This post follows a series of posts that relate to a COETAIL Course 5 final project. It follows the journey of a "Sharing the planet" unit of inquiry and how COETAIL course learning has been injected into it. You can read the other posts related to this journey here.
Getting into Personally Meaningful Inquiries
Up until now, students have been discovering what climate change is about and some of its causes. The connection with the Grade 12 CAS students, described in my last blog post, really helped with that. The older students even touched briefly on what humans are doing to show action or take responsibility, which was the deeper portion of the second line of inquiry.
Now that students has some lead in and exposure to content knowledge relating to our lines of inquiry, it was time for them to dive deeper into an area of climate change that they could further hone their research and thinking skills (i.e. the Approaches to learning).
COETAIL course three had a big focus on visual communication and collaboration; it really helped me further craft my design and visual communication skills. Since a premise of COETAIL Course Five is about embedding learning authentically into your context, it got my thinking about how to improve the visual access and communication for teachers, students and parents. An area from last year's unit that needed some love in particular was simplifying and synthesizing the media that students would use for their research.
To start my pitch to the grade four teaching team, I created this visual (which we would also use with the students), as to the next direction for the unit.
Essentially, students would choose and become mini-experts within one of these five areas. Teachers would take the lead in one area, then collate or synthesizing some kid friendly research media. In addition, the teacher facilitators for each domain would model research skills and create exemplars to help scaffold the skills needed in order for the students to create the explanation text brochures that was part of the summative task of this unit.
The team liked the idea and we got students to choose their area of interest.
As teachers, we carved out several collaborative blocks during a two week time period where kids went to their "topic" teacher. In these sessions, teachers modeled research of a mini-topic within that domain (e.g. concrete for materials) to serve as exemplars.
Simultaneously throughout this unit, our literacy classes complimented this inquiry by looking at text and language features of explanation texts, skimming and scanning skills, note-taking, co-creating success criteria and more.
A big change from last year, and something COETAIL further helped hone in on this craft, was thinking of more effective ways to embed technology into teaching and learning. The context in which this unit was taught last year was different - it was taught face-to-face. However, this unit was taught in an online context. As a team, we decided that we would add all of our "expert" media housed into one Padlet. Regardless of teaching context, this offered several advantages from last year. First, other teachers could benchmark from one another and be inspired more transparently about what other expert groups were doing. Secondly, students could access the information asynchronously and also access it during homeroom time. Third, homeroom teachers could better support all of their homeroom students working on various topics because all the information was in one place.
In sum, all of this allowed for greater visibility, improved support, access to modeling notes, and more kid-friendly research resources from last year.
Connecting further with experts
COETAIL does a fantastic job of integrating the ISTE standards into course content knowledge. Being an ISTE certified educator already coming into the course, I loved how COETAIL gave me further opportunities to refine my application and understanding of the standards.
One of my passions as an educator is connecting kids with experts beyond their four walls. This aligns nicely with the ISTE Standards for Educators 2.4c.
I knew there was so much potential to reach out to "expert" members in our community on this topic, so I started reaching out to several contacts that I knew had a great fit.
Sadly, timing wasn't our friend, and, after exhausting those resources, I knew I had to draw on my other connections.
Yet another key learning experience in COETAIL is teaching us the power of staying "CONNECTED" as an educator. For me, one of my favorite tools for this, particularly in a time where face-to-face learning conferences are almost non-existent, is Twitter. This medium, through use of various educational hashtags like #COETAIL and #PYPchat, is such an amazing resource to learn and connect with others around the globe.
Undoubtedly, within a few hours of a carefully crafted Tweet, one member of my professional learning network (PLN), a former colleague and mentor, was able to connect me with an expert suited to our needs!
After reaching out to the contact provided, we were able to connect and align a time for all of our students to learn from an expert local food company. It was a great fit because the vertical organic farming model touched on almost all of the five "expert" areas that the students were inquiring into. The experience led to so many great wonderings and it really opened their eyes to meaningful change that was happening in their host nation around sustainable farming and more.
In my next post I'll discuss how the unit draws to a close. More specifically, how we, as teachers, inspired the student "experts" to share and learn from one another, along with providing a place to publish their explanation brochures!