Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Teaching with (more) Technology: The Adventure So Far

I like teaching social studies. Really. I loved social studies as a student. Now I get to teach it...sometimes. I even did my masters project ( in 1998) on using the internet to teach grade 6 social studies

At my present school, I've taught grade 5 and 6 social studies for at least 5 years. This year, much to my surprise, I'm teaching grade 7 and 8 social studies for the first time in at least 5 years.

I'm also the "computer teacher" at my school. After somewhat of a hiatus of a few years, I'm back in the lab.

I've decided I'm going to experiment to my little techno-teacher heart's content this year. Here's the summary of some adventure highlights and lowpoints:

1. Every student I teach has a Google Docs account. I have them complete and share as many assignments as possible on them. I can "mark" them (or even PRE-VIEW them) and give suggestions how to improve the assignment. Some students are actually revising their work. They can email me with questions. (Buzz just came out last week. I wonder if that will be useful).

1a. Students started playing with Buzz the minute they saw it. I don't think they quite get how public it is. There is a 78 comment conversation between some of my grade six students that strays into the realm of cyber-bullying. We'll have to deal with that when we get back to school next Monday.

2. I have been composing "study units" using a Google Doc. I do run off a paper copy for students. What is really useful, however, is having my unit online by linking the doc as a web page. All the links are live. Students can copy and paste parts of my doc (a chart for example) into their work. I've been able to scan useful pages of their ancient textbook into PDF format and link them. Graphics are in colour. No student is ever without a copy of the assignment as long as they have access to a computer and the internet.

3. Online videos and photographic slide shows are wonderful teaching tools. Unfortunately they clog up bandwidth. We've choked up the network on many occasions. We are still working on possible solutions. I'm not sure how legal it is, but I made screenshots of a particularly wonderful slideshow and put them on a Google Doc presentation. When the original website chokes, students have an alternative.

3a. We need to reframe the idea of watching video and looking at pictures as "work."

3b. We need to reframe the idea of being on a computer as "work."

4. I'm finding I have to provide a lot of modeling and framing for students. For example: I've started to include frame paragraph outlines to help students structure short answers. I provide cut and paste charts for compare and contrast activities. I'm finding that If I want to get students to use higher order thinking skills to finish assignments, I have to provide pretty concrete instructional examples on how to complete the assignment. Some students don't need this structure and can create their own. I'm fine with that. Some will always need that structure. (Did I mention I used to be a special ed teacher?)

5. My grade six classes have been epals with a school in Illinois for a few years now. We usually have a Skype session at the end of their quarters. Just this week I've made contact with a teacher in New Jersey to do more Skyping and online collaboration.

6. I'm liking the conversations I'm starting to have with my students. I'm liking that I can incorporate information sources from close to home and analyze them.

7. I'm tired. This kind of teaching, no matter how much fun, is a LOT of work and takes even more time.

7a. You can't always get what you want. Some online stuff, no matter how cool or useful, just will never be available on our school network.

8. The adventure continues...