I would like to reflect on my experience contributing to A Week in the Life, the Flat Classroom elementary pilot project. My students and I found the experience engaging and rewarding as seen in their comments on a previous post. My conclusions about our experience are mainly based on my students’ comments, but I have also reflected on my role as educator related to organization and implementation. Comments below in quotations are from my students.
We don’t often take time for self-reflection regarding the day-to-day aspects of our lives and there were many discussions that arose during guided reading and our Personal Cultures unit of inquiry in order to define and share the daily characteristics of our lives and school day. There was a good deal of brainstorming and organizing thoughts before sharing to prepare for the final project. “We had to choose what to share about what we have in Prague…”
The value of group work, within class and with global partners, was greater due to the need to communicate in order to collaborate on a final project. For example, students learned to attentively read and appropriately respond to team members’ comments and inquiries in the Edmodo chats. Learning that online communication is a productive means to work with others and share ideas, not just for daily chit-chat, was valuable as well.
Through Skype video chats with 2 classes in the US, students learned firsthand about our similarities and differences and time zones. It was also valuable to see the face of a team member who lives across the world. “That I can know how another country is like and I can picture it in my mind (is valuable).”
A relevant need to focus on the history of our host country arose, “We have different holidays, like in the USA you get a day off for Thanksgiving, not in Prague.” When discussing why this was true, students became aware of the differing histories of various countries and they then became more interested in the history of the Czech Republic.
Clearly, students learned valuable online tools to use to communicate by experience. “We could Skype, Edmodo, email, things like that. Oh yeah, and write of course, send pictures, videos.” Communicating in Edmodo was a great opportunity for my students to communicate with others through chat. Many are eager to engage in online social networking and it was a great chance for them to develop positive digital citizenship behaviors.
Personally, I enjoyed connecting with other educators as well as the strategies and tools I learned to use. One of the most valuable lessons was a reminder that learning is messy, particularly when trying new ways of learning for students and teachers alike. As one student wrote, “We are all still learning” and I can only conclude that she is including me in that comment. It was messy at times, but well worth rolling up my sleeves to participate in!
As a pilot project, we were very open-minded, shared ideas and experiences and adjusted the project as we proceeded. In following projects, a stricter adherence to and definition of steps in the process and final project would help me with planning and organization within my regular curriculum. I don’t mean that students should be restricted, but that each final project will contain certain characteristics in order to be successful. I realize it is restrictive to choose one tool for communication and one for presentation and one for file storage, but on the other hand it can become confusing and over-whelming when many tools are shared and examined and considered.
Keep it simple is always a good rule. Adopting tools that are allowed in all countries and perhaps holding a week of “sandbox” exploration for teachers and students to play with and learn how to use the tools before the project begins will be beneficial.
I will also, within groups, assign roles to team members with leadership jobs given to the most experienced students on the team. For example, assigning the roles of taskmaster, recorder, researcher and so on. Roles would be dependent on the nature of the final project and if there were a taskmaster, recorder and researcher from each school within the team it may allow students to bond better across the globe. The organizers would communicate regularly to keep their in-school team members on task and recorders would share and record events from each city/country.
In retrospect, I would have integrated and implemented more IT tool sandbox activities with my students before starting. This will be easier if the project is later in the year and if tools are selected early on in the project. Allowing students to plan and capture images from the start next time will provide more time at the end for creating the final project on their own. I also predict that collecting images earlier will give shape and deeper discussion of the message they hope to communicate throughout the process.
At the start of the project, providing a team get-to-know-you activity for students to participate in, such as a scavenger hunt or experience-sharing grid on a team wiki-page may allow students to connect sooner. Team discussions in Edmodo would also benefit from a clear purpose each week- perhaps set by the team member in the lead role.
If selected to participate the next project this spring, it will be easier to integrate as we will be engaged in our Prague unit of inquiry during that time. One unit focus question is, ‘How do you get to know a place and why bother doing this?’ As we learn about our city and country, participation in the A Week in the Life project will enhance this unit because students will have greater motivation to take note of and share the unique and similar characteristics of Prague. While on field trips, students would keep their team subject and essential questions in mind and capture images that relate to their topic. As well, the team topics would become embedded into unit thinking and reflection throughout the unit.
