Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Life as a Shadow - Part IV

It's been a while since my last shadow entry, but I'm bringing the topic back. Yesterday, I spent the day shadowing at P.S./M.S. 188 - The Island School on the lower east side of Manhattan. Unlike my other experiences, this one was not elementary school. This time it was with 6th, 7th and 8th graders. At the beginning of the day I didn't notice much difference in the grade levels but my the end I could tell that the 8th graders were much more independent and followed directions more thoroughly.

As opposed to my experience at Drexel Avenue elementary, the technology teacher here, Mr. Lahana, taught the students the same lesson across all the grades. However, the implementation was slightly different. Mr. Lahana uses TechBrarian, his own website, to post lessons for the class. The students listen to a 5 minute overview and then proceed to work on their own as the teacher goes around the room helping them. "Room" is somewhat of a loose definition since it's really an extension to the building that used to be outside and has been converted to the Internet Cafe.

Today's lesson was part 4 in a unit about how sneakers are made. Each student is supposed to listen to a video, fill in their concept map with their notes using either Bubbl.us or Inspiration and then proceed to the next step. In this case, the next step was to watch two videos (Beginner, Advanced) that Mr. Lahana created to show them how to design their own sneaker, download a sneaker template from Pig Magazine and then color the sneaker to their own preferences using layers in Photoshop. The last step is for the students to upload their creation to their blog.

Mr. Lahana chooses to use Blogger for each student and manages the blogs from the master class blog with each students' blog listed in the blogroll. I thought this was interesting because the blogs are out in the open with no security or privacy settings, however the master class blog is secure. Also, the students love blogging and it encourages them to write carefully and thoughtfully. Mr. Lahana shared with me one of the students blogs which contained a sensitive and honest portrayal of his relationship with his step-father and lack thereof with his "ancestor" - his birth father. I choose not to share the link to this young man's blog for privacy reasons.

I observed that the students behaviors during class varied by both class and grade level. Most did not watch the videos before attempting to design their own sneaker and then needed assistance along the way. Some, especially the 8th graders, followed the directions more closely. Some chose to work on their blog instead of the lesson of the day and some requested permission to use GarageBand as an alternative to the lesson. The environment was fairly freeform although I could see that some students were given more freedom than others, presumably the better behaved students.

Other tools that Mr. Lahana encourages students to use include ToonDoo which lets you create comic strips and embed them in blogs, XtraNormal which lets you turn text into animated movies, and Shelfari which students use to review books they have read and share reviews on their blog. I would say that Mr. Lahana knows his audience based on the tools he lets them use and the examples he gives them to make his point. He also uses Renzuli Learning for differentiated instruction and Keynote to create presentations that highlight student work.

My assessment was that the technology classes are focused primarily around teaching technology as opposed to integrating technology into other subjects. I asked Mr. Lahana about this and he explained that the Island School is focused on creativity and innovative outputs from the students. His lessons are all about creating and a school video that he showed me described the student population as the "future innovators of tomorrow". So, the presentations of student work that Mr. Lahana creates is a measurement of how well the students are doing. He also creates individual "profiles of talent" videos for each student, and the school also has 2 talent periods per week. It's for this reason that using GarageBand instead of doing a lesson is permitted. It's also the reason behind the schools policy "No dissing around here" which was seen in the school video and heard through the day. Students need to know that they are free from ridicule in order to create personal and creative work.

To conclude, the students seem to enjoy their time on the computers although many of them do not have computers at home. They do want to listen to music while working but it is only allowed sometimes. They also like to be free from "infractions" (points they get for improper behavior) because infraction-free students can enter the Internet Cafe at lunchtime and get free time on the laptops. It is interesting to note that Mr. Lahana uses a Google spreadsheet to manage infractions so everyone can see it during class. The last period of the day, normally reserved for test prep, is also open to students to work on their blogs when it is not test season.

While, I am not sure how much technology is being used in other classes, it is obvious that the use of Web 2.0 tools and the very concept of Social Media is very much at play at the Island School. Students relish the opportunity to use technology as creative outlets.


sloperaly said...

Really interesting post Robin,
Im curious about what other tech teachers have to say about the creative license the school prefers to call it... sounds constructivist but as you say, if little else in the school integrates technology its still being used in isolation!

lahana said...

Hey Robin,
Thanks for the thorough account of my classroom! You captured a lot of what the student experience is and the student-centered approach our school takes. One critique: while the sneaker assignment you spoke of is technology-centered, it's part of a greater unit on the anatomy of the foot and physiology of walking/running, advertising, sweatshops, and sneaker culture. I purposely teach technology as a tool to organize and express yourself in the context of real-world issues and ideas.

That said, Sloperaly is correct in that blogging and technology has not permeated the other classrooms in my school to the extent I'd like. Part of my goal in the coming years is to collaborate with my colleagues and encourage them to incorporate blogging and Web 2.0 in general into their curriculum.