Saturday, October 17, 2015

Teachers and Students Discover the Power of Technology for Learning

This is a combination of two posts from my Teaching Like an Artist blog. I'm doing a series there about topics related to our upcoming presentation at miGoogle 2015.

The first part is an interview between me and Jake. The second part shows the encouraging responses we received from a student survey. Both highlight how encouraging this activity was for us and the students.

The Interview
In preparation for our conference presentation, Jake Gentry, a Geometry teacher at the high school where I work, decided to try an inquiry based learning activity in his classes. We have worked together on a couple project-based learning activities in the past, but we both felt we weren't being "hands-off" enough in letting the students explore the concepts.

To see if inquiry-, discovery-based learning could really work, Jake went all in and had students explore and discover using technology instead of using any direct instruction.

In this recording (around 10 minutes long) I asked him some questions about what he did, what he learned and how effective he thought it was. They're still working through the project, so these are his thoughts so far.

The general outline of the talk is:
  • Why we did it
  • What the activity was like
  • What has he seen so far - is it working?
  • The level of thinking that was going on during the activity
  • What tech did the students use for learning?
  • What tech did he use to run the activity?
  • What effects has he seen on the students?
  • Was there support from the principal?
  • How the focus shifted from "Is this right?" to the learning goals


The Survey
Next we gave the students a short survey to see what they thought about the experience. We received 86 responses and a few significant findings are reported below.

Overall, Jake and I were again encouraged by what we learned. This makes it even more likely he will continue exploring these teaching strategies in future lessons.

We first asked students to indicate how much they agreed or disagreed with this statement:

I prefer to learn by exploring on my own instead of just having the teacher explain material to us.

Here are the results, from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree:
I was surprised to see only about 15% of the students disagreeing. This was a great sign that the students were with us in this endeavor. I thanked them for trying this out and being such great sports about learning with us.

For many the seven class periods spent exploring a guiding question without much direction from the teacher was the first experience with such "hands off" learning in math. It was wonderful to see the students were this open to it.

After reading some comments from the students, I made it clear that our intent is not to replace teachers with computers. Obviously it helps to have an expert in education designing the learning experience, even if he or she is not delivering the material to the class in a traditional manner.

Results of this second question were most significant to me. Again, they were asked to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with this statement:

I can learn a tremendous amount on my own by exploring online tools such as search engines, videos and interactive websites.

Note first of all that this statement is not limited to Geometry or even math. It is simply a statement about being able to learn with online resources. 

Also, it's interesting to me that Jake and I debated about using the word "tremendous". I pushed to leave it, even though we knew it could make some students less likely to agree.

This is how they responded.

Jake gave me a high-five when we saw the graph after the first period. When the upper ratings remained high class after class, I was excited. I get chills when I talk about this stuff! To me, 4's and 5's on this graph (submitted by a full 73% of the students) means students are aware of the possibility before them to learn in amazing ways. 

Doors of opportunity opened to students who realized this through our lesson. In whatever areas they choose, they inched a step closer to success this past week.

We had a couple open ended questions on the survey and many students did say that through this activity they realized they could learn by exploring online resources. Some admitted they didn't think they could, but now they know otherwise. Some referred to gaining confidence by working through the lesson.

Jake and I know there's a lot we can do to improve the activity. Realistically students might be giving themselves way too much credit for what they actually learned. Still, this is the kind of thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. I love encouraging students to use the power of technology for learning. I look forward to seeing where it takes them.

This is a combination of posts from a series on my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from that blog with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

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