Sunday, February 17, 2013

Digital Resources are Improving Teaching and Learning

My students and I are currently working through a Teaching-Learning Cycle (T-L Cycle) with a "Reconciliation" theme. Its creation and evolution has come from the necessity to prepare them for their first Reconciliation (Religion), and it includes integration of other curriculum content like writing, reading, and dramatic arts.

With the addition of interactive Brightlink projectors in the classroom and software like RM Easiteach, I created an interactive framework to guide my students down a pathway that would benefit their learning and achievement. It was originally created in isolation but it has now been combined with high yield strategies to really give it a 'boost' in the right direction.

Interactive framework/pathway for preparing students for Reconciliation

The framework allows my class to venture through each of our topics interactively and it connects them to online texts (appropriate Bible stories) and You Tube videos. Prior to having the projector and software, I fondly recall gathering my students in front of the classroom computer monitor, all huddled together, to watch the digital media I wanted them to see. It was only 'interactive' if I let them use the mouse!

Example of a link to an online interactive story and a You Tube video

With the use of digital resources via our interactive white board, I am much more energized and passionate about my work and the students appear more involved and engaged. I love the number of video clips available to me via You Tube. From a short clip portraying Peter denying Jesus to a 15 minute video about Jesus visiting Zacchaeus, I am no longer held hostage by a 60 minute DVD that I need to cue up to capture the 5-10 minutes that will allow me to make my point and cause my students to reflect. Also, the online texts I use throughout this T-L Cycle allow the students to turn the pages sequentially and/or flip through the text as they make references and/or explain their thinking.

Another benefit of using online resources is that they are free and tend to be great 'visuals' for the students. One of the You Tube videos I show my students comes near the end of our preparation for first Reconciliation. It is a video of a mock Reconciliation! This might not be exciting to you but it is to me and my students! They get to SEE what they will be experiencing - what it looks like and sounds like. To quote one of my students, "Reconciliation won't be so scary now that we have seen what it looks like".

The access to digital resources and the ability to project them and interact with them is really adding a richness to my practice and my students learning. In combination with good pedagogy it is becoming a force to be reckoned with. I take the most joy in leveraging digital resources to teach my students how to be good people rooted in our Gospel values as I assist them in their Faith development. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Term 1 iProject Summary - TLLP

It was only a few months ago when our TLLP team put, what I affectionately refer to as the 'iProject', in motion. Since that time, there has been a lot of learning going on - for all involved! With Term 1 officially ending this week, I invited our EA's to summarize their experience so we could share our learning with the greater community. Each of them took the time to reflect on their lived experience and provided me with their thoughts. 

The following reflection "highlights" have been adapted/adjusted slightly for style purposes and to protect the identity of our students.

Grade 2 Student

- In the beginning it wasn't possible to release the student with the iPad independently - I was afraid that she would drop it or delete apps. Now that she is more confident I am more comfortable letting her carry it and take the lead with it. She understands how careful she needs to be with it. She is great with it.

- The student can now open up and set up the iPad stand. She makes sure the iPad is face up while she prepares the stand, and uses both hands to prop the iPad into place. She still has a difficult time finding the buttons on the side (on/off and volume).

- It is amazing how she knows to look for her file folder (created for her so we can keep most of her apps in a central space) and scroll through the apps. I now tell her which app she will be working with and she recognizes the app by its icon.

- With some of the apps, we need full upgrade/version to get more benefits for her learning style. Some apps have too many tasks that overwhelm her from choosing.
- Her favourite Math app is 'Learning Money with Leo' -- it helps her with fine motor skills. The student cannot read but makes connections, this app helps her succeed.
- Another favourite app for her is 'Letter School' - it is helping her learn how to trace letter and numbers. The goal is to have her learn to trace the letters and numbers on the iPad so that she will be able transfer what she learns on the iPad onto pencil and paper.
- The best apps for her learning style are simple and have no time limit.
- With some apps I have to modify/differentiate within the app - she really enjoys this and she feels good.
- The apps we have worked with are helpful. She is engaged and has become more independent in using them. She gets so excited when she gets the correct answer that she doesn't want to stop using the iPad.
- The iPad is an excellent tool for this student. She is not able to write her thoughts down but this device is a great learning tool and offers her a great way to express herself. She feels successful and proud, and enjoys when it is easy for her to understand.
- The student also learns through songs. If we can find some apps that teach through songs while she can touch/tap while singing and learning.
- Is it possible to download appropriate music for the student? She misses music class and sing-a-longs would be good to keep her motivated.

