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Using Technology to Create a Highly Engaged Classroom

Page history last edited by Bill 10 years, 8 months ago

Using Technology to Create a Highly Engaged Classroom


Direct link to this websitehttp://bit.ly/r4influencers


Shared reflection document in Google Docs: http://bit.ly/r4influencersreflection



You know what the iGeneration looks like in your classroom: iGeners are plugged in, having inherited a world with almost universal access to the Internet. Earbuds hang from backpacks, and cell phones are stuffed in pockets. Text messaging has replaced telephone calls, streaming video has replaced waiting for television shows to start, Wii has replaced Atari, digital photography has replaced film, and cable Internet has replaced dial-up modems.


But iGeners aren’t always the best students. Working quickly instead of carefully, they “info-snack” their way through class, flitting from instant experience to instant experience. Reading deeply, considering multiple perspectives, and interacting meaningfully with others are pushed aside in a race for instant gratification.


Moving learning forward, then, begins by introducing teachers to ways digital tools can be used to encourage higher-order thinking and innovative instruction across the curriculum. Today’s students can be inspired by technology to ponder, imagine, reflect, analyze, memorize, recite, and create—but only after we build a bridge between what they know about new tools and what we know about good teaching -- a process introduced by full time classroom teacher Bill Ferriter in this one day workshop. 




Slides for Today's Session




Activity 1 - Who ARE Today's Learners?


In an attempt to have a better understanding of just who today's learners are, work with a partner to explore the video titled Joe’s Non-Netbook.  Use the handout titled The People Formerly Known as the Audience to guide your reflections.




 Questions to Consider


How do today’s students differ from students in previous generations? What words best describe today’s students? How are those words different from the words that would have best described students from previous generations? Do today’s students have strengths that previous generations didn’t have? How about weakness?

Just what skills DO our students need to master in order to be effective and efficient learners? Are the skills that students need to master today significantly different than the skills that students needed to master in the past?


Finally, what impact has the changing nature of our students and our world had on what you do as a teacher?  Has your work changed significantly in the past few years?  Is your classroom significantly different from the classrooms that you spent time in as a student?  How?


Record your thinking in our shared R4 Influencers document by clicking this link.



Activity 2 - What IS a Highly Engaged Classroom?


Before we can fully explore the role that technology can play in changing learning spaces for the better, we need to develop a shared understanding of just what a "highly engaged classroom" would look like in action -- and just what barriers are keeping teachers from creating the kinds of learning spaces that kids care about. 


To begin that conversation, reflect on this quote from Will Richardson's newest book, Why School?





Questions to Consider


Will argues that a highly engaged classroom would be a classroom where students were doing work with others -- both peers that they know in person and people that they connect with in social spaces using digital tools.  How important do YOU think opportunities to "do work with others" is to creating the kinds of learning spaces that matter to today's students?  More importantly, how frequently do students have real opportunities to do work with others in your classrooms?  Why?


Will also argues that a highly engaged classroom would be a classroom where students are doing work that matters.  If we were to survey the students in your school, would they believe that the work they are doing in school really mattered?  Would the adults in your school answer that same survey differently?  How does this disconnect between perceptions about "work that matters" keep teachers from creating highly engaged classrooms?


What could YOU do to create a learning environment where YOUR students were doing work that matters with others?  What topics in your curriculum lend themselves well to doing work that matters?  How could students apply the skills that you are already teaching to projects connected to work that matters?  What would you need to change about your classroom in order to pull off projects that allowed students to do work that matters?


Record your thinking in our shared R4 Influencers document by clicking this link.




Activity 3 - Kids CAN Do Work that Matters


Quick question:  If you wanted to do work that mattered -- if you really wanted to make a difference in the world -- when you were a kid, how did you do it?


For me, "making a difference" meant setting up a lemonade stand at the end of the driveway and selling cups of sweet goodness to raise money that I would send off to the causes that I cared about.  And while I really enjoyed the entire process, I didn't make significant change in the world.  There were only so many neighbors willing to buy lemonade! 


