The Grade 2 team together with art, music and myself have just finished a successful How We Express Ourselves transdisciplinary unit of inquiry on how culture can help us express and explain.

Here are the details:

Central Idea: Culture can help us express and explain ourselves

Key Concepts: Form, connection

Lines of Inquiry

  • The elements of culture (Form)
  • How cultures express themselves (Form)
  • Why cultures express and explain (Connection)

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Empowered Learner: students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use, and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.
  • Knowledge Constructor: students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
  • Innovative Designer: students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  • Creative Communicator: students publish or present content that customises the message and medium for their intended audience.

Learning Engagements

To help students tune into the central idea, Grade 2 students split into nine mixed groups and rotated around nine different teachers (for 30 minutes each, across 3 days). Teachers chose areas of personal cultural interest with which to share with students. Some examples were sports, fashion, music, Chinese culture, and myself – expressing yourself digitally. I shared a short video I made in Clips explaining some elements of my culture (from childhood, New Zealand life etc). Students then used PicKids to create a quick collage of different cultural elements. At the end of the three days of rotations, students selected which cultural element they wanted to inquire further into.

At this point I was allocated a group of nine digitally-interested students to work with for a further three weeks, for a total of six two hour sessions.

The G2 Technology Crew

I cross-referenced the ISTE Standards for Students with a NoTosh Design Thinking approach in planning for these three weeks. I began with a provocative hook: “Teachers don’t know how to use their iPads – LOL!”. After the shock has subsided, students began exploring each of our “Big 8” apps for learning (Explain Everything, Clips, Book Creator, Green Screen, iMovie, Pic Kids, Shadow Puppet EDU, and PuppetPals) about 15 minutes per app, in order to get to know the apps to help the teachers. Students used a “Function mindset” to explore the apps, recording features of each app on small hexagons and sticking them up on the window around larger hexagons labeled with each app.

Once this was complete, we had a lovely, nice, orderly window display. Which thankfully didn’t survive for too long. I explained the concept behind a hexagonal thinking synthesis: to find links, to work out how things fit together and connect in different ways. And the students went at it. Through this process they noticed many apps had similar functions, but each one had at least one function which was unique. They also naturally discovered the concept of “App Smashing” where one creation could be used again or remixed in another app. In the end, we had a marvelous mess of a window, filled with snaking arms of hexagons connecting in different ways. It probably looked like chaos to an outsider, but to us, it made perfect sense.

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We tabled that line of inquiry for a while and moved onto brainstorming elements of our own culture. We used the cultural iceberg to move beyond the flags / food / festivals conceptions of culture as we used massive pieces of paper to scribble down words and images of personal cultural significance. Going deeper into the cultural iceberg was challenging for students, as they didn’t know what they didn’t know. Eliciting the help of parents at this stage was extremely helpful in students becoming aware of aspects of their culture which they’d never thought about. I emailed parents and asked them to discuss certain questions with their child, recording the answers and bringing them to school. Students added this information to their giant brainstorms and the cultural picture began filling out.

We then brought together the two different lines of inquiry into one. We thought, which apps are going to be useful for explaining the different parts of my culture? If I want to show a series of images, perhaps Shadow Puppet EDU is the best. If I want annotate over certain parts of an image as I’m talking, maybe Explain Everything is the best. If I want to explain one image, maybe Green Screen is best. Students added to their brainstorms which apps they think would work for each element, and considered which “Home Base” app would work best for them (the one in which they would bring all their other creations into – most chose Book Creator, a few iMovie). Then they got prototyping.

Considering different home-base apps

Students spent the next few sessions creating, recording, getting feedback, rinse, repeat. By the time the parent Exhibition rolled around, students presented wonderful digital creations filled with elements of their own culture. They were clearly proud, and the parents loved being able to view the final product.

Reflection

  • How transdisciplinary was this really? We all just specialised in one particular subject.
  • How might we involve more student voice in the Tuning In phase? It was quite teacher directed having students rotate around sessions based on our own personal cultural interests.
  • Next time spend less time in the brainstorm phase and more time in the creation / prototyping phase.
  • How might we help Grade 2 students to make deeper link with the bottom parts of the cultural iceberg? Was this more a country study rather than a cultural one?
  • AirDropping final videos to parents was very much appreciated. How might we continue to do this in other units?
  • In the end, I don’t think I really hit on the central idea. Instead of “Culture can help us express and explain ourselves ” my sessions were more focused on “Technology can help us express and explain our culture.” Is the central idea we have currently exactly what we want it to be?

