Sunday, May 25, 2008

Two Ways to Digitize Assessment

I'd thought I'd relaunch my blog with a practical and celebratory post. We have recently purchased 4 new digital cameras for our school. In as of itself, this is no big deal. However, the way that our teachers are beginning to use them has gone a long way in shifting the paradigm of what "integrating technology" looks like.

Photos as reflection prompts
This is a strategy that I used as a teacher before becoming a principal and it has really caught the imagination of our staff. Let me set the task first. Our staff has been discussing ways to reduce the paper use in our school. So a possible numeracy task that we could set up for our intermediate students is to calculate the cost (both financial and environmental) of running a school. A task like this one require that students work in groups. It requires them to identify some possible variable and to work collaboratively to solve for those variables. This endeavor, like many numeracy tasks, provides a relevant reason to play with math. The rub for the educator is how to capture this dynamic process in order to be able to evaluate it. Far too often, due to lack of motivation or simply weak written output skills, students are not able to articulate their process in writing. This is where technology enters the scene. During the class, the educator wanders from group to group snapping relevant photos, capturing key progressions in the students' work. Then simply uploads these photos into a word template, prints off the photos with guiding questions like - What was your group's struggle with at this point (as shown by the photo) in the process? Then prints them off and hands them to the group to reflect on. We have found that because of the photo prompt, students are able to articulate their process in far greater detail, thus allowing educators guide the next days lesson and also to evaluate their students' progress. Even better, one of our teachers created private blogs for a number of his students and posted the digital pictures to the blog and the students from each group could reflect on the photo and also comment on each other's reflections.

Vid clips change group dynamics
Recently our grade 5/6 teacher was looking for a way to improve the focus during literature circles. He decided to use a fish bowl activity. In the past, this activity was extremely contrived. He would choose a group to volunteer to be observed by the rest of the class and then comment on the dynamics of the discussion. Because the group was so self-conscious of their classmates watching, the student learning became canned. Students played roles and the observing students identified issues that had been taught in a previous lesson. So rather that do the fish-bowl activity, our teacher popped around to each group and digitized 30 second clips of each group during their discussions. Some groups were aware of the camera, but once this became routine practice, all the groups ignored the camera. The teacher was then able to conference with each group, showing them their group discussion and providing them with feedback on their group dynamics. The change in the level of engagement and respect for opinions has been astronomical. I have been chatting with this teacher about using or some other form of networkable application to have the students archive comments about the video clips and have these interactions as part of their online digital portfolio.

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