Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Challenges of Working with Technology

My 5th graders are working on an interesting social studies project. We're testing it out for the county and trying to cram it into the last few weeks. On the whole, it's a great project. The kids have to think about global interdependence across time, cultures, or both. They can look at it through art, literature, trade, government, etc. It's a rare chance for them to make a lot of choices about their learning and how they present their findings. Our technology teacher has been a huge help. The technology office, social studies office, and librarians did a lot beforehand to set things up for us. There is very little more that could have been done to make this project successful.

And yet...certain things are driving me insane. Many of my kids are creating PowerPoints. A couple of them are fantastic. Most are not. They are so focused on making the slides look cool, transition in interesting ways, and have fun graphics that the content is getting no focus. A lot of kids are creating websites. Again, a couple are really well done. Most are so focused on having fun with the technology (and posting on each other's guestbooks) that their content stinks.

Should I give them opportunities earlier in the year and throughout the year to work with these technologies in the hope of getting this out of their systems? Should I require a storyboard of their PowerPoint or website before I allow them on a computer so that I can get the focus on the content before they can play? Any other thoughts?

I really want to do this project again next year - and others like it. But I clearly need a better plan.


Jeff said...

There are similar problems when I've done these kinds of tech projects with students in higher ed. You just have to keep stressing: the content is still the most important thing. [Putting a paper in a binder may make it look prettier, but it can still stink if the content's no good.]

One way to reemphasize that notion that the content trumps the presentation is indeed to word with storyboarding (or as they're probably more used to, outlining). The parallels to writing outlines seem to reemphasize the focus on the content for my students.

Still, you're going to have some of this kind of playing around with the technology. Some basic skills training earlier might be helpful in focusing them on the content when it comes time for that. [If nothing else, the investment of time in your class that you see as playing, may end up being beneficial to their next teacher who tries a similar kind of assignment. They'll already be comfortable enough with the tech, that maybe they'll focus more on the content....]

Kelly Christopherson said...

I think that, with grade 5, you will always have some kind of playing so you need to build it into the design - allow the first slide and last slide to have all sorts of different things - give them a mark on creativity for this. Then use a storyboard or some other similar device to have them put down their thoughts and figure out what they will need. You might save some of these slides or create your own and have students view and critique them given a particular set of criteria. You might also have them discuss and demonstrate what is a good show and what is not. You might let them try doing a podcast or a video with added voice. Whatever you do, it is important to give them some license to do the "creative" and then focus on the content.

Karen Janowski said...

I agree with what Jeff and Kelly recommend. (Didn't we all play with the transitions and effects when we first used Powerpoint?)
Teach them visual literacy skills - talk with them about what makes a good presentation. Involve them in evaluating other presentations - what worked, what was effective, what took away from the quality of the presentation?
Is the expectation that all the information will be on the slides? If so, they will feel compelled to overdo the text which detracts from the quality. At this point, teaching them visual literacy skills will provide a necessary foundation for subsequent multimedia projects.
Remember that it IS a process. We don't start writing five page essays. We start with writing individual words, phrases, sentences, eventually paragraphs and then the classic three paragraph essay.
And when they have completed their work, ask them to blog about what they learned and then respond to each other's posts.
Have you checked out this resource:
Click on McKenzie and Shareski's links for excellent information.
Voice Thread might be a nice alternative as well -
Please do not give up! These kinds of multisensory, multimedia projects can be effective learning tools for struggling learners and level the playing field for them. This is part of Universal Design for Learning in the classroom!

Karen Janowski said...

Sorry, the other link was too long. Try this one -


sexy said...