Week 6 Reflection

This week was spent learning about gaming and its impacts on differentiation in the classroom. This is another one of those topics that when I first saw the essential question, I thought, “How in the world will that work?” I didn’t even realize I was already doing it until I started reading the resources and thinking about my own classroom experiences.

When I was teaching in a multi-age primary classroom, I used gaming all the time to keep students engaged and learning while I worked with small groups of students. Whether it was sight-word bingo, spelling rocket races, or character/book title concentration, students moved through the room to different stations, playing games that were individualized for their particular level while I provided direct instruction to one of the groups in the rotation.

The games that I created were paper-based (out of necessity – only two temperamental computers lived in our classroom and they worked when they wanted, contained limited software, and only connected to the internet occasionally), but now (ten years later) I would look to make many of them iPad, computer, or tablet based. I would look for games that could save student data so I could check for understanding and growth, that I would be able to modify to address particular needs of students, and that were engaging.

I really enjoyed the Twitter session and reading the blog posts of my classmates. Both were very informative and contained great resources!

UbD Unit Assignment:

Because I don’t have a classroom, I have been searching the deep recesses of my mind to come up with a unit that I could complete with my two children (kindergarten and third grade). This was no easy task, but I hope I have come up with something workable.

My unit will be locating and identifying inter-tidal fauna of Southeast Alaska. I will take the kids out to the beach on a low (minus hopefully) tide and we will document (camera) as many different intertidal sea creatures as we can find in 60 minutes. I’ve looked at the tide tables for the week of spring break and there are several dates that will work. I need to think about my assessments and how they will differ between the two different-aged kids.

 

How Are Games Providing New Opportunities for Differentiation in the Classroom?

Does my nine-year-old know more about creating a sticky piston in Minecraft PE than I do? Yes, and so does my six-year-old, but I am not bothered by being outsmarted by their inquisitive nature and investigative minds. They interact for hours, mostly in a positive fashion, working together to build a world of their own with trap doors and hidden rooms, zombie- and creeper-safe zones, and monitoring daylight hours and resources as if their lives depended on it. As it turns out, they do, from a gaming perspective.

Minecraft is previous generations’ Pong, Tetris, Mario, etc. Kids dig it! One of the major things that sets Minecraft apart from these past games is the participating audience. This game brings in so many more kids than just the typical “gamer” type. Want to get a bunch of kids together in a hurry? Put one kid in a room with a tablet open to Minecraft.

What makes Minecraft so appealing to such a broad audience? According to Bharti (2014), Minecraft offers fully customizable and flexible gaming experience to all its users. This is one of the reasons it is such a fabulous tool in a differentiated classroom. Students of all abilities and interest levels can find a way to be engaged with it.

More importantly, how can we, as educators, use that enthusiasm and interest to enhance the learning opportunities for our students? Minecraft can be used in a multitude of ways to help differentiate instruction in the classroom. Alexandra Ossolo (2015) writes about how students can use it to recreated scenes from historical events in lieu of the traditional cardboard box diorama.  Each student is working on their own project, adding the details that are important to them, and working at a pace that is appropriate. Geocraft is a project in the UK that helps students learn geography through Minecraft play (www.geocraft.org.uk). These students use preloaded maps and are able to acquire knowledge about geography in non-traditional ways. Jacqui Murray (n.d.) writes at TeachHUB.com how Minecraft addresses reading, writing, and problem solving goals. Because each student is working individually, but the class is working collectively on a goal, all students are engaged in an activity at their own academic and social level.

With the proper oversight, gaming in the classroom can have a very positive impact on student learning and student success. Teachers need to keep parents and administrators informed of the reasons for integrating the gaming time into the class schedule, be prepared to show how the gaming helps students meet standards, and have a plan for keeping students on task while they are actively gaming.

