Last Thursday and Friday I had wonderful opportunity to attend Apple Training. Typically this type of training has involved learning about iLife or iWork. This time however, we spent two days discussing how to effectively infuse curriculum with technology. I’m still digesting much of what I learned from the instructor, as well as through the conversations we had as a staff. In the end I am left with two main thoughts:
1. Technology day should be every day!
2. I give myself permission to use project-based and problem-based learning in my classroom.
“Technology Day” should be everyday! Actually, the entire concept of a technology day is horrible. Technology should be infused into the curriculum like pencils, paper, and books and by technology I mean student use of technology. A SMARTboard, no matter how awesome, can’t deliver 21st Century Literacy skills like student laptops being used for project-based learning. During one of the Thursday sessions I stumbled across this article on Edutopia’s website. Every single school in America should look like this one.
I’m giving myself greater permission to use project-based learning and problem-based learning in my classroom. As a teacher in a tested subject I’m always fearful of straying too far away from direct instruction. Its effective for moving students through our mile-wide-inch-deep standards quickly and for increasing multiple choice fact-based test scores. However, direct instruction does not promote life-long learning and the skills our children will need to be competitive in a global job market. Jeff Utecht’s post last week was quite timely on this topic. Now, I don’t plan on ditching direct instruction all together. Its still useful for front-loading information and helping struggling students, but my goal is to bring in more cross-curricular projects that foster deep learning.
So, keeping these thoughts in mind I thought I would share two projects my students worked on last week. My year-long science class is in the midst of forces and motion, so last week we talked about Newton’s 3 Laws. After a direct instruction lesson my students solidified their knowledge of Newton’s Laws by finding one picture for each law using a Flickr Creative Commons search. Students brought these photos into Comic Life and added a caption to each one explaining how it related to the law. The conversations during this project were very interesting. As students started questioning whether a picture would fit a certain law, they quickly realized that any picture showing motion would really work for any law. What mattered was what was written in the caption showing how one law applied to the image. I posted by example Comic Life Project above.
My semester-long science class worked on the second project, our Wiki Periodic Table. Obviously, I’ve shared this project before, but as the work continues I’m repeatedly surprised by the great technology and chemistry-related conversations occurring amongst my students. I’ve modified my lessons so that we spend half the period on more traditional learning activities such as notes, video clips, and reading from the text. During the second half of the period students work on their element wiki page. This means the Periodic Table project is moving slower than I expected, but this lesson design allows the project to directly reinforce what is discussed in class. For example, one day we read about a radioactive Cobalt isotope, Cobalt-60, being used to kill brain tumors. The student who had Cobalt stopped the class and said, “Wait I want to write down this page number. I need to add this to my wiki page later.” When we turned the computers on that day every student immediately revisited the Isotopes page on Webelements for their element and looked for uses they had ignored earlier in the week.
If you’re anything like me you’re probably using some of your Thanksgiving Break for lesson planning and catching up. Thinking about using technology with your students during the three week stretch until Christmas Break. Its the perfect time to keep your students focused with engaging technology-infused projects.
1st Law Photo: Schtein Jumping Like a Frog on Flickr
2nd Law Photo: Jet Truck by Nicholaus Haskins on Flickr
3rd Law Photo: 8 Secs (v2) by Droid on Flickr