Friday, April 20, 2007

BlackBoard Uses in Upper Elementary

I've used Blackboard on and off over the years. I've taken classes that used it, and I've taught courses that used it at the graduate level. At my current school, all classes in the middle and high school divisions must have a Blackboard component to them. If we had to close the school for some reason such as bird flu or haze, those courses would continue in Blackboard with the students checking in from wherever they were in the world.

Our primary school doesn't use Blackboard at all. My intermediate division has made spotty use of it, mostly with grade 5 classes.

This year, with my frantic start in new country, new school, new job; I was happy to just let it sit. My amazing assistant had created and populated a course for each grade 4 and 5 homeroom, but I wasn't pushing the use of it. Fortunately, even without my involvement, its use has began to grow.

First, two fifth grade teachers decided to team, with one teaching all the science and social studies, and the other teaching all the math. They asked if we could somehow change their homeroom courses to also include all the students from the other class. That was done and soon they were making good use of Blackboard. They post due dates, assignments, resources, etc. Students are able to post assignments digitally. It was making their lives easier.

A few months ago, one of the grade four teachers who hadn't used it, decided to create a forum and post a question related to their current read aloud book. Students responded as homework. It was yet another way to approach literacy and the kids liked it. The teacher found he was gaining useful information so he shared it with his colleagues. Soon I was leading an inservice to teach 6 other teachers how to use it and many of them started posting weekly questions.

In one room, this has really taken off. As a lead in to their study of Antarctica, she asked them to post 6 things they new about the area and 6 things they wanted to learn. Within a week, the children had written more than 300 posts in this discussion. As she read through them, she was delighted to find that the 300 posts were high quality, with the children truly having a rich, respectful discussion online.

She was so delighted that she started looking for other ways that Blackboard could enrich her classroom or make her job easier. She started wondering if it could help her schedule her upcoming student-led conferences. She conferred with another teacher and soon she had set up a conference sign-up discussion board. I checked with her today and many of her families have successfully signed up in the past two days. She is delighted. Next she is planning on using our podcast plug-in in Blackboard to create our divisions' first podcasts. I'll keep you posted on how that progresses. She and I will learn much as the project progresses.

I started using Blackboard myself this spring when I realized it could be that missing home-school link that I've been searching for all year. With the homeroom teachers' permission, I made myself an instructor. I am using it in a big way to provide structure and resources in my movie making unit.

I am pleased with how it is working out. Far more students are completing their homework than during our web page design unit. More importantly, they are learning how to use Blackboard which should make moving on to middle school a bit less stressful.

Next year, I plan to introduce Blackboard early on in the year so that we can all reap its benefits earlier. In my heart of hearts, I still wish it were Moodle instead of Blackboard, but that's a battle I'm not going to win here, so I'll content myself with enjoying our small successes with Blackboard.