What is the Digital Footprint in Your Classroom?
In contrast to the technology teachers use in a classroom for their professional use, what is the technology (or digital) footprint of your students?
Why the concern? Technology tools, both on- and offline, abound today in schools. When these tools are effectively integrated in science and math curricula, your classroom will transform your classroom into a learning community.
So what is your students’ technology footprint?
Building a Learning Community
Through optimizing the power of digital footprint in your classroom, students transform from passive to active learners. When incorporating technology within core curriculum, you leverage students’ prior knowledge and experiences (PKE) with content.
By leveraging students’ PKE with technological tools, they are able to build learning communities within and outside the classroom. These communities are known as personal learning networks.
Regardless of term used, when describing this technology, group work has moved into the 21st century.
Digital Foot Print Strategies by Grade Level
The following are examples of how digital tools support student learning:
Elementary – students work collaboratively and share their work or projects with others in and outside their classroom.
Examples include: Skype sessions, blogs, wikis, creating podcasts, digital storytelling, content specific interactive games and programs, VoiceThread, and presentations with Glogster.
Middle School – students work collaboratively and share data with others in or outside their classroom. Includes data and information collected during science and math investigative activities.
Examples include using tools such as Skype, online surveys and polls, Twitter, blogs, wikis, podcasts, presentations using Google Docs and Glogster, digital storytelling, content specific interactive games and programs, VoiceThread, Screencasts, WallWisher, Wolfram Alpha, and web-based learning centers.
High School – students work collaboratively and share data with others in or outside their classroom. Includes data and information collected during science and math investigative activities. Along with Middle School examples, a classroom’s digital footprint needs to include using technology tools for:
- reading content-related blogs to learn what scientists and mathematicians are thinking and doing.
- creating content-related student blogs focused on solving real-time issues and problems.
- creating podcasts for lower grade students designed as “How to’s.” This strategy helps high school students validate solve problems or investigative techniques.
- participating in online discussions and forums, such as Skype, focused on content-related issues. For example global warming, historic issues, data analysis, math challenges, literature, and finding answers for content-related problems.
- using social networks, such as Twitter and VoiceThread, for creating personal learning networks or learning communities. Examples include seeking advice and answers from content experts, reflecting on their learning experiences, and establishing their own digital footprint.
Tools Within a Digital Toolbox
Examples of digital tools may include and are certainly not limited to computers, iPod Touches, iPads, cell phones, online data bases, interactive offline software, productivity software (word processing, spreadsheets and presentation tools) blogs, podcasts, interactive websites, and many other Web 2.0 tools.
Additional benefits for students when optimizing the use of digital media tools, include:
- improving reading and writing skills.
- supporting differentiated learning.
- learning how to build a positive digital footprint of their own. This is an important attribute, because students in general do not understand the ramifications of some material they post on social media.
- working with peers to make connections within and among content concepts.
- building their confidence for learning.
- learning actively as opposed to passive learning.
- being more involved in research projects which stimulate critical thinking skills
- creating a personal learning network.
So if you are considering creating or expanding your classroom’s digital foot print — the time to take action is at hand!
Encouraging students to use critical thinking is more than an extension activity in science and math lessons, it is the basis of true learning.
Teaching students how to think critically helps them move beyond basic comprehension and rote memorization. They shift to a new level of increased awareness when calculating, analyzing, problem solving, and evaluating.
Another way to view the power of critical thinking – as students learn how to apply and use higher order thinking skills, they learn how to question the accuracy of their solutions and findings.
Students wonder why they got the results they did and not another outcome. This in turn leads to internalization of concepts, along with all important point of making connections with related concepts.
Teaching Critical Thinking
Some students have the natural ability to ask higher cognitive questions. Specifically when evaluating experimental findings in science or solving math problems. However, many students do not have this innate skill and need to learn how to ask higher order questions.
An important point for encouraging students to use critical thinking is by modeling these skills for your students. Students will inherently follow their teacher’s lead; this is why it is important to practice what we preach.
The following are examples of questions to ask your students to encourage them to think critically (Richard Paul).
- What additional information do you need to solve the problem?
- How does the data relate to your findings?
- How does the evidence support your conclusions?
- What would you need to do to determine if the solution is true?
- How can you compare this with other problems?
- Are their alternative solutions to the problem? If so, what are they?
- What else may be true if this is correct?
- What effect would _______ have?
- What do you mean by that statement?
- How could you ask that question differently?
- What did you learn from solving this problem?
- Is this the most important question to ask when solving the problem?
- What questions need to be answered before answering this question?
These questions all have one purpose – keeping the train on the track by guiding students through the critical thinking process. When you ask these and similar questions, you are encouraging your students to move from passive to active learning.
Avoiding Questions Easily Answered on the Internet
Questions and problems easily answered through a quick query on the internet are not an effective strategy for teaching critical thinking. Students need questions which require them to create a product to show what they learned. The following examples are referred to “Google-Proofing” in some circles.
