The librarian went to Algebra I class today, and I learned so much! Not only am I now solid on identifying inequalities on the coordinate plane, but I also understand much more about the importance of technology tools applied in authentic learning experiences.
As the campus Library Media Specialist, I am extremely lucky to have such powerful professional and personal relationships with faculty across all content areas. Technology integration is scary and make-me-want-to-pull-my-hair-out frustrating at times. Our professional relationships are an integral lifeline when seeking to innovate any instructional context–but especially when integrating technology.
Our principal began the year with three very specific instructional expectations for our campus:
1) Engage students in learning.
2) Seek to integrate technology in instruction.
3) Design lessons using the VESTED format (a sheltered instructional model developed by the Kolak Group)
As a campus and as individual teams we’ve faced many obstacles to meeting these goals–especially with technology integration. These barriers seem to stem–ironically– from technology, in particular our infrastructure’s capacity to support wireless connectivity for 30+ devices in a classroom and our very tightly-woven internet filtering software. When faced with these barriers, many teachers understandably quit. Those who are adaptive and responsive to these barriers, often find the support and creative solutions they need to innovate instruction through professional relationships and collaboration.
One such collaboration that has taught me tremendously has been with our Math Department Chair and Coach. Wendi and I share a platform of trust, which is paramount in any professional relationship. She and I also share like-mindedness when it comes to engaging students in learning. We have different levels of comfort and experience with technology integration, which allows for a dynamic relationship. I know next to nothing about math and instructional methods for teaching math to teenagers; she feels that she knows next to nothing about using technology when teaching math to teenagers–our collaboration is founded on reciprocal teaching and learning from one another as colleagues.
Wendi’s spark of innovation appeared in one of her own children’s Language Arts assignments that came home one day. The teacher had used QR codes to teach students about synonyms and antonyms. Wendi was so impressed with the basic premise of the assignment and her experience as a parent supporting her young learner through the assignment, that she made immediate connections for adapting it for an upcoming lesson with her Algebra I team.
She showed me the assignment–a simple table with 9 QR codes that linked to a website students used to respond to the prompt. We started by talking about her content goals for her Algebra I studnets first.
Whenever I collaborate with teachers on integrating technology with learning, I ALWAYS start with the content and expected learning outcomes. Integrating technology is not about finding ways to use iPads or QR codes in the classroom, but rather integrating technology is about identifying what tool best supports students’ learning in a given context. (p.s., sometimes the solution has nothing to do with technology!)
Wendi’s goal for her students: Identify inequalities on coordinate planes.
How would students demonstrate this skill to her? By correctly identifying a shaded graph with it’s symbol.
I heartily agreed that QR codes could be an effective tool to support students with these goals.
Wendi worked over a weekend to collect images of shaded graphs, and then we sat together to put the assignment together, which involved troubleshooting certain technological barriers.
Barrier 1: QR codes needed to link to images; however, Google Images as well as photo hosting sites such as Flickr and Tumblr are blocked by our filter. We needed a place to house the photos online that students could access through our network.
Solution: We created a folder in Google Drive, uploaded the images to the folder, changed the sharing permissions for the entire folder so that anyone within the district’s Google domain could access the link, and then used the shared links for the images to create QR codes.
Creating the assignment once we had all the images took about 20 minutes. I then showed Wendi how she could make a copy of the assignment’s Google Doc to use as a template for future assignments, saving her time in the future with formatting.
Wendi shared the assignment through Google Drive with her Algebra I team and scheduled the cart of iPads for each teacher.
We were excited to see how students and teachers responded to the activity.
The day of the assignment, Wendi and one of her teachers came to me with our next unforeseen barrier.
Barrier 2: When using the QR scanner on the iPad with the devices connected to the student wi-fi network, the links were blocked–even though they linked to the district’s own Google Drive (exasperated sigh). Wendi and her teacher could have given up then and there. We had less than 20 minutes to find a solution.
One of the most important traits of a 21st Century teacher and learner is the ability to adapt and problem solve.
Solution: …I may have found a loophole to the wi-fi issue, which I cannot entirely disclose…let’s just say I applied a little creative compliance to find a network solution…
I asked the first teacher to try the activity with students if I could stay and help support her and her students. That way I could be available to trouble shoot anymore barriers or obstacles that may arise. Since we were using the district’s Google Drive domain, it was necessary for one student to log in to Google Drive the first time they scanned a code, which they adapted to very easily.
The QR activity followed a quick introduction, which drew upon students’ prior knowledge of inequality symbols. The teacher displayed a visual with four coordinate graphs and their corresponding symbol and asked students to talk to their partner about what they noticed.
As I walked through rows of students observing, I heard responses such as “if you notice where the lines are located …” and “in general, when the shaded area is beneath the line…” By inviting students to note patterns first, the teacher placed the learning experience in the hands of students rather than delivering content knowledge. What I really appreciated about this was how natural it came to students. You could tell by their willingness and openness to share their thinking out loud that this type of discourse was a regular part of their classroom experience.
She then asked them what they noticed, “Why are these two lines dashed and these two solid?” By utilizing higher-level questions to guide them to justify their responses, the teacher drew upon students’ ability to think metacognitively. Learning was happening at higher levels before technology was even introduced.
Students then received directions for the QR activity, and I walked them through scanning and identifying the first coordinate graph to ensure all devices were working appropriately and students felt successful using the iPads as a learning device.
The teacher and I walked around, actively supporting students if they had any issues with the QR code or device, and observing students’ conversations with their partners as they scanned and worked together to determine the correct symbol. The initial visual remained on the board for students to use as a key.
All students were engaged in the activity as academic discourse flowed throughout the room. As partners completed the assignment, I reminded them to check to make sure they signed out of Google Drive on the devices and cleared the scanning history in the QR reader app. I chatted informally with groups of students about their reactions to the assignment. All but one student reported that they felt they understood more about inequalities on coordinate planes after using the iPads than if we had provided the images of the graphs on the paper. The one student who didn’t feel this way said that the experience would have been the same for her without the iPads. All students reported that they felt confident in identifying the correct symbol for an inequality and commented on how fun class was that day.
Learning did not stop when the devices were dark. Even when the activity was over, I heard pairs talking about the graphs they had discussed. One pair in particular was pointing to different QR codes, recalling the differences and similarities between the graphs they linked to and the inequality symbol they recorded. Even though the visual was no longer in front of them on the screen, it was painted on their mind because of their experience with the learning task. When looking at a QR code, they still saw the graph it represented.
Without the collaboration of the team, my relationship with Wendi, the Department Chair, and the adaptability and resiliency of the classroom teacher, this lesson may have never been actualized.
How can we ensure that teachers have the collaborative relationships and support they need in order to experiment with new technologies and innovate learning for their students?