As the Education Technology Coach at my school, it is my role to support teachers and students in using technology in authentic and meaningful ways. Thus, for this course, I will focus on the transdisciplinary learning in a primary classroom using the International Baccalaureate programme.
With the IB, there is no set curriculum, rather it is a framework of learning. Within our school, we have a scope and sequence for the various subjects that is integrated into the units of inquiry. Our school has no specific ICT curriculum. Rather, the units integrate technology where appropriate.
From this perspective, the curriculum is often taught using technology for teaching and learning. My focus though, is teaching transferable skills using technology. For example, communication skills like viewing and presenting are taught through the use of technology. Students construct visuals using technology tools such as Google Drawing, Pixlr or Paper 53 that convey meaning to an audience. Students need to use design elements and principles as they create their visuals. Another example is having students choose the most appropriate technology tool to show their understanding and demonstrate their knowledge. Sometimes that might be a Google Document, other times it might be using iMovie to create a video or Piktochart to demonstrate their statistics in a visual.
With the IB, there are 6 overarching elements of ICT in the Primary Years Programme: Creating, Collaborating, Organizing, Becoming Digital Citizens, Investigating and Communicating. Through these, students develop their skills to become digital learners using technology tools as one of many resources in their learning journey.
This year our Year 5 class seems to be out of the classroom a lot more than last year. And I will be the first to admit that when we agree to a '2 in 1 trip form' that I have my doubts. It's not due to the extra paperwork by any means but rather I think of the time we spend travelling back and forth from the school to our destinations and back and how that is eliminating time for learning.
But does that matter? Is the learning the students gain in shorter amounts of time through experiencing something just as valuable (if not more) than the daily teaching in the classroom? What is really does, is bring the learning that happens inside the classroom to life.
We have been studying buildings and structures in our class for the last 4 weeks. Our field trip consisted of taking a bumboat ride beginning in the Clarke Quay area of Singapore followed by touring the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
We lucked out with beautiful weather (which always makes a boat ride better, especially compared to last year's attempt to do this trip). The bumboat ride not only had audio to provide the history of Singapore and the buildings we were seeing but also allowed for students to really make their own connections between Singapore past and present. It always amazes me when I hear my students talking to each other in a way they wouldn't have done just a few weeks before. The students engaged in conversations about aesthetics, materials, the balance of natural vs. manmade, structural design principles - all things we had inquired into while in the classroom. The difference was now they were putting it into a real-life context
After lunch in the park, the students went to the Urban Redevelopment Authority where they were able to see miniature models of the entire country and the buildings right before their eyes. They were able to interact with the displays and learn about balancing the needs of the people when constructing a city. They saw blueprints and multiple models of buildings. These are all things they were being asked to do in their summative task and they had some of the best examples that were real-life examples that they could learn from.
And so even though I will always have a small bought of hesitation going out for yet another trip, it quickly fades knowing the real-life experiences we can provide our students are often more powerful than the lessons within 4 walls. Thank goodness for this... because we have another trip on Thursday and we're off to camp for 3 days next week.
I have to say this was one of the most unsuspected and unplanned learning engagement I have done with my students, but was definitely was one of the most fun ones. Last week, my students were watching a few videos about buildings, structures and environmental factors architects needed to consider when planning and building in various locations around the world. One of the videos featured Hurricane Sandy and showed the effects it had on various buildings. One of my kiddos asked, “What makes a building ‘hurricane proof’? What makes a building not get destroyed in a hurricane?” Of course, when a student has an inquiry, we usually go about investigating so this was just another one of those days. At that point it was made known, the hurricane would be here in 3 days.
First the students broke into teams of 5. I am still amazed at how well my 9-year-olds can make groups. Ever since our design thinking and inventions unit at the start of the year, they see the value in creating diverse groups. WIthout teacher support, they make sure there is varying abilities, boys and girls, and unique perspectives. They choose not to work with their best friends and understand that by making these decisions they can make the best teams that can solve any problems.
