Mobile technologies are an integral part of our daily lives. Where is the closest gas station? Ask Siri. Which toaster is best for my needs? Check customer reviews on Amazon.com. Going out to dinner with friends? Ask Yelp for a good restaurant within five miles of your house, make reservations on OpenTable, and forward the reservation to your friends, complete with driving directions. Mobile technologies have made our lives easier and are transforming the way we work and get things done. It isn’t about the device, but what the devices allow us to do. How can we translate this savvy use of technology into classroom learning experiences?
Too often, there is little similarity between the very connected world we live in and the world inside of a school. What does it look like when a school’s technological experience does mirror the real world?
In Sue Scott’s 8th grade language arts class at Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado, students work and create in ways that would be unlikely in a non-technology-infused environment. It is important to point out that students’ projects are not about technology; specific learning goals are accomplished around writing, researching, communicating, collaborating, and presenting. Technology is merely the enabling factor.
Recently, Mrs. Scott worked collaboratively with the district’s instructional technology trainer, Rhonda Summerlin, to develop what they dubbed the “Passion Project,” in which students focused on a topic or idea they were passionate about. Layers of technology were embedded in the project, but only as a means toward the end.
First, students brainstormed using Google Docs, reflecting on things they really wanted to learn, research, create, or discover. Students individually narrowed the topics down to three top choices and completed a free write on individual goals and how they would get there, any help they would need and how they would work on it weekly, what might be easy and what might be difficult about the project, and what would need to be done in class versus outside of school. They shared their writing with their teacher via their class assignment folder and added it to their digital portfolio.
Students used Blogger to post weekly about their chosen projects, including their successes, setbacks, valuable research, etc. They also enriched their blog posts with pictures, videos, and other media. In addition, they used Diigo to help them conduct their research, highlighting and annotating relevant articles in the cloud. Diigo also allowed them to create collaborative groups and share their research with their teachers.
Students reviewed goals every three weeks, looking at what they had accomplished and what they needed to do before the next checkpoint. They used a rubric in their class assignment folder for the checkpoints and conferenced with Mrs. Scott and Ms. Summerlin to show evidence of goal completion.
Each student created a two-minute digital presentation of their work to pitch their ideas to their peers, parents, and teachers. They created these presentations with no coaching, in order to measure growth in presentation skills as compared with their final presentations.
Using Blendspace, the students created digital portfolios of their passion projects, which included brainstorming and goal setting documents, valuable research, pitch time presentations, a link to their blogs, and pictures and videos of them in pursuit of their passion.
In preparation for final presentations, students watched exemplar presentations by kids their age, such as TED Talks and Ignite-style presentations. They used TodaysMeet to record the pros and cons of the presentations as well as other observations. They then collaborated on Google Docs as to what their final presentations should include and created rough outlines. The outlines became the bases for the presentation scripts, which they also created in Google Docs and shared with peers, who used the commenting feature to give feedback. They then revised their presentations.
The students developed rubrics for their final presentations via Google Docs with guidance from their teachers, using the rubrics to create their final digital presentations and practicing in rotations with different peer groups for feedback.
Ina culminating event, Preston Middle School invited the community to hear the students’ presentations in a TED Talk/Ignite-style event. Students had 3‒5 minutes to talk about their passion projects with their digital presentation playing in background. Later, students reflected on the experience on their blogs.
This is just one example, among many, in which technology enhanced students’ experiences of learning, creating, and producing in the classroom. The Framework for 21st Century Learning focuses on having students create, innovate, problem-solve, think critically, communicate, and collaborate. When we leverage the power of technology, as Mrs. Scott and Mrs. Summerlin did, we are truly preparing our kids well.
A former elementary and middle school principal, Dr. Howard Pitler is McREL’s executive director of digital solutions. He is co-author of the second editions of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd ed.) and Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd ed.), and was the lead developer of McREL’s Power Walkthrough® classroom observation software. He can be followed on Twitter at @hpitler.