Even as an adult, "making a difference" usually meant delivering food to a homeless shelter or serving meals to the needy on Thanksgiving -- and while both of those practices made a difference in the local community, both of those practices had a limited impact on life beyond my community. 


Things have changed for anyone who wants to make a difference today.   Using simple digital tools to raise awareness about causes in a process dubbed clicktivism, we can draw attention to the issues that we care about easily. 


While many question whether clicktivism is a productive form of activism -- clicktivists often have short attention spans and issues don't draw attention for long enough to result in sustainable change -- for kids with few real options for "making a difference" simply because of their age, using digital tools to get behind causes can be incredibly rewarding and productive.


Need some tangible examples of how kids are using digital tools to raise their voices and support their causes in public ways?  Here's several that cut across grade levels and content areas:


The Story of Malala Yousafzai - Growing up in the Taliban controlled regions of Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai -- a teen girl -- faced almost unimaginable challenges and a strictly regimented life that treated girls as objects instead of individuals.  At the age of 11, she decided to take action -- starting a blog on a BBC News website about just what life was like in her part of the world.  Her bravery quickly earned her the admiration of thousands of locals -- and the scorn of the Taliban.  Yousafzai -- now 14 -- was shot by Islamic militants in the Fall of 2012. 


Westwood Middle School Makes a Difference - Sixth grade at Westwood Middle School in Coon Rapids, Minnesota is a year-long lesson in community activism, where social studies teachers Bob Schneider, Chris Clark and Dominic Martini assign their students a civics participation project every fall.  Students learn more about the role that local government plays in their lives and get involved in advocating for change that they believe in.  Whether they're sitting in on school board meetings, writing letters to the mayor or volunteering at groups dedicated to fighting hunger, WMS students care about their community -- and are taking action on their concerns.


Our New Value - Making Stuff with Kids - In this blog entry, Will Richardson details the steps being taken to give students the opportunity to "do work that matters" at the Marymount School -- an independent Catholic school in Manhattan where real projects that have real implications for changing the world in a positive way are being used to drive the curriculum.  "If we see this as better learning than the lockstep curriculum that we’re currently delivering in a variety of ways in schools," Will writes, "then why aren’t we fighting harder for it? Why aren’t we demanding it? Why aren’t we at least starting conversations around it?"


High Tech High San Diego Bay Project - For juniors in Jay Vavra and Tom Fehrenbacher's science and Humanities classes at High Tech High School in San Diego, the issue that matters most is how to better protect the environment in and around the San Diego Bay.  The entire year is spent studying the habitats of the Bay area and the impact that humans are having on the environment.  Together, Vavra and Fehrenbacher's classes publish a field guide that is used by everyone from environmental scientists to local politicians interested in looking for solutions to improve the overall health of the Bay.


Salem Middle School Kiva Club - Making a difference in session presenter Bill Ferriter's sixth grade classroom has centered around using Kiva -- one of the world's largest and most successful microlending websites -- to fight back against poverty in the developing world by making loans to people who want to start businesses to improve the lives of their families.  Together with classmates, Bill's students raise money and then make regular decisions about who to make loans to.  To date, they've loaned out over $13,000 to over 400 people in 28 different countries. 


Questions to Consider


Can you see evidence of students doing work that matters in the projects above?  Would YOUR students be motivated by these kinds of classroom tasks? 


Can you see evidence of students mastering the kinds of core academic skills and content knowledge that are required by state and/or district curricula guides in the projects above?  List all of the different content objectives and skills that the students in the projects above are mastering while doing work that matters.


What kinds of changes would need to be made in order for projects like these to become common in the classrooms of your school and/or district?  What tangible steps can you take from your position in the system in order to make these changes a reality?


Record your thinking in our shared R4 Influencers document by clicking this link.




