Archive for Curricular integration

Collaborative Learning on an International Stage

I will present two sessions at the above-named conference on Friday, September 24 in Boise, ID. Here are my two sessions.

Structuring an Online Conversation: the Why Not? Model

Let’s imagine that you have found an international partner for a virtual exchange. Now what? This session will describe the key features of a rich online environment and curriculum for international collaboration. Learn how to take your virtual  exchange beyond the “pen pal” stage. We will explore the “Why Not?” model used to connect Oregon schools with teens in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Jordan, and Iraq. Session participants will be invited to share success stories and challenges from their virtual exchanges.

Global Education: More Than Just Trips

The presenters will share global education projects that go beyond cultural exchange and language learning. Examples will highlight international service, the Global Viewfinder Film Series, trip planning, curricular integration, cross-grade collaborations, technology, ongoing partnerships, and sustainability. We will encourage attendees to share interdisciplinary global projects that happen at their schools.

The Best Classroom Computers

What is the best arrangement of computers to support classroom activities? In our school, it varies considerably by grade level and subject. Once upon a time, laptops seemed destined to replace all computers, but lately we have found desktop computers to be lower cost, more reliable, and quicker to activate, hence the mixed environment in some spaces. Sometimes, fixing a computer to one location is actually a benefit, such as when teaching 22 elementary students in 40-minute blocks, rendering a digital video for hours, or keeping a reliable connection to an inkjet printer.

Upper School

  • 1:1 student laptop program
  • arts desktop computers for video rendering and inkjet printing
  • computer science desktop computers for Linux applications

Middle School

  • three laptop carts
  • desktop computers in arts, English, and World Cultures classrooms and main office

Lower School

  • computer lab for grades 4-5
  • two desktop computers per classroom in grades 1-5 + most specialist classrooms
  • four laptop computers per classrooms in grades 3-5

Beginning School

  • no student computers

Student and parents attend an Upper School laptop orientation.

Fifth grade classroom computer

Lower School computer lab (22 computers)

Middle School laptop cart

La Gazette

French students publish their writing on “la santé de la planète.”

More student work online

Classes, global travel groups, and individuals are publishing on the Catlin Gabel website to share their work with the Catlin Gabel community or other specific audiences. Learning objectives vary on these blogs from building community awareness to communicating directly to specific stakeholders.

Any student, teacher, or staff member can maintain an individual blog or contribute to a group blog on the Catlin Gabel website. Some blogs are open to everyone visiting our website. Most blog posts require login.

You can always find blogs from the Quick Links menu on the Catlin Gabel website. Happy reading!

» Link to all blogs

Links to specific blogs

Nepal 2010
Japan 2010
Cuba 2010
Senior Projects

Urban Studies

Honors Art Seminar
Science Projects
Spanish V Honors
French 2

External blogs
Paul Monheimer in Israel
The Catlin Coverslip

Classroom pages
Middle and Lower School teachers use classroom pages more often than student blogs. The function is similar.
Second grade
Fourth grade

Fifth grade

Sixth grade
Lower School French

Seventh grade

Undergrads and IT

My principal challenge in schools is to encourage thoughtful, useful adoption of technology to strategically support teaching and learning. Along the way, I encounter varying attitudes regarding technology in schools. We have early adopters, heavy users, techno-skeptics, occasional users, and more. I often wonder what is the best way to reach different types of technology users so that each makes the most effective use of technology for his/her educational context.

This October 2009 Educause study of undergraduate students and information technology provides some useful information that helps inform my efforts and may help temper fears that our IT department wants everyone to use IT as much as possible.

80% of students were using a learning management system (e.g., Moodle) during the quarter or semester of the survey.

63% found the experience of using a learning management system “positive” or “very positive.”

45% of students indicated that most or almost all of their instructors use IT effectively in their courses.

70% found that IT made working in their courses “more convenient.”

49% felt that using IT improved their learning.

60% prefer moderate use of IT in their courses. Only 4% preferred exclusive use of IT, and 2% no IT. Students appreciate the face-to-face learning experience.

