Saturday, January 23, 2010

Free is the Nice Price (Part 2) - Grade 7 Technology

This year at school I've been teaching Grade 7 MYP Technology for the first time. The course is a bit of a hotch-potch as it is taught by myself and 2 science teachers and is set against instrumental music - so we get the students who are not currently having their instrument lessons at that time. To make it even more challenging we have 80 Grade 7 students doing Technology all Friday afternoon, and it takes place in a room right next to where 8 students are having their drumming lessons. Does this sound like a recipe for disaster?

At the beginning of this school year I wasn't very enthusiastic about this class. Nor was I enthusiastic about what I was expected to teach and how I was expected to teach it. Clearly the people who set this course up at school had no clue about the real nature of MYP Technology which is to expose the students to an equal mixture of information technology, materials/design technology and systems. My brief was basically to teach the students Excel for the first 6 months of the year! For the first few weeks I went along with the flow and did what I was told - having the students graph the results of experiments done in the science lessons. Actually I quite enjoyed these experiments, especially the one where we were throwing metals into acids and then setting the resulting gas produced on fire! Of course then we had to come down to earth and graph this! But 6 months of this? Pleeeease!

It didn't take me long to realise that as the only IT teacher on the team, I was going to have to do something to bring us back into line with the real purpose of MYP Technology - the design cycle. To be honest, after 6 weeks of teaching Excel all Friday afternoon, I was longing for a break myself too! Therefore I decided to come up with the first design project of the year: now that the students were familiar with the various features of Excel, could they teach it to younger students by producing some sort of Web 2.0 presentation that would show them the main features of the software and how to use it?

I started with the Dominoe 50 Ways website and just let the students play. Actually I called it exploring, not playing, because after all the assistant principal of the school was teaching right opposite my classroom and I didn't want him to think Friday afternoon was playtime for the Grade 7s. I divided the class into small groups and had each group explore 10 of the excellent tools mentioned on the Dominoe website. They then had to report back to the rest of the class which tool they liked the best and which they thought was most suited to the task and why. Immediately I noticed a change in attitude: the students became more interested and engaged. They loved some of the tools, though thought some of them were not going to work for the actual task I had set them. They then spent some time taking screen shots of the various features of Excel that they wanted to teach to the younger students.

Following this we gave the students several lessons to actually work on the Web 2.0 tools they selected - each student had a completely free choice and we had a whole variety of different tools being used. When we left school for the Christmas holidays the students knew that on their return they would be showing their presentations. What I have seen in the past couple of weeks is a bunch of what used to be fairly switched-off Friday afternoon students coming alive. They have been in my room at break times, at lunch times and have been working hard at home too. They are happy and motivated. I am happy and motivated too.

Friday was presentation day for the first set of students. Initially they were nervous and reluctant to show what they had done, but after the first few students they all really got into it and were proud to step up and share their work - they were so proud of what they had designed and created. Comments from the students showed that they had really appreciated the fact that they were given a totally free choice of tool - some said this was the first time they had ever been given a choice of how to present their work! Students justified their choices saying things like "I chose Yodio because it is multi-functional and effective", "I liked the high-tech design tools of SlideRocket" and "I found Prezi to be an original way of presenting the information and it was easy to use". They were all totally focussed on the design and the way they could communicate their message effectively. Many said "I loved using it" about their particular tool. Some said "I will never, ever use PowerPoint again". Only one student came in with a PowerPoint and I told her she would have to redo this as it was not a Web 2.0 tool (which was the whole purpose of the task). Other comments students made showed that they really appreciated being able to work from any computer at school and at home without having to carry their work around on memory sticks or email it to themselves. The best thing, of course, is that all these tools are completely free - though some students noticed they could do even more with a paid version .... so they paid!!!!

We had some disasters too. One boy who decided to use SlideRocket before Christmas came back to find out his 30 day trial had expired. Not daunted by this, he created a new identity and did the whole project again. Some students tried out one tool and then abandoned it when they found it was too complicated. Luckily our rubric allowed for this as one of the descriptors said: The student was able to monitor progress and describe and explain the reasons for making changes to the plan if necessary.

So after the first 15 presentations I was interested to see which Web 2.0 tool was the most popular - I added them all into the Wordle above and you can see the results: Prezi is the most popular choice so far with about half the students choosing it. Glogster is the next most popular choice. I'm interested to see the presentations next week and see what other tools the students have used and whether Prezi remains the top tool.

By the way, our next venture is going to be to move onto the materials part of MYP Technology. Now bear in mind I have never done this before and would usually run a mile at the sight of a screwdriver or a hammer. We've decided we're going to design and makes kites and then go outside onto the hill behind school and fly them. It will be a steep learning curve for the students and for me. Watch this space!


  1. Maggie,
    Thank you for completing my survey. You are a wealth of information. Much of what you mentioned is new to me. I am eager to read more on your blog so I can continue to learn.


  2. Maggie, this is such an inventive project and a neat way to get students to explore the technology tools available to them and to think about how to use them! I am even more impressed that you managed all of this next door to drums!