The last 2 months have been full of supporting teachers with end of the year projects and tasks, arranging a move from Madrid to Prague, and wrapping up my time as a tech integrator at my previous school.
As I write, I’ve been home in the US for 2 days and sinking into vacation mode as jet lag wears away. I’m also planning for my next position as a grade 3 teacher at the International School of Prague.
As an elementary classroom teacher in the past I always enjoyed (mostly) re-imagining what my classroom should contain and how it should be arranged. For example, there needed to be a gathering area with a rug, some sort of collaboratively friendly arrangement of the desks, and classroom computers for communication, information and expression in a pod or dispersed through the room. Then after school started and we all got to know each other, more changes would be made.
After 3 years out of the classroom, I have new ideas for classroom features and I would love more ideas and input. What are physical features or objects that you have or have seen in an elementary classroom that made the classroom special?
Stay in the question(s): Reflections from the Apple Leadership Conference2010 (Part 2/6)
I re-read Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody, when I saw he would be appearing at the conference. During his presentation he shared that when trying to create change and growth, try many small things and if they fail, they are small failures. Then go with the ones that succeed, build on those and don’t sweat small failures. Don’t try to enact a big plan that may fail big. He cited Ewan McIntosh’s efforts in East Lothian, Scotland as shown on the community site, edubuzz.org. To me, Ewan McIntosh has always been right up there with Marco Torres.
Clay also met with the students who presented on Friday evening and discussed with them their learning and thoughts on school, the classroom and learning. He then sat on stage with them our last day and held a panel discussion that we could listen to and participate in. Clay was able to elicit valuable, sometimes funny, responses from the students (grades 5-12).
- Doing small projects on one big topic stick in your mind better
- Teachers can show us rather than tell us everything, Let us do things to learn.
- Prefer when work is connected to real life, teachers facilitate, freedom to choose tool to express ourselves and show our learning
- We like ISPrague because of the tools available to us, not just tech but the teachers as tools also. One student said, “I feel taken seriously here.”
- In a group project we usually have to use more than one app, everyone has their specialty and we help each other.
- Math- it would be better if there were many ways to learn, some absorb it and others need to learn differently. Split us up by how we learn and choose to learn. Connect the learning to real life more.
- Allow situations where students can learn from one another, share what they know and what they learned from the subject, rather than the teacher always teaching- sometimes it’s easier to learn from another student.
- Sometimes your teacher tells you to try one way, and you don’t want to try it because it sounds too easy or obvious, then you try it and it works and you get annoyed because they were right.
Tags: Collaboration, ProjectIMPACT FlatClassroomConference inspiration students future arts
Will, Beatrice, Jeongmin, Arjun aren’t “my” students but I collaborated with them a month ago when participating virtually in a Flat Classroom Mini-conference in Mumbai. I was participating via Skype, etherpad and Ustream from my apartment in Madrid. I enjoyed this collaboration and was very impressed with their ability to work together and think on their feet, coming up with a fantastic idea, Project IMPACT. Here is the video describing Project IMPACT…
They didn’t leave the project behind in Mumbai but continue to work together using a wiki and twitter account to keep the momentum and pursue this idea from a distance and from one team member’s campus. I was recently learning about Challenge Based Learning and immediately thought of ProjectIMPACT as an excellent example of this type of learning- these students are taking an activity and continuing with it based on their desire to improve our world with a socially beneficial, life enriching and achievable idea.
Project IMPACT has caught my interest and enthusiasm and I plan to help in any way I can, but mainly stay out of the way regarding the project development and their vision. Is there a way you could help or support making ProjectIMPACT a reality?
Tags: Collaboration, games, Global Collaboration, Professional Development, Project-based Learning, QuestAtlantis, Shift, virtualworlds
I’m new to virtual worlds. I’ve been curious about Second Life but never ventured in, even though there are many educator-based groups I could benefit from participating in. I recently listened to a Seedlings podcast featuring Bronwyn Stuckey, the teacher trainer for Quest Atlantis. QA is a virtual world for students where they can collaborate, learn and solve reality-based world problems together. (Thank you again Bob, Cheryl and Alice!) QA also incorporates literacy, mathematics and content area studies. I see it as a possible school of the future. I have just missed the European teacher training, but was accepted to participate in the US/Canada 4 week training- which means middle of the night sessions for 4 weeks.
