Monday, November 23, 2009

When EVERYTHING goes wrong

At 11:09 AM this morning I sent out the following tweet:
Today is the type of day that makes you say, "i will never use technology in the classroom again" but I will persevere!
It was only 20 minutes into the second class of the day for me. I had been fortunate enough to find an extended period of time when the school laptop carts were not reserved. I reserved them for seven consecutive school days. Today was day 1. I'm glad I have six more days.

The particular project the kids are working on is what we are calling the "Cool Questions Project". Throughout the year, I have kept a running list of cool questions the kids have asked, most of which I have been unable to answer, either because I myself did not know or we just needed to move on. Occassionally I will push pause on whatever we are doing and do a quick search on the internet to try and find the answer. As a sidenote, sometimes it's best to turn off the projector, otherwise the auto fill feature of Google will list questions like "Why is my poop green?".

Using that list, the kids are each selecting a question of their choice and researching the answer. Once they have completed their research, they will each do a digital presentation. They can choose whatever format they would like - powerpoint, Glog, video, Voki, etc. Since many of my students have no computer access at home at all, I reserved the laptops for an extended period of time.

Day 1 went only a little worse than I had expected. The teacher who used one of the carts before me failed to plug up any of the laptops. Few machines in that cart had a charged battery and two of power cables do not work. I spent the entire 63 minutes of my first class finally getting all my kids id's and pw's straightened out. My second class only went a little better.

Technology issues aside, I began to question the scope of the assignment. Did I assign too much to my little sixth graders? Can they really handle the open endedness and potential enormity of this project? Several issues quickly made themselves apparent. 1) They have no real idea how to do research. 2) They have not yet learned how to read a passage for information and make the necessary inferences. (This is a science class BTW). 3) Despite being given a rubric with benchmark goals and dates, most only see a BIG project, not the small manageable pieces.

So, have I erred once again by failing to properly plan? Did I forget to consider my students' actual developmental stage? Can this thing be salvaged? I believe the answer to all three questions is "Yes". However, I don't think that in regards to planning and considering my students' abilities that I was really not that far off. This project is on track to accomplish everything I hoped it would. The students will get a chance to study something THEY want to study. The students will learn some new research skills. When things go wrong, students are forced to develop problem solving skills. They are excited about doing "a technology project." It's one step closer to that self-paced differentiated classroom I so want to teach.

I think when this is all said and done, if more wrong than right happens, it may turn out to be the best project ever.

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