A Week to Possibility

This is cross posted from 21st Century Connections and better read there for links to be active.

This week we had our first full week of school as a one-to-one tablet school. We had high expectations for the week and knew we had several things that we needed to accomplish.

* We knew that we needed to put some tablet training in place for the students and to expose them to new workflows like electronic homework submission, electronic note taking, and file backup process.
* We wanted to push the faculty to teach in a tech immersion program.
* We wanted to force all of us to learn together and to develop a knowledge base among the 1-to-1 community,
* We wanted to expose the students to all of the tools at their disposal this year and to make sure that the tools and accounts worked for everyone.
* We wanted to highlight the research process in a 1-to-1 school and the resources available in the library.
* We wanted to show students how to customize their browser to be more efficient
* We wanted to give the kids a “pass/no pass” week of interdisciplinary learning that was just a chance to learn without worrying so much about grades.
* We wanted to work on the skill of collaboration.
* We wanted to create a culture that said, “If we don’t know how, we can find an answer together.”

We didn’t want to do tablet training as a separate course. Believing that it is better to teach ingenuity with technology and to build a collective intelligence that can be shared, we didn’t necessarily want to teach the exact same toolkit. We wanted to highlight the tablet program as one that was driven by curriculum revision by designing a curriculum that couldn’t be taught without being 1-to-1. I suppose our number one goal was to put both teachers and students into a learning environment that was heavily embedded with technology and to force them to examine the possibilities.

The Research and Synthesis Process

Before I talk about the units themselves, it might be worthwhile to talk about how we designed the research process in light of being 1-to-1. Our basic framework is the Big 6 and we use that terminology with the students. We prepared a OneNote Research Notebook for the students to use that contained an explanation of each of the Big 6 steps, a listing of resources and databases, a framework for website evaluation, and some suggested search strategies and alternative search engines. We are requiring the students use delicious to bookmark sources they are using and will ask them to tag sites with a unique tag so we can monitor their process. We have students keep notes in their OneNote Notebook (in the past we used Google Notebook) since it keeps track of the original source from which the material is taken. When students compose their final essay, we are having them use the citation functions built into Word 2007. We are temporarily asking them to write their final paper in word and to then post it on their blog. They are also to include an interpretive image that they have permission to use and that is properly cited or to include an interactive web element (web 2.0). We are giving them choice as we believe that we must teach kids how to figure out how to match the tool they need for the job at hand instead of teaching them a specific tool. Things change too fast not to teach kids flexibility, adaptability, and choice. We are hoping that in second semester we can experiment with Zotero. Currently, we need to improve our basic research skills before we use a more advanced tool that supports more sophisticated research.

The Toolset and Workflows

Students needed exposure to a wide range of tools and work flows. We weren’t going for expertise in all of the tools but rather for individual exposure and the development of a collective intelligence about the potential. The units needed to give students exposure to the following things.

Electronic Homework Submission – We are using interact which is an opensource content management solution similar to Moodle but not as robust. The only thing it had over Moodle was a way to submit homework efiiciently.

Electronic assessment – We use Webassign for electronic testing and gave students a short assessment largely to make sure they could login and see all of their classes.

File Backup – We use ifolder for our backup solution and students needed to learn to save everything to their ifolder. We also wanted to expose students to the sharing capability of iFolder.

Blogs – We have a local install of WPMU that authenticates against active directory. Each class is set up as a category and teachers can get OPML files for their classes so they can use google reader to monitor blog posts. Students had nightly reflections on their blogs and were able to change the theme as they saw fit. On the final posts, students had to comment on each others’ blogs.

Wikis -We had a local install of media wiki that also authenticates against active directory. We used this to do some collaborative, group research. Students learned about the article and discussion tabs.

Kaltura -We have included the Kaltura video plugin with our wiki. Students submitted one image they had edited with photoshop to the Kaltura image editor on their group research page.

Whipple Hill Portal -We use Whipple Hill to provide information and assignments to students.

Delicious Bookmarks – All students in the 1-to-1 grades are required to have a delicious account. We used google forms to create a table of school usernames and delicious usernames. For this project, students used special tags to tag sites they were using in conjunction with their research project. The librarians and I used the for: command to tag things for students.

