One student saddles up to my desk and states, “I actually met an adult this weekend who’s heard of TED talks…” Although not common around here, they do exist.
As soon as they log onto their computers, the same screen pops up all over the room, Symbaloo & our wiki. Most students have two homepages that automatically come up. The tools they most frequently use are loaded into their Symbaloo page. All of our assignments are found on our class wiki.
For the first five or ten minutes, students chat with one another. Although I’ve noticed this past week, that the conversations are different. Rather than revolving around the weekend, or who said something ridiculous in the previous class, I overhear snippets of, “let me see what you’re working on.” “Wow, is that ever cool.” “How’d you do that?”
My students are currently working on “Tell me a story in five different ways.” An adaptation of Alan Levine’s 50 ways to tell a story. They need to tell me the same story using 5 different technology tools. My students have been given a list of 16, but some have chosen to try tools outside of this, as well. In addition, they have to give attribution to the pictures used, and include a write-up stating, in their opinion, what worked well, and not so well, for their story.
It’s been interesting to see the tools that some students love, such as Tikatok, others strongly dislike. And often it’s for the same reason. The tools listed have a range of difficulty. However, nobody has been brave enough to try a Voicethread, yet. I’ve also introduced my students to tools such as Tom’s Planner and 30 boxes to help them organize their lives.
Once the initial period of observation dies down, students make their way to their own computer, pull up the program they’re working on, and put in their ear buds or headphones. At any given time, when I look up from my desk, I’ll see a number of heads bobbing to different beats. A silence slowly descends upon the class.
It’s this silence that always catches my attention. To be honest, it catches me off guard. It’s the silence of engagement. I think some of the silence that fill our classrooms is not good. It’s an indication of some of the worst things that are happening in education. It’s the silence of compliance or boredom, but not learning deeply or passionately. But that is not the case here. I can see every student’s screen, and I see students who are deeply engaged in the projects at hand.
I’ve had to adapt to my role as a tech teacher. Some days they don’t need me, other times I’ll spend the entire class troubleshooting. The one thing I don’t want to be is the teacher who sits at my desk, and doesn’t interact with my students. Most of us know, or have heard stories, of teachers who take their class to the lab, and then spend the week checking the latest sports news, oblivious to what their students are doing. I purposely spend the first ten minutes taking a look at their work. Not to check up on them, but because I love their creativity. And they love to show it off.
At the same time, I don’t want to hover over them all class. It interrupts them. And I find if I’m not constantly around, they’re more likely to ask a peer for help, or figure it out themselves. I prefer to have my students rely on me only if there’s no other “expert” who can help. After all, I’m not going with them after they graduate.
About three weeks into the semester, I had a new student join. Her first day of class, she sat down at a computer, logged on and I didn’t hear from her all class. Instead, I spent the class trouble-shooting for a number of other students. It didn’t occur to me, until much later, that I hadn’t spoken to her. Truth is, she didn’t need me to. I had taught her last semester. She knew to go to the wiki, pulled up the information and got started.
The 20 level of this course is designed entirely around open-source software. I find using open-source programs allows my students greater access to these tools, rather than programs that are only available on our computers at school. Additionally, because they’re easily accessible, my students tend to quickly use these tools for assignments in other classes.
A second reason I use open-source, is that many of my students believe that if you haven’t paid big money for technology, it must not be any good. They are continuously surprised by the quality of on-line programs. Even some of my Adobe aficionados have come to appreciate the quality open-source offers.
Each of my students has their own WordPress blog. Many are excited to publish their content for the world to see. In fact, I’m surprised at how much my students love to blog. Almost weekly they’re given a prompt, an article, or a video to respond to. But many of my students blog in addition to this, as well. It allows me to see into their worlds, something that’s an incredible privilege.
During the next two weeks, my students are starting the Flat Classroom Project. They are incredibly excited. My students love doing things that few of their peers around here are doing. And more so, they love the idea of collaborating with people around the world. When you grow up in Moose Jaw, almost anywhere else in the world is more exotic than here. When I explained that they will be collaborating with students located around the world, and that none of the members of their team will be in our classroom, they had looks of excitement and intimidation. I’d like to be able to evoke that response in my students more often. Excitement towards their work, and a bit of intimidation at the challenge ahead.
This next week we’ll also be starting video production. About half of my students have never shot or edited a video before. Of the other half, only 4 or 5 have put together a video from 5 or 6 feeds, even fewer on macs. For some students, the next couple of weeks will have a steep learning curve, while others will be the student “experts” who will teach their peers.
We’re starting with something fun. Dean Shareski highlighted on his blog, a few weeks back, doing something in teaching for the joy of it. In this class we have that luxury. I showed my students this video, and of course, they loved it.
The talent required for shooting it is minimal, although I think my students will be surprised at how much easier it looks than it is. I’m pretty sure the students in the video didn’t sit down and record without previously discussing how it would look, or without practicing it at least once. Although, I could be wrong.
Our midterm report cards are slated for next week; however, there is no mid-term mark for this class. While my students must attempt every assignment, they will not be marked on every one. Instead, at the end of the semester, they will pick their assignments, which are currently housed in a Livebinders. If you’ve never seen a Livebinder, they are the bomb. At some point, I’d like all of my classes to store their work in Livebinders. With more and more of my student’s assignments being digital, it seems to be the way my classes are going. Maybe next year.
My students know that they will choose about 3/4 of their assignments to be assessed. I’ve chosen to do it this way so that my students feel the freedom to play and to fail. Perfectionists have a hard time playing when they fear their mark hangs in the balance. And many of my students are intimidated by technology. So this allows the best of both worlds. It allows them the freedom to take chances and to have a voice in their assessment. Both elements of 21st Century learning.