Distributed Cognition and Observations of a 4th Grade Classroom, Part 2

The second of the two learning experiences I observed and have chosen to analyze for the purpose of identifying components of distributed cognition occurred during the students’ music class. During this class, the students commonly use a website called Soundtrap to create and share musical compositions. For the activity I observed, the students first listened to a recording of a musical tune comprised of a series of piano chords that the teacher had created using Soundtrap. The students were then divided into partners and provided with a sheet of paper containing a set of lyrics, challenged by the music teacher to develop a melody that they would sing the lyrics to, accompanied by the piano recording. The students used their tablets to access Soundtrap and listen to the recording as they formulated their own melodies for the lyrics. Following this independent work period, each pair of students had an opportunity to present their melodies by singing along to the recording for the teacher and the rest of the class. During the next music class I was able to observe, the students were building upon this project by creating their own dance movements for the song. They once again used their tablets to listen to the recording of the piano chords as they sang and danced.

I was deeply impressed with how the music class utilized a tool for creation for many of its learning experiences. Rather than simply learning songs and terminology associated with music, the students were composing their own music, using their minds and bodies to interact with the provided technology, guided by their teacher. The most prominent affordance that I found Soundtrap to have was the fact that it allows all individuals, even those with little to no understanding of creating music, to compose their own music through this technology. Soundtrap also serves as a collaborative tool, as several individuals can contribute to composing the same musical piece. A constraint, however, may be the large array of features included, which may be overwhelming for some students. Furthermore, using technology cannot substitute the experience of interacting with authentic, physical musical instruments.

Concerning the pedagogical functions that were implemented in this learning experience, it was evident, firstly, that translation was involved. The students were first exposed to the recording of the piano chords by listening to it; they then retained this information in their minds and accessed it on their tablets as they developed melodies and kinesthetic movements to accompany the recording and the lyrics. Representation of ideas, or the concept of using an appropriate representational system to present and distribute knowledge, was also applicable to this lesson. A representational system can include, but is certainly not limited to, maps; diagrams; computer programming languages; and mechanical models. In the case of this lesson, the recording of the piano chords, presented through Soundtrap, was the representational system.

The principle of connection was also present in this lesson, as the students were connected to the recording of the piano chords and the lyrics, inspiring them to create their own unique melodies and movements. As the students worked collaboratively during this project, they were connected to each other as well, relying on each other’s ideas and knowledge of music. In addition to this, the principle of monitoring, which refers to the process of observing the quality of interaction between systems, such as people and technology, and providing feedback as needed. The teacher was observing each pair of students as they worked and providing assistance as needed. The formative assessment that was used in this lesson involved the observation of the students during the creation of their melodies and dances and watching them perform afterwards. I did not see any assessment tool in use.

I believe that this learning experience contributed towards making the students “smarter”, not just in that they were becoming more familiar with the conventions of composing music and creating appropriate melodies and kinesthetic movements to accompany music, but also because they were actively using their creative thinking skills to create products of their learning. In the end, none of the groups of students’ melodies or dances were exactly the same, and each reflected their own ideas.

Distributed Cognition and Observations of a 4th Grade Class, Part 1

I am currently learning to consider how the theory of distributed cognition can be applied to a classroom setting. Distributed cognition refers to the idea that knowledge not only exists within our minds, but in our social and physical environments as well, and that knowledge is gained through interactions with stimuli in one’s environment, including various forms of technology, especially in cases where individuals cannot accomplish tasks without the aid of objects in their environment. For this purpose, I am reflecting on two noteworthy learning experiences I observed, determining which principles of distributed cognition are present in these activities. To accompany my reflective essays, I have created comic strips using Pixton to depict what I observed to the best of my abilities.

The first of these activities is one in which the students created their own fantasy stories in conjunction with their fantasy genre unit for language arts. I first observed the students in the process of creating their revised drafts for their stories, which they composed by writing on paper. Over the next few observations, I saw that the students were creating their final copies of their stories using Google Docs, which they accessed with their tablets. It was evident that the students had ample prior experience with Google Docs, as they required little assistance with using this technology. The students additionally were permitted to create covers and illustrations for their stories once they had been printed. Following the completion of their stories, the students shared them by reading them aloud to their peers.

