Cycles

Cycle 1 Report

Cycle 2 Report

Introduction
 
        My action research goal is to find some of the best methods for conducting technology integration projects, creating a harmonious arrangement between teachers, subject matter, and technologies. Specifically, my intention is to focus on direct collaboration with teachers on curricular goals, and to be involved in classroom instruction.

  The first cycle of my Action Research was a collaborative effort with a 6th grade teacher who will be referred to as NC. The cycle, which began in mid-late November 2012 and ended in January 2013, centered upon an effort to modernize a reading and writing project by using blogs. Evidence and artifacts were recorded as notes from project work and discussions with NC.

  The research question I explored with this cycle was: How will collaborative and in-classroom work on a blogging project with a 6th grade teacher improve or enhance her teaching opportunities and my abilities as a technology integration specialist?
 
        The desired outcomes were that the teacher would perceive the collaborative project as having been more beneficial (providing more learning opportunities) for her students than a similar project performed without technological tools and without my involvement, and that my own abilities as a technology integration specialist would improve.


Actions Taken and Desired Outcomes
 
Cycle 1 began in earnest with a face-to-face meeting with NC in late November 2012. NC was interested in modernizing a project that she had done for many years: Student Reading Letters. These were letters composed bi-weekly by students on topics suggested by NC regarding books the students were reading. The recipients of the letter were varied, and could include the students themselves, NC, a generic unknown reader, or the author of a book. The letters were not sent; rather, they were kept in a journal.

NC was interested in changing the scope of the project, which typically involved cycles of student-written letters being reviewed by the teacher. These cycles had produced improvements in reading comprehension over the course of past semesters, but NC had felt that an interactive model, involving significantly increased peer-review and discussion might produce a greater learning experience. NC desired to rebuild the project so that students could easily read and comment on each other’s work, and even comment on others’ comments. While this model could possibly be achieved with pen-and-paper journals, the desired degree of collaboration would require significant photocopying, organization, record-keeping and class time. Further, NC hoped to have increased visibility on which students had posted, read and commented. 

As these new goals could not easily be achieved with paper, we proceeded with the project using Blogger blogs as a medium. 

Actions – Overview

At an overview level, the actions taken throughout the cycle were as follows:

• 6 face-to-face meetings with NC
            o Purposes of these meetings:
                • Plan next phases in the project
                • Plan in-class activities
                • Discuss and train NC on technology tools
                • Reflect on progress

• 2 class periods in which I joined NC and the students
            o Purpose of these classes:
                • Teach students the use of blogging tools 
                • Support the teacher in her instruction
                • Support the students in the application of new skills
                • Observe project progress

• Technical work
            o Configurations and setup
                • Students blogging weekly

There was no final deliverable for this project. Rather, students were expected to continue blogging and commenting on each others’ blog posts throughout the term and, possibly, the school year.

Desired Outcomes

Though this project was lengthy, my collaboration with the teacher ended once she and her students were blogging regularly and successfully. The outcomes that NC and I conceived of were intended to outlast my direct involvement with the project. Additionally, many of the outcomes were devised as comparisons or improvements to former pen-and-paper versions of the project. The desired outcomes were:

• To improve organization of student work, and provide easier accessibility to student work for NC
• To increase peer collaboration
• To allow for immediate feedback from the teacher and other students
• To encourage students to respond to the way others read and reflect
• To introduce students to the ideas of reading, commenting, peer-reviewing
• To enable students to critically reflect on what they read
• To increase student accountability for time management
• To provide an opportunity for independent writing
• To allow NC to proof drafts before sharing 
• To provide increased opportunity and time for typing
            o A “necessary skill” per NC (NC, personal communication, November 26, 2012)
• To physically lighten NC’s backpack


Evidence and Analysis
 
        The students’ output was measured by counting the number of posts and comments. While these figures are by no means indicative of greater knowledge incurred or learning having occurred, these figures could be compared to estimations supplied by NC to determine if the project produced more student artifacts than a similar project performed without technology. These figures are summarized in Figure 1.1.


        There was 7 students involved in the blogging exercise, which ran for approximately 9 weeks between December 1st and February 1st, although this period included a 3-week December holiday, when students were expected to post only once. It should be noted that one student was elevated from this 6th Grade class to the 7th Grade as of January 1st and thus was not required to continue blogging. This means that in December, there was 7 potential bloggers, but in January there was only 6.

  Over the 9 calendar weeks, or 6 academic weeks, in which the blogging activity was ongoing, all of the students in the class posted at least 4 times, over 70% of the class posted at least 5 times, and 30% posted 6 times. NC had hoped that each student would blog at least 5 times, though she gave the students the option to write one post on paper. Regarding student blogging frequency, then, the students met or exceeded the teachers’ expectations. Pen-and-paper versions of this project had typically yielded 4 posts per students during a similar timeframe, and thus the project succeeded in exceeding pen-and-paper output. 

  For the first four posts, where 100% of the students participated, the average number of replies from peers was 8 for the first post, 6 for the second and third posts, and 5 for the fourth post. As NC had hoped that each student would reply to each fellow student at least one time, these figures represent a success. (The fourth post, where the average number of peer replies was 5, occurred after the January departure of one student from the 6th Grade class). As previous pen-and-paper versions of this assignment had not included any form of peer-to-peer response writing, a total of nearly 190 comment posts represents a significant improvement in peer commenting.

