to call parents for passwords.
This is okay.

2.     Some students will be technologically ahead of others.
While using videoscribe, one group realized that they could not pause while recording audio and video. They realized they could record their audio using quicktime instead and then import it and match it to their pictures. This was a good solution for them.

Another group with a similar problem tried using vokaroo, but it would not import for them.

And a third student is still struggling with the fact that he can’t pause videoscribe while recording audio and video. He hasn’t figured out that he should use a different application for recording audio. (In the end, he found a very good workaround.)

3.     Students don’t think of the same workarounds that I do.
One student found that her app would only record for five minutes. Instead of seeking a different app that would allow her to work longer, she made two separate recordings. In my mind, I was thinking, “Why don’t you use Quicktime instead?” I think Quicktime would have provided a better alternative because she could have accomplished the same task with one file and no significant additional work, but my students don’t know about using Quicktime this way. The bigger problem, in this case, is that they don’t seek out better answers and they don’t use each other as resources.

4.     Trial apps expire.
While I love the app Videoscribe, the cost is high, so we used the trial version which was only valid for seven days. I alerted students numerous times that they had only seven days with the app, and that they should not download the program until they were ready to record, but several students had their trial expire becaue the timing was off.

My students realized they could email the app creator and get a two-day extension (kudos, students!), but that did not last long because Videoscribe was getting too may emails from sixth grade students in Korea and started emailing back that he would not extend their trials.

5.     Students will need extra time.
My sixth-graders don’t have great time management skills. They have had plenty of time in class to complete this project. They spent too much time on the drawing part and did not foresee that the later parts of the project would take time. Because of this, it has been a rush to finish last minute, even with extensions.

6.     Students have trouble finding time outside of class to work cooperatively.
My students had ample time outside of class to work, but as sixth graders who don’t necessarily live near one another, there are factors other than time at play. Many students were away for the past week on Lunar Break.

Others live far enough away from each other that they can’t work cooperatively if it means they have to be in the same room. This is a big problem with Videoscribe. My students are used to cooperative work using google docs, with enormous flexibility, so they can easily spot the limitations in Videoscribe.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Third Culture Kids

Last Friday several of my seventh grade students asked me if I was a TCK, a third culture kid. I considered this a great compliment, which is a far cry from my thoughts in college. In college, I thought TCKs were the kids who hadn't bought clothes or taken a shower since junior high. Apologies to my TCK friends.

I had to explain to my students that I am not a TCK. If there were such a thing as a TCA, a third culture adult, I would qualify. I lived in Hungary for two years, met my (American) husband there. We returned to the US for three years, but it took only a few months there to realize that we were not settled. We went to Thailand in 1999. In 2005, we again returned to the US for three years. Five years ago, we returned to Thailand; and this fall, we moved to South Korea.

I don't know if I will ever live long-term in the United States again. If it weren't for my parents and my need to update my wardrobe on occasion, I would have very little problem not returning to the US for an extended period of time. For me, Thailand feels like home. That's a bit crazy and my Thai language skills are
ไม่เก่งพอ/not good enough. I don't like spicy food, which rules out almost all Thai food. 

But my son was adopted from Thailand. My son's face is 100% Thai. Thai faces are the faces of my best student memories. Thailand is where I knew students in kindergarten and saw them graduate from high school. Thailand is far from idyllic, but when I think of a place to lay my head and rest, Thailand is that place.When I see pictures of friends in Thailand, it is where my heart longs to be.

Back to the TCK thing. This has set me to thinking on the types of TCKs in the world. Here are a few types of TCKs that I can think of. People can fit into more than one of these categories.

