Reflect, Review, and Rap

Activity, Bits and Bytes, Freebie, LwICT, Tutorial 1 Comment »

At this time of year, many educators are looking for review projects or activities that will really engage their students. In addition, many teachers know that using technology can help students review concepts in all subjects as well as meet the descriptors that are identified in Manitoba Education’s Literacy with Information and Communication Technology (LwICT) developmental continuum.

I thought that I might challenge students to demonstrate, through the LwICT “Produce to Show Understanding” Big Idea that they really understand a particular concept or unit of study. However, rather than write the traditional essay or report, I want students to exercise their brain and use the Audacity (open source, free audio editor and recorder) application to create personal “review song” lyrics. In order to demonstrate this process, I decided to summarize and review Manitoba Education’s LwICT Across the Curriculum by creating a poem set to music. On-line readers can hear my “ICT-Rap” and view the lyrics by clicking on the appropriate hyper-links. I am sure that with the basic steps below, students will be soon generating exceptional musical compositions as a review mechanism.

The basic steps begin with finding a freeware background music track which can be, optionally, loaded into Audacity. One can then play this background loop while using a microphone to record the lyrics to your song. Although one can spend more time experimenting with the various effects in Audacity, one can simply save the lyrics and background musical loop as a blended MP3 file and celebrate your learning.

1. I went to the “loops” section of the Flash Kit web site at:

2. I searched for “free loops” and scrolled down the resulting pages and listened to the various samples by pressing the “play” button in the Flashtrak Console.

3. Once I found a free loop, that I thought would provide my song with an appropriate background, I downloaded it in an MP3 format. For example, on-line readers can click on “What_You_Gonna_do” to hear the free loop created by PlayaJayCee. I downloaded this MP3 background loop as the start of my ICT rap.

4. Next I started Audacity. I clicked on Audacity’s File > Open menu items and navigated to the folder where I had previously stored my “What_You_Gonna_do” MP3 loop. When this 8 beat loop is opened in Audacity, it appears on the top track with a 10 second duration. Next, one has to repeat the background loop to accommodate the number of verses in the “review song”. To do so, click the Edit > Select > All menu items to highlight the entire loop and the click Edit > Copy to store the loop in memory. Next one must place the cursor at the end of the selection and press the Edit > Paste menu items to extend the background audio track. The instructions in this previous sentence must be repeated as necessary to accommodate the lyrics or verses that are to be included. The newer version of Audacity (1.2.6) has a special “Play” feature as shown. One can hold down the <Shift> key while pressing the “Play” button to have the loop or song automatically repeat. However, one cannot record any additional narration while this “Shift/Play” button is depressed or in “loop play” mode.

5. Now press the File > Save Project As menu items and store this “work in progress” file (e.g. audio-track.aup) in an appropriate folder as an Audacity’s AUP program file.

6. At this point you will want to create lyrics or a series of verses which summarize the project or concept that you are reviewing. I find that because my background audio track is an 8 beat loop, I type my lyrics into Word making certain that the words adhere to this 8 beat timing structure. Save and print up the lyrics for the up-coming “voice over” narration portion.

7. Next we need to set a preference in Audacity. Click on the Edit > Preferences menu items. On the Audacity Preferences display, click the “Audio I/O” tab, and click to place a checkmark to the left of “Play other tracks while recording new one”. Click the “OK” button to proceed.

8. Insert the microphone into the computer and position your lyrics printed page so that you can begin the “voice over” narration. Press the left-most “Skip to Start” button to make certain that the cursor is positioned at the start of the background loop. Press the reddish “Record” button and begin listening to the background loop. Let the loop play though once before adding you own lyrics to the mix. You will note that your “voice over” narration automatically is displayed as an additional audio track below the loop background music. Adjust the speaker and microphone sliders, immediately located below Audacity’s buttons, as appropriate.

9. Press the File > Save Project As menu terms and store this “work in progress” in an appropriate folder with “version number” filenames ending in V1.AUP, V2.AUP, V3.AUP (e.g. History-Review-V1.AUP) to keep track of various attempts.

10. Undoubtedly you will not be able to record your entire “review song” at one sitting. Make certain that you save any “work in progress” as an Audacity project as noted above. Later, when you return to work, start Audacity. Select the File > Open menu items, navigate to the appropriate folder where you last stored your Audacity AUP project file, select it and click the “Open” button.

