Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Questions, Questions, Questions

Today marks the opening of our third annual #cyberpd event. This year we are discussing the book Who Owns the Learning by Alan November.


The first chapter gives us a definition of a digital learning farm. According to Alan November, a digital learning farm is based on the idea that in the past children provided much needed help around the farm by doing jobs that they were capable of doing. Mr. November says that this filled a need in the children - the need to be of value or the need to be needed. A digital learning farm is set up in schools to give students jobs that need to be done and that they are capable of doing. The jobs are often using digital tools and are focused on supporting the learning of others.  Chapter 2 focuses on one of the jobs possible in a digital learning farm - the student as tutorial designer. The two chapters for this week left me filled with questions so I thought I would organize this post around them.

Question 1: Are there more good examples out there of students/teachers solving a problem or filling a need in their community?

I would love to see more examples of the type of multi-disciplinary, solving real problems type of learning mentioned in Chapter 1 (the student created ways to share community health information). I would especially love to see this in the primary grades. I know that my students are very capable of the kind of critical thinking that is needed to solve these types of community issues. I teach at an Expeditionary Learning School and a big focus of ours is service learning within our community. So far the youngest learners at our school have been able to provide a service within our school community. While this is very valuable, I would like to begin to think of ways to branch out to surrounding neighborhoods or even our town like the older grades do. I need to find ways to bring community issues to the attention of my students so we can consider ideas for this type of learning.

Question 2: How do I prioritize what my students should spend time on during a school day?

I feel that this question is very specific to primary grades. A large part of what we do in first grade is to teach students to read, write and do mathematics so that they can participate fully in this type of learning now and in their future. I fully agree that primary grade students can and should do some of the work involved in a digital learning farm but the question for me is always how to do it most effectively. I try to blend the learning of reading, writing and math with the technology learning but there are always times (especially in the younger grades) when you must focus on one more than the other. It shifts back and forth, but this is something that I am always aware of and thinking about - how to determine what is most important for this group of learners at this point in time.

Question 3: How do I allow myself and my students more freedom to just "go with" the learning that presents itself?

I feel that I am getting much better at following the interests and needs of my students but I still always have to have that conversation in my head telling myself that it is okay to follow the lead of my students and ignore whatever curriculum piece might have been on the agenda for the day. Let me tell a story that might illustrate this a bit for you. I have my students create tutorials for each other using the iPad app ShowMe (similar to what Alan November suggests). However, I did not start with this idea in mind.

I began using ShowMe as a way for me to assess what my students know and are able to do. I wasn't all that sure that they would be interested in watching ShowMes created by other students. I was very wrong. We began creating ShowMes and posting them to each student's blog. Over time I began to notice that trends would move through the ShowMes. When one student began to use a variety of colors to illustrate a point, others did, too. When one student learned how to clear the screen all at once, others did, too. I began to hear students asking each other how they did certain things in their ShowMes. The best thing that happened was when students started to quote from each others' ShowMes during discussions in Math saying things like "I like how Cutter explained this in his ShowMe" and then going on to share Cutter's thinking.

I learned that when I let students figure things out on their own, they would and did. So what I am left wondering is if I can let students figure out a way to solve a problem in our community just by giving them some time to explore problems that might exist in our community. I am still struggling with how to "find the problem" with primary grade students. They have shown that they are good at solving problems that come up in our classroom but how do I expose them to problems that exist in our community that are still developmentally appropriate for primary grade students to grapple with?

Examples
Student created Math ShowMes
Student created Reading ShowMes
Student created ShowMe about how words are spelled
Video of a student teaching others how to create a multi-page ShowMe


Our #cyberpd event consists of multiple parts:

Today: Join the conversation about chapters 1 and 2 - Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community
July 10th: Chapters 3 and 4 - Hosted here at My Primary Passion
July 17th: Chapters 5 and 6 - Hosted by Laura Komos at Ruminate and Invigorate
Date to be determined: Final chat about the book on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberpd

You can participate in several ways:

  • You can write a blog post with your thoughts about the section we are reading for the week and add the link to your blog in the comments of the host blog.
  • You can add your thoughts directly in the comments of the host blog.
  • You can share your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberpd.
  • You can come up with another way to share you ideas. We would love to see a new, creative way to join the conversation.
We hope that you will join us as we read, reflect and share our ideas about this book.

