Learning to Fail

Too often, teachers, myself included, are guilty of giving in to students’ struggles too early. When students are struggling to understand a concept or achieve a goal, the temptation is to help provide a solution too early. But, there is much to be gained from students continuing to wrestle with a problem for an extended period of time. Not only does it help them develop a sense of perseverance and determination, but it also helps students realize that they need to own their learning, that they will not be bailed-out by their teacher, but need to problem-solve.

Recently, I tasked my students with a problem that I hoped would help them achieve those realizations. I told my students that their task was to find a way to fit their whole bodies through a single sheet of paper with the borders still intact.  They could use as much paper for as many tries as they wanted, and use any other resources, including scissors. I didn’t give them any further explanation, and I let them go for it. Over the next 20 – 25 minutes, I watched my students struggle, fail, and try again, sometimes amid frustration. There were many different strategies being used. I had a specific strategy in mind for how to achieve the goal, but a few of my students were able to cut the middle out of the paper and leave just a sliver of a border and were able to squeeze their way through the paper. It was not the correct strategy I had in mind, and it wouldn’t work for all students, but for some it did.

They were able to defy even my expectations and find an alternative, correct method to solve the problem. After about 25 minutes of strategizing and trial-and-error, and some successes as I mentioned, I showed the students the method that I had learned. Through problem-solving, failure, and perseverance, my students were able to discover new strategies that made them successful and explored other possibilities that enabled them to get closer to achieving their goal. The method that I used and showed my students was this method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jBUwH-TfqQ

FETC 2017 Musings

This year’s trip to the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) was brief, but intense. I presented two poster sessions, as well as spoke at the Buncee booth and Kidblog booth. My first poster session was on Alternative Student Assessments and my class’ partnership with Wichita education nonprofit Teach for Life. Teach for Life is an online forum for teachers and students to share teaching strategies and content to others around the world, especially targeting teachers in developing countries who have little or no formal education training. At the Buncee booth, I also spoke on how my students use alternative assessments in lieu of standard paper and pencil tests to show what they know through creative tools.

My second poster session featured the use of Microsoft tools Sway and Skype to create collaborative global projects. Classes around the world can connect with each other via Skype, start a Sway and the teachers can share editing rights with one another. Through Skype, one teacher shares their screen and students can take turns sharing content with one another while other students from both classes collaboratively add content to the Sway. At the Kidblog booth, I shared with educators how my class uses global blogging partners to share about each other’s culture, school system, and class projects, all while building empathy and understanding of others around the world.

Skype Breakout EDU

It is always a special time as an educator when you can watch learning and discoveries happen before your eyes. When students are taking charge of their education, and you can simply help facilitate them during the process. That was the case last Wednesday, when my students took part in a Skype Breakout EDU all-day activity. I had wanted to create a Breakout Edu activity for my students that incorporated Skype, so that students could combine problem-solving and collaboration skills with global collaborative, cultural learning. With the help of Dyane Smokorowski, we developed clues for a Breakout EDU game that led to the students Skyping with a person or class in other countries. 

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In all, my students connected with people in five continents, having to discover each location once they had solved a clue. Students all worked on the same clue at the same time, but worked together in small groups at their tables. For the first clue, students looked at a slideshow with different animals and tried to match the animal with the clue that I had written. Once they found the correct animal, they then had to match that animal with the country where it was the national animal. That box used the key lock. Once they were ready to guess the country, I called my pre-scheduled contact via Skype, and the students guessed what country he was located in. My contact confirmed his location, gave a few fun facts about his country, and then read a clue I had written for him to read that pointed the students in the direction for our next clue. In each box my students unlocked for each clue, they received a piece of a Rebus Puzzle that they would solve and put together at the end to give them their final Skype destination.

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Aside from the animal riddle and slide, clues involved unscrambling words of countries and moving on a map to track directions, a picture coded message, and a South American video with questions on Edpuzzle. My students visited Nigeria, Philadelphia, Ireland, Uruguay, and Tasmania. When we were Skyping with the teacher in Ireland, he was working a few evening hours at a radio station. My students were able to see and hear inside an Irish radio station, complete with the teacher briefly pausing his conversation with us to jump on the air to transition between songs. During our Skype clue with Uruguay, the teacher was holding an after-school cooking class with several students. We were able to see the ingredients on the table for zucchini muffins with parmesan cheese and discuss the process by which it is made. With each clue solved and Skype connection, students were gaining a better understanding of the world and other cultures, while working collaboratively together for a common purpose.

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Skype Collaborations

Years from now, when my students look back on their 4th grade year, I want them to remember connections that helped them grow, learn, and be inspired. Using Skype in the Classroom for global collaboration projects helps sow the seeds of being life-long learners and a feeling of interconnectedness with the surrounding world.

