This school year, there are three classes of fourth graders at our school. We have 60 students total, all are English Language Learners ranging from level 2 to advanced/Fully English Proficient based on the California English Language Development Test. We have two students who are newcomers at level one, twelve are at level two, about 24 are intermediate, level 3, students and 22 students scored at the level 4 or 5 or have been re-designated as “Fully English Proficient” based on CELDT levels and their performance on California state STAR tests.
We have high expectations for our students and use a variety of strategies to convey academic vocabulary and language. Our goal is for our students to be successful in middle and high school and understand the opportunities they will have if they pursue education beyond high school, whether or not that education comes in the form of a four-year university model. Our days feel focused on math, language arts and intervention to catch students up to grade level standards in language arts. In this schedule, we often find that science and social studies instruction fall by the wayside unless we are very intentional about making time for these subjects.
Over the past two years the three of us have been teaching together, we have noticed the high level of interest our students show when we do make time to teach science. But each of us has a different area of strength in teaching science. One of us excels at teaching academic vocabulary. She has taken on a note-booking project in which students learn to take notes in a special science journal and they also make diagrams and illustrate science concepts. Another teacher does well with teaching science through demonstrations and hands on activities and even using her skills as a former art teacher to help students draw sketches of science concepts, so she has taken on that aspect of our science instruction. I have a background in teaching students how to use computers and with using online resources such as science simulation activities to reinforce science concepts. We decided it would be beneficial to all the students if we organized a rotation for all our fourth grade classes to work with each of us.
We discussed the types of technology skills our kids would need to feel confident and do well on the new CCSS online assessments. We wanted to ensure students mastered logging on to our new computer lab computers using their own ID and Password, which is new for them this year. We also wanted them to write using the computers and navigate the Internet as much as possible without wasting time searching for learning websites on their own. I took these goals and reflected on current available technologies that would help us meet them.
I first considered how I could best organize resources so students would quickly focus on and find the online simulation activities. I wanted a way to quickly direct them to the activities and I wanted a way to document students’ thinking and learning from those activities. I also thought it would be great to include a component of Social Media and organize activities that encourage online collaboration. Using Social Media in the context of our classroom would allow kids to explore social media with my supervision and give us a reason to discuss appropriate use of social media.
I decided on Edmodo as the central web resource I would use. In Edmodo I set up a group for my students to join. Next I set up folders in which I set up links to access the online science simulations and videos I wanted the students to view. I experimented with setting up polls that get students engaged with each other. I set up simple quizzes, both multiple choice and short answer, to give all of us a chance to see how well they remembered key concepts. Although I cannot say that every moment of this project has made me feel like a Master teacher, I was impressed by how easily our students took to the program, requiring minimal guidance to set up their accounts and navigate into the site once we got rolling. My goal, now that the project is underway, is to learn how to set up a discussion board and encourage students to write more than the current “hi” and “wazzup” that they are currently posting to each other. They are just beginning to understand that I am reading and moderating everything they post in the forums.
As I work with the students it is clear that there are basic skills they must learn such as how to make capital letters and other word processing skills to be ready to produce other kinds of writing. Some students have been much more willing to write in the Edmodo forum than they are in a pencil and paper assignment, but their poor spelling and grammar skills show up in glaring fashion. My initial assumption is, that this lack of accuracy in writing is why they are not confident in pencil and paper assignments.
Despite these challenges student buy in for interacting in the Edmodo program is huge. They like the social media feeling of being connected to their peers. They like the color scheme of Edmodo that makes them think they are using Facebook, with its similar blue rectangular elements format. Students like to receive badges, so I have invented a few more of them to award. About ten students went home after we set up our accounts, logged in and figured out how to change their profile pictures. I can see that my challenge will be to make logging in to Edmodo interesting for students and finding ways to allow students to interact, while keeping our primary focus on the science concepts we want them to understand.
A teacher challenge is to help my co teachers embrace the educational value of the social media aspects of the forum. One teacher is concerned and wondering whether Social Media interaction has any educational value. I believe it does, because it increases student engagement and also gives us a chance to discuss with students the right ways to interact with classmates and friends in social media. I appreciate the collegial challenge to my work as it makes it clear to me that I must continue to reflect on my praxis and refine my thinking in that area.
