Classroom Innovation

Innovation in the classroom keeps the material fresh so I like to find new ideas that help me engage with the particular mix of students I have at any given time.

Technology In The Classroom

Students like technology, so I often incorporate this into my lesson planning, but always remembering that technology is just a tool; the technology is not the point of the activity. Taking a page from Jose Bowen’s book, Teaching Naked, I like to use technology to create podcasts, video, and interactive white board mini lessons that students can use as reference both prior to class (also known as  flipping the classroom, which can lead to greater learning activity during class) or afterwards to reinforce key concepts. Some examples of these mini lessons are:

  • Show Me: Topic Sentences
  • Podcast:Cognitive Development of College Students (Review for Critical Thinking) 
  • Video: Exploring the ideas of conflict in fiction – relating this to life
  • QR Codes: Using them to stretch student thinking and provide hints to give depth to discussion

To further engage students in the learning, I have them use technology both in class and for homework. Some of the successful activities we have done include the following:

  • Storify Article- Without Books (using social media to start the sentence, “Without Books…” and have our networks finish it. We then compiled the results into Storify.
  • Socrative – An online quiz site that allows us to run quizzes as games with the students using their phones or e-devices to participate. I have used this for review of material. It can also be set up for individuals. I use it only for self assessment, not for actual grading.
  • Twitter – I have run a number of successful Twitter-based activities. I have had students use this microblogging platform with its limit of 140 characters as a way to practice distilling their ideas down to the basic key concepts. This helps students trip the fat from their writing and really firm up their thoughts. In our short story class, we re-told one of the stories as if we were characters on Twitter (the results were collated in this Storify article). Later in the term, we did a version of Canada Reads where students debated and voted for their favourite short story. Students live-tweeted the discussion using the hashtag #C56Reads.

Activity-Based Learning

Students learn best when they are actively engaged in the material. To achieve this, I aim to “lecture” for no more than 10 minutes before incorporating an activity into the classroom. Activities can include in-class writing about a concept or idea we have discussed, applying new learning to their own work (through self or peer editing of a previously drafted assignment), small group discussion where students are encouraged to dig deeper into the material and extend their thinking (see ICE), Some of the best activities have included the following ideas:

  • Speed Dating – this works well for any kind of critical analysis. Students are paired up and given 2 minutes to discuss a question and try to identify one point on which they agree and one on which they disagree. After two minutes, they each move on to a new partner and new question. After 10-20 minutes, they have had the opportunity to discuss many questions relating to the material with many different partners. We then debrief together as to what they have discovered or thought. The questions can be provided ahead of time because part of the understanding comes from building on someone else’s insights.  
  • Pod Analysis – Students are given a reading or podcast/video for homework that they have to annotate and answer some questions on before class. In class, they are assigned groups and are to discuss their interpretations together. I give a few new questions as well. (See also Grading and Assessment)
  • Genius Time – Stolen unapologetically from Steve Jobs who gave employees free time to work on any project they want in the belief that it encouraged a deeper and more organic thought process. I have students take 15 minutes to develop their own ideas of how to apply what we are learning to the world around them. They can discuss, create, write, read, or research for those 15 minutes, and have to regularly present their progress to the class.
  • Stations (Thank you Julie and Joy, two colleagues with fantastic ideas)- Rather than all students working on the same thing at the same time, I have them complete a series of stations in small groups spending 10-15 minutes per station where they are required to complete a specific task related to what we are learning. At the end, they may have gone through all the steps required for a project (ie: preparing to write a research paper)
  • Think-Write-Pair-Share-Teach – Think-Pair-Share is part of many teacher toolkits. I heard a teacher incorporate the writing step in order to ensure the ideas were captured on paper. I later incorporated the Teach step which allows students not only to share their idea/understanding but then apply that understanding to a teachable point, often using technology (a photo, slide, visual, video) to do so.
  • Question of the Day (QOD) – I try to get students to submit questions to me on paper, via AnswerGarden or Socrative, or through Twitter at the end of each lesson. The best QOD is entered for a draw at end of term.

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