Reflections from Prague

February 23, 2011 at 11:47 am | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Digital Citizenship, Global Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Project-based Learning | Leave a comment

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.

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