Just Hanging Out…and Learning

This week has been crazy to say the least.  On the other hand, it has been phenomenal!

Tuesday, my 2nd hour seventh grade class began an adventure I felt was worth taking.  For quite some time a writing project colleague and myself had discussed having our classes collaborate with each other using Google Hangout.  If you do not have prior knowledge of Google Hangout, it is just that, an online space for people to collaborate via web cams and voice chat, or…hangout!  I believe up to 10 people can chat at the same time. The idea was brought on by our discussions we have had previously about using digital portfolios.  Eventually we decided we wanted our students to collaborate and discuss the myths that each our classrooms were reading and writing along with have the students publish their writing to a broader audience.

As we searched for a common time for our students to meet online, it occurred to us that we needed to introduce our students to each other before we did any real collaboration about the myths.  Each of our classes had written “This I Believe” essays, and we decided we would use these essays as a mean for our students to get to know one another. Because my own students had already written their essays at the beginning of the year, it was a great time for my students to reflect back on their writing to polish it and decide if their beliefs had changed at all.  Furthermore, they needed to understand their writing was going out into the bigger world for people to see and they needed to clean it up before publishing.

Prior to work with the essays, we showed our classes our school websites, discussing  with students what they noticed.  In addition, any questions they might have.  Before our meeting on Tuesday each of our classes composed questions to ask one another.  As we were hanging out, the students went in front of the camera  and asked questions about each other’s school.  For example:

  1. What types of writing have you done this year?
  2. How many students do you have in your middle school?
  3. What sports can you play at your school
  4. What do you do for fun?
  5. Can you choose your own electives in middle school?

After the students took turns asking questions and answering them, we talked with the students about what we were going to do next with them.

As I mentioned earlier, the students are using their “This I Believe Essay”  to get to know each other more. My colleague and I decided we would have the students post their essays on Youth Voices. Youth Voices is an online platform where students can publish their writing where other students can discuss the same topics or issues.  By having the students post here, they could read each other’s essays and respond appropriately.

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

Youth Voices (youthvoices.net)

This allows the students to see what beliefs they may have in common or what they may not have in common as well.  Regardless, we feel that our students are now publishing their writing for a broader audience besides their teacher or classmates. Furthermore, they will get feedback that can have the potential to make them better writers in the future.  After our students have posted to Youth Voices and everyone has had a chance to be paired up to respond to at least one other student, we will move forward and participate in doing more live hangouts where our students can discuss myths.

Reflection

Doing something this simple with technology has long lasting impacts on the students from each class.  First, I would like to say our schools are very different when it comes to the dynamics of the number of students and the cultural diversity.  My middle school consists of 120 seventh and eighth graders.  My colleague has just over 500 in the same two grades.  My school consists of about 98% whites where his school has Latinos, Hispanics, Arab, African American, and whites.  With this being said, I felt it was wonderful for my students to be emerged into this type of cultural diversity.  Our students need to learn they will be working with a very diverse culture when they enter the work force.

I was also surprised at how my students “locked up” when it came time to talk on camera.  They were dead silent and if it wasn’t for the fact I had students assigned for each question being asked, I would not have had volunteers.  My students were very shy and I was shocked at this.  In the end, when it came to them talking on camera, they needed to speak up too.  My colleague actually felt his students were rude and too loud.  A concern, I actually thought was going to arise.

Overall, Google Hangout and Youth Voices are great tools, especially ones that can help meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. The ideas behind using the online tools were to:

  • Collaborate
  • Practice communication skills
  • Publish student writing to a broader audience
  • Receive feedback on student writing
  • Become connected with other learners
  • Be exposed to more diversity as is such in the real world

Cheers!

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21st Century Classroom

The term 21st century classroom is utilized a lot now.  Teachers and Schools alike are making steps towards a 21st century classroom. The steps may be small, (perhaps a crawl) or big; nevertheless, classrooms are edging towards a change.  I think there can be some confusion on what that type of classroom looks like.  In a recent conversation with a fellow Tweeter we were both examining a graphic that I found through another tweet. Below is the graphic.  You can read it better here.

The idea behind the picture is to show all the ideas, activities, etc. that goes on in a 21st century classroom. Though I want my students to be a part of classroom where there is technology use, it doesn’t mean students are sitting in front of some sort of mobile device, desktop computer, or laptop and I, as the teacher, am sitting at my desk while they work.  The picture does a poor job of truly showing what technology can do to transform a classroom.  The picture would be more powerful if it showed students sitting in a group collaborating with a digital device. To the left of the picture where the two hands are joined it states, “Integrating life skills into education can improve student engagement and retention and prepare them for 21st century careers.”  Collaboration is a life skill and is more important then ever. And with social media (mentioned in the bottom right hand), collaboration is inevitable. So, why isn’t this life skill being displayed?  Also, with teachers getting such a bad rap these days, why isn’t the teacher interacting with the children in this chart?

I do realize it is simply displaying the components of a 21st century classroom, but the graphics and some of the statements don’t truly deliver the power behind a 21st century classroom.  For example, my classroom is without a doubt 21st century.  As I have mentioned before my students use Celly.  To me, a 21st century classroom goes beyond the walls of my room.  Though I use Celly within my classroom, I have had many thought provoking conversations with my students outside of class.  Just this evening, I was chatting with some students about Oxymoron in literature and real life.  Digital tools such as mobile devices and Celly make it possible to show how students are learning beyond the walls of the classroom and this one conversation I had, truly reflects the capability of a 21st century classroom.

