Kids crowded the school bus windows, snapping pictures with their school-issued iPads. Larry Gundlach, who teaches one of the 2nd/3rd grade classes at New Century Charter School in Verona, Wisconsin, looked back at his students with a smile. The kids’ enthusiasm for exploring poetry and nature was contagious! The class was on a field trip and studying the world while it zipped past, letting their imaginations run wild with poems they would later write inspired by their photos.
The students were completing a unit Larry developed called “Veroetry,” poems inspired by objects they saw in their own world of Verona, WI. Larry, who’s one of the Field Day Lab Fellows, developed the unit to fulfill writing curriculum guidelines while also bringing in elements of field research — and fun, of course. The curriculum called for the students to “see the world through a poet’s eyes.” Larry used a Field Day tool called Siftr to encourage his students to explore their worlds outside of school and to develop the skill for poetic observation and writing. Siftr is a simple photography app that allows a photographer to specify a theme with categories that other contributors should look for. It allows a contributor to take a photo, add a caption, tag and upload it to a map, see other contributors, comment, like, and share. In this way, it is responsive, collaborative, and explorative. (Keep a look out for the new version of Siftr to be released this fall.) He set up a Siftr “bulletin board” for his students, created a variety of usernames for them, and gave the seven- to nine-year-olds simple instructions to take and upload their photos.
We are going to the the greatest place ever/ the place where ducks roam and be free/The Pond!
Students were inspired by nature, everyday objects, even family members. They wrote comments on the photos they took, using metaphors, descriptive language, and showing off some impressive abstract thought in the process.
As students uploaded their photos, Siftr automatically compiled them. They were geo-tagged as students categorized and captioned them with a poem. Over the next few days, students continued interacting with each other via Siftr, commenting on each others’ poems and writing new ones based on pictures their classmates took.
“I really like how Siftr made this writing assignment more concrete, more visual,” Larry said. “Overall, the kids were more enthusiastic about creating poems than I would have expected. Siftr has been a useful tool for connecting school learning with home learning…. Kids can see the connection of what they’re learning with the outside world.”
During a recent Google Hangout with Larry and several other educators, we pinpointed some things we can do to keep improving the Siftr experience for teachers and students. We’re excited to continue developing free tools that get students engaged, and connecting their lessons to their neighborhoods. We’d love to hear how you use Siftr with your students, classrooms and other learning spaces!
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