Josh Burker's Action Research Site

Creating an Inclusive Elementary School Tech Club

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Action Research Plan

I have completed the Cycle One part of my Action Research Plan and have written my Action Research Cycle One Report. I am now finishing Cycle Two of my Action Research and am working to outline and write the report.



PURPOSE: The purpose of my Action Research is to increase participation in Tech Club.

SITUATION: While Tech Club is a well-attended and popular activity for students in grades three through five, participation by girls and marginalized students at the school is lower than that of boys.


RESEARCH QUESTION ONE: If I make Tech Club projects more "technology transparent" and concentrate more on projects with artistic objectives, will girls' participation increase?

BACKGROUND RESEARCH: The resources that I have considered include:

- Hanor's "Concepts and strategies learned from girls' interactions with computers"
- Bhargava, Kirova-Petrova, and McNair's "Computers, gender bias, and young children"
- Hartshorn's "Girls take charge of technology"
- Thomas and Keller's "The Brownie brigade"

I have learned from these researchers that girls favor an aesthetic approach to computer use; that collaboration and the relationships such work builds are oftentimes more important than the computer use itself for girls; and the importance for girls of non-judgmental, supportive time spent using computers to foster understanding and comfort. While girls still face formidable challenges in their access to equitable computer use, the examples set by the teachers with whom they work and the support they receive for their accomplishments is an important motivator and reinforcer of a girl's perception of her computer literacy.

RESEARCH QUESTION TWO: If I chose Tech Club project topics that capitalize on marginalized students' interests and prior computer literacy, will these students be more likely to participate?

BACKGROUND RESEARCH: The resources I have considered include:

- Goldsmith and LeBlanc's "Use of technology interventions for children with autism"
- Lewis, Trushell, and Woods' "Effects of ICT group work on interactions and social acceptance of a primary pupil with Asperger's Syndrome"

I have learned from these researchers that students with Asperger's Syndrome are attracted to technology and that technology use in small group setting with definite goals is beneficial for these students. Additionally, much of the insight and knowledge I gained from researching girls use of technology helps to inform my work in this area as it involves taking a more aesthetic, collaborative approach to computer instruction and use.

COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE: I am a Technology Specialist at an elementary school where three years ago I started a Tech Club. As a Technology Specialist I do not have too much direct instructional interaction with students, as it is not a certificated position. However, I am able on a typical day to assist students as they use the computers in the computer lab or in a classroom. Running Tech Club allows me to create a learning environment where elementary students are able to experiment with technology in a non-judgmental, non-evaluated setting. They work collaboratively and in multi-age groups on long-term projects with final products that showcase their creativity and abilities to use technology to express their imaginations. I serve as a facilitator for these students, offering knowledge and experience with the computers as well as support as they learn to use the tools on their own and in ways that I could not have imagined.

MY ACTIONS (Cycle 1): How can I modify the projects in which Tech Club is engaged to increase participation by girls and marginalized students, like those with Asperger's Syndrome? I started by conducting a series of information sessions for students to showcase the past projects Tech Club had completed. Students were able to watch a promotional film clip that other students had made to highlight their films. They were allowed to look at photos taken last you wand displayed on a number of portable media players. They paged through a comic book we had created last year. The response was very favorable and I had about twenty five students come to our first meeting.

I decided to use digital cameras as Tech Club's first project because it is a very accessible technology, even for people who might not have used a computer, or even a digital camera, before. Additionally, I felt that a project involving digital cameras would place more emphasis on the photographs the students were taking, rather than the technology itself, an important consideration when trying to attract girls to a technology project. The research I conducted indicated that girls are more interested in the collaborative process and the final product than the technology itself. The digital camera would be a perfect, unobtrusive technology that would engage the girls and might offer more opportunities for them to participate.

ARTIFACTS COLLECTED: I have collected the following items to help me to assess the level of participation in Tech Club:

- parent permission forms for me to conduct research and for student's work to be posted to a web page
- photographs taken by about twenty five original participants in Tech Club
- sign up sheets for students to have dedicated fifteen minute blocks of time to use the digital cameras
- photographs taken by each of the students during their fiteen minute blocks and edited on a computer

Additionally, as the project reaches its conclusion I will have:

- short biographies written by the students about their peers' use of cameras and the subjects that interest them and inspire their photography
- four different web pages of selected works by each "computer and camera" group that showcases their best efforts and explores their growth as photographers and which students can use to share their work with their parents and the wider community
- four different portable media viewers that the students will have learned to load with their own photos that they have used specialized software tools to convert for use on the player
- photographic documentation of a "gallery" event where the students share their photography, via a laptop and LCD projector as well as the aforementioned media players, with their peers and teachers

EVALUATION: I will evaluate the outcomes of my actions by comparing the photographs that the students took at the beginning of this project with those they took at the end, and asking the students to look at their work with a similarly critical eye and assess how they have developed as photographers. There will be fewer students who have produced a larger body of photographs than there were originally, when we took to the playground in a group of twenty five and took many photos, most of which lacked the sophistication and technique the later refined work demonstrates. However, by considering the depth of the body of work that the remaining participants have created I will best gauge the participation that is occuring. Additionally, I will be able to look at the number of girls who are participating, which is a significant number, and assess my actions as well. Have I created a project that encouraged girls to continue participating? Did the shift from a large group format, where even in smaller sub-groups access to the equipment was still problematic and unequal, to smaller groups of four photographers and four students assessing and editing their work on computers, make it possible for girls to better create the working relationships among their peers that they find the most enriching part of their computer use? Has digital photography showcased the talents of a student with Asperger's Syndrome, given him an outlet for his creativity and a reason to participate in group work, and to help his peers using the computer skills he possesses? How has this empowered him to better interact with his peers? I believe that these questions will be answered as I look at the final body of work that the students have produced; as I gauge the continued participation by a group of girls in seeing a project to its completion and making valuable contributions to the direction, focus, and diversity of the final product; and as I move to a the next project for Tech Club and determine how many students continue participating despite changing the subject matter and technology of the project.




