A few weeks ago, a fellow teacher sent an email out asking if anyone had any different Shakespeare background info because he was getting tired of his stuff. I didn’t think too much about the request because I didn’t have much myself, but I do know how Shakespeare history could be a little dry for some students. Then one night, it hit me, let the students construct their own Shakespeare knowledge. I planned to ask twenty questions about Shakespeare and let them collect the knowledge and turn it into a presentation themselves. Seemed old school, but my twist was to have them do it all together via Google Apps. The motivation was that I told them that I would give the presentation to the teacher who asked for the info in the first place.
Trial Run & a New Blueprint.
Last Wednesday, we did a test run with a five question exercise. There were a lot of hiccups and lack of organization that frustrated many of the students, so I rethought everything for yesterday. Instead of just letting them choose which question to research, I assigned a single question to each student. They were required to post the answers into a Google doc, that I had set up and shared with a bit link. They also had to provide the URL for easy referencing. Next, I assigned the class to find five specific images from the creative commons and save them to their folders and as URLs. I also gave the groups a choice as to make the presentation with Google Presentation (this was too much of a jump for some last week) or just Powerpoint (my hope would be that some would find the Powerpoint difficult to collaborate with and some would give the Google app another shot).
The class started with some technical issues with how to save pics. Others needed help copy and pasting from internet explorer to the Google doc. (I think next time I will get the students to install Google Chrome and maybe that will eliminate that problem) There was another issue with the backchannel chat that needed sorting out, but after that everything actually started to go smoothly. Some students dislike their question, but still researched the answer. Consequently in less than half an hour, my blank set of questions had the answers to Shakespeare’s life initialed by each student and a URL all on one document that we can edit and share. (screenshots from my tab)
The picture searching part of the class went better too because some liked the focus of knowing what photos to include in the presentation and others were inspired to find different ones. Some asked if they needed a different slide for each question, so I reminded the class that the questions I asked had different themes, so they might want to consider grouping similar information on one slide. I asked them to think about how the information could come together, and I did not mandate that this info had to go on a specific life slide or a writing slide. I wanted them to sort it out for themselves and see how the different periods in Shakespeare’s life shaped him. They didn’t finish the project yesterday, but one student asked if she still had access to the Google Doc, so she could keep working at home. I told her not to worry because it wasn’t homework, but she said she wanted to work on it anyway.
My students love to chat and text. The last couple times working online the google chat needed a lot of moderation and focus to make sure the students weren’t abusing it. I will admit despite some of my encouragement and warnings, I was a little nervous going in today. However after an early incident was dealt with, the chat amazed me. I didn’t expect it to be overly productive, but a student forgot the site to get pics and asked on the chat, and within seconds another student typed “search.creativecommons.org”. There was another group that decided to work with Powerpoint and were annoyed with trying to share the pics they saved on their individual computers. They thought about email or a flashdrive, but then one of them realized that they had the URL’s saved, so they copied their URL’s to the chat and shared pics that way.
I know some of the students didn’t necessarily see this as an awesome class, but I couldn’t help but beam after everything was done. There are still a number of hiccups to iron out, but as they solve these issues and learn to collaborate this way, I’m excited for the next few months. I think many of them will really benefit from constructing their learning this way. I know I am.