Phase 4: Plan B

•April 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Plan B began to take shape, and I had learned a lot from the early stages of the FOSS Structures of Life unit. Fortunately, I would have to change my direction in regards to the Science content with this project, but not the ISB TAIL standards and my ideas for integrating technology. Here is a brief overview of the (new & improved) unit:

Module 3;  MEET THE CRAYFISH
Students observe and record some of the structures of a crustacean, the crayfish. They establish a feeding and maintenance schedule for the organisms. Students investigate crayfish behavior by creating an enriched crayfish habitat. They map where the crayfish spend their time within their habitat. Students investigate crayfish territorial behavior.

The Science content looks like this:

• Crayfish have observable structures such as legs, pincers, antennae, eyes, swimmerets, a tail, and mouth parts.
• Crayfish have certain requirements for life, including clean, cool water; food; and shelter.
• Habitat is where an animal lives.
• Behavior is what an animal does.
• Some animals claim a territory that they protect from other animals.

We began by taking a short look at crayfish (thanks to this TeacherTube video), which many of the students hadn’t been exposed to before. It really got them interested, so that once the critters arrived in the classroom, the kids were ready, and super excited.

Looking back at the ISB TAIL standards, I realized that they would still connect (in a meaningful way) to this project. I was afraid I would have to either force it, or start over. But, the link was natural and I have a pretty clear idea of how this will go in the classroom after the break.

Here are some of the modifications I will need to make:

TAIL Standards:

Effective Learners

E.L. Standard 1: Students efficiently gather, critically evaluate, and effectively use information.
Performance Indicators:

  1. Students inquire about their learning to make connections to prior knowledge, determine relevance, and deepen understanding.

Students will be connecting their learning about crayfish with what they already know, and hopefully going a lot deeper, by asking questions, collaborating, and making connections. They will critically evaluate the information they have gotten from classroom activities, as well as independent exploration and questioning. They will then summarize and present this information in a series of slides. The challenge will be for students to not only give information about crayfish structures, behavior and habitats, but to also explain the important of how these 3 concepts are important to the survival of crayfish.


Effective Communicators and Creator
s
E.C.C. Standard 1: Students use appropriate media and environments to effectively communicate ideas, knowledge, and understanding to audiences ranging from local to global.
Performance Indicators:

  1. Students communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using media and format appropriate to both the task and the audience.
  2. Students use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, access, and use.

Notebook will be the application used by most of the students. They will also have the option of using VoiceThread. Basic skills will be taught (or reviewed, as they have seen me modeling this application), but from there collaboration will drive the process. Students will work together to learn how to share their learning, and which tools within the program work best to suit a specific purpose. The strength of this application is how it encourages students to be creative, including images, drawings, links, text, and color. Collaboration will be encouraged through the blog, at a local level (other students, parents, staff) and global, as the blog shares our learning with a global audience.

Effective Collaborators
E.C. Standard 1: Students connect with peers and recognized experts to collaborate, develop their own understanding, contribute to the learning of others, and contribute to the global society using a variety of media.
Performance Indicators:

  1. Students interact, collaborate, and publish with peers experts, or others using a variety of digital environments or media.

As mentioned earlier, collaboration will drive this task. Students will realize the importance of working together to learn how to share their learning, and which tools within the program work best to suit a specific purpose. They will need to teach and learn together. I will be there to guide and facilitate …

GRASPS Task:

Goal: To produce a visual representation (slide OR short slideshow) using the Notebook application which explains the important of crayfish structures, behaviors and habitat to their survival.

Role: Students will be responsible for collaboratively producing a brief digital representation of their understanding of crayfish structures, habitats, and behaviors, and how these three concepts work together to help crayfish survive. They will need to carefully record their observations and understanding using words, sketches, diagrams, and digital photos to support their explanations.

Audience: Local and global. These will be posted on the class blog.

Situation: We will begin by focusing on crayfish structures, as it is an easy starting point for students to analyze. Then, we will expand our views to include the behaviors and habitat of crayfish, continuing to link our understanding to what crayfish need to survive, and why.

Product Performance: A Notebook slide or slideshow.

Extension: Students will be challenged to analyze the effect humans can have on crayfish habitats.

The Six Facets of Understanding:

Explain: Students will explain the importance of crayfish structures, as well as habitat and behavior. They will attempt to explain how crayfish have certain requirements for life.

Apply: Students will try to make connections, predictions, and inferences based on what they observe.

Interpret: Students will attempt to explain different aspects of crayfish behavior.

Perspective: Discussions based around crayfish structures, habitats and behaviors will encourage students to share their perspectives … and make them aware that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” answer.

Self-Knowledge: Observations and understandings will be communicated and explained through discussion (student to student as well as student to teacher) to gauge depth of understanding. Knowledge (and experience) of Notebook will lead to more independence, and a chance to learn from each other as well.