I’ve completed the first training and have progressed enough on my own to allow my avatar to change from the all-white newbie outfit to my individually chosen clothes and physical characteristics. I know it sounds as if that’s been the highlight for me, but I have actually accomplished much more. For example I have learned to navigate and move my avatar, to understand my pod and how to reenter and continue my current mission. I have yet to engage with another participant socially but I know that will come with continued training sessions.
Most impressive is the QA framework and how easy the training is for someone on her first trek into a virtual world. We began with the basics where I had to travel from place to place to learn the back story of QA and also meet some of the main characters. I submitted my first Quest- choosing a writing task over science or mathematics tasks. It was the first poem I’ve written in many years and very poor I’m sure! I then learned the 7 Social Commitments that are the foundation of QA and am currently learning how to review a quest. Reviewing student quests is based on a balance of feedback in 4 areas: content focus + narrative quality + supportive comments + informative comments. Today when I logon I will complete my first quest review.
Quest Atlantis has all the qualities that relevant, engaging learning requires: an engaging, challenging and supportive environment, quality assessment and feedback, plus integrated content and life-skills at the core of all learning opportunities. One of my colleagues is willing to learn QA and we plan to implement it with her 5th grade students. Our after-school activities have started this semester, but I plan to hold a QA group for the second semester. I know I have just stepped onto the tip of the QA iceberg and am excited to continue and discover what I’ll learn as a teacher and an individual.
Tags: beginnings, grade4, Project-based Learning, rainforest, research, Science
Recently our fourth grade science teacher wrapped up her Rainforest unit by giving a TurningPoint “clicker” survey to students allowing them to reflect on the content and project-based learning approach for the unit. (BTW, if you have experiences with TurningPoint where it is the BEST tool to use, please let me know?) Over the course of 7 weeks, groups of students moved through 5 centers/projects, spending a week (2.25 hours each week) on each project. Each center/project was content-based with the tasks involving drama, technology presentations (ppt), writing, drawing and 3 dimensional art.
During the survey, students showed that they most enjoyed the writing and tech presentation activities- the two centers using laptops. They also responded that they would have liked more time in each center and they preferred group-project learning to more traditional whole-class learning culminating with a test. Kim felt that fewer projects with more time per project would be more beneficial- the unit was very wide and not deep enough. On the whole, the experience was positive enough that we are now planning a similar approach to the next unit with adjustments based on the feedback from students and our own reflections.
What made it a success? First, Kim’s willingness to collaborate and innovate her facilitation of student learning for a standard content unit. Also, her foundation of guiding research questions, project rubrics plus project descriptions and questions. The research guide page in our school Moodle site provided a foundation for students at the start and for ongoing reference. Classroom support from parents and myself helped Kim facilitate group focus, reflection and troubleshooting. Finally, the opportunity for reflection by students and teacher and application of these observations on future planning is what ensures future success.
As wonderful as the experience was, I am always thinking, “How can it be better?” I would add collaboration with others outside our campus. For example, email questions to expert scientists and environmentalists or create group projects with classes in other countries (similar to a Flat Classroom Project.) I also feel I need to learn more about project-based learning to more effectively implement and utilize the projects to optimize student learning, beginning with improving and creating more engaging unit and project questions.
Tags: Collaboration, growth, kinderKidsDraw, Shift
I should be baking candy cane cookies right now but while mixing the dough I was thinking about the past 2 weeks at school and how encouraged I feel about the growth taking place.
First, I’ve been invited to help in Kim’s classroom with her center-project-based approach to student learning about the Rainforests. I’ve been helping out 2-3 hours a day, three days a week with students in groups, mainly the PPT group. I bring my laptop with me so I can work on my own things if I’m not needed. There are Kim, one or two parents and myself responding to student questions as well as observing and asking questions to help them self-discover an answer or find the best direction to follow. These projects require students to understand the content in order to share creatively what they have learned. Kim noted that it took a good deal of work to plan and set up, but it has been worth all the effort. On a side note, nothing settles restless 4th graders like Holiday or Celtic music or Bob M. and the Wailers.
