Monday, November 18, 2013

Diorama to Minecraft: A Shift in Audience

Last week, my 4th grader came home with another science project to do at home. The final product was to be a shoebox diorama of a temperate forest biome.  My initial reaction was annoyance, as at home science projects become parent projects in my opinion. My second reaction was disappointment because a diorama is a decidedly low tech option to learning product. Also, we have made a diorama each and every year for different reasons, and we are not crafty people. Plus, I had not saved a shoebox in preparation!

Last winter break, Dylan came home with a Solar System project that I know my neighbors spent beaucoup bucks at JoAnne Fabrics and Hobby Lobby getting supplies and then hours and hours cutting, folding, painting, etc. We encouraged our son to create his on his own from supplies we had at home. The Solar System he created was not a thing of beauty, but he did learn about scale and how to transfer that to a replica of the solar system, and the order of the planets. String, balls of colored paper and a bend coat hanger did the job.

This 4th grade science project was to create a shoebox diorama of a temperate forest. We had to have a balance of living and non living elements, to site the sources for research, use copyright free images and to write 5 interesting facts. He started by going to find images to print out. Scale is important in this project also, because the mushrooms couldn't be bigger than the rabbits or foxes in the representation of the biome. That's when he got frustrated! He is not a PhotoShop expert, so he struggled to get the sizes right. After several sizing failures, Dylan got an idea!

My son is a HUGE Minecraft fan, and spends a lot of time creating hotels, farms and buildings with the neighbors in all kinds of worlds. He asked if he could create the biome in Minecraft. He wanted to create the world, record himself doing an explanation of the biome (like he sees on YouTube all the time) and then add in his interesting facts at the end. I took a chance and emailed his teacher. She thought it would be a great idea!

I am so proud of my son for taking his learning into his own hands and asking his teacher to change the project. I am so pleased with his 4th grade teacher Ms. Lardo, for taking a chance and allowing student choice to modify her lesson plans. I hope that other teachers will see this project, and perhaps allow student choice to transform their projects from a very low tech diorama to a more 21st century project, with an authentic audience and that embraces creativity.

When I checked before writing this post, he already had 2 comments and 54 views of his video, and I have only shared it on Facebook! Talk about an audience larger than his teacher or class! Dylan saw the comments people left for him earlier today, (thanks @jepke and @JMGubbins for taking the time) and was so pleased to have feedback from viewers. He eyes lit up. I had tears in my eyes.

Oh...and I know he knows a lot about the characteristics of a temperate forest as well.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Are You A Professional?

This last week, I had the amazing opportunity to be on a curriculum review committee in my school district! To me, this is an opportunity to read about best practice, look for great resources or lesson plans, and best of all, to plan with peers, who are teaching the same topics. Planning collaboratively is when the best ideas come about! Sharing tips, tricks and lessons that worked are the best part of teaching! We have autonomy to change our plans, the structure, or the lesson standards to best meet student needs. Talk about creative freedom!

Curriculum reviews are very touchy subjects when it comes to teachers though, because it means that they might, or more likely, will,  have to change their lesson plans, their projects and maybe topics within their curriculum.

It comes as no surprise to us teacher that teachers don't love change! We all know colleagues who ask, "Why are we changing this? I have been teaching this for a long time, and it is still working just fine." Or "Why do I have to change? What is wrong with these kids that they aren't grasping the material?".  During our first couple of meetings, those very ideas surfaced.

The truth is, like most other professions, there are professional responsibilities that we need to embrace if we are going to be professionals. For me, that is being connected to best practice research based learning strategies. Learning about reading strategies, or technology integration strategies, or honing my skills in teaching digital citizenship, or research tools.

The best way to stay informed in our profession is to become a Connected Educator. I can't tell you how many more articles, ideas and posts I have been reading since I have become connected. Being connected means that you are reaching out to other educators and listening to and sharing ideas, through Twitter, Edmodo, Facebook, RSS feeders or reading blogs by respected members of our profession.

Some educators are the kind that always have professional reading on their desks, and are interested in honing their craft, changing their management style, embracing technology to allow students to connect outside the classroom walls, looking at the newest best practices based on new research. Then, there are the others who are simply not reading about best practice in their profession at all.

What if your doctor never read about new discoveries in disease control, or drug interactions? What if your mechanic didn't stay abreast of the newest technologies in your car? What if the architects didn't change plans or ideas based on new research and materials on earthquakes or hurricanes?

If you are not reading about how our students's learning styles are changing, the Common Core Standards or the personalizing of education movement, or how to embrace the power of technology in your classroom, then you are not fulfilling your responsibilities as a professional.

Get connected. Read. Grow. Change. Be a professional.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

To Google or not to Google?

Our inquiry project (see previous post for details) is has been going on for several days. The students have been looking at images, political cartoons, and paintings of the Reconstruction Era.
Some are making connections and asking good questions about Reconstruction.

So, now we are at the point where students need to research their questions. Do we send them to the databases or to google?

I know that the databases offer articles that are more middle school oriented, with built in lexile levels, images and engaging videos. My favorite database is Student Resources in Context by Gale at the moment. But, students don't like using the databases! They want to Google everything.

In the past, the librarian would set up "Path finders" for students, and bookmark reliable sources, great videos or organizations that had good resources. The librarian did a lot of work vetting the sources for the students. The students went to the resources and found the answers to their essential questions without worrying about knowing about transliteracy or how to evaluate sources. Does this serve the students well in the long run? Isn't part of learning knowing how to find the answers?

This is where I struggle. I know that databases offer the best articles for kids, but what if they can't access the databases? Shouldn't they know how to evaluate the sources? How to use the advanced tools to search more effectively? Shouldn't the students learn how to look at images, videos and other media to gain information?

We are going to give them a tour of Student Resources in Context, and World Book Online today. We will encourage them to use these databases today, but tomorrow we will give them some tips and tricks on evaluating good websites and how to search effectively on Google. We will see which method yields more results.