Putting Students First: Using Learning Theories to update Projects and Spaces

build own countryCollaboration is often cited as a key 21st century skill yet students rarely get a opportunity to observe educators in the act of working together. In my role as a technology integration specialist, I consistently collaborate with other teachers, openly when possible, so students can observe and model. The creation of clear, transparent and shared projects between educators aids learning goals and student success. Add in access to creative, technological tools and students have powerful ingredients for learning. Shared objectives not only reinforce the work of a classroom teacher but also validate the learning from the student’s perspective. They might say “this is important as we are exploring it in two different subjects, Information Technology and Social Studies (perhaps more!)” This cross-curricular and integrated approach has been a fundamental aspect of learning and progress in my classes, in computer labs or increasingly anywhere tablets (and wifi) take us. However, my recent thinking, research and discussions on learning theories have led me to acknowledge that much more is needed to put the learner first. How much can I “learn, unlearn and relearn” my approach? (Toffler 1970) More specific connections with learning theories and leveraging vital collaboration with the collective intelligence of peers and colleagues in my current course of study, would improve learning and teaching in my learning environment. This “levelling up” approach has been applied directly to my current and future curriculum and project planning with students. “Upgrading content requires deliberate provocation…what content should be kept,…cut,…created.” (Jacobs 2010) Using experiences with Grade Five students, I will explore benefits of current approaches and leverage established and evolving learning theories, specifically humanism, cognitivism, behaviorism and constructivism in order to upgrade the learning environment for my students.

In the third term of Grade Five, students are often expected to more formally present a researched topic in Social Studies. Taking the pre-2013 revision of the Ontario Social Studies curriculum as a guide, Ancient China was the topic and students were assigned to research martial arts, food, clothing etc. Students were then asked to present their discoveries. When critically examining this project from a humanist lens, it is clear the students might have to “manufacture” their connections to topic, especially when they are assigned by the teacher. Yet connection with the material was a vital assessed element as manifested through enthusiasm, performance and creativity. In fact, much effort was made for teachers to find the right topic to fit specific students with understandably mixed results. These are clear signs that although assigned presentations were appropriate for meeting curricular goals, some tweaking and updating would be necessary to engage students from a humanist perspective. In fairness, our curricular documentation has reflected this change in the 2013 revision with an emphasis on an inquiry-based learning model where students are encouraged to ask questions and research using a variety of sources (primary, secondary etc.) and assumingly leverage new web-based search tools when appropriate.

From a behaviourist perspective, students were encouraged by a secure environment and often felt safe and supported by a variety of educators, peers and parents. Not surprisingly, students loved showing martial arts movies, dressing in beautiful silk and eating Chinese delicacies too. At times, students would use handouts with crosswords, games, stories  and other techniques. We often used presentation tools on the computer (i.e. Power Point, Voice Thread etc.) for engagement and interactive purposes (i.e. Jeopardy, online commenting) These last two strategies were often a great help when exploring more facts-based material (Emperors, Religion etc.) From this analysis, I would argue that students were aided by behaviorist perspective with praise, support and even scaffolding when appropriate. Students were encouraged by the teacher to demonstrate their observational learning skills by leading the class through materials in a teacher-like manner. (By Grade Five, they have much experience observing many teachers in action to use as a guide.)

From a cognitivist perspective, this project has challenges as students are assessed on their performance of their research rather than emphasizing a more gradual accumulation of knowledge, thinking skills, organization, project management or even collaboration. They could also be much more potential for input upon the accumulated scholarship or collective intelligence on a particular topic. In addition, this accumulation only built upon prior research skills (in Grade Four) and towards skill development for future research (Grade Six). In practice, projects were often discarded at the end of the year with little option for retrieval beyond an occasional video recording. Perhaps its place in a portfolio, (digital I would suggest) would add retrieval options, give more clues to thinking processes, knowledge acquisition, accumulation and assimilation. Assessment based on the performance/product alone would give educators less data than a performance combined with analysis of the process through documents like a portfolio most importantly accompanied by comments on the materials. Idealy, this might provide clues to a student’s metacognition and perspective. In fact, Piaget might see this project as more about accepting the research of others rather than “…creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify.” (Piaget, 1952)

From a constructivist approach, our presenter’s performance and ability to engage the students would be based in their “radical constructivism” as suggested by Glaserfeld. In other words, students would be more interested when they can construct meaning to the material with their own inquires. Their ability to accommodate and accumulate puts much pressure on the student to construct and present the materials in an appealing, thought provoking and simulating manner. In fairness, much scaffolding, support and guidance for this was provided by a variety of educators. In fact, students were encouraged to be creative could build or construct their presentation in any manner (i.e. story, drama, multimedia presentation, game, demonstration, samples etc.) However, perhaps a more inquiry-based model is more student centered and would be better supported by constructivist theory.

