I’m currently transitioning from a classroom teacher to a shared position as a Technology Integration Specialist. In this position, one facet of my responsibilities will be working with curriculum coordinators and teachers to revise current units of study. These revisions take place in small cases due to content, but primarily with pedagogical strategies and the purposeful implementation of technology. Revision takes place a few weeks prior to the start of a unit, so there is sufficient time to research, rebuild, and finalize the unit plan. I have experience rewriting these units, as I was a member of the Grade 4 team for 6 years, and have undergone the process multiple times.
While I am in a new position next year, being an influential team member in the process will remain the same, just in a new context and from a different perspective. This would be one area where I am able to get my foot in the door for making changes to the unit, as it is something I already had my eye on. Students in Grade 4 are working within a 2:1 MacBook Air scenario. There is also access to a cart of 25 iPads for teacher checkout, full computer labs available, and technology integration specialists at the ready to assist teachers in the use of these technologies should they need assistance. This year, the technology integration team also ordered a variety of “Maker Kits,” including: Squishy Circuits, MakeyMakey, and LittleBits. We are a technology rich school, and most teachers feel comfortable taking on new challenges when moving forward in best teaching practices. Along with a strong rapport with the curriculum team, the context of my current situation lends itself well to making changes in the electricity unit, in my first year of this position.
The primary foci of the unit are the movement of electrons and how current electricity flows between series and parallel circuits. Students learn to understand the imbalance of electrons and how this imbalance causes electrons to transfer from one area to another. The transfer might take place suddenly and all at once as in static electricity, or continually as in current electricity. While there are multiple hands-on components in this unit that assist in scaffolding the learning for Grade 4 students, the concepts of actual electrons having an unbalanced charge and circulating in a series is an abstract concept students sometimes struggle to comprehend. Background knowledge is built upon and recalled from an earlier unit on the components of matter, so there has been some exposure to the topic.
Students face 2 assessments where they are challenged to create the blueprint for a series and parallel circuit with minimal supplies. The circuits are illustrated in a mock tree house where they need to place the light bulb, switch, batteries, and wires in a location that is reasonable for providing light. Using the same supplies, students generally create very similar looking blueprints. The final project asks students to demonstrate their knowledge of current electricity and circuits by creating a functioning quiz board that lights up when a question is matched to the correct answer. Currently the materials needed are listed for collaborative groups to purchase; poster board, wires, light bulb, socket, batteries, and tape. The groups of students work to create a plan of action for the quiz board, and then work to put their plan into action. The final boards are created, all of them generally looking quite similar, and are displayed for parents to experiment with during Student Led Conferences.
The only piece of content I would like to alter is the wording of the actual final product. Rather than: “Create a Quiz board to show your knowledge of how current electricity works,” it would appear: “You are a detective, working for a family member whose money keeps being taken from their wallet. The family member thinks that it is happening during the night when he/she is asleep and the lights are out. Using your knowledge of circuits, create a device that will warn your family member that someone is in the room.” By simply rewording the problem, students will have the opportunity to develop their creativity, critical thinking, collaborative, and communication skills through the use of technology, while solving a problem that is more relevant to their lives than creating a quiz board. In addition, this alteration of process may encourage the potential development of students into life long learners (Waters, 2014). Overall, the content of the unit is strong and it provides potential for more engagement and integration of technology than is currently being utilized.
Presently the electricity unit is being taught from a more teacher driven approach. A majority of the lessons are derived from teachers providing students with content, and students going to explore that content with materials. I would like to see a switch in this format by implementing a more constructivist approach for Experiential Learning.
Based on the studies of John Dewey, students would be provided with learning opportunities that permit them to make connections between their current understanding of electricity to earlier experiences and knowledge. This would not remove the teacher from the scenario, but take on the role of facilitator- designing lessons for students to interact collaboratively and make sense of content more personally (Roberts, 2003). Students would be provided with different technological materials and given challenges to make a bulb light, or a buzzer to sound. They would be given a set of materials to explore and decide upon a description of what makes a conductor a conductor or an insulator an insulator. The students would be building upon their own knowledge of electricity with the teacher beside them, guiding their learning. The Experiential Learning approach is valuable in the electricity unit in particular because of the number of concepts that build upon each other and the amount of hands on opportunities it encourages. Given the technologies I would like to implement, students having the chance to explore, build, and create also lend themselves well to the experiential approach. Increasing the number of tools allows more exploration and creativity within students by not limiting the scope of the assignment. Whether students have succeeded at the given task or not, based on their knowledge of circuitry they would provide an explanation for their outcome. Students could then come back together as a whole group and discuss their findings and/or misconceptions. At this time, the teacher would facilitate a discussion around the multiple ways of finding the solution and yet the concept of electrons following a path remains the same through each example. With this approach, students have the chance to construct meaning on their own and connect their previous knowledge with this new knowledge, while being provided multiple tools to do so. Within the realm of constructivism, the Experiential Learning theory would align best.
