Have a COW! My experience with tech. in my class this week.

Questions to think about this week:
How can we engage students in meaningful learning experiences in our classrooms when we integrate technology?
What are some of the challenges we face in meeting the mandated PLO’s?I am writing about my experience with computers in the classroom last week. My school has acquired two carts of COWS (computers on wheels) and because of my work to date using the library lab, the librarian asked me to try them out. (Yeah me!)
I had found a terrific program during one of my browsing epics called WISE ( Web-based Inquiry Science Environment) where students could work collaboratively on a big-picture project, looking at the influence of greenhouse gases on climate, using models to understand electromagnetic energy and chemical reactions (UBD anyone?) I believed, after previewing the week-long project, that it would provide a great way for students to experience what can be highly abstract concepts and now I had the tools to try it out.
And so, full of trepidation since I am giving up a week of direct instruction in a Grade 10 science course that has a provincial exam and scholarship attached to it, I had at ‘er.Day 1: logging on to get to desktop took a good part of the period. Students did not know their school log in. It’s a good thing the activity for day 1 is short, probably anticipating this problem.
Day 2: Students used a model to understand what happens to the Sun’s rays when it enters the atmosphere. It was inspirational to see their engagement. After careful reflection, here’s what I noticed about what worked.
Qualities and characteristics of this lesson that made it successful

  • allowed for exploration and play
  • allowed for multiple tries,
  • provided a rapid speed of response/immediate feedback
  • simplicity…kids got it and if they didn’t, they helped each other out (not told to n\by me…totally volunteered and happy to do it)
  • Low anxiety, sense of play
  • peer to peer support
  • instructional support built into the program

On a personal note, this lesson allowed me to go around the class and check for understanding. I could formatively assess the students…extremely freeing and not something that traditional lessons allow me to do. I have attached a copy of some of the students work into my blog.

That evening, after my university class, I surfed for a game on protein synthesis for a Biology 12 class and found an awesome one. (I actually found 3 but one I thought would rock.) I had my 17 year old daughter test it and she loved it. So I placed links to the sites on my webpage (saves having students type in URLs).
Link 1
Link 2
Link 3

Day 3: I got to school early to see if the sites worked on the student computers and they did. But… when the Biology students logged on they were unable to play one of the games (of course it was my favorite one). The problem is the browser blocks the sites I want the kids to access. I had to get a lab tech in who gave me a special, one time use only password that allowed the students to play. I observed students who are always talking glued to the screen trying to beat each other and the machine while synthesizing proteins. It was amazing and I strongly recommend it. I took pictures and videos of what happened and my administration came in and saw it for themselves.
I also had my Grade 10’s continue with their week-long project. This time, the browser blocked the best chemical modeling program I have seen. And, despite efforts by the lab tech. my students were unable to try it out. I solved the problem, unsatisfactorily, by having them come up in groups and use my computer.
Day 4
Grade 10s continued with the next activity. No big problems but no interesting models to engage their attention so they were less attentive.
Day 5
Summative assessment: Students wrote a letter to their MLA (me) describing global warming and what we can do to affect it. I have still to read them.

So, the upshot of my experience with technology in the classroom and using games to have students experience/compose their knowledge is that I am a believer (although frustrated by the limited access to sites that provide awesome learning opportunites). The challenges to my using this in my class successfully are the access that is limited by my district. We have these great tools but limit/filter programs that are vetted by teachers. I do not want to have to email and get permission every time I find a great site for my kids. Why are sites banned, or access limited, especially in high school? I would rather  have fewer to no filters and put the onus on teachers and students to use the tool appropriately. It’s like censoring books. If we wish students to learn about responsible behaviour online then we need to have access to the internet.

After reading “What Would a State of the Art Instructional Video Game Look Like?” by JP Gee the following quotes resonated with me:

“We, as educators, can not put it all into words because a domain of knowledge is
composed of ways of doing, being, and seeing.”
“The player is supported, as well, by explicit instructions given at the precise moment that they can be understood within”
“The learner is not presented with knowledge devoid of context, nor is the learner left to his or her own devices”
“they think for themselves and create.”

What do I think about it?
Experiencing it, modeling it, becoming immersed, an active participant rather than a passive recipient. I love this idea but it needs to be included with an array of techniques. It’s another way. We definitely learn through experience as well as through other ways.

Other successes this week:
My google reader is now displaying on my iGoogle home page. I had not been keeping up with this until L. showed us how in class. The great thing is that I connected with a teacher who has researched and practices what he calls mindset (I am looking at self-efficacy and how what I do can affect students’ mindset. PLN here we go!



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