Collaboration is the new rigor in the classroom. Who hasn’t been mesmerized by children gathered at a table engaged in a high-level discussion, making shared decisions, and demonstrating deep, scaffolded learning? When students share organic ideas and peer review projects, they build authentic knowledge that everyone takes ownership in, but the saying is easier than the doing. You can’t just break students into groups and expect a collaborative workflow. It takes practice. The rudimentary teamwork availed by Google Docs and online tools like Subtext is a great start, but what’s better is projects that inspire, motivate, and teach students skills for speaking and listening.
Here are three activities I use in my classroom to achieve this goal:
Every activity in your classroom includes how-to questions. Before answering, have students ask three classmates before asking you. For example, if they can’t find the tech tool they want, check with three neighbors before putting their hand. Kids love helping each other and spotlighting their talent. Not only does ‘Three then me’ get the student’s question answered faster, it engenders a sense of cooperation and collaboration in the class, that students are resources to each other.
A note of caution: This works best with self-correcting facts, like how to do something, but if it’s a definition or the spelling of a word, students could get the wrong answer and not know it. As you’re training students in ‘three then me’, remind them to evaluate answers, critically think about them before implementing, and trust their own judgment. Does it sound right? Does it fit what else they know about the question? If it does, go for it!
Most elementary age kids I know love math, but that changes when they matriculate to middle school. If you ask seventh and eighth graders what their hardest subject is, they’ll hands down tell you it’s math. And that opinion doesn’t improve in high school. In fact, Forbes reported that 82% of public high schoolers in the well-to-do Montgomery County Maryland failed Algebra. US News blamed math knowledge for a 33% failure rate by Oklahoma high school seniors on their exit exams.
To turn those numbers around, parents and teachers alike are looking to technology. This goes well beyond Khan Academy’s online video training, into fantasy worlds of trolls and wizards, the type of activities most parents have tried to keep their kids away from. Now, they want to use their kids’ native interest in online gaming to scaffold math knowledge. Here are three wildly-popular choices that have made kids choose math practice for their free time:
Coding has become the poster child for a tech-infused classroom. Over 15 million kids participated in Hour of Code this past December. So many teachers took students to Code.org’s curriculum offerings, the website crashed.
So what is ‘coding’? According to the Urban Dictionary, it’s another word for ‘programming’ which means:
The art of turning caffeine into Error Messages
Let’s go to Webster’s definition instead:
The act or job of creating computer programs
Not much better. To techies, ‘programming’ or ‘coding’ is
a series of symbols, used synonymously as text and grouped to imply or prompt the multimedia in the games and programs that happen on computers, websites, and mobile apps.
This complicated definition is why–historically–programming, IT, and Computer Science have been of interest only to the geekiest of kids. But there are good reasons why kids should like this activity. According to Computer Science Education Week:
There are a lot of online math systems to help students through one of school’s toughest subjects (if not science). Each one proclaims they have the way to teach students while having fun, in ways that are aligned with state and national standards. How do you decide what is best for your class? Here are guidelines, culled from top education sites like Edutopia, Google Education, Educational Technology, and EdWeek that are valuable when evaluating any website:
- free or small fee
- support the ‘4 C’s’–creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration
- offer compelling content (this is subjective; ‘compelling’ varies teacher-to-teacher and student-to-student)
- are not distracting or overwhelming in colors, music, or activity
- offer levels that become increasingly more difficult, providing differentiation for student needs
- stand the test of time–do students stay engaged even after playing it over and over
- positive parent reports
- few ads–and those that are there do not take up a significant portion of the screen
- intuitive to use with a short learning curve
- encourage independence
- easily applied to a variety of educational environments
- doesn’t collect personal information other than user credentials or data required to operate the app
- includes age-appropriate content
- fulfills intended purpose
- aligned with Blooms Taxonomy, Common Core, ISTE, or other state/national/international standards
- received awards/citations
Here’s one I think meets all these basic requirements as well as makes students want to practice their math:
I was reading an article–Five Real Reasons Why Teachers Don’t Use Technology More–from eSchool News listing the reasons why teachers don’t use technology. Included were some that probably resonate with educators at your school–
- it keeps changing so how do you decide what to choose
- too much to do, too little time
- teachers are pulled in too many directions
- unreliable technology
- no respect for the teacher’s voice in this tech ed process
I was nodding, thinking of people the reasons fit perfectly–and then I noticed: The article was written in
That’s right–fifteen years ago and nothing’s changed.