If you are interested in past #cyberpd discussions, here are some links for you:
2011 #cyberPD:  Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshop
2012 #cyberPD:  Opening Minds

30 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your ShowMe examples, Jill. They are wonderful! Questioning is such an important skill for learners of all ages.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rose,

      I agree that questioning is an important skill and I love that we were both questioning ourselves today.

      Delete
  2. I loved seeing the ShowMe examples, Jill. My school has a service learning as its goal also. One thing the youngest students do is sell cards from a homeless day shelter for women called The Gathering Place, in Denver. They visit in small groups, seeing what the shelter does to help women get back on their feet, but also to choose the cards that are created by the women. The cards cost $2.00 and each artist receives half of that. Card shop is something students learn to manage because they have to keep track of cards sold, analyze what is selling and how to display, have extra days sometimes because of holidays, and learn to handle customers and money. They have artist 'teas' several times a year at school, meeting the artists and learning about them. It's been a wonderful service that these young students can do, including much learning in a variety of ways. Other older classes in the school volunteer in other ways at this shelter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Linda,

      What a great idea! It brings in so many content areas and life skills. Things we do or have done in the past include raising worms for our school garden and creating signs for the garden explaining how worms are helpful, cleaning up and tallying the trash found on our school grounds and experimenting with what can biodegrade and what can't and then presenting our findings to other classes, and creating brochures to place at Hudson Gardens about frogs and how they are struggling in our world today and what we can do about it (we stopped doing this one when our standards were changed). All of these are good but still seem so small. We try to connect our service learning to our science and/or social studies standards. Your idea includes so many areas that you could tweak it to fit almost any standard. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

      Delete
    2. Perhaps there is a place right there in Castle Rock to connect to? That would be most helpful to them and to your class. We do have a class who has done worms before but I don't think lately. We have a school garden too, but that is a direct class for those who take the class. Hard to find something viable for the younger ones for sure. Some of our older students have connected to a nearby apartment complex where there are many immigrants. They've helped create and stock a library for the children there.

      Delete
  3. Hi Jill--Thank you for your inspiring post--I can't wait to spend time looking at the kids' work. I'm moving to fourth grade this year and can't wait to see what fourth graders can do. I know we will all learn so much teaching each other with these tools.
    Prioritizing what students should spend time on in school really struck me--I struggle with that part too....and would love to hear more of your thoughts on this. I want students to own the learning and be fully engaged in everything they pursue, so I'm really thinking about how to make this happen within the confines of a fourth grade curriculum and district/state/national expectations. I know they will surpass all of these "mandates/expectations" if I just trust the process, but I want that process to make sense to the kids, to me, and to those who don't spend every day in the classroom with the kids.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AnnMarie,

      The last line of your comment says it all! I totally agree but it sometimes just seems so hard to make/allow/force that to happen.

      Delete
    2. I agree here too! How do you sell your vision when leaders of the building/district aren't wearing the same glasses you're wearing?

      Delete
  4. Thanks for the thoughtful post Jill. This comment "I am still struggling with how to "find the problem" with primary grade students." struck a chord with me. I, too, struggle with this thinking and I work with fourth graders. The kids I work with are good at noticing big problems like war/conflicts, hunger and environmental concerns, but they struggle with what I think are big local problems. The local problems they perceive are more of the "lack of mulch under the big toy" or "why do we only have phys ed once a week" type of thinking. I am really unsure how to help them see that some of the big "world" problems are happening in their own insulated community without sounding too preachy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tony,

      Exactly! It is kind of like The Three Bears of problem solving - it can't be too big or too small. It must be "just right".

      Delete
  5. Jill,
    I love your questions. I struggle with many of the same ones you are sharing. How nice to have a focus of Expeditionary Learning School to ground this thinking. I will enjoy following your journey. Thanks for the examples. I can't wait to come back and look at them a little more.

    Julie Johnson's class (Raising Readers and Writers) did a little historical research on a local rail line through Hilliard, Ohio http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V50WkK74WYU. They used QR codes to share information with visitors. Interesting way to share with the entire community.

    I'm looking forward to hosting this event with you and Laura. I always love the conversations.
    Cathy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cathy,

      What a cool idea! I will have to think about that a little more. I know my kids could make QR codes and we have lots to share. Hmmm... Thanks for getting me thinking.

      Delete
  6. Jill,
    I have to echo much of what Ann Marie, Tony, and Cathy said! Your questions (and ponderings) really hit home with me. I wondered about these same things in my first grade classroom and am almost positive I'll be faced with similar challenges in 4th grade. Your ShowMe examples were a really powerful way to demonstrate just what first graders can do!

