Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tools to Support Project-Based Learning

If you've read my previous post, Surprise! We're Learning About Dinosaurs!, you'd understand how suddenly project-based learning opportunities can sneak up on you in the early years classroom. Since I wasn't expecting the dinosaur craze to hit today, I went with my go-to strategy--turn it back on the kids, brainstorm a list of what they know already, what they want to find out about the topic/what they can do to help, and how they can get the information they need. It worked well today, and in less than 90 minutes we accessed the school and classroom libraries, Brain Pop Junior, and composed a blog post that tracked our learning. Not bad for being caught off guard by a passel of passionate learners!

Every time I engage in a new learning project, I like to stretch myself as a teacher by bringing in one or two new tools to support the learning in the classroom. What am I thinking for our new dinosaurs project? Here's a few things I'm hoping to use...some tried, true, and tested, others brand new that I'd like to incorporate into my kindergarten program!

Skype in the Classroom is just one of those tools I can't get over. Skype is my go-to for just about everything. I plan to use this great site to connect with another class learning about dinosaurs and/or access a guest speaker--a paleontologist would be absolutely amazing. Or a Skype tour of Royal Tyrell Museum in Alberta would be terrific!
Popplet is a collaborative mindmapping tool that is web-based and available as an app. I heard about it this summer on Twitter as I follow #kinderchat. I think that Popplet will be the perfect tool for tracking, showing relationships among, and sharing our learning. I plan to start with using Popplet on our interactive whiteboard, then download the app to the mobile devices in our classroom. Check out this great interview with Kinder Chat co-founder Heidi Echternacht on the uses of Popplet in kindergarten. 

Microsoft Auto Collage: the pictures are where we're at in kindergarten, and already we've already spent many minutes pouring over gorgeous full-colour images of dinosaurs in many print resources. The students' fascination with pictures of dinosaurs provides a rich opportunity to model ethical and responsible use of images. We'll have a brief lesson about whose pictures we can use and visit Creative Commons together. As a class, we'll search for and download a few dinosaur pictures. Students usually lose interest pretty quickly in this process, so we'll do some together and I usually seek out the rest on my own. Once we have a bank of dinosaur pictures, we'll use Microsoft Auto Collage to create our own dinosaur collages to showcase our learning--students will generate their own topics, but I anticipate collages showing meat eaters, plant eaters, etc. This will also be a great time to teach students about the importance of generating their own images--by molding dinosaurs out of clay and photographing, drawing/painting dinosaurs and photographing, or using an app such as Draw and Tell or even good old Microsoft Paint! Auto Collage is available at Partners in Learning Network, so be sure to join for access to many free resources and a worldwide community of educators!

 As always, we'll share our learning and seek out collaborative partners through social media. We try to tweet regularly as @olcskinders and we post daily on our classroom Facebook page (it's a secret group). Read these past posts to learn more about how I use social media in kindergarten! Tips and Tricks for Tweeting in Kindergarten  The New Face of Parent Engagement

And who knows what directions we'll take next week as we continue to learn about dinosaurs. Our first priority will be to read dinosaurs books and keep track of important facts as we learn to use Popplet. As with all project-based learning in kindergarten, it's the students who are driving the bus! I'm just keeping it safe, purposeful, and pointed in the right direction!

Surprise! We're Learning About Dinosaurs!

My boys and girls came in from recess, engaged in a very serious debate. How did the dinosaurs die? Could I please “esplain” it to them because everyone had different ideas. 15 minutes ago, no one had cared about dinosaurs so I was kind of surprised. But I gathered the boys and girls on the carpet and asked them to tell me all the different ideas they had been discussing. Most of their thoughts focused around the Ice Age and too much ice and snow for the dinosaurs to live.

Their enthusiasm was contagious, so I made the decision that my perfectly planned lesson on pumpkins and their life cycle could wait for another day! I began by asking them where we could go to learn more about dinosaurs and answer our questions. They suggested the computer, YouTube, and Brain Pop. One student said we should ask the older kids in our school because they might know. A little boy said we should look in books. So as a starting point, we went to the library and chose about 20 books that looked just right for a kindergarten classroom. Next, we started on a KWL
What do we know about dinosaurs?
-t-rex dinosaurs eat meat
-some dinosaurs were plant eaters
-some dinosaurs were meat eaters
-some dinosaurs lived in the water and some lived on land
-some scientists think a big meteor hitted the earth and killed some dinosaurs. Some scientists think the dinosaurs died with a big snowstorm and then  it was really icy.
-some dinosaurs killed other dinosaurs
-dinosaurs are extinct
-some dinosaurs bite themselves
-triceratops was a kind of dinosaur
-pteranodons ate fish

What would we like to know about dinosaurs?
What are the names of some dinosaurs?
What did dinosaurs eat?
What kind of plants did dinosaurs?
Were there dinosaurs in Manitoba? What kind of dinosaurs lived in Canada?

We were so excited to explore the new books!