Imagining What's Possible

I told my sixth graders on the first day back after the holiday, that our chemistry unit would focus on one problem- how to create potable water. I showed them some videos attesting to this real-world problem and also how this is a UN millenium development goal as well. We browsed some solutions online such as the "life straw" which is good, but not affordable to those who most need it. There are not many videos online that instruct people how to create a distillation apparatus but most involve expensive chemistry equipment.

I want education to be meaningful. I want what the students learn to connect to possible solutions to real issues that we face. Am I too optimistic in thinking that middle schoolers might actually pose ideas in the hopes of inspiring them later? Perhaps. But most of the research that I've read on student engagement, say that it starts with purposeful tasks that are relevant. Although my students are engineering a device, the integration of technology has got me thinking.

Image courtesy of CC
This is my favorite version of the SAMR model because it outlines what the different levels of how technology can reinvent learning. Take the example of Alex Gunther who used minecraft to build virtual worlds to re-enact renaissance scenes for social studies; a task which was definitely inconceivable. Or Sean Thompson who, as an ICT director has helped others modify tasks such as creating content for accessibility or augmenting pedagogy with the flipped classroom model. SAMR has many different levels and I think that familiarising ones self with them leads to a better understanding of where technology might help instruction. If I had to summarize my one minute elevator pitch about this project, it would be this:

"How can we engineer a low-cost distillation apparatus that can purify water for those who most need it?"

After building these, we want to be able to do convey the procedure which is difficult to do without visual aids. The tech I play to be using for this is an app (Snapguide) that will transform our scientific procedure of being able to teach others how to replicate our results through subtitled slides and videos. Here are my standards:

A. Advances in technology can expand the body of scientific knowledge. Technological tools allow people to observe objects and phenomena that otherwise would not be possible. Technology enhances the quality, accuracy, speed and analysis of data gathered.
Level: Important

Communicate scientific procedures, data, and explanations to enable the replication of results. Use computer technology to assist in communicating these results. Critical review is important in the analysis of these results.
Level: Important

To be able to convey procedures using video intermeshed with written descriptions is, I think "modification" because video has been around for decades and subtitles are nothing new. 

I'll finish with the above video as being an inspiration to all educators. For starters, it's close to home as it takes place in the Twin Cities where I grew up, but it also shows how spaces have been designed to allow for collaborative spaces and also spaces where individuals just need to work without any distractions. Being able to paint and decorate the environment makes it more personalised as well. The downside, is that it's obviously not cheap. Although the costs weren't disclosed, the lines of IMacs and suggest that this may not be a possibility for schools in low tax-generating districts. Seeing Randall Fielding dance with his students at one of their music productions is one of those "moments" that all teachers hope for, and so few find.

Still, I think by imagining such spaces with such real-world tasks, we can start to reimagine what is possible within our students, their learning products and how we teach.

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