This past year, I had the benefit of being both a student and a teacher. I experienced the pressures of meeting someone else’s expectations, the demands of keeping up with assignments, and the challenge of organizing my own learning. At the same time, I continued working with other teachers who suddenly found themselves in the exact same situation but as my student. The merger of these two worlds – as well as significant research into cognitive science, adult learning, and professional development – has resulted in a complete redesign of my iPads in the Elementary Classroom workshop for this summer.
Though I have led this workshop more times than I can count over the past few years, 2016 promises to be completely different. Here’s why:
Learning About What You Don’t Know
None of us experienced elementary school with iPads. We have no idea what it feels like to be a young learner with this technology or in this type of environment. Many of us remember school as a structured, teacher-led experience requiring us to memorize, repeat, and behave ourselves. From a cognitive perspective, learning occurs when we build new patterns from prior knowledge. This becomes difficult when we have nothing on which to construct new understandings.
This summer, workshop participants are going to be encouraged to act the age of their kids. They are going to be elementary students in my classroom and engage in activities that will allow them to experience this new type of learning environment. We are going to use Popplet to complete visible thinking routines and engage in deep inquiry. With Explain Everything, we are going to tell stories, explain problems, and practice reading fluency. Throughout the workshop, we will curate, reflect, and share using SeeSaw as a digital portfolio. After three days, hopefully teachers will start to know more because they will have experiences on which to build new ideas.
Teachers (& Students) Need to be Comfortable
After extensive research into technology integration and adult learning, it became apparent that teacher comfort needed to become more of a priority. Teachers who feel comfortable with the tools will be more likely to use them in creative ways, and the only way to accomplish this is through repeated application and use.
At EdTechTeacher, we have a saying that “all the good apps fit on one screen.” This summer, we are going to only use about half of a screen. While excellent apps do exist, I have decided that I can do just about everything with Book Creator and Explain Everything. Yes, we will create books and screencasts, but we will also create posters, collages, puppet shows, and drawings. With those two apps, combined with Google Drive, we will collaborate, explore the potential to work with multimedia guide books, and build learning centers for students.
Leveraging a Constructivist Mindset
Multiple studies have established a correlation between a constructivist mindset and successful use of technology in the classroom. Teachers who possess an inherent belief in student-centered, active learning tend to use technology in more creative ways. Additionally, though all teachers report feeling pressure from administrators, parents, other colleagues, state mandates, common curriculum, and even students, the most successful ones cite their own positive attitudes and beliefs as the key to their success.
Shifting from a more traditional, teacher-led environment to a student-centered one is HARD! First, most teachers never experienced this as learners. Next, they may not be comfortable with facilitating this practice. To mitigate these challenges, we are going to use the Design Thinking framework to scaffold instruction. Not only will participants experience Design Thinking as students, but they will also explore how it might support their own instructional decision making
Letting Go of Control
One of the challenges with student-centered learning is giving up the control and encouraging students to guide the process. As teachers, this feels disorienting. We wonder how we can ensure that students are gaining the skills that they need as well as how to keep them on task, particularly with elementary students.
Though student response platforms such as Nearpod and Formative are typically viewed as formative assessment tools, we will explore the potential for using them to guide students through inquiry projects, design research stations, and assess progress while independently completing tasks. By structuring aspects of the process, teachers will experience the balance of voice and choice and accountability. With careful planning, young students can engage in deep meaningful work, and teachers can ensure that they are gaining the fundamental skills that they need.
Voice and Choice
Technology allows students to control pace, space, and place. Students (whether elementary aged or teacher aged) learn in different ways and at different speeds. They need to be able to choose the learning environment that best supports them as well as the tools that allow them to engage with content and demonstrate their learning. To encourage students of all ages to take ownership of their learning process, they need voice and choice.
This summer, participants will have lots of freedom to choose their learning pathway. They will be encouraged to take advantage of the accessibility features of the device, to choose how they want to represent their learning, and to work through scaffolded challenges designed to provide hands-on opportunities that meet them at their level. By presenting clearly defined learning objectives and tasks, teachers will be able to experience what it feels like to choose how they want to share their learning within a structured, student-centered environment. Hopefully, by the end of the three days, my students will have new experiences on which to base their instruction next year.
If you want to come learn with me, I’ll be in Atlanta and Boston this summer!
Featured Image via Unsplash