  Participation floundered somewhat for the 5th post, as five students submitted posts, but each only had an average of 3 peer comments. It is possible that the upcoming cessation of the project contributed to the lack of peer comments for the 5th post.  For the 6th post, which was only performed by two students, there were no peer comments. These posts, however, were made after February 1st, when the blogging assignment was considered completed, and thus students were not required to post replies to peer blog posts.
 
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Outcomes and Reflections

        NC has confirmed verbally that this project was a significant improvement over previous years’ versions of the same assignment. Following the completion of the project, NC and I discussed numerous potential outcomes and the degrees to which we achieved desired results.

  Regarding the most basic desired outcome, that the project provided more opportunities for learning than a similar project without much technology involvement, NC said: “Definitely. I feel like this outcome came true,” (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012). She elaborated, stating that, compared to her traditional, paper-based model, the blog project encouraged more active reading of peers’ writing, more responding to other students, and more student review and incorporation of teacher inputs. NC concluded “all that could not have happened with this kind of frequency if we had used notebooks,” (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012). 
 
        On the importance of an educational technology integration specialist as a collaborative partner, NC said “I wouldn’t have been able to set it up, so we wouldn’t have been nearly as productive,” (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012). She continued, stating that the work I performed, as the specialist, which included setting the project into motion, completing some of the configuration, training her on the configuration steps, and my in-class contributions provided her with fine-tuned methods that would have otherwise been labor-intensive tasks on NC’s part.

  Another goal was increased visibility for NC of student activity, including who had posted, read and commented. While NC believed that visibility increased over a paper-version of the project, NC felt as though she underutilized Blogger’s oversight offerings. “Part of my learning in this project was figuring out the most effective timing for reviewing. There is a sequence that I haven’t quite mastered,” (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012). NC intends on continuing the use of blogs in the spring semester, and hopes to master her oversight arrangement to maximize her understanding of student access and work patterns.

  One of the most significant areas of improvement that the blog project held over a paper-based equivalent was in the organization of student work. NC said “They knew where things were, they could respond to responses, respond to my comments in Drafts. No flipping around, no arrows of different colors, no notebooks, no post-its, nothing messy,” (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012). The absence of these “necessary evils” of a collaborative paper-based writing project was a welcome change, (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012). Another advantage of the organizational structure provided by the blogs was the students’ ability to see a previous post, with teacher and student comments, when making a new post, and learn from that feedback for a new entry. This ease of view replaced page flipping and searching for loose pages.

  Similarly, the easy accessibility and organization of blogs also lead to improvements in motivation. NC said, “There’s something for the students about being able to see it cleanly and clearly. Typing was slow, but students remained excited at producing something that looked cool, and could be easily shown to anyone,” (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012). Further, because posts were listed from most recent to oldest, NC could easily track changes in student writing abilities. However, NC noted that “If I really wanted to track the improvement, I would have to keep separate copies of the drafts, rather than just the final posts, which I helped edit and revise,” (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012).
 
        On the topic of peer collaboration, one of the fundamental goals of the projects, and one of the fundamental offerings of blogs, NC observed that not only had digital communication improved, but because the students were deeply involved in each others’ work, there was a significant increase in conversations in the classroom. Similarly, though students’ critical reflections on their peers’ work was not observed to be more significant than had been observed in paper-bas ed versions of the project from previous years, students seemed to “go deeper” in their own
reflections because they had an actual audience, not an implied audience. Finally, as blogs allow for almost immediate feedback from the teacher and other students, NC highlighted that this immediacy encouraged more and quicker responses from students. “There is no immediacy in the models we used prior to going digital,” says NC (Personal communication, Feb 28, 2012).

NC had also hoped that the independent nature of blogging would increase student accountability for time management and regular work cycles. NC felt that, in the weeks prior to Christmas break, it was easier to be clear on dates and next steps, in large part because students didn’t have to wait for her to complete reviews of their work and then provide corrections and feedback. “Their sequence was clearer: do this, in this order, in this timeframe,” says NC, (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012). After returning from Christmas break, however, NC felt a decline in student independent work frequency.
  Similar to student independent time management, NC had hoped that this project would provide an opportunity for independent writing. By the end of January, NC had found that student independent writing skills had improved, “No question about it,” (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012). NC was better able to assign topics or ask a student to choose the way to respond, because students had more models on ways to respond by looking at other students’ work.

  An important skill for which NC had hoped the blog project would encourage improvement was keyboarding skills. NC acknowledged that the project certainly allowed for more typing time, which ciould have led to an improvement in typing skills, but “it wasn’t nearly enough,” (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012). NC would like to have students spend more time on their keyboarding skills, but she does not want to sacrifice her class time. 

  An important desired outcome was improvement to NC’s technology skillset and understanding of how technology could be used in the classroom. Regarding blogs, NC said: 

        “It wasn’t a tool I was familiar or comfortable with. Navigating it end up being pretty easy. As with anything, carving out time to work on it was really important. Having time with [Joel] to go through it was essential, but I then had to then set out personal time to go over it,” (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012).

        For example, NC’s discovery and use of the highlight tool was “a real game changer,” (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012). She highlighted text that contained mistakes, but did not explain the specific mistake. Compared to paper-based projects, NC said, “If I marked up paper version, kids have to rewrite the whole thing. Maybe we could do that once, but not over-and-over, like we could with blogs,” (NC, personal communication, Feb 28, 2012). 

