NAIS – Going All In: The Ins & Outs of Creating a Digital Curriculum

This year, the NAIS annual conference is being held in Orlando Florida at the Walt Disney World Resort. As such, Ransom Everglades made it possible for several dozen teachers to attend the conference on Friday, the teacher focus day.

The first workshop that I’m attending is “Going All In: The Ins & Outs of Creating a Digital Curriculum” with Tim Sheehan, Andrew Schneider, and Amanda Schirmacher of the Latin School of Chicago. They are sharing how they created an all digital curriculum for fourth grade Social Studies.

The Dreamer

Amanda takes the reigns to discuss the topic, “The Dreamer.” As a fourth grade cohort, Tim, Amanda, and Andy work closely to develop their social studies curriculum building off of the work of their predecessors. The Latin School of Chicago has allotted several travel grants. Using a variety of travel grants, faculty visited numerous countries, such as India and Japan, creating a travelogue.

The next stop was to evolve these packets into digital content – especially something that could be read on an iPad. This way, they could create multi-model, interactive units that included written word, images, video, music, etc. With pressure from public school arenas, such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, for schools to enter the digital realm then it makes sense that Independent Schools should not just be following the norm, but spear heading the initiatives.

By creating a digital social studies curriculum, documents could be come not only interactive and multi-media, but truly living documents that can change as the world evolves.

The Techie

Andy next steps up to discuss eBook platforms and using the iBooks Author (Mac Only) to create digital content for the iPad.  If you would like to see their content guide, you may do so here. You can also check out the demon video below:

If you cannot use iBooks Author (as it is a Mac only platform), they list several alternative resources in their resource guide. The nice thing about eBooks is that you can customize them however you would like to fit the needs of your classroom and curriculum.

iBooks Author, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

iBooks Author, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Andy provides a brief overview of building an iBook for your class using images, content, widgets, hyperlinks, etc. There are lots of great tools in iBooks Author. However, it is important to note that iBooks author works only for the Mac and can only be accessed in an iOS platform.

The nice thing about creating interactive eBooks for your students is that the curriculum is individualized, flexible, and you can even check in with students during the process for understanding by including various quizzes/activities.

By combining iBooks with existing Apps, you can expand yoru curriculum further. For example, you can use use the iPad Karnak Temple App or have students write their names in Hieroglyphics using the Hieroglyphic App ($0.99)

The Luddite

The next up is Tim, who wants to highlight how this curriculum is working out in the classroom, what did the students think, and what did the faculty think? There are numerous advantageous: all in one integration; auditory, visual, & tactile environment; no antiquated textbooks (instant updates as needed); constant app development that can be adapted (even by the students themselves; digital communication internationally; everything is in one place (no more losing those packets); notes easily saved/transferable (especially for students with fine motor issues or learning differences), Reflector App and SmartBoard allow for ease in lessons; additionally, student feedback (formally & informally) has helped to guide the process.

The students had many pros for their experiences – it was more fun to learn, more interactive, included multiple media, content was all in one place (not having to pull out a computer to go online), and no more paper-cuts! The students liked not having to find books in their desks – especially if those desks were messy!

At the same time, students had some critiques – they can cause distraction, a “real book” allows you to visualize your progress, loses the tactile sensation of “real books,” and that iPads are prone to glitches and problems (you can’t “brick” a book!).

Andy highlights that it’s important to assess the “feel” of the learning experience. Digital learning can remove that “personal” touch of a teacher and classmates – key to effective learning. It’s important to know that it’s important to turn technology once in a while. Multi-tasking does not allow the focus of uni-tasking. As such, it’s important to keep this in mind in a digital curriculum. Another key focus is “are we creating a culture of immediacy without depth or discovery.”

Take-Aways

Learn to teach the device to yourself and your students. Take the device on your own and play with it for a while before focusing on developing the pedagogy. You must teach children directly how to use it as an educational device. Make time for yourself and the students to play. Follow the lead from the students as often as possible (they might teach you a thing or two!). Also, the build matters – it’s easy to focus on the bells and whistles and distract your learners.

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About Jennifer Carey

My name is Jennifer Carey and I am a student and educator of the human condition. I have long studied history, trained in archaeology, and found a passion in the field of education. As a long-time lover of technology (my father bought our family our first Apple IIe when I was three), I love technology and what it can bring to the classroom. I have taught at various Universities for many years as well as educating gifted teenagers through the Johns Hopkins program, the Center for Talented Youth. I am currently the Director of Educational Technology at the Ransom Everglades School (a secular independent school) in Miami, Fl. I also have a few educational podcasts on iTunes from my days teaching at TCU: The Ancient City of Rome, Classical Archaeology (2008), Classical Archaeology (2009), Introduction to Classical Myth, and Ancient Eats. They’re enhanced (so you get the PowerPoints along with the vocal), but please excuse the poor audio editing. Feel free to Email Me or follow me on twitter.
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One Response to NAIS – Going All In: The Ins & Outs of Creating a Digital Curriculum

  1. Pingback: More Reflections from NAISAC14 | NAIS Annual Conference Community 2014

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