Friday, 8 May 2015

Part One: Something about some classrooms I've been in lately...

Visiting classrooms

I have this really great privilege in popping into a small group of teachers' classrooms at a local secondary school on a regular basis. I'm there to see what goes on when they experiment with various digital technologies with specific classes.
    So far, I've been in a senior physics class and learning stuff about radioactive isotopes, a music class that ironically was so quiet you hear the tiniest of noises, a French class and a Spanish class. At least in the last two I can understand what's going on, for those two languages still have vestiges of familiarity from my learning them last century.
    Each teacher has approached the learning differently. In the Physics class, the students were to use a simulation about half-life, in music, students had 4 iPad apps to choose from to develop their expertise with, while in French the class messed with Padlet and in Spanish students used GoogleDocs to collaborate on creating a group story using the preterite and imperfect past tenses. Let me tell you what I learned from one of those experiences. As you read, it would be very cool if you thought of ways these examples inspire you to think about how students behave around these digital tools. I'll start with Physics. I might even write more posts about the other classes too, for they raised other interesting ideas to think about.

Physics class

Students were either issued with Chromebooks or got out their own laptops. it was a senior class which students opted to take, so there was already a willingness to engage in learning. They used a site they'd used simulations resources before: They had worked perfectly. This time however, instead of the simulation being HTML5, it was a Javascript. The Chromebooks were not enabled and so no-one could access it. This didn't stop the students trying several options to open it first. These attempts demonstrated how even when 'the computer says no' does not stop them trying to find a 'yes'. 
    In the end, the teacher hooked up her laptop and invited 4 students in turn to take control and work through the tasks so everyone could complete the work which, instead of being an individual investigation manipulating the simulation, became a whole-class shared activity. The behaviours of the girls and the one boy were very different. Generally, the girls were focused on doing the right thing and following the instructions, asking for help when needed. The boy on the other hand, immediately messed with the controls, for he said he wanted to see how things worked first. 
    In discussions with the teacher afterwards, we wondered if this was indeed a gendered difference, or was it simply the luck of the draw and was a trait of the individual boy?  The teacher also thought that although she had tested the simulation herself, she hadn't tested it on the Chromebooks to see if it worked on them too. And this would have been unfeasible - checking 20 laptops? I think not for a busy teacher. 
    This raises the issue of the quality of the technical support in being able to predict what teachers need students to be able to do and to ensure that devices the school owns are ready to work as expected. I suspect this is an issue for other schools too. 

Is this your experience too? If it is, what kinds of people should be supporting schools with their IT stuff? What, ideally, should they know about besides the technology itself? 

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