Legos and Technology – Learning out loud

Heather and I attended two sessions at the November Learning annual conference last Monday and Tuesday (July 14th and 15th.)  The first “Making Students Think Visible” focused primarily on using apps and other tech tools to get students thinking and talking about what they see.  The second “Teach less, learn more” started to be about learning while doing, but devolved into a discussion that wasn’t terribly focused.  That said, I had takeaways from both…

The Lego exercises (from Day 2) are ones I’ve done before in different forms – we were asked to follow specific instructions in a group of three first to make a Lego duck, then to make a “boat” that could float and hold pennies.  Throughout the exercises we mixed up our groups and had to explain and reassess the situation with our new colleagues.  We were also encouraged (as you all saw) to share this work with the world beyond our classroom.  I like this idea but I wish we had followed up on how to best use email, text, Twitter, Facebook to share work and seek feedback.  None of this was groundbreaking but it was a good reminder about the value in talking and explaining, switching groups, and hearing other points of view.  The learn-by-doing factor was high and it should be relatively easy to tailor this kind of activity to our various subject matters.  While it wasn’t specifically related to blended learning, it was student-focused and could be easily recreated making videos or other recordings.

The discussion that followed the Lego exercises took a variety of turns and in the end, the most valuable resource we found was Challenge Based Learning, which puts the Lego duck example into a bigger scale. (CBL – Take action and make a difference)

I’m working backwards here… so going back to Day 1.  The first workshop was primarily student (participant) centered and we were asked several times to contribute and image, video or voice recording to a group project.  (We used the app Phonto to take and annotate photos and we used various voice/video recording devices as well.)  The facilitator then collated the contributions into various programs (Keynote, Audacity…) and we discussed each other’s work.  While I could have done without some of his flashy tech tricks (he was very tech savvy and enjoyed showing off) – a lot of the ideas could be feasible and useful in our classes.  Heather pointed out that the first exercise we did was essentially PechaKucha – 20 slides x 20 seconds.  This would actually be great in French class.

The biggest nugget of advice I took away from the first day was that we need to focus on the ratio of thinking time to technology time.  Thinking, talking, design time should be much much greater than time spent with technology.  This speaks to my interest in sticking with a limited number of flashy apps/programs so that the kids have less to master and can focus more on content.  I am hoping to use some of these ideas for illustration of vocabulary and then to promote risk-free (or limited-risk) small group discussion in response to various prompts.

I am traveling this week but look forward to getting back to my classroom and applying ideas to the content I’ve been researching.  I have planned out the year in terms of units/timing and will focus on developing the particular assessment (both formative and summative) for the first two units, roughly 9 weeks of school.

Using what we already have

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days investigating the Modules function on Canvas and thinking about how we can use what we already have access to.

Some observations:

1 – Crocodoc is now AppBox and is nothing that we can’t accomplish Google/Drive.  Not worth it.

2 – Voicethread will be great, but I appear to be slow on the learning curve.  I think it will work well for annotating documents in addition to images and video.  One question – I set up a test account for a student in a test course called Patterson Test Group.  When I log in as the student (no problem logging in, so the account was well set up) but I can’t access the Patterson Test Group or any of the threads I’ve started… any ideas?  For what it’s worth, it seems to work on the ipad but not on a computer.  And another question – I’m concerned about how I might properly cite my sources (web images, pdfs of excerpts from books, etc.)  Has anyone done this?

3 – I think it will be important to maximize the tools that we already have so as not to re-invent the wheel every time.  I’ve been making progress on my first Module, and for now I’ve made the decision to have the grammar (review lessons for advanced kids) be self-paced through Canvas and we can then apply skills via content in class.  I’ve been using material from the textbook so that it will align with what we are discussing in class.

I’m also considering using the discussion feature as a blog for each student to be ongoing throughout the year.  Again, we could have kids set up wordpress accounts, or we could use what we have.  (WordPress is certainly flashier…) This blog post from the site Langwitches (from the Twitter feed that Kim just sent out) supports the use of blogging for students as good pedagogy.


For now, I’m moving forward with my first unit considering essential questions, desired outcomes and assessments.  Since it will be a new course next year, I had to do some basic framework for the year in terms of the same questions before I could look at the unit.  So far so good.

Reading and Plans

Thank you, Katharine, for getting this set up!

This morning, I’m starting to get organized about how I want to approach this work.  In taking Kim’s advice, I will start with one unit from the Advanced French curriculum – Personal and Public Identities.  Before I get started, I want to spend time reading the materials you have all been sharing.  I just subscribed to the eClassroom Newsletter, and have been reading though Katharine’s UBD resources and my next stop is Lauren’s Google Drive folder from the Sloan online course.  I also have a backlog of Marshall Memos that I will start to work through.  Do you all subscribe to Marshall Memo – I think it’s $25/year and a great resource for collating articles related to teaching.

Plans for this first unit:

1 – Using the UBD framework to think carefully about outcomes, essential questions and assessments specific to Personal and Public Identities; Identifying specific skills to complement the content

2- Getting to understand the Modules tool on Canvas; deciding if I want to use the host of Canvas tools (modules, outcomes, rubrics, discussions, quizzes) to support the unit/course

3 – Looking at other media (PowToon, Crocodoc and VoiceThread) to see how it can support my goals; learning/deciding how to integrate it into my lessons/assessments

This will be fun!  Stay tuned!