EDTECH 542: Driving Questions

I have utilized the term ‘essential questions’ when creating lessons in the past. I like to know what the overall goal of a lesson is and the students must know where the project is going. Now, I have been introduced to the term ‘driving question’ and feel that it has more to offer, especially in the project-based learning environment.

Project Based Learning Online states that a driving question must be:

  • provocative
  • open ended at the heart of a discipline or topic
  • challenging
  • from real world dilemmas that students find
  • interesting
  • consistent with curricular standards and frameworks

Essential questions are not given the same definition. They are more specific and task-orientated. The term driving question offers the notion of a linear path or guide, which I appreciate as both a user of PBL and a teacher of young students.

I have drafted a driving question for my Fire Safety Project. I look forward to learning more this semester and refining my ability to write the driving question for a PBL project. For now, my question is:

  • How can I be safe around fire?

My question is open-ended and summarizes the reason for our fire safety unit. Although there are several standards being addressed, helping children be safe in the world is a life-skill that each grade level must address. Students are generally interested in this topic because of their interest in firefighters, firetrucks, and fire itself. There are many different ways to go about answering this question, creating a challenging learning experience for young children.

My sub-questions that are needed in order to answer the driving question are:

  • What does fire look like?
  • What damage can a fire cause?
  • How does a fire start?
  • What does a fire need to burn?
  • Who can help in the event of a fire?
  • What steps should I take when I see fire?
  • What items are considered dangerous because of their relation to fire?
  • How can I escape my home in the event of a fire?
  • How can I escape my school or other public buildings in the event of a fire?
  • How can I be safe when outdoors and near a fire pit/burning pile?
  • What should I do if my clothes catch fire?
  • What should I do if I find dangerous, fire-related items?

I consider my use of PBL in the classroom to be a learning process. I have no doubt that my driving question will change and develop over this semester. I look forward to gaining new resources and becoming more knowledgeable in the are of PBL.

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Effectiveness of Project Based Learning

There is no question that I am a strong supporter of project based learning (PBL) in the classroom. As a kindergarten teacher, I see the benefits of hands-on learning. I also see that children in charge of their own learning creates an environment of curious, driven, learners that understand how to find resources. This is a basic element of creating life-long learners. Now, I want to know what PBL means for a classroom of diverse learners.

All classrooms have some level of diversity. There may be diversity in ethnicity, language, abilities, or needs. As teachers, we strive to provide a meaningful and effective education for all students. PBL provides choice, which is a solid step in providing a developmentally appropriate education for all students. Edutopia posted an article in 2007 about Auburn Early Childhood Center. They listed one of the advantages of PBL: “the students decide what projects they want to tackle, and teachers guide them to resources, on the Internet and in books, that help them create something from what they learn”. This aspect of student choice meets the needs of all learners. With the added benefit of guidance from the educators, students will learn from their choices and locate resources effectively. This aspect supports diversity and choice in the classroom.

What does PBL mean for at-risk students? I wanted to learn more and found an article on the Teaching Today site. It states:

PBL allows teachers to provide students with a more engaging and genuine form of learning that is based on learning standards. There are other benefits, however, especially for at-risk students. Project-based learning has been shown to increase attendance rates and decrease suspension, and disciplinary referrals.

This all boils down to students who are in control of their learning with drive and enthusiasm. Teachers want to see students successful, curious, resourceful, and cooperative with others. Project based learning provides the means and method to these amazing results.

 

Resources

EDTECH 542: What is PBL?

I am ready for another semester in the EDTECH Program. My first posting is for 542: Project Based Learning. I find myself excited and looking forward to a very worthwhile semester.

I began using elements of project based learning in my first year of teaching. However, it was not something I realized I was doing. I wanted to provide my students with projects and activities that were meaningful and memorable. Now, I find myself planning these experiences each week and in a more purposeful way.

I am looking forward to this semester. I know that my students will reap the benefits of such a positive, hands-on, research-based, topic.

My First Assignment: What is PBL?

The term ‘Project Based Learning’ seems very self-explanatory. The three words in the title imply that learning occurs when a project is completed. However, I find that there are several key attributes of PBL that are not apparent in the title itself.

The Buck Institute for Education writes, “In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge.” Noting the idea of a complex problem or challenge is important. Critical thinking skills are a component of PBL that cannot be overlooked. Other key components of project-based learning are:

  • communication
  • inquiry
  • content standards
  • problem solving
  • final project

The main difference between project and problem based learning is the product. In problem based learning, students are trying to solve problems with the end result being the answer to the problem. In project based learning, students may use the problem solving elements of problem based learning, however they will create a final product to demonstrate learning. The goal in project based learning is the project, not the problem itself.