As someone who has used Google Docs frequently for both personal and academic projects, I find this technology to have abundant affordances, or characteristics that allow individuals using a certain form of technology to perform certain tasks. Firstly, Google Docs is ideal for collaboration, in that multiple individuals can be connected to and create the same document; however, it was not used for this purpose during this particular activity, as each student completed their own individual document. Another noteworthy affordance offered by Google Docs is its built-in auto-correction tool, a common feature of word processing software, allowing students to correct both their spelling and grammatical mistakes and potentially learn to avoid making those same mistakes in the future. and are able to learn to not repeat those mistakes on future writing projects. A potential constraint, or drawback that limits individuals’ performance when using a certain technology, of Google Docs is the fact that is requires connection to the Internet. In cases where Google Docs, or any other digital tool that requires Internet connection, is being used for a classroom activity, there always is the possibility of the Internet unexpectedly failing, resulting in the students being unable to work on their projects.

I have also considered how the effects of technology and the effects with technology are applicable to this lesson. The effects of technology refer to the long-term impact of the use of technology when it is not in use. In the case of this lesson, the students may be benefited long-term by the automatic correction system included with Google Docs, as they may be likely to remember how their spelling and grammar is corrected, especially if they make the same mistake frequently, and their spelling and grammar may be improved. The effects with technology refer to the benefits of interacting with the intellectual characteristics that a technological tool is equipped with, thus expanding one’s awareness of cognitive resources that allow them to accomplish a task more efficiently. In other words, technology can be capable of doing the thinking for you. The availability of automatic corrections in Google Docs, along with other word processing software, is once again applicable to this principle of distributed cognition.

Distributed cognition also involves multiple pedagogical functions that are applicable to classroom environments, and several of these were evident in the activity I observed. The first of these that I chose to remark upon is translation, the process through which ideas or information is transferred from one medium to another, and one of these mediums can be a form of technology. Over the course of this lesson, the students first developed ideas for their stories, which were then transferred to paper, and then to Google Docs in typed form. I also feel that offloading, the process through which a demanding or time-consuming cognitive task is made less difficult by the presence of special features of a tool or technology. As the students used Google Docs to compose the final copies of their fantasy stories, the automatic correction feature allows them to complete their work more efficiently and in less time. Typing also has the benefit of being done more quickly than writing. In addition to these principles of distributed cognition, it was evident that formative assessment was being employed throughout this activity. The teacher assessed the students writing and ability to use the technology provided through their rough drafts and final copy.

As I have also been considering how technology use in the classroom makes students “smarter”, I have come to the conclusion that, regarding this lesson, the technology used was merely a substitute for a more traditional learning method; therefore, I feel that the students were not significantly cognitively challenged or grew in their abilities. However, I do believe that the inclusion of the automatic correction feature helped the students to become more aware of their spelling and endowed them with the knowledge of how to correct these errors during future assignments.

Digital Storytelling Assessment Rubric

In order to assess how adept and understanding I am concerning digital storytelling, I developed a rubric, which I will use in the future to evaluate my own digital story. I relied on the criteria presented by Jason Ohler in chapter 4 of Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning, and Creativity, choosing the five criteria which I felt were most crucial to judging a digital story. As I created this rubric, I came across a number of challenges; for instance, I had to define the word “creative” in a way I had never thought of before and which would be fully understandable by the students I would give this rubric to if I were ever to assign them to create digital stories and assess them in this manner.

Script for my Digital Story

Below is the script I developed for my upcoming digital story, which will tell the story of my passion for sewing.

I know that there are going to be some people out there who will find it unusual that a young woman like myself would enjoy sewing, especially in this modern age. However, I don’t find anything unusual about it at all. Sewing has always been one of my favorite hobbies. It’s been a creative outlet for me, and I’m motivated by the praise my work has received from my family and friends. 

My passion for sewing goes back to when I was very small. Disney’s Cinderella was one of my favorite childhood movies, and I vividly remember being inspired by the scene where  Cinderella’s animal friends fix up her mother’s old gown for the ball. I don’t know what it was that attached me to this particular scene, but it just mesmerized me, and I knew that I had to do something like that myself someday. I have also had a lifelong passion for dressing up, whether it be for Halloween or the trips my family and I made to Disney World. It disheartened me when I grew out of the many Disney Princess costumes I had when I was a child. 

As I grew older, I became more and more fascinated by things like lace, ribbons, and buttons. Over time, I developed a huge collection, and I now keep it in my own sewing room in my house’s basement. I also was constantly refashioning old clothes that my parents and I didn’t use anymore, adding flowers and other embellishments and sometimes trying to change the shape. They didn’t always turn out the way I wanted, but I still enjoyed myself. I was eventually introduced to sewing machines when I received a toy sewing machine as a Christmas gift one year. Additionally, I was heavily influenced by my paternal grandmother, who has been sewing for decades. She has taught me much of what I know now, and I’ve always enjoyed going with her to my local fabric store. I still go there often, even if I only want to browse and familiarize myself with the different kinds of fabric they have for sale.

