Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Our 2011 tech journey

"Show What You Know"
Presentation, Novel Approaches To Learning
Nipissing University, May 2011

Decisions... Decisions
At the start of the 2010/11 school year I did some serious thinking about how to teach my IT course to our Grades 5-8 students. I had to decide whether to focus in-depth on one technology, or to sample widely from a variety of applications.
I was really influenced by the work I had done with 5 other colleagues as the first cohort of TLLP projects. Our concentration on blogging had a huge impact on our students, on teacher learning and in fact on the whole culture of our school. A major consideration for me was whether to stay with one platform, delve into it deeply, and become expert.
A great example of this approach is the focus on podcasting by Nathan Toft and Jane Smith in Ottawa. The preparation of podcasts, use of the required technology, and awareness of issues such as copyright are embedded into their teaching. I wanted my students to experience this, in their own way.
But, reading widely online during the past year showed me that educators around the world had their students showing their knowledge and creativity in many different ways.
So, this year, I decided to introduce the students to a wide range of tools that they could use to respond to literature and practise various types of writing. They have used the class blog, their personal blogs, Bitstrips, Wikispaces, Glogster, Smart Notebook and Google Docs. All have been used in the four grades that I teach, Grade 5, 6, 7 and 8.
This set off a huge process of personal learning for me. When I started, in September, I had experience with a class blog and with using Wikispaces for a geography team project. Everything else I had read about but had never used.
I had also not thought much about using the tools to respond to literature, and that type of planning and reflection was how I spent a lot of my time, well, after I figured out how the apps worked. (This proves that… ummmm, anyone can do this!)
The students really took to this approach. In addition to thinking about reading and responding, the students became very proficient at teaching themselves the finer points of the applications.
Bitstrips was introduced as a challenge while I marked History projects created in Windows Moviemaker, and was a benchmark for independent learning.
In all four grades they have been responsible for signing on, learning the app, remembering passwords, and in the case of Glogster, using their own email address to set up an account.
We began the year by renaming the blog (The Purple Rhino) and using it several times for reading responses, as well as class news and daily updates.
While working on the class blog, a number of students asked if they could set up a personal blog. This entailed getting board email working for everyone, and setting them all up so they were linked to the class blog. It was also very challenging for the students to then go in and learn how to personalize their own blog.
One assignment that they were asked to post and then present to the class was a response to their non-fiction “Book of 10.” In presenting via the Smartboard they were also asked to explain their design choices, as metacognition. I was excited to see how much effort the students put into these activities.
For some time, I had been thinking about the idea of book clubs, what was working and what wasn’t, and decided to build in some individual accountability while retaining the ability to think about big questions and discuss the books.
Each week was a “quiz.” But the test was always just one question. For half a period they would write their responses and for the second half they would break into small groups and share them. A big improvement!
Week 1: Rank the 10 most important events, Week 2: a theme question, Week 4: Compose 5 questions using higher level prompts.
By now they had done four Bitstrips learning activities. They had also done short narratives on the character education theme of Responsibility, featuring teen protagonists, and their actions and consequences. So the Week 3 quiz challenged them to use Bitstrips to depict a key scene in that quarter of the book – start and finish within one class. Students were successful in doing this, while taking different approaches. Many produced work that emulated graphic novels, while others focused in great design/artistic detail on a one aspect of their scene.
Next we learned Glogster. In one Grade 8 class, what could have been a pencil and paper project became a multi-media research creation. Our book clubs relating to Black History Month were complete, and the students were working on related research projects. As with the first personal blog assignment, it reinforced the 5-paragraph essay with three text boxes required. Pictures and sound were also incorporated.
This year I decided to try a new use for a wiki, to create a class study guide.
Each class participated in a visual novel study, watched a film, formed groups and covered the note-taking for three big questions addressing: film techniques, narrative structure and character. Using the portable computer lab we set up three stations to input the notes. Then for the quiz, students were allowed to view the wiki to get ideas and to answer questions based on the three topics of study.
I found the results to be impressive. Of course they could not cut and paste, as the original document was available to me. But answers were more thoughtful and original than in the past, especially in the grade 8 class. Although I have to say that the most complete and detailed wiki was produced by the Grade 5/6 class!
Smart Notebook
Since we have Smartboards in our rooms, the students are now familiar with teachers using them during lessons. But I wanted them to become knowledgeable and confident in using the tool themselves to create content. There was certainly a learning curve which has been apparent from September to May, with simply using the buttons that appear on the screen. But now they have all used Smart Notebook to make two of their own presentations.
They were asked to learn one special tool (so far) and that is “hide and reveal.” The term “object” has been introduced, which I think is important. Students in Grades 5-8 have quickly taken to using this technique to question their peers during presentations. The finished products have been fantastic. They have also now used Smart Notebook in classes other than English, such as Grade 5/6 Science and Grade 8 Health. Most recently they have used this app to present information on narrative structure and inferences in songs, and, wow, the results are beautiful.
Students' Opinions
I asked my Grade 8 core class to comment on the pros and cons of delving deeply into one technology tool, versus learning a bit about several over the course of the school year. I explained about the popularity of the blogging project and about the podcasting successes in Ottawa, and contrasted this with what we had done this year.
To my surprise they voiced very strong opinions in favour of our "survey" approach.
...I think it is better to learn quite a few technologies and then… for different assignments choose the software you think is best for it. ES & GK
... When you get to high school you will know them. AG
... We loved learning all different things so next year we’re more prepared. You can pick your favourite and learn how it works by yourself. SW & AK
... With Bitstrips we could even make some humourous content and get a great mark while the blogs and stuff were boring. DH
...I think it would be better to work on more than one thing because it opens more doors for them and they wouldn’t get as bored. The only bad thing about this is it can get very confusing. CT
... A class blog is good because you don’t need to use several things and it is all neat and in one spot. (But) you don’t get to try new stuff like Bitstrips. JD
... It is better to learn more than one because not everybody will want to use a specific technology. AC
... If you know one application, and then you learn another, sometimes they are similar and you can use the knowledge you already have to help you learn something new.
At the Novel Approaches Conference I learned the term "multi-modal literacy." And it seems as though that is what we have been working towards all year. I am so impressed with the conclusions and reflections of the students, as they talk about the value of using technology in many forms to respond to literature and expand the repertoire of tools that they can use to succeed in other courses.

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