Sunday, December 8, 2013

Technology Integration Unit - Country Exchange

During the past few weeks, I have been working on a technology enriched learning unit. This unit combines the study of geography and 21st century learning skills. Students are asked to determine how geography affects culture, and they are participating in an email exchange with students from the countries they are studying.

Follow this link to view the Unit Plan.

The Unit Plan can also be found on My Website.

Final Reflective Report

Unit - Geography Exchange - A Technology Enhanced Unit

In this unit,  I collaborated with Ms. Stolfi, a seventh grade social studies teacher. The student learning objective for our unit was 1) students will perform research to produce a multimedia presentation on a country and 2) students will participate in an email exchange with a student from the country they are researching.  Our learning objectives centered on student use of technology. They were to 1) introduce and have students use Google Docs/Drive, 2)have students collaborate and write online, and 3) have students practice proper online etiquette during email exchanges. Thus far, I am pleased with the outcome of this unit.  Students have been receptive to the project. They are using the technology tools we have introduced them to. They have learned to use Google Docs, and have learned how to share Google documents for commenting. They are using Google Docs to collaborate on documents related to their research, and are currently in the process of researching information and applying thoughtful evaluation to their online sources.  They are also participating in an email exchange with students from the countries they are researching, and  have sent out their first email.

Our initial plan to use iEarn for this project did not work out.  Instead,  I was able to find another solution for students to use for their email exchange.  Students are using to communicate with students from the countries they are researching. Epals is a robust global classroom collaboration network. It contains numerous resources to engage students. These include an email exchange system, learning games,  and discussion boards on books, movies, and other topics that are of interest to young students.  Epals’ secure internal email system allows the classroom teacher to monitor all student email exchanges.  This monitoring system assures safe and appropriate email exchanges.  Through, I was able to establish a working collaboration for this project with teachers from France, Italy, and England. The French and Italian students are learning English. Within the email system, there is also a built-in translator that can be used by our French and Italian epal students.  The epals enhancement to the unit has motivated students to eagerly participate in the project. They are excited about having a friend abroad.  As we read our students’ initial emails, we see they are being thoughtful about their writing. They are being very creative about  what they want to share and what they want to learn from their epals. They are being courteous and are asking questions of their epals thus creating opportunities for discussion and conversation.  I am very happy for them, and I am pleased to see their desire to participate in the email exchange.

In addition to the email exchange, students have the task of developing a multimedia presentation from their research. Students have been taught how to evaluate websites using the 5Ws.  I stress the need of their thoughtful evaluation of online sources at the onset of every class.  As I move through the classroom checking on the work and progress of groups,  I check the online sources that student groups are using. At times, I have had to specifically point out sources that are questionable and have asked to see their website evaluation checklist. The checklist is a tool that guides them in determining the validity and credibility of a website. It helps students take a critical look at websites. I believe the use of the website evaluation checklist needs to be reinforced until students can intuitively evaluate a website for credibility. As students turn more and more to the Internet for their information needs, evaluating the credibility and validity of online information is critical for them.

My students were amused with the shared editing features of Google docs. They were excited to see the different colors assigned to each collaborator working on a shared  document. I encourage students to use standard group roles (researcher/navigator, recorder, reader) to work, and suggest they rotate the roles at each new class. I explained that this would give them the opportunity to share ideas and perform different jobs that are essential for their group.  Collaboration and the ability for students to work together is important.  I believe there is an opportunity in this project to improve how students work in groups.

Recently, a student expressed her dislike of working in groups and expressed her preference of working independently.  This reminded of the need to provide students with a choice of how they want to work either in a group or independently.  I explained to Hannah that we wanted students to work in groups to share ideas and discuss research findings.  I have observed Hannah in her group. She is quiet and listens to others, and completes tasks she is asked to work on by others in her group. I have reviewed group roles and expectations with Hannah’s group.  I have been encouraging her participation by prompting her to share her thoughts. I have made a note to modify this project in the future  to allow for students to either work in groups or independently.

My collaboration efforts with Ms. Stolfi has been a positive experience. The ability to share documents with her using Google Drive has been a great asset for our collaboration.  Much of the technology integration of this unit is new for our students. The students of this project are the first, at my school, to use Meriden’s Gmail account system. It was a learning experience for me and my collaborator as we used the gmail system with our students.  I have learned a great deal from this experience and plan to share with other teachers who are interested in using this technology with their students.  We have received positive feedback from administration and teachers who have inquired about the project.  The use of epals has been of special interest to other teachers who would like to explore the possibility of using this resource with their classes.

At this time, students are in the final steps of their project. All presentations must be completed by December 13th.  Students have received email responses from England. We are waiting for email responses from Italy and France.  The technology enhancements made to this unit have resulted in improved student learning. Students are using tools and resources that are relevant. They are developing and practicing 21st century learning skills. They are using the Internet to locate information and collaborate with others. They are evaluating online sources and collaborating with their group members to synthesize the information they have found.They are aware of the importance of using proper online etiquette in communicating with others online. These are skills that will help my students succeed in and out of the classroom.