In 2012-2013, each school in the Sun West School Division developed school-wide technology goals that were designed to meet the needs of their staff and students. Lead technology teachers worked closely with their school-based Administrator to survey staff in the fall to assess the highest need related to technology. Following the survey, a plan was put into place to support teachers throughout the year.
In Kyle School, under the direction of Lead teacher and Administrator, Marlene Gillanders, each staff member focused on a particular technology tool that they best felt would suit their classroom needs.
Supporting teachers in learning more about how to use technology effectively in the classroom is as important as providing the tools themselves. So Marlene regularly made staff aware of any professional development opportunities related to the various tools selected. The Sun West curriculum team also put together a series of “how to” videos and links on our Supporting Technology wiki to help teachers understand the basics of operating various tools. By using the videos, teachers in Kyle and throughout the Division now have the flexibility to learn any time, in any place.
Kyle, like most schools in Sun West, has a SMARTBoard in every classroom – so the challenge for teachers was to find new and innovative ways to engage students in using this tool to improve learning. Essentially, teachers wanted to find ways to allow students to interact with curriculum content through the use of the board.
To accomplish this, the Grades 1, 2, and 3 students used the SMARTBoard daily in their morning meeting routine. The SMARTBoard was also used in all subject areas, utilizing various interactive media files contained in the SMART notebook software.
SMARTBoard Jeopardy was a hit with Grades 4, 5, and 6 students who used the interactive game for review. In math, teachers developed activities with manipulatives so students could engage in hands-on learning activities.
The SMARTBoard gave Media Studies 20 students quick access to viewing YouTube videos, advertisements, and documentaries that pertained to the learning outcomes. Projecting the student handouts on the SMARTBoard also benefitted visual learners.
In addition to SMARTBoard use, teachers in Kyle were interested in learning how to best use blogs to support their students. In November, the staff participated in an online presentation about blogging during an in-school professional development day. For most teachers, this was their first experience with a “virtual presentation” and I was excited to showcase Bridgit, the online meeting platform used by Sun West.
This tool allows presenters to share information while also encouraging interactivity through the use of the “raise hand” feature. Teachers in Kyle were able to stop and ask for clarification throughout the presentation, just as in a face-to-face workshop. Following the presentation, teachers spent time exploring blogs created by other teachers and had discussions on how to best implement this tool in their classrooms.
In ELA 30, the teacher used a blog for a Lord of the Flies novel study. Instead of classroom discussion, students were able to respond to others electronically. This gave the students who were less likely to contribute in class an equal voice. IP 10 students also explored blogs as a communication tool.
Students in ELA B10 had an opportunity to use their smartphones into the class. To quickly cultivate background knowledge, the students searched a particular topic on their devices rather than heading down to the computer lab. In five minutes, they were able to learn a dozen facts about the Japanese Evacuation and Internment Camps without having to boot-up a single computer!
During Macbeth, the same class made use of Twitter where students summarized scenes or a particular point of view in 140 characters or less, modernizing an old text and manipulating language in a creative format.
In Kindergarten, iPads helped students learn vowel sounds and but as importantly, these students practiced social interaction skills such as taking turns. Another teacher made use of online sites such as Bitstrips and Prezi as a way for students to showcase their learning in a digital format.
The Kyle staff acknowledges that they would like to continue to move forward on using technology tools as a vehicle for improving learning and engagement next school year. But in reflecting on this year, it is clear that students in this rural community have been given many opportunities to be 21st century learners.
My journey with PBL began after I took a two-day Science workshop on Problem-Based Learning at the University of Saskatchewan with Jon Treloar, and the next day (a Sunday), I began writing my first PBL for Health and Wellness! Needless to say, I was hooked! I wasn’t teaching Science at the time, so I adapted what I had learned and applied it to the Health and Wellness curriculum.
While I have done five other PBLs, ranging from Grades 6-10 in Health, PAA, Art, Horticulture and ELA, each experience is unique learning experience!
In this case, the PBL began more informally and rather abruptly. I have never taught Science 8 before and, as we began our Fluids and Pressure unit, I had an epiphany when students were creating definitions for buoyancy. I realized we could have a lab testing different boats. It struck me that the students could work in teams and design their own boats based on conclusions formed in a lab. We had already done a PBL in October around Human Body Systems, so I piggy-backed on the organization behind that PBL and students familiarity with the process.
To begin this PBL, I asked my students in Grade 6-8 if they would enjoy building boats and testing out these concepts in bodies of water around the school (we were still under snowbanks at that time so it was wishful thinking/optimism on my part)! Surprisingly, they embraced the idea! Getting a chance to go outside and splash around must have had some appeal!
I explained that I wanted them to create a table set up with poster boards to display their knowledge, teach others, and showcase their boats. In small groups, students developed a rubric for the displays, created a list of questions they needed to answer in order to construct their displays AND meet the outcomes. It was a tall order, but the students were willing and enthusiastic participants! Next, I asked them what information they needed in order to test a boat’s buoyancy and displacement, and we cross referenced those questions with outcomes in the curriculum for Science 8.
Students researched different hull designs and then we did a lab where students built small hulls and tested them in a controlled setting (Science lab), looking at buoyancy, if the hulls floated or sank, and if they could carry cargo.
Based on their lab conclusions, each group chose a different hull and a model for their boat. Students formed groups based upon which design they wanted to create. Would it be pirates? Vikings? A submarine? They told me what materials they required, and then began designing poster boards with information about boats, fluids, pressure, density, displacement, and buoyancy. They created scaled drawings of their designs and also prepared to share their information about boats, fluids, and pressure visually either through a Power Point or Prezi.
