I’ve been fortunate enough to work in private schools and public schools, and based on my own experiences, there is a distinct difference between how lessons are designed depending on which environment you are working in. The single biggest distinguishing factor lies in the standardized test requirements that often determine the direction and implementation of a lesson in a public school. Often, I’ve witnessed public school teachers declining opportunities to integrate technology in their classrooms, out of fear that they won’t have time to address the mandated curriculum and key concepts on which their students will be assessed. The idea that technology could be used to teach it more effectively often isn’t seen as time-effective to them, most likely because of the work involved in redesigning the curriculum that has already been provided to them. In my private school environment, our curriculum committee was made up of teachers who worked with their departments to develop the curriculum each year.
Dee Fink’s “Self-Directed Guide to Course Design” discusses the idea of looking forward when designing lessons (Fink, 2003). Considering how a student will be able to use what we’re teaching in the future rather than what they remember right now is the key to making the learning effective. Offering them scenarios in which they may need to know the information later in life provides an authentic example of its significance. It is with this in mind that I design my units and lessons. I am a technology teacher, and in the area of technology, it doesn’t make sense to teach for today. Technology is constantly evolving, so the content of my lessons isn’t about specific tools. It’s about concepts, including the cloud, collaboration, communication, and creative production.
Below is an example of a unit designed with the future of my 4th grade students in mind. Beginning with what I want my students to be able to do in the future, I’ve created series of activities and assessments that will prepare them well for what the future holds.
A year or more after this unit is over, I want and hope that students will be comfortable with using the cloud to communicate and collaborate effectively and respectfully with others.
The unit I am addressing below is designed for 4th-grade students at my elementary school. By the 4th grade level, students have mastered the ability to:
- Create Word documents and PowerPoint presentations
- Change font and size
- Insert objects and images
- Edit objects and images (rotate, resize, change color, etc.)
- Insert tables
- Align text
- Use indentation
- Select and use Office-based themes and designs
For the successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:
- Save and access new and previously made files from anywhere, using cloud-based storage.
- Recognize and utilize the features and functions of communication and collaboration tools.
- Create original works and learn strategies for editing, formatting and collaborating to create new artifacts.
This unit will teach students to think creatively as they develop their own documents and presentations. They will think practically as they make decisions in how to design artifacts that are appropriate for their audience. They will think critically as they analyze and evaluate information they gather in research of independent topics.
They will gain skills in sharing documents for the purpose of peer assessment and creative collaboration as they manage independent and team-based complex projects.
Throughout this unit, students will be integrating a number of skills to complete their work. These include:
- Technology skills: keyboarding, student login information, file creation, text formatting, online research…
- Curriculum skills: communicating effectively through writing, making inferences (research),
- Personal skills: peer assessment, collaboration, designing
HUMAN DIMENSION GOALS
Students should learn that they can be successful contributors to group work and that tools are accessible that allow them to work with and share their success with others. They are not just consumers of technology, but should be producers as well.
This unit also allows students to demonstrate digital citizenship as they recognize and respect the opinions and works of other online contributors. Collaborative activity allows them to work together to more effectively communicate shared ideas.
It is my hope that students will understand the significant role they can play as contributing citizens in a digital environment. The tools they are learning today will help them to be more successful in their future careers, whatever they may be. The opportunity to create and share does not have to be limited to school work, but can be used to explore their own personal interests, such as creating a series of personal stories, or exploring and researching ideas that interest them.
LEARNING HOW TO LEARN
I would like students to recognize the incredible opportunity that they have been given in the use of the Internet and cloud based storage. To be a good student requires their exploration of things outside the classroom and how they apply to them. In the subject of technology, it’s important for them to explore and find out what they can do with these tools. It is my hope that they will realize the incredible potential that OneDrive provides for them to be more independent and successful learners by allowing them to document their independent explorations or create their own works outside of school. It’s important that they see technology not as a school tool, but as a life tool. Learning to use it in a way that works best for them is really the key to their success.
MY BIG HAIRY AMBITIOUS GOAL (BHAG):
Upon completion of this unit, learners will be able to communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using OneDrive and digital media.
Learners will analyze the functional uses of Office 365 as a means for organizing, creating, communicating and collaborating in the learning environment.
|Review, discuss and explore the uses of Office 365/OneDrive and “cloud” computing.
Model existing OneDrive accounts demonstrating accessibility of “shared” work and organization of student-owned work.
|Upload previously created Word documents into OneDrive.
Create new Word documents in OneDrive naming them appropriately.
Access teacher-shared documents in OneDrive.
Learners will apply previously learned skills using Word to create a Word document in OneDrive.
Learners will create a table and format a document for the purpose of organizing data in a research activity.
|Discuss how the cloud can help students to complete work more efficiently.
Insert a 2×5 table in a new document to be used as a graphic organizer.
|Create a new document and name it appropriately.
Format a table, labeling each row appropriately as demonstrated by the instructor.
Learners will consider the technology available in their classroom learning environments and outside the computer lab.
Students will discuss and demonstrate the benefits of using cloud-based documents in a classroom-based research project.
|Begin research based on classroom curriculum and record it in online document.
Demonstrate use of the cloud-based document outside the computer lab.
|Record research findings in the graphic organizer.
Share the document with technology teacher and classroom teacher.
Continue research outside of the computer lab, using devices available in the classroom and/or at home.