This provides some useful language for explaining our current approach to IT integration to support teaching and learning. We would like for all teachers to explore using IT. A learning management system may smooth class operations, leaving more time to focus on learning. Face-to-face learning is still most highly valued.

Extending the learning community

Publication of student work on the website extends the learning community beyond the classroom to the entire school community. Key to this effort is a school website that includes a community publishing platform. Students and teachers choose whether to make the work viewable to the school community only (students, staff, parents, alumni) or the public, depending on the pedagogical goal of the work. Learning becomes a community endeavor rather than only a classroom pursuit, increasing authenticity and mutual understanding of the work that happens at school.

Click on each title to view the content at Catlin Gabel.

Urban Studies blog

Students tackle topics of sustainable development in Portland, “The City That Works.” During the school year, we offer a semester elective. The summer brings an intensive program with students from different schools.

Science Projects blog

Students report on their independent research plans, progress, and results. The teacher provides feedback in the form of comments. Only one of the students has made her blog public, so you won’t see the work of the others on this page.

The Catlin Coverslip

The science department invites all Catlin Gabel community members to contribute items of interest to this blog.

Nepal 2010 blog

Blogging about global trips increases the sense of community experience. The 15 lucky students who go on the trip become ambassadors for the rest of the school, no longer the sole beneficiaries of the experience.

Spanish V Honors blog

Students get out into the community to research the hispanic presence in Oregon. Through the blog, they report their findings back to the community and help educate us all. This project includes a lot of primary audio and video footage from Portland.

Honors Arts Projects portfolios

Students attach photo galleries to their blog posts to create a portfolio, in this case to support their  college applications.

Fifth grade Fractured Fairytales

Students create “alternate” versions of classic fairytales, then we publish them so that parents and others students may read them as well.

Sixth grade Language Arts Poetry Box

Students write poetry, but then the teacher publishes both the text and an audio version for parents and the rest of the community to enjoy.

Senior Project blogs

We have now collected two years’ worth of blog posts from seniors reporting and reflecting on their spring projects. Up until now, all of the posts have been for the Catlin Gabel community only. This year, students will make the public/community-only decision for each post. Watch this page in May 2010 to follow their progress.

Sharing recipes in French

French 2 students share recipe videos for crepes, banana bread, and other delicious treats. The assignment assessed students’ vocabulary, pronunciation, and ability to work in small groups. Some students used just the built-in camera in their laptop computer to record the video!

Elementary Tech Integration Progress

This year, we are trying a new model for integrating technology instruction into fourth and fifth grades. Our weekly schedule offers two 40 minute periods per class for technology instruction, and classes have access to the adjacent 4/5 computer lab throughout the rest of the day. As a result, students use technology at various times of the day as well as during technology periods.

This year, we have made an effort to more fully integrate the dedicated technology periods with the homeroom academic program. We had a goal: to make as many technology class activities as possible relate to specific homeroom activities. Technology activities could relate in one of three ways:

Parallel with homeroom work
Students complete work for an active homeroom project during technology periods. For example, this week students are conducting research and documenting sources for a project on native plants. During homeroom periods, students have collected and studied native plant specimens found in the woods.

Fifth grade students are working on a Fractured Fairytales project, in which they invent altered versions of classic fairytales. During technology periods, students are writing and formatting text and graphics in Microsoft Word, with the ultimate goal of creating a digital book of their piece.

In Science class, students complete experiments to determine how much water different paper towels can absorb and prepare to report their results back to the towel manufacturers. During the Technology periods, students record their data in Microsoft Excel and prepare graphs to include in their letters.

Extension of homeroom work
At other times, we design a technology component to a project that begins after the homeroom component is complete. While not as tightly integrated with homeroom work, a well-designed extension project may still pursue an authentic learning objective. We must take care that the electronic final product is not superfluous, considering the work already completed during homeroom.

Early in the year, fifth grade students visited three farms as part of their Pitchfork To Plate yearlong theme. After students returned from the visit, they created line art diagrams in Microsoft Word that explained one process they observed on the farms.