Our latest project with Grade Five students is less performance based and provide a more opportunities supported by a variety of learning theories and approaches. This “levelling up” or upgrade to the curriculum allows  students more choice (Humanist), while maintaining a consistent level of encouragement through a supportive environment (Behaviorist), provides an emphasis on the analysis of thinking skills in both the process and product (cognitivist) and finally, allows students to create and construct their own meaning and learning (constructivist). Finally, this new approach has the potential to tap into the collective intelligence of our class of digital experts, online sources and eventually when comfortable connect (connectivism) with others.

In specific, students were asked to create their own country after learning and profiling elements of the Canadian Federal government as an observable example. The key components were a “thought book(sample) and a website creation tool (Google Sites). Unlike the prior individual project, students worked in pairs to create their My Country web pages as emphasis on social learning would also benefit students as they can help and aid each other when needed. “Hence, the principle and method of ICT integration in education is as follows: ICT is a means to organize paired interactions in the problem solving process as well as a means of cooperative educational activities in the classroom (teacher – student – group of students).” (Kalas 2010)

Each team was asked to profile their own country based on the criteria from their research and their own creativity and imagination. Scaffolding on using the technology to create pages  was provided by videos (YouTube playlist), links, resources and students were encouraged to work collaboratively. Time was spent encouraging and modelling good collaboration as mentioned above and has foundation in Bandura’s social learning theory. Creating a the videos worked well as an opportunity for students to work within their zone of proximal development (ZPD) as students could watch, pause, rewind and play steps to complete their objective like changing the theme or adding images and links. In addition, teacher-led mini lessons or collaborations with supportive peers aided students to progress in their ZPD. The assessment process was changed from an emphasis on a final performance/presentation towards a gradual process enhanced by technology options like “revision history” and practices like “check in’s” to monitor students progress.

In addition, students were awarded badges (my list) rather than marks based on their creations and these badges were awarded throughout the process than at the end (perhaps too late!) Probably the most exciting element was the opportunity for the students to inspired (and potentially create) badges of their very own based in their interest, achievements and ideas. This appeals from both a behaviorist (“I’ll have that badge I created please”) and humanist perspective (I have designed success myself through the creation of my own badge. Here is my conversation with a student (video only viewable by FDJ) on this and my screencast in student-inspired badges. Based on this conversation and  observation of him leads me to believe that he and his partner is demonstrating Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow” when working on this project. Finally, The “final” product being web-based is easily archived, shared and retrieved as both an exemplary for next year’s students and as part of a digital portfolio for the student.

Overall, a reimagining of all our projects and activities through the lens of all learning theories suggested that the learner is at the center rather than the curriculum content. The learner is supported by collaboration from a number of sources including a dedicated partner, educators in a variety of disciplines, other supportive peers, links to learning materials online and specific step-by-step screencasting videos for modelling. In addition, the opportunity in this example project encourages students to be creative on their web design while demonstrating necessary social studies learning goals. Accessing this project online through access to a lab, tablets in the classroom and even at home provides opportunity for anytime tinkering, iterating and creating. However, applying this example further and situated in learning space dedicated to building and construction could be even more powerful for learners. Being surrounded by the “buzz” of creative individuals in the act “flow” no doubt helps too. In fact, here are no limit to the possibilities for this project to include a variety of mediums including digital (paint and sketching (i.e. Flags), audio recordings (national anthem), animations (promoting the country, video, incorporation of web gadgets (a calendar of holidays), even programming through applications like Scratch (a web based games about the country) to Papert’s programmable drawing in Logo. Also physical creative mediums like painting, building with wood, plastics should not be ignored as they can be easily added to the web space through embedded video or photo. Finally, digital to physical mediums like 3-D printers or performing robots provide a new medium for learning. In short, our learning theories tell us that creative learner-centric activities in well designed spaces like makerspaces provide students with the opportunity to self-actualize.

Mini Maker Space 1
Sources

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:. TED talk. (Feb. 2014.) “Flow, the Secret to Happiness.” http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow

Glasersfeld, E. von, (2001) The radical constructivist view of science. In: A. Riegler (Ed.),Foundations of Science, special issue on “The Impact of Radical Constructivism on Science”, vol.6, no. 1–3: 31–43.

Jacobs, Heidi Hayes. (2010) Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,  Print.

