Complex Texts paired with Compelling videos- Robots “R” Us- Using Online Classroom Robotics Blog as a Chromebook Captivating Literacy Tool

I came across a digital text resource online that I’ve applied with great success in my Literacy work with middle school students. My students could immediately try it out on their Chromebooks, plus I could share it for classroom use with my colleagues in several schools. This simple blog has proved to work wonderfully for assuring that their experience involves Text Complexity as prescribed in the Common Core Standards. Oh, and did I mention what makes this blog developed by a former NYC citywide administrator so engaging for students. Think AI and think about non-human characters whose personalities somehow have as much impact as the human ones in Star Wars and Her and Transformers!! Are you conjuring the images and even hearing the droid’s distinctive tones?
I’m talking about a type of blog that marries high interest, STEM-based, traditional news articles with videos on the same theme. The result of this pairing is a blend of media types that combine synergistically to give students a very rich, complex text, comparative, literal, figurative, craft and word domain experience. This blog genre is not only replete with videos and print articles, but also text-based questions to prompt and focus collaborative discussion and writing. What better tool to serve as the platform for this digital resource than the Chromebook which allows it users to use multiple media formats and mixes to react in kind to this blog? Think pictures, video, audio files, slides, music and of course Google docs plus hangouts to talk robot dialogue,
Responding to these, my middle school students eagerly understood, discussed, interpreted and evaluated both types of informational text as an outcome of their own fascination with the blog focus.
One sixth grade Title 1 class I’ve worked with grade Informational Literacy class. This class meets twice a week to ensure that the students are focused on all CCSS ELA informational reading and writing standards with an emphasis on text complexity in multi-content subjects. But how to truly engage and entertain these students as they tackled these crucial ELA and informational complex reading of texts standards?
It was to this group that I introduced a few of the posts I found on a blog titled Classroom Robotics. From the students’ point of view, these were simply interesting and entertaining; how could a story about a real robot that washes your hair for you, be otherwise? But from my point of view, beyond my pleasure that these students were reading and deeply reflecting on what they read, I identified the blog as providing the very sorts of Complexity in Informational Text needed for the range of texts that Anchor Standard Ten – Range of Text Complexity mandates. In this single blog, there was a built-in library of text types and ranges which could be used to differentiate instruction for special needs, ESL and newcomer students as well as to accelerate and engage students already demonstrating an interest in STEM content area.
Beyond that, as an ELA teacher, I could also build on the science fiction (using the Chromebook as a curatorial registry I could access my students to various science fiction content, author sites and science fiction classic movie sites. From my Chromebook teacher console with zero Tech teacher or media person support. I could tap musically, visually and via print/spoken text pop culture student fascination with robots in fiction and in movies. I could tap the enthusiasm of those students who had friends involved in the annual FIRST Lego League robotics competition.
Since the resource, I had introduced was a blog, there was a built-in mechanism (the Comments function) with which the students could respond to what they read. Plus, I could publish them there by posting them with first names and within our Chromebook community, we could share more detailed comments. One blog topic of a prototype robot that was actually being used in a city in Japan as an assistant hair washer, working alongside human salon hair washers, turned out to be highly accessible as a video text to all students (including those who did not grasp the special domain vocabulary of the article and the voice over of the narration of the video). What was even more compelling about its efficacy as a multi-dimensional, complex set of interrelated STEM video and print texts, was its capacity to engage the entire group of multi-level reading and writing, sixth graders. It strongly held their interest in our whole group, general viewing of the video followed by a qualitative discussion of its explicit message, and then by a differentiated discussion of its structure as a video. In fact, our students continued enthusiastically with a discussion of the videographer’s message and finally, the extent to which they agreed or differed or could argue the print text and video centered question: Would such robots be useful in our current society? What might be the impact of their use in our current society? As a school platform, we recorded their discussion and my colleagues in several schools were able to have their student peers react to this recorded use of robots’ social issues talk.
In addition to this blog’s argument-focused print and video texts for students to compare and contrast as to text qualitative literal quality of author/film maker meaning; the synergy of visual /print/electronic texts had a single “robot hair washer” focus that all students could equitably and arguably address, pro or con. They literally started with themselves and whether they would want to have their own hair capably washed and scalp massaged by a robot. But then, the combined texts, allowed them to step back and to frame arguments using the qualitative or quantitative structure of the visual text or the electronic prompts to frame whether replacing human hair washers with robots was economically feasible and to analyze the reader task from the perspective of physically disabled or elderly persons who could not effectively wash their own hair. Even better, the blog format serves not only as a platform from which content can be obtained, but one in which the reader can participate by entering written comments, making it a platform on which students can publish their writing.
How does a blog post about a hair washing robot and its paired news text and related video format engage students in reading and using Complex Informational Text?
First and foremost a blog post which mixes video and electronic print text focused on Stem concerns involves all students, whatever their different personal reading levels may be, in reading and viewing complex texts as a community of student citizens. The provocative content fosters conversations to understand and respond to either or both of these texts, as well as the text-based focus questions provided by the blog. It fosters a critical audience of informed and alert citizens. These texts help students summarize and synthesize (qualitative), analyze and critique (quantitative) and design and create (reader based task argument) responses grounded in multi-text, evidence-based arguments for or against a real societal issue. Should we be spending time and money on mass producing robot hair washers? If we have the capacity to do so, is it ethically and economically worth our while to do so? Importantly, through technology (the use of such a blog and its videos and electronic text scaffolds) the teacher is enabled to engage special needs or ESL or newcomer students in text complexity that is at the heart of the CCSS ELA literacy curriculum.
Deep Comprehension Across Content Areas
Such a blog resource immediately makes available material for STEM comprehension. In this case the science of robot development, the possible economic impact of the prototype described, the cultural capital of its tryout in a Japanese salon, the health/diagnostic/rehab value of its use for the elderly, the disabled and in rehab, and the psychological consequences of the hair washing experience coming from robotic digit massage versus human hands.