Grade 4 Student

Some staffing changes were made and the EA that was working with our grade 4 student was re-assigned. The new EA placed with this student was open to participating and jumped right in!

- Initially I allowed the student to choose what he wanted to spend his time on when using the iPad. The use of the iPad usually occurred near the end of the day and it was his reward time for work completion throughout the day.
- I soon realized that this was definitely a tool that I needed to embrace and could use for teaching.
- He is tech savvy and I am not, so the use of it leads to good teaching moments for him. His language skills, patience, and self-esteem have improved due to the fact that he was teaching me. 
- He would chose to spend a lot of time on the cursive writing app and we would make a game out of it to encourage him to follow the lines perfectly.
- He enjoys typing out a class schedule, I have him work on his typing by using both hands. The writing and typing are both exercises he needs to do with his hands in order to enhance what his OT recommended he work on.
- We have had random success with Math apps.  Some were above his level and some games (e.g. Mathopolis) didn't give enough time for him to process the question and work it out before moving on to the next question.
- In Math he is resistant to working on, for example, obtuse and acute angles. While working on another app, not related to Math, I asked if he could draw an obtuse and acute angle. No problem. He also independently chose to play with Shape Board. He enjoyed drawing all kinds of geometric shapes. It was great math review for him.
- Reading is much more enjoyable for him on the iPad. He has the choice of reading or having it read to him. I use the stories to have him do predictions, recounts, talk about the emotions of the characters, and have him draw pictures of his favourite part when he is finished.
- He enjoys being able to go back and have stories read to him as many times as he likes. He enjoys the interactive features of the stories and I think this really helps him grasp the stories.
- The apps are not always aligned with the curriculum
- Being able to access Google in the classroom would be an asset for him. Not having wireless Internet in the class means we can't spontaneously research something. With this student it is a "in the moment" teaching style. He will suddenly take interest in something that he has absolutely refused to take interest in previously.
- The math and story apps are the most useful for curriculum at this time.
- The student needs to be supervised if he is using the academic apps in order to remains focused.
- During free time on the iPad he will use his favourite apps. This serves a great purpose for him as it allows him to calm himself and settle down if he is having a stressful day.
- For my student the iPad is definitely an asset and fortunately he is comfortable with it.  When we spend time on the iPad the learning and teaching is a two way street.
Grade 5 Student
- The student and I have enjoyed the learning, exploring, and fun that has resulted from this project.
- The use of the iPad has allowed for more individualized learning. Sometimes the class learning can be challenging and beyond the student's level. With the iPad we can find an app that is in line with the class learning and better for the student.

- Often with Autistic students they can be left out of group activities but with the iPad the student can partner up with his classmates and offer a different tool for learning that is appealing and aligned with the topic that the class is working on.

- The negatives I have experienced with the iPad has been around lack of wireless Internet and apps that offer a taste of nothing at all.

- Overall I love this project!!! The learning and future apps that will be available for special student will make a big difference academically.

Moving Forward

Based on the information provided by our EA's, it appears that our participating students have benefited from the use of the iPad. The "right" apps have benefited our students academically, specifically in Literacy and Numeracy. The use of the device seems to excite the students about their learning, engages them, and leaves them with good feelings. The students seem to be more confident, independent, and responsible. Aside from a positive learning experience, it appears as though the device allows for inclusion, co-operative learning, differentiation, and collaboration. 

Finding the "right" app is like finding the gold at the end of the rainbow. When we find one that works well we feel exhilaration and the students are advantaged. When we experience one that does nothing for our students we are left feeling frustrated. Finding good apps is no small task (as I have blogged about). It continues to be a major 'next step' as the project moves forward into the second term of this school year. Another obstacle seems to be the lack of wireless Internet where the students are primarily situated on school property. The EA's and I have talked about this issue several times. Our school has wireless 'hot spots' but our EA's struggle with the use of a specific app versus the concept of inclusion. They are aware of the need to have their students with their peer group and wish that our entire school site was a 'hot spot'.

I can't say enough about the EA's that work with our three students. They directly impact their student academically and emotionally each day on top of the back and forth communication with their classroom teacher and myself. They are fantastic and necessary to this project. Their hard work and engagement is necessary for this project to benefit the students and I thank them for that and will continue to support them as best as I can as we move forward.