Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Intersection

Content, pedagogy and technology are all intersecting at an increasingly messy place. Our content is currently evolving and pedagogical approaches of behaviorism, constructivism are being supported at different inflection points extolled by philosophies of Regio Emilio, Brain-Based Learning, Maria Montessori and integrated within systems of common core standards. Technology integration seems to be newcomer.

Punya and Mishra Koehler say something very profound in their article, "Too Cool for School." "The fact that technology is innovative and popular does not make it educational technology, but these these technologies have the potential to fundamentally change the way we think about teaching and learning." This point really resonates with me as I've tried to find our comfort level in the messy intersection of learning about a new tool, thinking about it could have applications in our class, and then saying to ourselves "It's not about the technology, it's about the learning."  

Guinea Pigs With Google Drawings

I decided to put this to a test on Friday by experimenting with two different methods for modelling molecule bonding. I had a taught a lesson on ionic and covalent bonds and wanted to see if students could use the periodic table to infer how elements bond with other elements and graphically represent their work. I provided my first class (my control group) small personal whiteboards around which they had to huddle around and work on in groups of 4-5. I assigned them an molecule and in 10 minutes, show how valance electrons are shared and what type of bond was formed. For my experimental class, I specifically told my students to use a google drawing for this task. I told them that one person should start the drawing, give access to other group members, (and myself) and present their molecule to the class dividing up elements of their presentation so that everyone is a speaker.

The class with whiteboards really struggled. First of all, it was difficult for 5 group members to physically get around such a small board, so only 2-3 did any of the real work. Other group members were within an ear shot, but off task. When it became time for presenting, the students that had put any effort into this work were the lead presenters. Some had just stood in the background.
Students share their work with me via gmail.
Students share their work with me via gmail.
For the second group, the accessibility allowed every student to engage and participate. They were talking over their computers and across their tables and all working together to make their presentation as perfect as they could with the time that they had. In short, within 10 minutes, new students learned how to use drawings and had shared their work with me. They were a lot more engaged and after my own demonstration of how to use drawings, they were teaching one another as they worked on this project.

Of course, the content is the focus, but I also observed the
Pedagogical Content Knowledge, or PCK as coined by Koehler. This
intersection of pedagogy, learning and technology was made possible by using this tech tool. Could I have used white boards for both my classes? Of course. However, I felt that the Google drawings made the activity more accessible for all members and provided a digital piece that could be used as a link for their digital notebooks and curriculum guides for later reference. Could we say the same for the white board work? Possibly. If I took pictures, uploaded them to dropbox or Flickr, but the ease of sharing the drawings made them more versatile. To reformers that think technology advocates are vying for technology for it's own sake, they might think that my learning objective was:
  • "Use Google Drawings"

But this could not be further from the truth. What the learning objective was for me was:
  • "Model ionic or covalent bonding using manipulative s. Explain why bonds are ionic or covalent and model valence electron sharing."

Paul Barnwell writes of this digital literacy gap. He paints a picture of two camps of teachers: One group that thinks that technology is changing so rapidly so there is no need to teach students (and teachers) how to use it. The other group is more progressive and knows that technology can be used as a means for understanding. Their goal is not to use it, but to experiment and explore with it so we can utilize it to achieve our end goal. In the future, this tool may be outdated, but for the time being it is more effective than the old school, like I so visibly observed on last weeks chemistry lesson. Barnwell sums up this misunderstanding with:"We might be missing an opportunity to create greater balance between traditional literacy skills and interactive competencies with the widespread implementation of these new standards."  

Student Blogging
For my work this year, I'm trying to quantify the effects of blogging on writing. I want to note that the question is not "should students blog?" but "what is the effect of student blogging on writing skills?" So far, I've done roughly 3 projects for genius hour that have been embedded on student blogs with my seventh graders, and one biological study with the sixth graders.  
I think it has real applications. Not for itself, but for writings sake.

 "Too Cool for School" by Punya and Mishra Koehler
 The Common Core's Digitial Literacy Gap by Paul Barnwell