Using my Chromebook as a curatorial blog register, I will be on the lookout for sources of content that offer a similar format: online text news articles paired with embedded video. Further, I see in this a great opportunity for teachers who are willing to do a little 21st Century content preparation themselves, to come up with their own pairings. All that’s required is some online searching, thoughtful review, and downloading materials. In fact, creating a free blog like the one that triggered my own teacher-as-researcher experimentation with this content format for our students is an easy matter for teachers who are willing to simply follow directions and experiment with a new resource type. Best yet, I will be assigning students to research and create their own pairings and share them with peers this way, making students their own source of Complex Informational Text. They too can Chromebook curate their own online news texts and videos. Even as I write the Robots “R” us slew of robot driven inventions, human job takers and even “wedded” to human companions continues to flow forward. Chromebooks allow educators to select appropriate news items which can connect to literature, economic and social issues that are pertinent to students. Their reaction, responses and products will be the opposite of robotic!!
The Classroom Robotics blog can be accessed at:

Text-based Question prompts provided with this post:
“Yes, it’s a cool idea, but does the world need a hair washing robot?”
“Would you let a robot wash your hair?”
“Who could take advantage of this technology?”
“Do you see any problems with this?”

– Calkins, Lucy, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman. (2012). Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement. NH: Heinemann.
– Hiebert, Elfrieda H. 2012. “The Common Core’s Staircase of Text Complexity-Getting the Size of the First Step Right.” Reading Today (Dec.2011/January 2012): 26-27.
– Piercy, Thomasina. 2011. “The text complexity ‘Staircase’ in the Common Core standards.” The Leadership and Learning Blog.

