As a 21st century educator, I look for methods in which to scaffold student learning in ways that are relevant and engaging to my learners. A significant factor in student learning, because “today we live in the presence of a generation of kids who have known no time untouched by the promises and pitfalls of digital technology” (Sale, Torres, Wolozin, Rufo-Teper & Shapiro, 2011, p. 29), is the appropriate integration of technology to facilitate learning.
Teaching grade 7 humanities for the first time in ten years, not only has the curriculum changed, but the way in which students learn has drastically shifted. When review current literature, it is apparent that the learning sciences field has made significant scientific contributions to the nature of learning, characterizing learning as context-based processes mediated by social experiences and technological tools (Lave 1990; Sale, et al., 2011; Sawyer 2006). This learning theory differs from current cognitive theoretical views; views that attempt to answer how and why people learn by attributing the process to cognitive activity.
Using a learning theories approach, I constructed a multi-task, scaffolding assignment for my grade 7 students to meet the essential learning outcome of identifying and explaining daily life in New France.
First, students were tasked with an in-class activity that focused on skill building in the ELA strands of viewing and representing. For this task, students were presented with selected images depicting New France and instructed to, by using the guiding questions listed below, write down their observations about New France on the whiteboards in 5 Points.
- What do they tell you about the place France was trying to create?
- What ambitions do these images convey?
- What attitudes do they convey?
- What kinds of people does the images depict?
- Does the image have a message about these people?
Following this, as a class, we looked at the predominant challenges of settlement, including examining graphs that looked at weather an climate factors.
Other factors included lack of resources, tough terrain, hostile relationships with First Nations groups, and few women to grow populations.
In our next class, students were provided with two readings that introduced and explained the seigneurial system. To demonstrate comprehension, students were then tasked to illustrate on a blank sheet of paper what they thought the seigneurial system looked like. In the following class, we shared these with one another and discussed why we took the perspective we had. This was done with a partner.
Finally, the final learning task was unveiled. Using Google Earth, I showed students what a “bird’s eye view” and a “street view” of maps look like. From here, using the bird’s eye view, students finally saw what the seigneurial system looked like – if they hadn’t already Googled it!
The learning task was then explained:
Your task is to create a historically accurate rendering on the New France seigneurial system. You will be assessed according to the following criteria:
- Historical Accuracy
- Attention to Detail/Design of Information
- Visual Communication
Students were then shown the following exemplars, and told they could chose any format they wish, such as Lego, plasticine, poster, diorama, Minecraft or Google Sketch-Up:
Well, teachers know when they “nail” the options choice because the students immediately formed their croups and began designing their task. In fact, they were so engaged that, at the end of class, they wanted to “vote” on who they felt had sketched the best layout.
Students were given two class periods, with he explanation that representing their understanding on an 11X17 sheet of paper was just as effective as completing a Lego model or Minecraft landscape.
The end result was amazing – so much so, that I had the highest completion rate on a project thus far this year, and the self-evaluation loop demonstrated students understood how to provide themselves with valuable reflection on how to improve in the future. In regards to Minecraft, three students – who are quite quiet – were asked to record a video of their landscape and present this to the entire school at our semi-annual “Celebration of Learning”. To put this in perspective, there are 825 students at our school! Because they did not have a video recording feature on their mobile device, we projected their Minecraft onto a SMART Board and then used an iPad to record the landscape.
Their video is below:
Overall, I will be keeping this learning task for following years. By creating an activity that included context-based processes, and mediated by social experiences and technological tools, I saw an increase in completion rates, student engagement and connection to learning. Students took more pride in their work due to student choices that met their interests – the Lego was amazing, I wish I had taken a photo – and access to the technological tools they desired.
Lave, J. 1990. “The Culture of Acquisition and Practice of Understand- ing.” In Situated Cognition: Social, Semiotic, and Psychological Perspectives, ed. D. Kirshner and J. A. Whitson, 17–36. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Salen, K., Torres, R., Wolozin, L. Rufo-Tepper, R. and Shapiro, A. (2011). Question to learn: Developing a school for digital kids. Massachusetts: The MIT Press
Sawyer, R. K. 2006. “Introduction: The New Science of Learning.” In The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, ed. R. K. Sawyer, 1–18. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.