OneNote -Most teachers are encouraging if not requiring taking notes in OneNote. We created a OneNote research notebook with a resource scavenger hunt, template pages of the big six research process, databases and technology resources descriptions, and a student planner and had each student use it for this project.

DyKnow – We used DyKnow to take attendance, to “backchannel” during the movies, and to take up panels following speakers. We also used it to monitor and control student access to both applications and URLs on occasion.

Photoshop – All students have Photoshop and Premier on their tablets. We wanted to have students experience a few tutorials and then to modify an image in Photoshop, upload it to Flickr and use Creative Commons to select a license for it.

VocieThread –We specifically included a Voicethread so kids would have an account and know this application. It was also a way to get them to use the headset and play with microphone settings.

iGoogle – We know students will need Google accounts so we had them create accounts and set up iGoogle pages. We added tabs for things that interested them to demonstrate how information can be pulled. We defined RSS and then subscribed to the delicious tags for their research projects.

Software – We have a good suite of software tools on each machine that includes Matchware’s OpenMind (an Inspiration competitor), Geometer’s SketchPad, Stella, Comic Life, Photostory 3, Art Rage, Adobe Photoshop and Premier and Microsoft Office. We wanted students to be compelled to explore each of these.

Firefox Extensions – If their machine is their personal learning environment, they need to know how to use add-ons to their browser to make them more efficient with information. We showed them Fireshot, Delicious, Clip to OneNote, and media converter.

Web 2.0 Collectively – Students had to include interactive web elements on some of their blog posts or on their research wikis. They were provided with a list of resources they could choose from. We want them to know they have options and they should use their ingenuity to figure things out.

The Interdisciplinary, Integrated Framework

So how do you put all of that into a unit? Knowing what you want to accomplish does give you the advantage of working backwards. We knew the skills we needed to teach and some experiences we wanted them to have, we needed to determine the content we wanted to embed the skills in knowing that we wanted to tie it to the regular curriculum but make it interdisciplinary. We needed to articulate an essential question for each grade. Being willing to take some chances and to throw out the normal schedule and class structure gave us even greater flexibility to develop what we called integrated units of study. Since we were going 1-to-1 in grades 9 and 10, we needed to develop these tablet training, interdisciplinary units for both of those grades.

In 9th grade we decided that the students would use the questions:

What constitutes a civilization and what factors are necessary to sustain it?

How does civilization shape us: shape what and how we behave, believe?

What impact can an individual have on shaping culture?

Students spent the first day learning some basic information, watching and discussing excerpts of Guns, Germs, and Steel, and learned and using some basic research and technology pieces in the library. The second day we has an archeologist come speak to us about excavations at Cahokia before leaving for a field trip to Cahokia Mounds. Because of its close proximity to our school, we used Cahokia as representative civilization. We had organized a packet of information to be completed on the field trip, had 8 teaching stations set up, and equipped kids with cell phones, still cameras, and flip videos. The third day students were put in research topics composed of one student from each advisory. Research groups had to answer a series of interdisciplinary questions and develop interactive web elements collaboratively and they had to answer a summary question independently. The research questions were completed using our local MediaWiki while the summary question was done on their individual blogs. During this period of time, students were also provided with some Photoshop instruction and asked to include a modified image that they created from images taken at Cahokia on the Kaltura video player on their wiki. Students then went back to their advisories and presented their topic to their advisory. The students were then given a list of 18 HOTS (higher order thinking skills questions) and were asked to select one to research and produce an informative blog post with a creative electronic element. The electronic elements could be photostory projects, comic life cartoons, slidehare presentations, or any number of other options. Students were given the morning of the 4th day to work on their HOTS topic with lunch being the targeted time of completion. After lunch we moved students into a session on an ethical dilemma related to their area of study. For example, students who researched material related to crop and food sustenance for a civilization were given an ethical dilemma centered on bioengineering of seeds. The final hour of the project was spent in assembly debriefing and filling out a self assessment rubric. It was a crazy, busy, educational week. We learned lots of things and lots about learning.

The 10th grade had a similar week centered around the essential questions:

To what extent does humankind manipulate or control the environment?

How have humans impacted the environment and are the negative impacts reversible?

