Sunday, September 6, 2015

First Inquiry Unit in US History and Technology

I have been participating in a Voxer group with some fantastic teachers from across the country, and we are discussing writing about reading. We worked together to practice writing about reading over the summer in two rounds of book clubs. Our purpose was to participate in writing about reading as we ask our students to. It was definitely a learning experience! From there, we extended our group chat to continue throughout the year - it's fantastic! Talk about a wonderful personal learning network...these ladies are full of wonderful ideas that they are very willing to share, support for when things don't go according to plan, as well as helping each other to really further our thinking in how to meet the needs of our kids.

So Margaret Simon and I have chatted a bit back and forth about some technology for our kids to use and our frustrations:) She hosts Digi Lit Sundays over on her blog, Reflections on the Teche. (If you don't follow her - she's a must. She also tweets regularly about what's happening in education @MargaretGSimon.) Today, I'm linking up with her and sharing a little bit about how some of my students are using technology in the classroom right now.

This year, I'm trying something different. One of the subjects I teach is US History to my fifth graders. We have a textbook. (Did you just fall asleep?) In the past I have struggled with feeling like I need to teach my kiddos how to read the textbook, how to take notes, take tests from the book, etc., because when they leave me and head to our middle school, the middle school social studies teacher relies solely on the textbook. If he has the kids do any projects, it is to choose a chapter and they're responsible for teaching it to the class. It is a real struggle for the kids to understand the textbook. I tried to scaffold by summarizing the chapters for the first half of the year, giving them notes, and us reading through them together, deciding what was important information, highlighting, color-coding, taking notes based on that and then having them generate questions they deemed important for our test. I started using the textbook half-way through the year - reading together, discussing, deciding as a class what was important, taking notes in outline format.  Are you asleep now? WAKE UP! That's my struggle...I felt so worried about my kids not being prepared to handle reading the textbook and taking notes on their own (he doesn't provide any notes at all) when they left me that I felt stuck.

Well, I got some great support and advice from my Voxer group. They said I should teach how I want to teach, not to support someone else's teaching. This, my friends, was so freeing to me. To have others, who I know are excellent teachers and who care so much about their students, say that what another teacher does is not my burden to carry.

So, this year in social studies, I have embarked on a year of inquiry. Our first dive into the inquiry waters has been with the topic of exploration. My kiddos generated about 75 questions to lead our discovery. After coming up with as many questions as possible, students worked in pairs to determine whether or not the questions were relevant. We then learned the difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how to change one from one type to the other. Students collaborated and labeled their questions as either open or closed. Then they worked in small groups to categorize and prioritize their questions. Finally, students began researching to discover answers to their questions. After completing their research, students generated possible ways to portray they learning in a product. They voted on the choices, which was how the groups were decided. In each class we ended up with three different groups/products: skits - which we'll video, diorama/display, interactive map, and a song - which we'll video as well.
We went over the two rubrics I'm using to grade them - based on collaboration/team-work and presentation. Students then planned their project out - each step that needs to happen, supplies needed, who is responsible for what, and dates for each item to be completed in order to be ready to present on September 15th.

My group that is making the interactive map is making the leap into some new technology that they have not been exposed to before. I have given them the choice of two different platforms for their map. The first is Thinglink, which I used to create an interactive image for Open House that shares information about what will be happening in fourth grade throughout the year. The second possibility is Microsoft's Sway. This is new to me, but it's marketed as a venue for digital storytelling. In both platforms you can pull in pictures, video, audio, type your own text, etc. My students are working right now on curating the images they want to use - a map for the main image and additional images to be the link for audio and video information of their research that they're recording. They are having a great time exploring both options. I'm not sure yet which one they'll decide on, but I will put a follow-up post when it's complete.

Below is my sample Thinglink piece from the beginning of the year. It won't show the interactive part here, but there is a link for each image, and when you click on it, it displays a video or text about something that's happening during the year, or at least that's how it was. (For some reason, I can't get my links to show up on Thinglink anymore. I'll have to figure out what happened there.)

Here's an example I made in Sway.

Endangered Animals

After using both, I can see advantages and disadvantages to both platforms. I think for my students though, in wanting their map to be the background image and the interactive pieces to be layered on top, I think Thinglink may be more of what they envisioned. We'll see.

Have you created an interactive piece? What platform did you use?


  1. Janie, Thanks so much for linking up and promoting DigiLit Sunday. You give us a lot to think about here when directing students. I love that you have decided to go with project-based learning this year. It's so much more hands on authentic learning. The sway is beautiful. I will check on Tuesday to see if it is allowed by the network. If not, it may take weeks of emails to get it unblocked. I liked the visibility of the images as well as the ease of scrolling through the presentation. My students will be excited to try out a new format. My students will be selecting a Wonder from Wonderopolis to present in the next few weeks, so this is spot on timing for us to try it out. Thanks,

  2. I loved hearing how you decided upon Inquiry Based Learning this year. Sounds exciting! I've heard of Thinglink from Margaret, but I haven't tried it yet. Sway is a new one for me. I really like your examples! Thanks for sharing!