Editor’s note: Principal Matt Renwick has been sharing weekly reflections about an afternoon computer club he and a teacher are sponsoring as an enrichment activity. This is his summative entry. Also see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7.

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Avi-cvr-180“I am glad I was helpful,” said Edward. “Though, most of all, I am pleased by the way your adventures allowed our friendship to begin. But now that’s done.”

Avon grew alarmed. “Edward, are you suggesting that our friendship is ending?”

“I rather think,” said the ant, “it’s just the end of the beginning.”

– from The End of the Beginning: Being the Adventures of a Small Snail (and an Even Smaller Ant) by Avi (Harcourt, 2004)

This quote, from a popular children’s book, nicely sums up our experience with our afterschool computer club. The students (Gr 3-5) told us that they wished we could continue the club through the rest of the year. School staff have also expressed interest in pursuing resources to support more enrichment clubs like this for the future.

As stated in a previous post, we have more questions than answers, after letting 40 students loose with iPads and iMacs to explore Minecraft, Edmodo, and other digital games and tools. We observed what they were passionate about, tried to tie these interests into substantial projects, and then guide them toward meaningful learning. There were lots of successes. At the same time, there was much potential left unrealized.

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What students had to say

To explore passion-based learning further, there are grants out there that need to be pursued. They require evidence of our experiences beyond my simple reflections. With that, we asked the students to respond and reflect to a few open-ended prompts we provided.

I liked…

  • “using the computers and hanging out with friends.”
  • “drawing.”
  • “meeting everyone!”
  • “making a friend (Emily), Minecraft, and enjoying myself.”
  • “that we got to play on the computers and iPads and that we got to pick what we wanted to do.”

What if…

  • “we went outside?”
  • “we could have a website where we could all talk to each other on the computer seeing everyone’s face?”
  • “we had more technology in computer club?”
  • “we had a ice cream party?”
  • “we had enough iPads for everyone to play on so we would not argue?”

I am still wondering…

  • “about how to get a lot of apps on (Google) drive.”
  • “how to create a game or a game website.”
  • “if I could create a Wixie account.”
  • “if we can still have our Edmodo account. Maybe over the summer?”

While I appreciated all their comments, I found the students’ questions to be the most powerful. Their inquiries show that they are focused on the future and what’s possible. The students weren’t worried about making mistakes, but about the growing as learners.

Thoughts from my fellow teacher

In addition to our students’ input, I asked my co-teacher Renee to respond to a few prompts, adopted from Beverly Falk’s and Megan Blumenreich’s resource The Power of Questions: A Guide to Teacher and Student Research (Heinemann, 2005):

1. How have your understandings of your students as learners changed?

My experience with the afterschool computer club both reinforced what I knew about children and enlightened me about what children are capable of. I was not surprised to see kids excited about using technology.

Matt-03-280A big draw for the kids was that they were able to have some freedom in their choices.  As educators we know choice is powerful, but what did surprise me were many of the choices being made by certain children. Some students I thought would love Minecraft chose to be on the computer exploring other sites. Then there were many students very involved in Minecraft in a way that surprised me.

Some students really embraced our group communications using Edmodo, to a degree that I would never have expected, where they were sharing links, etc. Others only went on Edmodo if we required a response to something. It surprised me that some students seemed to tire of the technology by the end – although they were not allowed to use iPads anymore so this may have influenced this. Regardless, what pleased me is these students found a way to use other technology to do something they did enjoy, which was create music videos of themselves singing.

Although I always try to not underestimate what children can do, I found myself surprised at the initiative, creativity, and skill of so many of these kids. There were students making their own teaching videos online. When one site wouldn’t let a student make any more videos for free, this student researched other options, sharing his findings and critiques with the whole group. The things some students were achieving at their young ages (grades 3-5) were amazing and eye opening for me.

Ultimately, I’ve always known that students will pick up on technology way faster than most adults. So as a teacher, I can’t afford to wait until I know something perfectly before I allow the students to have a go at it. It’s a learning process for all of us, and we learn best by doing. I think students need the chance to explore and experiment with different technologies.

2. What have you learned about yourself as a learner and how will this impact your future teaching?

It is hard for me to allow students to use technology I’m not fully versed in. As a teacher I have that sense that I’m supposed to know and understand everything we are doing and using. That is not possible with technology. I’ve had to learn to embrace the journey right along with the students.  They see me struggle and search out answers and solutions right with them. Much of what I learn, I learn from them. Although I started out quite uncomfortable with this process, I’ve learned to embrace it and I see the benefits of it.

3. How might what you have you learned in this club be helpful to others – teachers, administrators, families, your community, the profession at large?

Profile2-sqI feel a lot of teachers and parents resist technology because we feel inadequate compared to the children’s skill levels. In an attempt to make (these adults) feel more comfortable, I share my experiences with them and encourage them to embrace the learning process together.

Many of the students did things in this computer club time that blew me away. I’d love to try to figure out a way to use this time and their technology skills to do some sort of service learning project to benefit our community. I’m not sure what that would look like yet, but I know we could come up with something awesome, especially if we include the children in the decision making process.

Next year

This was a deep learning experience for us all. Renee and I have already discussed how this could look next year to make it even better. Our fingers are crossed that the grants we submitted will come through.

Until next time!

 

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Matt Renwick

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