Manchester Memorial School
Feature StorySixth grade teacher Becky Baun learned last year that she, along with the other 6th grade teachers, would be responsible for teaching World Geography. Faced with a new subject area, time constraints (she also teaches Language Arts and Math to her homeroom), and the prospect of dry textbooks and a few old videos, Baun and her colleagues decided to use technology to liven up their lessons. Baun had already participated in a professional development course conducted by the SEEM Collaborative that followed the Good Models of Teaching with Technology (GMOTT) approach to using technology in instructional design. As part of the course, Designing for Technology Integration (DTI), she created a unit that integrates technology, reviewed the units of two other participants, and revised her own unit based on feedback. Aside from a two-day face-to-face seminar, the entire seven-week course was conducted online using an online template to plan the project, read the work of other participants, and offer constructive feedback.
Baun was able to apply what she had learned in the DTI course to her 6th grade World Geography class. She began by limiting the continents the class would study to Europe, Africa, Western Asia/the Middle East, and Australia. Using the five themes of geography (location, place, human interaction with the environment, movement, and regions) as a base, she developed a multi-purpose unit on each continent. That is, each unit had to, in some way: 1) tie into the Massachusetts State Social Studies Frameworks; 2) employ multiple learning strategies such as cooperative learning, independent research, and reflective learning; 3) promote technological skills in line with the Massachusetts state technology instructional standards; and 4) build upon skills learned in the last unit, challenging students to explore increasingly difficult and varied activities.
In accordance with state frameworks, the class started their study of world geography with ancient river valley civilizations to build a foundation of knowledge. The school librarian took students through the steps of researching an essential question using texts and limited Internet sources. Particularly important was helping students to determine how to identify appropriate and authentic online sources. Students learned the process of conducting research, creating a timeline, developing and answering questions, and citing sources.
After this overview, the class began their first major unit on Europe. As a class, they broke the continent into separate regions and Baun assigned each student a specific country. To help them become engaged with the material, she incorporated a creative technology project into the unit, asking each student to design a travel brochure for his or her assigned country. Students loved the activity because it allowed them to use a range of skills, including artistic ability, creative and persuasive writing techniques, and research skills. The class used both the school's computer lab as well as laptops in the classroom to conduct research, type content, and illustrate and design the brochures, following a checklist and rubric distributed by Baun. Each student presented his or her brochure to the class upon completion.
As part of the next unit on Africa, students were again assigned a specific country to research and present to the class. This time, instead of travel brochures, students worked independently to create a PowerPoint presentation on their assigned country. In order to gain a better understanding of economic issues, as required by the state standards, students had to determine if their country was developing or developed and support that assertion with thirteen facts. They then created PowerPoint slides highlighting each of these facts, based again on a checklist and rubric provided by Baun. Students built upon the computer skills they had learned during the unit on Europe to create elaborate slide presentations with animation, photography, and other graphics. In addition, each student practiced his or her public speaking skills by presenting the PowerPoint to the class. This activity, while also creative, drew on different strengths from the previous project. Creating the PowerPoint required students to conduct careful research to support an essential question, distill a large amount of information into key points, and a have a clear organization for their ideas.
For their study of Western Asia (The Middle East), the class tried out yet another form of technology: the I-movie. Students were assigned a region, as they had been for the past two projects, and worked in groups to research the county, write a script conveying their findings, and videotape a final presentation. Because this activity required close collaboration, students learned about group dynamics and decision making in addition to gaining new social studies knowledge and technology skills.
The last unit, on Australia, doubled as Baun's final project for the DTI course. Australia was particularly interesting to Baun's students because their school district had hosted several high school students from Australia earlier in the year. She decided to capitalize on the enthusiasm and momentum from the Aussie visitors by asking students to do a "webquest" on the continent. Students collected information and cited it in daily journals, created postcards, and conducted research on the continent using what they had learned about essential questions. This project asked students to draw upon the technology skills they had been developing all year, including Internet research and navigation, on-screen design work, formatting, typing, and use of a variety of software applications. In addition, the success of this last project was dependent on students successfully working in small groups. This group work provided numerous natural opportunities for peer teaching, leadership, collaborative decision-making, and distribution of roles. For example, those students with artistic or creative abilities did the formatting and layout while those who were more technologically savvy helped guide the technical aspects of the project. Likewise, those with leadership skills facilitated their groups' process while those with excellent research and content skills contributed their expertise.
Baun has been thrilled with the success of her technology integrated World Geography units. Not only did students learn new skills that are applicable to other classes, they seemed to genuinely enjoy the work. While completing these technology-infused geography projects, Baun reports that he never had to remind students to "pay attention," or "get back on track." They were energized and engaged from the very beginning and were excited about the opportunity to try new skills. These projects made learning about various regions of the world fun and interesting because each student was directly involved in the learning process, was given license to be creative, and, as a result of the variety of activities, could draw upon his or her greatest strengths.
The technology skills students gained during these interactive projects are in line with the Massachusetts Instructional Technology Standards for which all teachers are responsible. As a general guideline, students must graduate from high school with basic proficiency in the use of computers. More specifically, under the third standard, students are to: demonstrate an ability to use technology for research, problem-solving, and communication; to locate, evaluate, collect, and process information from a variety of electronic sources; and to use telecommunications and other media to interact or collaborate with peers, experts, and other audiences. Baun's 6th grade projects allowed students to develop all of these skills.
In addition to gaining new knowledge about key geography topics and enhancing their computer skills, students also developed both their social/emotional competence, through cooperation, decision-making, and leadership, and their academic skills, through public speaking, researching a topic, writing in a variety of genres, and citing sources. All of these skills are transferable to other classes and will help students as they transition into 7th and 8th grade, and later into high school.
Now in her second year of technology integrated World Geography instruction, Baun is happy with the progress she sees in her students. She feels that the changes she has made to allow for these projects in her teaching have been positive ones, and she is looking forward to seeing the results from this year's class!