As a Science teacher, working with both NGSS and CCSS, I’m always looking for ways for my students to develop investigative skills. That is why I was thrilled when last fall I was invited to participate in the KQED Learn pilot.
“KQED Learn is a free, online platform that supports student inquiry, investigation and media making. It is a place students can collaborate, interact and share their work with other students on the platform.” – KQED
As you may imagine, I was immediately intrigued by this statement. Having a platform dedicated to investigations was appealing, but the addition of the authentic audience and collaboration is something we do not see very often in education these days. The idea of my students being able to interact with other “investigators” and share their work beyond my little classroom was something I could only dream of, so I began thinking about what specific assignment I would be using as an entry point to KQED Learn.
A couple of years ago my district implemented “Writing Across the Curriculum” (WAC) assignments. This requires that all students write at least three essays per year in all content areas. As it happens with these types of assignments, the students find it quite onerous and do not see the point of writing them. They are often heard complaining about how the only person that reads their essay is the person who grades it. As I thought about the KQED Learn possibilities, it came to me that I could transform that WAC assignment into a KQED Learn assignment and give my eighth graders control of what they wanted to write about. They could use the platform as a place to curate and share their resources, providing them with the authentic audience they desperately wanted.
The process of joining the KQED Learn community was incredibly easy. I set up my teacher account, created my virtual classroom and simply gave the students the Join Code. Students registered using their school email, completed their profile information, added themselves to my classroom and were ready to go.
Once everyone had joined, but before we started participating in the community, I knew that I had to make sure that we all knew that anything that was posted was going to be looked at by students and teachers outside of our own little community. I reviewed the concept of digital citizenship using a video by Common Sense Media and shared KQED Learn’s code of conduct.
Our First Make & Share: Go Above the Noise
Our first foray into the KQED Learn platform included responding to a ‘Go Above the Noise’ question – “Should Schools Start Later?” These questions are the perfect entry point to the platform since they already have many resources attached to them, including not only the content itself but documents such as What Makes an Excellent ‘Go Above the Noise’ Response?, Sentence Frames for ‘Go Above the Noise’, and Rubric for ‘Go Above the Noise’ Responses. As I shared all of this with the students, they quickly became engrossed in crafting thoughtful and responsible responses. My fear of students using the platform as a way to communicate negatively was assuaged as they started calling me over to read what they had written before posting, asking “I disagree with ___’s point, but I do not want to sound mean. Is this okay?” That authentic audience that the platform provides created a sense of citizenship and “THINK before you post” in my students!
In addition, my students became very careful about providing evidence for their answers. They knew that high-schoolers would be reading what they were writing and they wanted to impress. This sense of ownership of their work is hard to encourage in the walled-in environment of many classrooms, which is one of the reasons why KQED Learn becomes such a powerful tool in any environment.
The Assigned Investigation
Building on this first round of ‘Go Above the Noise,’ I continued on to the second part of the pilot. KQED Education published an array of questions on a wide variety of topics in the form of “Investigations” that my students could join. Two things were immediately evident as I perused the questions.
- I would need to be the one selecting the questions. This was simply because of the sheer number of questions, which I knew would overwhelm my students. I also needed my students to focus on my content.
- My students would need to be taught how to find relevant and reliable sources. I found resources to teach this within the Teacher Resources on KQED Learn: (1) Investigate: How do I Search for Relevant Resources? (2) Investigate: What is a Reliable Source Anyway? and (3) Investigate: Is This Source Reliable?
Armed with this, I asked my students to choose one of the following Investigations to join:
- What invention from a science fiction book or television show is a reality now and how has this invention changed our lives?
- What is an example of a past technology that has influenced a technology we have today?
- Choose a technological invention. How has it changed in response to society’s changing needs?
My students happily started adding resources as they investigated and did a good job of posting resources that were relevant and reliable. However, I was also expecting them to apply what they had learned about commenting on each other’s work on the first Make & Share, but only a handful of students took the opportunity to comment on the resources they were sharing.
What did happen was an increased interest in finding the “most” relevant and reliable source. As Make & Shares from other schools started appearing, a sort of competition developed in my classroom to see whose resource these “foreign” students were citing. Even though this was not the goal, I did find that this bit of competition pushed my students to re-evaluate the sources they had added and being mindful of how relevant new additions were — basically practicing their skills at gathering information from a variety of sources and evaluating its relevance and credibility.
Needless to say, I am incredibly pleased with what my students produced within KQED Learn. I invite you to give it a try and let me know what you think.