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Using Livescribe Pens for AP English Legacy Projects: Students Teaching Students

By Claudia Felske, 2011 Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year

‘Twas the end-o-the-year in AP English. Our high-stakes, studied-for-all-year test was finally behind us, and we were looking for fun, academic fun that is: a meaningful, yet amusing project for my exhausted yet brilliant Advanced Placement English Students (APES).

Enter, Livescribe pens.
I had recently been introduced to Livescribe pens by Tim Fahlberg at the Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Conference. I was intrigued by what this tool was capable of, so after a bit of brainstorming with Tim, I approached my APES with a blank slate and an exciting piece of technology which was new to all of us.

My students wanted a “legacy project” – something they as seniors could leave behind “for the good of future scholars,” something that would be highly engaging for both the students making the projects and those who would later learn from them.

We envisioned a multi-media poster which would illuminate a key vocabulary word or concept from AP English, and effectively teach that word and it significance to future students long after the APES had flown off to college. Future students, with Livescribe pen in hand, could take a “gallery walk” in my classroom, using the pen to activate audio descriptions, anecdotes, examples, and commentary on key AP vocabulary words from APES alumni.

The APES were excited. Not only were they anxious to try out the Livescribe pen, which they immediately deemed “awesome,” recognizing its many applications, but they each quickly coveted their favorite vocabulary word from the year in a most possessive manner (this was most entertaining to watch!)

Next, as a class, we came up with some general characteristics for the posters:

Posters should be:
“aesthetically pleasing”

Posters must contain:
“audio dots with student commentary”
“pictures reinforcing meaning”
“examples from text”
“examples from real life”
“prominent placement of the word/concept itself”
“a photo of its creator (it was legacy project after all)

“Standard-sized,” was the only addition I imposed on their list, knowing that this wwhould add continuity and overall visual appeal when the posters were mounted in the classroom. Excited by the “wide open” nature of the assignment and the vast opportunity for creativity, we also decided that it would be important to focus the project on our main objective, which was to convey the meaning of a key AP word/concept in a way that would clarify and deepen other students’ understanding of that concept in a memorably way.

I provided my APES with two days in class to get them started as their end-of-the year schedule was challenging to say the least—with multiple AP tests scheduled for many of my students, final papers and projects in many of their classes, graduation preparations, and a plethora of other commitments in their busy lives.

Tim Fahlberg was an invaluable resource, answering all of my questions as details and logistics of the project were finalized. Our logistical challenge of using the Livescribe pen was that we had to have everyone use the same pen. This was because ultimately I wanted one pen to activate the audio on all the completed posters when future students would listen to them on their “gallery walk, ” pen in hand. Our solution was that each student could take the pen home one night to complete the “audio dot” portion of his or her posters. Several elected to get together at night, to help each other with the recording step, simplifying the schedule.

The process was this:

  • Students were to record vocal segments on their posters with the Livescribe pen. They would simply use the pen to make a word or notation on the Livescribe paper while talking. The pen would record what they were saying from the time they made a notation until they pressed stop. Audio would include the definition of the word, examples of that concept, their personal take on what it means, and anything else that would help a listener remember and understand their word.
  • At home, they would record these segments and then keep track of them for later use. (They each had a Livescribe notebook page for this purpose; some used a sheet of sticker with the Livescribe pattern on them, for easy transfer onto their poster later).
  • When they completed the visual aspects of their posters, they turned them in to me for lamination (we had decided their “legacies” were worth laminating for longevity).
  • Once the dots were added, posters were complete.

On final exam day, we shared the finished products, enjoying each poster’s visuals and accompanying voice narrations as we used the pen to touch the voice dots on each poster. Posters were humorous, meaningful, memorable, and I believe this will continue to be the case as they are shared with future students.

It is a gross understatement to say that students were highly engaged in this project. Clearly they had great fun bringing their term to life for future APES. The most valuable part, I believe, was that not only did students engage in a useful review activity and learn a new technology, but they learned how to leverage technology to increase other students’ (future APES) learning, effectively linking their own learning to the learning of others and experiencing the truism all educators know: You never really know something until you teach it to someone else.

Here are some of the highlights from the posters themselves:

On his “black humor” poster, Tucker uses specific textual examples of black humor from the novel Catch-22, but also includes audio clips of him telling jokes which exemplify black humor, making us laugh…and remember his term.

Erin’s poster, examining “metafiction,” is visually stunning. Her talents as a scrapbooker are apparent as her poster contains miniature “metafictional” novels. Her definition of “metafiction” is itself metafictional (fiction about fiction) as it’s visually defined within a series of embedded books. She also includes “mood music” and “bam!” exclamations at key points, startling and entertaining us.

