Recently I have been working on developing a series of integrated digital inquiry resources to support and enhance my grade 8 social studies and language arts programs.
Here is my first attempt at a resource like this:
My vision for this resources was to bring together several innovations that digital publishing now makes possible. I think that developing digital inquiry resources would make use of three powerful ideas that have a significant impact on how students learn a topic such as the Italian Renaissance.
1. Links to documentaries and other video clips can bring to life the often boring facts and ideas presented in a textbook.
“Youth need images for their imaginations and for the formation of their memories.” (Jardine, 2006)
For example, in our study of the Renaissance, hyperlinks now allow us to move beyond the limits of a text based book and imbed into the resource exceptionally well done documentaries such as Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance.
This PBS documentary can do what a purely text based resource has difficulty achieving, namely bringing students into the lived reality of Florence, Italy circa the mid 1400’s. Often student’s relationship with a social studies textbook involves confronting a wall of deadened facts that reduce the learning of history to memorizing a series of events and developments that occurred during a particular historical period.
Documentaries such as these can bring to life what is meant, for example, when we say the Renaissance involved a rebirth of ancient Roman thought and styles. In the video this is achieved by showing Brunelleschi wandering the ruins of Rome with his patron Cosomo Medici in an attempt to divine the secrets of the Pantheon so they could complete the Florentine Cathedral and as a result build the first free standing dome that Europe had seen for a thousand years.
Throughout the resource, accompanying text based explanations of events and developments occurring at this time, I have included links from the History Channel and other sources to show the lived world of such concepts as The Crusades or the Black Death.
2. Digital resources provide an opportunity to move beyond the often trivial information recall questions asked in textbooks.
I believe that teachers can craft tasks that develop deeper and more meaningful understandings than textbooks seem to accomplish. For example, after learning about the idea that Humanism rejected the Medieval obsession with the afterlife at the expense of this life and placed man and his potential at the centre of things, using two superb video clips to bring students deeper tinto this notion, I asked my students the following question:
Although some teachers may resist the idea that grade 8 students are capable of having such a ‘high level’ conversation, I believe, as evidenced by this video of a class discussion I facilitated last year, that they certainly are able to engage in deep and meaningful conversations that sources like these make possible.
3. Khan Academy type mini-lectures imbedded in the resource make it possible to show students how to provide quality responses to the inquiry tasks.
Since Bill Gates dedicated a multi-million dollar injection of funding to help the Khan Academy broaden the number of tutorials they offer, the idea of the flipped classroom has gained significant traction within discussions concerning how digital technologies could significantly support and enhance traditional approaches to instruction.
Taken from this blog, the Flipped Classroom as described by Jonathan Martin is:
Flip your instruction so that students watch and listen to your lectures for homework, and then use your precious class-time for what previously, often, was done in homework: tackling difficult problems, working in groups, researching, collaborating, crafting and creating. Classrooms become laboratories or studios, and yet content delivery is preserved.
Some educators have criticized the Khan Academy and flipped classroom approach that video tutorials allow, arguing that it leaves intact the factory model of education where skills and processes are treated as isolated and discrete entities. The critique here is that unless these skills and processes live somewhere, like within a meaningful project or task that ideally has real world implications, then we are still left with an approach to learning that has no greater purpose beyond mastery of isolated skills and processes for their own sake. This approach assumes that later on down the road these skills will be transferable to real world problems and tasks.
Although I agree with this critique of the Khan Academy, I do believe this approach offers significant potential to offer support and aid to students when they need it, who may struggle in, for example, providing a sophisticated, developed, and well supported response to the inquiry question on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
What I am trying to accomplish with this digital resource is to make use of the positive possibilities of the flipped classroom by giving students multiple entry points into the content – while embedding the resources into a larger, more meaningful set of inquiry questions and problems.
I welcome feedback and suggestion about these ideas and my first inquiry resource…
Jardine, D. (2006). “Youth need images for their imaginations and for the formation of their memories.” Journal of Curriculum Theorizing. 22(4), 3-12.