Change in Practice
 
        One of the most important suggestions discussed in the literature reviewed was to work collaboratively with the teacher, and find solutions that apply directly to a particular teacher and his/her curriculum. This may sound small or limiting, but I having completed this cycle to NC’s satisfaction, I believe that finely tuned solutions are an excellent approach. With regards to improving teachers’ skillsets, I have come to the conclusion that teacher-oriented collaboration outshines typical professional development. My best barometer for conducting harmonious technology integrations in this case is feedback from NC. As she deemed this project a success, it seems to me that successful technology integration requires working as close to the ground as possible, whereas most professional development, by design, works at a much higher level.

        It would be overextending to claim all professional development a failure, but successful professional development must somehow address individual teachers and curricula. The skills required to configure and maintain a blogging project as unique as NC’s Reading Letters may not have been conveyed in a general professional development session on blogging, addressed to an audience of teachers. In my literature review, I learned that individual follow-up to group professional development increased the likelihood that the topics covered during group trainings would be maintained and put to use, however this cycle with NC encouraged me that to believe that professional development should be foregone altogether in favor of customized collaboration.

  Though I had considered group professional development as a future cycle option, I believe the best course of action remains to work with individual teachers on particular endeavors.
 
Comparison to the Past
 
        Historically, my method had been to discover and learn a new technology, and then present the technology to the teacher. My hope had been that the teacher would see the tool and find a way to incorporate it into their teaching, possibly by identifying a problem that the technology could solve. This approach is akin to adding a new instrument to an orchestra, regardless of whether or not the symphony called for that instrument’s sounds. There was no method to predict harmony. By listening to NC describe what she hoped to accomplish, I was able to identify a technology tool that could be used to address her needs. In essence, we added an instrument that enhanced the score.

        I was pleased that the solution, blogs in this case, was a straightforward and well-regarded teaching tool. It occurred to me that not every project requires advanced educational technology. I began to suspect that most teaching or curricular problems presented by teachers were likely to be successfully addressed more often by simple technology solutions then by complex solutions. This was born out of the realization that most teachers are not looking to complicate their lives with technology. NC was not interested in spending time learning a new technology for the sake of learning it; NC was interested in using the right technology to address her needs. In these cases a simpler solution is almost always better than a complex solution. Thus, an important implementation method is to listen to teachers’ teaching needs or curricular issues and try to find the most basic technology solution that would meet those needs, despite my own interest in pushing technological limits.
 
Teachable Moments
 
        Being present in the classroom allowed me to find opportunities to teach the teacher and students new technology tricks. On multiple occasions, I provided simple, quick, and effective computer use tricks that saved time and increased efficiency. It became apparent to me that these learning opportunities would have never arisen were I not in the classroom collaborating with NC. The idea of just being in a classroom leading to new knowledge is very promising. By my nature of being an advanced computer user, my knowledge of simple but useful tips and tricks is likely greater than that of a regular user. Perhaps the technology integration specialist could impact classes positively by simply being in the room and waiting for teachable moments to arise.
 
Learning To Attend to Opportunities for Learning
 
        During one class, I suggested to the students that they attempt to anticipate the responses that their posts might elicit, and address them at the time of creation. While reviewing my notes of that day’s class, this notion resonated with me in my own AR and MALT work. If one is cognizant of potential questions or challenges to their work as they perform that work, perhaps they can improve the quality of their work by addressing challenges before they arise. Vocalizing this idea in simple terms to the students made it clear in my own mind that the ability to predict inquiries and incorporate the answers is a vital skill. I will try to anticipate teachers’ questions in future cycles and address concerns before they come up formally.

Cycle 2


Introduction

        My action research goal is to find the best methods for helping teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. Specifically, my intention is to focus on direct collaboration with teachers on curricular goals, and to be involved in classroom instruction.

        The second cycle of my action research was a collaborative effort on a project-based learning endeavor with two sixth grade teachers who will be referred to as NC and RM. The cycle began in mid-late December 2012 and ran until late March 2013. Evidence and artifacts were recorded as notes from project work and discussions with NC and RM. 

        The research question I am exploring with this cycle is: How will collaborative and in-classroom work on a term-long project-based learning endeavor, which spans multiple disciplines, with sixth grade teachers improve or enhance teaching opportunities, learning opportunities, and my abilities as a technology integration specialist?
 
The desired cycle outcomes were that the teachers would perceive the collaborative project as having provided more learning opportunities for their students than a similar project performed without the use of a technology integrationist and technological tools, and that my own abilities as a technology integration specialist would improve.

Actions Taken and Desired Outcomes

        NC, RM and I collaborated on a term-long project that was entitled “Create Your Own Country.” Guided by the teachers and I, the students had the opportunity to create country maps and determine climatic, environmental, geographical, economic, political, and cultural features of their country. The project was multi-disciplinary, including elements of Geography, Social Studies, Math, Language Arts and Creative Arts.

        NC and RM had engaged students with projects similar to “Create Your Own Country” in the past, however they had only used technology in a minor role, limiting its use to research and word processing. The teachers were interested to see how technology could advance the project and introduce new learning opportunities. As the project had similarly been term-long in the past, the teachers were curious to see if a technology-supported version of the project would provide more teaching and learning opportunities across disciplines over a long period of time.

Actions – Overview

At an overview level, the actions taken throughout the cycle were as follows:

• 10 face-to-face meetings with NC and/or RM
            o Purposes of these meetings:
                • Plan next phases in the project
                • Plan in-class activities
                • Discuss and train the teachers on technology tools
                • Reflect on progress
• 11 class periods in which I joined NC and/or RM and the students
            o Purpose of these classes:
                • Teach students the use of specific technology tools for advancement of a certain area of the project
                • Support the teachers in their instruction
                • Support the students in the application of new skills
                • Observe project progress
• Technical work
            o Configurations and setup

The final deliverable of each student’s project was a single Google Presentation containing a detailed explanation about many facets of their country, and would be required to include a certain number of maps, charts, and paragraphs.

