Multiple Tech Tools Don’t Get in the way of Good Teaching

Be sure to read Laura’s reflection on the experience at the bottom of this post and video.

Last week I had the chance to head into a 5th grade homeroom teacher’s class for an hour of learning. Teacher and Digital Teacher at ASFM, Laura Blanco, had informed me that she was going to be using a few new tools she had not tried out with students before. While she was not asking for help by any means, and was simply sharing this information… I invited myself into her room anyway out of sheer intrigue with what she had described. Luckily, she accepted.

One day prior to this experience Laura first heard about the creation tool ThingLink (upload an image and add links to text, images, and video, then share) in a DT meeting. Just over 24 hours later she decided to try implementing the tool into a lesson with 20 fifth graders. That was the first thing that excited me. Laura had no fear about trying out something completely new to her. She recognized that if the tool proved unsuccessful, she would learn from the experience and either adapt, try again, or accept that this was not the appropriate tool for the lesson.

thinglink

After creating the ThingLink, Laura then embedded the image into her class Edmodo site for easy sharing and access for her students. Within just a few weeks of school starting, Laura’s students know their Edmodo page is a place to consume, create, and share content.

The ThingLink contained screen cast tutorials (using Screencast-O-Matic), made by Laura, which linked to directions for her students to follow. These directions could be paused, repeated, or fast forwarded so the students were able to learn at a pace that was suitable to their needs.

With the teacher creation and student consumption complete, it was now time for students to begin creating.

Students used the tutorials to create slides in the Explain Everything iPad app- for the creation of their own math tutorials. Based on the results from students’ math assessments, they were assigned a math problem they had mastered, and were asked to solve/record a problem and describe their thought process or steps for completing the problem along the way.

The next step in this project is to go even further. The tutorials the students created will be shared and uploaded into ALEKS (a web based, individualized, and adaptive math program). The videos will be available as a resource for other students to use when they reach a problem of the same skill level they do not know how to answer. These tutorials will act as support for other students with their learning.

Two final pieces about Laura’s implementation of technology caught my eye- beyond being a risk taker, flexible and a problem solver. First, throughout the hour, the focus was never on the technology tool. Sure, there were some nuts and bolts in the beginning of the lesson, but the primary focus was on the learning and development of 21st century skills in her students. Technology did not get in the way or become the star of the hour, student learning was clearly the focus, and technology just provided a means to that outcome. The second, and final, piece, was that students were provided with an authentic situation for the development of these tutorials. Students will witness the direct implementation of the videos, and watch how their own planning, collaborating, creative thinking, and creating are able to help others with their learning.

 Laura’s reflection on the experience:

Creating the videos had two main benefits. First, as the students created the tutorials and tried to figure out how to best explain a concept, they deepened their understanding of it. The second benefit was having these tutorials available for other students to learn from. I knew that the students in my class were in different places with their knowledge and their comfort in using the app and I also knew that some of the math concepts they would be explaining were more difficult than others and some students would need to review first.

I decided that the best way to do this was to design a way for each student to be able to get the tools they need and work at their own pace. As I was planning this, I became more and more interested in seeing how much the students could figure out and problem solve on their own when given a few resources as a starting point. I wanted students to be able to realize their own ability to figure things out, teach themselves through trial and error, and search for answers and tutorials online. Our students have so much technology available, both at school and at home, but sometimes they still fail to recognize that they have a powerful tool right in front of them that can give them all the information they want!

Thinglink provided a great platform to give the students a starting point for this work. I created an image with the instructions and added the resources as links on top of the image. Each student had a laptop to access the Thinglink image and to research and an iPad to execute their video.

Students could use the resources I gave them if they felt like they needed them, or find others on their own. Some students felt comfortable with Explain Everything, so they jumped straight to the Math, while other students watched the entire tutorial, and followed along on their iPads to familiarize themselves with the tool before starting.

This activity was asking a lot from the students. They had to learn about the app, review the math concept, think of the best way to explain it and then plan and execute their video tutorials – and I challenged them to be as independent as possible. I was interested in seeing how much they could take on and how they could problem solve and figure things out on their own.

It was very exciting to watch them work as they figured out what their needs were and how they could find resources online to answer their questions (both for Math and technology). If they didn’t know how to add images on Explain Everything – they found a tutorial for that! If they needed to review partial products before doing their video, they looked it up! Part of the ‘challenge’ was for them to be very independent with this, both the math part and the technology, and the kids were able to go with it, recognize their needs, find answers to their questions and then create their own videos.