I’m very lucky. I’m working in a school that is part of the Transforming Learning Everywhere Project: giving 1:1 iPad technology to all Grades 4-8 students. While I don’t teach these grades, the school that I’m at has lots of access to technology available for students to use, and after last year, I also purchased iPads and Chrome Books to use in the classroom. The technology is there, but what’s made me stop and think a lot lately, is what makes my use of it “transformative?”
Here are the many ways that my students and I are using technology in the classroom:
- To access eBooks. After catching a discussion between Karen Lirenman and Kathy Cassidy on Twitter, I downloaded the Epic app, and students love the “read aloud” option. This feature allows them to access information in non-fiction texts that not all of them are able to read yet.
- To access various materials through our Board’s Virtual Library. PebbleGo, BookFlix, and ImageQuest are all used to support our Science and Social Studies inquiries. Again, the fact that the texts can be read aloud to students, supports all learners: even those that cannot read the materials yet.
- To access materials that connect with student interests. Many of the boys in my class love Mario and Luigi, and they are always inspired to write after looking at the Mario and Luigi images on Google Images. Many of the images are also labelled, which supports the students in their writing.
- To take photographs and videos of student work. Sometimes the students take these photographs and videos, and sometimes I take them. While students are still learning to print and write, and do much of this on paper, they like to capture this work to share with others. They do so through photographs and videos. I often tweet out what we create, and then use these tweets in our daily Storify Stories to give parents a better look into our classroom environment.
- To record screencasts of students explaining their thinking. At our last PA Day, we learned about Explain Everything, and since then, we’ve been using this app a lot in the classroom. Students will take photographs of their work, and then explain the thinking behind their ideas, or expand on their ideas. This is useful in all subject areas. These screencasts are often also included in our daily Storify Stories, so that parents can see and hear this learning, and extend it at home.
- To record podcasts and radio shows of students discussing their work, expanding on their ideas, and reflecting on what they did. While we’ll often use Voice Recorder for iPad to record these podcasts, lately we’ve also been discussing our observations, thoughts, and wonderings on 105 the Hive: an Internet Radio Station. With our radio show, people can tweet us their thoughts and questions, and hopefully help us learn more.
- To support inquiry learning through the use of research. Last year, I used Pinterest a lot to bookmark relevant sites that my students could use to research inquiry questions. This year, I used Nkwiry for the first time, and I love how I don’t need an image to bookmark the site. Thanks to Brian Aspinall‘s quick response to my question about a public link option, now it’s available on Nkwiry. As time goes on, I’m hoping that my Grade 1’s and their families can add links to Nkwiry, and start curating their own resources.
- To review math skills and concepts. I’m very torn on this one. Are math games the best way to help with skill development, and if so, should they be done on the iPad? What are the benefits and/or drawbacks to doing so? As I continue to think about these questions, what I’ve decided to do is to only pick math games that allow for differentiation, and then to pair these activities with video recordings, podcasts, screencasts, and/or conferences to ensure that students are explaining their thinking and not just mindlessly working through an app. The same is true for a few word work apps that I’ve used with small groups of students on the iPads — often as a follow-up to a guided reading or a guided writing activity, and in connection with our Class Act small group lesson.
- To give parents and other educators a window into the classroom. I do this the most through our class blog. Along with offering some informational items, I also share my weekly planning minutes here and our daily class blog posts. These Daily Shoot posts, also provide follow-up activity suggestions for home extensions. I love that parents are starting to comment on these posts and share their thoughts about our day.
Looking back at what we do, I wonder what’s considered just “normal,” and what might be “transformative.” How could I bump the “normal” up to “transformative?” Does “transformative” become the new “normal” when it’s something that’s become such a regular part of the classroom environment? Maybe this is what high expectations is all about. As a Board, we talk regularly about creating a climate of high expectations for students, and I wonder if this Transforming Learning Everywhere Project further creates this type of environment for staff.
I’ve certainly spent a lot more time lately thinking about how I’m using technology and how I could use it differently. I also think about when I choose not to use technology, and why this choice may also be a good one at the time. And then I think what I’ve chosen not to use this year, whether with or without the use of technology: worksheets. Don’t get me wrong: we use a lot of paper in the classroom. We make charts together. Students write in notebooks, on large pieces of blank paper, and even on sticky notes. We write and share regularly in all subject areas. But we are doing so without worksheets. Why? Because I may not know what “transformative” looks like, but I know what I want it to mean: a learning environment where all voices are honoured, all students are eager to learn and share more, learning is meaningful and relevant, and all students have more control over the way in which they do this learning and sharing. I don’t think this can be done with a worksheet, and I do think that this is going to mean lots of deep thinking and reflection on how and why technology is used. What do you think? What does “transformative” mean to you? What might this look, sound, and feel like in a classroom environment? Whether a parent, student, educator, or administrator, I hope that you’ll share your thoughts on “transforming learning everywhere.”