Evolve student communication with web-based tools

Jacqui Murray

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My school is an IB school. We follow the philosophy that to educate students requires an international understanding of the world, people and ideas. Part of the curriculum requires fifth graders to participate in an Exhibition where they use knowledge accumulated over six years of education to communicate their ideas on a global issue such as displacement, global warming, lack of education, pollution, world hunger, and limited access to fresh, clean water.

Last year, the fifth grade team asked me to brush students up on Publisher/PowerPoint/Word skills so they could construct their presentation. This year, I'm taking a different approach by encouraging students to think outside the box in communicating their ideas. We're spending six weeks studying and teaching each other some of the amazing online communication tools that offer motivating and inspirational ways to share thoughts.

Here's how we're doing that:

  • I reviewed with students the concept of communicating ideas, the shortfall of confining themselves to predictable tools such as MS Office, and then gave a quick overview of seventeen web-based communication tools. In all of them, information is conveyed with images, movement, music, in combination with tex - a more suitable adaptation of a fifth grader’s listening style. All are free and as many as possible require no log-in
  • Students broke into three-person teams and selected a tool from the list (note to self: let students create the list next year).
  • All students joined the class wiki and created their own page (using only first names). On this page, they will share the tool they're teaching as well as those learned through classmates
  • I demonstrated how a presentation would work using a wonderful online program called Tagxedo.
    • I reviewed the tool and everyone created a Tagxedo
    • I showed them how to incorporate the Exhibition theme (global issues) into the Tagxedo. This will be expected of all tools they teach
    • I showed them where to find Tagxedo's embed tools so it could be added to their wiki page. Students loved this. To see the words animated and colourful is an epiphany in communication
  • I reviewed the rubric that I would use in grading. It includes four broad areas:
    • knowledge of the tool
    • ability to teach students
    • reflection on the lesson
    • group work
  • In their preparation, I encouraged students to embrace mistakes, problem-solve, be curious, as this will help them help classmates during the presentation
  • Each week, a different team of students taught the class. One member provided instruction while the other two roamed the classroom helping where classmates got stuck. Estimated time of presentation: 20 minutes (though longer was OK)
  • In the presentation, students modeled how to incorporate this tool into an Exhibition

You may not teach at an IB school, but the importance to students of gaining a familiarity with the many and varied methods of communicating far beyond text is critical. Everyone doesn't thrive when boxed in by PowerPoint/Publisher/Word. Many students require colour, movement, sound, interactivity, uniqueness to fully share their thoughts.

You can create your own list of web-based communication tools, one that works in your environment - there are so many, it's impossible to list them all. Here's a list of favourites from my colleagues.

If you'd like to see my lesson plan, click here. Please be kind - it's my first year offering this project. I'm open to suggestions. How have you approached this topic?

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