The integration of project based learning has given classrooms around the world enthusiasm and drive. I think of my own students. When a PBL project is started, the children want to move forward. They are curious and excited to begin. This is not always the case when students are given a traditional assignment in the classroom. There are also the added benefits of critical thinking opportunities and the important element of student ownership and creation in the classroom.

Resources

What is PBL? | Project Based Learning | BIE. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2012, from http://www.bie.org/about/what_is_pbl/?gclid=CK-khbexv7ACFQhgTAodCViCEQ

EDTECH 541 Reflection

The end to another semester in the EDTECH program has brought with it a long list of achievements. I have explored new tools, widened my list of resources, and improved the student centered environment that is my classroom. Now, it is time to reflect on my semester, noting what I have learned and assessing my own performance. After all, these steps are the mark of a professional in any field.

Reflection is a common strategy utilized in many classrooms for a basic reason; it is effective. Giving students the chance to reflect helps them learn from mistakes, successes, weaknesses, and strengths. Jessie Chaung posted on Edudemic,

Part of the reflective process is to have students tell stories about their experiences which brain research shows can help students embed these experiences into their long term memory. Stories are a fundamental method of personal growth through reflection, which is preparation for the future, and deliberation, of past considerations.

We are all students. Thus, I will learn and grow from reflection just as much as one of my kindergarten students. We must all celebrate the concept of being life-long learners.

I have learned a lot about various technology tools throughout this semester and how they are best utilized in the classroom. Sure, I had heard of and used each tool previously, but learning how to master and reap all that the tool has to offer takes more effort and attention. This included the benefits as well as the limitations of certain applications, as well as how to best design a lesson or unit with the tool as a resource. For example, I had utilized WordPress before and really found it to be useful. For my final project, I found that this wasn’t the best choice. Not that it isn’t a wonderful tool; it simply has its’ own features that work better in different scenarios. Thus, learning how to assess a tech tool’s features and determine where it would best work in the classroom was one of the most important concepts I will take away form this semester.

We teach in a profession that puts emphasis on standards as a minimum requirement. A graduate program is no exception to this practice. I have demonstrated mastery of several AECT standards this semester. This effort has given me a better understanding of how to design, develop, and utilize various instructional materials (AECT Standards 1 thru 3). The digital tools we have utilized to create presentations this semester provided a great learning experience. Some of the projects that have helped with each AECT Standard include:

  •     Instructional Software Presentation
  •     Presentation Application Presentation
  •     Spreadsheet Lesson
  •     Social Networking Presentation
  •     Internet for Instruction Presentation
  •     Video Lesson Plan
  •     Content Area Presentation
  •     Adaptive/Assistive Technology Presentation

These combined projects have helped me grow as a professional. The ability to utilize technology applications was not the only goal of these projects. The ability to evaluate and integrate the proper tool for the appropriate lesson was crucial to the project’s success. This, along with noting the relative advantages, really helped me grow as an educator.

I have given a lot of time to self-reflection and assessment this semester. That makes the my current task, self-assessing my work, quite simple. Self-assessment is an effective tool in any field study or work. Nicole Papa contributed to eHow on the subject of self-assessment:

Personal growth can arise from the introspection necessary to perform a self assessment. Reflecting on different areas of your life such as relationships, spirituality and communication skills identifies positive and negative qualities to encourage and abate.

For my own experiences this semester, I know that I have given a lot of attention to details in my blog posting. I have offered my thoughts with supporting details and noted references. The amount of research for each post may have varied, but I always felt that I had given enough attention to credible resources. I also did my best to provide positive, constructive, feedback to at least two other members in the course. Thus, I feel that I deserve to earn the full 165 points. I understand that being this an opinion, others may feel differently. I am okay with that, being the root of blog posts is opinion.

Each semester in the EDTECH program has brought with it clarity, a widened list of resources, better understanding of the relative advantages of technology integration, and hard work. This semester has been no exception. I look forward to jumping back into the coursework this summer.

 

Resources

 

Assistive and Adaptive Technology: A Necessity in the Classroom

Each year we discuss similarities and differences in our kindergarten classroom. We talk about the differences between groups of objects, books, and even animals. We also discuss similarities and differences in people. We are all individuals. Part of our responsibility as educators is to ensure that students succeed in the classroom. Thus, we need to understand and embrace the differences in each student. This means we must support the use of assistive and adaptive technology.

Elizabeth Koxleski, director of the National Institute for Urban School Improvement told Education World,

Inclusion is not just about including children with disabilities. It’s about embracing the idea that diversity is the reality and, therefore, each child is a unique learner. In order for each child to maximally benefit from education, we need to organize our schools, curriculum, and teaching with this reality in mind.