Kalas, I. (2010) Recognizing the potential of ICT in early childhood education © UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education, http://iite.unesco.org/pics/publications/en/files/3214673.pdf

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, New York, Basic Books

Piaget, Jean. (1952) The origins of intelligence in children. International Universities Press

Pink, Daniel H. (2009) Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead,  Print.

The Ontario curriculum – Social Studies Grade 1 to 6 (2013 revised) http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/sshg18curr2013.pdf

Toffler, Alvin. (1970) Future Shock. New York: Random House,  Web.

Tsu-Raun, Christian (Jan. 2014) Creating a Mini Maker Space 

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wyatt, Valerie (2009) How to Build Your Own Country © Citizen Kid, Kids Can Press http://www.scholastic.ca/clubs/images/activities/HowToBuildYourOwnCountry_2029_teaching.pdf 

Advertisements

Our Hour of Code ’14 and Computer Science Week

The Hour of Code is a great way to encourage computational thinking and Computer Science for learners of all ages. This year’s Hour of Code was only possible thanks to a great team of colleagues and students who made it so much fun (and busy!) On the week of December 8th to the 12th, we implemented a school-wide initiative with students participating from three divisions K-5, Grade 6-8 along with our Grade 9-12 programmers taking the lead. Our goals were to encourage students to use computer technology as a creative programmable tool and prepare them for the programmable times that we live in today and tomorrow. (I like this Wired article by: Bill Wasik!) Needless to say, this was a popular event as almost all primary and junior students, when given encouragement and support, love using technology and for some this opened up new possibilities of learning, expression, creativity and sharing on devices familiar to them.

Some of our events and highlights included:

1. Our Hour of Code led by our Grade 11 and 12 programming students who partnered with our Grade 3 coders to explore apps such as Scratch, Lightbot and the code.org tutorials. Having Scratch 1.4 as a backup proved invaluable when connectivity was slow or unavailable to the code.org site. (This happened as our Hour was the first Monday of Comp. Sci. week at 9:00am!)

2. All our K- 8 students completed their Hour of Code on a variety of programming and coding applications during ICT classes. Students from SK and up explored Lightbot, Scratch (Why write a holiday card when you can create a holiday code?), and the multitude of programming activities at code.org. Outside of classes, students were lined up the door to get a seat at our lab computers to complete our coding activities. (Enough to bring a tear to this Computer teacher’s eye…although no time for that, too busy helping and encouraging 😉

2. Competition  – After much discussion prompted by exploring the videos on the need for Computer Science in the K-12 curriculum, students were encouraged to create a program using Scratch. Some excellent ideas…Link
scratc2

3. We met and partnered with a local Computer Scientist, entrepreneur and CEO who supported our efforts and told us the journey of her career in Computer Science and some of her successes, challenges and adaptations to the always changing (and always exciting) field.

4. We also presented at Assembly including the famous Loop Dance and a popular visit from Sphero (so much buzz, I think I might have sold a few and or had the Sphero added to student’s lists for Santa…:)
loop1

5. Most importantly, our programmers from Grade 3 and up went beyond One Hour of Code and were keen to continue their programming journey through the code.org site especially when they could login and save their progress using their school Google accounts.

By my very, very rough estimate, I would say approximately over 10,000 lines of code were written over the week. Here is a link to my simple Scratch program and presentation at assembly!
scratch1

Probably, my favourite takeaway from this event was that we encouraged all, including our teachers that students can create and curate computer programs (like visual-based code like Scratch or text-based code) to demonstrate their learning and understanding in any topic. Learn to program or program to learns(?)…how about both!

The Surface and Beyond: implementing the Surface Pro 2 with junior students: Part 2 – Communicate

Phase 2 communicate
After having established our vision for the devices, I now focused on efforts to collaborate with our teachers and learning community to get ready for the implementation stage (Phase 3). We are encouraging teachers to use tablets to support a anytime, anywhere and “anybite” (i.e. 5 min.,10 min.,30 min. or ?) model for learning.

In this stage, I offered regular F2F sessions on Wednesday morning, regular correspondence though email, shared documents in Google Drive along with informal discussions and sessions. Eventually, I would love to share and connect with a significant majority of colleagues in school through social media like Twitter or Google+ but I have to go where my audience is. At the moment, our audience uses email for everything. So what did we talk about in those F2F sessions..?

Excerpt from my OneNote binder

One note phase 2

1. ISTE expectations for students

ISTE-Nets-Graphic

The ISTE standards were helpful for providing overall expectations and addressing what students should actually know about using technology in their learning. We also supplemented our discussion on the Digital Citizenship section of the NET-S with Common Sense Media resources. In addition to the ISTE standards, we obviously mapped our activities to support Provincial standards and added more specific skills to meet the expectations of each area i.e. teaching a Grade Four student to correctly cite digital images would fall under the Digital Citizenship banner.)

