Saturday, April 26, 2014

Stationary Stations

Literacy centers (or literacy stations, as I like to call them) are a fantastic way for students to practice various reading and writing skills as they rotate through different activities. In many elementary school classrooms, students can often be seen moving in and out of literacy centers when they are not meeting with their teacher for guided reading instruction.  Students themselves recognize how fun it is to participate in the different activities, which also provide important opportunities for students to work collaboratively with each other. Even though I teach middle school students, I decided that literacy stations had wonderful potential with my sixth grade students. Because of our 1:1 Chromebook pilot, however, my bigger challenge was finding a way for students to utilize the power of the technology while still experiencing the different literacy activities.

This week, I set up a handful of stations for my students to practice various reading and writing skills, using a shared Google doc as a guiding document that would encourage collaboration between students. One keenly aware student pointed out that even though I set up "stations," she did not technically need to rotate or move throughout the classroom anymore since all the activities were either web-based or recorded using Google Docs. She declared them "Stationary Stations." 

The more I watched students participate in the Stationary Stations, the more enthusiastic I became about the possibilities of these types of activities in a 1:1 learning environment. The stations were all challenging and meaningful, which kept students engaged throughout class time. Even more exciting to me was the quality of work that the students were producing since they were able to collaborate with each other and practice the skills that we have been focusing on in class. Maybe even more importantly, I was able to provide immediate feedback to my students as I kept tabs on their Google Docs and circulated the room to check in with each group of students frequently. 

Below are the activities and web applications that I used with my students, each of them aligned to the Common Core State Standards. 

Task: Create a timeline to analyze chronologically structured text. (RI.6.3)

Review: Students were able to create a timeline without any trouble and save it as a PDF to their Google drive. The saved timeline will be used as a reference when students are asked to analyze the events within the text. This site is very user-friendly and students can easily save whatever timeline they create. I highly recommend it!

Task: Create a flowchart to analyze a section of text to see how it fits into the overall structure of a text. (RI.6.5)

Review: builds very simple diagrams online that can automatically be saved to Google Drive. Two big thumbs up!

Task: Write a narrative while incorporating figurative language into the story. (RL.6.3, L.6.5)

Review: Story Cubes were loaned to me by a student who was just dying to try them out in class! The students loved the challenge of writing a story collaboratively on Google Docs using all nine story cubes and then incorporating the types figurative language that we've been studying this year. These awesome sets of story cubes are perfect for classrooms, road trips or moms who may need to entertain a family before mealtime!

I am always looking for suggestions. If you have any ideas for literacy stations for middle school students, please comment below! Thanks for checking in. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

It's Not about the Device

As a culminating project for my students' self-selected lit circles, they all made book trailers using iMovie on the iPads that we borrowed from our LMC. Someone asked me, "Why didn't you have the students use their Chromebooks for the final project?" Interesting question. While yes, we are in the midst of a 1:1 Chromebook pilot, that does not mean that Chromebooks will work for us 100% of the time.

Think about yourself for a minute. How many devices do you use on a weekly, daily, maybe even hourly basis? For me, I use a laptop or Chromebook for lots of web-based applications, an iPad for larger projects that require multimedia apps, and an iPhone for just about everything else. If I were limited to using just a Chromebook, I'd be without a camera, photo album, day planner, ...the list could go on! So, how can we limit our kids to just one device?

The fact is that 1:1 is not about which device. It's about having a device. In today's classroom environment, the chosen device, whichever it is for the moment, should foster the four C's of 21st century learning: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. For my students' book trailer projects, they worked creatively and collaboratively using iPads, yet a lot of their planning and critical thinking was done using a Chromebook. And when it came time to communicate their final projects with each other, the device was obsolete, thanks to Google Drive and YouTube.

As you can see below, iPads are a powerful tool for the students to create their own book trailers. I think you will be impressed by the performances of these sixth grade students!