Tech-Rich Learning: Hurricane Maria

After reading this week’s articles and readings and really reflecting on my tech-rich experiences, one life-changing unit stands apart from the rest of the units I have taught in my six years as an educator.

 I’m not exaggerating- this unit was indeed life-altering because it confirmed how learning can truly transform the way students can develop as global citizens and see the power they have within themselves to make an impact in the world.

While teaching third grade a couple of years ago (2017), my former colleague and I were working on a science unit with a focus on natural disasters. At the time, Hurricane Maria, a category five hurricane, devastated Puerto Rico and several other Caribbean islands. I was very worried the night the hurricane made landfall because my mother was due to fly to the Dominican Republic, my home country, and the island near Puerto Rico. After seeing the destruction that hit the island, my teaching partner and I came up with a plan to embed service-learning and project-based learning into our science unit; with technology-rich learning opportunities as well. With the guidance of the students, we decided to start a fundraiser for the whole month of November to raise money for the families affected in Puerto Rico.

Asking the “So What?” Question

So, we posed the question to our students:

“What could third graders do to help hurricane victims?”

It was phenomenal to see all of the ideas our third-graders came up with. Students shared plans for daily fundraising activities that were held for one week out of the month of November. We also held a “talent showcase” at a local restaurant as a way to end our month-long fundraiser with a big bang! We set a goal we wanted to reach in donations and surpassed it! But to ensure we were also embedding the student learning targets into our unit, as mentioned in Kim Cofino’s post, 3 Steps to Transforming Learning in Your Classroom, we tied in ways students could help families prepare for a natural disaster.

Flyer designed by third graders for our Relief Performance.

By setting this unit up as an opportunity to engage in project-based learning, students had a “buy-in” knowing that they were making real-world connections. As stated in Mike Smit’s article 3 Ways Technology Supports Project-Based Learning,  “the purpose of realia is to connect what students are learning in the class to actual life outside. It helps students see that the lesson is more than a grade on an assignment, but actually preparation for their life” (2018).

So what about the tech-rich experiences?

In connection with our natural disaster unit, students took the role of being a survival expert and created virtual survival kits for families to use to prepare for any natural disaster. Others made PSAs using Greenscreen and shared the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria and how people could help. Some third graders used BookCreator to cultivate an illustrated book showing how pets were affected by the hurricane as well.  Technology played a massive role and helped redefine the learning that took place within this unit as shared in the SAMR model.

https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Instructional_design/SAMR_Model/What_is_the_SAMR_Model%3F

Students had a real purpose and learned in an authentic space, keeping an audience in mind.

A student sharing how electricity affected the families in Puerto Rico in a public service announcement.

 The impact made on the students through this unit went beyond the month of November. For the winter holidays, students made cards to be shared with the families in Puerto Rico as well. Students even engaged in other self-directed service-learning opportunities as the academic year went on.

In my opinion, in order for tech-rich learning to take place, we have to develop relevant learning experiences for students to be apart of. Tech is used more effectively when you have PBL units and service-learning projects for students to engage in.

What about you? Can you think of a tech-rich learning experience that was embedded within a service-learning or PBL unit?

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  1. Joel Bevans
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