The power of an authentic, global audience

May 14, 2011 at 10:47 am | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Global Collaboration, Shift, Tech Integration | 1 Comment
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I’ll start with my inspiration for this post, a comment about From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg from one of my grade 3 students:

“Hi’s Cole.My favorite character is also Claudia but my favorite part is when they go to the Egyptian exhibit because James asks the tour guide how much did it cost to be a mummy.And after the tour guide tells him her answer Claudia scolds him for drawing attention to himself and she wants to go away but then she sees the next exhibit with all that golden jewelery that also had jewels.I liked the part when Jamie described his sister “as still as the statue of the cat that she was standing next to.”That made me laugh a tiny bit but I still did laugh.I also liked the part when Jamie was trying to make Claudia bored so they could go back to their house so he chose the Italian Renaissance because it sounded important and boring but going their just made his chances of going back home even worse by a lot because his sister saw a statue of such beauty that she wouldn’t leave without knowing who made it but that was something that even baffled the experts.It was something nobody knew but it was also something that lots and lots and lots and lots of people were trying to find out!Any way I think I’m like Claudia because I like mysteries and she likes mysteries.”

And another comment about Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle:

“What I really like is the boy is treating the mouse in a nice way and he lets the mouse out of the trash can and lets him ride the motor bike and he goes really fast as fast as I can ride my bike at full speed and the boy tells the mouse to hold his tale so it does not get stuck in the wheel because it got to hurt if your tale gets stuck in a wheel.”

There were many other comments that showed my students’ thinking and writing about the books they were reading at a higher level than I had seen all year. Here is the story behind one of my best Fridays ever in school- and it was Friday the 13th as well!

Matt McGuire, a teacher in Fredericton, NB, Canada, and I have been collaborating on and off this year. We talked on skype last month throwing around ideas for a simple, end of year collaborative activity and the idea of book group discussions came up. I had used Edmodo last fall for participation in the A Week in the Life elementary pilot Flat Classroom Project and we thought that would be a good place for our students to discuss books together. Edmodo is a closed environment for students to have discussions and submit assignments assigned by the teacher. It’s free, students can be placed in groups and students don’t need an email address to establish an account.

We then compared book titles we had multiple copies of and found a few matching titles and put students into groups based on the book they would be reading. During the first week I shared the idea with Heather in Beijing, a colleague from A Week in the Life and our current online Flat Classroom certified teacher course. She was ready to jump in and found a few copies of each book for her students. We now had “reading groups” of students in Beijing, Canada and Prague.

Starting a little before Matt and Heather, I tried out the assignment feature in Edmodo and gave my students reading assignments based on the first few chapters while also meeting face to face in groups in the classroom. But on Friday morning I announced that they had students from Mr McGuire’s class in Canada and Ms Davis’s class in Beijing and a new discussion prompt to respond to in their group in Edmodo. The room was silent as they read and responded to the prompt. A few students also added comments welcoming the other students to their Edmodo group. At the end of our reading time I started to read their comments and was grinning from ear to ear. Nearly every student wrote reflections from the heart that showed deeper thinking than I had previously seen.

Matt and Heather said they were seeing the same thing in their classrooms. I also shared with our Principal and she was impressed with their comments as well. When she asked one student about the experience later that day, asking how this experience is helping her learning, Nicole replied that she shares ideas with other kids not just in our class and that will give her more ideas. I also told my students after reading many posts how impressed I was with what they shared and asked why sharing in this environment promoted deeper reflection and more thoughtful writing. They said that they liked writing on the laptops more than on stickies and on paper and that having other kids read what they wrote made them more careful and want to share more. There was also an appreciation for Spellcheck expressed.

This is not a grand project or idea. The online sharing environment provides students with a larger audience and more opportunity to share- there is simply not enough time in the school day for everyone to share every day with their book group, and then they are limited to me and the other students in their group as an audience. I also love it because I’m building friendships with Matt and Heather- they inspire me and I can see our collaboration growing in the future as well. Matt and Heather have also added groups to the mix based on other books their students are interested in- books my students are already interested in. I can see this evolving to a more fluid, book-sharing environment that we can start on the first day of school next year based on what we are doing right now.


A Week in the Life

October 30, 2010 at 8:05 am | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Digital Citizenship, Global Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Shift, Web2.0 | 2 Comments
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This post was first contributed to a collaborative blog for the pilot elementary Flat Classroom Project, A Week in the Life at

The first official week is finished and I’m beginning to feel that I can manage this project, and I am still excited about the possibilities and opportunities that are ahead. Granted, I have told myself that this is a pilot and I’m in my first year at my new school and I will do the best I can. But that’s not an excuse; it allows me stay focused on the project’s purpose, the present and not evaluate myself daily against the “big picture” or enormous possibilities in my mind. Reflection occurs, not judgment.

This week we established student user accounts and began writing and reading to share about ourselves and begin conversing with other students. Students learned how to use Edmodo, comment thoughtfully and many students began using proper punctuation and attempted correct spelling more than in daily classroom writing.

