Audio version of this post.
Email at 9:30 p.m. Sunday night. Tomorrow school is cancelled due to inclement weather. (Cue the cheering)
Email at 9:45 p.m. All admin must still report to fulfill their contractual obligation. (Cue the booing)
Not gonna lie. That last email didn’t exactly make my night, BUT it did lead to an amazing meeting Monday. So, one might argue that the 9:45 email was actually better than the 9:30 one. Let me explain.
When I got to school I sent an email to my staff saying I was available if anyone needed anything. About 20 minutes later I received a response from a teacher asking if I would like to meet. We had been trying to officially talk for weeks about an idea she had, but up until this point it was all hallway conversations here and there. Turns out her power was out so this was a great opportunity for us to actually create a plan as well as a warm place to be. Win. Win.
The teacher was planning out a social science inquiry unit about the Age of Exploration. Her problem was twofold:
- She frequently offered her students choice in how they would demonstrate their learning, but they ALWAYS seemed to use Google slides.
- Finding good resources for the students to explore in the Hyperdoc she was creating was super time consuming.
Enter two of my favorite things: Curation & Meaningful Content. I learned about curation when listening to a podcast from Jennifer Gonzalez’ Cult of Pedagogy website when I was an instructional coach. (Sidenote: If you do not listen to her podcasts or at least check out her website periodically you are missing out on a WEALTH of tools, strategies, and just plain good stuff.)
There are many different ways to approach it, but basically curation is taking the concept of a museum curator and giving it a classroom context. Students might create a playlist of videos that are all relevant to a topic they are studying, make a list of articles, images, and videos that answer a question or even a create Top 10 list. The idea is that they are sifting through a wide range of information and choosing the best items to fit. In addition to giving them a purpose for watching and reading numerous content, it also causes them to have to apply critical thinking skills such as determining importance and synthesis. Check out her post for many more ideas for curation applications.
Curation fit perfectly into the explorer unit. Students are first going to create their own question under the larger umbrella question of, “Is exploration always a good thing?” After reading and watching a few common texts and videos, the students will next be tasked with curating their own list of videos, texts and images that answer their personal question. The only requirement is that each resource on the list must be summarized with reasons for why it is included. These curations will then be reviewed by their peers (creating even more shared ideas) and inevitably be used in future years as well. Genius.
Books Make a Great Foundation, But…
Which led us to our our next dilemma. What kinds of resources did we really want students going through? Where would we start? When we first started chatting it was suggested that we take the students to the public library to find texts to use as their primary sources. Although I am a super fan of the library and will always believe in the power of a physical book, I thought we should also ponder digital content like YouTube, Blogs, and websites. This would give them an opportunity to explore media resources that they were already regularly consuming outside of school, but with a critical lens.
As I brought this idea up to the teacher she said she loved it, but wasn’t sure where to find blogs that would be useful. She had a few websites that she liked and a couple of videos, but hadn’t seen much else. I did a quick search of, “Social Studies Blogs” and found a treasure of resources created by history teachers for other teachers to use with students. (#sschat on Twitter is also a great place to look) I assured her that the beauty of curation was that we didn’t have to be the sole experts finding resources, it was up to the students. My guess was that they would surprise us with what they knew or were able to find. Just in case though we planned to make a list of a few good blogs and websites as well as some YouTube channels. (Crash Course Kids is one of my fave’s.)
Slide to the Left…Slide to the Right…
All of this curation led us back to problem number one: What were the students going to do with all of this knowledge that they had curated and synthesized? Although this teacher had offered choice in a variety of other units most students defaulted to the ever popular Google slides presentation. It’s not that Google slides aren’t a good way to present information, but if students are always demonstrating their learning in the exact same way are we really helping them to be prepared to contribute to the world outside of school?
Knowing that with their friends they spend a lot of time on YouTube we decided to start there. Students would come to class prepared to talk about their favorite YouTube videos that they have learned something from. They would present their videos in small groups and work to answer the question, “What makes a good presentation?” From this small group discussion the students will create a list as a class of qualities that make a presentation engaging as well as informational. These qualities will become what the students use to assess themselves on their work.
After this class collaboration the students would then get to work in stations to learn about some other options they could use to answer their individual questions including:
- Adobe Spark – Students can use this to create videos with narration, creative graphics or scrolling webpages. It’s a pretty intuitive site if you have not used it previously.
- WeVideo – This is an online platform for creating videos. I have to give a huge shout out to Jennifer Leban (@mrsleban), our creative technology teacher at one of our middle schools for teaching me how to use this super fun tool! (I have a future post dedicated to my learning with this one coming soon!)
- Seesaw – This is a great tool for student creation, reflection, and collaboration. It can be used in so many different ways. One of the best parts is that it is easy to share with parents.
Students still have the option to use Google slides for their presentations. They just need to make sure that they meet the requirements that the class had come up with together. By doing this it will hopefully shift their presentations into more complex and engaging content as opposed to just bullet points and fun transitions with a few graphics. Or, they don’t have to use technology at all if they don’t want to. They have the option to create their own idea or use one from their teacher’s list like creating a book or a live interview.
This entire plan is designed to spark not only curiosity, but to also develop four of the six C’s of creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. The teacher plans on using reading, writing, science and social studies as part of the interdisciplinary unit giving students an opportunity to see education as a connected process as opposed to independent ideas. After the students learn about historical exploration they are also going to be learning about space exploration to ponder how we can use the past to help us to understand or better create the future.
The two problems discussed in this post are not unique to the teacher I was speaking with. As a teacher and a coach I would sometimes spend hours on end looking for the best resources to use with students. This process would many times leave me frustrated blaming “the district” for not providing me with everything I need. However, when I reflect on what skills students truly need to be successful in school and beyond I think we are doing a disservice to students if we are always the ones providing them with the content they should be reading. We need to teach them not only how to find information that answers their bigger questions, but also how to evaluate the quality and validity of the information they find.
I truly applaud this teacher for reflecting on the needs of her students and taking the risk of trying something new with a unit that could easily be taught in a very traditional way. Moving forward she will be working mostly with our instructional coach, but it was such a treat to have time to talk this out with her on Monday. I cannot wait to see the creative ideas and projects that evolve as a result! #greatfulforasnowday