Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Books, Blogs, and Videos to Transform Learning

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.

This year has been an adventure in integrating technology. Our school acquired a cart of iPads as part of a pilot project in innovative learning. Our goal was to use them in class to see if and how they changed the way we teach and learn. The project was not just about using ipads in class but about discovering how using them would change the learning experience. My class got 5 iPads to use full time and I got  personal  Ipad to use.

Integrating technology was not new to me, but the iPads were. The first thing I did was to explore many  of the Apps that were available to use in a variety of applications. I looked at apps that helped  learn math facts, others that let you create books, video and music, and still others that let you download and read eBooks.  I had intended to try it all. 

Including the MacBooks, my goal was to use this equipment to create online portfolios of student work to motivate students and to allow parents to follow their progress throughout the year. We started with publishing  a creative writing assignment for Halloween. Each child followed the writing process in planning, drafting, editing and publishing their own story. They learned how to create a webpage, took photos of their illustrations and posted both. During the process they learned how to use Dropbox,  how to upload pictures from iPads and then download them  to use in a blog. We worked through many problems, and their resolution and enthusiasm grew with each success. They learned to value each others opinions and to rely on each other for support.

Then we started blogging...and writing took on new importance to the class.  The students began to take charge of their own learning. They started blogging about class activities. Later they took on a new role as a character from our novel and their blogs became her diary.

I had started a blog as well to experience it myself and to record and reflect on our progress.

"We started to blog with the idea of blogging once every week or two. We now blog every day we are together. The kids are always looking for more ideas to blog. They write more now. They are more creative in their blogs and they are always busy taking pictures of their work with the iPads to publish their work in their blogs."
From My Blog at the time  (Blogging a Class Changer)

About this time we finished our Literature Circle novels and started a new project. We worked in our groups of four  to create a video of the books. The students  rewrote the book as a play, created sets, characters and scripts and used the ipads and MyStopMotion to create animations of the books. They used iMovie to do voice overs for them. I showed them briefly how to use the app and gave them very basic instruction on iMovie. They took up the challenge and became directors, actors, and producers.

"We jumped in feet first and again the class surpassed all expectations. We all started together but soon leaders emerged and as problems were encountered, solutions were found. Everyone was proud of their finished movie and gained a deeper understanding of the elements of a story. As I watched and listened I realized just how important this was to them and marveled at their new found expertise in setting and character portrayal. " (Reflections on Innovative Learning year 1)

We also took on the researching of the building of the CPR and its importance to B.C. We watched several YouTube documentaries on the building of the railway and took notes. We then set out and found old pictures of Immigrants working on the railway and the dangers they faced. We used Book Creator to meld our notes and pictures and created voice overs for the books.  I wondered if students would emerge from the project with more than just  technology skills and they impressed us by answering questions on their books, When I asked them if making the book helped them learn they said ."Yes, cause the information keeps traveling around your head when you need to  use it."

I am amazed at all we have accomplished and how we have grown as a team. Technology has become entwined in my daily classroom routine. I don't plan how and when to use technology. On any given day, you will find some of my class filming or doing voice overs as others are drafting and still others are blogging. Some are busy taking photos of their latest artwork or making illustrations for their blogs. Some may even be using the time to finish up some Math or scrapbooking. We have many projects on the go and we are often all in different stages of creating. We have blocks of work time and students help each other, teach each other, work together and  technology is just another tool in our crayon box.

As we worked through each project I worried about the time involvement for each. Were we taking too long?  Was each project and effective use of time? Would students finish with a deeper understanding of the content they used? How could I evaluate each student's learning effectively?

It is gratifying to know that the students  think they have learned more and have a deeper understanding of the content we set out to learn about. They felt that they would remember more about the topics than if they had just read about them, answered questions, or written reports.

My personal observations of the time they spent actively engaged and the collaboration required in creating the movies, books, and blogs would mirror those of the class.

"I have learned as much as I have taught and am excited to try new projects next year.  Each new project we finish seems to open a new door of possibilities for another." (Reflections On Innovative Learning Year1)

We never got to those Math apps or any of the other teaching apps. In May I erased them from the iPads and we are all happy filming, writing, taking photos and building portfolios. We used Pinterest to bookmark our work and highlight out portfolios Our adventure has just begun. We are already looking to next year.

Linda Dyck is currently a grade 4 teacher in Surrey B.C. I have integrated technology in my teaching for over 20 years and have given many workshops on how to do so. I am a past president of CUEBC and was Conference Chair of TELED, a  twin International conference on technology integration in Victoria, and New Orleans. I participated in Ministry of British Columbia investigation into k-12 requirements for the successful integration of technology in schools. As part of this year long investigation I was one of the co-authors of the final report Conditions For Success. I appeared on Working TV in a documentary on the pros and cons of using technology in elementary school.

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