Once the teams were established, they started to do their research. They brainstormed questions that would be necessary for the investigation such as what happens during a hurricane, what materials are best for structures in hurricanes, etc. and documented them in a shared Google Doc. From there, they began their research. Each student in the group was responsible for different questions as well as keeping a list of references they used to solve their answers. Some groups even colour coded who did what to help them self-monitor if they were each contributing equally to the gathering of research notes.
From there, they pulled the keywords out from their research that would need to be included in their design before creating blueprints that they drew by hand. One group even drew their building from 5 perspectives so they could have a well thought out plan. When they had finished their sketch, they had to meet with me briefly to explain some of their design decisions in the sketch. I was amazed by the thought and detail they went into for their structures. One group thought about being inspired by the Gherkin with a rounded building so the wind would curve around it, Another group had the building on stilts in case there was flooding. The final group created a basement for safety with reinforced walls in the basement with lining to prevent water from seeping in. There were inclined planes for water to run away from the building, multiple exits for if there was something blocking it and a variety of different materials used that they felt would be best to minimize damage.
Then they got to the building process. The students were allowed to use any materials they wanted to construct their buildings. We used recycled materials primarily as well as other resources that were found around the classroom. I loved watching them as they talked through their disagreements in designs, working collaboratively and inclusive of all group members.
Finally, it was hurricane day. I walked into class still unsure of how it was going to play out and no real plan on how to make it happen but sometimes creativity strikes and you roll with it. We had a video with sound effects on the projector as a visual and hurricane sirens as a warning for the members of the community. It was time to see if these buildings would hold. Every student played a role in creating the hurricane. Some students were the storm chasers who used iPods to video document what was happening and finding different angles to capture the storm. Other students were the fierce winds with large sheets of cardboard or boards used to create the wind. Finally, we had students who were the rainstorm who would toss water at the buildings. Hurricane Mac was intense. As the hurricane progressed, debris (in the form of pencil crayons) began to be thrown about and hitting the buildings.
When the storm had passed, we looked at our buildings to see how they had stood up against the storm. Luckily they were all pretty much intact. We had a lot of discussion about why some were better than others, how some materials had been more durable than others, etc. First the teams debriefed individually and then they shared with the whole class. To wrap it up, the students created a written report about the experience from beginning to end including all of their reflections, photographs and experiences.
It was the absolute best way to begin our Monday morning (even with the bit of mess we created). The experience brought about so many questions and inquiries. The students worked collaboratively to investigate and create an experience that was memorable. I honestly think they are still shocked of how we did the simulation in the end. But the smiles on their faces was completely worth every second.
Sometimes teaching can’t be all planned out. Sometimes you just have to jump into the storm, get a little bit messy and be ready for whatever is thrown your way.
We have had a lot of success in my classroom with students constructing their own learning by creating online courses, doing each other's courses, assessing each other through the courses and also assessing themselves. Giving the students this much ownership in their own learning was really empowering for them and allowed them to explore their understanding of the topics in ways that made the most sense to them.
We were wrapping up the online courses one day and the students were completing their self-reflection. A few students had already finished and were working on some independent inquiries of their own off in one corner of the room. As sauntered over to see what they were doing, which then became about a half hour discussion with us on the floor and more students joining as they finished to brainstorm ideas for our next unit about buildings and structures.
All it takes is a simple question. What would you like to do?
From there, we started to brainstorm different ideas for how we might build, hands-on activities and online programmes. I had one student who had been learning SketchUp quite a bit at home in his personal time and offers to lead some lessons about how to use it. By the following day, I had a full Google presentation sent to me with the lessons he had prepared.
My students even created what they thought would be a good summative task. They wanted to have to build a structure or building given a specific region with certain conditions they would have to adapt for. As they built, they wanted the opportunity to show their thinking and document the process. Finally, they wanted to share their building and provide a rationale for each of the components of their structure. This was essentially what I was planning on having them do themselves at the end of the unit but one thing changed that I wouldn’t have been able to give them - Student Ownership.
The students were empowered to create a summative that was their own, something they wanted to do. They are more likely to be engaged in this assessment and produce quality work because it was something they created. What I have learnt this year is that when I allow my students to guide our classroom, they always lead me down the path that will extend their learning most.
