Saturday, May 29, 2010

Students as Teachers

This week in Grade 2 we started to look at our family histories as part of our Where We Are in Place and Time unit of inquiry. As we are into the last month of the school year, and as one of the computer labs will actually be unavailable for 2 of those last 4 weeks, it was important to do as much as possible while we still had access to it. At the Grade 2 planning meeting last week I suggested the students make an online timeline of different events that had happened in their families, and that to go with that they could add pictures of themselves as a baby and of themselves now so that they could see how much they had changed. I also wanted to give them the idea of predicting what changes could happen to them or their families in the future so I wanted them to have a go at drawing what they thought they would look like or be doing when they are adults. I didn't want them to bring in photos and scan them, so I decided to have them draw these pictures using the graphics software Pixie. As we only had one lesson to actually work on creating the images each student had to draw 3 pictures during the 40 minute lesson and then export them as jpegs so that they could be added to the events in the timeline the following week. This was quite a tall order, considering that earlier this year during their Communities unit it took them the whole lesson just to draw one picture!
I realised that since the students already knew the tools we were using to draw the pictures, the biggest challenge would be to have all students export their 3 pictures and put them in the right place so that they would be ready to use them the following lesson. I therefore decided that what I would do would be to work with the first student who completed the pictures and show him or her how to export the work and where it needed to be saved. I did this by exporting the first picture myself and showing the student what I was doing, then I asked him to do the second picture with me talking him through it, and finally for the third picture I just watched to make sure that the student was doing it right. This student then became the "teacher" and worked with the next student who had finished all 3 pictures.
Within a very short time we had half the class as "teachers" helping the other students to finish and export their work correctly. The entire class finished all three pictures and exported them successfully during the 40 minute lesson.
My original plan had been to use x-timeline, which I had used earlier this year with Grade 5 students. However when I tried this out it was VERY slow in adding the pictures to the timelines, therefore I decided to have a look at other online timeline creators and I have now come up with TimeToast as an alternative. It seems very easy to use, though I am wondering how it will work with the whole class logged on at the same time all working on their own individual timelines - I guess I will find out next week!
The real thing I learnt as a result of this lesson, however, is how good the students are at explaining to other students how to use the technology. The "teachers" were very proud of their role and by using the same model as myself in "doing one, talking through one and then watching one" they were able to turn other students into "teachers" too.
Shortly after this lesson I came across this tweet from Sir Ken Robinson:
@SirKenRobinson: In the history of immigrant communities, it's often the children who teach the adults about the new culture.
Sir Ken was talking about digital natives and digital immigrants and it occurred to me that empowering the students to be "teachers" is an excellent way of spreading the use of technology around the school. In any class, there's bound to be a student who knows how to use or do something on the class computer, even if the class teacher doesn't. However the teacher has to be comfortable saying "Does anyone know how to use a scanner?", for example, and then giving those students the job of teaching that skill to her and the rest of the student who don't know how.

This week I also had the Grade 2 students for their German lessons. The German teacher had already read them a story about a lost bird, and she wanted to see if the students could make a comic strip of a similar story about a lost dog using the vocabulary from the bird story. This was the first time she had ever used IT in the German language lesson and here the roles of both of us were very clearly defined since I don't speak a word of German. Students knew that if they had a language question they had to ask her, but if they had an IT question they had to ask me. During one of these lessons one of the students, Oscar, made a discovery about how to move the characters in Bitstrips by clicking on them to "grey out" everything else in the scene - this was something I'd never noticed before and I loved it that he had discovered it rather than me - he was so proud to be able to teach me something new! It was a great series of lessons - the German teacher discovered how to use a new Web 2.0 tool, I learned a bit of German and the students created some excellent strip cartoons.
These pictures were created by Freddie, Mateo, Ann-Sophie and Thomas

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