Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Fun of Simple Booklet

When I looked at the various Web 2.0 tools, I was really drawn to the ones that involved writing and illustrating stories or reports.  That was one of my favorite things to do in school so I love things that allow kids to enjoy it.  I tried three different tools, and the one I ended up liking the most was Simple Booklet.

There are a ton of different ways a teacher could use Simple Booklet in the classroom.  In the example below, I wrote a short narrative about my summer and used my own photographs.  A teacher could do something similar if he or she works with students who could bring in photographs from home.  Another option would be to take photos of a special event at school - a field trip for example - and then asks students to write about the day, providing them with photos to use.

As a specific example, let's say a teacher takes her class to the Buffalo Science Museum.  The next day, she has students create a Simple Booklet that shares what their favorite parts of the museum were and some things they learned there.  The teacher might bring in a disc or memory card of photos she took on the trip and ask students to use two or three of those photos.  One of the neat things about Simple Booklet is that in addition to using your own photos, you can use images from the Internet so students could also find photos that elaborate on things they learned.  A student who enjoyed a dinosaur display might find a picture of his favorite dinosaur.  A student who loved the Egyptian exhibit might use a picture of a creepy mummy.  There are a lot of different options.

When it comes to students with special needs, Simple Booklet allows for a lot of modification.  Students who struggle with writing can be asked to write fewer sentences or to fill fewer pages.  Maybe they find and write four interesting facts about the museum rather than six or maybe they fill a five page booklet rather than an eight page booklet.  The teacher can set up the format of the booklet for each student and no student would know what the other students are required to do.  A teacher could modify the photograph portion as well.  A student who is overwhelmed with the assignment or has difficulty narrowing down Internet searches could be provided with two or three sites to pull pictures from.  A student who is comfortable with technology might have the freedom to search wherever she likes.  A teacher could even tilt the assignment toward the student's strength.  For example, she could maybe allow visual people to do some writing but focus on pictures and illustrations.  I think that because of how nice the final product looks, even students whose assignments are modified would feel proud of what they created.

Using Simple Booklet takes something that isn't inherently fun for most kids - writing a report - and makes it a more enjoyable process.  I think it's also much more fun to share something like this than a traditional report.  Simple Booklets can be shared on any computer so the class could look at them on a SMART board or even put them up on a class blog or wiki for others to see.

Simple Booklet is definitely a tool I'll keep in mind for when I'm in a classroom.  I've already added it to my bookmarks so I can come back to it another day.

Here's my example of what a Simple Booklet looks like when completed. I wrote it as if I'd be sharing it with kids. Click on the arrow in the upper right corner to go to the next page:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Using the Power of Technology for Good

As we discussed in the previous module, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a style of teaching that strives to find ways for all the students in a classroom to learn to the best of their abilities.  UDL should accommodate for different needs and requirements.  It should also find ways to reach various learning styles, allowing students to engage and express in ways that are comfortable for them.

A classroom rooted in UDL could certainly make use of many Web 2.0 technologies.  So many different kinds of technologies are available to classrooms now and that can be especially helpful when it comes to reaching different learning styles.  For example, students who are comfortable in a visual format can be engaged with the use of SMART boards and video.  They can express themselves through various video-making or art-oriented technologies.  Students who prefer to express themselves more privately or in writing can use things like class blogs or wikis to respond to material and engage with peers and staff.

Along those same lines, Web 2.0 technologies can be awesome for students with special needs and the teachers who teach them.  Many technologies can be quickly and easily adjusted for many needs - text can be enlarged for students with visual impairments, text can be spoken for students with hearing impairments etc.  Student feedback can also be given in different ways depending on a child's needs.  A student who has motor skills problems and struggles with pen and paper or a keyboard could maybe do a video response instead.  They could use a tablet or some kind of touch screen instead of a more traditional computer which might be harder for them to manipulate.

One of the cool side effects of Web 2.0 technologies is that they allow students with special needs to stand out less.  This is particularly great in a setting where a student with special needs is working alongside general ed students.  If every student is learning and and responding in different ways, the student with special needs becomes just another student with a different preference.  If everyone is engaged with technology, no one is using machines and things that other students don't have to use.

I think one of the most important points in "Web 2.0: A New Generation of Learners and Education" is when authors Dina Rosen and Charles Nelson point out that despite how comfortable the Net Generation is with technology, overgeneralizing is inappropriate.  There is a digital divide in the United States and it's growing.  "Roughly one half of all African-American and Latino children and less than half of all children living in families with incomes less than $30,000 have access to home computers."  I saw this firsthand in my previous work at Baker Victory Services.  Many of my students were very comfortable with computers but many of them had very little experience with them and needed a lot more hand-holding and practice.  In fact, for a while, the mere mention of using the computer stressed out some of those students.  While I think classrooms should absolutely use Web 2.0 technologies for the reasons mentioned above, I think it's important to include a lot of detailed instruction when using a device or platform for the first time and to provide plenty of support throughout the year.  Students with special needs can find new things overwhelming and that can add to anxiety they made already have about school and their ability to learn.  Web 2.0 technologies should be used thoughtfully and carefully.

I found the video for The Today Show to be pretty hysterical, but mostly because I remember that time very clearly.  At 34, I didn't grow up with the Internet the way most of my classmates did.  We had a large computer lab in my high school, but we really only used it for word processing.  We thought MS Paint was super cool.  I didn't really use the Internet until my freshman year of college in 1996-1997 and even then things like library databases weren't online yet.  Last year I marveled to a friend around my age about how I'd just searched for journal articles in the school library database while sitting on my couch at home in my pajamas late at night.  "College kids today have no idea how lucky they have it."

Clearly then, today's students are much more native to the digital world than I am.  I'm pretty experienced it and now have used a lot of different technologies but for me, there's still quite a bit of wow factor.  I think when teaching digital natives, it's important to be open to the idea that they might know more than I do about certain areas and that if a problem arises, a fix might come more quickly to them.  We should also keep in mind that there are SO many different kinds of technologies and platforms out there now, that despite being comfortable with them, not every student is going to be familiar with all of them.  Things change very rapidly and we as teachers need to really keep on on those changes the best we can.