 

The Grade 4 team together with art, music and myself have just finished a successful How We Express Ourselves transdisciplinary unit of inquiry on persuasive advertisements.

Here are the details:

Central Idea: Different forms of expression can be persuasive

Key Concepts: Function, perspective, connection

Lines of Inquiry

  • The techniques used to persuade (Function)
  • How different forms of expressions evoke different responses (Perspective)
  • How we connect to different forms of expression (Connection)

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Empowered Learner: students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
  • Digital Citizen: students demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.
  • Innovative Designer: students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks.
  • Creative Communicator: students publish or present content that customises the message and medium for their intended audience.

Learning Engagements

Students began by “tuning in” via viewing and commenting on some of the teachers’ favourite advertisements.

In rotations, we then examined one common advertisement through the lens of each specialised domain: music (what musical techniques did this ad employ?), art (what visual techniques did this ad employ?), IT (what camera techniques did this ad employ?), and homeroom (what language techniques did this ad employ?). We called these our “Function Rotations” so that students were linking their explorations to the lines of inquiry.

In the third week of the unit, students were presented with their challenge: to plan, film, edit, and explain their own persuasive video advertisement using persuasive techniques from all four domains.

Students got into groups, brainstormed, created storyboards, then went off to film. Over the next two weeks, students filmed their scenes, received peer and teacher feedback, refilmed, got more feedback, and filmed again. This feedback cycle culminated in a whole Grade “Feedback Festival” in the theatre, where we watched each others’ advertisements then gave feedback to each group using red, orange, or green signs we all held up.

There was one last frantic morning of quick changes and edits based on that feedback, then we held a parent celebration where parents came in, the students explained their advertisements, and then provided some summative feedback. Here are three examples below of some of the advertisements presented on the day.

Reflection

Transdisciplinary units, where traditionally “single subject” teachers are released to work together with homeroom teachers, are a bit of a tricky thing to coordinate. Planning time is limited. Making sure everyone is heard and on the same page is a challenge. We had a limited amount of meetings, so we had to be focused in our discussions. When we were not meeting, emails were being sent back and forth – it was important that all teachers had the expectation to keep up with these. What really worked well though was a ten minute “scrum meeting” we had at the conclusion of each transdisciplinary session. We reviewed what happened that day, and quickly planned for the next session. This worked because it was timely – we were all still in the mindset of the session – and we could quite clearly see next steps based on where student understanding was at. Communication is key in these transdisciplinary units, and we developed some helpful rules of thumb for this over the course of the unit.

Having a central project to “unite” around helped too. Perhaps summative assessments in these transdisciplinary units should be more project based such as this, where every subject has a role to play.

Helping students understand the feedback cycle is of central importance. We must have been through 4 or 5 of these cycles as students refilmed and polished their advertisements. At a certain point though, enough is enough!

Volume of voices. This was probably the most received feedback. The students needed to be far closer to their subject than they thought – the iPad microphones are just not good enough. I’m looking into purchasing third-party microphones for next year.

Shaky camera. This was the second most received piece of feedback. Next year I’ll think about some more concrete strategies I can give student to help with this. Or just buy a bunch of tripods.

Authentic audience. Students shared their final videos A) with their parents, together with an explanation, and B) on their Blogfolios (to share with extended family). This provided an excellent source of motivation.

Feedback Festival. Students sat for too long in the theatre and they began to lose interest in the end. Next year, cut this in half, or have 4 separate in-class festivals.

All in All…

It was clear in their final written explanations that students had developed their understanding of how expressions can persuade, their ability to know when someone is trying to persuade them, and also how to create persuasive expressions themselves. They developed collaborative and creative capacity, and drew together usually disparate areas of school into one unified whole.

An effective unit – looking forward to acting on these reflections next year.

In a world of high-flying, ever-changing, flavour-of-the-moment digital tools, the good old blog can often be an overlooked and underappreciated tool.

A blog has a lot of hidden potential though when you start to think of it less as an online newsletter and more of as versatile tool for enhancing learning.

For example, consider how a class blog might have the potential to help parents have more informed and purposeful learning conversations at home.

“What did you do at school today honey?” *grunts* “I dunno…” NO MORE!

Blogs can help parents have better learning conversations with their children. And when parents, students, and teachers are all on the same page, having the same learning conversations, everyone benefits.

