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.