A Platform for Student Voice: My Inspiring Idea presented at the Google Teacher Academy

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At the Google Teacher Academy, I was selected to share an “Inspiring Idea” with the group. It was with great honor that I shared my passion with the cohort; Utilizing Technology to Connect Students, Enabling Them to Share Their Voice with the World.  (Student names have been changed)

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I smiled at Mr. Noonan through the screen of our shared Google Hangout as he read the next question for debate. Our students, standing on opposite sides of the globe, nervously listened to him speak as they sheepishly smiled at one another. Noonan began, “Did Man invent God as a reason to exist? Sylvia,” he added, “you may go first.”

Sylvia, Noonan’s student from Sweden, moved a bit closer to the computer so her words and body language were evident to both classes. She greeted Michael, my student in Iowa who waved backed, poised to debate with Sylvia. Sylvia was a top student in Noonan’s class; a skilled speaker with great intellect. But, in Iowa, my student Michael was the student body president, a thespian, a leader in our school who possessed skill and knowledge to match that of Sylvia. Sylvia began, arguing that God was not real, citing multiple personal experiences, backing them up with the philosophical thinking of Sartre and Kierkegaard; she spoke with ease. And although I was impressed, I was excited for Michael to counter, I knew that my student had experience in debate, but also the confidence and charisma to engage an audience.

Sylvia recapped her points and Michael moved towards the screen. The class smiled knowing that they were going to witness a master student weave his experiences as a preacher’s son, with his vast theology knowledge to argue against Sylvia.

Michael opened his mouth to speak and out tumbled the word, “Sorry….. I guess I disagree.”

I shifted in my seat from the uncomfortableness of the moment. The word “Sorry” ringing through my head! This was not the Michael I knew. His struggle continued; his voice weakened. I clenched my fist, digging my nails into my palm, wanting to bail Michael out of an awkward moment, but knowing I shouldn’t. As his time came to an end, he once again apologized for his opinion and quickly sat down. The bell rang; we were all saved.

With advances in technology, our world is shrinking. And while we want our students to contribute to the sea of global communication that they are immersed in, that one example shined a light onto what was missing in my teaching. From that point forward, I made it my priority to equip all students with the skills necessary to communicate effectively through various modes while maintaining their own identity. Realizing that their truth and opinion is just as strong and “right” as another person’s truth. Growing up in Iowa helped shaped them into who they were today and they should be proud they experienced bonfires and fireflies, playing with cousins in a hayloft, or the humidity that made bugs stick to their legs in the summer.

Through a connection on Twitter, I had met John Noonan, a philosophy teacher at an IB school in Sweden, which was comprised with mostly diplomat’s children from around the world. In Iowa, I had a homogeneous makeup of white, middle-class, Christian students who had connected with students around the state and nation but not globally.

We designed a unit around Albert Camus’ The Stranger. Co-teaching, John would focus on existentialism and other philosophies and I would apply the different lenses to the literature and poetry we were reading. Google hangouts and Google docs allowed for the real-time collaboration necessary to not only increase student understanding on a difficult concepts, but the shared document between the two classes served as a backchannel during the lectures; allowing us to view student thinking,misconceptions or questions, and to provide a common place for collective learning. When the planned hangouts were completed, the students urged us to continue the collaboration.

Noonan and I paired the students for a collaborative debate/presentation, using digital means to cross the global divide and broaden knowledge. Students once again turned to GAFE because of the collaborative nature, creative possibilities and ease that were needed to connect and communicate. What we didn’t expect to happen was the out-of-class friendships that were built. Our students started using google chat and hangouts to work on their projects, and also build relationships with their new classmates. They soon realized that they had more in common than different and what started as an off-the-cuff remark of “We want to go to Sweden to meet our friends” turned into a reality. In September the students approached the school board for approval for their international trip. We were immediately approved and began raising money, acquiring passports, and determining schedules and lodging.  In the fall we were in Iowa reading Hamlet,,, later that spring we were standing in Hamlet’s castle.

Just because something is difficult to measure on standardized tests does not mean that it is not important to teach. Communication is changing as rapidly as technology, and because of this, we need students to be able to communicate effectively, advocate for themselves and others and realize the importance of maintaining their identity. Although this connection was a springboard for an international learning experience; connecting, collaborating and creating beyond the four walls of the school building increases engagement, is easily replicated, and can provide a platform for students to share their voice!

Authentic Intellectual Work: Technology Use to Amplify Construction of Knowledge

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AIW: Technology Use within the AIW Framework               Post #2

A subsequent post in relation to Promoting AIW

Criteria 1: Construction of Knowledge

A focus on cognitive complexity, teaching for understanding, which in turn increases intellectual rigor for students. Avoiding mere replication of  given information, Construction of Knowledge in task design and instruction presses students to organize, interpret, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate information addressing concepts, themes, theories, or issues.

Inclusion of technology within educational design provides opportunities, access to tools, and a multitude of resources to aid in students’ own Construction of Knowledge. Traditional recall of information, recitation of definitions and rules, or application of previously learned procedures lacks engagement with the information which is necessary for transformation and meaningful demonstration of learning.  The following lists brief examples followed by tools.

Organize – Example- Identifying Structure of Text: When identifying structure associated with particular genres in literature, students determine qualities particular to each and justify author’s genre choice in relation to intended meaning. Once agreement is achieved on identifiers for specific genres student construct their own knowledge by organizing pieces of texts from a multitude of areas.  Tools: google doc/drawing, padlet, pinterest, instagram, hashtags & twitter, tables, bubbl.us, exploreatree 

Analyze – Example – Research Skills: An essential set of skills students need to master is navigation through the sea of resources available online and how to discern amongst them to identify reliable and relevant resources. After modeling and some practice through gradual release of responsibility, students locate sources and analyze them through a careful lens. Using annotation tools, students are able to identify, analyze, express and justify what make a source reliable and relevant. Bonus, my collection of MLA resources to aid in an activity like this – HERE    Tools: Google Docs, Jing, Diigo, Awesome Screenshot, Sharedcopy

Interpret – Example – Point of View: Identifying point of view from a text, image, video clip, etc. contributes to the understanding of the author’s intended message. Consider the topic of War. When constructing knowledge from a given source, careful readers use a variety of methods to help make sense of the message. Identifying point of view, time, location, etc. paints a clearer picture in the minds of students. Which military side is this vantage point? Is it in the moment or a reflection years later? Is the message from a soldier, General, parent, sibling? A student constructs their own knowledge of a concept or theme by creating a message from a different vantage point than the given piece. Technology provides students many different options to transform and demonstrate their understanding. Videos, cartoons, comics, posters, podcasts, are all options students could use during creation.                       Tools:  Multimedia productions – Youtube, Podcast, fodey.com (Newspaper maker), Smore, Stripgenerator, iBook Author, Bookemon

Evaluate/synthesize – google presentation, screencast, prezi, powtoon, haiku deck, slide share, blogging

iPad Apps for the Elementary Classroom

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As a mother of two elementary students, finding engaging and user-friendly apps for the ipad is a MUST in our household. Oh, did I happen to mention, I prefer the FREE apps as well!

The link attached to the image above will take you to my Smore flyer I created for training purposes. These are a few of the favorite apps of the moment that meet the following criteria:

  1. Fun, will they hold the attention spans of my children? or will they be looking for a different app in an hour?
  2. Easy to use independently at the elementary level
  3. Aligned to teacher goals, objectives, and/or Common Core
  4. Cost Effective, and in this case, they are all free

Enjoy!