Kibitzing and Roundtable Talk-Student Led Podcast Projects Make Common Core Literacy Skills Come Alive
1. A team of five sits around a conference table with a cell phone serving as a time clock and a chromebook on which they are recording a podcast. They have a script in front of them, but often stray from it as they rehearse their conversation, a review of financial literacy resources available on the web. The moderator, who’s also the leader of the team, watches the clock to make sure they don’t run over their allotted time. After the rehearsal, the team listens to what it recorded and their leader conducts a reflective debriefing on its strong and weak points. The teacher weighs in with private comments and public ones for the team. He adjusts his outline for their upcoming final recording.
2. A team of newcomers to the United States who are studying English rehearse the lines of a script based on The Sign, a story from Simms Taback’s Kibitzers and Fools (Viking, 2005), before they record their performance of it for a podcast . They are led by a student director who explains to them the type of voice projection, elongated diction, and voice levels necessary for successful podcast recordings. As they practice, he supports them, suggesting how they can best read their lines in character. Both the speakers and the director are satisfied with the recorded performance that results.
3. Teams of students who have designed their own fan author websites stand up in front of an audience of peer website creators to share their site design ideas, use of web creation software, and problems encountered during the fan site creation process. As they speak, the group leader, a peer who had the original idea for doing a fan site, advises the others as they research and design fan sites of their own. Their oral presentation is recorded for a student podcast to be included as a part of an adult, online book study for teachers. A video is recorded which will uploaded of them as well and which they will refer back to as they enhance their spoken communication skills.
Behind the Snapshots: Common Core ELA Connections
All of the above are snapshots of Podcast, Project-Based Learning activities, which enhance the in-place, grade 6-8 ELA curriculum and that support the Common Core ELA shifts in instructional focus. The participating middle school students come from (Special Education) Resource Room, ELL, Enrichment, general education, and newcomer classes. They are all busily and productively engaged in developing authentic podcasts using chromebook platforms for target audiences of peers and adults and must meet set deadlines.
In each of these projects, students serve as leaders for their peers or for younger grade students. Literacy Leadership is an important dimension of the instructional program at the school. These projects lead to improved Literacy outcomes, as well as personal growth for individuals and enrichment of school culture. Students view a leader as someone who generates the initial idea for a podcast theme or develops a script, as well as having an auteur vision for directing other student podcast participants; including speakers, sound effects and music score technicians, and others involved in creating the final podcast product.
Podcast Literacy Leaders have very specific ideas about how recordings should be edited, as well. Further, even though some of them are just 11 and none are older than 14, they can all effectively communicate their vision of how they want their podcast projects to evolve. Beyond preparation for the podcasts, these leaders analyze the finished products curated on their chromebooks to suggest the next podcast project, being mindful of relevant themes and their ELA curriculum. They also carefully listen to them to improve their direction and scripting skills. The leaders have volunteered to work several lunch periods and after school to acquire boot camp leadership training. During this training, they are taught how to work with younger peers to support these peers in accomplishing project goals. The leaders learn the basic elements of: project organization, adhering to time tables, using a microphone, voice quality and delivery for a podcast, coaching peers and communicating project goals to various audiences (teachers, students, administrators, graduate education students, parents).
Under peer leadership, the teams enjoy working together as a unit toward a common goal, the production of a podcast to be shared with an online audience of peers and adults.
As they enjoy the college readiness and career training aspects of podcast production, all student team members are validating the 5 pillars of ELA and content area literacy (CCSS). For instance, as they worked on their financial literacy resource review program, they were reading texts that reflect informational text –staircase of complexity concerns. This is the thrust of the instructional shifts that result from adoption of the Common Core Standards in ELA.
In their planning and recorded conversations, students discerned the key points of web-based financial literacy resources (informational texts), asked one another relevant questions, and cited specific text-based evidence when offering an interpretation. In examining this body of resources created for middle school students, students addressed the adult perspective on financial literacy from their own point of view. The topic of financial literacy helped the students focus on academic and domain specific vocabulary. This type of podcast-based literacy project includes writing and research that analyzes sources and uses relevant evidence from the online sources to support team members’ viewpoints. Each team curated its relevant sources and special domain words on the Chromebook.
Students in the second group described above, from a sixth grade (Special Education) resource room/ESL class, used the contemporary young adult classic text of Taback’s “The Sign” from Kibitzers and Fools, to build their cultural knowledge about life in Poland in the 19th century. They learned Jewish Folklore and Yiddish phrases that have become part of the English language. This address shift 2 of the Common Core standards by enhancing student knowledge of the disciplines and enhances shift 6 students’ academic vocabulary.
As they focused on comprehending the text of the print narrative they were working from, identifying domain specific vocabulary by using punctuation marks as anchors, and marking potential script lines for their podcast; they were seamlessly practicing use of text dependent questions and tasks. This address shift 4, text based answers, since the scripts, shared as Google docs, were developed directly from text based tasks.
This folklore tale involved students in using a quality text to consider what, for these students from Uzbek, Afghanistan, Iraq and other cultures, was a new culture. The task of transforming a narrative story into a podcast script engaged the students in writing and research that analyzed sources and forced them to reference their final script to evidence in the folktale.
Students in the third group described above, who were designing fan author sites, experienced shift three, text complexity, as they reviewed a range of other publisher and fan sites to get a feel for the electronic author site genre.
They observed the standard components of published author web sites: Author Bio; FAQ section, list of the author’s works, interviews, blogs, videos, etc. Then, they were given the text-dependent task of working from those sites in order to author their own text and design content for the pages of their own author fan site. They focused on specific vocabulary: home page, tab, html, public domain, easy navigation, quick loading, interactive, and blog. As all creators of fan sites must, they had to do writing and research plus use relevant evidence from multiple sources to support the construction and purpose/message of their sites.
School Community Context and Applicability
The students for which the body of practice covered in this chapter was developed represent the broad spectrum of learners taught in a typical, inner-city, public middle school. They range from on-grade level ELA students to enrichment class students to newcomer to special needs students, as well as CTT students (Collaborative Team Teaching students-a mix of special needs and regular education learners).
The objective of these podcast projects is to guide students through a broad spectrum of ELA achievement, second language acquisition, special needs challenges and learning styles, as well as to learn to work collaboratively within their individual classes or in partnership with older peers. Once completed, they can listen to their podcasts and reflect on their achievement and potential for enhancing their speaking and listening skills. The podcast format allows these students immediate feedback from peers in their classrooms, on school public address system, and beyond.

