Technology in most classrooms is ubiquitous. How teachers use it to enhance student learning depends on many different factors including: teacher age, professional development linked to technology, access to devices, an understanding of the standards and content, and district expectations. I am most certainly not a digital “native” like my students are. But, I’m the one who sets school-based expectations and norms related to technology and I provide opportunities for my students to access, create, share, and present their learning. When given the chance to do so using technology, there is a heightened level of engagement, from both the students and teachers.
In my district we are not 1:1, but on most days we have access to either Chromebooks or Apple laptop computers. Each type of device has its own strengths and we consider ourselves very lucky to have both. Shorewood is a GAFE (Google Applications for Education) district. Teachers and students use Google Drive and email. I have become a real fan of the convenience and benefits of using Google Drive.
Teachers are able to access student work from anywhere, as long as we have a device and internet access. No more carrying student work between home and school, I simply log in and there’s my students’ work. All changes students make are trackable; I can see what students have accomplished over the course of the project and when. Providing feedback is simple and intuitive. Comments are nested within the body of the text. I can share documents, videos, or other resources with students with a few clicks, through their email. I have regular “conversations” with colleagues regarding IEP goals and student work, using Google Docs. My partner teacher and I write our students’ report card comments within the same document each year. We divide up our class and work on our own comments. But then we ask each other questions and read and comment on what the other person has written, late at night, while we are at home. Here is a link to a webpage that provides 5 ways to use Google Docs and another that includes 32 different ways to use Google Docs.
Additionally, you/teachers can create Google Classroom in less than five minutes. It’s free. You simply need a web email address that ends in .edu. Emailing your students, posting links, giving assignments, creating quizzes and surveys, and providing feedback on student work are just a few of the features. Click here to follow a tutorial about setting up your own Google Classroom.
In turn, students can access our feedback, shared documents, videos, links, etc. through email or, Google Classroom at school or outside of school (with access to a device and the internet). One of my favorite features in Google Docs is that students are able to simultaneously work on the same document. We just finished a project that utilized this feature. I’m going to highlight the different educational apps we incorporated into student learning that allowed them to create high quality work.
As you read on you’ll notice different educational apps in ALL CAPS. They are linked to where they were used throughout this project.
With our 5th and 6th graders we built background knowledge about how trees work and the parts of trees. We visited the Lynden Sculpture Garden to learn from their Naturalist how to notice the differences in trees (type of leaves and leaf type). Then students in intentional groups of three were assigned a tree on our school grounds. They captured what they had learned about trees inside their nature journals. Back inside school, students logged into a Chromebook and accessed an email from me that included a website to help them identify the species of their tree using their observations and other sites to research the unique features of their tree. (GOOGLE EMAIL)
Next, in their groups students began drafting a script. Each person was responsible for their own part, but they had to work together too. Noticing discrepancies, pushing each other to use the relevant vocabulary accurately, and reading their piece holistically was an expectation. Additionally, they had to make sure their piece addressed specific features and structures of their tree. (GOOGLE DOCS) I jumped into every document when their first draft was done to provide feedback to every student. I was very quickly able to see common mistakes or misconceptions which led to mini lessons and the development of a very specific rubric.
After spending about one week drafting and revising their scripts, students were then ready to record an audio version of their script. (iMOVIE) Because my students have grown up using many different types of technology they had no qualms about editing and adding sound effects to their podcast. Click here to read about how iMovie can be used in your classroom, aligned to Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Once their recording was finalized, they uploaded their recording to a free website that can turn recordings into QR Codes. (VOCAROO) With a QR reader, anyone with a Smartphone can access our students’ podcasts. Using this site was incredibly easy and no special equipment is needed. Students can use the built-in microphone on their device to create recordings directly on this site. This site lacks the variety of sound effects and music samples available on iMovie though. On this site you can read about three different uses for Vocaroo in your classroom. I would argue that our project also represents a summative product.
If you live near Lake Bluff Elementary School, you can come by and find the 17 trees (15 different species) that have student-made signs on them. Each sign includes the common and Latin name of their tree, the first-name of the group members responsible for the research and podcast and the QR code so you can pull out your Smartphone and listen to their presentation.
Through the use of technology the larger community will learn about the diversity of tree species on our school grounds; how mammals, insects, and birds use trees; the average age and height of each tree; evidence of human impact on trees; how the process of photosynthesis works; different uses for trees; whether the tree is native to Wisconsin or not; and the unique observations students made about their tree.
We certainly could have done this teaching without the use of technology, but I know for certain our students would not have learned all they did as quickly as they did. They collaborated and supported each other and pushed each other to try new things. They were deeply engaged throughout the process. All the while they knew they were creating something authentic that had a much larger audience than their teachers. Education-focused apps allowed this project to come to life.
A word of caution though. Teaching is a demanding job that requires hours and hours of preparation outside the regular teaching hours. If you decide you want to set-up a Google Classroom (or something equivalent), be sure you set realistic limits around when you are “available”. I have colleagues who communicate to their families that they will not answer emails or messages after a certain time in the evening. That’s reasonable!