Desired Outcomes

As this was a term-long, multi-discipline project, NC and RM outlined many desired outcomes. Since the project was being performed with technology integrated into the project work, and the teachers’ perception was that technology use would increase efficiency, there were likely more desired outcomes than previous incarnations of the project. The primary desired outcomes are listed below.

 To use technology for as much of the project as possible
            o Maps, charts, images, text stored in digital files
            o Map templates that could be used to create multiple maps
                 Temperature, Population, Demographics, Immigration, etc
 To encourage students to be creative with their presentation
            o Allow students to pick which elements are created by hand (and scanned in) and which elements are created on the computer
                 Encouraging both artistic and technological creativity
            o Not use a template to be filled in
 To encourage students to think about the elements they want to use to describe their country
 To have weekly goals, for example:
            o Finish your page on climate
            o Finish your page on population
 Math Goals
            o Generate charts
                 Encourage math confidence
            o Use (self-generated) charts to interpret data
                 (Considered a significant component of the sixth grade curriculum)
            o Population Density as a concept
                 Includes multiplication, division, and fractions
                 Population, square mileage and their relationship as density
                 Application to real life
            o Application of skills
                 Rounding, estimation, etc
 Geography Goals
            o Address the Five Themes of Geography
                 Movement
                 Human and Environment Interaction
                 Locations
                 Regions
                 Culture
 Language Arts Goals
            o Creative writing
                 Country history
                 Constitution
                 Historically important people
            o Non-fiction reading and writing
                 Table of contents, index, etc
                 Text elaboration of visual representations of information
            o Reading (and History)
                 Research history of existing, neighboring countries
 Computer Skills
            o Creating and using Presentations
            o Creating and using Spreadsheets
                 Use Formulas, Functions; understand the math components
                 Create tables and charts to represent data visually
                     Multiple representations of the same data
                     Be able to explain why a certain type of chart is best for certain data
            o Computer Assisted Drawings
            o Editing images
            o Conducting research
 To encourage big picture thinking skills
            o Develop an understanding of the relationships and interactions amongst all elements of a country
                 How does climate affect population?
                 How is location of population centers affected by geography?
            o Create something that can be understood by anyone

Evidence and Analysis

The students’ output was measured by counting the number of maps, charts, and paragraphs they created, as well as the total number of pages in their final report. While these figures are by no means indicative of greater knowledge incurred or learning having occurred, these figures could be compared to estimations supplied by NC and RM to determine if the project produced more student artifacts than a similar project performed without technology. The count of these student artifacts are shown in Figure 2.1.

 

Past versions of this project typically yielded between 1 and 2 maps per student. The average number of maps created by the sixteen students when using technological tools was 5 maps, with the smallest number of maps created being 3 and the largest being 8. The number of maps created by the majority of students (the mode) was 4. The assigned number of maps to be created was 3 maps (Geographic, Natural Resources, and Population Centers), and 15 of the 16 students submitted more than 3 maps. The majority of students exceeded expectations with regards to the number of maps required for successfully completing the project. Additional maps typically included transportation maps as well as a world map highlighting the invented country’s location. A mean number of maps created of 5, and a mode of 4, indicates a significant improvement in the number of maps (1-2) created by each student during past paper-and-pen based versions of the project. 

A mean and mode of charts created of 3 exceeds the equivalent figures of NC’s past attempts at this project with paper-and-pen, as students had previously been required to create only 1 or 2 charts. The lowest number of charts created was 2 and the largest was 4. The number of charts created by the majority of students was 3. The assigned number of charts to be created was 3 charts (Monthly Precipitation, Monthly Temperatures, Population), and 15 of the 16 students submitted 3 or more charts. The majority of students met the assigned number of charts, and 4 students exceeded the assigned number of charts. One student submitted 1 chart less than required.

The average number of paragraphs written by the students was 12 paragraphs, with the lowest number of paragraphs written being 7 and the largest number being 15. The number of paragraphs written by the majority of students was 15. The assigned number of paragraphs was 15 (Location, Landforms, Climate, two paragraphs each on Flora and Fauna, Natural Resources, Population, Political System, History, Important People, Culture, Flag and About the Author), and therefore the majority of the students completed the assigned work. As will be discussed, extensive writing proved to be problematic, and this may explain why writing goals weren’t exceeded. A mode of paragraphs written of 15 was essentially on par with NC’s past attempts at this project with paper-and-pen, as students had been previously required to write approximately 15 paragraphs. NC is quick to point out, however, that paper-based versions would typically include less than 15 edited and proofed paragraphs. In the technology-enhanced version of this project, all paragraphs that made it to the final project had been proofed and edited repeatedly.

A final metric considered as evidence for analysis in this project is the number of total pages in the final project, which was manifested as a presentation. These pages included paragraphs, charts, and maps, as well as other visuals the students had created, such as country flags. The average number of pages in the final presentation was 22, with the lowest number of pages included in the final presentation being 12, and the largest number being 30. The number of pages created by the majority of students for their final project was 23. NC had not set a specific number of pages to be created in order for the assignment to be considered completed, however we decided that this metric would be useful for gauging output and production at a high level. While stating that more pages would not necessarily equate to better work, NC was nonetheless pleased to see that a major majority (75%) of students submitted projects of 20 pages or longer, and that 50% of students submitted projects with more than 22 pages. NC felt very satisfied by this student output and commented that it was very unusual for 6th grade students to generate projects of this magnitude.

