Instructional Media or “What’s an Overhead?”

What’s the DIF (Differentiated Instruction)in a learning journey?

April 11th, 2010 · 3 Comments

What if we didn’t differentiate instruction in our classrooms? What if we just taught to the largest group in the class? What would it be like?
I’m sure it would be a lot like the classrooms of our youth (FYI- I grew up in the sixites and seventies), where those whose needs were not met would become behaviour challenges for the teacher, or lose interest, or simply disengage from learning. The fact is, good teachers already differentiate instruction, by giving students choice about the kind of products they create, by assisting students, by modifying expectations, and by using technology in the classroom.
And where would we be without technology tools to help make our lessons more engaging? Those lessons could miss almost half of the class, and students would not have opportunities to practice, to explore or to direct their own learning linked to things that connect to the lesson, but are more personally challenging.
With the skill of Differentiated Instruction, we have the power to make our science classes (and all classes for that matter) very powerful, where students will leave our classrooms intent on finding out for themselves those questions that are brewing in their heads, to continue learning from the moment they walk out of the room, to the day they leave our classroom at year end, and onward towards the goal of lifelong learning. Differentiated Instruction delivers the message that learning is a life journey. More importantly, they will have connected, in some way unique to their learning style, to the content of the lesson, and taken away a measure of learning, that they can then demonstrate in a unique way too.
We owe it to our students to use technology tools to make each and every lesson a special opportunity for every child in our class. It’s the teacher’s challenge. Dare I say destiny?

Tags: Differentiated Instruction

From worms to butterflies to mathematics- Project Based Learning in the Real World

August 31st, 2009 · 3 Comments

The first commonality between these 3 exemplars of Project Based Learning (PBL) is the questioning that guides inquiry. In order for relevant learning to follow, students must be guided by their teachers to pose narrow, focussed questions that can only be answered by searching through vast amounts of information, or by collecting and comparing data in experiments. For example, students in the primary classroom studying worms became focused on particular aspects of worm biology as a result of being encouraged to link their inquiry to ideas already considered in the classroom.

The second common thread is the use of technology to search, gather, organize, synthesise and create a final product. Technology is not the be all and end all (See “It’s not about the technology”), however it does improve the ease of finding, gathering and organizing the information. The Internet has made information ubiquitous, however, it’s not completely necessary. Using technology as another tool in the PBL process is important, but not compulsory, as I pointed out in a Moodle posting recently. The PBL work my classes did in the mid-nineties, with minimal technology for the most part, substantiates the idea that good PBL can be done without technology. But the fact that the final products can be more engaging using technology is enough to take proper advantage of it.

The final prevalent feature of these examples of PBL is the authenticity of the projects. The learning that results must have a practical application, must be related to the real world and must be useful information in the pursuit of solutions to real world problems. The citizen science that is conducted in the Journey North Project, whereby the data collected and submitted by participating classes is used by scientists in their research affirms the work of the children. The fact that their work is available for others around the world to see, as were the contributions from my classes for Journey North. This peer judgement certainly raises the level of student productivity. In the case of the Geometry project, both peers and outside experts were used to determine the quality of work, and the students felt a huge sense of accomplishment as a result of the scrutiny of the architects who judged the projects.

The students in these PBL examples weren’t just passive learners, occasionally listening to their teachers’ lessons. They became active planners and participants in the learning, an act that reinforces the learning outcomes. The 21st century skills that group collaboration develops in projects such as these are transferable to other pursuits and it is the teachers’ role to make sure these skills are learned and practised. The content is not the teacher’s sole responsibility anymore, but rather, the facilitation of learning skills, learning outcomes, meeting provincial learning expectations, and assessment are the teacher’s main responsibilities in PBL.

The long term learning that results, besides the content that the individual inquiry uncovers, are the skills of research, collaboration and information sharing. The 21st century learner is no longer focused on the memorization of facts, but the gathering and sifting of information to create new ideas and products. Each of the three examples presented resulted in lasting and satisfying learning experiences that met the needs of the students, and the mandated curricula. Research has been done that substantiates the significant benefits to learning as a result of PBL (see Edutopia).

Tags: Project Based Learning

Synthesizing Synthesis

November 11th, 2008 · 1 Comment

So here I am, trying to synthesize synthesis! It’s a lot harder than it first seemed, I must say. But here goes.
First of all, I have to inform my distant readers (if there are any left) that this Blog has turned from mildly amusing afterthoughts on my return to life in Canada after a year in Australia, to a more focused examination of things I am learning through my online course and my preparations for changing jobs. And so I am reading Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future.
Reading Gardner, one jumps back and forth between abstract ideas and practical ones. And then one has to make sense of it all. One way is to look at one’s own teaching practices and see if it is mirrored in Gardner’s ideas. Perhaps then, some sense can be made of it. We shall see.
Looking at a classroom strategy that may have some elements of synthesis, I chose a project used in Mathematics and Science. The topic of Structures, particularly bridges, is introduced in Science through various digital media: Discovery Streaming video and bridge design software (West Point Bridge Design). As an integrated task, students work in groups to design and construct small toothpick bridges, while keeping track of “building supplies” (toothpicks, glue, paper etc) in Excel spreadsheets, when they “purchase” daily supplies to complete their bridges, journaling their day by day successes (and failures) thereby integrating Science, Language and Mathematics.
The outcomes are truly cross-disciplinary, with group work skills, scientific knowledge and practical mathematics being learned. The idea follows Gardner’s Components of Synthesis: A goal, a starting point (previous models), and a method.
Unfortunately, I will not be in a position to assign this project this year, and therefore will not be able look at it from the new perspectives that I am developing from my reading and engagement in this course.

Tags: Uncategorized