Global Collaboration

The Genesis

It all began in Denver last summer during the ISTE conference. I was fortunate enough to attend two really great presentations--one by Alan November and the other by Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay. Alan talked about the idea of "Digital Learning Farms." This concept involves turning your classroom into a place where students are constantly producing learning products and then "harvesting" them and sharing them with the world. It was an amazing hour and one that really transformed many thoughts and ideas I had about teaching and learning.

It was really Vicki and Julie's presentation, though, that got me thinking about "Going Global." They shared the story of the famous "Flat Classroom Project," which I had heard of but didn't know much about. It was pretty awesome to hear their story, to see the things that students had done for the project, and to get advice on how to get involved in global collaboration. I left the session knowing that my goal for the coming school year would be to connect my classroom with as many schools as possible.

The Online Book Club

My main idea was for an "online book club," where the classes involved would all be reading the same book. Students would "discuss" the story and share projects online. After posting my idea in the forums of Classroom 2.0 and The Global Educational Collaborative, I connected with Pernille Ripp, who was starting a project called "The Global Read Aloud." It was pretty much exactly the project I wanted to be involved with.

Once that book was finished, I contacted the other participants to see who wanted to continue to read books together. We ended up with classrooms from Wisconsin, Georgia, Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado, Alabama, and Texas. The wiki we created served as a hub for the next three books. We also used edmodo for discussion and commenting on each other's projects. We also got to become the first class in our district to use Skype, which the students loved. We had discussions with a class from Roswell, GA and Gadsden, AL.

Power Point Exchanges

The Global Virtual Classroom was another site I stumbled across in my searchings after ISTE. This site connects teachers from across the globe for either a website construction contest for older kids or the People Exhcanging Perspectives program, which my class participated in. As a result of this, my students made PowerPoint presentations to share with our new friends in Taiwan and Russia and Turkey (this last connection was made through Classroom 2.0). Their mission was to show what life is like for an American kid. They did a great job making them, but enjoyed even more the ones we received in return. They found learning about different cultures absolutely fascinating. I think the fact that they were learning about the cultures firsthand, not from a textbook, made a huge difference.

Challenge 20-20

I highly recommend the Challenge 20-20 project, which is run by the National Association of Independent Schools. In their own words:

Challenge 20/20 is an Internet-based program that pairs classes at any grade level (K-12) from schools in the U.S. with their counterpart classes in schools in other countries; together the teams (of two or three schools) tackle real global problems to find solutions that can be implemented at the local level and in their own communities.

We have been paired with a school in southern California and a school in Kuwait! We were assigned the topic of "water deficits." My students are currently working (in an incredibly independent and self-directed fashion I might add) on putting together their final products for this project and we'll be sharing them with you for sure. It's been a great end-of-the-year activity because I've used it to push not only their tech skills, but their collaborative skills as well because they're working in small groups on small parts of the whole project.

The Reflection

So my goal of connecting with other classrooms has turned out splendidly, in my humble opinion. Better than I could have imagined, that's for sure. One thing that stands out to me as I look back is how motivated the students were when working on our collaborative activities. Even if they were short "draw your favorite scene from the book"  type of activities, they always tried their best. And it seemed our conversations were always meaningful and exciting when we were discussing our books or projects. On top of that, these conversations were very student-driven; I was able to kind of step aside and moderate. Finally, we talked about things that we never would have otherwise--from Turkey's geographic location (is it Europe? is it Asia? is it both?) to different phrases and accents people in different parts of the world/country use and have.

I think one of the things I really wanted to do was get students to think very carefully about their "audience." I tried to stress that extra care should be taken in all areas because we'd be sharing our work with others. Getting them to take that extra time to make it perfect is what I wanted them to do...not sure I got that, but we're working on it.

It's been said by many that "It's the teaching, not the technology." And this effort has certainly proven that to be true. The technology made it possible, and made it exciting, but it played just a supporting role. The hard work of the teachers and students involved took things to a much higher level--from cute pen pal activities to technology-rich, meaningful, in-depth learning experiences. The only question now is, how do I top this next year?

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