Have you been giving the same reasons for fifteen years too, hoping the tech demons will just go away and leave you to teach in peace? Every June, do you say, I got through another year without this or that tech tool–and everything went well.
Worry no more. Here’s your cure: learning disguised as play (inspired by the fascinating website, Playful Learning). Kids will think they’re playing games, but they’ll actually be participating in some of the leading [mostly] free simulations available in the education field. A note: some must be downloaded and a few purchased, so the link might take you to a website that provides access rather than play:
- Bridge Builder—learn how to design and test bridges
- Dimension U–games that focus on math and literacy–fee-based
- Electrocity—how does electricity contribute to the growth of communities
- iCivics—experience what it means to be part of a democracy
- Second Life—simulates just about anything if you can find it
- West Point Bridge Building Contest–build a bridge for the right price and win a contest
- Admongo–explore, discover and learn about online ads while playing a game
- Coffee Shop—run a coffee shop business
- Lemonade Stand—run a lemonade stand business
Last month, Scientific American declared “…“not only is Minecraft immersive and creative, but it is an excellent platform for making almost any subject area more engaging.” A nod from a top science magazine to the game many parents wish their kids had never heard of. This, following Common Sense Media’s seal of approval. On the surface, it’s not so surprising. Something like 80% of five-to-eight year-olds play games and 97% of teens. Early simulations like Reader Rabbit are still used in classrooms to drill reading and math skills.
But Minecraft, a blocky retro role-playing simulation that’s more Lego than svelte hi-tech wizardry, isn’t just the game du jour. Kids would skip dinner to play it if parents allowed. Minecraft is role playing and so much more.
Let me back up a moment. Most simulation games–where players role-play life in a pretend world–aren’t so much Make Your Own Adventure as See If You Survive Ours. Players are a passenger in a hero’s journey, solving riddles, advancing through levels and unlocking prizes. That’s not Minecraft. Here, they create the world. Nothing happens without their decision–not surroundings or characters or buildings rising or holes being dug. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. There’s merely what You decide and where those decisions land You. Players have one goal: To survive. Prevail. They solve problems or cease to exist. If the teacher wants to use games to learn history, Minecraft won’t throw students into a fully fleshed simulation of the American Revolution. It’ll start with a plot of land and students will write the story, cast the characters, create the entire 1776 world. Again, think Legos.
I keep a list of money and economic websites for K-8. It’s a balancing act–teaching them to value money while doing so responsibly. I’m always on the lookout for new sites that accomplish that difficult goal. I must confess, they’re hard to come by.
Until Isreal Defeo, new Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, came up with these six. I hadn’t heard of any of them except Planet Orange (which might be going away. I left it in hopes it would survive). Check these out. I think you’ll like them:
It’s never too early to teach your kids about the value of saving money. Some child experts say that as soon as your child can do basic math, that’s a good time to start. You’ll want to begin as early as you can to make those money-saving skills stick: The ideal situation is that it’ll become as ingrained and second nature as brushing your teeth or changing your underwear.
Here are some websites that can help make learning about money fun.
(Literally) out-of-this-world game takes kids by the hand to guide them through basic financial concepts. After signing up, kids pick out an astronaut name and password, and start their interplanetary travels. Tasks must be completed at every planet to earn money (or “Obux”) for gas. Besides teaching kids that money is necessary for certain activities (like decorating their spaceships), it also demonstrates the concept of bartering, or exchanging goods for other goods. ING Direct assures parents that the site is purely educational and free to join.
Gone… how sad…