Activity 4 - Finding Information on Topics that Matter


Any students doing work that matters are going to have to learn to access, manage and curate information on the topics that they care about.  In session presenter Bill Ferriter's classroom, that means introducing students to Google's Advanced Search tools, Diigo and Scoop.it. 


Google's Advanced Search Tools - One of the challenges of helping students do work that matters is that kids often struggle to find (1). accurate information on the topics that they care about and (2). information that they can actually understand.  To tackle this problem, Bill uses this handout to introduce students to Google's Related Search feature -- a tool that can break broad topics into subcategories for students.  He also introduces students to Google's Reading Level feature, which breaks search results down into categories based on the difficulty of the text.  Both of these tools help students to research independently. 


Diigo - Another key to helping students do work that matters TOGETHER is teaching them to organize shared collections of resources around the issues that they care about.  In session presenter Bill Ferriter's classroom, this means using Diigo -- a social bookmarking service that provides a TON of great features to classroom teachers and K12 students.  Bill's students recently used this handout to work together to create a balanced collection of resources exploring New York City's decision to ban sugary sodas sold in containers larger than 16 ounces. 


Scoop.it -  Bill has also begun using Scoop.it -- a service that allows users to curate public collections of resources around individual topics -- to give students opportunities to raise their voice on issues that matter.  What makes Scoop.it unique is that it automatically searches for new content that users might want to add to their public collections and then makes adding that content -- along with a short description of why it is useful -- easy.  Recently, Bill and one of his students used this handout to create a public collection of resources related to the New York City soda ban.  Bill recently wrote about that experience here


What Bill has enjoyed the most about all of these tools is that they serve as perfect anchor activities in his classroom.  Anchor activities are tasks in differentiated classrooms that students can turn to whenever they master content before their peers.  When Bill's kids are ready to move on, he often tells them to find additional resources related to the controversial issues that they are the most passionate about that can be added to our classroom collections in Diigo or Scoop.it.


Questions to Consider


How successful are your students at independently finding useful information on the topics that they care the most about?  What steps do you currently take to help your students access, manage and curate information?


Can you see a place for Google's Advanced Search tools, Diigo or Scoop.it in the work that you do with students?  Which tool seems the most approachable to you?  Which tool seems the most useful tool?  Can you think of an individual project that your students ALREADY complete that would be facilitated by any of these tools?   


Would learning to use Google's Advanced search tools, Diigo or Scoop.it help your students to do work that matters?  Why?  What essential skills and/or behaviors do these tools enable for people who are passionate about critical issues and/or ideas? 


Additional resources on teaching students to find information that matters can be found here.





Activity 5 - Wrestling With Ideas Together


Another key to creating a highly engaged classroom focused on doing work that matters is giving students opportunities to wrestle with key ideas together.  Not only are today's students driven by opportunities to interact with one another socially, but social interactions allow students to refine and polish their positions on controversial topics.  In session presenter Bill Ferriter's classroom, wrestling with key ideas together starts and ends with VoiceThread.


VoiceThread - VoiceThread is a simple tool for creating asynchronous conversations built around a wide range of digital content.  With just a few clicks, teachers can have their students working together to think about quotes, images and videos connected to the controversial issue that they are studying.  Need an example of what VoiceThread conversations can look like in action?  Then check out this  student VoiceThread conversation titled Why Do People Hate.  Use the handout titled VoiceThread in Action to guide your reflections.




Like the information management tools spotlighted above, VoiceThread presentations make for fantastic anchor activities in a differentiated classroom.  It's not uncommon for Bill to send his students to a classroom computer after they have completed a task or proven mastery of a key concept to add comments to ongoing conversations about controversial issues.  What's important to remember, however, is that successful conversations depend on finding topics and questions that are motivating to students.  VoiceThread isn't what motivates Bill's kids -- the opportunity to think about work that matters with other people motivates his kids. 


Questions to Consider


How social are your students?  Do they enjoy working in groups?  More importantly, are they PRODUCTIVE when they're working in groups?  Do you think they'd be motivated by VoiceThread conversations? 