Standalone Technology Activities
This is the loosest form of coordination with the homeroom. One might even argue that these activities only support technology-specific curricular goals. I believe that the technology goals of the curriculum should still support aims of the homeroom. If they do not, then we have insufficient coordination across students’ learning experiences.

Consider typing practice. While using a typing application is a pure technology activity, the skill of typing is important to gain, so that it does not become an obstacle to writing at a reasonable speed. By fifth grade, students complete a majority of their writing on a computer, so the technology activity is directly aligned with a meaningful homeroom objective. It’s been important to keep students focused reaching speed and accuracy benchmarks, since the classroom tie-in (the authentic learning purpose) is less obvious than with other technology class activities.

We have so far this year succeeded in always teaching applications in the context of a homeroom activity, avoiding the temptation to teach them only within the context of technology class.

Joint Planning
We have also experimented with models for coordinating lesson planning between homeroom and technology teachers. At the start of the year, I met with the homeroom teachers to agree on broad curricular goals but taught all of the technology periods myself, in order to establish a strong relationship with the students and get to know the curriculum well. In November, homeroom teachers began to take on some of the teaching responsibilities, in order to ensure strong integration with the homeroom program and help carry the teaching load.

We pursued different approaches to sharing periods in the two grades. In fourth grade, homeroom teachers teach Monday technology periods, and I teach Wednesdays. In fifth grade, homeroom teachers are currently teaching the first half of Fractured Fairytales, and I will take the class back over later this month to work on the layout and publication components of the project.

So far, alternating periods has led to tighter integration and planning, since I am essentially co-teaching the class with the homeroom teachers. Alternating 2-3 week chunks has required less coordination, which leads to looser integration but requires less planning time. We will see later this year which approach was ultimately best overall.

Next Year
It is just about time to give some thought to next year. Will I teach at least half the technology periods, as I have this year? Will we change the technology schedule so that we have fewer dedicated technology periods and integrate more of the technology instruction into the regular work of the homeroom? In our middle and high schools, we have no dedicated technology periods. Technology is wholly integrated with regularly classroom instruction, imperfectly but authentically. Should we move in the same direction in our elementary program, and how quickly?

How do you integrate technology knowledge and skills instruction in your elementary programs?

Never mind the toys

Oh, how many toys exist to consider.

Kindle! Nook! Reader!
iPhone! Droid! Nexus!
Ning! Twitter! Facebook!
Netbook! Apple tablet! XO tablet!
Smart Board! Active Board! Wiimote!
Google Apps! Chrome!

Education technology blogs appear obsessed with tracking the latest gadgets. Certainly, new product announcements provide a rich source of content for writers. It is easier to reflect on the latest company news and speculate on its effect on education than to consider the core question of education. How does one design rich learning opportunities that will make the greatest difference for students?

Face it: most of the devices above won’t make a bit of difference to teaching and learning. Let’s stop talking about the devices and start talking about students, teachers, and learning environments. I think Warlick has got it right. So does Larry Cuban. Tom Frizelle, too.

Some of our teachers have also got it right. Suspicious about education technology, they tend to shy away from trainings and conversations about computers in the classroom. It’s too bad, because ed tech professionals deserve our reputation for relentless optimism about new technologies. It’s up to us to sing a new tune: all about teaching and learning, all the time.

Let’s promote with our teachers only the technologies that show real promise and stick with them for at least a period of years. Focus on how a technology integrates with an existing, well-designed learning unit or activity. A little skepticism about new technologies may also help demonstrate our ability to think critically.

Forget the new toys. Let’s think deeply about our students, curriculum, and pedagogy.

Elders Are …

Second grade teacher Herb shared the following video with guests at grandparents and special friends day. First and second grade students completed an activity in which they drew, wrote, and spoke their thoughts about the elders in their lives.

I’m impressed with the ease that these students demonstrate in front of the microphone. Recording audio may in fact be less distracting than video. You get to observe student work while listening to an oral expression — two forms of work at the same time. It’s also fascinating to see the huge range of student responses to the prompt “elders are …”

I’m sure that Herb put many hours into the creation of this video. One day, I’ll find out how many.

We are pleased to share this video on our website, especially for the grandparents and special friends who were not able to attend.