Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The World At Their Fingertips

Skip: Initially, the most striking feature of the 45 minutes I spent observing this project was the purpose-driven attitude of the students. They entered the lab, logged on to PowerSchool to check their grades, did a quarterly reading assessment using STAR Reading, and then got to work on their states projects. There were no directions from Larry, and everyone was immediately engaged. During my 30+ years of observing K-12 students interacting with computers, I've rarely seen such self-responsibility. So often, computer lab time is spent trying to get everyone on the same screen at the same time and dealing with the behaviors that inevitably result when some students get there quickly, others not so quickly, and others who would rather play a game. In this case, every student made their own plans for using the time effectively, helping each other as needed.

Larry: As Skip mentioned, we attempt to utilize our time in the computer lab to the utmost.  At this time, we really have 3-4 projects or instructional zones occurring simultaneously.

  1. PowerSchool - Our district utilizes PowerSchool Premier as our student information database.  This allows students, parents, and teachers to view grade performance, both current and past.  I personally have adopted the practice of not going home until all work has been graded and entered for each academic day.  Admittedly, there are a few assignments that required more than one day to grade, but...
  2. Google Earth - At this time the students are in the process of building a Google Earth file (KML) that contains outlines and embedded information for the 50 states.  Each state is outlined and highlighted using the polygon tool and then specific state information is either copied/pasted or typed directly into the outline structure.  The students are basically seeing and creating the growth of the American states and observing westward migration and expansionism as they work.  Eventually we will re-color the states to reflect the Civil War as well as other historical events.
  3. Excel - While the students are building their Google Earth files, they are also using Excel to track progress of specific state information.  Eventually this will lead to our ability to sort a large amount of information using the features of Excel.  Along the way, we are also learning various text features in terms of fonts, colors, sizes, and attributes.
  4. Safari and/or Firefox - Lastly the students typically have 2 browser windows open in order to search information needed with their other projects.  They have learned by having two windows and sometimes three, they can search specific information in each window without having to lose other information.

All in all, 60 minutes of very focused time and attention.

Skip: This short video demonstrates some of the strategies that the students have developed to pursue their various projects. Most have 3 or 4 applications--Google Earth, Google Search, Excel, 50States.com--opened in tiled windows on the screen so that they can switch between them as needed.  Some students used extra time to start up Moby Math or IXL.com and work on their math tasks. It was exciting to see how independent and focused they all were during this period.

These students have the world at their fingertips, literally and figuratively.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Let's Talk Math

The problem with a one-size-fits-all curriculum is that it rarely does. Some students are bored because the work is too easy or repetitive; others are lost or lack foundational skills required for success. Some students need minimal practice to perfect a skill; others need more time than is usually available. (We seem content to give those students low grades and move along.)

One of the great promises of mobile learning is the potential to allow students to learn when and where they want, at a pace that is both comfortable and challenging. There is also the potential to allow students to take responsibility for their own learning. This involves much more than finding the time and place to work--it means understanding your strengths and your needs and challenging yourself to perform in order to improve your skills.

Wouldn't it be extraordinary if each student could find that sweet spot between comfortable and challenging and progress accordingly?

After observing just six weeks of fifth grade, I'm seeing that situation develop in Mr. Mitchell's classroom when it comes to math instruction. The students have a variety of tools at their disposal to supplement and extend the regular math curriculum (which is implemented largely through a district-wide adoption of Everyday Math). These tools include Khan Academy, IXL.com, Fast Facts, and recently Moby Math, all accessible through their class iPads and, significantly, through computers and mobile devices outside of the classroom.

There are two videos associated with this post. Together they give a compelling picture of math as it should be taught, from both the students' and the teacher's perspective.

In the first video, you'll see a remarkable conversation with three students who have been working at an accelerated pace in math. (There are others in that group, but only these three were available for an impromptu interview.) This is the first wave of such students--Mr. Mitchell made it clear to his students on the first day of class that his goal is to move everyone ahead as quickly as possible by paying careful attention to their needs and strengths and crafting programs that will get them there.

As in most cases, the fact that this program is working is a combination of technology and good pedagogy. It wouldn't be possible without technology, but the technology itself would do no good at all were it not for the thoughtful planning and prescriptive lessons and opportunities.

First, you'll hear from three students who have taken responsibility for their work and have developed an expert facility with the tools for learning. At 14 minutes it's a bit long, but it's worth listening to their comments about what works and what doesn't--and about the freedom to learn.

In the next video, Mr. Mitchell discusses the recent addition of Moby Math to his classroom tool chest. If you teach math, it's worth your time for his insights into how math can be taught to 28 students, all of whom are on different levels.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Heart to Heart Dissection

One of the benefits of living in Alaska is the abundant wildlife. Moose and caribou are common in the Interior, and both supply a significant portion of the protein consumed by many Alaskan families. This fall, we were fortunate to have two separate donations of ungulate organs as an aide to our human anatomy unit--two moose hearts, a caribou heart, and a moose kidney.

Last week, Mr. Mitchell dissected a moose heart and the kidney in front of the class to begin the anatomy unit. The goal was to give students some direct experience with the heart as a model for our study of the circulatory system. (See last week's post for some pictures.) This week, Mr. Mitchell's daughter Amy, a teacher candidate at UAF, dissected a second moose heart and a caribou heart while the students asked questions and documented the process with iPads and their own cameras.

Once the hearts were dissected, the students used Drawing box to create circulatory system diagrams and Keynote to collect the images (along with images they found online) to create reports on the circulatory system.

There were several iPads involved in the dissection. Ms. Mitchell used the excellent Visual Body app to project interactive 3D views of the circulatory system and the heart as an introduction. Her notes were kept on a second iPad at her station. A third iPad was used to project the dissection onto the class screen via the Apple TV, and a fourth streamed the event to a class at another school using FaceTime. Students also used iPads and their own devices to take videos or still shots, some of which may their way into their Keynote presentations.

We'll try to post a few of the Keynote reports at a later date.