Monday, February 27, 2012

The Catholic Church, Technology, and the Digital Age

Pope Benedict XVI with an Apple iPad

I recently discovered and learned about the Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for Social Communications which is responsible for using the various forms of media in spreading the Gospel. As I negotiated the Internet to acquire more information, my web surfing was halted when I found The Holy Father's "World Communications Day" messages. World Communications Day was created to provide an annual message for the church to its people and the rest of the world ( 

Pope Paul VI

"Thanks to these wonderful techniques, man's social life has taken on new dimensions: time and space have been conquered, and man has become as it were a citizen of the world, sharing in and witnessing the most remote events and the vicissitudes of the whole human race"

The quote above speaks volumes to me. From my perspective, it is a comment about our advances in science and technology, the far reaching power of the Internet, and the notion of globalization. Would you agree? I would, except for the fact that it was written by Pope Paul VI in 1967 (1st World Communications Day Theme: "Church and Social Communication: First World Communication Day" 1967 -! I haven't read all of the messages, there are some 46 of them, however I have read enough of them to appreciate that the Church appears to be well informed and open to the positive impact that today's technology can have. Based on what I have read, the message is clear that the Church would be doing itself a disservice if it did not stay up to date and participate with the most recent technological advances. To this end, the Church is spreading the 'good news' and is doing so as far and wide as technologically possible.

Pope John Paul II
We are in the digital age - our students are digital natives and we, the adults who are leading them in Faith and Education are digital immigrants. Technological advances are our friend and like the Church, we need to get on board and use these wonderful 'tools' to connect to and teach our students. The key is to continue to model balance for our students - to teach them that there is a time and place for everything and to provide them with a moral filter to guide them in their use of such things as the Internet. The Church is calling on us to embrace the new technologies for the betterment of society.

As I skimmed over and read through some of the messages written by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, I couldn't help but connect what they said to what I am doing in my role as a Catholic teacher. Our current Pope's most recent messages have focused on communication, life in the digital age, new media, and new technology - all within the scope of respect, friendship, dialogue, and positive & authentic growth as human beings formed in God's image. Based on much of what I have read from the World Communications Day messages, I can't help but feel a sense of relief and justification around the work we are doing with our students to prepare them to be dynamic thinkers rooted in the Gospel values.

Pope Benedict XVI

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Using Digital Media to Share Learning Part #2

My Principal recently gave me a usb camera (camera that connects to a computer) to use for a variety of purposes in my classroom (e.g. take digital photos of student work and project images onto the white board using the Brightlinks projector). My students and I put it to good use right away! I took some time to talk about my digital camera and to use the usb camera to project the different parts of my camera so that all the students could learn about the my camera at the same time. One of my students commented that it was like looking into a microscope - meaning that we could  now examine small things by magnifying them using the usb camera.

With two digital cameras in the room I told my students that I would let my camera float around (release of responsibility) the room but that I would stay close to the web cam (gradual release of responsibility) and guide them through its use.

 We are working on Measurement in Math right now and the use of the cameras seem to come naturally with this subject matter. I think that the use of manipulatives and an inquiry model for their learning allows them a certain freedom to continue their experimentation with the technology.

For whatever reason, our first attempt using the two cameras to capture their knowledge/understanding and thinking was a complete disaster. While my digital camera was off in a corner somewhere I had students sitting with me trying to show their "work" to their classmates (their work was being projected so everyone could see it). As I began to question the students about their work - as I would normally do - I could see them becoming upset. I had several students breaking down, feeling sad and disappointed that they were not able to talk about their work as everyone watched and waited to hear their explanations. In order to relieve some of the stress I decided to shut down the computer camera and let the students do their work the "ole fashioned" way! As the small group that was with me got back on track I went searching for the other camera and to check on the progress of the students that were away from us. I quickly discovered that the camera was not being used to document learning but that it was distracting the students from their work. I took that camera away and instructed the students to re-focus on the task at hand, which was to use non standard units to measure objects around the room. At the end of their discovery time I brought them all together and reiterated that 1) the use of the technology is optional, 2) it is available to them only if it is benefiting them, and 3) we will have growing pains and that I am learning about how to integrate just like they are learning how to use it.

