Thursday, December 26, 2013

Variety in the Classroom Benefits All Learners!

There is the old saying 'variety is the spice of life' to consider when running an inquiry based classroom.  True.  But is it enough to provide variety without a focused goal?  I think this leads to confusion and a sense of disjointed, scattershot teaching.  Better to have a clear focus and to provide learning opportunities that reflect an overall theme.  I can provide a couple of examples from my own class to support this idea and which will highlight the importance of maintaining a certain rigour to the development of curriculum goals.

First, let me tell you about our most recent exploration.  We've been working on a project called Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast.  The kids came up with the guiding question, 'What's it like to live in other parts of Canada?'  This was just about perfect: open-ended enough to allow true inquiry, focussed enough to provide a clear framework for the work ahead.  Now, the creative and challenging part is to design tasks that will stay within the guiding spirit of the question, but not be too constricting.  We feel we really nailed this one with the following activities:

1.  Newscasts. (iMovie and Photo Booth) The kids wrote, recorded and presented a beautiful series of newscasts using iMovie.  They used the news from the Canadian region they were studying to explore current events, climate, and culture.  Photo Booth allows for the creation of endless backdrops and background videos using the effects tab.  The 'newscasters' can appear in the middle of a typhoon or in some exotic locate.

One section of a newscast

2.  Tellagami Weather Reports.  The students strung together 30 second Tellagami (you have to check this app out for your class.  It's brilliant) avatar clips to explore weather phenomena from their region. Absolutely hilarious, highly creative and the end product is so polished, it's perfect.  Script writing and using two apps (Tellagami and iMovie) to create a short avatar-based film is pretty rich stuff. Wonderful to share with the group, click here!

3.  Tourism brochures.  The students loved creating travel brochures for their region using the Pages templates.  Any word processor can be used and the students love the challenge of making a content-rich professional looking publication.

4. Stop Action Claymation.  This was a huge hit.  The students had to think of special recreation or occupation activities going on in their region and create a stop action movie.  It was a blast to see how creative they were in depicting all kinds of regional quirks.  We used the simplest app I could find, called Stop Animator. It's free on the App Store and couldn't be any easier to use.  Once again, the students can string their films together to make a whole-class movie.  What an amazingly fun and truly creative task, click here!

5. Google Earth Tour Builder.  This new offering from Google is in beta form, apparently, but to me it's ready for prime time.  It was a very simple task to show the students how to add pictures and text for the various locations they were exploring.  Once imported, the material uses Google Earth as the guide to take everyone on a virtual tour of the area.  This is very rich in content and allows for refined research and editing.

6.  iMovie.  The kids love making their own movies and are always intrigued by the process of assembling material from a wide variety of sources.  The goal was to take images from their region (hundreds in some groups' presentation) and overlay music and voiceover to create a true exploration of their region, highlighting important geographical features.

This exploration hit all the right notes. At the end of each work day, we sat back and watched some truly amazing displays which were both rich in content and creativity.  The kids absolutely loved it. In my next blog, I'll discuss what happens when things don't go so well.

This post was written by my colleague Pete Douglas. You can find the original post on our website.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Why Teach Concepts of Disciplinary Thinking?

The 2013 Ontario Revised Social Studies/History & Geography (SS/HG) document has a list of tools and strategies (p.7) that encourage teachers to shift how they might teach SS/HG.   The concepts of disciplinary thinking is incorporated into this curriculum and by applying the concepts, we give students' a way to learn and engage in the material presented.  It encourages them to think critically about history and challenges them to rethink the past, present and future. "... it is crucial that students not simply learn various facts but that they acquire the ability to think and to process content in ways best suited to each subject" (p.12).  By moving away from memorizing facts, teachers will need to plan and promote students' inquiry to explore issues and deepen their understanding. Teaching historical thinking and pursuing challenging content knowledge will develop students' ability to "do" SS/HG. 

Getting ready to "do" Social Studies

Thing we know (we think)

Disciplinary Thinking will help students organize and understand knowledge in a meaningful way. The following is a chart from the SS/HG curriculum, it is included in the front matter of the document. (p.13)

So how and why do you teach concepts of disciplinary thinking in your SS/HG classroom?