The work that is being produced by my students right now is limited in part due to the technological parameters we are placing on them. Not just as they create circuits and build their understanding throughout the unit, but in the culminating final project as well. In the final project students are told the exact materials to bring in (batteries, wires, bulbs, etc). These are the same tools they have used throughout the entire unit with little variation, unless they happen to bring in something independently. While these tools are effective in constructing circuits and providing students with the opportunity for demonstrating their knowledge, they do not align with the school goal of developing creativity and critical thinking to a broader potential while demonstrating this knowledge.
The ideal solution to this problem, would be the formation of a MakerSpace. This room would house a variety of hardware tools, hammers, nails, electrical supplies, 3D printer, and kid-friendly maker kits. Students would have access to these tools under the supervision of teachers. The MakerSpace would be a location where teachers would bring their students to explore during their science and social studies units and permit them to dive deeper into content and skills creatively with the different tools. Ultimately they would be free to explore in any manner they would like. While this is the ideal solution, it may not be the most practical as; 1) space is limited in the building, 2) teaches might be intimidated by the exploratory model on such a large scale, 3) administration would want justification, evaluation, or proof that the area would be worth the investment. Because of these reasons the MakerSpace might be too grand a scale for the initial implementation. A smaller more practical method of bringing tools into the classroom that permits students to construct knowledge and explore creativity is needed.
Therefore, the use of a variety of Maker Kits will be made available for student use this coming school year. In general these tools provoke thought and creativity, which also align with the constructivist and experiential pedagogical strategies that would be introduced. By exposing these Maker Kits to Grade 4 students during the electricity unit, they would have a structured format that allows them to explore and construct their own meaning of content (Waters, 2014).
In particular, Squishy Circuits permit students the opportunity to explore alternate forms of conductors and insulators, while warranting the creation of series and parallel circuits- which are all within the content area covered by this unit. The tool is safe and simple to use, and also promotes creativity as the formations students could create with the play dough circuits are endless.
Another tool I would introduce is MakeyMakey. Again, with the possibilities of using alternate materials as conductors to complete series and parallel circuits, students have the chance to explore and apply their knowledge of electricity. Due to the MakeyMakey relying on the use of a computer, students would also have the chance to construct their understanding of circuitry around multiple forms of technology, opening up even more opportunities for creativity and innovation.
LittleBits is the final Maker Kit I would provide for students. LittleBits accommodates students with multiple types of accessories and modules that give them the chance to construct and demonstrate their knowledge of circuits in a meaningful manner.
In addition to these kits that allow for improvisation, creation, and collaboration, I would also provide the standard materials we have in the past of batteries, wires, bulbs, and sockets- so students would have a wide range of supplies to work from. There is some potential for students to be distracted from the content because of the uniqueness of these kits, therefore careful teacher planning and interventions will need to be thought through. I do feel these are minor sacrifices for students learning of content and development of 21st Century Skills. Ultimately, these kits allow for the right level of concrete, hands on material, while exploring the abstract idea of the movement of electrons.
The Total PACKage
At this point, it should begin to be clear how the context, content, technology, and pedagogy are culminating together to fit the TPACK framework. Given my context and the content of what will be taught during this electricity unit, I have the opportunity to create change. The content begs for students to uncover and explore circuitry based on their past experiences and knowledge, which aligns with the pedagogical approach of Experiential Learning. By making their own meaning, student learning will be individual and personal, while allowing them to be creative, collaborative, and practice their critical thinking and communication skills. Because there are so many opportunities for hands-on exploration, introducing technologies that also promote 21st Century Skills while discovering content are essential. Squishy Circuits, MakeyMakey, and Little Bits fit that pedagogical and technological need by promoting exploration, creativity, collaboration, while fulfilling the demands of the content of circuitry through the components of current electricity, insulators and conductors.
Read on to the Evaluation