Gifted and Talented Initiative

Concept Builder - for developing and refining new concepts

Teachers choose to create a Concept Builder when...

  1. A simple definition is too abstract.
  2. Examples of the concept are available on the Web.
  3. At least a few critical attributes of the concept are easily perceived.
  4. You want to engage students in higher level thinking.

Background

Another aspect of the Web that makes it a rich learning resource is the range and breadth of examples available. On almost any given topic, people have posted either professional or homespun pages sharing their information and perspectives. This maps very well to how we learn concepts: by viewing many examples we can derive the critical attributes or essential elements that define an "Impressionist painting," "cumulonimbus clouds," "social revolutions." Because conceptualizing is a higher level thinking skill that takes root in students' pre-existing schemes and requires an ongoing process of refinement, direct instruction of concepts is often an exercise in frustration for everyone. A better way might be to show students an array of well-selected examples and let them build or construct the concepts for themselves, then subsequent class discussions can help everyone refine their thinking.

Tips for Using

When learning the definition of a class of things (artistic eras, types of clouds, social upheavals, etc.) doesn't fully capture the subtleties you want students to appreciate and distinguish, then you'd better help them move beyond concrete definitions into the fuzzier realm that requires an engaged mind to discern key characteristics and argue interpretations. Gray areas? Yes, but fun as all get-out in the classroom (as long as everyone sees this as a process, not a right answer). So when you have a good supply of Web sites that show examples of a concept that's valuable for students to learn, link to at least three sample sites, then offer a series of short questions that prompt them to look for specific details and comparisons and contrasts. Depending on the concept, the examples, and the learners, you may lead them very far with your prompts or let them do some problem-based learning by not using prompts at all. Furthermore, by linking to additional resources, students could do even more independent research. After the activity, you might test the students concepts as a group with some "non-examples" (expressionist paintings, cumulo-stratus clouds, evolutionary changes in societies). Lastly, because images are good sources of information and are becoming more common and quicker loading all the time on the Web, Concept Builders make a good higher-level thinking activity to support younger or non-reading students.

Insight Reflector - Prompting Open Reflection

Teachers choose to create a Insight Reflector when...

  1. Creative thinking is more important than a uniform response.
  2. The subject matter benefits from being viewed through new perspectives.
  3. You want students to engage their emotions and minds in the topic.
  4. Reflective writing is a course objective.

Background

A higher-level cognitive skill valued by Alberta Learning Curricula is reflective thinking and writing. In brief, this is the kind of creative mental pondering that reveals a mind at work. It's the open processing of an intriguing stimulus through a person's experience, ideas, and emotions. It brings all aspects of the person's nature to the task of making sense of the stimuli. While a highly valued skill, it's also a very difficult thing to teach. Again, the wealth of the Web can assist us here. The first aspect of reflective writing is an opening occasion, something that sparks an emotion or starts the mental gears to turn. With its abundance of special interests and overt agendas, the Web affords more chances for reflection than are usually found in a classroom. Teachers gather a page or pages from the Web that they feel will perturb learners in such a way as to create a positive dissonance, then prompt students to look at the topic in different ways, to mull things over, to reflect and speculate.

Tips for Using

Insight Reflectors won't be something you'll use as frequently as Subject Samplers or WebQuests. When encouraging a creative thinking process is more important than prompting one defined and uniform outcome from your students, try prompting for insights with the Reflector format. English and social studies classes as well as ethical approaches to science and technology are typical applications of the format.

Knowledge Hunt - Acquiring defined knowledge

Teachers choose to create a Knowledge Hunt when...

  1. Students need to acquire a specific body of knowledge.
  2. Critical thinking is either not a goal or this is covered using other activities.
  3. Web-based resources are more current or reliable than traditional resources.

Background

Many teachers and librarians who are new to the Web see it as a huge encyclopedia. Subsequently, their first thought is to use the Web for researching and gathering information. Helping students to acquire knowledge also tends to be one of the main drives in education. Thus it makes sense to create a Web activity structure to meet these goals. The Knowledge Hunt is designed to help students acquire a body of knowledge via the Web. This said, the Knowledge Hunt sounds like it should be the most used activity format. However, if you view the Web as an encyclopedia, you're due for a rude awakening. Read 3 Myths about the Net

Also, knowledge acquisition is just one kind of learning (and a lower level one at that, too).

Tips for Using

When it's time to develop some solid knowledge on a subject, teachers can create Knowledge Hunts. The basic strategy is to find Web pages that hold information (text, graphics, sound, video, etc.) that you feel is essential to understanding the given topic. Maybe you gather 10 - 15 links (and remember, these are the exact pages you want the students to go to for information, not the top page of a huge Web site). After you've gathered these links, you pose one key question for each Web site you've linked to. In this way, teachers guide students to useful pages and also prompt students to look for information that teachers feel is critical to developing a body of knowledge in the topic. A smartly designed Knowledge Hunt can go far beyond finding unrelated facts. By choosing questions that define the scope or parameters of the topic, when the students discover the answers they are tapping into a deeper vein of thought, one that now stakes out the dimensions or a scheme of the domain being studied. Finally, by including a culminating "Big Question," students can synthesize what they have learned and shape it into a broader understanding of the big picture. So the Knowledge Hunt is here as one useful strategy to integrate the Web with student learning. However, because of the sketchy truthfulness and accuracy of very many Web pages (and thus their usefulness for concept development or critical thinking), knowledge acquisition shouldn't be the main use of the Web.

 

Topic Hotlist - for open research and exploration

Teachers choose to create a Topic Hotlist when...

  1. They are new to the Web.
  2. They are in a hurry.
  3. They want to save student surf/search time.
  4. They want to add Web resources to curriculum they already have.