I have been developing plans for sewing projects I want to do someday for several years, but I never got around to beginning to make these dreams a reality until I was a teenager. Around that time, I felt that I had sufficient experience and knowledge to make my own clothes. The very first Halloween costume I put together was that of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. I made it with some help from my paternal grandmother. I even decorated an old pair of shoes I had to resemble the ruby slippers. It was, in all, an amazing and educational experience. 

During the summer of 2020, I finally made my own costume, completely by myself. Of course, I wouldn’t have the chance to wear it anywhere, being in the midst of a terrible pandemic, but I still wanted to do it. I decided to be Kiki, the main character from the Studio Ghibli movie “Kiki’s Delivery Service”. I really enjoy this movie and I felt like making that particular costume would be easier for a novice seamstress like myself. Once my local fabric store reopened, I went there to purchase some navy blue knit fabric for the main dress, and the rest of the materials were already at home. I even made most of the accessories, including the messenger bag, the radio, and the broom. The finished product is far from perfect, and, looking back at it now, there are some things I wish I could have done differently. Still, I remain extremely proud of this accomplishment, since it’s one I made entirely on my own, using the knowledge I had gained over the years.

I should also mention that I still use the Dorothy costume I made all those years ago. This past year, in fact, I decided that I wanted to be Dorothy for Halloween, and the costume needed some repairs and adjustments, so I single-handedly made all of the necessary revisions to the costume, complete with a new pair of ruby slippers. 

Today, with regards to sewing, I remain as ambitious as I ever was, and there are still countless projects I want to do in the future. I’ve learned over time that sewing can be stressful, and that I have to be prepared for the mistakes I may make and things not turning out the way I pictured them in my head. However, what detracts from the stress I may feel is that I am working for my own pleasure, as well as at my own pace. 

Right now, I’m working on my next costume: Belle’s blue dress from the animated version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It’s beginning to come together, and I can’t wait to share it when it’s finished!

Access to Technology at my Observation Site

As I wish to be more familiar with how technology is used at the school where I am observing and what forms of technology are available to my cooperating teacher and her students, I have consulted some members of the school’s technology department to gain more information. The answers to the four questions I asked were provided by Barry Kallmeyer, who is the Chief Information Officer in the IT department and who also teaches computer science to students from sixth grade to eighth grade.

  1. Who are the people at your school in charge of the technologies available to advance the learning of students? Identify as many of these people as possible.

Hathaway Brown no longer has a director of educational technology or technology integrationist. Instead, the teachers and other faculty are expected to assume responsibility for how they integrate technology during instructional activities. The faculty is additionally encouraged to support other faculty members in their endeavors to use technology as a learning tool and share their own ideas. The school’s IT department is available to provide support and assistance to the faculty as needed. Furthermore, the school has a computer science department, which is headed by Val Yarmesch, who also teaches computer science to the students. The IT department includes Kallmeyer, Tara Anderson, the Director of Network Technology, and Deante Jones and Anass El Bekkari, the school’s two IT specialists.

2. Details of which technology is available, where it’s located, quantities of technologies (i.e. is there a classroom set of iPads for the students to work with?)

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade are assigned iPads that are the property of the school and which are kept on storage carts in the classrooms when not in use, as I have observed in the fourth grade classroom I have been placed in. Concerning the higher grades, students from sixth grade to eighth grade also use iPads, but they are permitted to take their iPads home. These iPads are paid for on a yearly basis by the students’ families, and the students are permitted to keep the iPads after they finish eighth grade. Students from ninth grade to twelfth grade bring their own devices from home, either a Mac or Windows laptop. There is a 1:1 ratio of students to devices throughout the student body, from kindergarten to twelfth grade.

3. Are the technologies readily available and are they in working order? How do students and teachers gain access? Is there a means for reserving them? Are there required purchases by families?

All of the students at Hathaway Brown have access to technology, as the faculty has ensured that there is a 1:1 ratio for students and devices, and everything is in working order. The teachers have laptops, and the teachers from kindergarten to eighth grade are assigned iPads, as their students have iPads. The school additionally has devices that can be borrowed if a device is in need of repair or forgotten at home. Moreover, there is a computer lab in the school which utilizes Windows desktop computers. There are also some other desktop computers distributed to other parts of the school, including the upper-school art room and the Worldwide Communications Center, that are commonly used by students from fifth grade to twelfth grade.

