Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Through Choice, Students Work Many Skills

I love giving my students choices; it really works their brains beyond the usual activity and allows them to become more invested and constantly engaged in what they are doing!  

For our beginning of the year Social Studies instruction, we started with map skills, latitude and longitude, and geography.  Students had to label three different maps using a set of clues that went with each map.  They worked with a map showing longitude and latitude, a map showing continents and oceans, and a map showing the physical features of the U.S.  In order to find the answers to the clues and aide them in labeling their maps, I provided them with a few resources including Google and atlases.  I didn't tell them what to do beyond that, I just told them to get the work done!  

It was a multi-step activity through which they had to navigate mostly on their own, deciding how they could best get the job done.  I of course provided some guidance, such as questioning their thought process when they had searched Google images for the word "map," and were then overwhelmed by the amount of choices they were given.  I asked them "How could you narrow your search to make it easier for you to choose which map to use?"

It was great because they were working their decision making skills from the get go, starting with choosing which resource would be most effective in helping them to label their maps.  They had to discern how they would enter their search on Google in order to find a map that would successfully help them to label their blank map.  For example, if they are labeling a physical map of the U.S., they can't use a map that only shows the states and capitals of the U.S.  They used reasoning skills, problem solving skills, and logical thinking.  And as usual, I allowed them to collaborate and work with a partner...after all, two heads are better than one!  

Although we have access to the technology, there are some students who have days, or find that for that specific activity, they just prefer to go "old school," close up the tablet, and choose the good ol' atlas as their resource.  Just think about how much more thinking the students are doing through this process as compared to if they were just given a map and told to use it to label their own blank map...  
They literally don't have to think at all for that.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Blendspace (Formerly EdCanvas)

I discovered Blendspace (formerly known as Edcanvas) last year when my students and I first received our Samsung Galaxy tablets.  I believe I came across the resource on either Edmodo or Twitter when we were just diving into using our devices in the classroom, and I was trying any web tool I could fit in. At the time I was toying around with the idea of starting some flipped class and blended learning styles and was really getting away from the whole stand up and "deliver" the info to your students.

I always questioned the thought of me just giving them the information that they were responsible for learning.  How would they learn if I just gave it to them?  Shouldn't they be discovering?  Even if it was just introductory info.  I mean, I always remember myself as a student and the things that I remembered most, were research projects, papers I'd written, information that I discovered on my own and was not just fed...   

Anyways, we started to go towards a more independent/partner discovery based introduction to the material we would be working with.  My theory was, that the students would be more invested in what they were being exposed to, and therefore have a better chance of retaining the information.  My thoughts were also that this technique and practice in school would prepare the students to be able to complete the same type of work at home independently, when we eventually would completely venture into the flipped classroom style.

I remember the first lesson I used Blendspace for.  In word study/grammar, the lesson told me to engage the students by reviewing or telling students the definition of an analogy.  I knew there had to be a better, more engaging way to go about it.  Even though the curriculum only allowed for a few minutes, I felt that my students would benefit from more time being spent on going through a few different resources and finding the answers to the questions themselves.

I gave the students the questions up front so that they would have a purpose to their work, and it wasn't like they were just "watching some YouTube videos" to see what they could learn.  I gave them a QR code which linked them directly to Blendspace.  They loved it and were completely engaged:  They were also prepared for the discussion that followed their independent study.

I have included links to some of my lessons here.  

I felt that Blendspace was the perfect web tool to organize the digital content that I wanted my students to review.  It is simple, clearly organized, and allows them to have direct access to the right materials, when we don't have the time for them to Google and determine their own resources. 
Blendspace allows teachers to quickly search any topic in various forms of digital content through either YouTube, Google, Vimeo, Flickr, Educreation, or Gooru with one simple click.  You can link websites, articles, upload files- documents/pictures, insert from Dropbox, or from Google drive.  You can drag and drop resources, and add text or a quiz.  There are different templates you can use to display the resources and you can purposefully put it in the order you want the kids to view it.  You can view and copy other users' lessons that have already been put together:  The resources are endless and I personally think it's genius!
Students researched Cinco de Mayo and put together a presentation that we shared with a 7th grade class from Iowa via Skype which led to a friendly, cultural discussion and tons of learning!

 I also used Blendspace to put together some resources on Project Based Learning for one of my assignments for my Gifted and Talented certification this summer.

This year, I have many plans for Blendspace.  When my students start taking their tablets home in a few weeks, I will be organizing their digital content in Blendspace and they will access it through Edmodo, which now has a Blendspace app directly linking the two so it is that much easier to deliver content to your students!  They will also be using Blendspace to find and organize their own resources for research, projects, genius hour, etc., etc.!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Just "digital worksheets" or much, much more?

     As another year has begun, I have found myself turning more and more to technology for our everyday tasks, but I will have to admit:  I am not doing it just for the kids!  Technology engages me more in my lessons, allows me to plan and prepare more quickly, and it's eliminating my paper load!  I had the latter half of last year with our tablets and now the beginning of this year, and I am wondering what a whole year of 1:1 tablet instruction will look like? 

     Although, I recently read a blog post about how some people think teachers are not going about integrating technology in the right ways, and that some are just using it for "digital worksheets."  (See article Digital Worksheet Rant Hurting Progress)  This of course caused some self-evaluation as I thought about how my students spent an obscene amount of time Friday completing their summative word study assessment on Polaris Office on their tablets.  (Only to find out also, that I mistakenly included the answer key at the end of the test when I uploaded to Edmodo!)  The test was void anyways.  Should I have just given them a paper copy?  Did I assign the test on Edmodo just for the sake of saying that I was integrating technology?  And I questioned myself, Am I also guilty of just giving my students "digital worksheets?"  I quickly came to the conclusion that no, I am doing much more, after I reviewed all the ways so far this year that I have had my students utilize technology in the classroom. 

     I look at it differently than just giving them "digital worksheets"... after all, it is no easy task to complete a document on Polaris Office on a Samsung Galaxy for the first time.  I think my students are practicing a number of strategies and problem solving skills when they are completing this "digital worksheet" and going about the process of turning it in through Edmodo. 

     First of all, they are using problem solving strategies and they themselves are discovering the best way to go about completing their document or assignment.  Along with completing their test digitally, they are acquiring the skills necessary to navigate and manipulate a device with fluency.  They are children and students of the 21st century and one of my jobs as a 21st century teacher is to prepare them for their future, which is a little different than how we were all prepared for our futures.  I believe that by integrating technology daily, and having the resources to put the technology into the hands of my students, that not only am I making my students excited about school and engaging them more in their work, but I am allowing them to become technologically fluent.  By dealing with a multitude of technology applications and web 2.0 tools on a daily basis, it will become second nature to them.  They will be ahead of their peers in technology skills and abilities and they are only in 5th grade!  They can figure things out before I do, and this will only help them in the long run, further developing their technical talents and embedding the love of technology at a young age. 

     Now I am not saying that everyone is taking to it easily, there are the ones who struggle and who will always struggle, but any exposure will benefit them.  They attack the tasks that I give them, they struggle through navigating the applications and web resources, but in the end, I can see that they are so proud of themselves.  I am too.

     And to think, we are only at the beginning of the year.  I have so many plans and I can't wait to see where they take us!

     Conclusion:  If you have access to the resources, integrate technology as much as you can!  "Digital worksheets," independent work, collaborative projects, book talks, etc., you name it!  Your students will love it, and will work hard at it, learning along the way and preparing themselves for their future...