One thing I wanted to really focus on doing this year was reflecting on my work more and documenting the process. The last few weeks, unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. It's not that I haven't thought about blogging and writing it down. In fact, I've actually created a list of blogs I wanted to write. But quite frankly it's just been a little bit crazy - but in a good way.
With co-organising our school fair, completing multiple applications, creating presentations for conferences, going to conferences, report writing, starting new projects with my students and trying to actually teach my students, writing sort of just feel to the side.
So it's time to start making time again. We make our students document and reflect on their learning through their e-portfolios, journals, self-assessments and peer assessments. We focus on the learning journey -- the process over product at times. It is more important about how you get there, the obstacles you overcome and the skills you develop that defines you as a learner. And yet as teachers, sometimes we forget the power of reflection it has on our own teaching and learning. Reflecting on this blog has made me reevaluate a lot of what I have done this year. It has made me question how I do things and how I could go about improving what I have done. I make myself look at the same problem from a new angle. It's been a way to actual acknowledge how far my students have grown but even more so, me. By documenting my thinking, it forces me to actually think critically about my work. It's been a way to showcase successes and action plan for growth. I acknowledge the strengths my students bring to the classroom to make it what it is, while also seeing how far I still have to grow as a teacher. It's still
So as I think about sitting down tomorrow to do parent-teacher-student conferences at school, I can't help to think by this is my 3-way conference as an educator. It is me as a student who is learning, changing, growing each day. It is me as a teacher who is creating resources, sharing ideas and reflecting on teaching in the classroom. Finally, the third member of my conference is my education community who allows me to share, provides feedback, support and suggestions just as a parent would. And when the end of the day comes, I know I can be proud of my students and their accomplishments, continue to push myself further and know that the support and inspiration of others never too far away.
Documenting one class' approach to creating online courses for students by students...
Things had been going well in the research phase of our online courses with the kids really getting into taking notes and using lots of good sources of information. Today we began working on putting the content online and today was the first day I felt we were going nowhere. In an hour and a half of working on it, I began to doubt this idea of students creating their own online course. I doubted my kids but in reality, I was doubting myself.
With all that my students had done this year in terms of student voice, I thought this was the next step and when I wasn't seeing their research translate onto their sites today, I didn't think it was going to work. I thought this wasn't the right approach and my students might not even be fully understanding the content. The question of 'Do I just abandon this project?' kept playing over and over and over in my head. It was heartbreaking to think this idea might not be working the way 'I' want it to.
Before I headed off to my dodgeball CCA today, I had a brief conversation with my teammate who followed up with an email full of support and suggestions of how I could reroute if I had to. Still then, I wasn't sure to jump ship or stay on course and plough ahead.
It had been a frustrating afternoon, to say the least. But when I sat down at my computer tonight to look through a bit of the student's work, something kind of changed. I read through a few of my students' weekly emails to me. Every single email mentioned the project and how much fun they were having. They were thrilled to be building a site and working as a team. Every slide on the weekly reflection presentation to parents had a comment about how excited they were about the project or that they wanted to do more of it or how much they were learning or how much fun they were having.
Maybe it's not quite going the way I had expected. Maybe it won't really work out in the end. Maybe I can change it up a bit and figure out a slightly different approach. But does it matter if they don't learn every single fact about ecosystems in the next 4 weeks? Maybe not. Today I had students searching for images that had permission to be reused and modified instead of just any pictures. I had students helping students and trying new strategies for presenting their work. I had students wanting to find out information about things that interested them within a broader topic and paraphrasing notes. Those are skills that will last beyond the unit and end of the day.
When it comes down to it, it's not all about the content, maybe all that really matters is that my students are excited to be there and they are having fun.
Making groups isn't easy as a teacher. You try to balance the boy/girl ratio, abilities, special needs, interests, and everything else that might affect the group dynamic. You want your students to be successful when working as a team rather than spending more time about who's going to do which job.
