-Is all of this experimentation with how to use technology in the classroom helping my students learning, or hindering it?
-Are these time-consuming synthesizing tech “projects” the best way for students to learn?
-To what degree is the time-investment in product creation worth the returns of student understanding?
-In the creation and design phase, what opportunities are being lost in other subject disciplines, such as literacy?
-What gets cut out of the curriculum while students are engaged in these time-consuming creative and evaluative learning activities?
I teach Y4/3rd grade in a 1:1 iPad environment. This is the first grade level the students have their own iPads, coming up from 1:2 classrooms the previous two years. That being said, many students come up to Y4 with very little knowledge of how to use the iPad, other than to perhaps create basic presentations on a few apps.
The learning curve for digital literacy is very intense for students throughout Year 4, especially in my class where I’m looking to extend and capitalize on using technology as much as possible to enhance student learning. Throughout the year, students learn about digital citizenship, internet safety, how to independently run their email accounts, how to publish videos on You Tube, how to use cloud storage services such as Google Drive and Picassa, how to run and manage their own personal blogs, how to use student-friendly search engines and other library based systems, etc.
They also learn how to use apps and online resources, such as: Book Creator, Explain Everything, iMovie, Haiku Deck, Pic Collage, Frame Artist, Padlet, Today’s Meet, Thinglink, a variety of mind mapping apps, other knowledge-based apps and several more digital literacy skills and concepts. If I find anything new that comes along, I’ll experiment with that too and see how it works.
Now, the time it takes teaching them how to use, organize, manage, share, push to/from the cloud, troubleshoot and evaluate apps and web resources is not the problem. I feel okay with the amount of time we invest in class teaching them the ins and outs of how to be as digitally literate as one can be at 8-9 years old. This does not weigh on my conscience.
What weighs on my conscience and makes me question whether what I’m doing is the “right” thing, is how much time is “lost” while they are using their Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) to create and produce evidence of their conceptual understanding.
This is my second year in a 1:1 environment, and also my second year ever touching an iPad (let alone having one). The way I instruct students and guide them to show their understanding has transformed dramatically (so much so that I cannot envisage going back to a classroom that is not 1:1). I feel I’ve adapted very well to my environment and have voraciously embraced education through technology over the last year and a half (as evidenced by me being in this cohort).
I’m continuously striving to think innovatively in how I can instruct and assess student understanding. I’m constantly reflecting on creative lesson design. I’m trying to think outside my box to invent new ways of engaging my students. I’m producing “projects,” “learning engagements,” “inquiries,” and “activities” that are built from borrowed ideas and devised improvements. I’m always testing out new ideas for how I can capitalize on my students’ capacities for creation, innovation and visual literacy communication.
And, I am also my own-worst enemy in the same breath, as I’ve created the current dilemma I face. I’m a hypocrite. I’m presently having an educational/moral dilemma with the time it takes students to engage in the digital HOTS, but I seem to have no objection to readily practicing them myself (see pedagogical reflection mentioned above). More so, I’m just as guilty in my personal life, as I have decided to pursue this COETAIL program on my own volition. Do I dare reduce the amount of time students spend weekly on digital HOTS, while I increase my own time engaging HOTS at home and at work?
I don’t know. I just might consider it, and this is why:
My students spend enormous amounts of time creating, designing and communicating their understanding on many of the apps I mentioned above. I tend to have issues with isolated “learning activities” that, although are conceptual, skill-based and valuable, are like separate droplets of rain that never come together into a synthesized puddle.
These isolated engagements tend to get at the heart of the unit of inquiry, but they are separate, rather than whole. And for whatever reason, being a global, synthesizing and big-picture thinker, I struggle with isolationism in unit planning. Due to my aversion towards this type of teaching style (perhaps being my own worst enemy again), I tend to create and design longer-term inquiry “projects” that require an extended process. And, with so much time invested in the process of discovering, this almost necessitates (in my opinion) some sort of product to collate their conceptual understandings with the knowledge they have discovered. It gives them an opportunity to apply the skills they have learned and celebrate their growth in the process. It’s a chance to synthesize everything they know and understand and communicate it effectively to others, which leads to our classroom’s collaborative capacity being realized. Despite these projects’ frequent transdisciplinary nature, which of course is desirable, their product creations just seem to drag on and on.
It is the celebration of their learning through creation apps to make cumulative products which is my Achilles’ heel. When it gets to this point in the process, I question whether their cognitive engagement in those concepts and skills that had been highly engaged beforehand is now eroded or put on the backburner, replaced by priorities in visual storytelling and effective communication skills. I wonder whether this is more important than direct instruction in literacy groups to students who are still learning to comprehend texts. I wonder whether more specific writing tasks at an early age might be a better investment in sowing powerful communication skills later in life.
What form of communication is more powerful now? What form of communication will be most powerful 15 years from now? What is my responsibility to my students as learners, and what is my responsibility to societal construction as a whole?
I value creativity, innovation, effective communication techniques and digital expression of understanding more than most teachers. But I also value balance. And I feel like my classroom is out of balance some weeks with how we are spending our learning time. I can’t decide what learning takes precedent over another, and I don’t know what is going to be most beneficial to my students long-term. I’m at a personal and professional reflective crossroads, and I’m littered with hesitations and questions as to whether what I’m doing is best for my students.
The metaphor I always use to describe what I do as a teacher is that of the Dutch boy who put his finger in the dike to prevent a flood. But in our profession, there is not just one hole in the dike; there are many. And for every hole we plug with one of our fingers or toes, we leave another few holes unattended.
Despite my internal conflict, maybe this is not such a big deal after all because I’m looking at it through an outdated lens. Maybe it can be attributed to the fact that this problem is arising because my lesson design thoughts never left the box in the first place. Maybe it’s because, as Prensky says, I’m still trying to teach old things in new ways. Until then, it’s about time I stopped pondering this, as I’m already over my allocated time limit set aside for this HOT blog.
Part 2 of this blog post will continue to examine synthesizing, transdisciplinary “learning engagements” with digital HOTS products. However, the focus will shift from one teacher’s discomfort zone towards data and evidence from students’ perspectives, such as:
-survey data I’ve collected from students in relation to how they view using technology in class, how they perceive time allocation in longer-term projects and to what degree using technology motivates them to learn
-examples of synthesized, transdisciplinary “learning-engagements” plans
-students’ digital products which demonstrate their understanding