Empathize: Students will develop an attitude of respect for life, and understand what crayfish need to survive.

Now it is time to implement Plan B …

Phase 3: Backtrack … and Plan B

•April 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Good-bye seeds, and dead seedlings …

HELLO CRAYFISH!


Kids know best. I knew they could do it. We held a few lengthy discussions, and tried to think of a way to have them represent their learning during this unit, while at the same time linking to my goals/plans for this project. Deep down, I had the ISB TAIL standards in my mind, and wanted to make this fun for them, engaging, and meaningful.

The seeds were fun at the start, and everyone agreed that some serious learning took place, but the project really fizzled when things started to die. Once the seeds (which had swelled after exposure to water) were put into hydroponic-friendly containers, we started to monitor their growth. Well, all it took was one really hot day and over-exposure to the sun, and my seedlings were history. No growth, lots of wilting, and then brown stems. That was it … my project was put on hold.

Besides the dead seedlings, I tried to gauge what was holding the students back, and through my observations, a few class discussions, and another tech project (linked to digital portfolios), I realized what it was. The students didn’t want to just talk about their learning … they wanted to create something. Their digital portfolios, which were the core of their student-led conferences, were amazing. They had been asked to use an application called Notebook, and create a slide show about themselves as learners. This would be presented to their parents as part of their student-led conference in March, using the Smartboard. Watching them work on this projects made me realize reminded me of how much kids love to create. Every single one  of them was engaged, and working collaboratively to use this tool to represent them as learners. What Notebook tools they didn’t know how to use at the start, they discovered through collaboration. They had an idea of what this application was, and how it could be used, as they see me work (fight) with it everyday. Now they had a chance to “have a go”. I would safely say that at this point, many of them are more familiar with Notebook than I am. They have done what kids do best – learned by doing.

So, I now have this idea to take to the drawing board. I will now take a second look at the ISB TAIL standards, and see how this new task matches up. What links easily, and what needs to be modified? Lets hope the crayfish don’t croak …

Phase 2: Reality

•April 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Reality bites …. unfortunately, my plans after a few weeks looked a little bleak. First, I had really good intentions in guiding my students through the process of learning how to use VoiceThread. We trialed it a lot in the previous unit – Rocks & Minerals. It started off exciting and fun, as students got to know how to use this amazing online application. The fact that they could talk and record their voices, and use tools to support their explanations, resulted in lots of excitement and some pretty engaged kids. Over time though, this feeling changed as I saw the students become tired of talking about their learning. I didn’t see this one coming, but before I knew it, I started to hear a few “Do we really have to …. “. Eventually, I took a poll and asked the students – “Who is still enjoying their VoiceThreads?” The results were shocking … almost all of them were tired of it.

Another factor: our bean sprouts died. This was a big one. The unit looked really good up to this point, but the lack of enthusiasm for how the students were sharing their learning, coupled with dead seedlings, meant we were not moving on. This ship had sailed … it’s time was up, and I need to think of Plan B. I think I will talk to the students about this, and have them “right the ship” …

I guess it just goes to show you that the best plans can always have faults, or weaknesses. Unexpected bumps which throw you off course. I must say though that I really appreciated their honesty, and now will count on them to help me get us back on track.

Phase 1: Getting started …

•April 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It was a bit weird when I finally got this Science unit off the ground. First, it is always interesting (and challenging) teaching a unit for the first time. You just don’t know how things are going to go … sometimes everything goes smoothly, and the kids are exactly where you think they are at, and the lessons straight forward. And sometimes … well, things aren’t.

I was very excited as our second FOSS Science unit approached. I had learned a lot about note booking, and how to get more out of students regarding reflection, and looking back at their learning and summarizing the “big ideas”. I was ready to take the next step – VoiceThread. The goal was to have the students demonstrate, through verbal reflections, their understanding of the following FOSS science outcomes:

Science Outcomes: FOSS Structures of Life Investigation 1 (The Origin of Seeds) & 2 (Growing Further)
1. Develop an attitude of respect for life.
2. Observe and compare properties of seeds and fruits.
3. Investigate the effect of water on seeds.
4. Observe, describe, and record properties of germinated seeds.
5. Compare different kinds of germinated seeds.
6. Grow plants hydroponically and observe the life cycle of a bean plant.

How to best integrate technology? I hoped to hit on the following TAIL standards:

TAIL Standards:

Effective Learners

E.L. Standard 1: Students efficiently gather, critically evaluate, and effectively use information.
Performance Indicators:

  1. Students inquire about their learning to make connections to prior knowledge, determine relevance, and deepen understanding.


Effective Communicators and Creator
s
E.C.C. Standard 1: Students use appropriate media and environments to effectively communicate ideas, knowledge, and understanding to audiences ranging from local to global.
Performance Indicators:

  1. Students communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using media and format appropriate to both the task and the audience.
  2. Students use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, access, and use.

