Photo from Vanier College via Flickr
As I redesigned a Grade 2 unit on simple machines in the past few weeks I tried to really think about how I could improve it beyond what it already was with technology. This was going to be challenging because at my school I currently teach English as an additional language, which means my time with ALL the grade 2 students is limited.
I also had to keep in mind that this was a fantastic unit already. When I first looked at the unit, I noticed it had lots of hands-on-minds-on activities that teach grade 2 students what simple machines are and what they can do. Also, these experiments all give students a thorough introduction to the nature of forces.
Feeling that science learning can never go too deep, I initially focused more on the science related desired learning results. However, instead of concentrating directly on the science content of simple machines and forces which had already been enhanced by previous tech integration efforts, I decided to see if I could promote the development of science process skills in some manner with some additions. In my schools’ curriculum, these skills were expressed under four stages (all of which echo the design cycle we follow):
- Investigate (hypothesise),
- Plan (design),
- Evaluate (conclude).
Underneath these stages could be found the process skills of:
- identifying or generating a question or problem to be explored;
- making and testing predictions;
- planning and carrying out systemic investigations, manipulating variables as necessary;
- observing carefully to gather data;
- using a variety of instruments and tools to measure data accurately;
- using scientific vocabulary to explain observations and experiences;
- interpreting and evaluating data gathered in order to draw conclusions;
- and considering scientific models and applications of these models (including their limitations).
I began to think about how when I troubleshoot technology issues, I naturally use these skills. I thought about how to encourage these scientific/troubleshooting strategies, behaviours, and habits in my own students. Knowing that students were not as interested in troubleshooting issues around Google apps, transferring videos from various apps to the cloud, or embedding and sharing images and documents into blog posts as I am, I came up with the idea of coding in an effort to create little games that might in some way be related to app based games that students liked to play. In my admittedly limited experience with game-based coding using websites such as Codemonkey, I remembered that I had practiced this troubleshooting and experimenting in a fun and engaging way along with my grade 4 and 5 students at the time. Perhaps game-based coding could also be useful in teaching the science process skills, if clear links were made between the kind of thinking students would be doing and those skills?
With this idea in mind and after taking another look at the 2014 ISTE Standards for Students, I decided I wanted to integrate more technology into this this unit to foster: 1) the development of scientific thinking and practices through experimenting with coding and game development; 2) understanding of the ideas that technology and games can help us simulate the real word of forces and machines.
In essence, I wanted students to know that technology allows us to experiment and understand the world even if we cannot physically experience it.
I wanted students to understand and make connections between the design cycle and the scientific process. I also wanted students to know that thinking like a computer scientist is very similar to thinking like a conventional scientist. I also wanted the technology to help me create opportunities for learning and demonstrating knowledge of vocabulary related to the unit. I thought about how using technology could increase the comprehensible input of my lessons by providing labeled visuals that students could view, watch, and tinker with as they grew in their understandings. I also thought that technology could give students opportunities to create products that would demonstrate their understanding orally, with images, videos, and possibly with mother tongue terms that were related. I wanted technology to help students collaborate like scientists and provide a central depot for students to post all of their burgeoning understandings to and read the understandings of others from.
I passed the first draft of my unit plan on to our tech ed coach just to see how possible he thought it might be to cram all this into one unit.
He liked the idea of the unit but summed it up with one word: “ambitious” which in teacher code means: “There’s a bit too much in that unit plan there fella.”
Taking another look at it, I agreed, especially since I was not even a homeroom teacher! I decided to go back and look at the previous unit plans for this unit, as well as the EAL learning engagements shared with me by my EAL teaching colleague who had taught the unit last year in tandem with the three grade 1 homeroom teachers.
Yes…some things in my draft unit were going to have to be chopped. The real tangent factor was my final project of developing a game…this summative diverged too much from the central idea of the unit. To make connections between this project and the central idea would be most likely beyond a grade 2 student’s capacity. The main sticking point was that I would simply not have enough time with students to work out this segment of the unit and would have to rely too much on our already maxed out tech ed coach to teach a chunk of the unit.
Also, successful teaching of this unit would hinge upon the three homeroom teachers I teach with deciding to teach a technology-heavy unit that they had not had a hand in designing. It would be difficult for me to support all of them at each stage of the process due to scheduling issues.
Finally…the real clincher…I know very little about game design and coding!!! While leading a potentially confusing unit that I would not really have time to teach my Grade 2 students (as I am in fact an EAL teacher) I would be having to learn, understand, and explain a lot to other teachers.
In essence I decided that such an involved technoloy based unit was unrealistic and not really possible. I therefore decided to go back to the drawing board.
I removed the game design element of the unit and focused more on the technology goals that: “students use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues”. I now wanted students to understand and use computers and devices to simulate experiments. I also wanted them to share findings collaboratively using some sort of forum. I also wanted to students to learn and practice a few new technology platforms for creating and storing knowledge for future use by themselves and others. Finally, I wanted students using technology, if they chose, to present their new understandings of machines and forces in tandem with their summative assessments.
The unit plan is not finished yet; I’m still coming up with learning engagements so watch this space.