How do we ethically and responsibly balance competing interests?

The 10th grade week planned to use the recent summer flooding in Missouri as their representative environmental impact. We made plans to begin the unit with some media clips and some reading about the flood and its local implications as well as its potential impact on the Gulf’s ‘dead zone.” We had hoped to then take the students on a service learning trip to help take down the sandbags in Winfield MO. Unfortunately, the Friday before the trip was to occur, we learned that the sandbags had been infested with snakes and we were back to the drawing board for the structure of the first day of the unit. We rebounded by electing to show the students Life After People and to engage them in a discussion around ways that humankind has impacted our planet. We followed the movie with a campus service learning project and some reflective blogging about our impact on our campus environment. Students then went into a tech workshop on delicious bookmarking and photoshop. It wasn’t ideal but it was a satisfactory Plan B. The remainder of the week included a series of speakers, a research project, exploration of a mathematical Stella model, a look at the historical significance of the Flood of ’27, and a Voicethread discussion of global environmental problems. Next Tuesday we will take students to the public library where Alan Weisman. is speaking about his book World Without Us.

Both units more or less met their desired objectives. Student accounts in delicious, blogs, wikis, webassign and Google were established. Students got exposure to using a variety of web 2.0 applications. They now understand the use of iFolder and Interact Homework Submission. They get that research is more than google. They have some familiarity and comfort with several library databases. They heard that citation is important for text, images, and video. They know that they have lots of software at their disposal. In short, they get that the tablet is a learning tool and that’s a big and important lesson. We also made progress changing the school culture to one of “try to figure it out before you panic or run for help.” In my mind, if we spent a week in this unit and only conveyed the message that students and faculty needed to be somewhat self-reliant in this one-to-one environment, it was a week well-spent. However, we did more than that. We made gains in teaching students and teachers to learn together, in creating a community of learners who realize that they have a powerful tool to help them if they use it well.

The unit was not without its share of shortcomings. We failed to take advantage of the cell phone capabilities on the field trip. Next year we will use them to take pictures and email to flickr as well as to anwer a few poll questions. We also failed to follow up on the geocaching activity at Cahokia and will definitely add this to the docket for next year. We are exploring using mediascapes in each of the units.We didn’t have enough time to go into creative commons licensing as much as we had hoped. We briefly mentioned it and got them thinking about ownership of images but would have liked to have had them select a license for their own blogs. (Sometimes I have to remind myself this was a four day unit and we still have the entire school year before us.) We had logistical errors and there was definitely some confusion over where to be and who was covering. This logistics piece gets eliminated next year when we expand the learning week to all grades and can assign faculty to participate in one grade’s unit only rather than having them involved in all the grades in which they have teaching assignments. We are already working on a “Discovering the Undiscovered” unit on frontiers for the 11th grade next year using the Lewis and Clark journey as the representative frontier.

Where does that leave us?

We are back to the normal schedule this week but we are not back to business as usual. We are fully engaged in learning in a 1-to-1 environment in two grades. I am proud of my faculty for the way they have embraced technology this year. I think last week went a long way towards creating a culture of “If we learn together, there are lots of possibilities.” I’d say that’s where we are- in a world of possibilities.


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43 Responses to “A Week to Possibility”

  1. Matt Montagne Says:

    Hey Liz,

    Thank you for sharing your thinking and progress regarding your 1-1 program. I’ve actually bookmarked your 1-1 posting category and shared this with our planning team here at Castilleja. This is year “0″ of our 1-1 initiative, so being able to follow along with you, Patrick and the rest of the MICDS team will be infinitely valuable to our implementation team.

    One piece of software to consider having the students use is GeoGebra…I don’t know how you’re handling licensing for Geometers Sketchpad, but GeoGebra is an open source alternative that is quite powerful. I know there is probably a certain comfort level with relationship to Geometers sketchpad, but I just wanted to throw it out there in the event you hadn’t considered.

    Thanks again for your transparency…we’ll benefit directly from your sharing.


    Matt Montagne
    Palo Alto, CA

  2. admin Says:

    Thanks Matt!
    Anytime you want to collaborate or chat, I’m game! I’ll check out geogebra this week. Its been busy and fun… and I’m learning more than ever!

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