Monday, February 6, 2012

Rise to the Challenge!

Clip art (c) Microsoft. Used by permission.
I wasn't sure if they could do it, and furthermore, I was afraid the teachers might laugh at me. "You expect four year olds to do WHAT?" I imagined them saying. Finally, I bit the bullet and tried the computer lab lesson I had been thinking about with my Pre-K classes. It took at least 3 adults to make it work during each class session.  We were running around like crazy the whole time, but you know what? They did it!

You're probably wondering what the big lesson was all about, and I'll elaborate on that in a moment. That's not the point of this article. The point is that I tried something that I knew would be challenging for my students. I tried it even though I wasn't sure if we would fail. The results-- student engagement, student learning, and all of us adults getting to see what the students could do--were worth all of the doubts and fears. 

What I'm trying to tell you is to push your students, and yourself, a bit beyond your comfort zone. That zone where you're running around like crazy supporting the students and they are doing things they've never done before, that's the learning zone. In college they called it scaffolding. It is easier when my students are doing something they can do independently--both for them and for me--but they aren't learning at the same level. So push your kids, and more importantly, yourself!

One caveat: Don't be the stage mom who pushes her kids to the brink. During my lesson, no one was crying or having a nervous breakdown. I wasn't asking them to do something that was developmentally inappropriate. I just had a nagging doubt in my mind about whether it was just a little bit too hard. That's the sweet zone.

So what was the lesson? Last year I attended two different educational technology conferences where I saw Glogster EDU in action. I was intrigued by the easy controls and the engaging design and media. I was afraid whether it would be too much for non-reading four year olds to manage: too many steps, too many buttons, and most importantly, what would they report on when they couldn't read to do research? I finally settled on having students make a glog about the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, our school's unofficial mascot. This coincided with our monthly curriculum theme of insects and life cycles. I walked students through the process of making a glog by helping them create a class glog together at the interactive whiteboard, then set them loose creating their own with partners. As it turned out, they didn't need to work with buddies and actually resented having to share the activity! Not all of the students finished their glogs in the 3 class sessions that we worked on it, and I didn't end up publishing them on the school website as I had planned, but that truly didn't matter because of the learning that went on!

I'll post a full lesson plan at a later time along with my reflections about how it went and links to some of the glogs they created. Just this week I found myself once again pushing students beyond my own doubts, and it was a great success! I'll have to tell you about that one another time!

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