Within my second grade classroom, the tools my students are using are generally provided by me. Very few of my students have access to their own device (tablet, ereader, computer, etc.) and often do not have experience using them beyond the playing stage. Occasionally my students have used computer software to practice academic skills, and some do use ereaders infrequently, but other than that their exposure is quite limited. I believe that their lack of experience is both a blessing and an obstacle within my classroom; the introduction of a device instantly receives their full attention but appropriate use of it requires a significant amount of time preparing and practicing with the children.
For providing instruction with the curriculum, I find that YouTube videos are incredibly effective. After a significant amount of lobbying of the IT department, this valuable tool was finally unblocked. I had previously been using an app on my iPad, PlayTube, to download and show instructional videos for my students. I find that YouTube is a quick and efficient way to build interest in a lesson, while simultaneously building background knowledge of the topic. I also like to Skype with experts when studying a topic; during our habitat unit we Skyped with a marine biologist in Florida about sharks and a Yellowstone Park Ranger about the plethora of animals in the park. The children often sit, open-mouthed, while the presentation is taking place, and during the Q & A, ask some incredibly insightful questions, displaying an interest in the topic they may not have had without speaking to the experts in the field.
During independent work periods, I also like to use QR codes to allow children the “freedom” to access information about a topic in a self-guided manner. Providing students with QR codes eliminates the need of their limited keyboarding skills and reduces the likelihood of inappropriate content exposure. Ebooks, with the use of Read-to-Me functions, also enhance the ability of my students to access information for themselves.
I have never had my students use Google Hangout, but my experience with it was pretty impressive. I liked how easy it was to use and to work with during my group meetings. Kidblog is a program I have had the students dabble with, but have found that it was inefficient due to my lack of devices for the students. In addition, their lack of keyboarding skills made the process tedious. Because of this, we have used iMovie as an alternative; the students have created video-blogs and posted them in our classroom website. A few even took the time to comment on their classmates’ blogs at home with another video. This was an activity they truly enjoyed and were quite engaged with.
As for collaboration, the only true collaboration my students have done is with Prezi. They worked together to compile research for their biography project, then each completed a section of a Prezi (I had created a template beforehand for them to fill-in). While it wasn’t the most collaborative effort, I feel it was a good starting point for my seven-year-olds. We have tried to Skype with other students to create a habitat project, but the scheduling was difficult with the other class.