Outcomes and Reflections 

As the project was lengthy and multi-disciplinary, there were many opportunities for learning for all involved, including the students, the teachers and me as the action researcher.

Comparisons to the Past

During the initial planning phase of the project, NC and I discussed how this type of project would have been performed in the past, as well as anticipated advantages of supporting this project with technology. In the past, the children would have drawn the maps by hand at first, but additional maps would have been traced. This had proven to be a very time consuming task, and required a significant art component, possibly involving an art teacher, and certainly requiring more class time. Using technology to support the mapping elements of the project allowed students to make additional copies instantly, as well as creating and designing new maps, without having to spend time tracing the map outline.

NC was also pleased that the technology-augmented version of this project supported both artistically inclined and technologically inclined students. With the easy option of scanning images into their presentations, students had multiple options for creating and adding content to their presentations. In the past, all students would have been required to create materials artistically. NC acknowledged that art and technology are both excellent teaching tools, and a project that allows for both would create more opportunities for learning than a project relying upon one method.

When asked about whether using technology to support this project from an interdisciplinary perspective provided new learning opportunities, NC commented that the ease of creating maps and adjusting their size within scale presented opportunities to discuss mathematical elements during social studies, or transportation logistics during math class. “If nothing else,” NC concluded, “the time saved by using technology opens up more time to focus on the interaction between different subjects,” (NC, personal communication, January 11, 2013).

A major component of the “Create Your Own Country” project was creating charts from data in a spreadsheet. As this technological element of the project consumed a lot of time, it was important to reflect upon the advantages of this method compared to a paper-and-pen model. When asked how NC and RM would have done the charting work in the past, they exclaimed, almost in unison, “We wouldn’t have!” (NC & RM, personal communication, January 22, 2013). The charting work would have placed a significant strain on math class time, and correlations to social studies work would likely have been lost as students focused on chart creation with math instruments. While the project had a math component, both sections of sixth grade are taught math by a teacher who was not involved in the project. The teachers stated that creating the number of charts that the spreadsheets allowed for would have required significant collaboration with the math teacher, and likely a disruption to his curricular plans.

The primary goal of creating many charts was to provide the students with a means of generating multiple representations of the same data. This was considered an important focus of the project. NC said “there are many learning benefits to viewing the same data in different ways … especially when the kids aren’t just viewing the charts, they are building them,” (NC, personal communication, January 22, 2013). Given that it would have been very difficult to create the desired number of charts by hand, the use of technology for this facet of the project had a significant positive impact. The students were very excited during the creation of their charts, and this enthusiasm were welcomed changes to the boredom that had accompanied chart creation in past attempts. NC remarked that the capability of adjusting the data and quickly creating new charts presented a new type of freedom. Since there were many ways to manipulate the data, “there was less right and wrong; this keeps students’ spirits up,” (NC, personal communication, January 24, 2013). The results, NC noted, were still faster and better than without using technology.

An area where the use of technology was considered vastly superior to a paper-and-pen model was in the teachers’ development of grading rubrics. NC and RM found that a list of user-adjustable settings in the chart creation menus of the software could be easily translated into a grading rubric, and also used by the students to ensure they met the required criteria. In essence, the technology tool itself included a built-in checklist of important chart elements (i.e.: main title, axis titles, legend) that would have been more difficult for teachers to outline and students to follow using previous methods.

Both NC and RM noted another significant advantage of using technology to support the project. Students in the same classroom were able to work on different elements of the project, and at different levels of skill. While these differentiations could be supported using a traditional, non-technological model, the teachers had felt that managing a class with many students working at many different levels with different tools had been difficult to manage. It was found that the use of technology functioned as an “equalizer,” per NC, and that because the project has a significant number of components, each student would encounter a challenge and uncover both a strength and a weakness, (NC, personal communication, January 24, 2013). 

When reflecting upon whether the project provided greater opportunities for teaching and learning when supported by technology, NC was clear about the positive impacts of technology. For example, NC acknowledged that the lessons on population density would have been omitted entirely if the explanation were not as easily demonstrated as it had been with spreadsheets, charts, and maps. She also explained that the math component of the project would have been significantly reduced if spreadsheets were not used.

In contrast to the benefits provided by the integration of technology into this project, inevitably numerous problems were encountered.

The most significant problem with the use of technology for this endeavor was only revealed towards the very end of the project. The students were very far behind in the writing of their explanatory paragraphs that would accompany the maps and charts they had created. NC explained that the writing was significantly easier for students when they had already created the visuals compared to the paragraphs students were charged with writing on other topics, but in general writing progress was exceptionally slow. NC attributed this to both slow compositional skills and slow typing skills. The latter problem is particularly important because one of NC’s goals with Cycle 1 was to improve keyboarding skills. As a result of the challenges associating with typing paragraphs, the project did not meet its desired completion deadline.

A factor that caused teacher frustration came from an unexpected source. The collaborative abilities of Google Docs, which allow a student and teacher to work on the same file in real time, turned out to be a hindrance for the paragraph composition phase of the project. The students wrote their paragraphs in Google Docs, and the teachers intended on correcting or annotating them either in real-time or shortly after they were written. In fact, NC and RM felt that editing documents online encouraged them to actually make the changes they intended to recommend to the students. Traditional annotating on paper, on the other hand, would require the students to concentrate and incorporate the suggestions. Further, while Google Docs offers certain powerful collaboration tools, the teachers found the need to manually change font colors – so that students could distinguish their text from teachers’ notes – to be time consuming and frustrating. Lastly, the teachers found that using paper documents passed between the teachers and the students sped up the turn-around time for student work. As our school does not provide 1:1 access to computers for students, the teachers found that their corrections and annotations could go unnoticed for several days.