How comfortable are you at teaching students to use conversations as learning opportunities?  Are classroom conversations a strategy that you've mastered in face-to-face situations?  Do you think any of the skills that students must apply in classroom conversations -- things like listening with an open mind and asking questions that challenge their peers -- would translate into digital conversations?


What kinds of students would be drawn to digital conversations?  Why would digital conversations resonate with that particular student group?  More importantly, would mastering the skills necessary to participate in digital conversations help students to do work that matters?  Why?


Additional resources on teaching kids to wrestle with important ideas together can be found here.




Activity 6 - Crafting Visually Persuasive Messages


As students develop a deep and meaningful understanding of the issues that they are passionate about, they are going to want to influence the thinking of others.  The power that comes from writing for -- and changing the minds of -- a real audience is inherently motivating.  More importantly, learning to influence is an essential skill in a world where having a voice is as simple as finding a publish button.  One lesson, however, that both teachers and students need to learn is that visual messages -- captivating images and videos -- are far more influential than text in today's world.  For session presenter Bill Ferriter, that means introducing students to the Creative Commons and to simple video creation services like Animoto.  


The Creative Commons - Developed in 2002 in an attempt to "save the world from failed sharing," the Creative Commons is an organization that developed a new form of copyright that allows content creators -- musicians, photographers, writers -- to share their works freely with others.  That means if students know where to look for Creative Commons content, they can instantly gain access to high quality images on almost any topic that can be used to change people's minds.  Not only does session presenter Bill Ferriter introduce his students to the Creative Commons, he regularly points them to Flickr's Creative Commons collection, the Creative Commons Search Engine, and Google's Creative Commons search options


Animoto - While Bill is PASSIONATE about having his students create influential still images BEFORE learning to create videos -- still images require less technical skill and can be developed using familiar tools like PowerPoint -- students who've grown up watching YouTube are almost ALWAYS more motivated when asked to create videos.  To tap into this motivation while keeping projects simple, Bill relies on Animoto -- a digital tool that allows users to create engaging videos from collections of still images with a few simple clicks.  Here's a video that two of Bill's students created in order to raise awareness of poverty in the world -- work that mattered to them.


Questions to Consider


Before attending today's session, what did you know about the Creative Commons?  More importantly, what do you think your STUDENTS know about the Creative Commons?  Do you think understanding the Creative Commons is something worth learning?  How would knowing about the Creative Commons make someone more influential -- and how could learning to be more influential pay off for the kids in our classrooms?


Have you ever tackled digital video projects in the classroom with your kids?  If so, how successful were they?  What went well?  What didn't go well?  Were your students motivated by the project?  Were you satisfied with the final products that they created?  Was the project worth spending time on?


What is so intimidating about creating videos in the classroom with students?  Why do you think teachers shy away from videos as a student work product even though video is so motivating?  Does Animoto successfully address any of these concerns?  How?


Do you think learning more about visual persuasion and the Creative Commons is an essential skill for students doing work that matters?  Why?  What role does visual persuasion play in the efforts of people who are doing work that matters?


Additional information on teaching students to create visually persuasive messages can be found here.




Activity 7 - Using Words to Persuade


While visual messages are becoming increasingly important in today's digital world, it is still essential for students to learn the skills of written persuasion.  Not only is becoming a skillful writer a key requirement of today's curriculum, it is also a key expectation for anyone working in a knowledge-driven workplace.  In session presenter Bill Ferriter's classroom, Wordpress, Google Docs and PB Works all play a role in giving students the opportunity to practice verbal persuasion.


Wordpress - For many teachers and students, blogs play a central role in experimenting with written persuasion simply because they are an approachable digital tool that make it possible to quickly publish ideas to the world.  Need proof?  Then check out the wide range of classroom blogging projects spotlighted on the Comments 4 Kids website.  While there are many blogging tools and resources, session presenter Bill Ferriter has recently moved his classroom blogging projects to Wordpress -- a free tool that has been widely embraced by bloggers in and beyond the schoolhouse.  One of the blogs that his students enjoyed creating was titled The Birds of Salem.


