My COETAIL journey has been quite the adventure. When I originally started out, I thought that it would be ‘smooth sailing’ through the courses – yes it would be challenging, but using tech to impact student learning was what I was looking to do, so I figured that I would be able to figure this whole COETAIL thing out pretty easily. Reality Check. I have realized that my COETAIL reality is quite a far cry from the fantasy.
Ever since Course 3, I was so excited by visual literacy, and by sketchnoting in particular. I just knew it had to be part of my final project. I think it could have been, had I taken more time to explicitly teach the concept to my students and give them lots of time to analyze and create sketchnotes, before I asked them to use this skill as part of a major project.
In my planner, I had a week dedicated to learning sketchnoting. The students tried it a few times, but never really seemed to get ‘the bug’, the way I was hoping for. COETAIL is all about ‘not using tech for tech’s sake’, but to use it in a way that will impact student learning. I felt like I was ‘using sketchnoting for sketchnoting’s sake’. I quickly realized that this may not be the meaningful avenue my students would use to document their research on a nonfiction topic. But now I was out of ideas.
On my morning motorbike commute to school, I was geeking out with the Google Teacher Tribe Podcast #gttribe. Matt Miller (@jmattmiller) and Kasey Bell (@shakeuplearning) give informative podcasts on what is happening in the Google for Education realm, and I often come away with meaningful, practical ideas to use in class that day.
During the podcast, Kasey and Matt talked about upgrades to Google Slides and it was one of the minor updates that caught my attention. The Google Keep notepad has been added as a tool in Slides, meaning that you can take your notes from Keep and drag & drop them directly into Slides. About a hundred light bulbs went off in my head (ironic seeing as the Keep logo is also a lightbulb) – this is how I was going to get my students to document their research.
After my ride through the rice fields to get to school, I had my students add the Keep chrome extension to their chromebooks. One student remarked,
“But Mrs. Snider, I thought you told us we couldn’t have chrome extensions on our computers?”
“Ah yes, I did say that. Let me clarify. This extension is going to help you research more effectively and save you time when drafting anything from a writing piece to a slideshow. The spinning hamster wheel extension is unnecessary for school, but this one is vital.”
I gave the students a quick tutorial on what Google Keep is and how we can use it for digital notetaking. By using the extension, they can literally add their thinking to any website they are using. GKeep copies the URL into a new note and then you can add your own notes and ideas underneath.
The 4th Graders were pretty excited about this and got started right away testing out Keep with their own research topics. Once they started using this, I really felt that I could ‘let them run with it’. One student added her Table of Contents as a note and then added checkboxes. She turned her Contents into a checklist that she used to keep track of which subsections she had information on, and which ones she still needed to research. She was so excited when she discovered the checkboxes and asked if she could show it to the rest of the class. Suffice it to say, that by the end of Writer’s Workshop, everyone had a Table of Contents that was doubling as a digital checklist! And as the teacher, I could easily see where my students were at in their research process – a win-win!
Now that the research period is complete, the students are moving into Drafting. They are using Slides to create e-books. Using the Keep Notepad tool, has made things so much easier. Students don’t have to worry about taking notes on paper and then typing them later (a real time-consuming roadblock for 9 and 10 year olds). They are taking their notes from Keep and dropping them right into Slides. This gives them a starting point for that section of the book.
Before, students would get stuck when it came to drafting. They liked to do the research and take notes, but they didn’t know how to turn that information into a section of a nonfiction book. Now, by dragging over their notes, they have the information right there. They can add to it, rearrange it, add text features like images, captions, headings and bold words. I cannot believe what a game-changer this has been for my students. They are doing research, digitally organizing their information and then applying it to a task.
But what about sketchnoting? No I have not thrown it by the wayside. Oddly enough, I found a more natural fit for it – in Social Studies. We just began a new unit on economy, and to understand where money came from, we watched a Brainpop video about Money. There was A LOT of information packed into 3 minutes and 44 seconds. After we watched the video together as a class, I put the students into groups, which were responsible for teaching one section of the video. They had some guiding questions, but the task was to take the information from the video, and turn it into a sketchnote which became part of a timeline about the history of money. Then each group presented one section, explaining their sketchnote. Afterwards, we put them up together as a timeline, so that everyone could see where money came from and how it has changed over time.
Through this experience, I have learned another valuable lesson – flexibility. When things are not going as planned, it’s important to find another way to guide students towards achieving the goal. Because as we all know, it’s not the tool that measures student success, it’s the learning that takes place.