4. What is the nature of the firewall blocking access to applications? Is there a process to transcend or move around the firewall? Who is in control? What is available and what is blocked and why?

Hathaway Brown does have a firewall, and it is controlled by the school’s IT department. Content such as pornography and gambling are blocked on student and teacher devices by the firewall, as this is content that is harmful to children and can significantly disrupt the learning atmosphere. Students’ devices are further managed by a Mobile Device Management (MDM) software program called Mosyle. This MDM tool, for instance, restricts students’ access to the Apple App Store in order to prevent them from downloading apps that are not related to academic content and could potentially distract from their learning. School-approved apps are pushed through to the students’ devices instead. There is not much restriction placed on the students’ devices other than the blocking of adult content and the implementation of Mosyle, as students have been able to find ways to transcend the firewall and the filters it has imposed upon devices. Due to this, the faculty has resorted to teaching students to use the Internet responsibly and make good decisions about what they access. If a site or resource that a teacher needs access to is blocked, they may contact the IT department to address the issue.

Observing Educational Technology

This semester, I have been observing in a 4th grade classroom at Hathaway Brown School. I am benefitting from this experience by not only witnessing the daily events that take place within a classroom and more fully grasping how a teacher executes classroom routines and communicates with their students, but also by becoming more familiar with how technology can be implemented in the classroom, either as a substitution for traditional learning materials or as a genuine extension of learning. Although the students and the teacher in the classroom I am observing use technology infrequently as part of instructional routines, I have been able to identify whether the applications and hardware that are used facilitate the conditions necessary for learning.

The students in the classroom I am observing have their own tablets that they use for several classroom activities. I have not seen many learning applications in use, and those that are used often serve as augmentations, replacing more traditional methods used in the classroom, such as paper and a writing utensil, while allowing students to directly interact with the technology being used and explore its advantages over traditional learning methods. At one point, I have observed the students using Google Docs to type the final copies of their fantasy stories, which they had previously written in their language arts journals. The students are also permitted to further proofread and revise their works as needed as they type them, due to Google Docs’ automatic correction features. While it seems, at first glance, that this aspect of the project does not enhance students’ learning and understanding of language arts concepts, I believe that using a word processing document regularly for language arts activities is preparing students for using such technology often as part of their daily lives and careers. Furthermore, the corrective features contained within Google Docs, as well as other word processing applications, can help students to achieve appropriate spelling, grammar, and punctuation for their grade level.

So far, I have observed one instance of applications and hardware being used to genuinely facilitate and enhance the conditions necessary for learning and enjoyment of subject matter. During music class, the students frequently use a website called Soundtrap, which is a creation tool for musical projects. The students work individually or in pairs to complete the assignments that are posted on this website. During the first music class that I observed, for instance, I saw some of the students share the projects they had been assigned to complete the previous week, in which they added music to an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This use of technology in an educational setting was intriguing to me, as it was, firstly, something I had never seen done before. Furthermore, I feel that students are given the opportunity through this application to apply what they have learned by actively experimenting with music and creating their own compositions, as opposed to simply learning and singing songs.

The students also have a computer science class once every week, and are instructed by a technology specialist who comes to their classroom. During my first observation of this instructional period, I witnessed the students practicing coding by playing a game on their tablets. Additionally, they are being encouraged to practice their typing skills outside of the classroom. Based on what I have observed of the students’ computer science class so far, I feel that the hardware and applications they are using are facilitating the necessary conditions for genuine learning because of how the students are learning skills that they will be likely to use in the real world, especially adequate typing skills. Furthermore, students who are interested in pursuing careers that may involve coding, such as computer programming and software development, are likely to benefit from learning skills related to coding.

Thus far, the only forms of hardware that I have observed my cooperating teacher use are the SMART board at the front of the classroom and a document camera. The document camera is connected to the SMART board so that, during instructional periods, the teacher can demonstrate how to apply concepts that the students are either currently learning or being introduced to by writing on paper that is placed under the document camera. The SMART board and the document camera are most frequently used together during mathematics instructional periods, during which the teacher models how to use mathematical algorithms that are being learned by writing and solving equations on a piece of paper placed underneath the document camera. Her writing is displayed on the SMART board so that all of the students are able to view it, and they are prompted to follow her example by copying what she has written in their math journals. I feel that this use of technology facilitates the conditions that are necessary for learning because of how the teacher is using these forms of hardware to present and model subject matter that is being taught and enabling the students to follow her example in their own work.