Below, you will find a video showing what teachers and parents, who once enjoyed Friday nights on the town, now spend their time doing instead:

Bharti, P. (2014, May 29). Why and How to Use Minecraft in the Classroom? EdTechReview. Retrieved from http://edtechreview.in/trends-insights/trends/1231-why-and-how-to-use-minecraft-in-the-classroom

Geocraft. (2016). http://www.geocraft.org.uk

Murray, J. (n.d.). Minecraft in the Classroom Teaches Reading and More. TeachHub.com. Retrieved from http://www.teachhub.com/minecraft-classroom-teaches-reading-writing-problem-solving

Ossolo, A. (2015, February 6). Teaching in the Age of Minecraft. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/02/teaching-in-the-age-of-minecraft/385231/

Week 5 Reflection – Wiki Part 2

This week was an interesting one in the world of tech, especially here in southeast Alaska where our community was sent back to the dark ages of the internet due to the necessary repair of our fiber optics cable linking us to Juneau. Thankfully, the problem was resolved by Saturday, leaving enough time to get assignments completed, but I will say that my participation in my online classes was less than stellar during the week!

Our wiki, http://assistivetech2016.wikispaces.com/, came together toward the end of the week. Everyone was able to access the site and our communication was good. We had a Google Hangouts session on Wednesday after our class Twitter session where we formulated a plan. The internet was fussy for those of us in Sitka, but we got it all worked out. We also used Twitter and email to make connections when necessary.

I found it very interesting to research my two AT devices, FM transmitters and an app called Dragon Dictation. Not only did I look at the specifics of the devices, but I read a bunch of testimonials which were eye-opening. The amount of auditory input that someone can be missing out on when they have a hearing loss is astounding. Allowing students to participated in a classroom just as their peers do while still processing information they did not previously have access to is such an incredible, potentially life-changing experience.

Week 4 Reflection – Wiki

This week I had my first experience with a wiki. I also have been dealing with an internet connection dependent on a compromised fiber optic cable which resides deep beneath the ocean and is currently being repaired (fingers crossed). This has added an extra element of complexity to working with my group, as sometimes I have enough of a connection to access our wiki and sometimes I don’t have a connection at all. Such is life in Alaska.

Our group (Jeff, Sara, Amber, Cherie, and myself) met on Wednesday prior to our class Twitter session. We used Google Hangouts to interact and divide up the workload. Sara was kind enough to set up the wiki in Wikispaces (http://assistivetech2016.wikispaces.com/) and we have each been working on our own individual sections. I think the division of labor was fair and we were all equally engaged in the decision-making process.

The problems I have encountered with this project are not having a stable connection, which makes conducting research challenging. This lack of a stable connection also makes it difficult to work on the wiki as I can only connect to it periodically. The third issue I encountered was finding information related to assistive technology, differentiated instruction, and hearing loss that did not specifically talk about devices. I know that we are suppose to be addressing these devices the week following the wiki, so I specifically looked for research or articles that discussed how the assistive technology could enhance the learning process without going into the specific devices and that was very difficult to come by.

I will cross my fingers and hope that when all the kids are back at school tomorrow, the patched-together internet service speed will increase enough for me to do some more thorough research of my part of the wiki!

Week Three Reflection

Helping parents understand the intricacies of a differentiated classroom can be a tricky proposition. The blog posts of my fellow classmates were informative and inspirational. Jeff wrote of a room in which students were working on varied tasks appropriate to their readiness level and how this might seem foreign to parents use to 25 students sitting quietly in desks listening to an instructor lecture or working on the same set of assigned problems. Change is scary for many people, and seeing an unfamiliar practice happening in a classroom which contains one’s child can certainly be a cause for concern. This is why we, as educators, need to make sure that we include our parents in our classrooms by informing them of the processes, inviting them in to observe or participate, and including them in informed decision making for best placement of their student.

Thinking back to the different places that I have taught which have included small Alaskan villages and larger Alaskan towns as well as a small town in Montana, I think one thing about the parents of my students was similar in all cases: they trusted me to make the correct decisions when it came to properly educating their children. All the schools I have worked in have been in low-income areas. All were Title I schools. The largest amount of feedback I received was when I was working as the Title I reading specialist in a Soldotna school and parents were eager to see if their children were making progress. None of them doubted my methods. I often wonder how that would have changed if I had started my teaching career in affluent schools. I wonder what I would have done with a classroom full of helicopter parents. I wonder if it would have shaped the way I organized my instruction.