Our class previously had discussions about the needs for diverse teams as part of our design thinking cycle during our inventions unit. Basically what it came down to is 'your best friend isn't necessarily your best teammate'. We talked a lot about how we need to have groups with different abilities, talents and most importantly different perspectives. Different perspectives were important so that each teammate could look at the challenge from a different view and give unique insight to the team, which would be in turn push the thinking more within the group more. In terms of making groups, I usually allow my students to create their own as long as it's diverse and is a group that can be productive, which usually works out as my students enjoy that freedom to choose.
This time I decided to have a slightly different approach to the team building process. I outlined 8 jobs that that thought might be useful in the group throughout the project. Each job had some expectations.
1. Leader - Overall leader of the group but not the 'boss'. Makes sure group is moving forward. Communicates challenges to the teacher.
2. Encourager - Stays positive. Encourages others to participate, share and work as a team.
3. Materials Minder - Gather materials as needed.
4. Time Keeper - Use the timer to help the group be aware of time. Provide the team 5-minute warnings, etc. when the time is coming to an end.
5. Organiser - Helps to organise team documents and items.
6. Techspert - Provides tech support and guidance to those in need.
7. Task Minder - Makes sure everyone is on task and focused.
8. Planner - Helps to lead the group in what's next for the group.
After I shared the different tasks and we discussed each one, I had students rank themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being an area of growth and 5 being a major glow. Based on their glows and grows, it was easy to see students strengths and areas of development. This was very important to self-identify in order for making a successful team. I asked students to star the roles they had identified themselves with a 4 or 5.
We discussed that we all have areas of growth and strengths. It is important to surround ourselves with people who are stronger than us in our areas of growth and still working on things we are strong with. This will allow us to learn from each other.
The next task was for students to find a group of 4 that was diverse. The students self-identified as a 4 or 5 in a range of the areas in order to make their group. At first, I wasn't sure the students would really buy into this and just choose their friends but once we began, they were really looking at each others' lists and saying things like 'I'm sorry we are too much the same to work with each other' and 'We aren't alike so we should be in a group'. The groups worked out really well for the most part. 3 of the 4 groups are quite all around strong and diverse. The 4th group is a generally lower ability and will just receive a bit more teacher support in the end.
I wanted the team to bond a bit so I gave them some tasks - 1. Create a team name, divide the job and make a team chant or handshake. This was simply done as a way to watch the children interact with each other but primarily to build collaboration, communication and a sense of a cohesive team.
We've been working in the teams for a few days now and I haven't had any issues with any groups in terms of teamwork. Actually, I've had the opposite - many of the groups are more productive than the students when they work individually. In addition, my students are taking their roles quite seriously and I always have 4 timers in front of me within seconds of being set off to work to synchronise our timers. It will be interesting to see if these groups continue to grow in productivity as our time on the project goes on.
My students were beyond thrilled when I told them they could create online sites for our entire unit of inquiry this time around. After discussing our central idea, key concepts and transdisciplinary skills to give my students a general overview of what the unit of inquiry we were supposed to be learning about was supposed to be studying, I did the unthinkable for most students.
I gave the students a document with what would be on their report card for Unit 4...word for word. To the shock and amazement of my students, I pushed it even further. I told them they would be marking themselves and those would be the marks they get on their report card for the most part. Unless I saw something that was different then they did, I would use what they had given themselves. I don't know if I've ever seen my students so speechless. I've had them self-evaluate before but knowing they were completely in the driver's seat wasn't what they were used to.
I thought it was only fair they knew what they had to be 'assessed' on if they were creating the course. In order for them to succeed, they needed to be able to extract the big ideas or concepts that they would need to cover in their course. Essentially these would create their different lessons/sessions/levels. Each group was given a piece of chart paper and asked to think about what those big concepts might be. I suggested they read through their lines of inquiry, central idea and assessment sheet again to figure out what they should be focusing on. They could be as big or small as they felt necessary to be considered it's own lesson.
From there, we discussed as a class some of the bigger ones that popped out frequently on the different pages. We also discussed that some topics could be combined to create one lesson with more detail. After that discussion, students were given time to discuss which lessons they wanted as part of their course and circled them.
After that it was important for the students to order the lessons in a way that made logical sense. As a class, we discussed how you can't have a lesson about something more specific if you haven't had a general overview and that you had to be strategic in the way your order your course.
