Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Students Discover Ancient Chinese Dynasties Using Totally Digital Tools!

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

I want to thank Richard for this opportunity to be a guest blogger. His site, Free Technology for Teachers, has shown us the best free tech resources available today to actively engage our students. Technology helps us to learn more about ourselves and others. Technology helps us to do things better than we might do simply on our own. Imagination, creativity, communication, collaboration and sharing with others are all enhanced using technology.

Steve Jobs, when introducing the iPad 2, explained that “ alone is not enough. That it’s technology, married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that make our hearts sing.” You can see Steve for yourself here. We’ve felt that, haven’t we? That’s why we believe most fervently that integrating technology into our teaching empowers our students to sing their song, their way. This is one “song” we created!

This year, our sixth grade students, their teacher, the ITR Teacher and I began a study of Ancient Chinese Dynasties. What would be “new” for us would be the experience of using only digital tools to learn about these dynasties. We were familiar with some of them. We decided to use only free digital tools so students could access them anywhere/anytime they had Internet access as they completed their work. We also included the art teacher so students could create clay pots and kites representative of the Ancient Chinese Dynasties. All of us had much to learn!

We compiled a list of activities and tools that we would be using:
  • Having used Moodle, a content management system, I set up the outline for our class. While Moodle itself is free, you must host it - either on your school server or your own server.

  • Blogs - each user in Moodle has a blog; external blogs can be linked
  • Wiki - an activity module in Moodle for collaboratively creating content
  • Exabis ePortfolio - plugin added to Moodle so students are able to create individual ePortfolios

This was the first time these students were relying totally on digital tools to learn about a topic. This was a brand new experience for them and they were excited! We started first with Diigo, saving online resources to study and use. Immediately, they understood the concept of saving and organizing information (by creating lists). They realized they could use Diigo for other subject areas and for their own interests and hobbies. Highlighting helps information retention, too! Diigo has become indispensable to us as teachers! What inspired us was that they discussed among themselves the value of the information they found and they helped each other to find other pertinent web resources.

As they wrote blogs, created wikis, multimedia projects and art creations, the level of sharing and collaboration was impressive. Yes, we did use tests at the end along with their online evaluations to reach a grade. But these students respected and valued each other’s ideas and talents so much that, together, they created a solid body of content. They encouraged each other, too, which involved reluctant participants! Every student was able to use their voice and their talents to contribute to the class “song” and that was music to our ears!

This short video, Ancient Chinese Dynasties, shows just some examples of our class work! 

Having taught students from PreK through 8th grade, I’ve seen technology empower and excite students about learning. Now, I work with their teachers to integrate technology into their curriculum and I see the same excitement! You’re invited to contact me via email at or on Twitter @patmsmiley