An Example of Chromebooks in Action
Prior to winter break, I shared information in the Falcon Focus about plans for expanding the use of Chromebooks in our classrooms at multiple grade levels. If you missed that column, here's a link to it: Chromebook Deployment and G Suite for Education
On Thursday, January 12th, I spent a period in 7th grade science teacher Kelly Haarala's classroom to observe her and her students' use of Chromebooks as tools for teaching and learning. It is my intent today to adequately describe what I observed in order to provide readers with a picture of what classrooms can look like in a technology-rich environment.
It's important to understand up front that not all activities are computer-based. This lesson started with an activity and discussion that required students to analyze a paragraph and use context clues to determine the meaning of a word that Ms. Haarala had made up. Students discussed in pairs and then discussed as a class. All students were successful in using the context clues to determine the word's meaning. Using context to determine meaning is one of those critical skills for academic success because it transfers across subjects and across grade levels.
The lesson I observed was the beginning of a multi-day project consisting of three main parts: 1) Moon Phases, which requires students to create animations of moon phases, including orbital patterns and corresponding images of the shaded and illuminated portion of each phase; 2) Solar Eclipses, requiring students to create animations of how the moon moves into the path of the Earth to block the sun in annular, total, and partial eclipses; 3) Lunar Eclipses, requiring the creation of animations showing how the Earth moves into the path of the moon to block the sun during total, penumbral, and partial eclipses. To create these animations, students will use Scratch, a free coding program provided through MIT that serves as a tool for students to code their own interactive stories, animations, and games. In the process, they think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively. If you're wondering right now, "What is Scratch?" here's a link that will help your understanding: Scratch For Parents
To accomplish these tasks, students were organized into 11 pairs determined in advance by Ms. Haarala. One member of each team retrieved a Chromebook from the charging cart and logged into Google Classroom, a teacher-managed digital platform that organizes and facilitates teacher and student collaboration.
Once there, they found directions and links created by Ms. Haarala. Their first order of business was to create a username and password for working in the Scratch site.
Ms. Haarala addressed the entire class to go over specific instructions about what needed to be done when and some non-negotiable do's and don'ts. Students were instructed to search the Scratch archives for examples that other students have done and were explicitly told, multiple times, that copying one of these projects was not part of the plan. She provided plenty of evidence that she was VERY familiar with the examples there and even as a causal observer, I was convinced that copying one of those was a B-A-A-A-D idea.
The pairs were then given a handout titled, "Eclipse Project Storyboard," which contained boxes for sketches of each screen and boxes in which students needed to explain what they wanted each screen to do in terms of animation. She stated multiple times that the storyboards needed to be completed by the end of the next day's class period and that she would review and sign off prior to anyone beginning to code in Scratch. For approximately 25 minutes, student teams explored other students' projects available on the Scratch site and got to work in designing their storyboards. Ms. Haarala monitored student progress, answered individual questions, and made suggestions. The period came to an orderly end with Ms. Haarala checking for understanding that everyone knew that the storyboards were due at the end of the next day, that students logged out of the Chromebooks, and that they were returned to the charging carts, ready for the next class of students to come through the door.
While this is not intended as an evaluation of Ms. Haarala, I observed an excellent lesson Thursday. The planning and preparation that went into this were evident and students were highly engaged in a variety of activities that addressed appropriate and explicit seventh grade science standards, Arizona Department of Education educational technology standards, and those important skills sometimes referred to as "the Four Cs," which are creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. The Chromebooks played an important role in this lesson but were simply an effective tool for achieving the objectives.
Patrick Sweeney, Ed.D.