As the Dynamic Learning Project Technology Coach in the McGuffey Middle School, I’m always excited to help teachers with building innovative and creative lessons for their students. When Dynamic Learning Project Innovation Advocate, Paige Cizmek, asked me to help her with infusing VR in a traditional ELA 8 lesson, I was happy to do what I could to assist.
A traditional middle school ELA class covers vocabulary review, parts of speech identification, literary elements, reading comprehension activities, and writing assignments such as essays, research reports, and poetry. On any given day in any ELA classroom, you might see students working on spelling worksheets, using dictionaries to define vocabulary words, writing sentences, or reading stories. Paige Cizmek’s ELA 8 class is far from traditional. She successfully infuses meaningful and innovative technology use by integrating apps and tools into her traditional lessons, while highly engaging her students in the learning process.
The students in Paige’s classes use technology daily. She posts assignments to Google Classroom, they often use shared docs and sheets to complete group work, and they post research information using Padlet and Wakelet. Every spelling test is on a Google Form, and online games such as Quizizz, Quizlet, and Kahoot make regular appearances for reviewing everything from literary elements to identifying parts of speech. Paige regularly uses Flashcard Factory and Pear Deck, she lets students write stories with StoryJumper, and she uses programs like Commonlit, Edulastic, and Khan Academy for personalized learning and skills review.
Paige has welcomed me as her tech coach into her classroom. For the past two years, we’ve been teaming up to create interesting and innovative ideas for presenting traditional ELA lessons. I co-teach lessons with her and collaborate with her on how to use various tech apps and tools with existing ELA lessons and units, and she has earned many badges for her successful implementation. It was no surprise to me when the opportunity to do more with technology presented itself. Paige was onboard and eager to try something new.
NONFICTION TEXT ANALYSIS
Scholastic Scope magazine always has intriguing nonfiction articles for the students to read. One article in particular was about the lionfish. As a paired text activity the teacher also used a companion newspaper article about the giant goldfish. The students completed traditional whole-group activities in class by previewing vocabulary terms and definitions, addressing text features, and reading closely. Student teams then responded to critical thinking questions and analyzed cause and effect relationships presented in the paired texts. After a second reading of the paired texts, students individually explored three text structures that the authors used to achieve different purposes. Students also practiced using text evidence correctly to support inferences. As an extension activity, Paige wanted to use VR to help students make a real-life connection with the lionfish in a realistic way.
In order to add a little twist to the lesson, the teacher found National Geographic YouTube videos about the lionfish and students were able to use the Google Cardboard VR goggles to view underwater footage of these beautiful, yet dangerous, sea creatures.
There was a lot of energy in the room when the students started the videos. They were intrigued and wowed by the feeling of being underwater. Students were up and moving and seemed to be “swimming” right alongside the fish.
Middle school students are not always enthusiastic about reading nonfiction material. Watching the videos made reading the information in the Scope Magazine articles easier to comprehend and allowed students to make real-life connections to the content presented. Discussions were prompted about the lionfish being categorized as an invasive species and the devastation caused by its presence in the Atlantic Ocean.
Paige has other ideas about using VRlessons with ELA students:
Visit La Paz when introducing The Pearl, by John Steinbeck
Look at the Annex when reading the play, The Diary of Anne Frank https://youtu.be/ttaQ0VaYG_I
Discover background information about Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America
Visualize the dramatic effects of the poem The Cremation of Sam McGee
Google donated the goggles to our school as part of the Dynamic Learning Project coaching program. Our students have used Virtual Reality in other classes for virtual experiences. Our history classes have taken VR trips to Greece to study the ruins, studied ancient Rome, and looked at the vast area of South America from the mountains to the Rainforest. Using them in ELA classes, however, is unexpected and interesting and shows the students another point of view that can only enhance their learning and spark their curiosity and creativity.
Teresa Engler is an educator and Dynamic Learning Project Technology Coaching Fellow at McGuffey School District/McGuffey Middle School in Pennsylvania. You can follow Teresa at @MrsEngler1.