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Saturday, 25 February 2012

Online Gaming

Our kids have grown up with video games that are far more complex than those we were familiar with as children. They love games and understand online gaming environments. It makes sense to get creative and use games to help students learn important skills.

I wasn't always a proponent of gaming, in fact it has taken me quite a few years to really understand the positive impact that gaming can have on student learning. This changed when I started an after school WoW club. (There are other elements to this club besides the game, such as reading, reflecting and blogging.) It has proven to be a powerful experience for both myself and my students. Upon reflection of the work they have done in in WoW and our journey together (I play along with them), I am impressed at what we have accomplished.

By the end of our first lesson, we were all teaching, supporting and sharing our experiences, guiding each other, as we engaged in discovery through exploration and role play. Students began guiding their own learning, through discussions and quests with others in our class and other players in the game. They used all the resources at their disposal, game wikis, YouTube tutorials and more, without prompting, and became part of a larger learning community as they sought out connections with others. This in itself is a huge leap forward. The kids were driving their learning experiences, determining their own paths, resourcing their support and extension and building learning networks.

There is a lot learning that goes on in an online game. I made a point of taking a few minutes each week to reflect on my own learning experiences. I wanted to better understand what learning processes the students were going through during those experiences. They were reading, following instructions, building strategies, seeking solutions, collaborating with others, and learning from mistakes, while utilising online safety strategies. Aren't these skills we want to help our students develop?

The strategies the students developed throughout their journeys were often a result of the conditions and obstacles they encountered. Their quests, dungeons and group work, required not only travel strategies, but strategies to aid them in coping with other adversities along the route, recognition of obstacles, their locations and how best to deal with them. They had to employ good communication, netiquette and internet safety skills in dealing with other players within the game, while traveling and participating in team based activities. Students had to use their number skills to collect and trade goods, work with experience points while finding ways to level up as well as deal with training requirements. In-world reading was a major focus of the game, as students read through quest descriptions and followed instructions. Students applied their mapping and compass skills, determined routes and means of transportation, depending on topography. These were not skills directly taught in the club, instead students were supported in navigating the virtual world.

It is an eye opening experience for a teacher, who has spent many years, devoted to planning, resourcing and teaching lessons, to realise that with the right venue, students are capable of and motivated to drive their own learning in these ways. I think it only reconfirms that we need to get more creative and take risks, offer more options, give the kids a say, loosen up the reigns a bit, and embrace our roles as facilitators of learning.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The February Newsletter is Out!

Please click on the image below to access the full newsletter.  We hope you enjoy it. We would love to hear back from you, so please take a minute to write us a comment.

Mrs. Garcia

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Research Skills-No Excuses

Research skills can be tricky to teach. When you sit down to think about it, the term research skills is a bit of an umbrella, encompassing so many important skills.

When considering the research process, strategies and tools for searching come to mind.  I have been teaching this for 4 years, but still wonder how I can better teach kids to be effective and efficient seekers of information. What strategies can we use and what tools are available? Throughout this stage of the process determining the quality, relevance and reliability and fairness of sources (see filter bubbles) and  is also imperative. Evaluation skills are brought into the mix.

It is important that students learn how to scan, identify important information and separate it from that which is not, read for understanding and take notes on the information they have found (This in itself is a huge skill to learn.) Before any of this takes place however, students must learn how to structure their research questions, and plan their ideas, so outlining skills need to be taught.

All of this must happen in order for students to use their findings to create something through which to share their understanding. The type of project undertaken will affect the structure and content they will use. But we are not done yet. Students must also be taught to reference their work and somewhere along the line, students must be given the opportunity to reflect on their findings, writing and final project.

It is too late to begin this process in high school. It needs to start much lower down, in elementary school, and through meaningful experiences, preferably before bad habits develop. It needs to be planned for with care and a progression determined. Students won't learn all of these skills in isolation, they should be taught across subjects (where applicable) as part of any research task they undertake. They won't learn them all on their own and may have trouble seeing their worth unless otherwise pointed out to them, strategies taught and plenty of relevant practice provided.

We teach searching skills and evaluation skills, and help equip students with some of the best tools available to do so. We teach them how to take notes and share their findings and ideas with others using Twitter and Diigo. We teach them a great variety of ways in which they can publish and share their work and also focus on delivery to a group. I think about all that we do, and when it is done, knowing how much goes into it, recognising the quality of the work we do and yet I know we don't have it right yet. I have never been as convinced as I am right now that the teaching of research skills needs to begin prior to middle school.

Something happened this past week that had never happened before. I was teaching 6th grade how to use smart searching tools and strategies, evaluate websites and share their sources and annotations socially through Diigo. This was the first time we did this quite so thoroughly with 6th grade and I was blown away. Where the older grades are accepting and basically put up with it prior to many of them reverting back to their old habits, 6th grade embraces this type of  learning, they hunger to try things out and make a huge effort to get the work done, and even take on additional work outside of class time that wasn't required of them.

We are getting closer, 6th grade is the right grade to go full throttle with this, but wouldn't it have been even more powerful if the groundwork were already in place? There would be less direct teaching of research skills and more guided application. This should be an expectation in the 21st century. There are no acceptable excuses for not teaching students to be information literate and doing so not only from the middle years on but from an earlier age.

Here are some links to my favourite tools and resources for teaching these skills.

Diigo-Social bookmarking, annotations and more.
Twitter and Today's Meet-Microblogging Platforms for sharing succinct nuggets of information
EasyBib-for citing work.
21st Century Information Fluency- for teaching searching skills and website evaluation
May Favourite Hoax Sites-Buy Dehydrated Water, Dog Island, The Northwest Tree Ocotpus, and anything    You can find plenty more here and here to choose from.
The Big Six-Framework for teaching and learning research
BrainPop Online Sources(login required)
BrainPop Internet Search (login required)

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Augmented Reality and SketchUp

I am in SketchUp mode right now, as we are working with the program in our 8th grade lessons. The students have been given a special task. They are to create a room based on a descriptive piece they wrote in English lessons, entitled a Character's Mind as a  Room.

It's the second time we have done this project in two years the culminating activity for which,  is to create a SketchUp video of the models. Yesterday the plans changed a bit something new and exciting appeared on the horizon. I came across a slide share presentation posted by Martin Burrett on augmented reality. The presentation lead me to AR-Media's cool plugin for Google SketchUp. I needed to check this out, one because I have never really investigated augmented reality (except for the time I tried to get it to work in Zooburst, failed and gave up...[Note to self: go back and try this again]), but more importantly because it would be an exciting activity to do with our kids when they complete the unit. They could even screencast themselves manipulating their models.

All anyone needs to do is to download the free plugin from AR-Media then build or open an existing  model. A working webcam is a must, most computers come with built in cameras today, as is a print  off the marker from the AR-media folder in your computer library.

To get a better idea, watch the very short inexpert video demonstration I put together. There are plenty more of these peruse, including one produced by In Globe Technologies, which demonstrates layers management, real time sections and more.