As a result of attempting the “Create Your Own Country” project with a reliance on technology, NC and RM concluded that future versions of the assignment would allot more time for writing and require fewer paragraphs. 

Educational Technology Integration

A major focus of this term-long technology integration project was to improve my own understanding and practices with regards to educational technology integration. This sub-section highlights my reflections on the integration process.

As vast as a multi-movement symphony, this project-based learning endeavor was extraordinarily complicated. As such, there were numerous steps that relied upon technology tools being properly configured. It was my initial intention to train the teachers on these setups steps, and in some cases we engaged in this training, however more often than not, I observed that there were certain administrative or configuration steps that the teachers simply weren’t interested in. This is an important observation when considering the integration of educational technology and the role of the integration specialist, because the ability to identify those steps that a teacher may not want to perform, and to then remove the responsibility of performing those steps from the teacher, may have significant benefits to the project. Further, it is my opinion that requiring teachers to spend time in the configuration and setup details may confuse or alienate the teacher, risking their continued commitment to the project. It is thus important going forward to understand which steps are not related to a teacher’s learning goals and to ensure the teacher that these steps will be done for them, transparently. Conducting a large-scale technology implementation requires that the conductor, rather than each player, be aware of all instruments.

While teachers may prefer to have certain steps performed for them, there are many steps that can be performed by students that will encourage and foster excitement and learning. Even though the students would create many of their own charts, the excitement for the moment when the data became visual never seemed to fade. This was an excellent reminder of the power of technology to generate excitement. The perception that technology is exciting is an advantage that can be used to bolster learning opportunities, particularly on topics that may not be considered interesting by students. It is important, however, to monitor the degree of excitement generated, as prolonged use of any technology may result in a loss of excitement created by the technology. A balance should be created that leverages the excitement generated without creating a dependence on that excitement to complete or continue work.

A tangent to this concept of technology as an exciting tool fostering learning is that the educational technologist himself may be perceived as an exciting addition to the classroom. After asking me to join the class regularly, RM sent an email in which he wrote: 

        Our kids get to listen to us every day. You are someone different, someone that the kids don't normally interact with. That automatically makes you more interesting. You have a firmer grasp of the technology as well so you speak with authority. (RM, personal communication, February 10, 2013)

This speaks to the power of the educational technologist’s presence in the classroom, as both a new person to be interacted with, and a perceived expert of an exciting field. It is worth considering, however, that the technologist’s newness is likely to fade over time, and this element therefore shouldn’t be relied upon to generate excitement throughout a lengthy project. 

When asked to elaborate further on the request for me to join the class on a daily basis, NC noted that she felt the collaborative teaching team of two teachers and an educational technologist was working extremely well for the final phase of the project. She referred to the practice of Team Teaching as being very useful in this situation. The teachers were able to convey certain ideas more clearly to non-tech-savvy students, while I as the technologist was better able to convey other topics more clearly to tech-savvy students. The teachers both acknowledged that they felt more comfortable in a technology-oriented class knowing that the technologist was immediately available for support purposes.

The teachers involved in this project decided to use items in a Settings menu of the software to influence their grading rubric. This unique and useful idea impressed me, and it occurred to me that an educational technology integration expert should be mindful of these subtle benefits of technology. The software menu layout and items within can be used to assist teachers in creating metrics for grading or assessing work, and even to generate assignments to promote independent thought. By noting the items in a charting menu, such as axes titles and a proper scale, the teachers were reminded of the important elements of a well-made chart. If a project relies upon or uses a technology significantly, the technology itself may contribute to the assessment or direction of the work.

The role of the technology integration specialist includes providing insight into elements beyond technology. Specifically, this includes advising on pedagogic components and/or instruction. On more than one occasion, I made a spur-of-the-moment recommendation to pursue an academic opportunity, such as creating chart of populations by region (North, East, South, West). NC’s response was “Good idea, but what does that teach?” (NC, personal communication, February 5, 2013). NC’s honest retort underlined an important reminder for the technology integrationist: that just because something could be done, does not mean that it should be done. In fact, this is a principle echoed in my literature view, and applicable to all phases of educational technology practices. Technology should be selectively applied to meet educational goals, not technology-use goals.

Though I had attempted to prepare both the students and teachers to deal with predictable problems, inevitably technological issues arose when I was not present, and the teachers were not able to overcome the issues. In situations where one is able to predict potential problems, it behooves the educational technology integration specialist to create documentation or some tangible record that includes a description of the problem and the steps to overcome it. 

Further, the technology specialist should be aware of all facets of the project or lesson, even those that do not directly involve the integrationist. I was not involved in the paragraph-writing phase of the project, which did not proceed as NC and RM had anticipated, and which diminished the sense of overall accomplishment. I am not suggesting that my involvement in the writing process would have assured timely completion, but had I been aware of the problem, perhaps I could have suggested a solution or alternative method, or perhaps our collaborative team working in unison could have devised a resolution. 

The discovery that the collaborative compositional features provided by Google Docs were considered a hindrance was very surprising to me, particularly since similar features were praised in Cycle 1 with NC. It was an important lesson for me as an educational technology specialist to see that a tool may be reliable and preferred in one situation, and nearly dysfunctional in another. The educational technology integration specialist should reconsider the use of each tool, regardless of past successes with that tool. Similarly, the technologist should not disregard a certain tool from future use simply because it was ineffective in a past project.

