Course Five Final Blog

Well, this is the end my friends. The last blog of COETAIL 13 and in looking back it has been an extremely challenging but rewarding experience. Challenging in that it forced me to look at my pedagogy and critically examine my beliefs, methods, and overall approach to education. 

Big Idea of the unit

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

For my final project, I undertook to re-design a unit for MYP 1 (Grade 6) for Individuals and Societies, an IB course, based around an exploration into the systems that define an ancient civilization. 

 

 

 

 

The goal was for students to understand how to judge whether a civilization was a true civilization by comparing it against the seven aspects of a civilization:

  • job specialization
  • writing system
  • religion
  • agriculture
  • cities
  • social classes
  • government

Some of the goals I had in creating this unit were to build up the students research skills, both in planning and locating key information, giving students agency over their research topic, and allowing students to choose how they wanted to represent their knowledge. These ideas lined up with the ISTE standards 1.3 Knowledge Creator and 1.6 Creative Communicator.  In lining these standards up with the MYP 1 Individuals and Societies curriculum, they lined up best with Criteria A Knowing and Understanding, Criteria B Investigating, and Criteria C Communicating .

 

MYP 1 Individuals and Societies Criteria ISTE Student Standards
A: Knowing and understanding

i. use vocabulary in context

ii. demonstrate knowledge and understanding of subject-specific content and concepts, using descriptions, explanations and examples

B: Investigating

i. explain the choice of a research question

ii. follow an action plan to explore a research question

iii. collect and record relevant information consistent with the research question

iv. reflect on the research process and results

C: Communicating

i. communicate information and ideas with clarity

ii. organize information and ideas effectively for the task

iii. list sources of information in a way that follows the task instructions

1.3- Knowledge Creator- Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.

  • Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
  • Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.
  • Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.
  • Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.

1.6- Creative Communicator – Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.

  • Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
  • Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
  • Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations.
  • Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

As an educator, I focused on ISTE Standard for Educators 2.5 Designer which ISTE outlines as “design authentic, learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability”.

In creating this unit, I set out to allow students to explore the idea of the seven aspects of a civilization by focusing first on Sumer where through research based activities students would understand the role that the different systems played in creating a civilization. With this contextual understanding firmly rooted, the next stage was for students to create a research plan, conduct their own research, and then display it in a creative manner of their choosing. 

I wrote about my goals and plans in a previous blog, which has proved valuable in reflecting on my final project. The video at the end of the blog provides more information and lots of student perspective.

How the unit was organized

Build Background Context– Before introducing some of the main lessons, we first focused on building background context. This was done in a number of ways. First, we used a variety of videos, Quizlets, and Blookets to introduce the unit and connect with students’ prior knowledge. We made use of Canva to co-create vocabulary posters that would be posted around the class. We made use of an interactive timeline to help ground students in the specific time we were exploring. Next, we discussed the idea of civilizations and what aspects we needed to look at. Finally, we ran a simulation game where students took on the role of a leader of a tribe and were asked a series of questions on how best to survive in mesopotamia. This was set up so students would understand how people moved from tribes to city-states. 

Interactive Timeline

 

Refine Research Skills– For this, I made use of resources that a co-teacher had successfully used before which she had gotten from Teachers Pay Teachers. So, the first thing I did was purchase my own license for the material before digging into it. The material was a set of digital interactive notebooks, with each part guiding the students to read and explore the ancient city of Sumer. During this part, students had to find images and uses of ancient grains, create Google Maps, summarize stories, complete graphic organizers, and a host of other activities.  I found this style of learning a good choice for this period, and by that I mean Covid. It was around this time that Singapore started to see an uptick of cases and often 2-3 students were out for a week at time. I was also out for a week with Covid and later another few days for PD. The lessons ensured students gained the base knowledge needed from the embedded readings, but also forced students to conduct individual research and come to their own conclusions. Students were given feedback on these lessons and their research ability, which would serve as one type of formative for the unit.