Cycle Two

BACKGROUND: The first project that Tech Club engaged in this year proved to be exciting and engaging for a group of girls and a student on the Austism Spectrum. Modifications were made to the way the Club met to provide students with maximized exposure to using digital cameras and laptop computers. Students were able to create a large body of work that showed refinement of personal style and growth of knowledge in their use of a digital camera. The students' work was shared at an exhibit during recess and at a presentation at an evening pricipal's forum that focused on my Action Research and the literature review that I had conducted as part of my Action Research. Additionally, the students' photos were displayed on the digital picture frame hanging in a hallway at the school, so others may see the students work. Students who built web pages of their images received a CD of their work, along with the work of the other students. The CD also contained a link to the presentation on the digital photography project that I had prepared for the parents so they could access the information when it was convenient for them.

During Cycle One of my Action Research my actions affected girls' participation in Tech Club. Additionally, I was able to provoke and hold the interest of a student on the Autism Spectrum and get him to work with his peers on a mutually interesting project. As I moved into the next Tech Club project, podcasting, I recognized that not all projects were suited to all individual students. I emphasized at the beginning of the school year that students were welcome to come and go from Tech Club as their interests dictated. As I transitioned into the next project I realized that I would lose some students who had participated during the digital photography project. However, I also recognized that I stood to increase participation in Tech Club by other students who had seen our work on the digital photography project and who had expressed interest in joining Tech Club on seeing that we were not studying technology as much as creating through the use of technology.

The disappointing turnout at my presentation at the principal's forum caused me to include a link to the documentation on the CDs that the students took home. This allowed parents access to the information on their time and also promoted the work that we did as Tech Club. I hoped to leverage similar technologies that allowed people access the content that Tech Club was creating according to their schedule, and to work with a technology that facilitated the retrieval of the work for the end user. For that reason podcasting and Really Simple Syndication (RSS) were ideal technologies to use to promote the work that Tech Club was doing this year and to explore our community and its participants.

RESEARCH QUESTION THREE: Can I promote Tech Club's work through podcasts and RSS technologies? Will this project inspire new students to participate in Tech Club and inform parents about the benefits of constructivist, collaborative technology use?

BACKGROUND RESEARCH: The resources that I have considered include:

MY ACTIONS (Cycle Two):

  • Produced in informational poster that I hung on the computer lab door. This poster explained what podcasts were and got students thinking about segment ideas
  • Downloaded episodes of Radio WillowWeb podcasts and loaded them into iTunes for students to listen to during podcasting information meetings
  • Informally polled students about whose parents owned an iPod, which students owned an iPod
  • Individually met with students to discuss segment ideas based on SAISD templates or personalized segments, like one on the fifth grade operetta
  • Wrote reminder notes to the students to provide them with the time and location of their recording sessions
  • Increased reliance on students to complete the technical aspects of podcast production
  • Emailed school faculty and staff, Technology Specialists, Director of Technology, and Superintendent upon release of new episodes, included directions on how to subscribe to the podcast
  • Had web master post an announcement and instructions on how to subscribe to the podcast on school web site
  • Promoted podcasts at lunch, in classrooms
  • Promoted podcasts at the volunteer sign-in table in the front office with directions on how to subscribe to the podcast
  • Loaded podcasts onto Juice Box media players for students to listen to for inspiration or clarification about what a podcast is
  • Tracked web statistics for requests for rss.xml file
  • Promoted the podcast to School Board members when they visited campus for the day
  • Worked with two students on the Autism Spectrum to record segments showcasing his songwriting and singing talents
  • Assisted faculty and staff in configuring iTunes to subscribe to the podcast
  • Assisted community members via telephone conversations and email with subscribing to the podcast


  • Copies of the templates and scripts developed by the students and me
  • Record of who participated in each podcast segment
  • Episodes of the podcast that Tech Club recorded and produced
  • Informal conversations with faculty, administrators, and parents about the value of the podcasts in engaging students in the writing process, showcasing student talent

EVALUATION: The podcasting project is ongoing. To date I have created a project that has engaged new students in Tech Club. I am particularly proud of my work to encourage and coordinate a student with more severe Autism to participate in the recording of a podcast segment. I hope to release the episode of which the segment is part this week, and I honestly believe that this segment will change the perception that his classmates, teachers, and those who work with him have of him as an individual. Students for whom reading is a challenge have engaged this project and worked hard to produce segments about issues that interest them. As additional episodes are released new students step in to record segments. The pull technology of an rss feed is getting the podcasts into students' homes, where they and their parents are listening and learning about the individuals at our school and the work we do as a community. People are interested in Tech Club and the valuable work that we are doing.


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