Learners will use the cloud to discuss in small groups the ways in which cloud-based computing could benefit them in a career-based environment.
|Discuss and research the benefits of using the cloud.
Use shared documents to collaborate and discuss careers in which the cloud may be used.
|Access a document that has been previously created and shared by the instructor.
Research career topics in Britannica Image Quest and locate images in which technology is being used.
Share findings (images and reasoning) with group members in the shared document.
|LEARNING HOW TO LEARN
Students will work collaboratively to create a presentation about an assigned topic.
|Discuss in small groups, plans for creating a PowerPoint presentation about an assigned topic.
Teams will create and share a research document with a partner and the instructor.
Teams will create and share the PowerPoint file with a partner and the instructor.
Collaborate to create and design the presentation, using student research.
|Determine team members’ roles in the group project.
Use Britannica to research and record findings in a shared document.
Create a five-slide presentation, including images and demonstrating new knowledge.
SPECIFIC CONTEXT OF THE TEACHING/LEARNING SITUATION
There are about 100 4th-grade students in my school. They are divided into four classes, each consisting of about 25 students. Each group visits my computer lab for thirty minutes each week, where they log into their own personal network accounts on desktop computers and are guided via projection from a teacher station.
Employees and students within the district have Office 365 accounts. While students do not have access to email, they do share the same accessibility with other online applications as their teachers. In the past, students have saved their work to a network drive that could be accessed anywhere in the district. The fact that OneDrive makes their work accessible from anywhere makes it a much more effective means of storing their files.
4th-grade teachers vary in their willingness and ability to blend technology into their learning plans. Their classrooms share two laptop carts and an iPad cart, which are accessible as needed. Devices are typically used for research and assessments, but rarely creative projects or independent problem-based activities. My unit prepares students for future learning opportunities that are cloud-based, while making the process of incorporating OneDrive easier for their classroom teachers. In my efforts to create a more blended learning environment throughout my school, this unit plays
GENERAL CONTEXT OF THE LEARNING SITUATION
The incorporation of a new district-mandated curriculum includes a technology component, which has encouraged classroom teachers to employ more technology-based lessons in their classrooms. Students have access to curriculum tools and assignments online, which can be accessed at home via the district website as well as at school.
The district technology team has developed a set of grade level standards on which units and lessons are based. Our limited time with students on a weekly basis limits our ability to continue building on new skills throughout the week, so I am constantly trying to integrate classroom curriculum with my technology lessons in order to make connections in all subjects.
NATURE OF THE SUBJECT
I see the subject of technology as a practical one. It is important for students to learn about those tools that will help them to learn more effectively and to apply what they’ve learned in a digital environment. The Internet is not just for consumers, but for creators, and the potential for students to become contributors in a world filled with technology is one they need to understand and explore. The biggest challenge that I face as a technology educator is in the interest of time and practice. While I’d like to think that students are learning skills that will help them learn in the classroom, that is not always the case. Many teachers are not as comfortable with technology as their students are. This unit introduces students to the benefits and knowledge needed for cloud-based works, relieving their teachers of the responsibility of doing so, hopefully making them more comfortable with practicing those skills in their own lessons.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE LEARNERS
My school is not in an affluent area. A majority of students are from low-income families, and breakfast and lunch is provided. Our student body is also mostly Hispanic, and at the 4th-grade level, there is one sheltered classroom.
Reading and writing abilities vary drastically among this group. Language barriers can play a role in the effectiveness of instruction, so students often help one another when understanding is in question.
Our 4th-grade students are curious, unafraid of technology, and excited to learn about new technology tools. However, many of them do not have access to computers or Internet at home, so there are no expectations of technology work outside of school. Students are encouraged to explore what they are learning at home, or at the public library if the opportunity does exist, but it is not required.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TEACHER
Technology is a fun subject for students, especially when they are being introduced to new tools. It is also one that is difficult to standardize, as it is constantly evolving and there are so many ways to accomplish the same task. I am a constructivist and enjoy watching students explore and discover learning opportunities independently. I encourage growth through student-centered goals and rewards, and I learn much about my students through the processes they choose in problem-based activities. I find learning to be much more effective in an environment where students can share and discuss with their neighbors. Quiet is not necessarily productive in my practical problem-based learning environment. This contradicts the philosophy of most classroom teachers, who aren’t comfortable with relinquishing control over the conversation and how concepts are being presented.
As an English-speaking educator in a heavily bilingual school, I welcome students to communicate and help one another during class. The process of instructing is in itself a learning experience. Many of my students are very enthusiastic about playing a leadership role in helping their classmates. Allowing them to share with others provides many with a sense of pride and accomplishment, encouraging them to do their best work. OneDrive allows all of my students an opportunity to do so.
This unit of instruction is one that serves not only my students, but their teachers as well. The introduction and practice of cloud storage and collaboration provides students with a foundation that teachers could take advantage of in their classrooms. While many teachers are admittedly not as comfortable with O365 as they would like to be, the idea that their students know how to use it may provide some encouragement, and even ease their anxiety about making it a part of the classroom experience. Since my innovation plan is focused on creating a more blended learning environment throughout my school, I’m confident that this unit will play a role in making the shift at my school. The fact that students will be sharing the work they complete in the lab with their classroom teachers will provide their teachers with examples of the learning that can take place with technology as a tool.
Fink, L.D. (2003) A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.