The reality is, all students have varying needs, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Part of our responsibility as educators is to help each student discover these areas and offer them the tools that will help them succeed.

One of the reasons we feel the need to provide students with access to technology, regardless of needs or abilities, is that we know it helps everyone reach their potential. Project K-Nect was launched in North Carolina in 2007. Students utilized smart phones and collaborative learning. The results are in support of a technology rich environment to help students in need:

The majority of participating students scored 20 percent higher on standardized tests than their peers in the same school and 30 to 40 percent higher than students in the district and state after a single year.

The students in this study were considered at-risk. Technology created a learning environment that was challenging, rewarding, and beneficial. Students’ scores proved what can happen when students are given technology to reach their full potential.

Students with cognitive or physical difficulties can also benefit from technology in the classroom. The US Department of Education reported that 13.2% (approximately 6,582,404) of students participated in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and were designated as special education students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2009-2010. This is a large portion of our population. To ignore a group of individuals who need assistance because of lack of funds or support is irresponsible, wrong, and illegal.

Public schools are required to service all students. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), “is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities”. If for no other reason (although I consider it one of the least important reasons) our classrooms must support all students with the assistive and adaptive technology they require because it is required by law.

It is our responsibility to ensure that all learners receive a challenging and rewarding education. Providing such an education for each student is the goal of a true educator. Technology provides the means and the benefits needed to meet this goal. For specific ideas on how to do this, please view this presentation: “Adaptive and Assistive Technology in the Kindergarten Classroom“.

Resources

  • IDEA – Building The Legacy of IDEA 2004. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2012, from http://idea.ed.gov/

Obstacles and Solutions to Integrating Technology into the Kindergarten Content Areas

Integrating technology in the kindergarten curriculum is an exciting and rewarding experience. The children are drawn to technology in a way that sparks higher level thinking skills and leads students to effective problem solving. There are challenges that present themselves, however I feel like they are manageable. The content areas as well as student scores are improved with technology, making the need for effective integration even more necessary.

One issue that presents itself in the kindergarten content areas is screen time. If students are in front of a computer screen, Smartboard, and iPad for much of the school day, will technology have an adverse effect? The answer is simply, yes. If students are put in front of these tools all day they will have issues with activity levels, motor development, social skills, as well as cognitive development. That is why students should only use these tools when it is truly beneficial throughout the day. If my students utilize iPads for 15 minutes during reading, I will limit the time they are “plugged in” for the remainder of the day. I will also be sure to balance other best practices; time with manipulatives, peers, and hands on learning. The secret to this obstacle, as with many in life, is balance.

Students in the kindergarten classroom are just beginning to read. Often, children are not able to read the text presented to them on the Internet. This obstacle can be troublesome. How can children utilize the tools online if they cannot read directions for navigation or the facts presented? Just as the question is derived with technology, so is the answer: technology will allow students who cannot read the ability to navigate the Internet. Bobby Hobgood, Ed.D. and Lauren Ormsby with the University of North Carolina shared a very important reminder about online tools:

Many of the obstacles to implementing differentiated instruction can be overcome with the effective use of technology. Teachers who feel ill-prepared to address the diverse needs of their students, for example, have ready access to more options than ever before as a result of    the wide range of software and hardware tools available.

With the added benefit of differentiation, teachers will have more time to assist students in their online research. I am able to lead a small group in their adventures online, unlike an entire class. The added tools provide me with time and resources needed to assist the younger students. If needed, I can also call upon the assistance of our sixth grade pals who aid our class in multiple ways.

The maturity level of my students is always in my thoughts while utilizing web-based tools. Five year olds should not be exposed to the same content as a senior in high school, yet they often use the same computer lab. How do we keep our young children safe while allowing older students to have the freedom to explore online? The answer is actually much easier to answer now than it was five years ago. Schools have filter capabilities that keep most of the inappropriate content away from our young children. If this is not enough for a teacher, there are a number of child-safe browsers available. I have found that the applications for the iPad in the area of child-safe browsers are easy to use and very safe. There is also the ability to create Diigo, Delicious, or Glogs with pre-selected materials to help keep children safe. There are too many resources to ignore and they are secure enough that we shouldn’t deny our children the chance to explore all that Web 2.0 has to offer.

The final technology obstacle that I have encountered in the kindergarten content areas is the digital divide. Many of the students who begin kindergarten in or rural town have not utilized a computer. The children often do not click the mouse, they try to touch and manipulate the screen. How do I provide a developmentally appropriate education to all students regardless of their experience with technology? First, I must provide opportunities for the students who have not utilized these tools at a very basic level. While some children can jump right into utilizing web-based tools in reading and math, I will need to first give some students a crash course in the parts of a computer/iPad. While we are at it, why not involve the families? Swain and Pearson wrote a journal article for ISTE in 2001 that addressed solutions to the digital divide:

Involving parents in the learning experience is also important. Many parents want to assist their children but do not have the resources or experience to guide them. Schools can work to meet this need by offering afternoon and evening lab hours and classes or help sessions for parents and students, encouraging them to work as a team to accomplish various tasks.     