Background

The natural place to begin integrating the Web for learning is collecting sites that you find most useful / interesting / peculiar related to your topic. Doing this will save your learners hours of aimless surfing. With today's Web browsers, this Internet harvesting can be done through book marking your favourite sites with a simple pull down from the toolbar. This is fine for the machine you're using, but it's a bit of a hassle to get those bookmarks transferred to all the computers in a lab. It's a much more efficient process to create a Web page that collects the locations in a Topic Hotlist. This solves the computer-specific nature of bookmarks and also makes your collection available to everyone in your school, division and the world (nothing like maximizing your effort!).

The Electronic Scrapbook Variation Many technology-using teachers help students create multimedia products as part of the learning process or project. Students create newsletters, desktop and SMARTBoard power point presentations, HyperStudio stacks, etc. Before the Web, multimedia content was limited to CD-ROM and what could be scanned or digitized. With the Web, many sites allow and encourage people to use their content for non-profit educational purposes (it's best to check the copyright policy or the site and / or make contact via email). A multimedia Hotlist provides links to a variety of content types such as photographs, maps, stories, facts, quotations, sound clips, videos, virtual reality tours, etc. Learners use the Hotlist links to explore aspects of the topic that they feel are important. They then download or copy and paste these scraps using a variety of software programs. The students' creations will now be richer and more sophisticated because of resources that had never been available in their classrooms before. Also, by allowing students to pursue their own interests amid an abundance of choices, the multimedia Hotlist offers a more open, student-centred approach that encourages construction of meaning. Even though Hotlists don't target specific learning goals, the innovative teacher will use Hotlists to promote the constructivist learning that can happen when students synthesize a large and contextually rich selection of data and experiences.

Tips for Using

When you create a Topic Hotlist, your learners will be spared hours of fruitless searching. This is similar to when a diligent librarian gathers key works from the stacks on a topic your classes are studying, then rolls the books into your room for students to explore. Web resources likely differ in quality, currency, and quirkiness, but the learning strategy is similar: give the students a breadth of materials on the topic they are studying. Excellent learning strategies to invoke now come from the work of Jamie McKenzie (fromnowon.org http://www.fromnowon.org ). Notice that what's missing is the exact learning you'd like the students to achieve. Those tasks and instructions are probably on the handout or a pdf document they're working from the school web site. Tasks and instructions would not be from the Web page they're using to gain insights, experiences, and information. This is why a Topic Hotlist is an easy strategy to employ; you simply add the Web resources to an activity or unit you already have prepared. Sometimes you might choose to have learners search their own sites on the Internet. Good examples of this are when students do independent study projects or you have groups studying different aspects of a larger topic (an example would be an interdisciplinary study with student teams each taking a decade in 20th Century Canadian History). In these cases it makes sense to have students search - and record what they have found for the Web via their own hotlist. Whether to prepare a Hotlist for students or let them create their own is probably determined by how many computers you have available to students (in school, in their homes, in the library, etc.) and available time.

Webquest - for engaging in critical thinking

Teachers choose to create a WebQuest when...

  1. You want students to tackle big, complex, or grey questions.
  2. Students could benefit from cooperative learning.
  3. The subject warrants a deeper understanding.
  4. Students would benefit from a more real world learning experience.

Background

When it's time for your students to extend their learning beyond learning facts, connecting emotively or developing concepts, we put all these together and get into the greyer matter and your students are ready for a WebQuest. Basically, a WebQuest is an inquiry activity that presents student groups with a central Question (essential question) and a related Task. Access to the Web (and other resources) provides abundant information of interest and value from which collaborative student groups construct meaning. The whole learning process is supported by prompting / scaffolds to promote higher-order thinking. The products of WebQuests are usually then put out to the world for some type of real feedback. As stated, the most successful WebQuests have little to do with bandwidth or the excellence of the Web sites we link to. The most important factor is you, the teacher. You know your students, their prior experiences and knowledge, the things that tend to interest them, and the goals you hope to achieve while studying a topic. Successful WebQuests will act as one more learning strategy to achieve these goals. Thus the best place to look to help you decide which WebQuest(s) to choose is at your current curriculum on the related topic. Ask yourself, "What has been successful and what has seemed lacking?" If you're happy with the way you introduce the topic, great! If you feel the students get adequate and accurate basic information from a text and your handouts, terrific! If they engage in higher - level thinking and develop authentic learning products they already share with the real world, you're doing an outstanding job! If you see a gap in any of these aspects, think about choosing a WebQuest to fill that need.

Tips for Using

When designing a WebQuest it's best to choose a topic that's either large, complex or in dispute. Current events, social issues, and environmental systems, etc. all work well. Also anything that requires evaluation or scientific hypothesizing will evoke a variety of interpretations. The reason the Web is so critical is because it offers the range of perspectives and viewpoints that are usually needed to construct meaning on complex topics. Students benefit from being linked to a wide variety of Web resources so that they can explore and make sense of the issues involved in the challenge. Logistically, all students begin by learning some common background knowledge, then divide into groups. In the groups each student or pair of students have a particular role, task, or perspective to master. They effectively become experts on one aspect of a topic. When the roles come together, students must synthesize their learning by completing a transformative task such as e-mailing (video conferencing) representatives or presenting their interpretation to real world experts on the topic. According to Tom March web based learning is best developed in stages. Build on what you develop as you learn how to use the net. Start with a Hot Lists of links then build on your efforts with a Multimedia Scrapbooks activity. Next build a Treasure Hunt of facts and figures. Interest your students with a topic introductory activity called a Subject Sampler (Assortment). When you are ready to make the most of your web based learning activities, use or design a WebQuest.