As I move forward, my desire is to explore, identify and try out authoring apps that work in Edmodo so my students can be creators of evidence of their learning. I did find an app for traditional Word Processing that I added to Edmodo for the students. My next steps will be to embed traditional word processing and keyboarding instruction into our coming unit on weathering and erosion. But I also want the students to create visual presentations and perhaps video/audio that demonstrate their growing understanding of subjects. I am searching for apps that will allow us to use photos, video, audio and drawing for more creative representations of our learning.
It is probably obvious that sending elementary students off on an Internet search is not a really good use of class time. First of all, a student on an Internet search will get links for millions of websites. Rocks and Minerals, the topic we were studying at the time of this post in April 2012, got 3,670,000 links at the time of my search!
I regularly search for appropriate websites and then use links on my class website to direct my students to them. What are some guidelines for choosing appropriate websites for students? I ask myself the following questions as I review websites for use by my students:
- Is this website readable by my students?
- Is the content appealing and engaging without too much advertising?
- If there are interactive activities (aka games) are they educational or just distracting?
- Is the information accurate and from a reliable source?
- Do the activities work on the computers where students will be using them?
- Will the activities require me to provide a lot of assistance to the students or can they figure things out by themselves, or with a peer helper?
Teachers don’t have to do all the work of previewing sites on their own, thanks to other educators who have begun the vetting process for them. I use some of the following websites when I search for Interactive learning games and other online research resources for my students.
This BBC site offers some of my favorite science experiment simulations.
At this holiday I am filled with gratitude for the many blessings my family and I have received through the past year. We are blessed with each others loyalty, love and friendship. We are blessed with a home, employment and food. It is important to me to really live that gratitude every day as I share my gifts and talents with others. My work as a classroom teacher fills me daily with blessings of student understanding and progress. My work also gives me a chance each day to feel humbled by new challenges, and humbled by the blossoming of young minds in ways I often cannot take credit for, but am blessed to witness. Continue reading
Subtitle: Geometry in the Real World
Geometric figures and concepts such as lines, line segments, rays, right angles, and parallel are difficult for my fourth grade students to recall. Students have difficulty with measurement problems. They use measurement tools incorrectly and do not have a basic sense of centimeters, inches, meters, feet, yards. I wanted my students to get more experience with real measurement, and develop a sense of why it is important to measure correctly in the real world. I decided to invite my sister, Nelda Braver, who is a professional architect, to visit our class. She generously agreed to come show my students some of her work, and some of the tools she used back before computers were used to generate design drawings. Continue reading
An experiment in flipping a math lesson. Most of my students would not be able to access flipped content at home, but they would be able to preview and review class lessons at school on our classroom computers or in the computer lab.
It’s worth a little test drive! Continue reading
Games are one way to provide math practice to students. I have used math games for about sixteen years with students. In the past, these games were applications installed on our computers, but today, there are many games available on the Internet that will allow your students a chance to practice their math skills. In the past, I have cringed at some games either because they were boring drill and kill games, or because they were so flashy that students enjoyed getting wrong answers to see what kind of explosion would happen on the screen. Today however as I observe students playing, I believe that designers are doing a much better job of encouraging the conceptual understanding of math, while also giving students a fun way to practice and master important math skills. Continue reading
Though there may be some positive outcomes from connecting with your students online, there are also hazards. Every teacher should consider the potential unintended consequences carefully, before becoming online “friends” with any student. I offer one warning and three suggestions asking you to keep in mind that this blog represents my own professional research, experience and opinion. Teachers should be aware of their district’s policies on employee and student Internet Use.
Facebook is an example of a popular website for social networking. Many high school students are regular users, and since 2009, many other Americans also discovered the site. The site provides a place to connect and share information and photos with relatives and friends. Though the age limit for Facebook use is 14 years, many students in the elementary grades have set up accounts for themselves. Parents should be aware of their child(ren)’s Internet use and have ongoing conversations with them about Internet Safety, privacy, kind and courteous online conversations (netiquette) and digital reputation creation and maintenance.
But this post is meant to address issues teachers face as they consider the use of Facebook or similar social networking sites with students. (more…)