My husband recently made a trip to the country of Myanmar. He make this trip annually and is gone for 1-3 weeks, depending on the work that needs to be done while he is there. Every year is the same, several weeks before the scheduled trip we begin preparations. He applies for a visa and begins to secure funds . I go through the process of making sure he has everything he needs for his stay. The last 2 or 3 days before traveling is a whirlwind. Finally, the day comes for me to drive him to the airport to say good-bye. We rise early to be at the airport by 6 a.m. I wait around for him to check luggage and get boarding passes. Then he kisses me good-bye and heads off through security. There he goes. All the preparation is over. He is off on a grand adventure, and there I am headed back home to everyday ordinary life. It is anti-climactic for me. I don’t have any reward for all the efforts. I imagine this would be what it is like for students whose efforts on a school project go unnoticed. They work and work, and then the work just stops. It is anti-climactic and unrewarding. I do all this work to help my husband because I love him and want him to be thoroughly prepared before he goes to the other side of the world. I dare say students do not have the same feeling about school projects. It is important after a big project, that student efforts are recognized and celebrated. First, because knowing there will be a celebration at the end is motivation to finish strong. Second, because the feedback they receive from the finale can help them to better future efforts. Third, because they need to be encouraged to continue to work hard on future projects.
Choice is a natural right all human beings value. It is a defining characteristic of freedom that allows us to decide who we will be. Giving students choice in their learning is important because first and foremost it gives them ownership of their learning. It sets the tone for a lifetime of learning. If student learning is dependent on the teacher, how can we expect them to continue to learn once they leave the classroom? The answer is, we can’t. If we want our students to be learners and not just students then we have to make their learning their own. The only way to do this is by increasing student engagement through student choice. It is only natural that a student will be more engaged in a lesson that they have some say in. Increasing student engagement will carry a lesson far beyond what the teacher can imagine. Students can learn as much, if not more, from their own investigation as they can from a teacher. The teacher should serve as a guide for the learning experience and not the source of all information. This will help students to see that the power to learn lies within them and not within the teacher.
In any student project two things are generally present, cooperation and collaboration. The two are often confused with one another. They are very similar in definition but there is one key difference. When people work cooperatively they work to achieve the same goal. When people work collaboratively they work together to build something. Collaboration requires cooperation, but cooperation does not require collaboration. For example, if someone is cooperating with the police in a murder investigation they provide the police with any thing they need to complete the investigation. If the person was collaborating with the police, they would be building the case with the police. Teaching students to collaborate with each other instead of just cooperating with each other requires establishing a toolbox, setting expectations, setting an example, and practice. It is important to choose tools that are age appropriate and will be productive and not distracting. Once you have tools to work with it is essential to set your expectations. If you expect students to contribute weekly, then they need to know that. They need to know that you expect them to be online and visible. Setting expectations for collaboration will help to prevent slackers and non contributors. It is also important to model collaboration. Students will notice how you work with your peers, and how you work with them. Your habits need to exemplify collaboration. Finally, it takes practice to become a good collaborator. Students will not be professionals right out of the gate. They will need your guidance and probably some pushing, but the more they do it the better they will get. In this manner collaborative wiki editing is similar to in-class group work. Students need to know what is expected of them, be given an example to follow and given a push in the right direction. There are really more similarities than differences between in class and online collaborative projects. The major differences involve cultural differences in students, tools of communication, and time zones. There will be cultural differences among students in a classroom, but the working environments will not be different. Tools of communication and time zones are probably the the most noticeable difference.
This week I have branched out and started using an RSS reader. I started using feedly.com last weekend for a class I am taking on educational technology. I have added several educational blogs to my RSS feed and it is wonderful. It is a lot easier to skim through related articles in one place than to have to search for specific topics. Also, there were articles on topics that I did not know I wanted to read about until I saw them in my feed. So many of the items in the feed are relevant to my college work, which solidifies my confidence that I am receiving an up to date education. I was able to find a post on scaffolding writing prompts that I will use in a future classroom and in the interim reading class I am taking this semester. The post was a downloadable writing prompt, but there were also links to other posts by this blogger on the same subject. I also found a blog post comparing tools for creating multimedia quizzes. This will also be helpful in the future (I am thinking flipped classroom) and in the curriculum design class I am taking this semester. I did not really comment much this week, only on the one about scaffolding, because there was not a place for comments on the comparison post. Being able to voice an opinion and add to a blogger’s post is so beneficial. I have gotten a lot out of just reading comments of other readers. I made some comments last week, and even though I did not receive any responses I hope they were beneficial and interesting to those who read them.
Team Based Learning is a type of cooperative teaching method that works very, especially in large class settings. It takes the emphasis off of the lecture and individual learning and makes learning social. Students become dependent on each other so it is harder for any one student to simply do the minimum to get by. In Team Based Learning the teacher functions as a facilitator. They strategically organize students into teams. They pose questions that require research and collaboration. They also offer mini lectures to answer questions and to add to or clarify the research done by students. The student must come to class prepared to contribute to the tasks of the group. They must be willing to collaborate and make sure they are able to contribute. They must research and answer the questions and be able to validate their answer. Typically the students are asked to prepare by individual means before the first day of class. When they arrive in class they take a quiz individually first. They are then placed in their groups and take the quiz as a group. A popular method for this is to use scratch cards. This enables the students to grade themselves and to keep researching until they get the correct answer. The obvious obstacle to overcome is slackers in the group. However, if the teacher allows the system to work, slackers will be corrected by the group. Peer feedback is more effective than teacher feedback any day. If peers think a student should show up more and participate more that student is more likely to do so, leading to higher levels of engagement across the board.
The thought of teaching digital natives can be a scary one. Most kids in the typical classroom across America are more familiar with and more comfortable learning in a digital world than the teacher. So how do you teach someone to use tech that knows more than you? You don’t. You let them teach you. WHAT!?? You read that correctly; they teach you. As amazing as it may sound this type of set up really does work. Marc Prensky in his Book Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning discusses a partnering approach to teaching. In this book you learn the teacher’s role in the education process, the students role and how to incorporate technology. The thought of the student taking a teaching role in the education process may seem out there, but once you read Prensky’s book it makes total sense. Have you ever heard someone say ,” I learned more preparing to teach that lesson than I would have sitting through it.” That is the premise behind partnering. Prensky does an excellent job describing the different roles, scenarios, and processes involved in moving a classroom to a partnered one. Even if this is the first time you have heard the term partnering this book can guide you to a better understanding and even move you in the direction of a partnered classroom.
Word association is mechanism I use to memorize word definitions. This week when I was studying constructivism the word association I made was that of a construction zone. As a teacher we have to provide the tools our students need to construct their own learning. The tools we give are in the form of experience. Each experience a child has enables them to build up their knowledge base. The bigger their knowledge base the better prepared they are for the real world. Experience is not the only tool they need. To truly learn from an experience a student needs to be able to reflect on that experience. Reflection connects experience to previous knowledge and previous knowledge to new knowledge. These tools extend way past the school years. If a student is used to learning from their experiences, then when they get out of school they are not dependent on someone else to impart knowledge to them.