Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wicked Problem Project - Final

Text of My Problem
The important educational need I am seeking to address with my Wicked Problem Project is how to effectively teach academic (content specific) vocabulary. Educational researchers have concluded that "systematic vocabulary instruction is one of the most important instructional interventions that teachers can use." (Classroom Instruction that Works, Marzano, et al. 2001) For my own students, I have identified 50 technology specific vocabulary words they need to recognize and understand in order to perform proficiently on our 8th grade county-wide technology assessment.  Additionally, our Reading School Improvement (SI)Team has identified teaching content specific vocabulary as an across the curriculum goal for our school.  I think the strategies I am proposing for using technology to address this problem in my own curricular area will be transferable to other content specific situations and therefore will help in our school's quest for overall improvement.
Our Language Arts Department Head indicates that the way teaching content specific vocabulary is currently handled in our school is that: "1) it is ignored, or 2) students define words and draw a picture to go with the definitions and that’s it." While the second solution is better than ignoring the problem, we feel we can and should do better.

Text of My Solution
I propose using technology to address this educational issue by utilizing Web tools and interactive games that make learning vocabulary fun and interactive for students and that offers teachers tools for designing and implementing "a comprehensive approach to teaching academic vocabulary." According to the research, students will benefit in significant and lasting ways from this instruction. In “Building Academic Vocabulary.” Marzano and Pickering identify a six-step process for teaching new terms.  Here is a link to a video that explains these six steps: 

This table outlines the six-step process and how I’m incorporate technology in each step to make the process more effective and engaging.

So, how does TPACK fit in with my project?
What is the TP knowledge for the solution?
This is the six-step process combined with the various technology applications outlined in the previous chart.  It is important that the steps are followed specifically and consistently to get optimum results.
What is the TC knowledge for the solution?
Pictures and graphics present powerful visual information that increase students understanding of sometimes abstract or confusing vocabulary. Also, students would not always be able to come up with lists of synonyms, antonyms, or related words on their own. The use of an on-line thesaurus or dictionary would aid in this aspect of six-step process. The threaded discussion makes the content more intellectually accessible to students who do not like to speak up in the classroom setting. Students who rarely volunteer anything are often much more willing to share via the "written" word in a classroom setting.
What is the PC knowledge for the solution?
Students construct meaning of the vocabulary by describing terms in their own words.  Using non-linguistic representations helps many learners "get" the content. Also because we are using a six-step approach, scaffolding is "built-in" to the process. The strategies are engaging, collaborative, and represent "best practice" in the field of content specific vocabulary instruction. 

Here is a short video of a couple of my students discussing vocabulary.  Kelsey and Dylan’s focus is on the terms browser and grammar check.

Findings and Implications
Due to time constraints, I did not fully implement my project, but I do feel I was able to test out the most important parts of it.
I saw evidence of success in implementing my wicked problem project on Systematic Vocabulary Instruction when observing:
Student’s electronic academic vocabulary slides including definitions they created for the terms and pictures they found or created to illustrate them.
Student’s informal discussions with each other of the meanings of words and why they illustrated them the way they did.
Accurate responses when we played vocabulary games.

Lessons learned in my vocabulary project that others might benefit from knowing about are all about making assumptions! First of all, do not assume that just because our students utilize technology frequently and on a daily basis, that they know the "language" of technology. Secondly, do not assume that just because you know how to play a game that your students will also know about it. I would not have a clue where to begin to play the video game "Halo." Likewise, my students had no idea where to begin in "Password."

Marzano’s approach to teaching academic vocabulary is current best practice. I think my integration of technology into the approach improves student learning. This is the essence of TPACK. I’m committed to making this wicked problem project part of my regular curriculum.  I will also be sharing the project with our School Improvement team in hope of getting other teachers “on board” with me!

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