Saturday, March 12, 2016

Letting Students Choose Research and Going Outside the Classroom

Jess Fraser

It’s so difficult to choose my best teaching moment of all time, so I’ll choose a project that empowered students to have a voice and to interact outside of their classroom.  Two years ago, my fifth graders in Anaheim collaborated with fifth graders in La Habra on a science project.  In groups of four, two from Anaheim and two from La Habra, students used Skype to communicate with one another, Docs to plan and collaborate, and Flipboard to curate their science research.  Each group determined questions they still had unanswered after learning about outer space using their science textbook.  They worked together to find the answers to their questions and place the resources in their shared Flipboard magazine.  At the end of the curation period, groups decided how they would display their learning.


The main reason why this was one of the best teaching moments for me was because my students were fully empowered by having choice in their project.  With many of my students being English learners, communicating via Skype allowed them to develop their language skills in a fun and non-intimidating way.  My students were, for probably the first time in their lives, actually excited about research.  I loved the buzz that this project created and how my students worked after school hours late into the evening, as I enabled notifications to keep track of their activity on Flipboard.  My students said this project gave them more confidence and showed them a new way of learning.  The kids who were normally unmotivated in school told me how much they loved learning throughout this project.  It gave them hope in the fact that they could have voice and choice in their learning.

Green Screen in 7th Grade Science

I introduced it to my students with a warm-up question, "What makes Magic School Bus magical?" We discussed, and then I told them we were going to try out green screen--they were giddy with excitement. Their anticipation grew even more when I told them I had never done this before, and we were going to learn together.

The premise of their project was to form groups of 3 and create a 2-3 minute video where they creatively explain a chemical reaction. Then, their first task was to collaborate on a script on Google Docs. We spent the rest of the block period (105 minutes) outside writing scripts on the grass and on benches.

The next block we were on a field trip (yay!) and students finished their script on Friday (30 minutes). On Monday, I projected the workflow (see below), and students worked either inside or outside in their groups for 105 minutes. I had two groups record on Monday, which was a huge success because we learned how to use the DoInk app together!

On Wednesday, I had 8 groups that needed to record, so I assigned them each a "call time" for 10 minutes of recording time and sent everyone else to practice outside. For this first time using green screen, I limited my students to one background to keep things simple. In the future, I'll allow them to record with multiple scenes.

My two groups that already recorded had also edited outside of class. I asked these 6 girls to manage the recording process using my iPad. Something amazing happened: they took over the entire recording process, including downloading the image from Google Drive, using the app, directing the recordings, managing props, uploading the video, and alerting the next group it was their time. I was amazed that they took on this leadership without being asked! And, it freed me up to check in with other groups and not stress about getting everything done.