Monday, July 14, 2014

The Moral Compass of a Modern Day Gegoraphy Teacher

My Story Map JS project idea came from first exploring and using the program.  As a sixth grade geography teacher, I am always looking for ways to make my curriculum relevant, real, modern, updated, and engaging.  As I discussed in my Pecha Kucha presentation, geography all too often gets a bad rap as being boring, monotonous, memorization, old school, and by some to be an obsolete subject that should no longer be taught.  On the other hand, some people view Americans as completely ignorant of Geography, as this Washington Post article exemplifies.  As a result, I am always trying to make geography the relevant subject that it actually is by exploring the real world through modern techniques.

Story Map JS really stood out as a potential modern tool that I could use in the classroom to move even further away from this false "geography is obsolete" notion.  As soon I as listened to others use and present Story Map JS in class as a digital tool, I knew it could be the perfect tool for me to use because it incorporates real maps.  In fact, I came up with a long list of ideas about different ways I could use Story Map JS in the classroom.  For the purpose of this project,  I narrowed it down to one idea, land forms and water forms.  This is a fairly stale subject within geography that I teach and it certainly could benefit from some updating.  Therefore, I developed a land form/water form project for my students to complete in class using Story Map JS.  (see the rough draft project directions and project rubric above).  Ultimately, students would have to choose one land form or water form to research and explore.  They would then use Story Map JS to create a journey pointing out real world examples of their chosen land or water form.  During this journey, students would also be required to explain and discuss the significance of their chosen physical feature.  (Project Story Map JS Example).

Using Story Map JS enhances and changes the way I will teach about land and water forms.  Firstly, this project focuses on allowing students to conduct research and to explore one type of land or water form.  Rather than memorizing 50 different types of common land/water forms for a test, which is now meaningless because of Google, the students will be able to explore one of their choice.  They will go beyond knowing just the definition and have time to dive into their research.  As an expert on their chosen land/water form, students will gain self-efficacy.  They will also be able to share their knowledge with others.  Moreover, students will be able to research real world examples of their chosen land/water form therein making the content come alive.  Lastly, this project will require students to practice inquiry and justify why their land/water form is significant or insignificant to their life and to the world around them.

My idea for students to become an expert on just one land/water form sprouted from the truism that knowing 50 definitions is no longer a skill they need to have because of technology.  Instead, students need to know how to research, explore, and find meaning from the technology that surrounds them.  They do need to have an awareness that a canyon is something found in nature-but they don't need to know why they are formed...until they do and that is what Google is for.  I think that this project will help my students and myself to realize the bigger idea about land/water forms: land/water forms surround us and affect us.  Sometimes they pose a threat to us (volcanoes) and sometimes we pose a threat to them (glaciers).  These threats are problems and understanding the problem is the first step towards creating a solution.  This idea of real world problems, awareness, discussion will benefit student far more than any matching section on a test.

This Story Map JS project will also change the land/water form curriculum context from textbooks and drawing pictures of mountains to interactive mapping.  The way that students will learn about land/water forms is going to change from something outdated and quite boring to something far more engaging and challenging.  The Story Map JS technology requires students to explore and to manipulate the map in order to effectively show what they know; a far harder task than drawing a picture of a mountain and writing the definition underneath (yawn).  It will take geography lessons to the next level, or rather to the present level that it should exist at.

In retrospect, this Story Map JS project easily connects to several course themes.  Firstly, it moves away from the notion that students should be consumers of knowledge; that they should memorize 50 land/water forms.  Instead, this project requires students to be producers of knowledge by allowing them to  create a story using a map that tells others about a particular land/water form.  Although this is certainly a small-scale production, it is a production of knowledge none-the-less making it meaningful for young adolescents.  I completely agree with this ideology that students should be producers and not consumers of knowledge in order to be successful in this 21st-century world.  However, I will admit that I also feel overwhelmed knowing the reality that some of my curriculum does not match this ideology and I have to change that.  Creating this project for my land/water form unit is just a small piece of the pie and knowing now that I can do it means I must do it-again, a scary notion at times.

Keeping this "scary notion" in mind, I also feel the project applies to the idea that we are all a mix of digital natives and digital immigrants.  I feel this is true about my students too, especially considering how many of them are experts at knowing how to use technology, but not how to use technology in a critical sense.   I anticipate that some students will latch right onto Story Map JS and pick it up easily, while others will struggle much like I initially did with the program.  However, I know that all of my students (digital native or not) will need to learn how to use Story Map JS to effectively tell their land/water form story.

Ultimately, I feel this project reflects another course theme that educational reform is needed now more than ever.  This project illustrates how curriculum can transform from obsolete to real and meaningful.  Dumping information into young minds is not going to help students in this age of new media.  Rather, teaching them how to use media to attain information is more valuable.  Inquiry, new media, production-based; these must be the new pillars of education.

While I have left this course feeling anxious and overwhelmed about the changes I must make ahead, it has mostly left me feeling inspired.  I do feel that a fire has been sparked inside me to become a better teacher; to look the standardized tests in the face and to ignore them.  I have always felt that a good teacher has a strong moral compass-meaning he/she has a lot of powerful people and institutions going against them  at times and in spite of that must always choose to do what is right.  Not because it will make them look good, or because it's easy, or because it will lead to a higher salary, but because it is right.  I have learned that technology is challenging and takes time.  But I have also learned that it provides the context for a better education.  Prior to this course, I would likely have heard about Story Map and never actually explored it enough to use in class.  Despite all of the difficulties that I did have with Story Map, I do find it useful and the struggle is worth the potential reward.  After all that we have learned about media literacy and technology, my moral compass is pointing in a new direction.  This new direction will include problems and glitches and computer bugs that will make me and my students want to pull our hair out at times.  However, that is consistent with real life and what better way to prepare kids for the real world than to include them in the real world?  

Self-Assessment Project Rubric

1 comment:

  1. This is a fabulous project that is a perfect example of how to shift students from consumers to producers in a concrete, manangable way! Let me know how it goes with students!