Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Express Yourself!

In any classroom attempting to hear everyone’s point of view is a challenge. In a class discussion only a small number of children can share before the responses are exhausted or the attention has dissipated. Attempting to visit each individual to hear discrete responses is time consuming and impractical. Individual interviews also rob the students of the opportunity to learn collaboratively. By the time I get around to my fast mathematical thinkers and ask them to explain how they reached their solution, the moment has passed and their responses are usually along the lines of “I just knew it”.

This project aimed to explore ways that digital technology could be employed in an early years classroom to allow gifted learners to express their knowledge and understanding in different subject areas by capturing thought processes and ideas in a timely manner and establishing a means of sharing ideas.
The group of learners targeted in this project are capable young students with an energetic thirst for variety in their learning experiences and a cheeky sense of creativity. These students are keen to share their opinions on issues and are capable of lightning fast thinking, particularly in Mathematics. Without a challenge the have the propensity to become challenging, hence, their super-powers must be harnessed for good, not evil.

My challenge became discovering ways that I could capture my students’ thought patterns and opinions and provide them a platform for sharing their thinking with an audience beyond their teacher.

Through this project, I experimented with a number of hardware and software options in order to discover ways that the students could successfully communicate their ideas. Often the first experiences needed to be heavily scaffolded, but the idea behind the project is to assist the students in developing the skills so they can work more independently later.

We used laptops, digital cameras, microphones, and iPads in our experiments but the iPad became the tool of choice due to its ease of use, portability, and availability in our classroom.

Two projects were most notably successful in allowing the students to express their ideas with a degree of independence: an enhanced poster with a short persuasive video embedded via a QR code, and brief explanations of mathematical thinking captured using the Explain Everything app.

Our first success was the result of a great number of failed attempts. As the teacher I was definitely in the learner seat on this project. The children were enthusiastic about learning and were happy to be part of the experiment. They were not easily put off by our setbacks. The process which eventually resulted in success involved the children combining quite a number of the skills they already had as well as integrating a few skills that were new to me as well.

The students had been involved in a whole class inquiry into how people, pets and native animals can live together sustainably. Towards the end of our investigation the students suggested a number of ways that we could change our behaviour to make our school and home environments more friendly for native animals.
Working in pairs, students selected one of the class suggestions and came up with three supporting reasons for their proposal. They created a visual image using a free iPad app called Pic Collage.
The pair of Year 2 students then worked with some Year 5 buddies to turn their ideas into a short persuasive speech. The Year 5s had developed some good persuasive writing skills due to copious amounts of NAPLAN preparation earlier in the year so we decided to put these skills to a much better use.
The Year 2s then used the iPads again and an app called Sonic Pics to record their speech using the image they created earlier in Pic Collage app as an illustration.
The students have used Sonic Pics for a number of projects throughout the year so this was a more practical choice than iMovie or other similar apps.
Once the students had created their recording I helped them upload the file to my YouTube channel.
Since it was the first time I had created QR codes with the students, I assisted them in doing this, but now they know the process, they may be able to do this step themselves in future tasks.
The students designed posters to promote their message and painted these. Once dry, they fixed the QR code onto the poster.
We displayed the posters around the school, and as part of the Australia Post Kids Teaching Kids Week activities, the Year 2 students demonstrated to a class of Year 1 students how to use the Scan app on the iPad to read the QR code and watch the movie they had created.
The students were so proud of their achievements that we later showcased this work again for our parents. If you would like to see their work, visit our class blog. The students love to receive comments about their work!

This experience with flexible and creative technology will now allow me to set more interesting challenges for the students, with confidence that they have the technical skills to share their ideas and thoughts with others.

Our second project involved a small group of students who are particularly talented in Mathematics. These young students competently add three-digit numbers requiring regrouping in their heads and have developed their own strategies for dealing with more complex calculations and larger numbers.
Even though I have worked with the whole class on using a variety of addition strategies in Mathematics, these students had difficulty explaining how they were getting their answers. Their responses were either: “I just knew it” or they would give me the name of a random strategy that we had discussed in class but couldn’t articulate why that had helped.
I was keen to assist these children in developing some skills in explaining their thinking because I know that they are going to be asked to “show their working” many times in their schooling.
There seemed little point in holding them back with the regular Year 2 curriculum when their mathematical reasoning appeared to be beyond this level, but I also wanted to be confident that their methods were grounded in logic and that they had a variety of effective strategies for basic calculations.
Rather than limiting their thinking about addition to one rigid algorithm and subjecting them to hundreds of repetitions, I encouraged them to use a variety of strategies and to attempt to explain what they were doing to demonstrate their mastery of the basic concepts.
At first the explanation process was awkward and slow, often not making sense to anyone but themselves, but since they were able to capture their thinking using Explain Everything on the iPad and play it back, as well as access the thinking of other students in the group, they eventually improved.
The next stage of this project will be to give these students an audience and purpose beyond having to justify their thinking to a teacher.

I plan to use the QR code idea again to create a series of “help posters” that can be used by other class members who might need further explanation on a particular strategy. Another future project might involve creating a “Maths Expert” blog as a platform for the students to showcase their thinking but also provide a service to a much wider audience.

The challenges in exploring this project were not related to the students but involved the limits of the technology in the setting. With no carpet and an unsealed dividing wall, the classroom is not the ideal location for creating good quality recordings. I experimented with many options for improving the sound quality and have still not discovered the ideal solution. Also, since the iPads are shared across the school and we get access to different iPads at random, tracking down the students work or continuing on saved work presented a number of challenges.
Despite these limitations, the project was successful in discovering new ways of capturing student thoughts and ideas and in empowering young learners to express themselves.

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