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.