Here are a few ideas for how you could use your class blog to encourage more specific parent – student dialogue at home:

  • Add posts to your blog as prompts for discussion. “With your parent at home, discuss this issue and record your joint reflections in the comment section.”
  • “Ask your child about one of the following… Record his / her ideas in the comments.”
  • Do a weekly “Prompt” post: “This week we’ve learned about X,Y, Z. Here are some questions you can ask your child about their learning…”
  • Embed different Web 2.0 tools into a blog post to gather feedback, opinions, and ideas. Padlet, Popplet, or FlipGrid are great for this. Ask students and parents to post together.
  • Make it the parents responsibility to comment: “Billy talked to me about X. He said that…”
  • Many international schools have parents with varying degrees of English, be sure to post lots of visual content – photos, videos – to remove that barrier. Make sure parents and students know it’s OK to comment in their first language.
  • After a field trip, post about the experience on the blog. Ask: “Parents who couldn’t make it, have you ever been to X? What are your thoughts / perspectives on this issue?”
  • “With a family member at home, give this image a caption. Record it as a comment.”
  • “Teach a family member one of the math strategies you learned at school today. Were they able to solve the practice problem you gave them? Leave a comment about the experience!”

You get the idea.

If you’ve only considered blogs as a one-way communication tool you’re really missing out on a lot the potential here.

Dust off the old blog, advertise it with parents, co-author posts with students, put in your homework grid, read comments together in class, consider how it can be used to facilitate conversations at home… and get blogging!

How else might we use blogs to enhance the student – parent learning relationship? Leave ’em in the comments!

After four and a half years of hitting the books, of forum posting, of virtual meetings… of one day weekends… this is my final critical reflection for the Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) programme via Charles Sturt University. My views, knowledge and understanding of the work of an education professional in digital environments have changed dramatically in these long years of study and I’ve very much benefitted from this challenging learning journey, both professionally and personally.

 

The first half of the final subject titled “Digital Futures Colloquium” revolved around the concept of Digital Scholarship. I wrote an assignment titled “Digital Scholarship for our Youngest Learners” which explored how digital, networked, and open technologies are allowing young students more voice, and how it is of vital importance that teachers focus on developing students’ technical skills, knowledge, and mindset in order to thrive in this open, networked, and digital culture (Weller, 2011). Engaging with others on Twitter and through blogging greatly helped to clarify and extend my understandings on this subject.

 

Co-hosting a Digital Scholarship Twitter Chat

 

Blog comments on a Digital Scholarship post.

 

The second half of the subject focused on the final assessment item: an open-ended case study, where we could chose a topic of personal interest and, using a structured approach, conduct research and analysis of a particular context. The collaborative nature of the research question discussion in FlipGrid and the ongoing peer-support in VoiceThread proved vital in making sure the research focus was valid and specific (Tondeur, Forkosh-Baruch, Prestridge, Albion, & Edirisinghe, 2016). I conducted research into my school’s “blogfolio” programme and came away with some great plans for extending the programme further. I very much appreciate, and was motivated by, an assessment such as this as it allowed the exploration of personally / professionally important issues (Ong & Cheung, 2015).

 

Collaborative FlipGrid

 

Collaborative VoiceThread

 

My experience in this subject, and indeed in the wider Masters programme, has been incredibly beneficial to my current role as Learning Technology Coach. I have learned concrete knowledge: theory, research, ideas, but along with this knowledge has come a change in my “way” of learning too. My ability to be proactive, to seek learning – to know where to find it, to filter it, and connect with others – has increased. My collaborative ability has increased. My confidence and propensity to share has increased. I feel like I now have the skillset, mindset, and toolset to leverage our digitally connected knowledge networks and bend them to my information needs.

 

It has not been all roses and strawberries, however. The open-ended nature of the final case study tested my ability to self-direct and self-manage. I initially struggled to relate Digital Scholarship, which seemed at first blush to be more higher education based, to a K – 5 focus. I didn’t attend as many colloquium as I should have. I didn’t post enough blog posts as I should have. I feel like I should have worked harder to help others in the course and give them more feedback. I’m not offering any excuses here, I’m merely reflecting on where I should have focused more.

 

Questioning…

 

Through this Masters, I have also been given many opportunities to examine my own assumptions and actions, and have often bumped up against what I believe being not really what it should be. For example, I kept feeling defeated when it came to whole school change efforts. “My administration are just not on the same wavelength!” I’d say. But I’ve learned to take responsibility and remain positive – to be a visionary leader even if it’s not institutionally stipulated. Another example: I’ve learned to unwaveringly lead with pedagogy instead of being glamoured by the pull of shiny new technology (Fullan, 2013).

 

There is much more to critically analyse and reflect upon, but again, word count is knocking on my door. It’s now time to close Evernote, quit it with the Primo searches, end the theorising and researching, and pull down the post-it notes. I’m heading to school on Monday to get in the trenches and make a difference.