- Construct a data table and graph to display a comparison of cost of three competing cell phone companies.
- Design an investigation to determine the best materials for building a hurricane proof house.
- Compare the organs in the human body with other mammals.
- Create a board game based on geometric shapes.
- Redesign an existing product to reduce its carbon footprint.
The goal is to help students learn how to develop higher level questions and make connections when solving math problems or analyzing experimental data.
Quality Thinking In order to support quality critical thinking, the frequency of questions is not as important as the quality of questions. Also, increasing wait-time between teacher-student-teacher is important to success with teaching quality thinking. According to Kathleen Cotton, the following are factors to consider when asking students questions.
- The average level of questions asked by teachers are 60 percent lower cognitive, 20 percent procedural, and 20 percent higher cognitive.
- Increasing the frequency of higher cognitive questions to the 50 percent level produces superior gains in middle and high school student achievement.
- Asking higher cognitive questions does not reduce student achievement on lower cognitive questions.
- With predominate use of lower cognitive questions; students tend toward lower achievement.
The use of higher cognitive questions tends to elicit longer student answers in complete sentences, quality inference and conjecture by students, and the forming of higher level questions. This in turn results in increased student use of critical thinking and classroom participation. There is never a wrong time to begin encouraging your students to use critical thinking skills, so why not start today.
Cotton, Kathleen, Classroom Questioning, North West Regional Educational Laboratory.
Paul, Richard, Critical Thinking: How to Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World, Foundation for Critical Thinking.
The Best Resources in Teaching & Learning Critical Thinking in the Classroom
Alternative assessments provide you opportunities to determine the true level of understanding your students have regarding science and math concepts. These tools improve the learning environment for your students, along with your assessment of their real understanding.
So how does this happen?
The use of an alternative assessment provides students the opportunity to demonstrate their breadth and depth of concept understanding. This moves beyond the traditional multiple choice tests in which many students pass with good guesses or an innate ability to eliminate options.
Although these alternatives often require more work on your part, you will not be unpleasantly surprised with many of your student’s outcome on standardized testing. Why? You have already discovered their weak areas and addressed them in advance.
Technology Based Assessments
The important point to consider when using technology is that it’s only used as a means for students to demonstrate their concept knowledge. The emphasis must not be placed on the quality of a technology based project. Weight in the alternative assessment must be on the concept application and understanding.
Student Blogs – are used in lieu of a hand written journal. Blogs provide a venue for students to reflect on their understanding of concepts, by requiring them to:
- critically analyze ideas in science or math
- provide resources (images, references, websites, etc.) to support their position regarding their understanding of a concept
- provide instructions for how to solve math problems or conduct a scientific investigation
Presentations – are used in lieu of common presentation tools, traditional posters, or works of art. Students use the following alternatives to express their understanding of concepts.
- Voice Tread – provides five tools to communicate with group members, teachers, and students in other schools. Voice Thread provides the ability to share knowledge gained during science or math project based learning activities or data collection activities. These tools are webcam, voice, documents, audio, and images.
- Glogster – provides four methods of communicating content knowledge through interactive posters using images, videos, music, and documents.
- Prezi – allows students to embed videos, vocabulary, websites, mind maps, graphic organizers, and images to provide supporting evidence regarding their knowledge and understanding of concepts.
- One approach is allowing students to create their Prezi throughout a science or math chapter/unit. Then present their Prezi presentation at the end.
- Wall Wisher – students demonstrate their understanding of math concepts through a collection of images or present a reflection of their understanding scientific concepts by showcasing their research.
- Podcasts – used to create a “how to” or instructions for solving a problem in science and math.
- math problem and solution which requires proof the answer is correct or wrong
- environmental issues in science
- developing step by step procedures for completing a scientific investigation
- writing a series of questions or statements using a term in proper context
- draw pictures to explain a math of science term
Non-Technology Based Assessments
As with technology, they are only used as a means for students to demonstrate their concept knowledge. Weight of alternative assessment must be on application of concept(s)
Mental Math – students must have the opportunity to solve problems without the use of pencil, paper, or technology (computers/calculators). This ability is becoming a lost art for many students today. I have come across few students who can add, subtract, multiply, or divide without the aid of calculator or pencil and paper. Mental math activities not only apply to mathematics, they also apply to areas in science which rely heavily on math. Provide students with activities on a regular basis, for example two days a week, in which they solve problems using mental math techniques.
Problems – task students to create a problem related to a concept and then present ways to solve the problem.
Math and Science Terminology – students write a story which includes vocabulary words in the proper context. Application I do not recommend total reliance on these assessment techniques to evaluate your students. However, I do not support of using traditional methods as the only method for student evaluation. I recommend a mixture of both alternative and traditional assessments to develop a learning community in your classroom.
These are only five examples of alternative assessments you can use to accurately understand your students understanding science and math concepts. Naturally there are many more.
Your Turn. Do you have additional recommendations?