To foster podcast recording and production skills, Mr. Angelo Carideo (technology coordinator) spoke to the students about how to nuance, slow down, and lengthen their speaking for the purpose of podcast recording. In doing this he modeled aspects of leadership for students interested in assuming that role. Students became real podcast creating insiders as they learned about the problems of ambient noise and proper use of the microphone for effective podcast recording. They rehearsed and realized the difference of small group and large group recordings for target peer and podcast audiences.

Ms. Amanda Xavier, master ELA teacher and I wanted an approach which would engage her sixth-grade resource room class in gaining fluency and competency with the Common Core staircase of complexity text dependent questions and tasks. We used the printed narrative text of “The Sign” from Taback’s Kibitzers and Fools to scaffold student engagement through following reading routines and close reading of text. The podcast project allowed us to set a reading purpose (how the students would adapt this narrative for a podcast) for our theatrical model of fluent reading and metacognitive processes as the students followed us along. They “wrote” the adapted podcast script themselves. An upper-class student leader coached and directed them in the techniques of rehearsing and recording the podcast. A video and audio recording attest to this coaching. Drafts of the scripts became part of the aggregate class writing portfolio retained by the teachers on the chromebook.

Podcast projects make all the Common Core Mandated Literacy skills (reading, writing, speaking & listening, presentation of knowledge and ideas) come vividly “alive.” Students who engage in the text dependent questioning, note taking and writing design, for a podcast, are preparing to “score” high in attained skills mastery and test sophistication as they meet the “test” demands of real audiences.

Podcast project-based learning seamlessly integrates and invigorates rigorous Common Core multi-content one podcast at a time.

Products Resources Standards
Podcast- financial -literacy, financial resources peer software review round table,
Taback podcast,
Author Fan Sites podcast Audio Recorder, Editing Software (Audacity, Garage Band, etc.) ISTE 1,2,3, 4, 5, 6
Common Core ELA RL 1-10, W 1-10, S and L 1-6
Language 1-6

Piercy, Thomasina and William Piercy. (2011). Disciplinary Literacy: Redefining Deep Understanding and Leadership for 21st Century Demands. (Englewood, CO: Lead and Learn Press).

Scholastic. (2012). Common Core State Standards-Complex Content Text. New York: Scholastic.

Financial Literacy Buzz Podcast (episodes #15 and #16 – Ditmas Middle School):

ISTE Literacy Special Interest Group Book Study (with podcast that includes Ditmas students recorded conversation about creating author fan web sites):

Podcast team leader’s show outline.

Ditmas podcast as it appears in the Financial Literacy BUZZ blog.

Common Core Standards in ELA
Reading: Literature Key Ideas and Details: RL._.1 – RL._.2 – RL._.3
Craft and Structure: RL._.4 – RL._.5 – RL._.6
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: RL._.7 – RL._.8 – RL._.9
Range of Reading and Complexity of Text: RL._.10
Writing Text Types and Purposes: W._.1 – W._.2 – W._.3
Production and Distribution of Writing: W._.4 – W._.5 – W._.6
Research to Build and Present Knowledge: W._.7 – W._.8 – W._.9
Range of Writing: W._.10
Speaking & Listening Comprehension and Collaboration: SL._.1 – SL._.2 – SL._.3
Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: SL._.4 – SL._.5 – SL._.6
Language Conventions of Standard English: L._.1 – L._.2
Knowledge of Language: L._.3
Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: L._.4 – L._.5 – L._.6
ISTE NETS for Students 1. Creativity and Innovation: a – b – c – d
2. Communication and Collaboration: a – b – c – d
3. Research and Information Fluency: a – b – c – d
4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making:
a – b – c – d
5. Digital Citizenship: a – b – c – d
6. Technology Operations and Concepts: a – b
Dr. Rose Reissman,
Academic and Grant Funding Director for Sector 5
About Sector 5,
Sector 5, Inc. (OTCQB: SFIV), is a Proud American Corporation, that sells, manufactures and develops new innovative consumer electronics under Sector 5 and other brands. The Company markets its partnership with Google approved Chromebooks to educational organizations, other B2B and B2C sales channels, with retail sales on Amazon. It is in development of several new products to serve the educational, business and retail markets. Follow the company on and and find further information at For Sector 5’s Forward Looking Statements, click here.


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