Effective Collaborators
E.C. Standard 1: Students connect with peers and recognized experts to collaborate, develop their own understanding, contribute to the learning of others, and contribute to the global society using a variety of media.
Performance Indicators:

  1. Students interact, collaborate, and publish with peers experts, or others using a variety of digital environments or media.

My plan was to encourage as much discussion as possible at the start of the unit. I planned to do this by sharing the following questions with the students, at various stages of the unit but definitely before VoiceThread reflections were to take place.

KEY QUESTIONS: (for discussion)

1) Effective Learners
Make connections to prior knowledge …
What do we already know about seeds?
How have we used digital stories in the past to share our learning?
Deepen understanding …
How does creating a digital story deepen our understanding of what we are learning?
2) Effective Communicators and Creators
Why do we communicate our learning to outside audiences?
What is the best way (involving media) to communicate our learning?
3) Effective Collaborators
Why is it important to interact and collaborate when learning?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of collaboration?

And other than that, I wanted to build on prior knowledge as much as possible, connecting to earlier learning (including the technology component and VoiceThread), and keep it simple. Six facets of understanding would drive the unit:

Explain: Students will explain what they are observing as the seed changes over time, focusing on the effect water has on seeds, and how seeds change into plants.

Apply: Students will try to make connections, predictions, and inferences based on what they observe. These will be a focus of the digital story.

Interpret: Students will see changes taking place within the seed over time, and attempt to explain why.

Perspective: Through on-going digital stories (produced by all students), we will be exposed to the explanations and views of others. What are other people thinking about similar observations?

Self-Knowledge: Observations will need to be communicated (without a script) to gauge depth of understanding. Knowledge (and experience) of VoiceThread will lead to more independence, and a chance to learn from each other as well.

Empathize: Students will develop an attitude of respect for life, and understand what plants need to survive.

The task you ask?

Goal: To produce a digital story using VoiceThread which tracks the life of a seed over time (working independently OR in pairs)

Role: Students will describe the changes taking place over time. They will need to carefully record their observations using words, sketches, diagrams, and digital photos to support their story. Entries in VoiceThread will then describe what the seed is experiencing.

Audience: Global. These will be posted on the class blog.

Situation: We will begin by describing the properties of our seeds. Then, we will document the changes that take place over time, with an emphasis on:
– the effect of water
– the transformation from seed to plant
– growth of the plant

Product Performance: A VoiceThread which tells the story of a seed as it changes and grows over time.

More to come on how this went …

Tech … Give Them Time to Play!

•December 11, 2009 • 1 Comment

How do you manage the use of technology peripherals with students? What are some things you’ve learned and hope to implement.

Looking at technology, and students of ANY age, I think the first thing you need to keep in mind is to LET THEM PLAY. Give them time, before you do anything, to experiment with whatever software or applications you are thinking to use. Otherwise, you have an uphill battle trying to get them focused, and once they are with you, keep them involved. If I know I am introducing a new application to them, I like to show them where it is, have them open it up, and give them a chunk of time (as much as you can allow) to explore. Once they are done, have a few of them share some of the things they have discovered. Some of them can even act as assistants to make your job easier.

Linking to the previous idea, I also like to have the students arranged into islands, where I know that within each group (or island), there is at least one individual who can help others, and has some knowledge of the software we are using.

Sometimes, each island is using different software. Starting next week, I am experimenting with my Grade 3 class by having them choose which application to use to publish their personal narrative projects. Today, we discussed 3 applications – Notebook, Word and PowerPoint. We looked at the advantages and disadvantages of each application, and how they all kind of suited different purposes. For example, Word is simple, easy to use, and you end up with a title, text, and once you print, a spot for a picture. Of course, you can do more with Word, but that is as far as we took it today. Notebook has the advantage of allowing you to create artwork by hand on the computer and record your voice even! PowerPoint? Super easy to insert images and move text/images around.

All 3 will work well, and our discussion today really got them thinking … and excited. I could hear them going out for Recess today saying “I am going to use … . I can’t wait!” So, my plan is to have 3 islands working next week – students feeding off of each other and taking on more responsibility with the learning. I love peer learning … It will be interesting to see how this goes.

Finally – balance. There is a lot of tech out there, but it is just too easy to get caught up in it. For a few weeks this year, I was making a Smartboard file for every single one of my Math lessons … until I realized I was boring my kids with technology. My lessons were becoming too long. I was caught up in my Smartboard creations, spending a lot of time talking and presenting, and not enough time looking at the students and encouraging discussion. 10 minute mini-lessons turned into 15 or 20 minute presentations. I now use the Smartboard when I want students to come up and show/explain their thinking, or to post important notes, but I don’t allow it to run my lessons anymore.

