In today’s world, the topic of using technology in the classroom can be intimidating. In this monthly column, join one teacher on a quest to discover the best way to meet the needs of her digital-age learners…moving beyond the technology tools to focusing on supporting each student’s learning.
When we look at today’s students, it’s easy to recognize that the way that they spend their time has changed. With the constant influx of information and communication, they are more plugged in to the world around them than ever before. Our learners crave the ability to create and design something new to share with others. As we are thinking about them, it’s crucial for us to give them the opportunity to share their learning in a way that’s meaningful to them. How many of us can remember the projects or reports that we did in school? I can clearly see the to-scale model that I built of Stonehenge and the accompanying report that I read to my peers. I also remember the mobile I created of the solar system (which hung in my bedroom long after the project date). I worked for hours on both of those projects. I can still see them in my head. We all have memories such as these…but are these really the kind of projects that our students need to be creating?
As I’ve reminisced with other educators, there is one common theme. All of these were “about” projects—projects that just dealt with the sharing of facts. Was there any really deep learning happening? No. Were we creating, analyzing, or synthesizing information? No again.
With our students, there isn’t going to be much appeal to “tell” about a topic because they are already using the tools to which they have access to create, communicate, and collaborate.
And we need to bring them into our classrooms.
Today, when students are researching, they are building background knowledge. That’s where most of us stopped with our projects. Their research produces text, blogs, videos, podcasts, interviews, and webinars. Many times, they can contact an expert over Skype. They have so many different mediums at their disposal.
Yet, what do they do with all of it? They want to take all of this research and then create something new to share with their audience. Often I have students who want to create multiple projects on their topic and put them into one place to publish. This can very easily become overwhelming. Where does it all go?
Last school year, I had a student, Kearston, who was very creative. She wanted to create multiple small projects on her theme of the Scientific Method (a topic my students chose to dig deeper into and publish for the collaborative partners all across the country). That’s when we started using a tool called Museum Box
. It’s a tool where students can create multiple three dimensional boxes within a virtual drawer. On each side of the box, a different type of medium can be placed.
Although Museum Box is a free tool, you do have to register an account. They will check to make sure you are a classroom teacher before your account is accessible. It only took about two business days for the approval of my account.
As the teacher, then you can add your students, who can then begin creating their own boxes. Anything students create must be approved by the teacher before their Museum Boxes are accessible for others to view, giving you control over what is published. Each drawer can have up to three levels, and each level can have up to eight six-sided cubes. That’s a lot of space for content. Learners can add text, graphics, audio, video, and URLs.
Kearston created a couple of Vokis because as she researched the history of the Scientific Method, she learned the importance of Aristotle and Sir Francis Bacon, which she felt was crucial for her audience to understand her topic. She also wrote a poem, which she published as a song using an app called Songify
(available for iPhone, iPad, and Android). She included photos, a joke, fun resources, her own science lab, a Wordle, writing, and graphics. Kearston curated the best resources she found and added them to her own creations to share with her audience. By providing her with a tool that supported her learning, her final project
was an amazing 48-item resource that she created and curated (be sure to click on each box to see each of the six sides).
As amazing as her final project was, it didn’t come without a few hiccups along the way. When students are trying to manage content, the sheer amount of what they collect and then create can quickly get out of hand. We learned that for this to be successful, like any other project, it required some planning. Kearston realized that much of what she created fell into categories. She grouped like items together onto the same box. You’ll notice that a majority of what she included in her Museum Box was created by her, extending her learning beyond that “about” stage of the project. She only included additional resources where she felt they would improve upon the learning of her audience.
So as your students start digging into building background knowledge, moving beyond the “about” to create projects with higher order thinking, remember that sometimes, the solution to our publishing challenges can really be inside the box—especially if it’s a Museum Box. Julie D. Ramsay is a Nationally Board Certified educator, a fifth grade teacher in a student-driven classroom, and the author of “CAN WE SKIP LUNCH AND KEEP WRITING?”: COLLABORATING IN CLASS & ONLINE, GRADES 3-8 (Stenhouse, 2011). She travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog at juliedramsay.blogspot.com.
© 2012 Julie D. Ramsay. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.