2. SAMR model
doi:10.3402/rlt.v22.22648

As a group we explored this model as a guide to current and future practices with technology. We saw the benefit to creating  new projects and experiences that redefine the learning experience for students leverage these devices. However, this process cannot happen overnight and perhaps it is more helpful to first define activities and current practices in the SAMR model (i.e. Typing in Word as “substitution” etc.) before moving on to new practices. In other words, we cannot quite abandon all activities that are not in the “redefinition” category but evaluate each activity on its own merits for learning. After all, some substitution activities have value for learning. Eventually, we will strive to have a significant number of redefined activities and experiences never before possible in a traditional classroom. However, we need to work progressively and incrementally with teachers to help them define and work through each stage in order to understand the learning benefits of new and exciting pedagogies that leverage technology.

3. Workflow diagram

eBackpack-workflow-full-blown
I adapted this diagram created by e-Backpack and to use with Google Drive, Blackboard (our LMS) as well as other cloud-based applications to drive our workflow with our Junior students. We found that this diagram helped us envision how the process of learning might look in a tablet environment and invited changes, suggestions and clarifications. This workflow discussion led to further discussion and training ideas on collaborating using Docs, Forms, Spreadsheets or Presentations. In addition, determining the most effective pedagogy and the application from Google  (Lucidchart (graphic organizer) (although I prefer popplet.com),  Kaizena (Voice commenting), Floor Planner and Powtoon (Animated presentation tool) will be areas for future sessions,  discussions and sharing.

4. Lots of other quick tips and resources

At the beginning of the F2F sessions, we took time to learning the in’s and outs’s of the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and explored tips and tricks specific to Windows 8.1. For this part of the PD, I leveraging Twitter and in specific @surface  and @MicrosoftPIL for useful resources and guides.

Here is one of many example graphics that posted in our training resources.

finding your apps on surface

Reflection

What is interesting to me about this stage is that it is now ongoing and never has to end. I can provide links and resources for teachers and vice versa until we all feel comfortable sharing tips and tricks to improve student learning. Helping teachers develop a PLN using Twitter, Zite, Flipboard and other sites would be a valid next step to build our collective and shared knowledge and experience to aid student learning. (Here is a post I like that discusses one vision for “information wrangling.) For me, Zite, Flipboard and Twitter do the trick for anytime, anyplace, “anybite” (Have 2 min?) with next steps being emails to colleagues, or posting to Twitter, Delicious ( links), OneNote (articles and files) and perhaps eventually my blog at WordPress (for hopefully semi-articulate posts:))

For the next round of training and professional development, I would love to create a self-directed course on our LMS where teachers who learn best on their own and often forget (ahem) things eplore once in lessons or professional sessions. (Full disclosure – this is one of my learning styles (or I’ll call it a quirk.)

In addition, working with parents and our wider learning community is also worthy of some consideration too. (That deserves much more discussion.)

Here were some ideas I had for future sessions but I have no doubt this list will change with feedback as well as some ideas from my PLN.

  1. Recording,  collecting and assess student responses i.e. Socrative, Top Hat and Poll Everywhere
  2. Allowing students to tell stories through video i.e. Camera app, Movie Edit Touch
  3. Using tablets for personalized PD i.e Twitter and Flipboard
  4. Using OneNote to collect and assess student learning
  5. Using OneNote (Windows 8 version) for daily lesson plans and materials (stylus at the ready!)
  6. Live sharing of content and learning using NearPod
  7. Leveraging QR codes for students to explore and learn i.e. QR scavenger hunt
  8. Blogging and microblogging with students to share and connect i.e. KidBlog, Scrawlar
  9. Creating teacher-made screencasts using the Surface for use before, during and after class i.e.”Flipteaching”
  10. Collaborative writing using Google Docs (Our “workflow” diagram in action, voice comments etc.)
  11. Using Google Forms to create quizzes, assessments and activities for students

Next up, Stage 3 implementation with the students.

Creating and sharing graphic organizers using Popplet

digital popplet2
Popplet is a great mind-mapping and graphic organizer tool to aid planning and writing. Not only can you add text to your graphic organizer but you can also add a variety of sketches, graphics and multimedia. Collaborating with multiple authors is easy through a shared link as your file is stored in the cloud. (The hidden notes page is great for assessment or feedback from you!) Finally, the presentation mode allows you to create and navigate through a path of views from one “popple” (box) to another through your arrow keys.

