March 16, 2011

Paper vs. Popplet

Our current unit in 6th grade English and Language Arts (ELA) is book clubs. Students are grouped by reading level and before we started our unit, students filled out Google forms to let me know what genres/topics they enjoy reading the most. We had an enormous demand for realistic fiction and fantasy. After choosing engaging titles ranging from Jerry Spinelli's Loser to Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games, students completed community-building activities to decide how they would keep each other accountable throughout our unit. One of the most important skills needed in order to be successful in this unit is the club's ability to conduct a meaningful discussion about their book.

So where do iPads come in?

Two summers ago, I learned of an incredibly engaging book-club activity at Columbia University's Teachers College summer institute. The activity, called Chalk Talk, is designed to promote a silent book discussion via an engaging question about the book. Materials needed: chart paper and markers. Each talker needs their own color marker because every time you see that color on that chart paper, the audience knows who is "talking." The book club's goal is to not leave any white space left on the chart paper: visually showing that club is talking, talking, talking. I posted two examples of Chalk Talks above that my students recently completed in ELA.

And then I learned about Popplet...

After attending professional development regarding using technology in the classroom, Mr. Little came back to Bronx Green with exciting details about an application he learned of: Popplet. As soon as you tap the Popplet icon, the homepage announces, "See what you think...together." Popplet is an application that enables users to use pop-up text boxes to type text, insert images, insert videos, etc. In my opinion, one of the coolest things about Popplet (which led me to my "digital" chalk talk idea) was that each text box can have a unique outline color. On paper, students use different color markers to show who is talking, when they are talking and where. On the iPad, students can use different Popplets to show the same categories.

After trying both chalk-talk activities in our ELA classroom, I was extremely interested in hearing what my students thought. We had an informal discussion in class whether they preferred the chalk talk on paper or the chalk talk on Popplet. I was honestly very surprised to hear that my students were split (I really thought we would have an overwhelmingly majority for the iPad). Many of my students actually preferred the activity on paper because the size of the poster enabled them to write more, write faster and write at the same time. They found that with the iPad, the discussion went slower because only one book-club member could type at a time. Those students who preferred the iPad venue stated that they liked rotating the iPad and using it one at a time because it gave them more time to read their clubs' thoughts and take their time responding. They felt a little too rushed on paper.

Regardless of the split, all my students stated they would love to use Popplet in ELA again.

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