Mondays, Tech Talks, and Bloom’s Taxonomy

Monday. I have a love hate relationship with Monday. I love it because I get to teach again…but I hate it because I have to wake up at five after sleeping until ten on the weekends.

Yesterday was a particularly bad Monday for several reasons:

1)      I didn’t feel well (I left school early today and I am typing this blog from home).

2)      It was the day of our first annual magic show – a fundraiser for our renaissance program. Everybody was going nuts with last-minute plans.

3)      I discovered that wordpress.com is blocked at school, which annoyed me. What does THAT say about our preëxisting notions of digital literacy?

4)      I wasn’t fully prepared for the day because I spent the weekend obsessing over blog posts and reading education articles instead of planning my lessons (bad teacher!).

So there I was, at the beginning of the period, frantically finishing my SmartBoard presentation for my adjectives and adverbs mini-lesson. I killed a bit of time by having the kids copy down the agenda from the board, but it wasn’t quite enough. I decided to have them do a quick write on how they use technology in their lives.

Their responses varied from playing internet based games to fiddling with the GPS systems in their parents’ cars, which surprised me. The word “technology” automatically conjures up images of computers and smart phones – not cars and toenail clippers (one of the boys shared that thought, which I thought was very clever. After all, technology does not always involve sparks and wires).

Among the Facebook comments, YouTube videos, and video game cheat codes, one of the students said that he likes to use the internet to “look stuff up.” When I asked him what kind of stuff, he couldn’t (or perhaps wouldn’t) tell me. At the other end of the room one of the girls said that she likes to look up ways to solve math problems using YouTube because “the guy will solve it in the video and then it makes sense.” That comment then reminded another student that he likes to use the internet to clarify his understanding on a specific topic with sites such as Wikipedia.

These comments raise an interesting point about our students changing literacies: they use and think about technology on a different level than their parents and teachers. This is because they are considered “digital natives” and their parents and teachers are considered “digital immigrants.” Digital natives navigate digital waters effortlessly, and the comments above show that they use the internet to learn new material – such as how to solve algebraic equations or just “stuff” about life and the world – that may or may not be purely academic.

But who is to say that “academic” learning is the only important type of learning? To our students the new understandings they construct about life and the world outside of school may be more relevant than finding the theme of The Giver. How then, can we as educators make academic learning exciting and relevant to our students?

Now for a brief tangent…

Research has shown that a multilayered approach is most effective, and the layers I am referring to are as follows: 1) Construction of Knowledge 2) Disciplined Inquiry 3) Value Beyond School. Construction of knowledge requires students to use new knowledge gained from a variety of sources to create something original; and students can engage in disciplined inquiry by expressing their thoughts and ideas about new knowledge through “elaborated and extended communication;” but neither of these criteria will be effective without having some relevance to the real world (Gibbons, 2009).

Gibbons ideas closely follow the higher order thinking skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy. Construction of knowledge requires synthesis, evaluation, and creation while disciplined inquiry requires the students to analyze and evaluate information as well. So, in order to pull these theories (and this tangent) back into the digital age, I have included a link to a fabulous article that details the progression of Bloom’s Taxonomy through our changing society.

And, because I don’t like the bland graphic organizer the article has provided, I created a newer, prettier one. Take note of the list of verbs for each level of thinking. I’ve included the traditional verbs, but I’ve also added the digital verbs from the article. Enjoy!

Works Cited

Churches, Andrew. “TechLearning: Bloom’s Taxonomy Blooms Digitally.” Classroom Tech Learning, Education, PC, Mac, IPad, Bloom’s Taxonomy – Techlearning.com. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. <http://www.techlearning.com/article/44988&gt;.

Gibbons, Pauline. English Learners, Academic Literacy, and Thinking: Learning in the Challenge Zone. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2009. Print.

The cool thing about classroom computers…

Here is the cool thing about using computers in the classroom: the kids are actually excited about it.

At the beginning of the year, I approached my computer cart with apprehension and dread. The thought of putting costly netbooks in the hands of thirty-two twelve-year-olds made me break out in a cold sweat. Visions of cracked screens, exposed wires, and electrocution flashed through my mind. I recalled the most important reason for bringing my laptop to boring lectures in college: Facebook. More specifically: Farmville. Perhaps this was my karma.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to find out I would have a wealth of technology at my disposal. I was also terrified. I remember an assignment my last semester of student teaching where I had to design my ideal classroom layout. I had a couch, a classroom library under a wall of windows, a SmartBoard, and a computer cart, and plenty of room to add seating for forty (I had to be realistic) in the shape of a horseshoe to facilitate class discussions. I even included little footprints to show where I would stand when addressing the class.

When I showed it to my cooperating teacher (a.k.a. CT) before turning it in, she laughed. She said I would be lucky to have a classroom large enough to fit all of my students, let alone a couch, computer cart, and a SmartBoard. Well, look who is laughing now (although she was right about the couch)!

It took me about four weeks to finally break out the computers. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust the kids (I didn’t) but I didn’t trust myself to set up effective routines for handling them. We spent an entire day on how to take the computer out of the cart, how to walk with it to the desk, how to log on, and how to put them away. I exaggerated the cost of the computers to be $700 to scare the kids into behaving. Regardless, I’ve had to deal with a cracked computer screen, missing keys, and blue screens of death. Electrocution has not been an issue…yet.

In spite of the issues, the computers are the best part of my classroom. While I don’t use them every day, I can’t imagine teaching without them. I’ve noticed that the students are more engaged when using the computers, and they tend to put more effort into their assignments.

Now my goal is to combine the technology at my disposal with something Pauline Gibbons calls rich tasks and identity texts. According to Gibbons, rich tasks “focus on central ideas of a topic or issue and require students to demonstrate deep knowledge of the field, rather than simply knowledge of isolated facts…rich tasks also result in an end product that has relevance beyond the classroom and is presented to an audience broader than the teacher.” These end products are referred to as identity texts (2009).

Identity texts are designed to improve the students’ confidence by promoting a positive self-identity, which provides a much more powerful and lasting learning experience than boring drill and practice activities. When combining identity texts with technology, not only do the students develop the digital literacy skills that they will need in their professional lives, but they also create a professional looking product of which they can feel proud.

Continue reading as I explore the possibilities of the digital classroom and how it can be used to increase engagement, effort, and critical thinking skills in the 21st century student.

Works Cited

Cummins, Jim. “Forward.” English Learners, Academic Literacy, and Thinking: Learning in the Challenge Zone. By Pauline Gibbons. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2009. Print.