Here are a few screencasts I made, that you are welcome to use in your classes. Lots more available on YouTube.(without my squeeky voice through:P)

Creating an account in Popplet

Getting started in Popplet

Student sample –Gr.4 Canadian physical region http://popplet.com/app/#/311851
Gr.4 Muslim Influence on the Medieval Europe – http://popplet.com/app/#/812393
Diversity of Living Things – Educator sample http://popplet.com/app/#/901161

This software is available in Windows and iOS and recommended for students from Grade 4 and up.

My top 3 online curation tools for teachers and students

Traditionally as teachers, before we start a new topic or theme with our students, we collect a variety of educational resources (activities, worksheets, games, posters, models, songs etc.) to share in lessons or provide as resources for students in the classroom. Using technology, we can also provide multimedia and other interactive materials like graphics, slideshows, videos, files, websites, social media  accounts, hashtags etc. to enhance learning in our classroom and perhaps beyond. It would seem then that collecting a variety of traditional and digital materials would be an effective strategy to differentiate learning for students and appeal to our classes full of “screenagers” but not quite teenagers.

Here are three sites to help teachers curate educational digital content for discussion, resources and sharing with students. In online courses or blended environments, variety is important to help the visuals interesting while creating vibrant, diverse and educational rich experiences remain vital. All are useful in flipped classrooms too! All these sites are perfect for sharing by a link but work best when “embedded” directly into an online course/LMS like Blackboard or Moodle.

1. Symbaloo 
One online tool allows you to create a web page of links (as symbols) to sites on specific  theme or topic. (I find that the more specific, the better; (Grade 2 Time rather than Math.) Your symbaloo can be shared to students (or parents) as a link through email, Blackboard, Twitter etc. Your symbaloo page might be filled with links to websites but could also include links to graphics (from Google images), videos (from YouTube), even files (I used a link to a file in Google Drive) or any material with a specific URL.

Below is a link to a symbaloo I created for Grade 4-6 students to practice their keyboarding skills using a variety of tools.

keyboarding symbaloo
http://www.symbaloo.com/mix/keyboardingresources1

2. Edcanvas

Edcanvas is a website for collecting and assembling a variety of media (images, Word docs, Power Point, videos etc.) as a single presentation/webquest for students. Your “edcanvas” can be shared by email or posted on an LMS like Blackboard. Older students (Gr.4 and up) might create their own “edcanvas” to research and presentation their learning on a particular topic.

Here is one I made for a Social Studies/ICT project in Grade 5.

http://edcvs.co/XJuKkl

3.  Live Binders is one of three excellent websites (Symbaloo, Edcanvas being the others)  to help you collect, curate and present a variety of digital resources for students. Teachers have used Live Binders to build up a collection of images, resources and links on a specific topic. Students (perhaps Gr.5 and up) might also create an account and have their own Live Binder(s) for individual or collaborative research and presentation. Finally, the final product is easily shared with students (and parents) through our LMS (Learning Management System) AKA Blackboard, or email, Twitter etc.

Live Binders for Teachers


Featured Live Binders
(check out the ‘Binders by Grade (scroll down on right of the screen)

http://www.livebinders.com/shelf/featured

Honourable Mention: to MentorMob for the ability to create learning playlists. Next on my list to investigate. Thanks in advance for your comments and suggestions.
~Anthony

Voice Thread with one iOS device or a full lab

vt logo
Once I decide (by hunch or “crunch” from my PLN ) that I am willing to try a particular ed. tech. tool, I immediately start my testing process. As an ICT specialist, I find myself exploring a breadth of digital tools. However, a real depth of knowledge is critical for evaluating whether a tool is effective for a specific age and stage, suitable for curriculum integration and promotes 21st century fluency. One strategy for exploring a resource with depth is to integrate the tool with learning as much as possible over the course of a term with a variety of ages, groups and situations. That way I can really get a handle on its potential and limitations. Over the last year, I have been exploring Glogster EDU, Bitstrips for Schools, Popplet (all great BTW and worthy of review) but this term Voice Thread has definitely been my software of choice. (Ok full disclosure, I recently gained access to the Voice Thread admin. tools which was a huge advantage.) Switching between the app on my IPhone and software on a computer has been an excellent “one-two punch” for creating and recording projects, research and learning.

Voice Thread with One iOS device

Circulating the class with my IPhone, I quickly and easily recorded students’ thoughts, ideas and research in the “hustle and bustle” of the classroom. This term, our Grade 1 and 2 students researched specific topics (animals, mapping etc.) on the computer using the excellent Pebble Go site. As I was circulating, I was able to stop, take a quick screenshot or a picture of their collaboration in action and then record audio of them with my smartphone. Some students shared original ideas but other simply read their research which was an excellent way to record their ideas and learning. This collection of thoughts, ideas and collaboration was not only a good source for sharing but also an effective assessment tool. Listening to their progress allowed me to easily analyze their progress. This recorded information was available to be played for me or the students in the next class so I can extend their learning and cover areas that were missed or not explored in depth. What a great record of informal and formal assessment!