Prepare/Plan Research Steps– Throughout the unit, as a class we would have discussions on the seven aspects of a civilization until the students were experts on it. It was at this time, after completing several different digital notebooks, that the summative task was introduced. As a class, we went through the task sheet, steps for success, and the task specific criteria. Taking the time to go over expectations and the assessment rubric helped ensure that students were aware of what was expected of them and how they could best achieve success.

With a solid understanding of the overall task, students were given a set of slides to work through to plan out their research. The slides, and activities within, were ones I created after conducting similar exercises with my MYP 4 class. I was working backwards from the type of research required at the end of MYP 5 to create a vertical alignment of learning. 

In reflecting on this part, I feel that having all the slides printed out on one A3 paper may have been more beneficial for both myself and the students. Students found this part challenging and I think having the ability to look at all parts at once, as opposed to on different slides, would help show how the steps are connected. Further, having this sheet in front of them when they were conducting research would have helped. 

During this stage, we also made use of our school librarian and went for a lesson on how to conduct research using our school databases.

Collect and Process Information– At this stage, students were given independence and agency to conduct their research. A simple set of Google Slides were provided to organize their notes. Students started each class by posting about the specific topic they were going to research in the class and some guiding questions to help them. They were then given time to conduct research, where the process was to scan through the sources, identify key information, copy over the main ideas into their slides, and once they had collected sufficient information to create short summaries of their notes. Source information was recorded using MyBib (I LOVE MYBIB), which was then collated into a citation page. 

To aid students in their research, a Padlet was created with a variety of resources provided to get them started. Students were able to upvote or downvote sources to indicate which was useful and which was not. Additionally, students and other teachers were able to add their own resources to it. In hindsight, I could have been more explicit with students adding resources they found as they needed some extra encouragement in this regard. Perhaps adding a full lesson where students are asked to scan through the websites before we start researching and ask them to upvote or downvote their favourite sources and add their own.

Additionally, prior to starting their research for the lesson they had to outline their focus of the day and the specific research questions they planned on investigating. For this, students were encouraged to look back on their big research questions from their planning stage. Students were also provided a simple .pdf with a set of questions that they could use to focus their research. As the students were in MYP 1, the task of a large research task was still a challenge and having a set of go-to questions helped guide them.

Image by Shari Jo from Pixabay

 

Produce Product– Once students had collected their research, they were referred back to their original planning stage to complete the slides and determine what sort of product they wanted to create. In hindsight, it would have been better to have students choose a range of products that interested them so they could have had that in their mind when doing their research. Yet, that is the beauty of hindsight. In reality, students had the research in their mind when they selected three products that interested them and then selected their chosen product. 

 I had students creating:

  • songs
  • presentations
  • drawings
  • paintings
  • websites
  • infographics
  • posters
  • dioramas
  • video presentations
  • videos

The next step was a challenge for the students, but a vital one. Students were reminded of the task specific criteria and then asked to envision how their specific product would line up to those criteria. This helped the students understand how they were to be able to merge their creative preference of the product with the requirements of the task. 

To help students move forward, a set of product descriptions and requirements were created for each product, along with some suggestions on how to get started. This was an essential resource for the students and I as there were a wide variety of products that students were creating. This document allowed students to independently ensure their product was meeting the requirements and freed me up to work with students that needed more support.

As well, a Padlet was created for the students with resources on how to create the different products that were an option. Some of these products had more resources, as I was able to find lots of sources on creating an infographic or website, but had more trouble finding sources on how to draw/paint for a history assignment. 

Allowing students choice in the product helped with variability in student capabilities. As students had already been exposed to Canva and Google Sites in creating infographics/info posters and websites, this was an option that decreased the pressure of creating a different kind of product for the first time.

Reflection on the unit

In looking back on the unit, there are a few areas I wanted to touch on.