    Looking forward to next week's reflections!
    Laura

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Laura,

      As we learned last year when studying Opening Minds, it is all about the questions. :)

      Delete
  7. Jill,

    Thank you for your thoughtful questions. As you ponder how this looks like in your primary classroom, I am doing the same thing in my resource room. It will look and feel different, but yet the same in many ways. Time and helping guide students can be the most difficult task!

    I loved the ShowMe examples that you shared! Wow oh wow! And look at the response the other kids provided - just what November talked about in the book! A perfect example of being innovators and learning from each other! And they are first graders!!

    Thanks Jill!
    Michelle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michelle,

      You said it, time is always a big issue. Maybe that can be a problem for some enterprising students to solve - how to create more time in a day. :)

      Delete
  8. I read with interest your thoughts on Show Me I downloaded it this summer. I am anxious to explore more. Also I want to,learn how to leave comments like you do on your comments thanks for hosting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maria,

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope you find a great way to use ShowMe with your students this fall.

      Delete
  9. Jill,

    Your question about what problems might primary students discover to solve (and your 'just right' response to Tony) made me think beyond the notion of a 'big' problem or a 'local' problem. What about theorizing about a problem that emerges from their questions (thinking ahead to Student as Researcher). Do we save turtles on the road? How do we do that without causing an accident? The student learning can be shared via a wiki/blog that collects their wonderings--something like Wonderopolis. In this way, student learning, big or small, does survive the school year.

    Thanks for sharing your students' work. Appreciate seeing the concrete in the sea of ideas!

    Julie

    http://wonderopolis.org/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julie,

      I think you are right. It is not a question of big or small but of how meaningful the problem is to the students. I still hope for something that has enough meat to it that it will last for a while so that students can really begin to dig into what they are learning.

      Delete
  10. That bit about prioritizing what students will learn is quite tricky in a time of Achievement Tests and Standards and here come the CCSS and our students aren't passing The Test. I don't really feel like I have control of this...but I'll have to dig hard into the standards and see how creative I can get!

    Thanks for the reminder about ShowMe. An underutilized app I've had for at least a year. Now I've got a plan for it! I think I need to get a Vimeo account, too. Not hard or expensive, I assume?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mary Lee,

      I know, there is so much that we can't control these days so I think we just have to focus that much harder on the things we can control.

      ShowMe is free and easy to use. I don't have a Vimeo account but maybe I should look into that one, too. Reading blogs today reminded me about Screen Chomp. I looked at it a while back and think it is time to take another look at it. It might have better features than ShowMe.

      Delete
    2. Vimeo is free! You can just sign up like YouTube! I noticed vimeos aren't blocked like you tubes are...I want to try screen chomp!

      Delete
  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Jill,
    There are great questions and great thinking in the post and responses from others! I believe you are already well on your way to accomplishing what Alan wrote about-kids teaching kids, sharing ideas with a larger community and creating authentic reasons to make global contributions...I loved seeing your math "show Me"s . How did you share with the global community about the projects you've done? I think asking the kids how this should be done is what we're after here. Getting them involved in all aspects of the decision making...this is no easy task but taking them through the process is what will help them in the future...I think we are building the foundation in primary grades! What do you think?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amy,

      I completely agree that we are building the foundation in the primary grades. Each year it gets a little better.

      We share all of our work on our classroom and individual student blogs. I am thinking about starting a class Twitter account this year to broaden our authentic audience.

      Delete
  13. Jill,
    I appreciate your post and thoughtfulness. I enjoyed seeing your student examples of ShowMes. They will be a great resource as I try to implement more digital learning in my 2nd grade classroom.

    I also found myself reflecting on your statement about "finding the problem" with primary students. I found myself wondering, how do we teach our students to find their own relevant problems to solve?

    Barbara

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Barbara,

      That is exactly what I am struggling with. I need to be sure to let the students identify some problems and see what happens. Even if we end up without a "good" problem to solve the discussions will probably be worth it.

      Delete
  14. Cant wait to read tomorrow! Here's my post! http://deb-frazier.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  15. The resounding point that I gathered in chapters 3 and 4 is that students must be actively engaged. Authentic learning happens when students create, compare, contrast and analyze the work of their peers or that which they create themselves. A next step for me is having teachers assign "tech tasks" to students. Students love responsibility. When teachers allow students to own their learning, essentially what a teacher does is allow student strengths to benefit the entire classroom.

    ReplyDelete