Teachers’ Domain Equals High Quality Digital Media for Teaching

I watched Nature’s The Loneliest Animals over the weekend about the plight of endangered species.  My first thought was that educators have a tremendous responsibility to teach today’s students about the facts concerning loss of habitat and the importance of biodiversity.

I’ve been collaborating with several Ferryway 4th grade teachers on a project-based unit designed to lead students through a set of inquiry-based activities on animals and biomes.  The goal is to build higher order thinking skills in our students as they learn about the link between habitats and animal life.  According to our state (MA) curriculum science standards, students in grades 3-5 record details of the life cycles of plants and animals, and explore how organisms are adapted to their habitats.  In 5th grade, students are assessed on their understanding during the MCAS science exam.  OK wait a minute, you mean students take the high stakes science exam a full year after receiving the instruction.  YES!!!  In fact, an analysis of the questions on the MCAS science exam shows that between 10-15% of the exam deals primarily with animals and their biomes.  Additionally, 1 of the 5 open-response questions usually requires a deep understanding of animals and biomes.  To differentiate our instruction and increase the likelihood of student retention we have incorporated new digital media into our biome lessons.  Where can teachers find good digital media assets that aren’t completely off limits due to strict licensing terms?

Screen shot of Teachers\' Domain Animal Classification Game Resource

An excellent, free source for high quality digital media is provided by Teachers’ Domain. Teacher’s Domain (TD) is hosted and maintained by WGBH Boston.  One terrific aspect of the site is the ability to download videos, audio clips, and Flash interactives to your desktop.   In most cases, teachers and students are granted permission to download, share and remix these digital media assets.  I downloaded and integrated a 2 minute QuickTime on Nihoa Island as part of vocabulary lesson (PDF 763KB) using a student response system.  Students watched the clip and were asked which vocabulary words best described the movie.  I think you are beginning to see how useful this can be for teachers.  The interactive Animal Classification Game created in Flash fits perfectly with the goals and objectives of our biome unit.  Students are presented with animals that they must classify as mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian or insect. I also appreciate the citation function that makes it easy to copy and paste the correct reference to the TD resources.

Search Teachers’ Domain before you try to create your own interactives or videos.  Register for a free account to gain access to hundreds of digital media assets.  Let me know what you find and how you used it in a lesson.

Instructional Changes with a Student Response System

Return the lost vertebrates with a SRSThink of how many times you have given PowerPoint presentations and had to stop to ask the audience if they understood what you were presenting.  Maybe you just trudged through the presentation just to finish in time to beat the clock.  What if you could capture the audiences thoughts and understanding?  Would it change the way you present?  Would your students connect with your content?

Student Response Systems (SRS) have made a major push into the educational world in the last year.  Last year at NECC 2007, I had the opportunity to test drive a few of these systems on the exhibit floor.   A SRS consists of a set of remotes that wirelessly communicate with a receiver attached to a computer and projector.    Coincendentally, I was involved in writing a Technology Enhancement grant proposal to the Massachusetts Department of Education focused on 1-to-1 laptop computing.  One grant outcome was to evaluate changes in student use of classroom technology and whether it would aid in the acquistion of content knowledge.  We decided that a SRS would be a useful tool for assessment.   We chose the Qwizdom system with Q4 student remotes and the Q5 teacher remote.  The system uses Radio Frequency (RF) technology to transmit meaning that you don’t have to be in the line-of-sight of the receiver.

Poster Q&A sharing student resultsTeachers participating in our Laptops in American History grant experimented with the Qwizdom SRS in a high school history classroom.   In preparing the PowerPoint presentations, teachers had to consider the effect of asking questions that probe student background knowledge to ones illiciting student opinions about an image.  The analysis of political cartoons and posters from the World War II era became a highly interactive and assessment rich lesson due to the SRS.  Every student’s response was recorded and displayed with summary graphs on the computer projector.  One especially powerful teacher outcome was the ability to assess student understanding of isolationism versus interventionism during the lesson.   The teacher was surprised that students had not mastered the distinction between the two concepts and choose to review the concepts at the start of the next day’s lesson.

What biome do I live in? Poison Dart frogAnother group of elementary teachers used the SRS to teach a new grade 4 science unit on biomes.  Students enthusiatically embraced the SRS and teachers were excited by the increase in student engagement.  In order to drive home the student inquiry nature of the biome unit, it was critical to capture student misconceptions about the world’s land biomes such as where they are located and their climatography.  The SRS enabled teachers to visualize these misconceptions and encouraged students to discuss their written observations.  Students also learned to use observational skills to predict which biome an unknown animal belonged to based on the their physical appearance.  Which biome do you think the red frog to right calls home?  If you said, Rainforest, you are as smart as a fourth grader.  Teachers were so impressed with the ability of the SRS to support student-centered instruction that they applied for a Qwizdom Educational Grant.  Good Luck!