One of the key items that made a huge difference was the concept of Problem Based Learning (PBL), and how the students work through a major problem or project. I could incorporate the digital citizenship into many smaller lessons, but making the bigger project was the real challenge. Improving the digital learning experience would be improved by the PBL. The benefits of the PBL, specifically those regarding the students learning the content in more of a covert manner, was enticing. Having an authentic learning experience for my students was also something that I had desired to use within a project, and brainstorming some ideas from this class helped me to come up with a project. The students would disregard a real-life restriction in order to create new ideas and use of land within their own community. The students felt as if mathematics was now part of their real lives, using math in such a way to affect their own community. Using the PBL of a major project, I could actually improve on both of my goals. I enjoyed seeing my students' interest increase based on authentic learning. While in previous attempts to do larger projects saw the students struggle, the students felt a connection to this project; therefore, they pushed through the difficulty. I believe this perseverance was due to the connection to the assignment.
In order to continue my integration of technology into my classroom, I have adapted lessons to incorporate the responder system in accordance with my original projection of one per week. There has been some increase in the efficiency of my work, but there has not been some kind of magic method to dramatically decrease my time. I have attempted to get other teachers involved with the responder system; however, they have been resistant to the technology. This is surprising to me as their students show a much higher level of engagement. Perhaps they are apprehensive about the technology, their time, or their knowledge of the technology. I must still look for a partner who I can collaborate with on the responders into our Algebra curriculum.
A website and its content that has really gained some traction in my classroom and with my students is VoiceThread.com. This free software mirrors Facebook and social media very closely. There are several key differences with VoiceThread compared to Facebook. VoiceThread is a private community; only my students are members, and they realize that they are being watched and cannot post any inappropriate content. Within these constraints, they collaborate, give opinions, and have a good deal of fun. Several of the parents have commented to me that VoiceThread was the first time they saw their webcams used for schoolwork. I invited the parents to be part of the community in order for them to observe the happenings. I offered to get webcams for the parents if they would reimburse me, and several took me up on the offer. The students have requested we do more work using VoiceThread. I will absolutely look to incorporate VoiceThread into the PBL in my classroom.
The other area that I can actually continue to improve upon is that of the digital citizenship. The students need to learn the requirements early, and this is best done by setting expectations and modeling good examples. This process needs to start earlier within the school year; essentially as soon as possible. Good habits are easy to maintain once started, and bad habits are difficult to reverse. By modeling examples and including proper digital citizenship into the grading of assignments, this improvement will more of a continuous process rather than a single time event.
The last item that was confirmed as an important part of any PBL assignment is a rubric. I have always believed in the power and usefulness of rubrics. The rubric allows the students to work to a defined, tangible goal, eliminating an ambiguity for the earned grade. The rubric also protects me as the teacher against claims of favoritism or bias as the rubric should clearly delineate the values and categories of the material to be graded. Coupling up project modeling, with a good example of a finished project and the rubric results being shown as well as a poor example can be a clear demonstration to the students of the type of work and the grade that will be earned.The past several weeks have brought several seemingly independent items together to form a basis for change in my classroom and my teaching pedagogy for the better. I feel more comfortable expanding out of the textbook material, and the students have responded in a positive manner. With those two results, I hope to continue along to reach and further enhance my goals.