Last year was my first year teaching at a 1:1 laptop school. I embraced the technology with open arms and threw myself (and my students) into it. While there were days of absolute wonderment, there were a number of days where I wanted to slam my head against a wall and never use technology in the classroom again. Several times during the year I went to our instructional technology director‘s office and said, “Give me the speech again.” He would tell me what wonderful things my students were doing, empathize with my frustrations, and make suggestions about how to do things differently the next time.
To be fair to myself and my students a fair amount of our frustration was the result of limited bandwidth which made streaming videos and using Glogster painfully slow at times. (The school has since dramatically increased the bandwidth. Yay!) In hindsight, I’ve realized that a good deal of that frustration was also expecting my students to master too many new technological skills at once.
This year I hope I am doing better, although this is likely more the result of reflecting on last year than any sort of serious, considered technical skills schema. Over the next two days in my 6th grade World Cultures class, students are completing a chart in Word using the BBC website for information and then creating a timeline using Capzles. After the timelines are created, students will embed them in their blogs.
In the space of the previous two sentences, a number of skills are represented. Some we’ve been tackling since the early days of 6th grade- editing documents in Word, gleaning information from websites, and creating and tagging blog posts. Some are intermediate skills- embedding objects in their blogs and snipping and saving pictures for the timeline. Using the Capzles website was brand-new for all the students.
I’ll be honest and say that this design wasn’t very intentional on my part. I was just trying to come up with a way not to have to teach the whole class at once. Orienting an entire class of students to a particular app or website is a total pain, one that I’m trying to avoid this year as much as possible. I’ve found it works so much better in a group of three or four. At the beginning of class today, I showed students Capzles, where we were headed. Instead of trying to explain all of its features at the outset, I told students, “Your first task is information-gathering. When you’ve completed the chart, come to me and I’ll show you the next step.” Students were working independently or with a partner, and as I had hoped, they didn’t finish all at once.
The most critical part of the process was finding the information and completing the chart, so even if some students don’t complete their capzle or do a bare-bones version, they’ll be just fine. We’ll go back and use a timeline-creation app again at some point, and when we do, I’ll have some students who will be experts further reducing the demands for my time.
Ideally the scaffolding can also happen horizontally across the disciplines. It’s been really great to see other subject areas begin to use students’ blogs. I love that I don’t have to orient students to Wikispaces every year because students do a research project in Science that uses it before we get there in World Cultures or Language Arts. I’ll be honest that I don’t want to regiment this scaffolding process too much because I want to leave open the possibility of playing with the next new tool that comes along 🙂