Bethany chose the word “ascension,” one that I had not provided to the class, but which she had run across in her own reading and ended up applying it often when analyzing characters in class. Her poster is gorgeous: an oil pastel rendition of clouds with the word “ascension” going from dark to a light gold, paralleling its meaning. Her audio dot contains her own poetic introduction to the concept of “ascension”: Notice the movement of clouds across the fast sky…how they billow, shrink and change shapes as they glide along, but still remain the same clouds you were watching. One thing you might not notice is the clouds movement up and down as if they were marionettes being pulled up and down by a puppeteer.”

Sam chose “radical irony,” using a British professorial voice on his audio dots to explain that radical irony is commentary on “the disrelations of modern life is one of those special things in life that can crack a dumfounded smile on the human face as he/she hears someone utter the absurd” (Imagine that uttered in a heavy British accent). He provides several examples from the books we’d read and then, much to the enjoyment of his peers, gives an academic example of his own: (not, of course, in reference to me, one can hope): “Radical irony is when your teacher says ‘I just had the perfect idea for this class; then you hear their idea.’

Judy chose “paradox,” cleverly creating a visual pun of her term as “a pair of ducks” makes their way across her poster as well as a picture of Pinocchio uttering, “My nose will grow now!” On one of her audio dots, she explains that Pinocchio’s claim is an impossible paradox: “If what he says is true, his nose won’t grow; if it’s a lie, his nose will grow, making the statement true!”

Finally, Andrew’s exceptional “duplicity” poster contains bagpipe background music, a heavy British/Scottish professorial accent, and dry wit galore. It contains upwards of 30 minutes of audio commentary, but none of us wanted to stop listening. Andrew holds a presumed two-way dialogue with us, his listeners, predicting our responses, and answering with pseudo-intellectual humor. He is excessively thorough in explicating his word, explaining the history of “duplicity,” its mythological roots, its applications in Shakespeare’s Iago, other characters, and real life. Then, he reflects on his own obsession with the word: “Why am I taken by this word, you may ask? Do I have a duplicitous nature? I don’t believe so. I like the word Duplicitous because things aren’t always what they seem. It represents the unpredictability of life. You cannot always know; you can pursue your quest for knowledge (and I encourage you to do just that) but you will not ever fully understand everything in life. Uncertainty is our only certainty.” Finally, in true Andrew form, his very long audio dot ends with a challenge, sending us on a scavenger hunt, locating and listening to audio dot clues scattered throughout the building in order to taste his final tidbits of duplicitous wisdom.

Humor. Creativity. Wisdom: the legacy project is definitely a “do again.” Thinking more about this project, I’d make the following observations:

  • Next time, I’d make sure all students use multiple dots, so shorter pieces of information are conveyed, giving the reader flexibility. (Andrew’s fine and duplicitous piece was recorded on one dot, or rather symbol in his case) forcing me to listen to all 30 minutes to find smaller pieces of audio I’d have liked to touch and hear instantly. More dots give the listener more flexibility and control.
  • Students like mixed media: they appreciate creative opportunities to demonstrate learning. The open-ended nature of the project combined with the audio component gave students the opportunity to showcase their personalities and talents: Tucker’s love of all things comedic, Erin’s artistic flair, Bethany’s poetic way with words, Sam’s dark humor, Andrew’s ability to weave together a mulit-layered interactive narrative.
  • Livescribe is another in our increasingly exciting toolbox of interactive technologies that students can leverage to demonstrate understanding and communicate with others.
  • It’s exciting how Livescribe technology can capture the moment, archive it, and make it accessible. This was, as we had hoped, truly a “legacy project” as my APES’ posters, their very voices, will remain on the “gallery walk,” explaining their concepts to potentially decades of students to come.
  • I’ve only begun to explore the applications of Livescribe technology. During the adopt-a-word project, Kayla (who adopted “frame” – image below) asked if she could borrow the Livescribe pen for her Spanish class, as she had difficulty “keeping up” with his lectures. She loved the idea of recording what he said within her notes, for later reference. Note to self: Anything that you or students can do with sound/voice can be incorporated into projects or lessons, seamlessly, with Livescribe. Remember this!

As Futurist Daniel Pink said, “We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past.” I believe that by using 21st century technology to demonstrate understanding and teach others, the APES legacy project achieved this goal…and it was fun.

Claudia Felske, East Troy High School, East Troy Wisconsin

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