Teachers can also be involved in the sessions so students see that all adults must work toward the goal of being lifelong learners. If we can start this promotion of technology with our families in early childhood, the digital divide in kindergarten will be less of an issue.

There are obstacles to integrating technology in the content areas. From screen time, to maturity, to the digital divide, the issues may be overwhelming to many educators. However, we have seen the research time and time again illustrating one simple fact; technology, when integrated correctly, can lead to increased enthusiasm, test scores, and passion for life-long learning. Deriving solutions is no longer an option. It is something we must do as professionals in an ever-changing field.

Resources

  • Swain, C., & Pearson, T. (2001). Bridging the Digital Divide: A Building Block for Teachers. International Society for Technology in Education, 28(8). Retrieved from http://bit.ly/IXHEmS

Technology Integration: Enhancing and Improving the Content Areas

Thinking back to the high school courses I completed in the 1990’s, it is amazing how things have changed. This is no surprise; we as a society are ever-changing and developing. Things I used to complete by hand, such as my daily planner full of notes and reminders, no longer exist in my daily life. That is because my bulky, inefficient planner was replaced by my iPhone that is easy to use, efficient, convenient, and entertaining. These benefits are also evident in classroom instruction that is improved with technology integration.

As a kindergarten teacher, I assist my students in learning the basics in reading, writing, math, science, health, and social studies. The needs of my students vary based on abilities, needs, deficiencies, experiences, and genetics. A teacher is a busy person in that we need to assist each of the students with all of these thoughts in mind. Technology provides a huge advantage in this area. Providing leveled assistance in math or reading is quite simple when you have an iPad full of varying applications to meet their needs. Previously, I would need to travel to the book store, find a resource, and pay a hefty amount for the resource. This is no longer necessary. For less than $5 I can download several applications to help my students with practice at their level. The savings in time and funds are a relative advantage that cannot be ignored.

When something new and exciting is introduced into classroom practice, students want to discuss with each other. They want to share feelings of enthusiasm and reservation. This increase in student interaction can benefit the classroom climate. The U.S. Department of Education completed a project entitled Technology and Education Reform. It noted, “even when each student has a computer, teachers note an increased frequency of students helping each other. Technology-based tasks involve many subtasks leading to situations where students need help and find their neighbor a convenient source of assistance”. A classroom that encourages this communication will see a positive climate that promotes collaboration and problem solving. These benefits can in turn improve scores and feelings of acceptance in a classroom.

The effects of technology integration have not only improved student interaction with peers, but student behaviors. I have found that students who are utilizing technology in a authentic manner are less prone to mistaken behaviors in the classroom. Edutopia posted an article in March of 2008 that explains the advantages to technology integration. One point emphasized is, “with technology tools and a project-learning approach, students are more likely to stay engaged and on task, reducing behavioral problems in the classroom”. This is a benefit that can lead to better student scores, engagement, and enthusiasm.

The possibilities when utilizing technology in the content areas are endless. Having made this integration a professional goal of mine for the last seven years, I realize that I will find a new resource each week. This constant creation and redefinition of best practice is a positive. Technology puts resources in my hands that are otherwise impossible. Education World posted an article in November of 2000. It states, “No one can afford to take all his or her students to Africa. But computers let them go there, learn about it, and experience it in a way no other medium can.” I find it amazing to observe a group of five-year old students explore the world from the classroom. Many students will not travel the world with their families. They will, however, see whatever they wish with their teacher.

Starting from a students’ experience in early childhood education, they should be provided with opportunities to stretch their mind. Pushing themselves to find answers to complex questions and use higher-level thinking strategies is necessary practice from the very beginning of a students’ school career. Education.com shares effective means in which to integrate technology in the classroom. It states, “If technologies are used to foster meaningful learning, then they will not be used as delivery vehicles. Rather, technologies should be used as engagers and facilitators of thinking”. If teachers utilize technology as just a piece of equipment that students can play with and complete drill and practice activities, they are not being fully integrated. Providing students with opportunities to create, collaborate, and problem solve will provide the rationale for technology integration in the classroom.

The relative advantages to integrating technology into the content areas in our schools are vast. The increase in engagement, collaboration, creation, and student scores cannot be ignored. The decrease in mistaken behaviors, boredom, inattentiveness, and negative feelings towards life-long learning are beneficial to all involved. The tools for this integration are growing each day. It is an amazing time to be an educator.

Resources