I teach K through 8 students on a daily basis in “Technology Class”. Often the students are eager to come to class and work on our current project. Despite their ubiquity, students are still naturally excited by the novelty of computers and the possibilities they open up. With this in mind I have come to expect a certain level of engagement.
Today though I was pleasantly surprised by one of those classes that just clicked. The Fourth Grade arrived, folders in hand. I thought back to my lesson plans and wondered why they had folders and what I had forgotten. I was lost. After asking a few students I was told, “The teacher said to bring our data so that we could make our pie charts.”
“Ah, yes. That.”
This is not what I had planned. I thought what a disaster it would be to teach 4th graders spreadsheets and graphing on the fly. Each student had different data, I was unprepared, and we had used Numbers (Excel for the Mac) only once before.
Using the classroom project I quickly showed the students how to set up their columns and enter their data.
This is when it started clicking.
I went around to the few students who finished quickly and showed them, once, how to make their data into a pie chart. “Now you go and show others.”
Those few did exactly that and within a short while the class had awesome pie charts depicting responses to their own surveys.
A few students figured out how to change the colors on their charts (making the % of “Root Beer” responses brown for example) and pretty soon this was spreading through with students showing students instead of teacher telling students. Every student wanted a cool looking chart of her/his own.
During the entire class the students were engaged and actively helping each other. I was pleased (and relieved). But this makes me wonder, how can we as educators reproduce this? I am sure that using computers adds to enthusiasm but I know that doesn’t account for everything.
It’s important to recreate these authentic learning experiences and to make learning important skills fun. But how? What do you think?