I also introduced the project and what they would be doing in groups with students around the world. I think some students grasped the idea, but most will have to understand what the project is about as we go along. (My students are 8 and 9 years old.) We also have a collaboration going with classes in Japan and Canada, and because it’s a year-long project we will also collaborate with them over the next 7 weeks to maintain and nurture that friendship. It is one more challenge for my students though, to sort out who we are working with and when- but I believe they will be able to manage that. I’m planning to set up bulletin boards for each collaboration this weekend to hopefully provide visual anchors.

This coming week I plan to introduce the students to the wiki, have them gain individual access to the wiki and establish the groups with discussion of each group’s focus. I decided to provide a group notebook for each group with essential questions, project timeline and empty pages for notes and diagrams during group work discussions. I realize this is low-tech, but I think it’s a scaffold that will allow them to focus on the group task and communication more. It may also provide a tangible bridge to a digital collaboration. Baby steps.

In reflecting on our first week, I’ve observed students eager to connect with other students in Edmodo by reading and commenting. In group reading, we had great discussions about similarities and differences between the book characters, settings and events and our lives. As mentioned above, I saw students beginning to attend more to the mechanics and message of their writing in comments. We also discussed and practiced digital citizenship.

One of the biggest benefits during these first weeks is connecting with other teachers in the project by sharing ideas and answering each other’s questions. I loved the GoogleEarth tour created by and shared from a teacher in India. It travels to all the schools in the project and being able to use it has saved me time creating my own.

I remain enthused about participating in this project and awed with the implications of what we are trying and all we can learn from this. If I can remain focused on the core and purpose of the project and stay patient with my skill-level and learning my students and I will benefit immensely!

First Quest into a Virtual World

October 12, 2009 at 9:50 am | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, culture, Games-based learning, Global Collaboration, Literacy, Professional Development, Project-based Learning | Leave a comment
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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.meqa

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.

Si Se Puede

November 17, 2008 at 7:24 am | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Conference, Global Collaboration, Links, Planning, Podcasts, Presentations, Professional Development, Resources, Video conferences, Voicethread | 1 Comment
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Like a picture coming into focus, the past week and a half have been very gratifying professionally- mainly due to connections I’ve made with local and distant educators. moka_pot

Reaching Out Off-Campus After last minute changes (due to reading Presentation Zen) to my presentation of educational uses of VoiceThread, I gave my presentation to a wonderful group of teachers at the MAIS conference. Afterwards, there was more discussion and connections made. One sample VoiceThread from our ESL teacher that I shared led to a new collaboration between she and a teacher in Barcelona. Also at the conference, the job-alike session contained some interesting discussion and a new connection. Also last week, I participated in a videoconference with teachers in Jacksonville, FL as part of Silvia’s K12 Online LAN party and was able to meet and speak directly with a first grade teacher we hope to collaborate with. And speaking of the K12 Online conference, I’m still enjoying the workshop podcasts while traveling to and from school and on long walks around Madrid- although it’s a challenge to write down quotes and thoughts that arise while listening!

Reaching Out on Campus While I didn’t meet with my after-school group last week due to a holiday and parent conference day, I did work with colleagues during the after-school open lab. I was also invited by two teachers to help create integrated activities/projects for upcoming units of study and will meet with blogging classes this week to continue with comments and new posts. One day was spent totally away from my desk in classrooms and meetings for ongoing new projects. This was all very welcome after spending weeks preparing for the NWEA MAP tests in the lab, two weeks of which I was closed in the lab as test proctor.

My Little Tribe I am loving my after-school group and the growing toolbox we are developing. We’ve shared on our blog through written posts with images, PPT slideshows, and are currently working on Camtasia movies to create online game reviews. Also, this week we start a videoconference friendship with Ms. Bunyi’s class in Tennessee. We have VoiceThread creations and podcasts coming up as well.

Patience and Perseverance

September 25, 2008 at 6:03 pm | Posted in Blogging, Collaboration, Global Collaboration, Planning, Professional Development, Shift, Tech Integration, Voicethread | Leave a comment
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I’m writing to reflect on my school year beginning and hopefully send an encouraging message. I think I sometimes wear my frustration on my sleeve, so after a good day at school and some reflection on the last year, I’m celebrating my colleagues who are starting to take risks by upgrading their teaching methods by doing old and new things in new ways.

I spent some time last night creating a wiki page to manage the collaborations we have started this year in grades K, 1/ESL, 4, 5, and my after-school group (plus a promise from the first grade to start one later this fall.) I’m excited to have so many that I have to take time to create a management tool! This week I’ve worked with the 4th grade team and a 5th grade teacher to create blogs for their collaborations. Today I helped the Kinder class create self-portraits in Kid Pix for their Voice Thread.  One of our MS classes is participating in the Digiteen project.

The LS Art teacher and her assistant teacher are creating a VoiceThread for 5th graders to share their research reports on Spanish artists (1 group/Artist per VT.) Their planned partners have dropped out but when chatting with wonderful Alecia Berman-Dry in Maryland, she said her Spanish teacher would love to get involved! Next week I start my after-school group of Grade 3-5 students where we’ll write/photo/podcast in collaboration with a few groups.

I never would have reached this point without the online network of educators to collaborate with and all the blogs and podcasts I read and listen to in my Personal Learning Network that teach and inspire me. I’m looking forward to this year and continued growth and collaboration on and off campus!

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