Recently, I came across an article (A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute) written by the New York Times which highlights one school in Silicon Valley where, instead of tablet devices and computers, “pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud” are used.
With technology being an indispensable part of our lives, and especially with schools trying to adopt 1:1 iPad or BYOD programs, it is astonishing to have a school who would venture to not have any technology in the classroom. This makes me question my own teaching practice and raison d’être as an ICT teacher. Is there a point in trying to teach technology skills to students when they can achieve just the same without it? Is there something that I can do with students that cannot be done easily with simply a pen and paper?
It is true that without Pages/MS Word, students can submit hand-written reports; without Keynote/Powerpoint, they can create hand-drawn posters; and without tablet devices altogether, students can learn how the way the Waldorf School do- through hands on activities that foster “creative thinking, movement, human interaction”. However, I do believe that interactions with one another and collaboration with those outside the school can be made easier with technology, namely social media.
And I think that as an ICT specialist, I can demonstrate this by integrating social media with their current unit of study so that I can inspire teachers to take on different approaches to teaching. The rest of the blog documents what I have tested and learned by incorporating social media.
Planning with the G4 Homeroom Teachers:
I met with the Grade 4 teachers and found out that they will be doing a historical fiction study so I wanted to see whether an online forum would promote discussion and collaboration and increase student engagement. I decided to use Edmodo which is an educational social media platform that operates very much like Facebook, but in a more secure and protected environment (You can read more about Edmodo’s commitment to privacy here https://www.edmodo.com/privacy).
Before Week 1:
After meeting with the teachers, the first thing I did was of course read the suggested book “When my name was Keoko”. I made notes during my reading as topics that I could potentially post on Edmodo to initiate discussions. The rest of this blog will document my attempt to use Edmodo in the G4 classroom.
I introduced Edmodo as our new learning platform and explained that Edmodo is a safe place for us to exchange ideas. We went through the steps together to sign up, reminding students to get into the habit of not registering with their full first name and last name (They had to type only the first letter of their last name)
I then posted a screenshot of rules and expectations that I created, and showed students how they could REPLY if they agreed to the guidelines. I then allowed them to change their profile pictures.
After that, I showed them the novel, and asked them to make predictions on where the story took place based on the cover. They called out a few places such as Korea,Japan, American, China. Taking this opportunity, I introduced the POLL feature on Edmodo and had students take a vote, with a REPLY on the reason for selecting a particular country. They were all very focused and loved the fact that they could see the results instantly.
Take a look at the video of this lesson:
Week 1 after school:
After all students were signed up on Edmodo, I met again with the classroom teacher to see the different levelled reading group the students are currently in so I can create the same differentiated groups on Edmodo. I named them RED, YELLOW, GREEN, BLUE. However, using levelled groups proved to be more challenging than I’d previously thought. In an ideal English period, I would read a chapter and then assign different questions or topics to each group. But because I only see students for 40 minutes every week, I could only be reading a chapter or two each time. I speculated that not being physically in the classroom might hinder their initial motivations / familiarity with Edmodo and affect their level of participation. Therefore, instead of putting students into small groups, I set up ones named “Questions during reading” “Personal connections / reactions” “Related websites” allowing the whole class to be part of these specific groups.
I told students that their individual COLORED group has been removed and they now have access to new groups where they would need some practice making sure they post in the correct one. I read the first chapter of “When My Name was Keoko” and instead of asking specific questions which I had planned, I simply paused during the story, then asked the class, “OK, what is your reaction to this” I clicked into the group “PERSONAL REACTION” and typed the following, instructing the students to REPLY rather than add a post.
Now, why have I told them to REPLY? As I learned from my previous experience with Edmodo, when students keep posting one after another, my original post becomes hidden and hard to locate. Therefore, I realised that discussions would be better organised when each of the topics are given its own thread, and students can REPLY rather than add a new post. I also taught students to respond to others by adding the @Ms Lee since you cannot reply against a reply.
This worked out very well and I was pleased with the way I have structured the group so far. I set the timer and gave students 5-10 minutes to REPLY and RESPOND, and then went over some of their comments on the promethan board to point out thoughtful responses as well as careless postings (some students accidentally posted 5 times in a row, and others posted in the wrong group.)
We then proceeded to Chapter 2, and paused in the same manner to allow for discussions and reactions. I noticed that with an online platform, everybody had an equal chance to express themselves, and EAL students were even taking part in discussions that would normally be dominated by certain individuals. At the end of the lesson I assigned a link to Chapter 3 on Google Slides, and told students to REPLY with a reaction. In the group “Related Websites” I even posted an interesting site which allows students to convert their names to Japanese.
I began the lesson with a recap of the previous chapter, and acknowledged their insightful responses on Edmodo. In the same manner as last week’s lesson, I paused during parts of the story to allow students to react and post, but this time I gave students the opportunity to choose between asking a question in the QUESTIONS DURING READING GROUP or posting a reaction to the PERSONAL REACTION group. Since students were more familiar with the groups on Edmodo, they switched between the two groups with much more confidence.
I also started a new group for this chapter called FLAGS. Since Sun Hee, the main character of the story was intrigued by the Korean flag and what the design represents, I invited students to attach an image of the flag of their own country, and post a short description of its meaning. This will be their homework for the weekend!
Some food for thought
- Before implementing Edmodo, teachers must think about the purpose of what they want the platform to serve. Do they want it to be used for announcing homework? For myself, I wanted this to be a discussion and sharing forum, so I have set rules that reflect this, including the importance of staying on topic, and giving quality feedback.
- As a classroom teacher how are you going to keep track of student participation? Would you be counting the number of posts, or the length of posts? Is it quality or quantity?
- How do you want to set up your groups? I figure if this is going to be a novel study group, teachers could even set up their groups for each chapter. For instance if students are reading the books on their own at different pace, they could make connections to the story and post in the appropriate chapter groups. Groups could also be set up according to themes. For instance for my novel, one group could be named “ADVANTAGES OF…” and “DISADVANTAGES OF…”
So far, I know it seems like the activities on Edmodo are very teacher oriented. However, I believe that as students’ familiarity with Edmodo grows, I could then start exploring ways in which they could have more self-directed discussions online. I know with pen and paper, outside the classroom collaboration has its limitations, and that is why teachers should recognise that if social media is used thoughtfully, it could facilitate connectivity and dialogue, encouraging students to interact with one another that may further increase engagement and interest.