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Applying Learning to Teaching and Teaching to Learning

In a class session for my doctoral program over the weekend, the professors asked that we share our greatest learning moment from our first year in the program. In contemplating the question,  I realized that the greatest learning moment came in recognizing how to bridge cognitive theory and practice within my own EdTechTeacher workshop design.

In a previous article, I explored five ways that I would change my upcoming iPads in the Elementary Classroom workshop. Having just led my first session of that re-designed workshop, I have new thoughts before the next iteration.

The need for experience

Too often, teachers lament that they "don't know what they don't know." Few of us experienced elementary school with iPads or any other technology, and many of us remember school as a structured, teacher-led experience requiring us to memorize, repeat, and behave. From a cognitive perspective, learning occurs when we build new patterns from prior knowledge through active or vicarious experience, reflection and internalization, and opportunities to make new inferences based on past experiences (Bandura, 1986). This becomes difficult when we have nothing on which to construct new knowledge.

Last week, my workshop participants spent the first day engaged in purposeful play. I explained that I wanted them to have these types of learning experiences so that they would have prior knowledge on which to build new ideas. As they worked through a variety of activities designed to help build fluency with the technology as well as provide them with new experiences, I also asked them to reflect in a class journal set up with SeeSaw.

Though most of the participants enjoyed the opportunity to play and explore in a scaffolded manner, in the feedback from the workshop, one participant mentioned the need for me to pay more attention to andragogy  - theories of adult learning. Particularly with technology, teachers are more likely to adopt new practices when they see an immediate benefit to themselves and their practice (Zhao et al., 2002). While I wanted the teachers to experience life as a student during that first day, in the next workshop I will provide a few more opportunities for them to use some of the tools from a teacher perspective.

Teachers (& Students) Need to be Comfortable

After extensive research into technology integration and adult learning, it became apparent that teacher comfort needed to become more of a priority. Teachers who feel comfortable with the tools will be more likely to use them in creative ways. Over the course of three days, we used a total of eight apps (Safari, Drive, Explain Everything, Book Creator, Popplet, Shadow Puppet Edu, and SeeSaw). Though we did explore a few web-based applications such as Padlet, we predominately focused on just those few creation apps. In a post-workshop survey, 87.5% of participants indicated that they felt more comfortable using iPads in their classroom.

Letting Go of Control

One of the challenges with student-centered learning is giving up the control and encouraging students to guide the process. As teachers, this feels disorienting. We wonder how we can ensure that students are gaining the skills that they need as well as how to keep them on task. To model what this could look like, the participants experienced a number of different challenges.

First, students used a Socrative Space Race to learn iOS skills. The activity kept them on task while they explored their devices and taught each other. Next, participants moved at their own pace through various activities by following task cards embedded on our workshop web site (see below for an example task card inspired by Meghan Zigmond).

Finally, I modeled a gradual release of control as the participants gained more opportunities to progress at their own pace.

Because we collectively archived our learning within our SeeSaw class journal, the participants felt a need to stay on task so that they could share their learning. One of my participants had used SeeSaw extensively in her class and partnered with the company as an ambassador. Additionally, her experience presented a unique opportunity for me to model how to allow the student to assume the role of expert. As teachers, we often feel as though we have to know everything about technology. This woman had significantly more knowledge and experience with the app, so I regularly asked her for best practices, recommendations, or troubleshooting tips. As a group, we discussed strategies for how to empower students in this manner while also maintaining our sense of credibility.

Leveraging a Constructivist Mindset

Multiple studies (Kim et al., 2012; Overbay et al., 2010) have established a correlation between a constructivist mindset and successful use of technology in the classroom. Teachers who possess an inherent belief in student-centered, active learning tend to use technology in more creative ways. I realized that I would not be able to shift beliefs in three days; however, I wanted to provide participants with an opportunity to see how constructivist, student-centered learning could allow their students to engage in higher-order thinking skills while still hitting a multitude of standards.

To create this type of a unique learning experience, I used the Extraordinaire Design Studio to immerse participants in a Design Thinking challenge on the third workshop day. They engaged deeply with a problem, used a variety of media to represent their learning, collaborated with others, and presented to an authentic audience. Beyond building technology fluency and literacy skills, the activity also addressed a host of Common Core Standards.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 - Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.1
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 - Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 - Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6 - Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 - Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 - Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

In reflecting on the past week, I recognize where I need to add more scaffolding, adjust the pacing, and incorporate more opportunities for participants to experience the technology as a teacher rather than a student. As my professor mentioned in our session, I met the intended objective of our doctoral work - to discover new ways to put theory into practice.

References

Bandura, A. (1986). Models of human nature and causality. In Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. (pp. 1-46). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Kim, C., Kim, M. K., Lee, C., Spector, J. M., & DeMeester, K. (2012). Teacher beliefs and technology integration. Teaching and Teacher Education, 29(C), 76-85. doi: 10.1016/j.tate.2012.08.005

Overbay, A., Patterson, A. S., & Vasu, E. S. (2010). Constructivism and technology use: Findings from the IMPACTing leadership project. Educational Media International, 47(2), 103-120. doi: 10.1080/09523987.2010.492675

Zhao, Y., Pugh, K., Sheldon, S., & Byers, J. L. (2002). Conditions for classroom technology innovations. Teachers College Record, 104(3), 482-515. doi: 10.1111/1467-9620.00170

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