Participating in global collaboration projects helps students to be authentic learners, doing first-hand research instead of simply looking up information in a book or online.

Connecting with others through Skype helps my students become emotionally engaged in the academic material. They are much more interested in learning and better able to retain the information if they are able to have real-world, authentic experiences.

Collaborating with peers in different parts of the world teaches my students to be creative problem-solvers, using communication and critical thinking skills to tackle real-world problems, and empowering them to know that they can change the world.

One of our classroom themes last year was learning about global education access and educational systems. We made several connections to explore this issue. During a Skype call to a class in Guinea in West Africa, my students witnessed first-hand the stark contrast in educational resources, as they saw peers an ocean away huddled around one computer in a room with crumbling walls.

On a call to a school in Nigeria where many students’ families were directly affected by terrorist activity and kidnapping, my students heard testimonials of students risking everything for an opportunity to get an education.

During a Skype call for a writing exchange project with a class in the United Kingdom, one of my shy students was pulled out of his shell by a total stranger who looked and sounded different than he did by a simple compliment on his writing in front of the entire class.

A cultural exchange with a class in Turkey gave rise to two groups of students a world apart sharing traditional songs and dances with one another.

And a Skype Around the World Day, with my class globetrotting to every continent on Earth until midnight, allowed my students to see how students in other countries learn. They saw traditional dresses and games in action from students in India, took a sneak-peak into an after-school cooking class in Uruguay, learnt how to play rock-paper-scissors in Japanese, learnt the rules of cricket from an Australian student, saw first-hand the harsh Antarctic landscape, and learnt how to say “hello” in a dozen different languages.

All of these experiences give my students a glimpse of the world around them, a world that they are a part of and will help shape. We do our students a disservice if all we teach them as educators is what to learn instead of how to learn. By connecting with classes and peers from around the world, students gain a better understanding of our common humanity and realize that information is at their fingertips, just waiting to be seized.

As an educator teaching 21st century learning skills, it is my duty to teach my students to become global citizens. As technology advances, the world is becoming smaller and our students will have greater access than anyone before them to connect with others around the world. By exposing students to other cultures and viewpoints, we are helping to make the world safer by breaking down the barriers of ignorance, fear, and the unknown.

Students learn that there is no “us and them,” but only other peers who have the same hopes and dreams, interests and values as they have; that there is far more that binds us together than keeps us apart. Skype in the Classroom helps to bridge the physical divide of oceans and continents by allowing students to connect on a personal level, developing empathy and learning to recognize a person for the character of their heart.

Why Skype in the Classroom?

I use Skype in the Classroom to bring the world to my students. We can connect with peers across the globe, talk with experts in the content area we are studying, and take virtual field trips to all corners of the Earth. Students can be authentic learners, doing first-hand research instead of simply looking up information in a book or online. Connecting with others through Skype helps my students to become emotionally engaged in the academic material. They are much more interested in learning and better able to retain the information if they are able to have real-world, authentic experiences. Collaborating with peers in different parts of the world teaches my students to be creative problem-solvers, using communication and critical thinking skills to tackle real-world problems, and empowering them to know that they can change the world.
As an educator teaching 21st century learning skills, it is my duty to teach my students to become global citizens. As technology advances, the world is becoming smaller and our students will have greater access than anyone before them to connect with others around the world. By exposing students to other cultures and viewpoints, we are helping to make the world safer by breaking down the barriers of ignorance, fear, and the unknown. Students learn that there is no “us and them,” but only other peers who have the same hopes and dreams, interests and values as they have; that there is far more that binds us together than keeps us apart. Skype in the Classroom helps to bridge the physical divide of oceans and continents by allowing students to connect on a personal level, developing empathy and learning to recognize a person for the character of their heart.

Student-led Edcamp

WES edcamp 2016

Students learn best when they can apply and teach their knowledge to others in real-world situations. Edcamps are becoming a popular form of professional development for educators. Edcamps are participant-driven experiences where educators can network, share ideas, and learn from one another in an informal, organic manner. This sharing and teaching model is ripe for implementing with students in an organized, educational setting.

Recently, my 4th grade colleagues and I implemented a student-led edcamp at our school. As we wanted to find a good mix of student choice and project structure, we decided on thirteen topics from which the students would present. The topics were a combination of academic content we had learned over the course of the year, such as equivalent fractions and the three branches of government, to technology and presentation formats, such as Genius Hour, Google tools, Microsoft Sway, Buncee, and code.org. Every 4th grade student worked with a partner in another class to construct a short 15-minute informal presentation on at least one topic to present to a small group of their peers. The students indicated which topic they wanted to present on and what topics they were interested in attending. With that input, the teachers put together a master schedule of all the students consisting of six 15-minute blocks of time and whether each student was presenting or attending an edcamp session during one of those time slots.

