BitStrips Review

Recently, the Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator for my District mentioned a new website to me via Twitter.  First, I want to say how thrilled I am to see so many of our District level people entering the discussions about education there.  Shout out to @mrslauer @kbashor @val6dan (and anyone else I’m missing up there!).  The website she shared was BitStrips.  (Now, I’ve gotta say that the name of that website could have been chosen better!  Reminds me of a “Gentleman’s Club”… so much so that I checked websites close in name to make sure kids wouldn’t get an eyeful if they mis-spelled the URL at home without an internet filter.)

BitStrips for Schools is a comic strip creation tool that enhances creative thinking and gives students an alternate way to express their thoughts beyond traditional paper.  There are minimal directions, but in the classroom I created, my 1st, 2nd, and 4th grade children quickly found their way around.  Students create their own comic person, which is available for others in the same classroom to use in their strips.  It’s amazing how detailed you can get with the avatars- the choices are close to limitless.  There is a large stock set of people, props and backgrounds.  Students can share comics with each other, and the class.  Teachers have the opportunity to moderate comics and send a note to the student before approving them. 

Although my own children had a wonderful time learning to use this site and building comic strips, I see one major drawback for the elementary age crowd.  These take a LONG time to create.  It took about 2-3 hours for my very tech savvy kids to build their avatar, and crank out a comic or two.  There are so many options- which is great- that younger students will struggle to create meaningful content first, and spice it more later.  I have elementary students of all learning levels combined in my classes, and I can guarantee frustration for some children. I also see that this could be a wonderful enrichment activity for those who complete assignments early.  Given the amount of computerized testing taking place in the computer lab currently, I don’t see much time to devote to this- as cool as it is!  My students have been playing with a similar website, ZimmerTwins, that takes a fraction of the time and creates a ‘movie’ of the comic strip.  There are fewer choices on the whole, less teacher moderation options, and less educational value…. but ZimmerTwins takes about 1/8 of the time to create a single comic.  I’m sure there is a learning curve, and that students will get quicker, but I wouldn’t volunteer 4-6 weeks of computer time for this at present.  The idea is wonderful- really wonderful, I’m a huge fan!, the product is exceptional, but unfortunately implementation time negates both of those for me.

Are you using Bitstrips for Schools with your students?  How are you handling the time issue?

My Local, My Global, My Way

After attending CoLearning 2010 earlier this year, I left a Professional Development session pondering the value of incorporating my local network into my global network.  Embedding it, if you will.  I have always found more inspiration, more openness, more knowledge in my global network (primarily Twitter) than I have in my local network.  Granted, there are some exceptions, but on the whole this remains true.  Some of the questions raised by Ben Wilkoff, Michael Wacker, and Bud Hunt made me reevaluate my propensity to ‘go around’ my local to get to the good stuff in the global.  I came to the conclusion that it was much better for everyone involved if I can situate my local *within* my global network.  How?  Well, I’ve been sharing with my local the value of social networking.  Their biggest concern is the time drain.  I wish I had a response other than “You’ll gain so much from social networking that it will save you time.”  The response has been extremely slow, but positive.  I can now collaborate with peers in 4 other schools through Twitter.  Small steps.  Several of us met this week to evaluate social bookmarking sites, collaborate on screencasts, and generally talk about ways to enhance our local network.  We were in agreement that there is very little in terms of private conversation and sharing that needs to occur, and that the nature of discussions in the open keeps everyone ‘honest’.

Are you working to embed your local in your global?  Are you finding it beneficial?