How to create a collaborative learning environment with technology
**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**
A guest post by Meghan Zigmund
After two years of having iPads in our first grade classroom, I’ve found a few strategies that work to set up a successful and collaborative learning environment. We use our set of iPads to connect, create, share, and much more. However, without a few expectations and procedures our room would be chaos! So here are a few strategies for successful collaboration that can be applied to just about any technology in your classroom.
1 – Visual Expectations
We use Popplet to set up expectations for iPad procedures. Students generate the expectations, with some teacher guidance to make sure a few key issues are included. Students usually end up thinking of things that I haven’t even considered! Next, we take pictures to represent each expectation, and add them to a web in Popplet. This is usually done on one iPad, displayed through an Apple TV so everyone can see what we’re creating. Then, we print it out and post it around the room. The student’s love seeing themselves, and the visual reminders are really effective. Having these expectations makes creating and collaborating together much smoother.
2 – Time to Explore
Our students arrive with all different types of experiences and ability levels for all subjects, including technology. However, there is no need to “teach” students the ins and outs of every app you want them to use all year. Don’t be afraid to just let them discover and explore, especially together. Demonstrate and app or two, show them something you think they’ll be excited about, or better yet, let a student demonstrate what they know. Then give them some time on their own to just play. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of time, but you’d be amazed at what they discover. You don’t even have to have a device for each student. Let them share and learn from each other.
Students are naturally going to take some time to explore anyway, why not give them some time upfront? They’ll end up being more productive and creative in the end. Time to explore is one of the most powerful strategies I use all year. Be sure you also include time to share their experiences after exploration. It’s well worth it!
3 – Community of Experts
Teachers can’t be the only expert anymore. We must foster a community of experts in our classrooms. Doing this helps students to feel empowered, and encourages ownership in learning. Who doesn’t want to feel like an expert at something? As students explore and discover we add their name and skill to our “Expert List”. If you’re looking for someone to help you record in ChatterPix, edit your photo, or find just the right image in Haiku Deck, then we have an expert for you! No need to ask the teacher, just check out who can help.
We do, however, enforce the rule above. Even though a student might be getting some help, I still want them experiencing the process and learning.
4 – Tweets
Oh, the amazing power of Twitter. If you don’t have a class account yet, get one A.S.A.P. Besides the amazing power to connect, learn and collaborate with others around the globe, Twitter encourages our class to work together. When we post class Tweets, everyone works together to decide what to post, helps edit, and feels ownership in what we’ve shared. There is almost always a discussion about what we want to share, and why.
To help my young learners become ready to Tweet their projects and thinking, we”ll start our year off having a “Tweeter of the Day” so that students gain experience and guide each other on what it means to Tweet and be a responsible, respectful citizen. We’ll collaborate on a set of visual rules to help, and learn to work together as a community in the process.
I’m so excited to begin building a new collaborative community of learners in just a few short weeks. What steps will you take to foster a collaborative learning environment this year?
Meghan is a first grade teacher with a passion for inspiring student creativity and deepening their thinking through technology. She loves learning and creating with her students and hopes to inspire others to do the same.