 

References

Fullan, M. (2013). Stratosphere: Integrating technology, pedagogy, and change knowledge. Pearson: Canada.

Ong, G. M. Y., & Cheung, W. S. (2015). Exploring Students’ Motivations in Using Blogs at the Primary School Level. International Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design, 5(1), 30–44.

Tondeur, J., Forkosh-Baruch, A., Prestridge, S., Albion, P., & Edirisinghe, S. (2016). Responding to Challenges in Teacher Professional Development for ICT Integration in Education. Journal Of Educational Technology & Society, 19(3), 110-120.

Weller, M. (2011). “The Nature of Scholarship.” The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice.London: Bloomsbury Academic,. 41–51. Bloomsbury Collections.

When you picture a scholar or try to visualise scholarship, what do see? A graduation cap? A lecturer with tenure, sitting in an office? A dusty old library? A meeting of bearded men, sitting around a darkly stained oak table, quibbling over which papers should be included in the next journal publication?

 

Scholarship is “learning; knowledge acquired by study; the academic attainments of a scholar.” The term does have a bit of a stuffy reputation though. It has a knowledge-in-physical-books feel; it has teacher-as-guardian-of-knowledge feel; it has write-a-paper-to-show-you’ve-mastered-the-content feel. Much of academic scholarship has indeed, and still does, suffer from these afflictions:

 

  • Knowledge, as defined in reputable journals, is slow to be produced
  • Once it is published, it’s published
  • It’s expensive and locked away behind paywalls
  • As such, it’s disseminated / read by not enough people
  • Data sets / information from different sources cannot be cross-referenced easily

 

Enter Digital Scholarship.

 

Digital Scholarship seeks to enhance the scholarly work that researchers and students take part in by leveraging the affordances of three foundational pillars: digital, networked, and open.

 

“Digital scholarship is more than just using information and communication technologies to research, teach and collaborate; it also includes embracing the open values, ideology and potential of technologies born of peer-to-peer networking and wiki ways of working in order to benefit both the academy and society” (Weller, 2011).

 

A Digital Scholar:

 

  • Publishes freely to a blog or other online space
  • Is altruistic with knowledge, creating open resources and using Creative Commons licenses
  • Seeks (and gives) formative feedback (informal peer-review)
  • Connects with other Digital Scholars in social networks
  • Uses efficient strategies for discovering, searching for, and curating information
  • Integrates previously disparate sets of information, connects dots, sees the bigger picture
  • Has a strong online identity, and considers how to best reach a wide audience
  • Can collaborate online with diverse populations

 

Digital Scholarship is in its infancy – it’s not quite an accepted approach to scholarship in academic circles yet. Its critics cite:

 

  • Reliability and legitimacy of information issues because it hasn’t been through a long period of verification and review
  • Author rights are eroded as knowledge becomes “open-game”, able to be parsed, remixed, and commented on
  • Digital does not nesseasrily mean open – lots of universities and companies are making money off content which has just been duplicated online and locked behind a paywall
  • Academics get little recognition for their boundary-pushing Digital Scholarship effort – network building, blogging, and social network connecting – so why do it when they could be doing other things more likely to get them tenure

 

Scholarship is just another sector going through change brought about by the digital – open – networked triad. Hospitality (AirBnB), transport (Uber), music (Spotify), entertainment (Netflix), mapping (Waze), media… financial services… the list goes on. Sectors which do not respond are likely to fade out, slowly but surely – sorry video rental stores, music stores, travel agents, newspaper reporters, and accountants.

 

Is education another of these sectors on the fade?

 

No way, but it’s hard to defend the argument that the education sector has been very slow to innovate. There are pockets of innovation in many schools (primary, secondary, higher education) around the world now, but nothing systemic seems to have taken root. The promises of Digital Scholarship have not yet, in any case.

 

The question which I am exploring over the next few months is how might the digital – open – networked triad might be effecting education, particularly in the K-5 bracket. Is it effecting it at all? Should it be?

 

How might our youngest students become Digital Scholars: what hard skills, what soft skills, what scaffolds, what learning experiences, what modelling, what assessment is required to help them take advantage of working, learning, and living in our growing participatory culture. Is this important for them? For us as educators? Or are there other priorities?

 

Lots of juicy questions and areas of inquiry to delve into.

 

Please leave your ideas down below – your resources, or readings – any leads you may think may be useful.

 

References:

Weller, Martin. “The Nature of Scholarship.” The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011. 41–51. Bloomsbury Collections.