There is a lot of hype and marketing surrounding technology, and at first glance the iPad seemed to be about consumption, another push into our hands demanding our passive viewing time. But then, seeing how children interact with it, the ease at which they produce their own multimedia with their own learning literally in their hands, we began to understand that we are experiencing an exciting new pivotal period in education where technology is creating a level learning field and where teachers are learning the power of being humble before their students, sharing the learning alongside them. There is no “eureka” key on the keyboard, but our recent book making project illuminated how the iPad connected with other forms of collaborative technology, is becoming an integral part of shared learning.
Our book making project picks up toward the end of the Lucy Calkins Writer’s workshop cycle when students write drafts of non-fiction text. For revising and editing they engaged in paper and pencil editing and lively debates on the finer points of grammar, spelling, and stylistic construction. Post debate, students moved to the computers to continue their collaboration online as they dissected one document a day to produce a near perfect text. Mini-lessons revolved around grammar and spelling patterns that teachers noticed among the groups. A live edit was projected on screen at all times.
Classes for this week are true language workshops and seemed to respond to Pasi Sahlberg, Consulate General of Finland, addressing the Teachers College at Columbia, when he called for US schools to look at their own past when trying to figure out Finnish success in education. “We copied you,” he said, and went on to explain that collaborative learning was one of the important elements the Finns learned from studying the US system.
Once texts were finalized, students copied and pasted from Google Docs into the Book Creator app on iPads. Collaborative learning continued as students usually consulted each other for the best way to import graphics from the web, create their own digital illustrations using the Paper app, or photographing their own drawings. Teachers and students played the role of graphic designers finding the right visual balance, selecting the best fonts, and producing professional looking iBooks. The texts then became audio books as students recorded their voices.
Publishing and sharing are important elements of writing so iBooks were then exported as PDF’s to the web using Scribd, posted to our blog, and sent out to a larger learning community of families, friends, and other classrooms across the globe. With Google Forms, the class created a book review using their writing rubric and leaving space for free comments. Students could then access summaries of responses complete with pie graphs on how they are rated among their readers.
Continuing the celebration, QR codes were created and posted next to student pictures in the elementary hallway. Publishing events were shared between classes as students walked around with iPads scanning codes and sat down to read and review each others publications. Walking the hallways, students came across gems of reading like Tania Grimberg’s book about beaches which became a video multimedia event as she acted out the entire book in her sunglasses and stationary bicycle. Sergio Carillo teaches everything you want to know about Pegasus, while Jiho Park pubished 67 pages on atoms and matter. The fifth graders focused on body systems created professional looking informational texts complete with infographs, diagrams of anatomy, and intricate descriptions of each system. Come walk the elementary hallway with your smart phone or ipad, scan some of the QR codes on the wall, and see for yourself (we are quite shameless in our pride of them).
Since the fifth graders were working on books about body systems, they decided to extend their research by organizing a series of interviews with real doctors, two by Skype, and one father visited the class. Authors of the muscle system book were left with specific questions about Duchene’s Muscular Dystrophy so we contacted Dr. Melissa Spencer, professor of Neurology, and co-director of the Center for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at UCLA. She skyped in for a video conference and answered students’ inquires using diagrams on genetics and anatomy. Dr. Nicholas Lancaster, MD from Georgia, fielded questions about the nervous system and general care of the body, and Dr. Andres Mejia from Bogota, father of one of our students, provided a conference on bone fractures and surgery. For homework, students collectively produced their notes into a wiki using a Google Document, organizing and editing each other’s postings.
Finally, as an elementary school, we gathered in the theater to sit back and celebrate the whole process of learning. Since digital collaboration was the theme of these projects, the fifth graders began recording Carlos Vives’ “Volver a Nacer”, a project which spread over the whole school for a few days, and even inspired one teacher to get carried away with himself and send out an invitation to Carlos Vives to come record. Well, there are limits sometimes, but we will continue to find creative ways to collaborate together and project out learning beyond the classroom walls. The iPads are proving to be a valuable asset in this quest, although we keep in mind it is not about the technology. It never was. It’s about the learning.