Thursday, November 10, 2011

Can You Grant Me a Divorce?

Teaching the Reformation to 10th graders isn’t the easiest thing. Teaching the Reformation to 10th graders at 8 o’clock in the morning is even more challenging. Teaching the Reformation to 10th graders at 8 o’clock in the morning the day after Halloween maxes out the teacher challenge index. Luckily, this teacher had an iPad with her.

This week I got to hang out with a great Social Studies teacher and her 10th graders as they took on the task of creating a talk show script about the Reformation. The task was to demonstrate what they knew about the Reformation by creating a dialogue between Henry VIII and the Pope. The teacher could have just required that the students submit a written script. She could have also required that the students perform their scripts in front of the class. What she decided to do instead was try out an iPad app called Puppet Pals.

Puppet Pals allows you to create a video by dragging in characters, selecting a background and recording your voice while manipulating the characters and setting. The result is a captivating original movie. The free version of Puppet Pals comes with a few characters and backgrounds but for $2.99 you can purchase the director’s pass which gives you 8-10 different sets of characters and backgrounds, including, to our delight, a talk show set! The Director’s Pass also gives you the option of creating puppets and backgrounds from photos you’ve taken or photos you’ve saved from the Internet.

I wanted the students to be able to play with the app right away so I went ahead and searched for fair use friendly images of Henry VIII, a Pope, and some other Reformation-relevant figures (thank you Advanced Search in Google Images). The teacher introduced the assignment and we pulled out the iPads. I briefly created a silly little practice movie so they could get the idea of how the app worked. I then showed a more serious example similar to their assignment that I had made about Buddhism and Confucianism (also reviewing a concept from earlier in the year – yea!). The kids were smiling and laughing, something I love to see when a new assignment is explained.

The students took a full class period to write their scripts. The teacher worked closely with them to be sure they were accurate in their writing and to encourage them to create a script that felt like a talk show. Then, they were ready to record.

Some observations while they recorded:
  • Stakes are higher for students when they care about the product.
  • These students rehearsed a few times before ever touching the iPad – unprompted.
  • Once they were recording “live,” students often took several “takes” of the video before they were satisfied with the results. It was normal for students to record 2-3 times before agreeing the movie was good enough.
  • Vocabulary terms are actually absorbed when the students use them for themselves.
  • More than once a student asked how to pronounce a word they had included in their own script. “Heir” and “annul” were words they had seen in their reading and they knew enough about to include in their script, but it was when they had to pronounce it and read it with meaning that the students started to really own these vocabulary words.
Students worked collaboratively and had fun.
  • I never overlook the importance of students enjoying what they are doing. Smiles and laughter just make for a more pleasant learning environment.
  • I can’t wait to see if this topic is something that these students can remember better later in the year due to their high interest in the assignment.
  • It was lovely to see students encouraging each other and asking for help as they acted out each other’s script.
  • As I was leaving, I watched a young guy rewrite his script in neater handwriting so that his partner would be able to read it. I’m wondering how often he rewrites his tests papers so his teacher can read it better?

Tips the students would share:
  • Practice before recording.
  • Practice moving your characters around so that it looks like they are really talking.
  • Use the pause button to catch your breath between lines without losing flow in the movie
  • Press stop before trying to save – otherwise the app crashes!
  • Save, save, save.
  • Create a story that contains something you can relate to (this tip is actually from my 8-year-old who adores this app!).

Click here to view one student's work: Can You Grant Me a Divorce? 

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