Harnessing technology to empower students and individualise learning

Harnessing technology to empower students and individualise learning

We’ve all heard it, right? You can’t effectively teach to the needs of a whole class in one go. Whole class lessons simply don’t work. So the solution is to teach in small groups. Tailor the lesson to suit their needs, keep a close eye on misconceptions, get more feedback from all students… everyone wins, right?

Well, everyone except for that student who didn’t quite get it and now has no access to support because you’re teaching another group. Oh, and that other student who just needs to hear the instructions once more. And of course there’s that other student who is happily completing his task… completely and obliviously wrong, but you’re none the wiser until you mark his work after school because you were working with another group. And that special event this week means that group B missed out on their lesson… Yeah, you might be getting the sense that small group work wasn’t cutting it for me or my students. I had to think differently. I needed a solution that would:

  • provide opportunity to teach to student’s needs
  • allow students to work at their pace – including repeating/reviewing lessons when needed
  • leave me free to support students in class to watch for misconceptions, troubleshoot and keep all learners on task.

Here’s what I’ve come up with… Notability + Google Drive + iPads = Brilliant.

The context for this is in a grade 4 math classroom, although it could be applied to almost any context. It’s worth noting that we are a 1:1 iPad classroom and all students have a Google Apps for Education email account, Notability and Google Drive installed on their iPads.

The workflow is:

  • Create the lesson – at the moment focused on division strategies – using Notability on my iPad. With this I am able to write on the screen and record my voice. Because I am able to create many lessons, I am able to keep them short and specific. I found that when I was working with small groups in class, it was so long between seeing each group that I then tried to teach too much to them in one go.
    • Once my lesson is finished, I am able to import PDF worksheets for immediate consolidation of the new task. Sometimes I’ll add in some worded problem or open ended type problems to extend their thinking and application. This is all within one note in Notability.
  • When I’m ready for students to take the lessons, I will share the note (in notability file format – not PDF – to include the voice recording) to a Google Drive folder that I have also shared with students in that group.
  • Students then open Notability on their iPads and import my notes/lessons. They are able to listen and watch the lesson, then proceed to their independent practice without interruption or need to setup their task.
  • Students work is automatically backed-up to Google Drive where I can view their progress if I didn’t see them in class. I can also import documents to my iPad, comment on them with voice and/or writing and then send it back to the student’s Drive folder. However I find the best form of feedback and check-in is in class. As students finish, I will check their work and move them to the next task – Mathletics tasks or teaching their new learning in Explain Everything.

Organising the lessons

Inside a lesson

Notability note layout

Within a week I’m already seeing huge benefits for  both students and myself:

  • Lessons now effectively become one on one as students plug in their headphones to focus on the lesson without distraction from other students,
  • Students can watch and re-watch the lessons to help them understand,
  • Students are taking on more responsibility for their learning,
  • Students are able to move at the pace that suits them – some are racing through lessons, while others are being more diligent to ensure they understand the lesson,
  • I am free during lessons to:
    • troubleshoot students’ queries
    • identify misconceptions or students who are off track
    • monitor students’ progress and move them to the next step of learning when they’re ready (in fact I’m finding I’m far more aware of students’ work and abilities compared with before)
    • less after school marking as it’s done in class (after school is now spent creating the new lessons)
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Skoolbo: Game based learning in elementary school

I recently read a great article, ‘Games for a digital age: K-12 market map and investment analysis‘ that has piqued my interest in the idea of game-based learning and how the evolving world of educational technology can be used to bring a new experience to game-based learning.

In the article, the authors define game-based in a number of ways, but ultimately explain that it must include:

  • voluntary participation
  • a goal (finish line, objective achieved, win/lose, etc)
  • rules to structure the game
  • feedback system(s), which can be in the form of rewards and incentives
  • (in the context of schools) knowledge or educational outcomes

Recently we introduced a trial of a relatively new app to our Senior Kindergarten iPads called Skoolbo. It is also available for download on Android devices, Windows PCs and Macs. It captured my interest because of its game based learning environment which fits in very well with our play-based inquiry learning philosophy. It’s been great! The developer, Shane Hill (former Mathletics developer) has done a great job of incorporating the elements of play based learning.

  • voluntary participation
    • students were accessing Skoolbo from home before the teacher was even able to set them up at school!
    • Access to Skoolbo in class is usually on a voluntary basis during ‘centre time’ where a variety of play-based learning experiences are available to students. They love it and are happy to play!
  • a goal (finish line, objective achieved, win/lose, etc)
    • Within each game, students race to the finish line in their plane or on foot by answering as many questions correctly as they can. The more correct answers, the faster they go. If they get three wrong, they’re out.
    • Another set of goals is provided via the rewards schemes… see below.
  • rules to structure the game
    • The rules are simple… the more correct answers, the faster you go.
    • The more you play, the more you are able to customise aspects such as your plane.
    • 3 incorrect answers and you’re out.
  • feedback system(s), which can be in the form of rewards and incentives
    • Rewards schemes are also cleverly built-in to the game to encourage short, mid and long-term participation. Such rewards include becoming a superhero after meeting a certain objective.
    • Indirect feedback is also provided in the adaptable question base. As students perform well, the questions get harder. As they begin to struggle, the questions get easier. Soon an average is met that challenges students at just the right level.
  • (in the context of schools) knowledge or educational outcomes
    • At this stage, the game hones in on core literacy and math skills. After pre-assessment on the first 4 games, the system cleverly adapts to the child’s ability.

To finish up, check out this little smarty in action!