Thursday, October 10, 2013

Apps Are Not Always the Answer - Learning Environments & Inquiry

An ideal learning environment is one where students are engaged and excited by what they are doing.  Where learning is focused on the process rather than the product.  Where exploration and inquiry guides instruction.  Where critical thinking skills are developed, learning is self-directed and problem-solving is practiced.  One of the greatest challenges facing educational leaders is dissemination.  How do you support teachers who are reluctant or unsure about these changes to their pedagogy?  Through modeling and mentorship of course. 

Rather than choosing the tools and resources and then developing lessons and activities, it is important to first determine what inquiry opportunities can be created and how the iPads, apps and other technology tools can support the inquiry.  The SAMR model was developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura as a way of evaluating the impact technology lessons and technology resources have on the learning environment and student engagement.  Here is a two minute video which explains the SAMR Model.  SAMR is an acronym for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition and refers to the level of change technology has on the teaching and learning environment.

A Padagogy Wheel that helps you choose apps for each task can be found here and there are many other resources found on the web.

Keeping in mind that those moments from school that I best remembered were ones where I was actively engaged in inquiry, projects and learning with my peers, I try to choose stations and activities that would be both appealing to students and support learning through a student-centered model.   As much as possible, I also wanted to introduce students, teachers and parents to the process of inquiry and promote inquiry-based learning as a pedagogical focus.  I have found introducing this process to the school all at once can help reluctant teachers and parents understand the power of these learning experiences for students.

Planning a school wide event can seem a daunting challenge but breaking the process into chunks and recruiting help can make the entire process easier.  A lead-in time of at least a month is highly recommended.  Weeks before the event you should:

 •  Form a committee or planning team.  These events should be collaborative in nature and include the input of staff, administration and students.  Don’t underestimate the support a group of student leaders can offer, both during the planning and on the day itself.  Have regular meetings to keep everyone up-to-date on where progress has or hasn’t been made.  Report out the results regularly. 

•  Create a to-do list of everything that needs to be done and assign the tasks to volunteers.  Confirm where the funding will come from for any items that need to be purchased.

•  Decide on the types of activities you want to offer and create a list.  These activities should be student-centered, hands-on and open-ended.  There are many resources available to support those looking for ideas and some helpful hints included in this chapter to support choosing activities. 

•  Communicate your intent to staff and set a date.  Continue to keep staff informed and share out a plan for the day itself (include items such as a schedule, physical layout, sign-up sheet, last minute information and answers to some of the FAQs).

•   Invite parents and the extended school community.  By creating a wider base of participants you lend legitimacy to what you are doing.  Consider extending the event into the evening to attract parents who normally would be unable to attend.  Involve local businesses and reach out to them for donations (money, items for estimation, equipment). 

•  The day before should be spent in ensuring all materials are in the school, setting up the stations and confirming the volunteer schedules for the following day.  I recommend having each staff member sign up for stations throughout the day to ensure students are actively engaged and that no station is overwhelmed with participants.

A great source for finding and creating inquiry questions can be found at Smarter Science.  The resource pages include specific inquiry activities, a planning template for creating inquiry activities and a question matrix that helps generate quality inquiry questions.  Many of these resources can be used in multiple subject areas.

Link #1  My Curated App Collections

This is the access page to my six curated app collections.
They include:
• Math Apps for Parents
• Essential Apps for Teachers
• Literacy Apps for Parents
• Measurement Apps to Use in Math & Science
• Apps to Promote Creativity
• Apps to Promote Mathematical Thinking

Link #2  Smarter Science Question Grid

Smarter Science is dedicated to promoting inquiry in Science.  This matrix can be used to generate and refine inquiry questions in any subject area.

Link #3  Dan Meyer’s Three-Act Math Tasks

An excellent resource with many math lessons/ideas all centered around using inquiry in the classroom.

Link #4  Using QR Codes to Differentiate Instruction

Some excellent ideas from edutopia  written by Monica Burns, a NYC Educator and Apple Distinguished Educator.