Course 1 Final Project

Course one has come to a close, and though it’s a little late, I’m finally getting my final project posted. Thus far COETAIL has energized my teaching and provided several new ideas that I’ve already tried with my students, so I’ve created a unit plan that will help my students go further with what they already know (and try a few new things as well).

We use the IB PYP planners at my school, but this time I’ve attempted to use the understanding by design format. I’m not completely comfortable with this planner yet, so I will try to explain as much as possible in this blog post.

My third grade class is starting a new unit of inquiry on plants. Specifically, they will look into plant diversity, human and plant connectedness, and conservation and sustainability. For the PYP fans out there, this is part of the “Sharing the Planet” trans-disciplinary theme.

Throughout the unit, my students will employ a variety of familiar and new technology tools to help their inquiry. Here is how each tool will be used:

Familiar Technology – Google Drive

Since I’ve started COETAIL, my students have gone “all in” with google drive. They each have their own google accounts and they are familiar with creating, sharing, and collaborating on documents. For our unit on plants, my students will record their knowledge and research with digital learning logs. They will also use drive to co-create a movie script for their summative assessment (more on that later).

New Technology – Google Document Commenting

While I’ve used commenting for my students’ digital learning logs, they haven’t tried it on their own. In fact, right now, they only share their learning logs with me. As they complete research for this unit, however, the students will share their writing with peers and use the commenting feature for questioning, adding ideas, and giving feedback.

New Technology – Blogging

At least once a week, students will choose a piece of writing from their learning log and publish it to a class blog. This will be my first time to have students blog, but as a blogging veteran (well…since January), I will hopefully be able to lead them into this unchartered territory.

Familiar Technology – imovie

My students have used imovie as a digital storytelling tool for narrative stories they’ve written. Here is an example from this week:

YouTube Preview Image


For their unit summative assessment, they will be creating their first non-fiction movie, which will demonstrate their understanding of our “Plants” central idea and lines of inquiry. Now that they are familiar with imovie, they can concentrate on the content of their videos.

New Technology – youtube

Of course my students are familiar with youtube, and we’ve even become creators rather than just consumers. However, up to this point I’ve handled all of the uploading and sharing. For this unit, I would like my students to learn how to safely upload and share their own creations. I am especially interested in having them share with other third grade classes around the world.

I think that’s enough for a 6-week unit. Stay tuned for updates on how things are going.

Here’s a link to the planner if the embed doesn’t work:

Plants Planner

Enhancing Student Feedback with Digital Learning Logs

For several years I’ve given my students notebooks to use as “learning logs.” Each night, as part of their homework, they explain or reflect on something they learned during the day. It’s a great way for students to express themselves and think about their learning. And I always try to give feedback on what they write by underlining good ideas and making notes in the margins of their pages.

There are several problems with this  system, however.

1. Infrequent Feedback

Since the students bring their notebooks home every night, I can only check them during the normal school hours or on the weekends. When everything is running smoothly, I get to check everyone’s learning logs at least once a week. However, it is not uncommon for me to fall behind and go a week or two without giving students any feedback at all.

2. Space-Limited and Less Specific Feedback

When I write in the margins and at the bottoms of the students’ notebook pages, there is only so much room to make comments. I’ve often wanted to give detailed feedback but end up cutting it short due to space constraints of the notebooks. Instead of giving specific feedback, it is often limited to a general “good job today” type of comment.

3. Slow and Time-Consuming Feedback

Let’s be honest: handwriting comments on an entire class’s notebooks, on a daily or weekly basis, takes a ton of time. I’ve never measured how much longer it takes for me to handwrite something vs. type it, but I know the difference is huge. I believe checking students’ learning logs is important, but it takes away many planning periods when I could be preparing lessons or collaborating with colleagues.

Enter the Digital Learning Log

At our very first COETAIL session, Adam and Kim asked us to brainstorm a list of ideas on a shared google doc, and then we used the commenting function to give each other feedback on the ideas. Although I had used google docs for several years, this was my first  exposure to the commenting function. My first thought…this would be a perfect way to give students feedback on their ideas and writing.

Rather than diving in with my entire class, I asked four students to pilot digital learning logs. My students had already been introduced to google drive and been given their own google accounts, so the setup only took a few minutes. The steps are:

1. Students create a new document and title it “name digital LL” (or whatever you want to call it).

2. Students share the document with you.

3. Students start writing.

4. You start giving feedback. To make comments, highlight some text and then select Insert –> Comment.

There is also a button for inserting comments:

After piloting digital learning logs for a few weeks, I’ve seen several advantages, the first three being the opposites of the previous problems:

1. More Frequent Feedback

Now that the learning logs are in the cloud, I can check them any time and any place, not just during planning periods and on weekends. Another benefit: no more hauling around notebooks. The result: I’ve been able to check learning logs and give feedback more frequently.

2. More Specific Feedback Unconstrained by Space

There’s no need to cram my notes into the margins of a paper anymore–the commenting function allows me to give specific feedback that would be difficult with our traditional notebooks. For example, here is a comment I made to help a student with subject/verb agreement:

3. Quicker and Less Time-Consuming Feedback

Now that I can type my comments to students, I am able to increase the volume of my feedback while also reducing the amount of time spent checking student learning logs. It’s a win/win situation.

For the three reasons listed above, we plan to continue our experiment with digital learning logs. In my next post, I will mention a few more advantages we’ve found with digital learning logs as well as a few potential drawbacks.