One of the things that I try to do with my students is expose them to new and interesting technology and websites. I’m also always looking for ways to make writing more interesting to the kids. I don’t know about your students, but mine just love PowerPoint. We don’t do a whole lot of up-in-front-of-class presenting, especially in the lower levels, but when we do, if I don’t assign some program or other, 99% of the kids use PowerPoint. Even trying to convince them to use Google Slides is like pulling teeth.
And I’m tired or PowerPoint. And I know that my students do presentations in other classes, and they’ll be heading to college soon, where they’ll also certainly be doing presentations. So as a favor to the audiences of all their future presentations, I try to expose them to new ways to present the same information. Something a little more interesting than the same, old, boring PowerPoint. In the past, I’ve had kids use Google Slides (yes, I know, that’s just like PowerPoint, but I’m trying to convince my students that, at the very least, it’s more convenient than PowerPoint), Prezi, various video apps, Sock Puppets, and Educreations. In the future, I really want to try one I just learned about, called TouchCast. Has anyone used it? It seems like it could potentially be kind of confusing. Here is the link to the official site; here is one to a quick overview on edtechroundup.org.
So all that brings me to the IPA for my immigration unit. This time, I decided to use Piktochart for the writing section of the IPA. In case you haven’t heard of it, Piktochart is an excellent website that allows users (you have to create an account) to create and edit their own infographics. You can create a free account with a few pre-made themes or the option to create your own from scratch, or you can pay for the premium and get many, many more pre-made theme options. I love infographics. I use them in class. I browse them for fun. I just love them. I think they’re such an interesting way to convey information – definitely not a boring slideshow. If done correctly, the infographic doesn’t even need a presenter, which is why I thought it would be good for a writing assignment.
Before I use a new website, app, or program for an IPA, I always try to preview it in class. This way, the kids get a chance to see it, and I get to make sure I can work out any bugs. We discovered that this website doesn’t cooperate with iOS. While using the iPads, we were able to select what we wanted to change, but not move it or actually change what was written. We could change fonts and colors, as I recall, but that’s not terribly useful. There is an app, but we quickly discovered that the app is only good for viewing infographics that have already been created – there’s no way to create or edit within the app, at least at present. Luckily, our library has a set of Chromebooks that I was able to borrow and it worked beautifully. (Sidenote, my students, who had never used Chromebooks before, loved them.)
So, what’s it like to use Piktochart? Well, I had one senior say after about one minute that she loved this website and was absolutely going to use it to make an electronic resume for a scholarship application. I also had a junior who kicked and screamed (not literally) every step of the way, complained that she didn’t know how to do anything, and begged me to let her just use PowerPoint (how she was going to do that on a Chromebook, no one knows). I gave them two days to work on their Piktocharts. When she finally started actually trying, I heard, “Okay, this isn’t so bad after all.”
It’s pretty easy to use. Just a little playing around and you can pretty much figure out all the functions, but depending how much time and effort you want to put in, you can create something pretty extravagant. I mean, the tagline of the website is “Create easy infographics, reports, presentations.” Which brings me to another feature of the website – you can create a typical infographic and share the link with someone, but there’s also a “Present” button, which will show each “block” (basically a slide) in turn, and you could definitely use this for an in-front-of-the-class type of presentation. That wasn’t my goal with this assignment, however. I simply told them to state an opinion and support it. They had a listening and a reading source from which they could pull data, if it supported their opinion.
My final thoughts? Well, initially I was worried that using an infographic for a writing assignment might hinder kids’ ability to really show me what they’re capable of proficiency-wise. However, as a rule, my students have missed out on the “Only use bullet points in PowerPoint” thing, and so I got some beautiful, complete sentences (it probably helped that I told them this was a writing assignment and they knew they wouldn’t be presenting or reading it). Many of their sentences were separated by space, but since I’ve been harping on using connector words, idiomatic expressions, and transition phrases for six months now, I was able to read them as if they were a paragraph.
Could they have used more connector and transition words if I had told them to just write on a piece of paper, or in a Google Docs page? Sure, probably, but this was so much more interesting for them to create and for me to read, and I think I was able to get a pretty good idea of what they’re capable of. I do know these kids a little, after all. However, if I were to do this assignment again, I would give a few more guidelines (not about Piktochart):
1) If you say “the government should strengthen the border,” or some other broad “the government should” statement, you must follow it up with an idea of how. One of the things I tried to focus on in this unit was that we, as Americans, tend to say “the government should” a lot on the issue of immigration, but we don’t have any idea what the government already does, or what they should change. We looked more than a little at the current government protocols and protections, so I was hoping they would naturally follow up statements like that with a suggestion, but many did not.
2) If you include data, from one of the sources I give you, cite it. We’ve learned a lot of things about immigration over the last few weeks, and I don’t expect them to remember the names of the articles or the authors of the things we read two, three, or four weeks ago. However, many students pulled information from the sources I gave them that day. I should have taken that as an opportunity to promote responsibility and told them that they should at least cite those sources, if they used them.
So, now that you’ve read all of that, how about a few examples?
Here‘s one by one of my 4s that, along with the discussion portion of the assignment, demonstrates some of this student’s best writing ever. I linked to the Google Doc where there’s another link to the Piktochart, along with a screenshot of their Edmodo conversation (each person had to post 1 discussion question, and a minimum of 3 replies. This particular question was the most discussed in this class of 4 students).
Here‘s one by the girl (also a 4) who immediately fell in love with this website. I only linked her infographic – she spent so much time on it that her discussion question (although interesting) didn’t get any responses. Her writing isn’t as polished, but her infographic is so pretty that I thought I should share it.
Here‘s one by a senior in Spanish 3 who has, from the beginning, been the most openminded and thoughtful about the issue of immigration.
Here‘s one by a junior in Spanish 3 who seems to be a little conflicted on the issue. That wasn’t exactly my goal when I started this unit, but I am glad to see that she’s thinking about what she believes and why – that was my goal.
One more by a junior in Spanish 3 who always impresses me, but particularly this time because the opinion she supports doesn’t jive with her continual comments in class that “Illegals should be deported. Period.” Maybe I’m opening minds? Or maybe she just thought this would get her a better grade? Either way, it seems as though she can see both sides, which means she probably knows why she feels the way she does, so I guess that’ll have to be good enough.