11. If you have time, you can explore the various effects that can be applied to your “review song”.  Audacity has an extensive “Help” file and the addtitional resources identified at the end of this article may be helpful as well.

12. When satisfied that the creation is finished, save the project one last time. Before exiting, make certain that one selects the File > Export as MP3 menu items and save the “review song” in a compressed MP3 format which will automatically blend all the tracks together.

12. After all students have played their “review songs” for their peers, provide a process where all students’ review projects can be accessed and listened to for studying purposes. Students who are aural learners may benefit from their colleagues’ “review songs” and find such a depository of audio files quite helpful.

13. Lastly, I encourage you, the reader, to provide feedback to this article by sharing your experience using Audacity to produce a “review song” as another mechanism for students to demonstrate understanding of a concept or unit of study.

Take care & keep smiling :-)


Credit: This blog entry is an updated version of an earlier article entitled “An ICT Christmas gift with lots of rappin’” which was first published in my “Bits and Bytes” educational newsletter in December, 2006.

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Xtranormal – A Movie With A Message

Activity, Application or Web App, LwICT 2 Comments »

Wow … have I been having fun! I was actively engaged in learning as I explored Xtranormal, a web 2.0 video-creation tool, which students and staff will find fascinating! Unleash your creativity by picking a setting, characters, and begin typing narration which is automatically transferred to speech with appropriate lip-sync. To better learn how to use this innovative application, I created the following movie with a message.

In the following short video, entitled “21st Century Learners – A Movie With A Message“, Jessica and Don, two high school students, discuss why teachers need to change to meet the needs of 21st century learners. They summarize their discussion by suggesting that perhaps the key ideas might be best reflected by the acronym “CREATE” which might stand for:

C ollaborative
R esourceful
E ducators
A pply
T echnology
E ngagingly


“21st Century Learners – A Movie With A Message”

I have always been excited by the opportunity to engage students and teachers in the digital storytelling process. With Xtranormal, teams can put together movies by simply typing in the narration or dialogue between the two actors. Regardless of the technology application used, the emphasis should be on the story not the software. Xtranormal provides another process and opportunity that students can use to tell a story.

Although I created my “movie with a message” by myself, I believe that this web 2.0 application would foster both creativity and collaboration if used as a movie-making tool by teams of students. In fact, if a student chose to work “solo” to create a movie, I believe that s/he would be missing a powerful learning opportunity. The vast majority of today’s 21st century learners, when they become part of the workforce, will need to learn to work collaboratively. Workers will join teams where members bring different skills, backgrounds, and personality traits as assets. Furthermore, it is doubtful that such teams will be comprised of members who all live and work in the same geographic location. So the sooner that we, as teachers, can encourage students to cooperate in school projects, the sooner students can develop the necessary collaborative skills to survive in the competitive world-wide workplace.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Supporting Resources:

NJ Tech Teacher Musings – “Xtranormal’s Extra Fun Introductions”

Digital Nation – Persuasive Commercial (6-8) Teacher Page

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Playoff Mashups May Motivate Many

Activity, Application or Web App, LwICT No Comments »

The NHL playoffs have begun! Do you have students in your class, who have favourite hockey teams and players, and are passionate about seeing every playoff game on TV? Do you often wish that your lessons could be as engaging as hockey finals? Perhaps you might explore mashups as a technique to engage students in learning. In fact, the “CBC Hockey Night Mashup” web site at: should be the resource you immediately investigate.

For those unfamiliar with the term “digital mashup”, wikipedia defines it as: “Digital media content containing any or all of text, graphics, audio, video and animation drawn from pre-existing sources, to create a new derivative work.”

In late February, I was fortunate enough to attend the BYTE 2010 Conference where Kent Schiltroth from Reston Collegiate shared how he used mashups in his classroom as a Literacy with Information and Communication Technology vehicle for students to “Produce to Show Understanding” of subject area content. In a later blog entry, I’ll share his detailed resource that educators can use to encourage students to use Windows Movie Maker to create a mashup as a review. However, in the meantime, I think that students can easily explore how to create mashups by selecting from hockey-related video clips and music options which they can then position on a storyboard timeline. Furthermore, once you share or demonstrate the above web site with your students, they can easily create mashups on their own time, at home, rather than having to arrange for computer lab time, at school.