Image by anncapictures from Pixabay

 

Student Work

Perhaps all teachers have a similar experience, where you have grand expectations of your students and what they can do. Going into the unit, my vision of what the students would be able to great was a bit exaggerated. A combination of me being out of the classroom for various reasons, students being in and out with Covid, class time being less than I realized, and the fact that this was the students first go around with this level of agency created a situation where the products did not meet my initial expectations. However, I realize that my initial expectations were not realistic. With hindsight, the students products demonstrated excellent creativity and knowledge of the task. This being the first time I ran this project, I did not have many student created models to show. Next year, having student models will help students visuals what they can work on. 

What went well

  • Student agency in choosing their civilization to research and product they created
  • Overall student understanding of the seven aspects of a civilization
  • Digital notebook style activities
  • Students planning out their own research strategy
  • Having Padlet 

What could be improved

  • Not having Covid in the middle of the unit -> I missed several lessons during the research stage
  • Having students create/curate their own padlet with resources rather than being given one
  • Having the planning slides be simplified and printed out for increased clarity
  • Starting the research project start at the beginning, so the research days are interspersed with the digital notebooks. I found students lost steam after having their fourth research day in a row. Instead, it would have been better to have them research a chosen aspect of a civilization after having covered it as a class based on Sumer.

Coetail in the Unit

I think one of the most important parts of this reflection is on how COETAIL played a role on the unit. Below are some of the key ways I feel COETAIL played a role

Use of technology– Having a chance to read about, explore, and reflect on the SAMR model has helped me better reflect on how I am using technology. I think when many get into technology, the first step is simply substitution, where we take our activities and put them online. Yet simply having tasks online does help the teacher review student work and give feedback.  A key aspect of modification is the ability to redesign the task. Allowing students to use online resources allowed for more agency, and thus for one student to create a website while another created a diorama. 

As my school already makes use of Google Classroom, which Edutopia outlines as a form of Modification, another aspect of SAMR embedded in this unit was the ability to communicate with students using the private comments on their assignments. Leaving comments ont eh student slides helped better guide them on what was going well and what needed to be improved during the research stage. 

To move to the next stage, of redefinition I have some ideas. I could work to find experts who would be willing to Zoom in for a lesson. I could have students conduct virtual field trips using Google Maps, have students work together across classes on building their research notes. Finally, and this is something I am working on in all my classes, is having the class create their own website that shares all their work for other students to use or as an artifact for them to look back on.

Student agency– A big area I wanted to focus on was student agency, both in choice and product. This was heavily influenced by Michael Fullan and the variety of readings throughout the course centered on his ideas.  I feel I was successful in this, yet it certainly provided challenges. The variety of products produced made it hard to standardize the marking. Some students spent hours creating products yet the content embedded in the product was not always matching. This made it difficult to assess the overall aspect of it. Further, while students were able to choose one of four civilizations, the limit on four was created because of the difficulty we had in finding an adequate number of quality sources for students to use on other civilizations, like the Olmec in South America. If I was to do a similar style activity, I would hope to be able to widen the choice more on topics.  

Yet, as the video below shows, there was a huge range of products created reflecting a wide range of interests. Seeing the breadth of ideas and preferences students had, and the length some were willing to go to create something they are passionate about, highlights the need for more student choice in curriculum.

 

Choice of tools– I really focused on making use of Padlet and Youtube to support student learning. Padlet for a resource center on collecting information and for the how-to of making the products. Youtube for posting video instructions for each part of the assignment. My students really appreciated the Youtube videos at it allowed them a bit more agency in the class and created a solid starting point if they forgot the instructions or were not sure what to do. Moving forward, the use of Youtube will be a staple in my teaching.

reviewing the rubic

A constant theme or reminder I have for my students is to review any assessment rubric before submitting their work. So, to put my practice into practice, here is a run down of the rubric for this final project.

