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Contributors: Cindy Hughes, Kellie Grant, Rachel James, Jennifer Duarte


My Plan to Capture Your Attention – (or how devices and tech have improved a young boy’s life)
Our Mission:

Integrate technology, specifically personal devices, into our classrooms to capture the attention of the low-achieving or disengaged student

Or in regular language: use these magical technological devices that seem to speak student language better than teachers can to get students who usually aren’t interested to collaborate and engage with me and learn how to use their tech devices as tools.

How things have been going:

                Since the beginning of this school year a lot of things have changed in my classroom.  Each year I begin by setting up a brilliantly laid out, stimulating classroom environment and add all the necessary supplies to ensure success; I order duotangs, notebooks and pencils – I check my favourite binders and computer files for interesting ways to “get at the curriculum” and then I wait for the kids to arrive.  (Best possible scenario!)
                Now, I am much more focused on an alternate preparation for next school year.  I will be contacting our school board eLearning consultant and making sure I have a new “virtual” classroom setup for the upcoming year on our school board blended learning site.  I will be building the website I will share with my students to teach them and parents to communicate share with them.  Instead of bringing home paper this summer, I will be bringing home my Chrome book.
                Our project was specific to capturing the attentions of the low-achieving, disengaged student.  You all know who I am talking about – the kid that really seems to have some potential but rarely uses it – the kid who understands that adding more would improve his/her mark but doesn’t want to put in more time.
                I have found that in changing the way that I teach – using personal devices as a tool and welcoming them into my classroom environment – has begun to turn the tide for the disengaged students that I have chosen as my focus.
                We suffered through some setbacks at the beginning of the school year; waiting for WiFi capability, working through the bugs of the GAFE accounts; getting new GAFE logins partway through, playing Clash of Clans in our desks (another post on that alone!) etc.  Once all that was working we were off!
                My plan was simple:  put as much interesting stuff onto my blended learning site as I could manage and use the Chrome books I had at my disposal for ¼ of the day to turn my classroom into a technological wonderland.
                What actually happened was so much richer and more impressive.  My students, without any input or encouragement from me, started to bring their own devices to school and using them all day long.  A lot of them had iPod touches or phones or tablets.  The students started to use these devices during spelling for online dictionaries; they used them as calculators, as personal computers or search engines.  All this started happening on its own. 
                The only rule I had put into place (keep in mind – I wasn’t expecting the devices to show up until I had sent a well-written plea to parents to send them in) was that all devices were to be used as tools.  We had times and places for play and the devices were not to be part of that.
                So time passes.  I begin in earnest to teach mainly social studies and science through the blended learning website I had created for my classroom (https://wcdsb.elearningontario.ca/) and then I begin noticing some incredible things. 
My Desire 2 Learn Opening Screen
               First, science and social studies teaching is much easier when the resource you are using is not written in language well above the reading level of your students.  The textbook I was accustomed to using is very near impossible to read for struggling learners.  The Ontario Education Resource Bank, on the other hand, is very easy to use, had a lot of content and was fun for the students to engage with.   
               Second, there were very little interruptions to learning time. Students were not off task often, there weren’t distractions of one person goofing around and another sitting and playing with a fiddly toy in their desk.  Everyone was on task and tuned in.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a "turn to page 67 and read until the end, do some questions" type of person before the technology.  I like to think that I chose projects and activities for my students to engage with and feel interested in.  The problem before was accessing information – sometimes the resources too hard/not interesting/not current and students have a hard time engaging with them.  Everyone remembers in grade school going to a text book and finding the one picture that everyone is laughing at because the people look like they could have been your parents.  The reason - the resource was aged.  This doesn’t often happen with technology.  You can easily find up to the minute information that is both appropriate and relevant.
Ontario Education Resource Bank
Lastly, and most importantly, my students whom I would in the past have to lead through this content were achieving success ON THEIR OWN!  I have one student I am thinking of in particular who navigated a comparison of Canada and China, United States, Mexico and Japan – on his own.  He had a graphic organizer, as part of the accommodations of his modified IEP, and he had knowledge of how to use it.  But in the past he would have needed me too.  This time he sat with his partner, just like everyone else, and he engaged with the learning objects I chose for him and his classmates about the various countries and he pulled out key information about each society that was the same and was different.
This student also wrote a companion paragraph to the graphic organizer to compare on country of his choice to Canada.  He wrote it, alone, the very first time.  This was a major breakthrough.  This young man was not the type of person to write a paragraph without thorough scaffolding of information expected.   To say I was impressed was to say that Niagara Falls has a few tourists.
 I loved it!  He didn’t need me anymore.  It wasn’t that there was more time for me to help others; it was that he could be autonomous like the others.  He was proud of himself.  He took that paragraph and the comments I had added to it and he made it better.  He then also took the paragraph home and got it signed.  THE FIRST TIME I ASKED!  This is one of the kids who would maybe take something home to share with mom and dad, but more likely would need reminders and a phone call to get something back. 
In conclusion, using devices at school and all this technology was terrifying to me in the beginning of our project.  There – I said it.  But as this year has progressed I see the benefits far outweigh the negatives.  I have never seen such progress from disengaged students.  I would highly recommend this way of teaching to anyone.  Devices are here to stay – we might as well use them to our own advantage.

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