Testing the Models
After much preparation, the students were finally ready to test their boats! Our plan was to conduct field tests, looking at buoyancy, determine if the boats were able to float and sink, if they could carry cargo (weight tests), and how it affected their displacement.
The field test day was really windy, and not all of the designs worked as predicted! Despite that, everyone in the class really liked being able to build something, and then go outside and see how it worked in the water.
Our Tech Tools
Throughout the experience, students used a variety of digital tools:
- Researched information using computers and iPads
- Studied hull designs using Google
- I downloaded a nautical reference guide app about boats on my iPad for them to consult
- Some groups created boat designs in Google Sketchup
- Groups could select Power Point or Prezis to share their information (here is a student Prezi)
- Students videoed, took photos documenting their progress and on the field trial day
- I used my iPad to video student answers to various questions about their experience
- We stitched together their responses and their field tests into iMovie and created a 12 minute video!
To assess the students’ understandings of the outcomes as well as their group performance, students did self-assessments and provided overall groupwork feedback based upon the rubric they created. I also distributed questions related to the outcomes and indicators and videotaped student responses to those questions. Once again, I used the class rubric to assess their understanding. We also had a short test to assess curriculum content that was not covered in the boat building.
Pros and Cons of PBL
As you can tell, I am truly hooked on using project-based learning to create authentic learning experiences for my students. And the benefits are truly inspiring!
- I haven’t yet completed a PBL in the time I initially allot it! This PBL took almost 6 weeks 🙂
- student engagement and energy
- the fact that different students bring different skill sets to their team which increases a feeling of success for everyon
- my role as a guide but not a voice at the front of the room
- sharing our learning – the posters, presentations, and boats were showcased on tables in the hall in the school for all students to enjoy
- lastly (but most importantly) – the incredible joy I feel when watching my students actively participate in their learning with enthusiasm..and hearing the fantastic questions they pose!
Many teachers are intimidated by new technology and this probably comes from an experience with it that made their lives more complicated rather than simpler. This is too bad because good technology ought to simplify things and create new possibilities. Obviously nothing is perfect but hopefully whatever technology you are adopting does this for you, if not then consider not using it.
That being said here is how cloud services have been used by me and maybe even you.
- Consists of many servers on the internet that store your data
- You can access your data from any location with internet
- Often you can share your data with a great degree of control
- You have a backup of your most valuable files (your computer crashes – your files are safe)
- You can collaborate on a document simultaneously with others
I am most familiar with Google Drive and SkyDrive. Both services have a PC App that runs on your computer. They create a folder on your computer that will automatically get backed up on internet ‘cloud’. That’s important. It is simplicity and makes life easier like technology should. This is only one aspect of the cloud services. There are also calendars that can sync with all of your devices, email, video conferencing and more.
How I use it:
- I have all my teaching documents on the cloud—if I change something on any one of my PC’s using the cloud service, the change is updated everywhere—simplicity
- I share files (notes, solutions, diagrams, etc) with my students by creating ‘view only’ links (as opposed to giving them editing permission – this may sound confusing but it’s literally a one click operation
- I no longer worry about forgetting my USB drive at home – my data is ever where all the time – at the same time it is safe
- I also share links to a Google Sites page that I use for my class (a talk for another time)
- Students can have their own Google Drive/SkyDrive accounts and share files with you
How I’ve heard of others using it/How I’d like to use it:
This could be useful in that they don’t have to print off the assignment to hand it in. You can write your comments on the paper and they receive the feedback immediately (well once you’ve finished your other 10 piles of marking)
- At a past staff meeting we were filling in a data chart for our math PLT. We called off data as our administrator entered it in. I thought afterward that Google Drive would have allowed all of us to enter our data at the same time and probably with very little conflict
- Any working documents that you might have as a staff – brainstorms, PLT ideas, Data, Behavior reports, whatever could be shared/edited with a select audience
Proof of Concept:
I have saved this document as a word doc in both my Google Drive folder and my SkyDrive folder. I have also saved it as a PDF in case you don’t have MS Word (this took approx. 30 seconds to share btw).
There is probably a lot more to be said here but I just wanted to get you thinking about it if you hadn’t already …
“You went to school because that’s where the knowledge was stored. That was yesterday. Think how different today’s world is. Today’s young people need guidance in sifting through the flood of information and turning it into knowledge. They need to be able to formulate good questions — because computers have all the answers.”
– Valerie Strauss (Washington Post)
In our May issue of Bits and Bytes (paper version), we explored the importance of creating essential questions in classrooms.
Right after that issue was published, Amy Lafontaine, a Science teacher in Kenaston School, shared how she started her unit in Grade 9 Science on Earth and Space by providing an opportunity for students to ask questions about their learning.
With the safe return of Chris Hadfield, Canada’s first commander of the International Space Station, and crew, it seemed only fitting to begin the unit with this historical event. Amy opened up her lesson by showing some of the video interviews that Chris conduted during his time in space.
It was soon clear that the kids were hooked!
Next, Amy challenged her students to come up with questions that they had about earth and space, or questions that they would like to explore during the unit.
“Once these are connected to the outcomes in the Science curriculum, these questions will direct our learning in this unit,” explained Amy.
And while you can imagine that the questions ranged in their complexity, at the heart of this opening lesson is the desire to activate students’ sense of wonder. And wonder, they did. Some student questions centred on the “what” and “how” of earth and space, while others looked deeper, thinking about the connections in the universe and the how man will continue to learn more. Here is a sample of the questions posted by the students:
As Amy shared the students questions with me, what became clear is that she was excited to see the kinds of topics that kids want to learn more about. Even in Grade 9, when perceptions about student engagement and motivation may lead us to believe these kids aren’t interested in learning, these students were definitely making connections and thinking about earth and space, perhaps in a new way.
To learn more about questioning, check out the following resources: