Where “Messing Around” Can Lead You …

As I look back at my technological journey for the past three years, I can honestly say I have grown immensely as an educator for this generation. Three years ago, the announcement came to all of the teachers at Taipei American School that our students would be coming to class with laptops in a year’s time, and it was our goal to be prepared for them. The entire year was spent “messing around” – a term coined in Living and Learning with New Media: the MacArthur Foundation. The article states “When messing around, young people begin to take an interest in and focus on the workings and con­tent of the technology and media themselves, tinkering, exploring, and extending their under­standing.” As my colleagues and I spent the year “messing around”, I believe we also began to find a great interest in and focus on different programs that were available to us as teachers. We dabbled on websites; dabbled with new technology software, hardware, and freeware; dabbled with and communicated our initial ideas for how tech could be used most effectively in our classrooms.  Additionally, we began to teach ourselves how to use the programs and how we would best utilize them in our classes. This gradual approach of “dabbling” and “messing around” was exactly what the teachers needed. It gave us the time we needed to get trained using certain programs and to feel somewhat prepared/organized for the task at hand.

The most recent article I read, titled “Shaping Tech for the Classroom” by Marc Prensky, speaks about the four stages that we, as adults, often go through when trying to adopt technology tools in order to best meet the needs of our students.  It mentions that we start off by dabbling, and after that, we move onto doing old things in old ways. An example of doing old things in old ways from the article is that we may continue writing stories and sharing them … but the only change is now it’s all done digitally. To reflect back on my initial stages of shaping technology in my classroom, I would definitely say that I took these same exact steps, and after dabbling moved onto doing old things in old ways. Prior to having computers in class, the students would be required to draw charts by hand for the purpose of recording data. In an effort to utilize the laptops that the students were now bringing to class daily, for anything requiring an organizational chart for recording information or data, I asked them to create a table in Word or a chart in Excel, fill in their data, and print it off. But the real question I started to ask myself was … Does this “new” method really produce educational progress?

Stage 3 is doing old things in new ways. The learning curve that I have experienced during my tech transition has been enormous, and I have also experienced this stage. Teaching my students to analyze data in charts and graphs has always been one of the benchmarks in grade 6 math, therefore I teach them how to do this. We then move onto looking at biased data and misleading graphs, and discuss how advertising agencies use these methods to its advantage. In the past, I would bring in torn out ads from magazines and each group would analyze 2-3 advertisements. Their goal was to determine whether the information was biased or not, and how the company could have possibly put a twist onto the data to mislead their consumers. From that point, the students would create their own survey, collect data, put twists on their data, and create a hand-drawn advertisement poster “selling” something. This project was the culmination of the unit. I have recently made a shift in my approach. Now, I still teach the same concepts although the projects are all done using various forms of technology. I start the project by showing streamed advertisements and online articles, which the students then engage in dialogue about the biasness of each. Some of these links are listed here:

Misleading Data/Graphs:





Online Article:



 YouTube Preview Image – Trident Gum

 YouTube Preview Image – Adidas

The students collect data from their survey question using  technology of their choice – iPhones, laptops, etc. They collate their data and then present the raw data to the class. Additionally, they find a way to put a “twist” on the data and share their results for this as well. Finally, each group uses multimedia to create a commercial. I leave the program options open to the students for this portion as well, but most groups tend to use PowerPoint or Windows Media Player. They add songs, voice threads, computerized graphs, and animated graphics. The presentations are fabulous, and the dialogue and learning of the math concepts in this project have improved tremendously. I have included links to some examples of student projects below.

Examples of Statistic Video Projects by Ms. Nave’s Grade 6 students …

(NOTE: The following videos are the final project of our statistics unit. Video #1 will show the actual results from the survey; Video #2 will put a twist onto the original data and then try to “sell” a product; the students also presented a detailed report of their data collection and how they “twisted the data” during class)

Video #1:

YouTube Preview Image

Video #2:

 YouTube Preview Image

Even after two full years of 1-to-1 laptops in my grade 6 math class, I would say that I am still functioning at Stage 3 in my transitional process, although am slowly moving into stage 4. It’s a slow process, but one I am approaching with open arms and a willingness to invite my students to be involved with. In my next blog post, I plan on reflecting on how I have moved onto stage 4 – doing new things in new ways. Additionally, I will share some of the activities and/or projects I have used in my math class. Stay tuned!