Wow. What an incredible three days. I feel like Dorothy, caught up in a #teachnado, brought to Oz, and then dropped back into Kansas. Like that young lady, I hope to bring the lessons I learned in that far-off land home to share. I hope you are ready.
Day 3 focused on technology pedagogies and I am so glad it did. It is easy for those of us who are technologically inclined to get excited about the newest gadgets, tools, and toys but, as teachers, we have to remember that the pedagogy must come first. It’s about how the tools can support the learning, not vice versa.
My morning session was led by Reuben Hoffman and was called Discussion Strategies for the Modern Classroom. Reuben was a terrific teacher who started his session by having us fill out a Google form telling him a little bit about ourselves, displaying the responses on the screen (without our names showing), and discussing the results. Everyone got a chance to speak and participate. Only later did he let us in on the fact that he was in fact modeling one way to facilitate a classroom discussion.
Modern technologies have given us the opportunity to overcome many of the hurdles that can cause problems for in class discussions. Properly structured, they give all students the chance to participate and the time to reflect on what they want to say before they say it.
There are three main points to consider in creating successful discussions.
1. Build a classroom community. If your students feel connected, they are more likely to buy in and participate. Online technology can help you do this even outside school hours. You can choose from a number of options such as a Facebook fan page, a class blog, or an LMS. What is important is that you use it to create a feeling of connectedness with your students. You can celebrate their achievements, create teasers for upcoming classroom events, or post reminders for assignment due dates. The online forum becomes an extension of the positive classroom community we are all trying to create every day.
2. Extend the discussion beyond the school day and the outside the classroom walls. Online discussions can take place any time of day. The 24/7 availability means all students can participate, have adequate time to reflect before responding, and can see and comment on the ideas of their peers. The online discussion can also take place during class if you have time for students to work on it. Discussion prompts can take many forms. For example, you can have students answer reflective questions or give feedback to other students on a presentation. Schoology was recommended as a good platform for this type of discussion for middle and high school students, while Edmodo was suggested for elementary school children.
3. Engage the whole class. (This is what Reuben did at the beginning of our session.) It is important to bring all the students into the conversation. They may feel that what they have to say is not important or that the other students in the class don’t care about them so there is no reason for them to speak up. As teachers, we need to combat these feelings and empower all learners to express themselves. For example, if we collect information via a Google form or Socrative, we can recognize students who don’t usually speak out in class when we see they have provided a good answer.
I believe that very soon, most classes (perhaps not kindergarten or first grade) will include some kind of online discussions. It behooves us to start implementing these strategies now to ensure those discussions are successful. As an elementary media specialist, I hope to encourage at least my fifth grade teachers to start using some of these ideas this fall.
One other great thing I learned about at this session: I-nigma Reader. Reuben’s students bring their own devices to school. He provides a url and a QR code to his students so they can use whichever they prefer to go online for the day’s activities. He recommended I-nigma and it is hands down the best QR code scanner I have ever used. Did I mention that it is also free?
The lunches at Rock Star camp are two hours long to provide for networking and time to relax, but there are often informal sessions where people get together to learn more about a particular topic of interest. Adina Sullivan was planning on doing a mini-session about Thinglink, and I asked her if she wanted any help, since I had some student work samples and many resources I could share. She put me in charge of the session! It went so well and I had so much fun I have definitely made up my mind to apply as a presenter next year.
I ended my CUE Rock Star experience the way I began, in Holly Clark‘s classroom. This time, I was learning about Collaboration 3.0, how to collaborate with other classes across the country and around the world.
One way to have students collaborate in class is use the Space Race feature of Socrative with students working in pairs. One person is in charge of putting in the answer while the other looks things up online. The answers shouldn’t be so obvious that a simple Google search will uncover them; that way the team members will need to discuss the answer and figure it out together.
If you want to collaborate with other classrooms, though, you need to find them first. The best and easiest way to find other teachers who want to work with you is to be on Twitter. Holly shared a number of strategies, including key people and hashtags to follow. You can find the list on her presentation, which I have linked above.
Once you have found students outside your school to join forces with, there are many ways to collaborate, including Mystery Skypes (or Mystery Animal, Mystery Planet, Mystery President, etc.), the 100 Word Challenge, in which even kindergarteners can participate, quad blogging, writing stories with other students using Google Drive, and Google Docs Story Builder. Holly even suggested a way to share with classes in time zones far removed from yours: YouTube videos. Classes can video themselves, post the videos on YouTube, and when the other class has seen them, they can reply with a video of their own. Genius! There are many things we do every day that could be recorded and shared so students could find out if children in other places learn to do them in the same way. What do British students learn about the American Revolution? Why not ask them?
Finally, Holly told us about Subtext, a fantastic iPad app for collaborative reading. Students and teachers can read a text together, highlight it, and comment on it. The teacher can embed discussion prompts, polls, and notes. It is very exciting. If we have any classes this year that can get to 1:1 between the school iPads and the devices brought from home, I hope that they will use this app.
My biggest takeaway from Holly’s session, however, wasn’t any of these fabulous ideas. It was the discussion we had about what collaboration is and what it is not. Collaboration is not about group projects where each student has a role, everybody does his or her part, they put it together at the end, and the project is done. Those students are working on the same project, but they are not working together. Collaboration is about students putting their ideas together to make a better product. Sometimes the teacher just needs to step aside and let the kids work things out. It can be noisy and messy, but in the end, it’s worth it.
I have had a wonderful three days (well, six, if you count Rock Star Tahoe) at CUE Rock Star Teacher camp. I have learned so much and met so many wonderful educators. My resource tool belt is overflowing and I have lots of new friends.
Everyone involved with Rock Star did a fantastic job. The presenters were terrific during their sessions but they were equally terrific and open at lunch, sharing and helping people with Twitter, Google Forms, and much more. The people representing the host schools were constantly checking to make sure the internet was working and that we all had what we needed.
A special thank you to Adina for allowing me to help you out during your Thinglink session. I am so glad we connected and I look forward to learning much more from you in the future.
I can’t wait until I get to do it all over again next summer. Whether I am accepted as a presenter or not, I’ll be there. It was too great an experience to miss.