Constructivist Learning

As the project centered upon students creating a country, the project provided opportunities for me to see constructivist learning in action.

Early on, as children were creating their blank maps that would become templates for use throughout the term, NC and I encouraged the students to think about how their map related to their overall mental image of their country. By posing questions to students that linked seemingly unrelated elements of their country, the students were presented with the opportunity to build an understanding of these relationships. For example, when a student explained that a major source of income for their country was tourism, they were asked to consider how the country’s temperature might affect the tourism industry. 

The students determined their country’s overall population early on the in project work, and later revisited the topic of population during the exercises on population density and population centers. While maintaining their original population, the students considered geographical and mathematical elements to determine the populations of their cities. This activity encouraged student to build the links between theoretical math principles and real life applications. Further, students were able to construct their own understanding of what was considered a plausible city or town population. 

Perhaps the best example of the application on constructivist learning theory in the “Create Your Own Country” project was the students’ writing of paragraphs to explain the maps and charts that they had created. Since the students themselves had generated the maps and charts, there were no external sources available to provide insight or explanation. Therefore, the students had to conceive of and write the text that explained the accompanying graphics. This was an excellent opportunity for the students to construct their own knowledge and understanding of the topics at hand.

Teachable Moments

As had been observed during Cycle 1, simply spending time with teachers and students creates opportunities for teachable moments where I could convey technology skills. Without the collaborative work between the teachers and me, these opportunities would simply not come up. This type of learning (which occurred throughout the duration of the endeavor) was incidental to the main project, but the main project provided the opportunity for NC and RM’s technical skills to improve.

Cycle 3



Introduction

        My action research goal is to find the best methods for helping teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. Specifically, my intention is to focus on direct collaboration with teachers on curricular goals, and to be involved in classroom instruction.

The third cycle of my action research was a collaborative effort between a sixth grade math teacher (referred to as MM), a member of our farm staff (referred to as VE), and myself. The cycle focused on an inter-disciplinary project in which sixth grade students used Google Chromebook laptops to record lamb weights in our barn, and then analyzed and compared the lamb weight data in the classroom. The cycle ran from mid-March 2013 to May 2013. Evidence and artifacts were recorded as notes from project work and discussions with MM. 

  The research question I am exploring with this cycle is: How will collaborative, in-situ, and in-classroom work on a project which takes advantage of the unique resources offered by my school, improve or enhance teaching opportunities, learning opportunities and my abilities as a technology integration specialist?
 
The desired cycle outcomes were that the teacher would perceive the collaborative project as having provided new learning opportunities for their students than a similar project performed without the use of a technology integration specialist and technological tools, and that my own abilities as a integration specialist would improve.

Actions Taken and Desired Outcomes

MM, VE and I collaborated on a project in which laptops were brought into the barn and used by students to capture and record the weights of newborn lambs. Students worked in teams of two or three, alternatively holding the lambs during weighing or recording the weight information in the computer.

MM, VE, or myself had never performed a project of this nature, closely combining math, the farm, and technology. The project came to be as a result of conversations between MM and I, in which I expressed a desire to use Chromebooks in the barn to weigh lambs, and MM expressed a desire to fuse the farm and technology into a unit on measurements.

Actions – Overview

At an overview level, the actions taken throughout the cycle were as follows:

 6 face-to-face meetings with MM
            o Purposes of these meetings:
                 Plan next phases in the project
                 Plan in-class (and in-barn) activities
                 Reflect on progress and suggest changes
 3 trips to the small animal barn with students, MM, VE and the Chromebooks
            o Student groups weighed their lamb
            o Students recorded lamb weights into Google Spreadsheets
 1 class period in which I joined MM and the students
            o Purpose of this class:
                 Students created charts
                 JL showed 4 charts based on the entire class data set
                 Class discussed lamb growth trends
 1 Exit Slip Survey conducted by MM and I and completed by the students
 Technical work
            o Configurations and setup

Though the final deliverable of each student group’s project was a formatted chart expressing their lamb’s growth, an in-depth class discussion between the students, MM, VE, and myself was the ultimate goal for the project.

Desired Outcomes

As this was a relatively short-term project, MM and I created a short list of outcomes:

 To create a fun, simple, cross-disciplinary exercise
 To integrate technology and the farm into a typical math class section (measurements)
 To relate math lessons on measurements to real life applications
 To relate technology skills to real life applications
 To present students with an opportunity to work with other teachers or adults
 To present students with an opportunity to work collaboratively in small groups

Evidence and Analysis

        Each student group successfully weighed their lamb on each visit to the barn, and successfully recorded the lamb weights in Google Spreadsheets on their Chromebooks. By the end of the project, each team had created colorful, clear, and thoughtful charts that visually expressed the data they had collected. Many teams created more than one chart, or restarted the charting process several times until they had created a chart that best matched their vision. Only one class period was necessary for the student teams to create a chart that they were happy with. MM commented that the speed at which charts could be created, customized, and printed was significantly quicker than using graph paper and pencils for charting.

The students responded to a brief Exit Slip Survey at the end of the final class of the project. The two questions on the survey were:

 Do you think learning about recording measurements and charting the results was more fun using computers? Why or Why not?
 How did computers help you learn when recording measurements and charting the results?

Responses to the first question were resoundingly positive, with 90% of students answering “Yes.” Within this group, the most common explanation for learning about measurements and charting as being improved with technology was that using computers in the barn with lambs was “fun.” Other positive responses included the ability to quickly create and customize charts, and general ease and speediness of using computers to store information. The negative respondent preferred to create charts by hand because she could work on and review the chart at any time, without being limited to opportunities when computers were available.

