One of the disadvantages in my district when using technology is the lack of emails for students to use. This was especially true when I tried to set up Evernote accounts with my students as I set up our pilot using Evernote for Schools. In order to overcome this disadvantage I decided to use QR codes as a way to share without using individual email accounts. I’ll post later on how I did my work arounds, but for now I just wanted to share our activities that took place over the day. Given all the issues we confronted and having never tried to group my students this way, we had a great messy learning activity that I had warned the students ahead of time was going to be “organized chaos.”
The project evolves around forms of alternative energy (normally we are working on this in April for Earthday which just shows how far behind I am this year). I typically have students express the form of alternative energy they want to learn about, and then to create groups I have a sign up by randomly pulling names. This time I decided to try asking the students to form groups based on sharing their brainstorm ideas first and letting them collaborate with more freedom to choose their partners. I was hoping to give students that felt strongly about one type of alternative energy and wanted to create the focus of the project around their invention or solution, form groups with them being a leader.
I asked the class to create a public notebook in Evernote that would then be shared via a QR code. We used Google’s URL shortner so that we would have a QR code as well as a URL because we can’t always get the iPads with other teachers checking them out fairly often. This way we can always fall back on the computers in our classroom if we need to.
I teach two sections and for one of the groups over half the class created notebooks to share and for the other section only a third did so. The students who didn’t create a notebook to start the project were told that they could join the other students or wait and sign up with the random method I had used before.
I asked the students to express their interest on a form which could also be treated as a type of resume if there was any question about whether a student could join a group or if there were too many students interested in a group I had at least an example of their expressed type of energy they wanted to focus on. Then I had them create their QR codes, grab them in Skitch, make the codes slightly bigger, add the shortened URL from Google, add some sort of annotation explaining what the project was about, print them out, and then I put them up in a place in the classroom.
I chose a particular day for a sort of job fair in which the students could look at the notebooks and then request to join with those individuals, be interviewed, or wait to sign up with others who didn’t see any projects they were interested in. Each student was given a sheet of paper which was a picture of my bulletin board that I had converted using my iPhone and the Whiteboard share app that raises the contrast. Students were asked to look at the bulletin board and circle the notebooks on their sheet of paper that they were interested in looking at and possibly using the ideas for forming into a group.
Students started working and looking at the notebooks they were interested in and began making choices for what they thought would be the groups that could work together. They were told to be up out of their chair talking and asking questions and interacting with the inventors and creators and not just sitting looking at the notebooks only. I also told students to look at as many notebooks as they wanted but to only choose two or three groups or notebook creators which they would actively see if they could join or work with. We only had so much time so choices had to be made. As we began scanning and reading there was a problem loading some of the QR codes even if they used the bulletin board rather than the paper to scan from. Some students quickly realized that some of the QR codes weren’t working at all either because the codes weren’t clear enough on the sheet that I had created or because the codes hadn’t been properly formatted.Some students continued to look at notebooks while some students scrambled to fix the problems. Students were allowed to check out computers at this point if they needed to fix the sharing of their notebook as we realized that it would be easiest if we let the iPads continue to be used for reading rather than trying to create the new codes from.
Within the first hour some groups had already gelled together and were brainstorming their focus while some students continued to struggle with choices or were trying to fix the problems with their notebooks and getting them resolved. As students fixed and reprinted their QR code I would just staple the new code over the old one.
At a certain point we had students using both the iPads as well as laptops who were either fixing mistakes or as we discovered with the notebooks on the iPads, images and text were truncated and not completely viewable. In order to see the full notebook we had no choice but to use the laptops to also view some of the longer notebooks which were missing or we could not view the entire notebook for. The students did suprisingly well with adapting and thinking in the moment. Students that needed extra help were able to either ask me to help them or as many did they asked other students to help them get what they needed done. It was the ideal environment in which students and myself shifted between the roles of learner to instructor and back again fluidly. The lesson and learning activity had become filled with problems and barriers to getting what we needed or expected to do done. The breaking down though rather than creating a more disorganized group of students scrambling to solve their own problems or ignore others had the opposite effect and the students stopped trying to achieve their own individual goals in the activity. Instead they became a room full of concerned and helpful individuals join together and understanding that for the activity to be a sucess meant that we as a class achieved the end result together helping each other. We had become a community of learners and those that had needed information or knew how to do certain tasks felt comfortable stepping up to help others rather than worry about their own needs first. The role of student and teacher became blurred and dynamically changed as the need arose. The students took control of their learning environment and I was there if a solution could not be found with what they knew to do. I couldn’t have been more touched and moved by the community and fellowship of my 5th grade students.