Here is an example. (We have a strict privacy policy at our school so the example is only screenshots and voices. Although not shown I recommend using photos of the students to really bring projects to life.)

Voice Thread for Students

We purchased a subscription for students and I introduced this software in our computer lab to our Grade Three students. We had great fun creating avatars, recording using microphones, webcams and sharing ideas. After a couple of classes to explore built-in tutorials and some specific screencasts from me, students were familiar with the interface and we began to use VT to collect and record our research on the Titanic. VT is an excellent and superior 21st century tool, that allowed us to record student ideas, research, questions and collaborations. Eventually, it became an authentic document and record of student learning and ideas with potential for further study either as an assessment tool or just a fun presentation for parents, students who know the students well.

Last year was the 100th anniversary of the crash and so our school had many activities related the centenary of the disater. It was SO popular and educationally rich we continued with research with this year’s Grade Three (We called it Titanic 2 the sequel!)

Here is our collected research on the Titanic. (This is the non-webcam version to preserve the safety of the students.)
titanic screenshot

I also asked our Grade Five students to create a short “how-to” project using Voice Thread to show their expertise on a topic. My other goal was for them to familiarize themselves with the interface prior to a major research project later in the term.

Here was my Introductory Voice Thread.

Here is an example from one of the students. (Again, I disabled all the webcam clips but hopefully, this will provide some ideas of our progress so far…)
More formal projects were to follow. This year students are studying Ancient China.

Commenting in VT

Commenting is probably the most important feature in VT to transform traditional one-way multimedia presentations into interactive and collaborative research presentations. Users can add a comment by typing, recorded audio, uploaded audio or record using a webcam. With my Grade 5’s, I asked them to create and upload a slide using PowerPoint for students to provide feedback. I also included commenting as part of my rubric to encourage them to make positive contributions to the ideas of others. (see below) I like Tony Wagner’s ideas on this. He provide these suggestions for peer editing “Be kind, be specific, be helpful and give steps” from his The Global Achievement Gap book.

Other resources and tips for using VT

1. Use Avatars for their identities

Ask students to add a cartoon representation of themselves. It provides a personal touch to your projects without giving away any privacy.

mrc.2
Here is a quick list of websites on creating an Avatar.

1. Bitstrips for School (need an account) 2. Lego 3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4. The Simpsons 5. Nintendo Mii

2. Upload Power Point slides

The page templates are the perfect size and are excellent for title pages, bibliographies and collages of pictures. When viewing VT’s in the presentation, the hourglass option allows users to zoom in. Perfect for collage but try to use high res. photos.

3. Use high resolution pictures 

This depends on your audience but expect to use photos at 800 x 600 pixels minimum. You can display the project in a small window but fullscreen is the best. (Go big or go home as the saying goes.)

4. Use identities in creative ways

Students came up with creative uses which were amazing including using different identifities for different character or “experts” in their project. i.e. Now let’s hear from Confucius talk about…) or having a quiz on a page with 2 identifities to represent a sound effect for “right” and another sound for “wrong”.

5. Create a feedback slide

After the projects and presentations, students were encouraged to leave a helpful comment on a specific page in their Voice Thread.
vt dog feedback

Overall, Voice Thread performed very well in a variety of situations (class, lab, groups, pairs, whole class teaching etc.) and with various devices (desktop, laptop, smartphone and tablet.) The free app and account make it an essential addition to a teacher’s smartphone (only IPhone or IPad currently) for recording student learning, progress, ideas and collaborations. Our language teachers really loved this tool as they could easily share audio recording and use devices to record student progress for evaluation.

Further Questions

How is this software being used to enhance learning and 21st Century skills?

Prior to using Voice Thread, students researched and wrote for the teacher as the primary audience. With VT, students created a vibrant record of inquiries, questions and learning. The best moments occured when students posed questions about the topics without prompting and the other students responded. This record of facts, opinions and conversations was dynamic and could then be shared to a wider audience within school community including students, parents and teacher through our LMS (Blackboard).

What steps did use to protect the identity of students in this online digital tools?
Voice Thread encourages students to upload a picture to represent themselves when commenting. Instead of a photo, students were asked to create an avatar as way to identify themselves withour giving up any privacy. See my above example from Bitstrips but there are many fun options for students to create safe avatars. (see above)

Next Steps

Consider using he same Titanic presentation with comments for the next year’s group so that students can build upon the knowledge gained from the prior year’s students. However, I’m wondering is that is too much pressure on students to come up with new ideas? Perhaps a new topic would be better choice…

Why “Flipteaching” complements Scratch programming

ScratchCat-Large

What is Scratch?

