Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Technology enabled choices for Students and Teachers

I recently had the privilege of visiting a couple of our middle school classrooms.  Our middle schools have students in grades 6-8 and they are organized into teams of approximately 120 students who share teachers for their core subjects then explore other topics or subjects with specialist teachers.

One classroom I visited is led by a technology specialist teacher James Gill.  I wrote briefly about this visit in a previous post Preparing Students through Educational Futuristics.  In this classroom, James was facilitating skills development and collaboration with a variety of technical tools including discussion boards within our my43 portal and using Google Sketchup (free) to propose designs for their new school to open in 2014.  Here is James talking about the setup for the learning activity…

James talks about using discussion board to brainstorm school design

Emily took the lead with a topic discussing the pros and cons of Smart boards vs. White boards and shares some perspective from and about the online discussion with us here…

Emily talks about interactive white boards

A key criteria he emphasizes for school design is sustainability and “green” features.  James then shares with us a piece of student work involving a proposed classroom design for the new school to be built in 2014…

School of the Future

What I observed is a teacher engaging his students in a topic they have a personal connection to: design features for the school to be built in 2014 to replace their current school.  James enabled choice in how much they participated in the requirements gathering – some students responded to topics while others created new topics and ideas.  Some students were empowered to administer discussion threads for appropriateness etc.  Karen, the school librarian, jumped in on the topic about needing a library or not and engaged with the students online…

Karen joins students in discussion of future library

My next visit was to a grade 6/7 core languages class.  The teacher, Carlan Gallello was working with her students on a genre study.  She also teaches band and refers to how she supports and assesses their learning with music.  Carlan introduces these aspects to us in this video clip…

Carlan talks about book genres

Serene used a free online tool called Domo Animate to teach her classmates an important lesson on cyber safety…

Serene gives us all advice on cybersafety

I observed three other students presenting as well.  One used Power Point, another used Globster, and a third student chose to read a speech.  Carlan emphasized the key elements of presenting after the students finished up.  Regardless of the tool, the presentation criteria (the standards for the activity) are the same – this is good.

Carlan has students do a 5-minute write in their journal at the beginning of each class.  Tyson is allowed to do his writing on his ipod touch…

Tyson uses ipod touch for 5-minute write

Sophie talks about how she enjoys being able to bring her own netbook and use that in class to write, take notes, and use online tools…

Sophia and friend talk about how netbook helps

Carlan has setup a learning environment for her students where they are able to choose from a menu of options how they wish to represent their learning.  She also effectively uses our secure my43 portal and free external services to support collaboration, and access to class notes and instruction, and student work by parents and their kids.  Carlan is not a “techie teacher” but rather a teacher who provides a solid learning environment where technology is welcome, as students choose it.

The promise of technology in education has had mixed reviews over the years.  From my perspective though, I think teachers are increasingly incorporating technology in natural ways to create flexibility and choice for students to learn, demonstrate what they’ve learned, access support and notes (for parents too), and to communicate.  We have found that when teachers participate in self-selected learning teams (professional learning communities); and/or they do more university level course work around the application of educational technology, that their ability to use technology effectively and their enthusiasm to do so increases significantly.  Staff development is definitely key to successful application of educational technology.

What stories might you share about how technology is opening up new choices for students or new options for teachers?