The next time we had Math I asked them to do the same task - this time I didn't mention the use of either camera and simply got them started and began to move around and check in with them. One of the groups of students approached me and asked if they could use my camera to record their work. I obliged and sent them on their way. This is what they did with the camera:

To my amazement, they did this on their own. Although it is rough around the edges, I am quite pleased to see that they 1) worked together, 2) used a paper and pencil to record their findings, 3) made an ESTIMATE!, 4) showed us what they measured, how they measured it, and what they used to measure it, and 5) their end result. It didn't end here....they wanted to use the digital pictures they took to create an Animoto video! Here is the fruit of their labour:

The students did the majority of the work to put their Animoto together, I simply helped with the text portions. One of the three students working in this group was involved with the last Animoto I posted here. She led the way with this and is showing me that she is engaged in her learning and eager to integrate the technology in her Math work.

My students and I are on a journey with the technology that we are using in class (iPod Touch, Digital Camera, Brightlinks Projector) and it is both exciting and frightening. As I introduce and learn about different ways to use these new 'tools' I talk to my students about being patient with me and that I promise to the do the same with them. Never forgetting that we are a community of faith we pray and reflect on our work and are reminded (me to them and vice versa) that our faith will guide us to success through trial and error and hard work. Please keep my students and I in your thoughts and prayers as we travel on our technological journey. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Using Digital Media to Share Learning

My students and I have just finished learning about 3D Geometry. One of their tasks was to create a skeleton (MOE expectation: create models and skeletons of prisms and pyramids, using concrete materials) of one of the prisms/pyramids that they had become familiar with.

At the start of the unit we talked about what was expected of them (e.g. success criteria) and accomplished what we set out to do.

 As we were progressing through the lessons, tasks, and activities I stumbled upon Animoto (thanks to Aviva Dunsiger @Grade1 on Twitter), a cool website that allows you to turn your photos, video clips, and music into cool presentation videos. Having discovered Animoto and witnessed its benefit, I gave it a shot and was able to make a pretty cool video in a matter of minutes - and it wasn't hard at all! With this new knowledge I decided to unofficilally add a 21st century fluency component (Media Fluency) to our 3D Geometry unit. I talked to the students about it and informed them that this was a bonus learning experience - "Who would like to share some of their learning/work by using digital media?" A couple of students showed a real interest and after a short classroom meeting the students decided to let the two interested classmates experience this 'new' component and then let the rest of them know if it is something that would be of interest to them.

The next phase of our learning involved making 3D skeletons and the two students agreed that this would be a great way opportunity to record and share their work - their 3D skeleton.

Step 1: I taught the two students how to use a digital camera. I have one for my classroom and have been hesitant to let them use it, however, I have now changed my mind about this. It is important for them to really engage themselves and be accountable for their learning so...this was a nice way to ease myself into that. They both learned how to use the basics of the camera and I let them take their digital photos to record the different stages of their build.

Step 2: I sat with them to show them how Animoto worked. I was there to support and guide them as they navigated through the different parts of creating their video. They chose their background template, text, music, and photos. I was there to provide them with information that they needed to create their video. Here is their final product:

Make your own slideshow with music at Animoto.

After creating their 24 second product they shared it with their classmates using the Brightlinks projector in the classroom (I have recently learned how to make longer videos using a teacher account). Their classmates were in awe and loved it. Aside from the motivation and interest these two students showed me, I have to say that I was most proud of the entire class for what I heard and saw after the presentation. The students began asking about Animoto and how the girls were able to get the music and the background template. The girls answered their questions with confidence and they had barely any experience doing any of this! Although our their questions moved away from the Math at hand, they wanted to talk about the technology and how neat it was to show their knowledge around 3D Geometry using the technology.

Small step for me, giant step for my students.