Regarding the second question, pertaining to the ways in which computers helped the students learn when recording measurements and charting the results, a significant number of students mentioned the computer’s ability to support differentiation. 44% of the students’ comments indicated that charting on a computer provided them with the opportunity to create charts that were different from their peers’. Many students also emphasized the importance of being able to visually represent, and quickly modify, their charts. The students used terms such as “visualize,” “see,” and “look” in their comments to highlight the value of visual, computer-based charting work.

Outcomes and Reflections

Educational Technology Integration

This project provided many opportunities to learn about educational technology integration. Possibly the most important lesson concerned the integrationist and teacher roles in technology setup.

MM and I created a template that students would clone and use to record their lamb’s weights. Initially the plan was for MM to go through the cloning process with the students, however we decided at the very last moment (in the barn, moments before the first measurement session began), that I should perform the cloning steps and create the spreadsheets for the students. This method was determined to be the quickest way to ensure that all student groups had the appropriate technology tool for recording lamb weights. This was also the first of several instances in which I began to see the advantages of performing certain technology steps for the teacher.

An interesting factor in this project was the time restraint imposed upon the lamb-weighing process because the ewes became agitated when the lambs were taken away from them. VE made it clear that the lambs could only be separated from their mothers for a brief period of time. During the first in-barn weighing class, one student group member was expected to sign into their Chromebook, load their spreadsheet, and be prepared to enter data while their peer and VE fetched their lamb for weighing. Often, the student would fail to login correctly, or another factor such as mediocre Internet access in the barn, would result in the lamb being ready for weighing before the computers were ready for accepting data. This lack of coordination led to the lambs being away from their mothers, which in turn led to agitated sheep, which in turn led to excited children. The first weighing session, therefore, felt somewhat chaotic and disorganized, and sounded utterly cacophonic. 

Reflecting on the unpredicted computer lags, MM and I decided to reduce tensions during the weighing procedure by signing the students into their accounts in advance of each group’s arrival at the barn. This change required that more computers be brought to the barn, but proved to be a very significant improvement to the flow of work. With a group member already signed into their account, and the spreadsheet ready and waiting for data, the children were able to spend more time accurately weighing and observing their lamb, and talking with VE about lambs and sheep. Using the method of pre-signing students into their accounts and loading appropriate software resulted in weighing sessions that ran much more smoothly in the second and third attempts. Given the number of players in the scene (students, teachers, animals, computers) these latter sessions were far more harmonious than our first attempts.

This scenario is a reminder to the educational technologist to consider all factors of a project. Something as simple as signing into a computer, or operating a digital scale, can become complicated or time consuming when new factors, such as a rarely-used internet connection, or distracting farm animals, are introduced to a project. It behooves the technology integration specialist to carefully understand all elements at play in a project and to attempt to foresee potential problems or disruptions. Further, it is wise for the specialist and his/her partner teachers to review their procedures and maintain an open mind towards modifying those procedures, particularly when sections of a project are going to be repeated several times.

There is an important lesson to be understood when reviewing both the template-cloning and pre-signing in students into their accounts. This is that some of the technology work that needs to be performed during a teacher-technology integration specialist collaboration should be done transparently by the integrationist. In certain cases, there is no immediate advantage to teaching teachers about technology steps that are essential but not directly related to the learning goal. Just as the goal of a piano tuner is to ensure the instrument produces exquisite sounds, if the goal of the technology integrationist is to encourage technology use, it is worthwhile for the integrationist to perform some of the fine-tuning. Neither the teacher nor the concert pianist necessarily needs to be involved in the hardware tweaking. The advantages of this approach are numerous, but the foremost is that teachers can focus on teaching and learning outcomes without worrying about the technology. At the end of the project, the teacher may be more willing or apt to learn about the setup work because they already know of the high quality results that are obtainable.

In short, there is a time and a place in which the technologist should perform work on behalf of the teacher, without necessarily explaining to the teacher what is being performed. Ideally, the teacher will be interested in these elements once they have experienced the tool at work.

Constructivism

During the final class of this project, each student group charted their lambs’ weight data in their own styling. To encourage critical thinking and discussion, I had already charted each group’s data together on one diagram. I had also created other charts, which showed the data for all groups and included as-yet-to-be-discussed topics such as overall lamb weight change and the differences between each weighing.

While projecting these summative charts for the class to see, MM, VE and I encouraged the children to comment on and explain trends illustrated within the charts. These trends included variances in overall weight gain or loss, and variances in weighing-to-weighing gains and losses. The students were encouraged to think about why lambs grow or shrink and to devise their own theories.

By presenting students with data that they had created and charted themselves and then asking them to analyze and make conclusions based on that data, we presented the students with the opportunities to create their own knowledge and understanding about the growth patterns of young sheep. In their contemplation of the data they collected, they determined that many factors, ranging from favoritism from a ewe of one sibling over another, to the time of feedings compared to the time of weight measuring, to the time of waste excretion compared to the time of weight measuring, the students successfully and cleverly built their own knowledge of how lamb weight is developed and measured.

The technology used in this project provided students with an opportunity to build their own visual data representations and then to analyze the representations and construct new knowledge about animal development. Simultaneously, of course, the students furthered their understanding of real-life applications of technology and math, and MM’s sixth grade measurements lesson was concluded successfully in a refreshing and original manner.

Final reflections on my Action Research and these cycles can be found here.