June 9th, 2014
In preparation for an interview later today about “ways that I engage students in learning on their digital turf”, I thought I’d think out loud on my blog. So here goes.
What comes to mind when you hear “digital turf”? What I think of is my students’ home turf – our classroom space, on our classroom computers and tablets, on our school secure Google domain, on their individual Google drives, email, etc. As teachers, we are constantly challenged to simultaneously teach our students to use technology and be competent 21st century communicators, and to also keep them safe.
This past school year, I was able to bring the world onto each student’s digital turf in a variety of ways. My students and I blogged about books, field trips, projects, and learning. We completed service learning projects that included reaching out on social media. Students created Prezis and used them to promote our service projects. We held Google Hangouts with digital learning community creators and authors, and we communicated with students all over the world.
Student blogs have become our 21st Century class journals. Instead of keeping composition books of student writing, my students blog. Using Kidblog.org has not replaced paper and pencil, but it has become a way for students to write and share with one another in a way that they enjoy. I am able to control content and comments by designing their webpage and only allowing comments within our class groups. Their blogs are visible to the public which motivates them to be published authors, but it is also safe. I receive an email when students’ posts are “ready to submit”. I can comment, edit, publish, or send back to students for revisions.
Our school, UT Elementary, added a Google domain this past school year, so our students now have emails, a Google Drive, and the ability to work from home on projects. This has made it easier in some ways and more challenging in others. Now that students can easily email and video chat with one another, we’ve had to establish clear ground rules and boundaries. On my list of things to do for next year is a formal training for both students and parents. My plan is to include levels of training and assessments that students must pass in order to earn more privileges and responsibilities. My plan is to start with learning.com lessons and assessments and build from there.
Global citizenship and helping others are important goals for 5th grade at UTES. We lead at least school-wide service learning projects each year. One of them is our annual H2O for Life Walk4Water campaign. For the past 5 years, we’ve raised awareness and funds for a school to have clean water and sanitary latrines. Schools we’ve partnered with so are are in Haiti, Tanzania, Guatemala, Kenya, and most recently, in South Sudan. Our public awareness campaigns have become more global with the use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Prezis, and blogging). Our 2014 H2O for Life campaign raised over $1700 for South Sudan School 2.
Not only do our students help others globally from our own digital turf, but they also share their ideas, opinions, and questions students from different countries on WorldVuze.com, an online forum for students around the world to share their world views on topics and questions they create themselves. Topics range from “What was your favorite field trip ever?” to “Is your government trustworthy?” There are currently 113 questions with 3254 answers from 585 students in 8 countries. My students were fortunate to be one of the first classes to participate. WorldVuze became part of our weekly CAFE (Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expand Vocabulary) station time. My challenge has been how to actively monitor student activity while teaching a small group. I will be rearranging my classroom tables so that laptop and tablet screens are visible to me at all times. It’s difficult, but I’m determined. The benefits of engaging my students in learning on their digital turf is outweighed by the challenges. I am having to stay ahead of the curve myself and find creative ways to make these types of learning experiences safe and meaningful to my students.
I’ll be updating my blog as I find just the right ways to make it all happen. Stay tuned! Peace, ml