Image from
  1. The traditional TCK. A third culture kid is a child who has spent a significant amount of their childhood or formative years in a culture that is different from the home culture of the parents.
  2. The international school (only) TCK. This is a student who lives in their home culture, but attends an international school and thus is raised somewhat outside of the traditional cultural norms. (Many of my students in Bangkok fit into this category.)
  3. The TCK whose parents embrace TCKness. These are parents who are aware that their children are growing up outside of the home culture and foster the wide world that this experience brings.
  4. The TCK with reluctant parents. This is a TCK whose parents perhaps did not realize what they were signing up for when they agreed to bring up their children in a country other than their own. The parents may try to keep the children living under most if not all of the home country's cultural norms. 
  5. The TCK who is only in another country to attend school. In Thailand we had quite a few Korean students whose parents wanted them to learn English and attend international schools, but the students could not attend international schools in Korea. These students often ended up in some interesting permutation of a non-official boarding school, living with extended family, friends, or even on their own at a young age.
  6. The in-country TCK. These are some of my students now in Korea. They may or may not have spent a portion of their lives outside of their home country. Often they spent a few very young years away from their parents home country, but they have returned. These students have parents whose lives were not significantly transformed by their time overseas. These students tend toward the norms of their home country. (Some countries seem to have stronger pulls than others. Korea is a rather homogenous culture, so the path of least resistance certainly means living, acting, thinking Korean).
  7. The TCK Adult. This is me. I am a very different person than I would be had I not spent thirteen years of my adulthood (so far) outside of my home country. Major life events have taken place outside of my home country. I met my husband overseas. I met and adopted my son overseas. Friends have come and gone overseas. The sorrows and joys of my adulthood have largely been lived overseas. When I step back and look at my life, I ask myself, "Can I ever return to the US?"

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The lessons of Downton Abbey for teachers

Like many people, I am caught up in the drama of Downton Abbey. At first it seemed like a fun period piece, complete with witty banter and amazing costumes. As season three has progressed, though, I’ve realized how much the writer is truly developing the notion of Robert as a man at odds with the changing world around him. He’s constantly struggling between the life he has known and the life his wife, daughters and various and sundry family members seem to be dragging him toward. At its core, it is a story about the struggle to reconcile old ways with modernity in a human way.

This is very much the same story that educators face today. The world is changing. Sticking to our old ways will not do much good. Our children, our students, will bring us to new ways of doing things, whether we want them to or not. And in the end, the new ways are what we need to thrive, to help our students thrive.

This idea was illustrated clearly in the most recent episode of Downton Abbey, season three, episode eight. Brothers-in-law Matthew and Tom are working to modernize Downton. Robert, who has been in charge on his own for many years, has just let go his long-trusted foreman and is now forced to work with Tom and Matthew, his sons-in-law. Many a father-in-law would have difficulty working with his sons-in-law, but staid Robert especially so.

Robert, Matthew and Tom have breakfast together. Matthew leaves to check on some things on the estate while Tom and his father-in-law Robert discuss the business of farming.

Tom: (About Matthew) “He’s putting a good face on it, but you know he wants you with him on this more than anything.”
Robert: “I should not serve him well. I don’t have the instincts for what he wants to do.”
Tom: “You mean you’re not a tradesman.”
Robert: “Your word, not mine.”
Tom: “Shall I tell you how I look at it? Every man or woman who marries into this house, every child born into it, has to put their gifts at the family’s disposal. I am a hard worker and I have some knowledge of the land. Matthew knows the law and the nature of business.”
Robert: “Which I do not.”
Tom: “You understand the responsibilities to the people we have around here, those who work for the estate and those that don’t. It seems to me that if we can pool all of that, if we can each do what we can do, then Downton has a real chance.”

Robert, Matthew and Tom accept their differences
while sharing their strengths.
Robert then compliments Tom’s eloquence and concedes the point, to a small degree. Robert begins to see that we serve different functions in a team and that collaboration is what is necessary to continue in an ever-changing world. At the end of the episode, Robert, Tom and Matthew are working together to play cricket and to bring the estate to its best state.

We look at Downton Abbey and we see a story of life one-hundred years ago. But these are the same conversations we are having today in education. What old ways must we give up? What strengths do different people bring to the table? How can we best work together?

These are not new ideas. Change is something that people always struggle with. It may be that the pace of change has accelerated and we now find ourselves with enormous institutions so that changing them quickly really is like trying to steer a large boat. The larger the boat, the slower it changes course. But like Matthew and Tom who keep at Robert to change his ways, we must keep at our course change, collaborate, and let our students share their strengths so that all can learn.

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