Monday, September 24, 2012

Reflections of a Paperless Digital Class Part 1

I want to update you on how my paperless digital classes are going in middle school this year as I  focus on 21st century learning. Although I have blogged about what it's like teaching in a virtual class last year I felt it was important to continue blogging about my experiences with new classes too. If you notice redundancies or a point I have articulated in the past it's only because similar challenges, successes or observations have arisen in my class this year as well. If you are new to 21st-century learning or looking for a framework for students to practice 21st century learning check out this link.

I also want to add this is not my first year teaching a paperless class and nevertheless although I have many experiences to draw upon new challenges will invariably arise with every class and an educator has to be able to tweak and update his/her classes and be able to roll with the punches.

School has been in session for about 6 weeks.   Let me first say no matter how much time you spend and how clear and articulate you are at the outset prepping and training your students for a paperless digital class they will do better and be successful once they've rolled up their sleeves, made mistakes and learned from their mistakes. That's the bottom line. As Michael Jordan says: "I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed. 

So on that note I want to reflect on my classes early successes and challenges.

Early Successes:

1- Students with organizational issues feel a lot more put together and secure knowing all their files are in a digital backpack. Students especially liked being able to link their Google Docs together with their digital backpack so that when they worked on the Google Docs they would automatically be saved into their digital backpack.

2- I'm able to truly differentiate the process of the students learning with each individual student learning at their own level and at their own pace. Just today a higher level learner student in my class expressed how much he enjoys the learning process and particularly that he can work at his pace and doesn't feel he's being held back for some students who maybe need a little extra time.

3- I have seen some student post comments to each other that have been nothing short of magnificent in terms of their digital citizenship. Students are learning how to reply appropriately using an even 'tone' and complement each others ideas. 

4- Students are able to demonstrate practicing 21st-century learning skills- especially collaboration and communication. One of the things that students have to do in our class is ask their questions to a peer first before they can come to me. This concept was absolutely shocking to them at first as they would come up to me and I would politely redirect them to one of their peers.  It was literally a brand-new concept that they could actually ask and learn from each other! They caught on quick though and many are proactive in helping each other out.

5- I'm able to incorporate Game Based Learning. This means students don't learn from units and lessons but instead they learn from 'worlds' and 'levels.' Students earn digital badges for a variety of 21st century learning tasks. Here are a few of the badges they can earn. Many students comment to me they feel like they're playing a video game (which is one reason why it's called Game Based Learning!) and they enjoy being able to work through the 'units' in this format. To learn more about Game Based Learning you can check out Hyle Daley's GBL presenation at Edmodocom 2011 here. Start from the 2:58 minute marker. 

Early challenges:

1- Students felt overwhelmed at the outset. Many students, including those relatively proficient in technology had to adjust to the concept of working at their own pace with the learning management systems (Edmodo and Final Site).  Moreover students needed refreshers on basics like opening a new Internet tab, downloading/uploading files as well as saving files and links to their computers or to the cloud.

2- Although assignments (levels) were laid out in a clear format that literally included step by step instructions, students were skimming but not necessarily reading all the directions. I was (and still am) constantly reminding students not to skim but to read the directions word for word. 

3- Students were confused how much time to spend working on levels at home. Some students were spending way too much time working on assignments at home. I explained homework is only for 15-20 minutes max and even then only on nights that there is set homework from my department! 

4- Students were really nervous because of the due dates included with the assignments- they didn't want to be held accountable or lose points if they turned in work late. I explained to the students not to get hung up on due dates and if they needed a level extension they should let me know. 


What amazes me about students in elementary, middle and even high school is no matter how much technology they have at home or you think they know, the bottom line is most students are not yet tech- proficient. This not a knock on students, parents, teachers or schools- it's a reality educators must keep in mind. And yet at the same time students will teach you something in technology you never knew and all you can do is smile as you think to yourself 'wow I just learned something cool from my students!'

I also think underlying some of these early challenges are it is ingrained in students in America that they need to get good grades or else! This is prevelant in many schools in America and relates to whether schools properly implement formative and summative assessments as well as whether they use a competency based currculum to wean students off the whole 'good grade/bad grade' thing and focus more on 'with which content or skills that I learned have I demonstrated my mastery and proficiency." These are big topics and will blog them and discuss on #Jedchat at a different point in time. 

I will now begin to take my reflections and tweak my lessons (or should I say levels) accordingly. Will keep you posed with my Reflections of a Paperless Digital Class- Part 2 coming in November.

Lastly, kudos to @MisterD for the following:

You should click here and follow Wex on Twitter. His handle is @RabbiWex

You should follow @MisterD on Twitter too.

-Wex










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