Experiences With an Educational Video Game, Post #2

The more I have learned about the educational value of video games and their positive impact on learners, the more supportive I am of the idea that video games can enhance learning. As a future educator, I will not become one of the many teachers who gives the idea of video games having educational value the cold shoulder, only focusing on the surface material and violent nature of the most successful video games released over the past few decades. In recent years, several professionals in the field of education, including Kurt Squire of the University of Wisconsin, have dedicated themselves to emphasizing how profoundly students are impacted when video games are made part of instruction, aiming to usurp negative stereotypes and provide suggestions for how video games can make learning exciting, authentic, and memorable.

As I continue to explore and evaluate “Argument Wars”, the game I reflected upon in my previous post, I have chosen to further connect it to theories about the educational value of video games that I have recently been introduced to in class. As I will be discussing in this post, linking several aspects of the game to Squire’s theory of designed experience was beneficial to my understanding of the game and video games in particular make learning more meaningful and enjoyable for students. What Squire contended that resonated most with the style of teaching I intend to have as a teacher is the fact that students learn best through “doing and being (Squire, p 19)”. This directly coincides with video games being an extension of learning, as learners are able to construct meaning from the games they play, all the while applying and expanding their skills and knowledge. I also support Squire’s argument that video games “The importance of gaming for education might best be summarized by the rhetorical question an elementary school student raised at the Game Developer’s Conference: ‘Why read about ancient Rome when I can build it?’ (Squire, p 19)”

One aspect of Squire’s theory that I was immediately able to connect to “Argument Wars” was his emphasis on students assuming different identities as part of their interaction with video games. Specifically, in his words, “through recursive cycles of perceiving and acting, thinking and doing within the game system, a player begins to adopt a particular perceptivity of an avatar within the game world (Squire, p 22)”. Despite “Argument Wars” being limited in terms of creating and expanding one’s own world and accomplishing a myriad of goals when compared to “sandbox” games, learners are still able to take on a different role from what they have in their ordinary lives and enter a different world. In the case of “Argument Wars”, they are assuming the role of a lawyer.

Players are also able to further develop and characterize their avatars to a certain degree by projecting their own actions and decisions onto them during the gameplay. Moreover, there are some options for customization, mainly in that there are eight avatars to choose from, all of which represent a variety of races, ethnicities, and genders. Because of this, it is likely that students will want to choose an avatar that looks most like them. For these reasons, and several others, Squire proposes that a player creates “a hybrid version of himself or herself” with their avatar. Furthermore, as the player has several liberties in terms of choice-making within the game, in such instances as choosing what side of a case they will support and what cards they will select to strengthen their argument, they are granted “agency within the narrative fiction of the gameworld and its rules (Squire, p 21)” as they assume and explore the identity of their avatar.

Squire also claims that video games collectively function as “a culture of simulation, whereby digital technologies make it possible to construct, investigate, and interrogate hypothetical worlds that are increasingly a part of how we work and play (Squire, p 19)”. This does not entirely apply to “Argument Wars”, as this game presents a simulation of an event that occurs in the real world rather than a hypothetical one. Still, players benefit from being able to witness and interact with events that they will either never or be unlikely to experience in real life (Squire, p 25). “Argument Wars” is additionally an example of what Squire refers to as a professional practice simulation. By playing such games, students actively construct “epistemic frames, or coherent ways of thinking that they can bring to new situations (Squire, p 25)”. Children are also benefited and prepared for the real world by “addressing a challenge and using critical thinking skills to reach a solution or desired outcome (Squire, p 25)”. For these reasons, professional practice games, when implemented in the classroom, supply “a core enterprise for educators, who want to help students become scientists, doctors, or global activists (Squire, p 22)”.

Having navigated through “Argument Wars” and evaluated its most significant features, I now have a fuller understanding of why video games can benefit teachers and students alike in a number of ways. I am most fond of the ideas that students can temporarily assume different identities as they enter worlds that are different from their own, actively manipulate games’ features, make choices within the games’ environments, pursue goals, and build upon their skills and knowledge. I support this ideology, to the point where I intend to implement video games as learning experiences in my own classroom. My goal in doing so would be to ensure that my students process new content in an authentic and enjoyable manner, and that the experience, in addition to the knowledge they gain, will be etched upon their minds.

Works Cited:

Squire, K. (2006). From content to context: Videogames as designed experience. Educational researcher, 35(8), 19–29.