Scratch is a free, visual and kid-friendly programming language where anyone can create fun projects and computer programs. Students snap blocks together (think Lego) to move and/or modify objects, sprites and backgrounds. Pressing the flag runs the program and the fun (or de-bugging) begins!

Why are you using Scratch in your class?

My first experience with Scratch was at the 2008 ECOO conference in Richmond Hill where I heard MIT Professor and pioneer of Lego Mindstorms, Mitch Resnick demonstrate his new Scratch software in a keynote presentation. (His TED talk is below.) I had been teaching programming in my Grade Four and Five Technology classes with other tools but instantly liked the user-friendly Scratch interface. It seemed perfect for beginners but also included more advanced programming ideas like loops and broadcasting. What made Scratch even more interesting to me was the vibrant database of projects shared by authors, ready to be “re-mixed” and “re-imagined” around the globe. I felt that students of any ability could explore Scratch projects, acknowledge their source and remix them. I strategized that their experiences in class would be an excellent “jumping off” point for future programming and tinkering. (This has proved to be true but not surprising with this generation of 21st century learners and tinkers!)

How did a “flipped” approach benefit your students?

This unit was perfect for “flipping” because all the students had different levels of experience in programming. Students were asked to prepare for class by watching videos on my YouTube playlist or our LMS (Blackboard) and then be prepared to create in lessons. Some were content to copy a program from a “recipe” handout with little modifications. Others opted to “re-mix” the program of others while some were keen to create and innovate on the own. I personally felt that ALL these approaches had merit and therefore, decided quickly that I would keep “whole class teaching moments” to minimum (I’m sure the kids didn’t mind that much!) Beyond the usual class management and directing students to all the resources available them, (see below) most classes were dedicated to students working on a personal or collaborative projects.

What resources did you provide for students?
Video Tutorials from the Scratch website – quick projects to help students get started
My YouTube playlist – a collection of instructional videos from easy to more advanced (and fun! Pac-Man anyone?) Student’s contributed with ideas and suggestions for the playlist so I could “whitelist” for use at school. (We use YouTube Edu.) Students often partnered up with one student playing, rewinding and pausing the YouTube clip while the other copied the programming technique in Scratch.
A collection of Programming “recipes” were offered as printouts
Various displays and posters
scratchdisplay1 scratch2

How did you assess their learning?

Assessment FOR learning – Some excellent screencasts and short tasks were used after a few classes to inform future lessons and planning. (sample) Designed by Colin Meltzer
Assessment AS learning – Handout for students provided near the end of the unit to reflect and share their best project.
Assessment OF learning – Ten question quiz using Senteo clickers to test for basic fluency.

Next steps and questions for further study

How will an update to the web-based Scratch 2.0 affect lessons and projects?
Should students present and share their programs to audience beyond peers? younger students?
Are there any new resources, recipes and approaches I can use with this unit?
How can I expand Scratch and other programming opportunities in Grade 5 and 6?

Video resources for further research

What is Scratch?

Mitch Resnik’s TED talk – Let’s teach kids to code

Other resources and helpful articles
Scratch website
ScratchEd – sign up is worth it for learning resources, how-to guides and connecting with other educators and professionals
Wes Fryer’s Blog post – Introducing 4th and 5th Graders to Scratch Software Possibilities
Erin Klein’s Blog post – Computer Coding for Kids!
Michael’s Badger Blog post – Scratch Beginner’s Guide – used a few of the questions for assessment ideas

Overall, this programming unit is a popular one with the Grade 4 students in my ICT classes as it is fun, challenging, collaborative, creative, student-centered and perfect for a flip-teach approach as students have unique interests and levels of programming experiences. I look forward to learning new ideas and programs from others but most especially the students.

My top 3 tools for quick collaborative writing in the classroom

Ok, so Microsoft Word is still an excellent and comprehensive tool for individual writing tasks. However, even with features like “track changes” in Word, creating and editing as team still involves some back and forth with email. Google Docs, wikis and blogs are excellent for collaborative writing but set up (i.e. student accounts) is needed. With that in mind, here are three web-based writing tools for creating a quick document in class with multiple authors. No sign up needed and our students authors can simply visit the shared web link to co-write and create.
1. Wallwisher
Create a webpage with one click. Recently updated to allow access from every possible device and includes new options like backgrounds and icons. Visually stunning but can be distracting as we know students love to customize while we’re saying “Get to the text please!”) However, the finished project does look amazing when shared as a link or image.

