Friday, May 25, 2012

Are we pulling the plug on creativity?

As the school year has come to an end, it is the time to reflect on the year. As I was reflecting, one question keeps popping into my mind...Are we pulling the plug on creativity? This question is fresh in my mind after I was fortunate enough to help with an Innovation Day.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to help one of my teachers, Mr. Sinden, with his first Innovation Day. During this Innovation Day, these 5th grade students had the opportunity to choose their topic of study for the day. For several days, Mr. Sinden had prepped his students for this day, conferenced with them, and provided the necessary support needed for this day to be a success.

When I walked into Mr. Sinden's room during the Innovation Day, all the students were hard at work. Students were doing research, creating products, testing paper airplane designs, and just working hard. It was good to see students embracing the concept and to see them working hard at the end of the school year. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for about the first hour or so. When I left, students were continuing their work and would be presenting it to the class. I was excited to hear about the rest of the day.

Two days later, I had the opportunity to sit and debrief this activity with Mr. Sinden. These debriefing moments seem to never happen and the conversations that follow never materialize. I was happy we were sitting down and discussing the day. This is when I was in for a bit of a surprise. When I left the classroom, the students were working hard and they continued to do so all day. Unfortunately, the end of day presentations we generally not that good. I was really disappointed but eager to talk through this Innovation Day.

After some discussion, we came up with some key areas to focus our attention on in the future.
1. The openness of the task caused issues - As we started talking, we came to the conclusion that many students had a hard time knowing where to start. Never before had they been given this much freedom. These students had almost become programmed to follow the direction of the teacher and to never think about how to approach an open ended task. Choosing a topic and then deciding what to do with that topic was an issue. Most students fell into the trap of research and report back. There was very little extension/application of the learning.

My Takeaway - We need to provide students more opportunities to lead their own learning. Every teacher has to cover curriculum, but can we find ways to allow students choice within that curriculum? If we don't do this, how will students learn to be self starters? We also need to help students take their research and apply it to real world situations.

2. The presentation of the day's learning was uninspiring - This was the biggest issue that Mr. Sinden talked about with the Innovation Day project. Mostly, students did a PowerPoint or just got up and talked in front of the class. It was disappointing that there was not more creativity and more variety in the presentations.

My Takeaway - We need to provide students with more examples of showing/sharing knowledge. Modeling a variety of methods to show learning would help students expand their repertoire. By having a variety of experiences, students may find comfort in several ways to show learning. Giving students choice when creating final products could provide students greater opportunities to be creative and show learning in their preferred method.

So are we pulling the plug on creativity and draining the creative energy from our students? What can we do to keep the creative spirit alive in school? These are questions I will ponder this summer and come back refreshed and ready for next year.

Please share your thoughts/comments below or let's discuss on twitter @itechbob. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

SMART Notebook 11 - Implications for the Classroom

By now many people have downloaded SMART Notebook 11 and posted their personal reviews. I don't want to be redundant, so I am taking a different approach to my review of SMART Notebook 11. Let's take a look at how some of the new features can be applied to your teaching and your students' learning.

The Updated Toolbar

To me, this is the single best improvement in SMART Notebook 11. In previous versions, changing pen colors and line styles was cumbersome. With the new toolbar, all of your options are available when you need them and you don't have to click on another icon. This ease of use has great implications for students. Students will find it easier to create infographics, images, and diagrams on their own. SMART Notebook is such a versatile program to begin with and these ease of use improvements only makes it a better user experience. Even the youngest students should be able to change colors and line styles with ease. I expect to see better looking student products with SMART Notebook 11.

Audio Recorder

Being able to record directly in SMART Notebook takes care of a serious flaw in the previous versions of Notebook. Adding audio interactivity required another program and more file management since you were linking to audio files. In short, not many teachers used linked sound. Now, the ability to record is there and the possibilities for using audio in Notebook lessons can be fully utilized. Teachers could use sound in their SMART Notebook lessons to:
- give directions for a SMARTBoard center activity
- use to provide audio feedback when an answer is selected
- record student narrations for group projects using notebook
- create lessons for a substitute to use that includes your voice for directions and explanations of concepts

Download this example to see some of these examples in action.

Reset Page

I think this could be a forgotten feature of SMART Notebook 11 but it can make SMARTBoard centers work more efficiently. When students are doing a sorting activity with a variety of images or any activity that requires them to mark up pages, it becomes a bigger task to get it ready for the next center group. Now, the students could simply choose Edit and then Reset page. This could always be the last step before leaving a center. No matter how many pages the students have marked up, the lesson can be reset for next group with ease, saving you valuable transition time that can be used for instruction.

                                                 Before Page Reset                                  After Page Reset

By no means is this all that the new Notebook offers, but these features really stood out to me. These tools can be integrated into the classroom with ease and can make using Notebook and the SMARTBoard more efficient. I look forward to the great ideas my teachers will come up with for their classroom.

I am sure this is not the last post for me about SMART Notebook 11. But until then, this is technology that actually works!

Please comment below to share ideas and other uses of these features and many more.