After a minute or two of finding their location and getting settled, the students took off. Student presenters took charge of their topic, showcasing their own student-created examples of work, and student participants were active listeners, paying attention and asking appropriate, content-driven questions. During the transition time between sessions, many students asked if we could do this again soon. Students were engaged in purposeful learning and owning their own education. Even though the students were familiar with all the topics to varying degrees, each learned something new from their peers. Because students from three fourth-grade classes were participating simultaneously in one edcamp, students learned new specific strategies about academic content and technology tools that may have been featured more prevalently in one classroom than another.

When students are charged with explaining their thinking and relying on student-created examples, the academic content becomes more concrete in their minds; they begin to better internalize the material. They begin to own their own learning. Students also must adapt to being the “teachers” and conveying the material in a clear, concise message. Students are practicing their speaking and listening skills in a small group setting that feels safe and comfortable. As teachers, we were able to walk around the room and observe the handful of small groups conducting lessons at one time. This was our first attempt at a student-led edcamp, but it will not be our last. Student-led edcamps are a powerful way for students to own their learning and use creativity and student-choice to share, teach, learn, and grow.

Skype Around the World

Each spring my class does a Skype Around the World Day, where we devote the entire day to connecting with individuals and classes all around the world. This past spring, we held our Skype Around the World Day from the start of school until midnight. Students took notes on each country’s culture, economy, and geography, and shared things that we had learned about Kansas, as well.

In all, we virtually visited classes and individuals in all seven continents, and 18 total countries. We learned new words in a handful of different languages, saw traditional clothing, and learned new games. We even participated in a class-to-class rock, paper, scissors challenge with a class from Japan.

Later in the week, the students took the notes in their “passports” and created a Sway either comparing Kansas to one of the countries we had visited, or creating a travel brochure about one of the places we Skyped with and persuading others to visit that country. Students became exposed to many new cultures and virtually visited places that they may not have the opportunity to visit in person.

Skype Around the World 2016

Alternative Assessments – Student voice and choice

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To be perfectly honest, I am not a huge fan of standardized or paper and pencil tests, as many other educators can most likely identify with. As educators, we are supposed to differentiate instruction based on student needs and bring in technology to help students develop creativity, problem-solving, and 21st century learning skills. A one-size-fits-all test doesn’t help students achieve these goals and is not an accurate way to measure a student’s understanding of a concept.

One way to circumvent traditional paper and pencil tests is to do alternative assessments that give students more voice and choice. In my class, my 4th graders began doing alternative assessments for math. Instead of assigning the end of the chapter unit test, I tasked my students to come up with original examples and create something that showed their understanding of the concept and standard that we had just covered. Students could use technology tools such as Google tools and apps, Microsoft Sway, Buncee, Powtoons or other tools that we had used in class. Or they could create examples with non digital, hands-on tools and methods.

Students had to prove why they deserved a certain grade based on their examples, creativity, and depth of explaining the concept. The project takes longer than a traditional test that can be administered in a class period. However, students gained so much more from doing alternative assessments and loved undertaking the project. It did not seem like a test to them, but a chance for them to creatively demonstrate all that they had learned on a specific topic.

3-D Printing – Digital Storytelling project

 

In the fall of 2015, my 4th graders had the opportunity to explore and create with a MakerBot Desktop 3-D printer. Although we only had it for a month, my students were able to practice designing their own 3-D images through the online 3-D design tool Tinkercad. Students had to choose something to design that represented a favorite book. They could choose something that represented a character in the book, something that showed the setting, or an object that was integral to the plot of the book.

 

Within Tinkercad, students practiced their engineering skills and developed their spatial reasoning. If they manipulated the size of the object horizontally or vertically, they had to remember to check all angles of their object to see if it still was attached together and looked alright from multiple angles. I took the students’ 3-D designs and uploaded them onto a flashdrive, from which I printed the objects one at a time. To help keep the project going in a timely manner and not spend a ton of filament on one object, I limited the students’ objects to 100 by 100 mm in size.

When the students had their printed object, their next task was to do a digital storytelling project using Google slides. Students recreated a scene from the book they chose with their 3-D object. I had created a class Google Slideshow, giving each student an individual slide and shared with editing rights to the class through Google Classroom. Each student added pictures to their slide to recreate a scene from the book and described using text what was happening during that part of the story. Then students took a picture of their 3-D printed object and inserted it to their slide as one of the pictured objects. When finished, their slide included pictures found online, a picture of their original 3-D-created object, and text retelling that specific part of the story.

Finally, when everyone was finished, each student shared their slide in front of the class and explained a short synopsis of that part of the book and how their 3-D object contributed to the telling of that scene. The students loved the engineering and creativity in designing their 3-D object and creating the scene digitally.