2. Lino It

Similar to Wallwisher but students can contribute text, picture, link or video as a sticky note. The “corkboard” background extends too. You need to create a teacher account here to share your “web canvas” to students but this one is my favourite because it is simple yet effective. In class, I can post on my Smartboard and then each student adds their a “sticky note” to our digital canvas either at the ‘board or at their computer. With my Grade Four students, I used Lino It to create a stickyboard to support our inquiry and research on Canada. As students progressed in our simulation game called “Cross Country Canada 2” where students, they were invited to add feedback, questions and discoveries to our collaborative document. This stickyboard served as a place to pose and answer questions and wonderings about our topic.
Here is a sample.

3. Primary Pad

A simple web-based word processing tool where students create a doc and invite co-authors (up to 50!). Works best when one student starts a page and then shares the address with a small group. Each group member is automatically assigned a different colour. One great feature is the time slider so you can see how the writing evolves over time. Awesome for assessing the process as well as the final product.

What I like most about these tools is that each individual, assuming they have a device in front of them, is actively writing and contributing. i.e. a group of 4 is not “crowding around” one computer. All the students have the space to share their thoughts and ideas individually but the software collects them all together. Kind of like our “chart paper” collaborations but each student gets the “marker” at the same time and has access to all the tools and resources of the computer. (i.e. spelling check, neater writing, the web etc…)

My Top 3 Social Bookmarking Sites

Surfing the web for resources for your students is great but is pretty time consuming! How do you keep track and remember that awesome site you found for your students 2 weeks ago?! And which computer/device did I use?!

Thankfully, there are a number of web-based tools that can help you select, collect and share great sites on topics important to you and your students. All these below tools are accessible on a number of browsers (Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari…) and devices (like smartphones or tablets like IPads).

delicious

1. Delicious – An oldie but a goodie that was sorely neglected but recently acquired by the YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen so it is more actively support and updated. You can save (and tag) websites so you can visit and access later. I have been using this site for a quite a while and use it often when reading online on the web or (more likely on the IPad with hot beverage at the ready.) Here is a link to my delicious account. Feel free to search through the tags for useful sites. I collect links on this site after browsing through Apps like Zite, HuffPost, TrapIt and the ever popular Flipboard. While reading on IPad, I collect links on my topics of interest for everyday teaching practice or sites to share with colleagues. As for browser support there are a number on Chrome extensions or add-ons for Firefox and Internet Explorer.

diigo

2. Diigo – is similar to Delicious for saving sites with the additional options to highlight and add notes to specific pages.  See this video for more information on getting started.

pinterest

3.  Pinterest – It is impossible to ignore the fastest growing  (and 3rd most popular now) social media site behind Facebook and Twitter. Finding resources is as easy as visiting the site and searching under Education. Many of our kindergarten and primary teachers have accounts (One told me she was the “queen of Pinterest” but I am not saying who) and have been collecting excellent ideas and “Pin” ideas regularly for their classrooms and beyond.

Thanks to everyone for their ideas and advice for this tip and others too. Honourable mention should definitely go to Instapaper too as an excellent app that I use to collect and read articles for specific offline use. Personally, I use Instapaper for a quick and easy and not “internet reliant” way to access articles on detailed instructions on how to do something with a quite a few steps  i.e. A teacher’s guide to using Evernote for portfolios etc.

My top 3 Cloud Storage Apps

If you have ever asked…where IS that file!? Cloud storage sites are an excellent way to store and access your important files on multiple devices like tablets, smartphones  or multiple computers. All provide FREE space and are a perfect alternative to the increasingly unreliable and easily lost USB drives.

My favourites are:

  1. Dropbox: The most popular and user-friendly app; available in the widest variety of apps; storage; great for collaboration and sharing folders with friends and  starts at 2 GB with lots of ways to earn free space
  2. Microsoft SkyDrive: allows you to access your files from any computer; 7 GB of free storage (25GB for Hotmail/MSN users)
  3. Google Drive: Integrates well with Gmail and can display an excellent variety of file types; My favourite for sharing “one-off” files quickly; 5 GB of free storage

All these applications are excellent for sharing files like photos or videos and handy for collaborating on projects with multiple editors and writers. Files and projects can be stored in an online folder rather than having multiple versions emailed back and forth. In all of the above sites, each file becomes a link that is easy to share in messages or posts.

For more information and a pretty comprehensive review of cloud storage options, please feel free to visit the below article.

http://www.theverge.com/2012/4/24/2954960/google-drive-dropbox-skydrive-sugarsync-cloud-storage-competition