The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) works not only to ensure that technology is an integral part of the classroom experience, but also “strives to ensure that technology improves learning and teaching to help more students achieve their full potential.”
As a middle school teacher of language arts / social studies interdisciplinary studies in a school currently in our second year of a one-to-one laptop program, I can begin to take a look at how the teaching and learning of my students fit into the National Educational Standards for Students. Certainly, the third strand of the standards, Research and Information Fluency, is an area that receives a lot of attention in each of our units of study. Students use search engines to find information about specific content related topics as well as utilize pre-determined websites that offer information relevant to the unit. Within this standard, it is imperative for students to gain experience and competency in evaluating web resources, discerning fact from opinion, and using information in the right ways for the right purposes.
The second strand, Communication and Collaboration, is also embedded into our existing curriculum. Students are using email, chat functions, and Google Docs to collaborate in a variety of ways. For example, in a collaborative project focusing on culture, students researched information regarding a cultural aspect of the Maasai people of Africa. Students became experts in their particular cultural area by sharing and receiving researched information via Google Docs. Within their cultural group, they were responsible for their cultural area and served as the information provider for their team. The end result was a PhotoStory presentation including researched photos and narration of each cultural area. These presentations were then shown in class to teach much of the unit content. This is just one example. Each of our units contain major components requiring collaboration with an end product aimed at a specific audience for a specific purpose.
My colleagues and I recently attended a Jamie McKenzie conference in Hong Kong which focused on the third strand, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making. At this conference, we participated in learning experiences that required using the internet to gather information to answer questions that required high levels of thinking. Following the conference, my team designed an activity that asked the question “What is courage?” Students were then directed to online resources such as dictionaries, thesauruses, quotes, song lyrics and photos that they then used to formulate their answer to the question. We then segued into our unit on refugees by posing the question, “Are refugees courageous?” Not only did this unit require students to utilize a number of web resources that may have never occurred to them to use, it made it clear to them how important it is to have material to support a particular position. The design of the activity also required the students to “go deep” and really examine the question and use those critical thinking skills to formulate their response.
The sixth strand in the standards, Technology Operations and Concepts, is one that students are developing on their own. As a seasoned educator of more than twenty years, I find that my students, who were born into this digital age, are often better at “understanding technology concepts, systems, and operations” than their teacher. At first, this made me feel inadequate. Now, I’m taking advantage of the “tech savvy-ness” of my students and they are teaching me and other students so much. Before I seek assistance from our IT department, I always poll my students first. We usually find solutions before we have to seek help outside of the classroom. It is a different approach, and I had to give up a lot of control. Now I see this as a no-brainer. Kids teaching kids builds trust in our learning community and enables students to gain self-confidence and pride within themselves.
Creativity and Innovation is the first strand in the standards. The Revised or New Bloom’s Taxonmy has “creating” as the highest tier in the hierarchy. Perhaps this is the most challenging strand of all, as it requires students to operate at the highest level of thinking. While each of our units have at least one end product that students are required to complete, there is a need to allow students to take more ownership in the design and creation of these projects. For the first time this year, in a school-wide initiative, our students are embarking on using Edublog to design a digital portfolio with their parents and future teachers as their audience. It is our intention to step back and allow students as much freedom as possible, within the parameters of solid digital citizenship, to create innovative ways to chronicle their learning for the year.
Digital Citizenship…last in the post, but certainly not the least. On the contrary, I believe that this is one of the most important strands in the standards. A colleague of mine recently directed my attention to a digital citizenship curriculum out of Harvard University Graduate School of Education. As I mentioned earlier, we are using Edublog for student digital portfolios this year and I, along with many of my colleagues, are aware of the importance of navigating web spaces in safe and ethical ways. We are currently designing our approach to this strand, so expect a blog devoted entirely to digital citizenship next week.