Monday, March 26, 2012

Constructing Knowledge Through Online Conversations

This is part 5 in a series of an Edmodo/Google Apps for Education project in which 5th grade musicians research composers and create websites based on that research.

After two classes getting our feet wet using Edmodo, it was time to dive in.  In the first two classes, I found the students were doing well at locating information in our Edmodo library, navigating between multiple tabs in a browser window, reading for information, putting information into their own words, and posting amazing facts to our Edmodo group.  What the students could not do well was reply to posts in a way that creates a conversation.

This is an oft-lamented issue for students and society.  Students need to know how to have a conversation in various situations:  One-to-one, small groups, large groups, and now online.  The feedback loop of a conversation often gets short-circuited.  Communication is a 21st century skill (probably an every-century skill).

So I created a screencast that showed examples from our first week - good and bad conversations.  In the screencast, I asked students to "create conversations" and reply in a way that encourages dialogue rather than discourages dialogue.  We talked about "conversation killers" - replies such as "cool" or "wow".  These are words you say when you are truly speechless - not words you use to further a discussion either in person or online.

We then had two more classes in which students were to post and reply.  In the first class, students had to look at a composer timeline and post about another composer that lived at the same time and a historical event that took place when the composer was alive.  This had the immediate benefit of creating conversations because students could connect with other students whose composers were contemporaries.  Also, students really like history.  Since many Baroque, Classical, and Romantic events took place during the years of the American colonies, revolution (5th grade topics in our school), and Civil War, the students made connections between subjects.  (On the other hand, most students did not know what the Gulf War was...)

The next class was a bonus for us - the students viewed a work by his/her composer from a teacher-created playlist of youtube videos,  one video for each composer, which I shared to our Edmodo library.  In the past, it was a struggle to get a student to listen to a selection of his/her composer's work on the stereo and fill out a listening sheet.  But having the visual and the need to make a musically-significant Edmodo post about the video created more conversations.  Students have heard John Williams' "Star Wars" theme many times, but have never seen an orchestra play it - it changes their concept of music.  And if you can see "Star Wars" as a form of classical music, it's not such a big leap to Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, or Haydn.  The student studying Antonin Dvorak pointed out that the beginning of his "From the New World" Symphony sounds like "Jaws" and "Star Wars".  That perked up the ears of the John Williams student, and we have total excitement and online conversation about how Antonin Dvorak's music is similar to John Williams.  5th grade!  You can't make this stuff up, folks.

Students will make connections (construct their own knowledge) IF we as teachers give them enough ideas and points to connect.  The brain wants to make connections.  We build lessons in multiple dimensions so that students can take action and connect the dots on their own.  As a wise colleague of mine says "He who does the thinking, does the learning."

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