Building Student Independence with Technology (and Augmented Reality)

18 April 2016

You know why I like technology in the classroom?  (I mean, besides being able to stream Kidz Bop on Pandora all day).  Technology is an excellent resource for building independence in the classroom...but it takes practice. My students and I work with the Me, We, You scaffolding method. This is basically how most teachers hand over power, control, and independence to their own students.

ME is the easy part. When I introduce any technology--I'm doing all the work. I have to be a dictator and have full control.  I show kids the objectives and the how-to's.  During ME time, I really like to show the students how to problem-solve.  If an issue pops up, I want students to know how to correct it.

I like to model the specific lesson we'll be doing and I'm very explicit with my instructions on expectations I have for them.  I understand how quickly kids can pick up on technology, but I want them to understand the reasons they're using it. It's not just because it's fun, it needs to be purposeful.

WE work together.  Students need to show me that they understand how and what to do.  There are two components to this:  Understanding how the technology works and recognizing the objective behind each lesson.  If I have students that just want to play around it doesn't really mean much.  

Understanding how the technology works is a given, students have to know.  Recognizing the objectives can be a little tougher because students realize they have to put the work in.  Technology isn't just a break time toy, it needs to be an additional tool in the class that enriches student learning.

I'll ask some of my kids to show me the steps and/or provide a sample of what they'll be doing.  This can take a while.  And that's okay.  Sometimes we work together longer than they will get to work independently, it's just the nature of my students.

                              
YOUR TURN (the students). For some this is the scariest part, for others it might be the best.  Handing it all off to the students.  You've modeled, put in the practice, checked with your students, and now you're putting it all in their hands. But don't worry, because you're still watching them out of the corner of your eyes.

When we hand off technology to kids we're saying we trust they know how to use it.  This doesn't mean they have carte blanche.  I'm always aware of what they're doing, but I'm allowing them to build independence by allowing them to have control over their learning.  It's powerful and meaningful for everyone.

                     
I've had the opportunity to work with Alive Studios and use their augmented reality literacy program Letters Alive in my room.  This program has given me the opportunity to work with my primary students on building independence in the classroom.

If you're unfamiliar with augmented reality--DO NOT get scared.  Embrace it--because the students (and most adults) love it. Augmented Reality (AR) is simple.  Scan an image that is equipped for AR, then look at the device screen you're using to see digital images superimposed over the top of it.  Think of a live green-screen, except this including moving pictures, video, and sound.

Letters Alive cards are filled with letters and sight words and when they are scanned they come alive.  Letters turn into animals that move around on screen, sight words appear on the computer screen, and the words/sounds can be heard. 
Our first week with Letters Alive, introducing the why's and how's of our new tech.
For about a week, the students spend time watching what I did and how I used the program (it's all about me).  This was TOUGH for them, they wanted to dive in--but I wanted them to see how to use it and showcase all the different areas the kids could work on. 


Eventually we began practicing it together.  This gives me chances to ask questions and allow students to show me what they had learned.  The kids completely BOUGHT into the program because of it's high engagement level.  They knew how to build sentences and how to change out words (and phrases) to make even better sentences.

In Letters Alive, once they've created something, I have them write their sentences and sight words on mini-whiteboards or paper.  And they do--but remember, this is over a week of modeling and practice.


Finally, I've let the kids loose.  In the back of my room I have the entire program set out. Each student uses it a little bit differently based on their ability and what they can do independently. Some of my students can even work together, but that can be difficult since they have to share the cards (that's another level of independence). 

Current options they can do:
-Letter identification and sound
-Find sight words and read them aloud
-Create and build sentences
-Rewrite their created sentences
-Use for journaling
-Explore the animals and actions

Sometimes I'll ask if I can help them.  My favorite response has been this, "Mr. Sutton, I got this."



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A Collection of Zoo Websites

03 April 2016

I love zoos.  As a kid, I wanted to grow up and be a zookeeper.  It was a dream of mine that wasn't fulfilled, but it's okay.  Some would say being a teacher is close enough.  



Many of you will be traveling to zoos for their field trips (good luck) while others won't have the opportunity. That's why I've put together a little collection of worthy zoo websites that are top-notch quality for reading, researching, and interactive for the students (and even you).  



I've highlighted some of the key features for each site, but I'd suggest letting your students do the virtual walking and discover all the goodness for themselves.

Brookfield Zoo (Chicago)
This is my hometown zoo, so it had to make this list.  The website is filled with everything from conservation to animal information.  Last fall we went and saw snow leopard babies.  I almost died.


Smithsonian's National Zoo (Washington D.C.)
Go watch the baby, Bei Bei, on the Panda Cam. They have a great list of conservation initiatives that are taking place that students can read about.

San Fransisco Zoo 
Their website has been redesigned and is easy to navigate. Plus, they have an extra-large animal list with all the information you could want when doing research or just reading.  It's pretty great.

San Diego Zoo
This might be the most kid-friendly zoo site.  There's a section catering strictly to kids filled with photos and videos galore.  Plus, they have pandas.

Columbus Zoo (Ohio)
Excellent site that is very interactive.  This is Jack Hannah's zoo and it has an enormous Animal Guide list.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (Tacoma, Washington)
Animals listed by habitat location.

Sydney Zoo (Australia)
A wide variety of animals from around the world, but from a. international perspective.

Chester Zoo (UK)
Cross the pond and see what an international zoo look like.

Houston Zoo (Texas)
Live Animal Webcams.

The Living Zoo (Palm Spring, Ca)
See how animals survive in the desert heat.


Check out this Symbaloo page ZOOS (below) I created with almost 30 sites to zoos around the world.  It's perfect for kids to use.






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