What is technology?

On Monday morning, I embarked upon a unit of inquiry with my grade 5/6 class by using our usual ‘warm up’ routine to reflect on and discuss the slide below.

 

As students arrive in the morning, when possible, I project some sort of provocation, sometimes directly connected to our inquiries, sometimes specifically not, and sometimes just for fun (link to ‘warm up’ slides).

Many students sit down and begin writing or sketching immediately, while some prefer to converse before working independently. After a few minutes, we share and discuss our ideas.

This ‘technology’ provocation was effective and I was pleasantly surprised by students’ insights. Their responses included definitions with words like ‘tools’. ‘useful’, and ‘solve problems’. Some also alluded to negative as well as positive effects of technology. At the conclusion of our brief discussion, I introduced our central idea for the unit: Scientific understanding constantly evolves to build and destroy. (link to unit planner)

Before setting the students loose, we will conduct a modeled inquiry into 3D printing. The purpose will be to model a standard inquiry process as well as generate interest in various aspects of technology including scientific, social, artistic, and cultural. It was extremely effective last year and, especially based on my current class’ formative understandings, I’m confident that the next few weeks will be fun and enlightening.

Deeper Learning Student Work

Looking at student work

I’d like to share three pieces of student work, each of which shows unique applications of deeper learning.

Landforms

The first is a Grade 2 ‘landforms’ project. The task was to build and paint an island with landforms. The example shows a few examples of deeper geographical understanding, especially that the river is carved into the land, rather than simply painted on, and that it flows from the hills to the ocean.
However, it would have been better to provide greater opportunities to practice with the clay and paint in a creative way. The student’s reflection, ‘I could to better’, is very revealing of the fact that this little project utilized too many different, new skills. I should have planned a stand-alone art unit using these tools before applying them in this Geography activity.

It’s a great example of how thoughtful planning should authentically scaffold deeper learning, so that when the real tasks of the inquiry present themselves, students have access to a broad range of skills and knowledge.

Additionally, it was connected to a service-learning project focused on access to clean, fresh water, so the students had opportunities to transfer this learning to authentic situations outside of the school.

Fruit and Seeds

Next, also in Grade 2, in an activity to investigate, observe, and compare the seeds of various fruit, a parent volunteer and I sliced twelve different fruits and arranged centers with each around the room. Students used a graphic organizer to explore, draw, compare and discuss.
Is it deeper learning? I can say for certain that the students enjoyed the activity. This example is from a student who generally struggled to complete work, yet he managed to excel in this case. Referring to the Hewlett Foundation’s definition of Deeper Learning, I believe that this is an artifact of deeper learning for a seven-year-old, primarily due to the social, investigative, and integrated arts nature of the activity.
Perhaps it would have been deeper if there were a connection to a significant global issue, had been extended through an exploratory field trip, or led to an urban garden project.

Flying cars?

This final example comes from Grade 6 and our current unit of inquiry into the evolution of scientific understanding and its effects on people’s lives.
After a modeled inquiry into 3D Printing, students were tasked with researching an emerging technology and publish a blog post about it.

This student’s post shows application of a range of research, thinking, and communication skills. In particular, the student demonstrates growing awareness for digital publishing techniques by way of the embedded videos and text organization.

Finally, it is public and invites the reader to participate in the inquiry, which I think is a hallmark feature of deeper learning.

Reflection

Looking at student work, I think it’s important to notice that elements of deeper learning occur in almost every experience. The responsibility lies with, in the case of school, the teacher whose task is to design a learning environment that supports the various elements of deeper learning with balance and flexibility to be relevant to each individual learner.

Autumn Leaves in Japan

On Saturday, my wife, son, and I went to the park. After arriving and eating a snack, we began wandering and playing. While chasing my two-year-old, I noticed the rich variety of autumn leaves blanketing the ground. It dawned on me that it might be my last chance to make good on a promise to my friend, Kevin Hodgson, to remix his Learning Walk Photo Blitz: The Autumn Leaves here in Japan.

It was a simple matter of taking time to notice, or allow my attention to be captured by, particularly striking leaves as we charged around the park. I photographed each leaf twice, once in the autumn sunlight and once in my own shadow, taking care to let my iPhone camera focus as well as it can.
The most difficult part was assembling the collages using Pic Stitch. I easily get frustrated trying to work on that tiny screen, and there was no practical way to rearrange the photos between collages. At any rate, I made three and I hope I managed to capture the rich colors and seemingly unending variety I encountered.

My wife, a much more experienced photographer and designer, also undertook a similar project that day as we took turns chasing our son. She shared in her post, Nature collage. During one of my turns with our son, we enjoyed triumphantly impaling some invading trees.

It was a deeply enjoyable day that I will certainly never forget, and reminder to me that learning, playing, making, creating, socializing, and any other growth activity, are not only interconnected, but are often one-in-the-same.

Independent Inquiry: Nature Photography

This was a perfect example of how an apparently simple goal, “take nature photos”, can become a deep inquiry. The artist discovered that time of day and perspective were critical to her project, so was forced to rearrange her daily schedule to go out shooting at the ideal times.

As an added bonus, the photo was emailed to me in the evening! A perfect way to make a teacher’s day.

Water Resources Inquiry

To inquire into the effects of access to water around the world, we gained perspective by graphically representing water resources per capita in various countries. The bars at the bottom represent the data.

The lowest bar for Iceland stretched over three meters!

It was supposed to integrate mathematics (division & ratio) into a mainly ‘social studies’ unit, and worked brilliantly except for the fact that the numbers we used were extremely large and not exactly appropriate for early in fourth grade.