Making the Connection: Pioneers of the “New World” and “Digital World”

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Fifth grade students are getting ready to read the book “Jamestown” by Gail Garwoski.

A stirring story of survival set against the backdrop of the founding of the first permanent English settlement in the New World.
In 1606, King James I granted a charter to a group of London businessmen known as the Virginia Company to establish an English settlement in North America. In 1607, 104 men set sail aboard three tiny ships on a voyage to a new land. What they found became the first permanent English settlement in the New World-Jamestown.
Among the brave adventurers who made the journey was a young boy named Samuel Collier, the page of famed Captain John Smith.

How could we move away from assigning the traditional reading of the book (chapter by chapter), then writing a book report and possibly give an oral presentation in front of the class? How could we tie the lessons, delivery, supported skills and objectives NOT only to curriculum, but also to our Learning Target (based on and adapted from www.galileo.org )

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We are looking to move towards competency in five categories:

  • Learning Environment
    • Learning is engaging
    • Students are self-directed
    • physical environment conducive to learning
    • resources meet learning needs
    • learning is social and interconnected
  • Assessment
    • comprehensive
    • using a variety of techniques and resources
    • authentic learning experience designed, developed and evaluated
    • criteria are established for assessment
  • Role of Teacher
    • teacher as a learner
    • teachers as a cognitive coach and guide
    • teacher has strong instructional repertoire
  • Amplification
    • classroom is open & public
    • Teacher actively connects to larger global audience
  • Task
    • authentic
    • produces deep meaning

With that in mind, we had a brainstorming session with our 10 year olds. What did they know about the early settlers? What did they want to know?

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What do we know?

We started with the traditional KWL concept and upgraded to KWHLAQ.

Could we compare pioneers and explorers who came to the Americas, the “New World” (with respect to the population who called these lands home and “their world” for thousands of years before the European came to “discover” it) and the “Digital World”. What were dangers for the early settlers? What are dangers for cyber citizens? Were there double standards for the old and new world? Are there double standards for the analog vs digital world?

By now, students are pretty independent in creating collaborative Google Docs to share with teachers and  their classmates to take notes. The concept of the Official Scribe from Alan November’s Digital Learning Farm is embedded and works naturally for our students.

Below is the screenshot of the initial brainstorming session.

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In our shared Google Doc, we gave students a prompt to expressed their initial thoughts about being an explorer in the Digital World and how it compared to being one in 1600s in Jamestown.
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We were not sure, if all student understood. 5th grade teacher, Shelly Zavon, wrote a reflection after our first meeting with the students. I especially like her blunt honesty,  that NOT EVERYTHING, not every class or lesson goes as planned nor well. We had to go back to the drawing board, we need to keep meeting every week to debrief after a lesson and tweak for future ones

I am hoping that the Jamestown project will come together soon. The idea is good; I just need to find a way to help the students dig deeper and start thinking on a higher level. For some reason, the students don’t like to be challenged to go to the next level. They want to do everything quickly and get to the fun part, which hopefully in this case will result in a music video.
With both of these projects, the students have had to move to a more advanced level of critical thinking (and accountability). I know this has been good for them, but is has been a grueling process for us teachers. I keep thinking, “learning is messy” and as Dory said in Finding Nemo, “Keep on swimming, swimming, swimming.”

How can we make the learning about Jamestown authentic? How do we connect the learning of the past and make it relevant to their present and future?

It just happened that Google Glass shared a new video with the request for applications to becoming a GOOGLE EXPLORER!

GoogleGlass-explorer

Two ideas came to mind:

  1. What if we were to ask our students to create a video with the same requirements as above (minus the last three points) to apply to become an Explorer , not for Google Glass, but for Jamestown. What would you do to become an explorer and leave for Jamestown?
  2. What if we were to ask our students to time travel with a device like Google Glass and take a video or pictures and they narrate/document what they are witnessing.

It really is about imagination. Can we crowdsource imagination? Did this topic spark an idea for you? How could we help our students dig deeper? How do we make it authentic for them? Please take a moment to not only read this post, but to contribute to all of our learning. Thank you in advance.