Secondly, I asked all grade level teams to meet with me now or after the holiday break to reflect with me on what is working and not, what they need, and what dream projects or activities they would like help developing. So far I have met with the kindergarten and first grade teams and our meetings were very positive and gratifying. Beside the suggestions and problems noted to be addressed I have 2 larger projects I’m excited about.
Kindergarten teachers would like to use the classroom desktops more and need to know what software is on them, what can be added and they want drop-in help during centers to introduce students to online activities related to current classroom content. This is one of my dreams- to see students using the classroom desktops as much as any other classroom learning tool. Also, a second Kinder teacher is interested in participating in KinderKidsDraw!
For the first grade team, I am investigating a long-term project linked to their curriculum that we will co-plan and teach starting in January. They will be studying continents so I am developing a 4-6 week project with a continent focus that incorporates the language study, writing and math skills also being taught at that time.
My position as ed-tech specialist is much less lonely this year as I am in classrooms more (not just in the lab) and have built relationships with teachers. The kids greet me by name in the hall and I’m even getting handmade holiday cards this year (with my new name, Momaly). Yea!
Lastly, and not related to my own campus. For several years I’ve learned so much by searching online to see what other educators are doing in their classrooms and regularly reading some favorite blogs. I have also collaborated with other classes one-to-one. But within the last year I’ve moved from being a blog and Twitter lurker to a contributor. It takes some getting used to, mostly stepping away from brutal self-judgement, and to build relationships but I enjoy connecting and contributing so much more than merely taking and one-to-one collaborations.
So, if you are reading this I want to wish you a wonderful holiday and vacation- I’d share my Candy Cane cookies with you if I could!
Tags: curriculum, Learning is Messy, Project-based Learning, risk taking, Shift
Being a teacher in a school that is shifting is challenging. There is more to learn and adopt than the newest math or reading program- at least in those cases it was essentially a newer package of the usual way of doing things. Also, teaching in a shifting school is more than learning how to use PowerPoint well enough to teach your students the skills needed to do a report using PPT instead of a booklet. What is needed is deeper- modeling and providing opportunities for students to learn, collaborate, reflect on learning and create in ways that extend and express content and ideas.
Asking teachers to take the necessary risks to learn new skills, view learning and learners in new ways, trusting the tech specialist and colleagues, and risk making errors in front of students is asking a lot from already over-taxed professionals. It is also challenging for students who aren’t accustomed to being asked to use what they have learned and use content to extend their ideas.
This is why I am taking the time to write and share a post about a colleague- one of our fourth grade teachers who is going out on a limb and beginning the shift. In the past few weeks she enlisted the support of myself and our science coordinator, Brook, to help create a Rainforest unit based on the curriculum content to support and challenge her students. She wanted research and projects that allowed levels of engagement and addressed a variety of learning styles. We brainstormed and Kim created the final project descriptions with task descriptions and rubrics for each. Brook and I supported by helping to set up the resources needed. Kim also asked for my support and from parent volunteers in class during the next weeks while students rotate through projects- she is the grade level science teacher and works with all three homeroom groups so she will have 3 hours a day facilitating students working on projects three days a week.
What is so unique about what Kim is doing? She is collaborating and using available human resources. She is revising her expectations for student learning and allowing for a variety of student learning styles, talents and ability levels. Students are being asked to engage in learning and apply and creatively demonstrate what is learned. By the end of the first project day students were becoming engaged and interested in what they were learning and Kim was exhausted.
It’s not easy and it’s messy. It required a great deal of preparation on Kim’s part as well as her willingness to take risks and believe in the value of revising the way things have been taught in the past. She also realizes she’s not alone and is willing to collaborate. And it won’t be easy for the students either.
On the other hand, it’s so exciting to be part of an environment where real learning is taking place for students and ourselves and I look forward to the journey ahead, reflecting and where that will take us.