Having been actively engaged in helping students and teachers use digital storytelling, I know how engaging technology can be. Challenge your students to work collaboratively in teams to produce a hockey night mashup which tells a story within the one minute timeline constraint. Have your student teams critique one another’s mashups and comment on how they were engaged during this learning process. Let students teach their peers and you about using technology in different exciting ways. It might be an interesting endeavour. After all, for some students who are not engaged in the classroom, it’s either hockey … or hooky.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Digital Storytelling – A Flexible Rubric-Template

Activity, LwICT No Comments »

It’s a fact. Digital storytelling engages students. It matters little if one chooses to use freeware applications which are tied to a computer’s operating system such as iMovie (Macintosh) or Photo Story 3 (Windows) or a web 2.0 application such as VoiceThread, students’ learning is enhanced with multi-media engagement and technology use. Now, take this student enthusiasm and apply it to a well-thought out, classroom-based project and you have a learning opportunity that can’t fail!

Jeff Sinnock, is a Grade 7 Social Studies teacher at John Pritchard School in the River East Transcona School Division in Winnipeg. This past year, Jeff decided to have his students explore the “dark continent” of Africa. True, he could have assigned a traditional essay in which students researched different countries in Africa and compared and contrasted various geographical issues. In fact, he might have even chosen to use a free drill and practice program like “The Countries of Africa” online quiz in order that his students use some aspect of technology. Rather, in an attempt to enlighten his students and follow the Literacy with Information and Communication Technology (LwICT) Across the Curriculum guidelines, Jeff created the following “Sponsor Child” final project. I was lucky enough to learn of his May, 2009, endeavour and when I asked Jeff for permission to share his innovative project and rubric, Jeff not only permitted me to share it, he made improvements and sent me his, yet-to-be-assigned, 2010 version which I provide as a download at the end of this article.

Jeff’s grade 7 Social Studies students were challenged “to learn about a developing country and its needs”. Each student chose a particular country in Africa and represented a non-governmental organization (NGO) whose task was to gain financial aid to help sponsor one of the country’s children. Jeff provided students with a storytelling template, which cleverly combined topics, a script, useful web links and an assessment rubric. An initial portion of this activity project is displayed below and the reader is encouraged to click on this image to view the information more easily.

The project consisted of the following five main sections:

  • Introduction – The name and student-created logo of the NGO are displayed together with a geographic overview of the child’s country.
  • Culture – The next three three slides illustrate the beauty of the country and its people.
  • H.D.I. – The story continues with four slides which provide details on the country’s Human Development Index ranking together with the life expectancy, per capita income, and literacy rate.
  • Development Issues – Next, a development issue and human rights violations are identified.
  • Donations – The project ends with an explanation as to how the NGO will use the donations with a concluding message.

As an educator, I always look for educational activities that are “dividend rich”. By that I mean the project can be:

  • used by early, middle and senior years students;
  • integrated into a multitude of subjects;
  • adapted to meet many LwICT descriptors; and
  • implemented without needing to spend a great deal of teacher-time learning to use technology or the application.

Undoubtedly, Jeff has capitalized on the “dividend rich” digital storytelling vehicle and his rubric-template (which is available for download in Word or PDF formats), provides a mechanism which teachers can immediately use with Grade 7 Social Studies. For those who teach other grade levels or subject areas, I encourage you to examine this rubric-template as it is one that can be easily adapted by teachers wishing to incorporate a digital storytelling project in a purposeful manner. Furthermore, the extensive list of LwICT descriptors, which are listed as “tags” at the end of this article, demonstrate how this digital storytelling rubric-template can meet so many educational objectives.

So I urge you to download Jeff’s template-rubric and if you cannot immediately utilize it yourself, please pass it along to your colleagues. I believe that this project has a great deal of potential and I encourage readers to share their thoughts by clicking on this article’s hyper-linked title and completing the feedback comment at the end of the article. Should you wish to thank Jeff or provide him with feedback directly, you can email him at the following address “jsinnock<at>retsd<dot>mb<dot>ca”. This somewhat “cryptic” email address, which is also displayed in the footer area on Jeff’s rubric-template, is designed to reduce potential spammers. I trust that if you wish to email Jeff directly, you will convert this “cryptic” e-mail address to it’s corresponding “conventional” format before attempting to send an email message.

Jeff, on behalf of our readers, I want to thank you for sharing your creative “Sponsor Child” digital storytelling rubric-template and additional on-line resources with us.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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