Whenever students take notes for research, I let them do it whichever way makes the most sense to them. This time around I wanted to add another strategy to their repertoire that they could choose from. In a Google Document, the student would make a table with the first row being the different lessons by the concept in the correct order from left to right. Then in the columns underneath each level, students could write down all of the questions they think they might need to find out to be successful. It was important to discuss with the students that they could come back to this list and add more questions to the chart at any time. Sometimes what you are reading while researching prompts you for another question and the students are encouraged to include it in the document. This method of recording information is not fixed and is able to be changed and modified at any time.
This year my focus has really been about student voice. In everything that I do in my classroom, I really want it to be about what the students want, not what I want. Because of this mentality, I have seen increased engagement and quality of work produced. When they choose how they do their work, they want to do better. It has fully changed our classroom dynamic for the better.
The end of our last unit was hard for me. It was our How We Organise Ourselves unit about food systems. The whole of Year 5 was going to have a celebration of learning through a food market where students created a food dish using what they had learnt throughout our unit to make informed decisions and create a recipe with a rationale.
I always share with my students the idea that I was thinking of and then ask "What do you think?" Normally, this turns into a major brainstorming session and what we are left with in the end is always better than I could come up with on my own. Needless to say, when the idea of the FoodFest was introduced to my students, this happened again.
However, the challenge that arose later was that we weren't just creating a market of my class' work and food, but rather all of Year 5 and therefore there had to be a consensus across all of the teachers to allow for consistency. Thus, I had to be flexible and go with the majority on some things even when I knew my students had a different vision.
While I understand that as a teacher you have to say no sometimes to your students, it is hard to say no when you are in agreement with them. So many of the details my students wanted to included in the setup of the food market such as including money, food rating on the spot, a different classroom setup and more, were not included in the final celebration.
The students still had a great morning celebrating with their parents, but in my mind, it wasn't the best celebration we had done to date. Why? Because the students hadn't had enough say in the final product and decisions were made that did not include them.
The funniest part was when the teachers joined together and reflected on the event and how we could change it, every single suggestion of improvement was identical to what my class had originally suggested, which of course was frustrating because I knew I could trust my students to have done it their way if we had of let them.
I actually went to my class the next day and had a discussion with my class about how their ideas really matter to me and I prefer when we do things their way. To which I got the response, "Of course Ms. Mac! When you tell us an idea, we just build and build and build on it until it's a super idea of awesomeness!" I couldn't agree more.
So as we begin our new unit, I have a very big focus on making sure my students do it in the way they ultimately think is best for them. And I have a sneaky suspicion they will remind me if I don't.
I love mixing it up in the classroom (and taking it outside of it too). No day of learning should ever be the same - it's one of the great things about teaching. Each time we begin a new unit, we try to tackle it from a new approach.
For our new ecosystems unit, we wanted to get our students thinking about the topic in an active way. The game survival is a fun and energetic game that instantly gets the students thinking about food webs, energy sources and strategising to survive.
The game is simple - stay alive. Each student is given a card to represent a different part of the food chain. They are herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, human or disease. The most powerful is the disease who can attack any of the players below, humans can eat omnivore, carnivores, herbivores and so forth down the food chain. There are a limited number of players who begin as disease and human.
Players will run around the game space. In our case, we used the basketball court and set up various obstacles and hiding places around it. Energy and food cards were hidden around the playing field that players could collect. If someone from higher up on the food chain catches you, you must give them one of your energy or food cards. If you have no energy or food cards left, you are out of the game.
This activity prompted a lot of great discussion following the game about what ecosystems actually are and how they work. We discussed why it was more difficult for some to stay alive compared to other players. In addition, the students generated some excellent ideas for how to change the game as well such as:
- having an antidote for the disease so you can come back alive/ regain energy cards
- adding additional players at any level to create an imbalance in the ecosystem
- herbivores that are poisonous as a way of self-defence
- changing the actual ecosystem the game was played in
- students taking on specific animals within the game
We will play this game a few additional times throughout our unit using variations and hope to incorporate other active games to engage our learners.