The picture also gives the top three reasons for teachers using technology in the classroom and I do agree with each of them, but we also need to realize one of the biggest reasons technology should be used is because we are dealing with digital natives.  My five year old reads on my ipad and his kindle fire.  The internet wasn’t even a huge deal until I was a freshman in college.  If we want to get through to our students and motivate them, we need to adapt our lessons to our audience.  To teach a 21st century learner, we must become a 21st century teacher. The Common Core Standards even address technology. A 21st century classroom is much more than placing equipment in front of our students and saying, “Have at it!”  It requires us to be up-to-date on the latest tools and possibly attend professional development to make us the 21st century teachers we need to become.

Cheers!


Another Possible Use for Cell Phones

It is no secret that I am working on a book about cell phones.  I will not go into a lot of details because I don’t want to give anything away.  When one writes informational text, there is a certain amount of research that has to be done. I have been actively engaged in reading Teaching Generation Text: Using Cell Phones to Enhance Learning by Lisa Nielson and Willyn Webb and Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell hone to Education by Liz Kolb. Both Books are resourceful and cutting edge. While reading these books I stumbled across a website called booksinmyphone.com.  The site is designed for a user to read books in your cell phone, a nice alternative to those students who don’t have a kindle, nook, or other e-reader. In addition, there isn’t any cost to download the books. Also, you can write your own book and upload it to their website.  The website itself is easy to navigate. You can browse through books by title or author and there are is a page that walks you through how to get the books onto your phone.  Now, I have not used this website/tool on my own phone and I have not had any students use it.  I can, however, see how this could be used in my classroom or other classrooms.

First, I can see using this tool during my mythology unit.  There are a few myths my students read in class and this could be a great tool to use along with Celly. The website has Beowulf, Aesop’s fables, Moby Dick, The Iliad, and The Odyssey.  How I envision this for my class is to have my students read one of these tales or myths on their phone after they have downloaded it (the website claims it works on “dumb” phones). After they read the story, I would have students grouped into a “Cell” on Celly and have them collaboratively have a discussion about what they read as homework or each student could write an extension of the story from one of the character’s perspective. Google Docs is another possible tool to us here next to reading the book.

Besides looking at myths, there are a plethora of classics available for download.  With the Common Core Standards (CCSS) pushing for the reading of more classic texts, this could be a tool that could enhance the language arts classroom. A Tale of Two Cities, Around the World in 80 Days, and Common Sense are just a few I came across looking at the website.

The downside here is creating an alternate activity/lesson for those students who don’t have cell phones. Students may have to have paper copies and post to the class Wiki space or call my Google phone number and leave a voice message in response to the reading.  No matter what is chosen, there has to be an alternative to those without cell phones.

There are still critics out there viewing this as just another excuse to use cell phones in the classroom. In my opinion, this is another way to connect with my 21st century learners that I teach every day.  Our students are engaged more with their devices, it is time to take advantage.

Cheers!


Project-Based Learning for 21st Century Learners

Though I wanted to blog about my second day at the MACUL conference in Michigan, I couldn’t really bring myself to write anything worthy of posting. So, I began to think about the morning session I attended on project-based learning this morning. It reminded of the conversation I was a part of last night with my writing group. My writing group colleague wrote a piece about how students today are just settling for being average. If you don’t know already, being average is not going to cut it in today’s society. I share my colleagues frustration. To many times I see students just settling for “good enough”. I have often thought of altering my grading scale so if students met the requirements of the assignment, they only earned a “C” grade. It would only be when the learner went above and beyond those requirements would they earn an “A” grade. Anyways, it seems no matter how high our expectations are within our classroom, the students still aren’t pushing there thinking outside of the box.

I wonder if there could be something said about project-based learning with our 21st century learners. Now, let me be honest, I am just beginning to dabble into the realm of project-based learning. At best, I know very little. I do, however, understand the idea behind it and I have seen it work. In addition, my mother-in-law taught project-based learning in alternative education and had success. From what I understand it allows the students to collaborate, inquire, be challenged, think critically, and have the opportunity to have real world connections. Yes, I like all of these and if this is what is going to help my 21st century learners become a better global citizen and more competitive for the job market, I want to at least try it. I did like how the presenters warned this is not the shoe box project at the end of a unit and I can see where that misconception happens. They also shared a Creative Commons video that stated we do operate in a world of projects. To me, that does make sense.

I am seriously considering doing a trial run of project-based learning in my classroom next year. I still need to get my feet wet. I do see the potential for project-based learning being way to do thematic units across the curriculum. Furthermore, integrating technology could enhance students learning within their projects. Having a laptop to use within their groups and composing through Google Docs. Also, they can collaborate about websites through Diigo. I think there are numerous possibilities with incorporating technology.

I am not certain project-based learning is the total answer to getting our students to do more critical thinking or even go beyond “average”. However, I do feel it has real world application and can be implemented into a 21st century classroom where rigor needs to be ramped up.

Cheers!