The second grade classrooms at Swanson Elementary buzz with movement and conversation as excited students proudly display their work to their parents and peers. At first look, it is obvious that this is not the typical classroom. Kids and parents alike don earphones and fixate on the many iPad screens on display throughout the classrooms, depicting videos and eBooks of student work. Conversations ring through the air as parents ask questions and students describe the process of creating their eBooks. This is a 21st Century Classroom.
The challenge of incorporating technology into what seems like an impossibly full curriculum often feels like a daunting task. But what Swanson's digital teacher librarian, Shannon Feely, understands is that technology doesn't have to be "just another thing." When done well, technology transforms the required curriculum into engaging learning experiences that are rigorous and cross-curricular.
In October, Shannon began the process of working with second grade teachers Christy Doody and Erin Praznik to determine how technology could be incorporated into the second grade C-CAP unit Cause and Effect: Survival, Organisms, and the Environment. Although some second grade teachers in the district have students create a fictional animal and describe how that animal's fictional adaptations would help it survive, Feely, Doody and Praznik were looking to take this project to a more rigorous level of learning and incorporate a variety of content areas. Their idea: collaborate with art teacher Aimee Pickar, and have students create a fictional animal and model it out of clay; use technology to research the animal's potential environment; draw and build a diorama of the animal's habitat; use the writing process to describe the animal's habitat and adaptations; combine all of the pieces into a ThingLink1; and allow students the opportunity to showcase their work to parents and peers in a grand opening of their "zoo."
To kick off their project-based learning, Doody and Praznik wanted to engage and excite their second graders. What better way to do so than to dress up as zoo keepers and tell their students that the school just purchased their very own zoo? Unfortunately, the zoo was missing one thing... animals! It would be up to the students to create their own animals to fill the zoo. The teachers even invited a real zoo keeper to come to Swanson and speak to the kids about animal adaptations!
Each week, students progressed through the various stages of the project. To the untrained eye, one may see a commotion of movement and noise. But if that person took the time to carefully observe, they would see the depth of what is truly happening: students hard at work, thoughtfully incorporating the 4 C's into each piece of their project.
Nearly finished with the project, the team of teachers and students hit a roadblock; ThingLink was not working properly on district devices at the time. Not willing to give up on the hard work the students and teachers had accomplished, Feely needed a new plan to tie the learning all together. She decided students would take their photos, videos and written paragraphs, once intended for ThingLink, and combine them into an eBook using the app Book Writer One.
The eBook required students to compile artifacts they had created and organize them onto 5 pages: