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.
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.
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.
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.