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.