Use of Technology- Level -> Modification

 Students were able to use a variety of tools to explore their learning. By adding in the use of Padlets, students could access a variety of sources to research and to help them with their products. The ability to upvote sources also gave them agency.

The use of technology allow students to express their learning in a variety of different ways, with presentations, websites, infographic, videos all playing a role.

Active Learning – Level -> Redefinition

students were involved the whole way, from choosing the civilization they want to study, to creating their own research questions, to choosing their product. Students were given a graphic organizer to collect information, a set of resources to start their research, and product descriptions for their final outcome. Outside of that, students worked independently during the research stage to determine what aspect of a civilization they wanted to research, what sources to use, what notes to take, and how to summarize those notes. Further, in the creation of the products, as each student was doing something slightly different, students were wholly independent in making decisions on how to demonstrate their learning.

Classroom Management: Level-> Redefinition

By using Google Slides for the collection of notes, I was able to actively keep track of where the students were at in their research process. I used this as a way to decide when to intervene and add support to a student or to guide them to another student for peer support. My method is to be constantly checking in and probing students learning, which allowed for lots of conversations with students about their learning.

Through the use of Google Classroom’s question tool,  students would outline the specific research question they were exploring each day to allow me to know they were on task. Looking back, it would have been beneficial to do this for the product creation step as well.

The students commented that having this focusing question helped keep them on task.

ISTE Standards for Students: Level -> Modification

Technology standards were built into the unit planner and referred to during meetings.

The students were not told specifically about the ISTE standards, but rather the IB Criteria they were learning. Here, I made the decision to not confuse the students by brining in outside standards. However, students were constantly aware of the learning goals and the standards were displayed for each Google Classroom post

Authentic Assessment: Level -> Modification

The final product, along with the research slides, matches up with the learning outcomes. The authentic aspect of the task comes from allowing students to choose their own products. We matched the audience and purpose to a real life event to give it authenticity. I think moving this further along the continuum to redefinition, I could have had the HOD come through and choose the top 3 products from each class and then have the 9 students present their work to the whole grade.

Copyright: Level -> Modification

Students were guided to use Pixabay, or Unsplash for all photos and visuals. Heavy use of MyBib was used for citation of sources and students were directed to submit a citation list. To move further down the continuum, I would have a learning experience at the beginning to have students create a ‘project’ in MyBib to demonstrate the long term nature of the project. Further, having students create their own Creative Commons license would help further their understanding of copyright.

Visual Literacy: Level -> Modification

Yes, students benefited from seeing flowcharts to outline the steps needed for different lessons. As well, students were prompted to find visual representations of their ideas to further their understanding. The importance of visual communication of ideas were emphasized in the product description and assessment tasks. The resources provided for creating products further emphasized this.

Overall View of Coetail

I will keep this part short, as this post is a little longer than normal.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Overall, I am really proud of myself for going through this program. At times, I think it is hard to notice the real growth that is going on from module to module. But when you are able to take a step back and reflect, I can see how far I have come. There were challenges to this unit but putting it together helped outline how I can push my practice to the benefit of student learning, and that is the key. I am proud of the work my students did and look forward to further refining this for future years.

It has been an absolute pleasure to go through this and a HUGE thanks to Diana and Tara for being such excellent facilitators. The constant feedback, engagement, and communication were invaluable. To my fellow COETAIL 13 Cohort, I have enjoyed learning from all of you in your blogs and appreciate all your feedback. 

I am excited to see how I will put my learning into practice into the future and how far I can push my pedagogy. 

Finally, I present my COETAIL 13 Final Project Video

One comment to “Course Five Final Blog”
One comment to “Course Five Final Blog”
  1. OMG! That video! I used that video years ago and I remember whenever the guy said “Euphrates” I could not get it out of my head for the rest of the day. So, thank you for jogging my memory about that. Mr. Nicky must be rolling in it by now… Also, I love how you remixed his work in your own video. Reminds me of when we learned about the “Art of the Copycat”.

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