This coming Saturday I will be defending my master’s portfolio and I wanted to share some of my hard work with others who won’t attend my defense. We often spend so much time creating artifacts of our learning, whether it be a document, video, song, web page, etc., to only have it viewed by a relatively small number of people. I wanted to do something different and share my work with as many people as possible, because I’ve worked hard over the last three years and have grown tremendously as an educator during that time. So, every day this week I will post about my experiences and share my reflections, with the hope that some conversation can be created about what I’ve done over the last three years and keep our learning going well past my defense. Today I’m going to talk about the Technology Applications performance indicator, which is a fancy way to say show us how creative you can be with technology you can be in the classroom.
The biggest change that has happened as a result of this program has been the firm development of my teaching philosophy. Three years ago when I started I had a pretty good idea of who I was and what I thought good teaching was. Well three years later the changes are truly apparent. I believe students need the opportunity to learn in a hands-on approach where the teacher has a very reduced role in the classroom. So for this performance indicator, I used my first PBL project I ever created.
How can I make my community better?
This project was about how students could improve their local community. Students have the option to do whatever topic their group decided upon as long as it addressed the needs of a certain population within the local community. This project was designed for a fifth grade technology course, but it is important to have multiple content areas in any lesson in a technology course because that gives the technology additional meaning by putting it in context of a real world application. This project was no different and addressed both social studies curriculum and literacy curriculum. If you are interested in the process of how I created the project, check it out here. The rest of this post will focus on the technology used and the logic behind my decisions.
This project has a number of different technologies used, beginning with blogs. Each group in this project was to create a blog that they would use to reflect on their process as they went through the project. There are many components to this project and managing time is often a difficult task so allowing them the opportunity experience reflection was important for me as I created this project. Students posted every week about their progress, what still needed to be completed and what their next steps were. Not an overly fancy or new concept, but still a useful way to get students thinking about what they were doing.
Next students became researchers and used the Internet and Google Docs to find and organize their information. The goal here was to have students construct their own knowledge about how they could improve their community. There wasn’t a simple solution for each of the students so allowing them to use their own ideas and see if it is a plausible solution was an important characteristic of this process. Bransford refers to this as a knowledge centered environment, because this is where the students are making sense of information and transferring it to a new situation.
The next step was to share their information with others in the community. This was done in two different ways. The first was a somewhat traditional activity, but with a twist. Students wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper that explained their position and how they thought they could improve the community. The hope was that students would have their letters published in the newspaper and would receive real feedback from community members, making the task more authentic. However, I wanted to make sure the students received the proper feedback from the community they deserved so I ended the project with a culminating activity that involved both the students and the community. It was during this final part of the project where students presented their solutions in a different way. For this part of the project, students created a short digital story that explained both the problem or issue they were seeking to solve, as well as their solution. These digital stories were then shared with local city council members at an event devoted to the students and their work, where students could receive real feedback from the people who make change happen in the community.
Also part of the project was a Web site created to help students manage their time. As I said at the beginning of this post, it was important that the teacher not be at the center of the project and the students had the opportunity to learn collaboratively. This is where the Web site came in. On the Web site there are a series of modules in the Homework Assignments section that guide students through major parts of the project. In these modules are videos and links to resources that help students learn more about the technology they are using for each assignment. The Web site isn’t anything more than a simple Web site. If the students had been older, I maybe would have used Facebook, but I didn’t want the focus of the project to be on the vehicle used for learning. I just wanted something that would easily facilitate the project.
To check out the project and my reflection, go here.