Although the Twitter session was far from smooth this week, I think that it was still very productive. There were many great ideas shared and the overall atmosphere of the session remained positive in spite of the technical difficulties. I enjoyed the willingness to help problem solve and the tenacity of the hosts! I also discovered that I need to work on my skills of abbreviation, as I find it difficult to cram my thoughts into 140 characters! I spent much of the remainder of the night thinking of alternative formats, such as Twitter Plus or Super Sized Tweets, 720 character sites for those with a whole lot more to say.

Preparing Parents for Differentiation in the Classroom

To play a game, please click on the following link:

http://www.classtools.net/mob/quiz_59/Differentiated_Instruction_8ASg9.htm

Essential question: How do we prepare parents for differentiation in the classroom?

While student learning is the main focus of our profession, there are many pieces to the complex puzzle that help maximize that goal. One of the most important pieces is parent support. Changing the structure of a learning environment from the expected to something which can be perceived as unconventional or even unfair without losing that parental support takes careful planning and execution.

Deanna Soukup, a middle school science teacher, starts the year off right with this letter home to the parents of her students. She does an excellent job of explaining the basics of differentiated instruction, the benefits to all students in her room, and how this instruction might look on any given day. She uses educational vernacular, but clearly defines everything that might be unclear to the non-educator. Ms. Soukup also cites references in her letter which back up the principles and merits of differentiated instruction in the classroom. Most importantly, she encourages feedback and provides contact information for parents who might have questions or concerns, making her letter seem more like a two-way street rather than a directive.

After setting the groundwork with a letter home, encouraging parents to come and experience differentiated instruction along with the class is another way to show how learning is taking place for all students, in ways that maximize their individual learning potential. Caltha Crowe’s article (2004) about her classroom’s Wonderful Wednesdays gives a glimpse at how parents are included in her classroom. Parents are welcome to come and join the class, but they are welcomed as participants, not as helpers. This allows the parents to work alongside the students and experience differentiation firsthand. With some modifications, this idea of having parents be a part of the class could work in many other classroom settings.

In the article A Parent’s Guide to 21st-Century Learning (2012), the “4C’s”, competencies that go beyond basic academic proficiencies, are addressed. They are considered the skills that students will need to possess in order to be successful in the rapidly changing world we live in.

C o l l a b o r a t i o n : Students are able to work effectively with diverse groups and
exercise flexibility in making compromises to achieve common goals.
C r e a t i v i t y : Students are able to generate and improve on original ideas and also
work creatively with others.
C o m m u n i c a t i o n : Students are able to communicate effectively across multiple
media and for various purposes.
C r i t i c a l  t h i n k i n g : Students are able to analyze, evaluate, and understand
complex systems and apply strategies to solve problems.

These skills are all skills that can be incorporated into differentiated instruction. Helping parents see the benefit of possessing these skills and where they fall into the natural structure of a differentiated classroom can help some resistant parents see the value in this type of classroom structure.

Parents can be an incredibly valuable tool in building a differentiated classroom. They can provide information about their child that the classroom teacher might not know or see during the regular school day. They are also a great barometer for how thing are going with differentiation. Eidson (2008) encourages parents to talk with their students to see how the differentiated classroom is working for them. As educators, we should make it a priority to exchange information with the parents of our students as another way to gauge the effectiveness of our instruction. This exchange of information will provide the parent with a greater sense of inclusion in the educational process, which in turn will help to create a positive view of the differentiated classroom.

Resources:

A parent’s guide to 21st-century learning. (2012). Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/pdfs/guides/edutopia-parents-guide-21st-century-learning.pdf

Crowe, C. (November 1, 2004). Wonderful Wednesdays. Retrieved from https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/wonderful-wednesdays/

Eidson, C. (October 3, 2008). What every parent should know about differentiated instruction. Retrieved from https://tip.duke.edu/node/910

Smutny, J. (September, 2004). Differentiated instruction for young gifted children: How parents can help. Retrieved from http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10465.aspx

Soukup, D. (n.d.). Parent letter differentiated instruction. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RcJwQwYfxwYMkqXe-PkRVyx3P8-gv2auPSi6eS85gQU/edit?pref=2&pli=1

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms. Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD). Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com