Google Docs - When Bill's students aren't writing for the world, but instead, are trying to work together on a more traditional piece of text for a classroom assignment, they use Google Docs, a collaborative editing tool that allows users to create shared documents of all kinds.  After drafting, revising and editing together, students can convert their final products into Word documents, PDFs or PowerPoint files that can be downloaded and turned in. 


PBWorks - PBWorks is a wiki service that allows users to create easy-to-edit websites on any topic that motivates them.  In session presenter Bill Ferriter's classroom, wikis often become student-generated informational homes for content about the topics that they care about.  They also become forums for changing the minds of broader audiences.  Bill's most successful wiki project was designed to raise awareness about potential solutions for global warming in North Carolina. 


Questions to Consider


What role does written persuasion play in your current classroom?  Are students ALREADY required to write persuasive pieces as a part of your curricula?  Do they collaborate with other students on those persuasive pieces?  Are those persuasive pieces shared beyond the classroom?  Why or why not?


What advantages to you see in introducing students to blogs, wikis, or collaborative writing tools?  What can your students do with these tools that they can't already do with pen and paper -- or with a word processor?  Are those additional features and opportunities something that might make your classroom more engaging to students?  Why?  Will those additional features help us to meet our challenge of giving students the chance to do work that matters?


Which of these tools seems like a logical fit for the work that you and your students are already doing?  The simple truth is that blogs, wikis and collaborative editing services all have different strengths and serve different purposes.  Which tool is the best for students in your classroom?  Why? 


Additional information on using words to persuade can be found here.



Activity 8 - Finding Potential Partners


For many teachers, the most challenging part of making Will's definition of highly engaged classrooms a reality is giving students the opportunity to work together with people beyond the walls of their schoolhouse.  While teachers are often open to the idea of pairing their students together with classes on other continents, finding those classes has almost always been nearly impossible.  In today's digital world, though, there are literally classes all over the world waiting to work with you.  Finding them requires nothing more than exploring the Skype in the Classroom and the iEarn websites. 


Skype in the Classroom - Skype has long been a leader in providing free video conferencing tools to interested users.  Recently, though, Skype made a corporate decision to do more to support teachers and students.  The result is the Skype in the Classroom website, which works to pair interested classes together.  Teachers from all over the world are posting projects and finding partners on the Skype in the Classroom website.  Those projects and partners can be easily searched by grade level and content area. 


iEARN - iEARN, whose tagline is "learning with the world, not just about it", is an organization with a long history of using digital tools to pair interested teachers and students together.  Like the Skype in the Classroom website, iEARN has a collection of ongoing projects that span content areas and grade levels that classes can join with nothing more than a few digital clicks.  Unlike the Skype in the Classroom website, iEARN also offers teachers professional development opportunities in both digital learning and global education. 


Questions to Consider


Does completing a collaborative project with a class in another country interest you at all?  More importantly, would completing a collaborative project with a class in another country interest your STUDENTS?  What lessons could your kids learn from a global project that they couldn't learn from the more traditional instruction that they're exposed to on a daily basis?


How would completing a collaborative project with a class in another country help us to meet our challenge of giving students real-world opportunities to do work that matters?  What criteria would you have to use before deciding on (1). a collaborative topic worth studying and (2). a country worth partnering with?



Planning Your Digital Project


In the final portion of this presentation, participants will begin planning and preparing for their own digitally-enhanced classroom project. The following handouts may help participants who are struggling to find a logical starting point for their work. 


Evaluating Your Current Reality


Working with partners, use the Essential Skills Checklist to identify the kinds of technology integration projects that are likely to be worth pursuing in your buildings.


Creating a Digital Project Plan


Using the information that you generated while completing your Essential Skills Check, begin crafting a new digital project.  Use the Blueprint for Building a Digital Project handout in your session materials to guide your thinking and planning.







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