I think my final point is the same message I started the COETAIL course with – balance. Interesting, when you think about how much I have learned about technology, and how much I am integrating it into my classroom now. The successes, and the failures. Same message. I need that balance. Don’t force it. Let it happen in a meaningful way, and it will work.

Laptop Management

•December 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

What are ways you manage the use of laptops in your classroom and what additional best practice ways might you add?

I have been very fortunate to have a couple of carts of laptops at my disposal for the last 5 years or so. Depending on the age you teach, and how deep into technology you are, this can get pretty complicated. You think – laptops … portable … simple! But, things are not quite this easy. Internet connections speeds, hardware maintenance (and looking after your machines), as well as storing student work, all can add some pretty unique twists to what seemed an easy situation to manage.

To make things consistent, I give everyone in my classroom a student number (1-18), and this is their number for a variety of activities and purposes. It is also their “computer number”, so when laptop carts come out, they know which computer is “theirs” and where to get it. Obviously, this helps track any issues that come up related to the condition of the computers, or activity that takes place.Students are pretty much using the same computer each time.

Portable Home vs. Network Home. Another issue.We had Grade 5 students working with audio and video, and they needed to store things on a certain computer (hard drive). There was no way we were going to allow big, heavy files to sync over the wireless network. It would jam the system for hours. So, in this case, students had an account on one computer which they HAD to return to each time. Their work was there, and if they synced with the wrong computer, files would be lost. This worked with most of our kids, but a few synced and then went oops.

Also, do you sync work automatically or have kids drag things into a network folder. I like to have the desktop (and maybe documents folder) sync automatically, and teach kids the importance of keeping your desktop free of clutter. Heavy files should be stored in a folder somewhere within the computer’s hard drive. Files which are a “work in progress” should be on the desktop, synced automatically, and easily available for the next time.

The other factor with technology that has come up lately in the classroom is instructional time, and how anal do I get with kids “not working while I am talking.” This probably has changed over the last year or so. Before, I would insist on lids down eyes on me. Now, I am a little more relaxed with this, and flexible depending on the instructions I am giving. As long as they don’t come running to me after the lesson because they weren’t listening, I am OK with them puttering while I instruct. Unless my instructions are not linked to the technology itself, but the content instead. Then, I want them all focused on me. I also use “specialists”, or kids who know roughly what they are doing, to assist me. Other students know they can go to them for extra advice or help.

Anyways, a few random thoughts on laptop management …

Effective Education for Today

•December 11, 2009 • 1 Comment

How relevant are the NETs for Teachers and Administrators to being a “Good Educator” today?

What does it mean to be a “good” educator? Over the past few years, for some reason I can’t explain, I have become interested in curriculum. I like being organized, and I need to prepare ahead of time what I am doing. I love “scope & sequence” so I know that what I am doing links somehow to what the students are bringing in, and will mean something to them next year. The ISB Definition of Learning states clearly what the school’s purpose is … learning. And it tells us what learning should look like.

Learning is the primary focus of our school and we recognize learning as a life-long adventure. We value meaningful learning where students construct enduring understanding by developing and applying knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Increased understanding is evidenced by students who:

– Explain its relevance

– Describe how it connects to or conflicts with prior learning

– Communicate it effectively to others

– Generalize and apply it effectively to new situations

– Reflect critically on their own and other’s learning

– Ask questions to extend learning

– Create meaningful solutions

I think this is a great guideline for our school, and it makes things pretty clear. It is simple, to the point, and practical. You can look at it and start to reflect on your teaching, the activities you plan, and what you have your students doing in the classroom. I also think there are so many connections to technology. We just need to recognize this, and make it happen.

However, at some point, it is possible to have too many standards, benchmarks, and curricular documents. It is possible to spend too much time planning – to over plan. As a new teacher at a very learning-focused school this year, I am having a tough time keeping up with curricular expectations. Another document? Not a chance. I need something simple, with standards in mind, but examples of tech integration. How are more experienced teachers doing it? What works? What doesn’t? This is another reason I love where ISB is going with their isb21 wiki … it looks practical and simple. I can maneuver around it and find what I want … and most important … it is collaborative. I don’t want to read some lengthy document which is written, published, and then sits out there is cyberspace. I want to see what’s new, add my ideas to it maybe, and keep checking in. I believe this is effective for today’s educators. Sure, we can use some of these other documents/organizations for their ideas and expertise, but let’s make it something which is a work in progress.

Through my previous position, which was in an IBO PYP school teaching Grade 5, I was exposed to the PYP Learner Profile. This outline, from the Canadian School in Singapore, is a good explanation of how the Primary Years Program views learners of today. I respect the way they believe in nurturing the whole child, and looking at things from a very global perspective. In order to prepare students for tomorrow’s challenges, we need to give them a chance to think globally, act responsibly, and learn in the right environment, with the right kind of support.