Monthly Archives: September 2012

Collaboration… for thought


Collaboration: to work together.
That’s simple enough, isn’t it?
But what does it look like? And it what way is it different than cooperative learning or group work? Does it matter if I know the difference? I think we need a metaphor to provide some clarity.

I know that when I use cooperative learning strategies with my students, I need to do a lot of front loading and just as much scaffolding.Learning and working as a group, even when that work is compartmentalized as it is in a jigsaw or 4 corners strategy, is hard. Many students feel enormous amount of pressure in these situations, and they would prefer to work independently.

But cooperative learning is not collaborative learning….I mean that cooperative learning is a specific kind of collaborative learning. It is a set of processes which help us interact together in order to accomplish a specific goal. Its focus is on the product of the learning.  So in a jigsaw, students work to learn and share knowledge; they act as teachers of a component of the learning.

Collaborative learning is really working together to create or build new knowledge together. Collaborative learning requires that we all have input, that we all make a contribution, that we all learn from each other.

Have you figured out the metaphor? Thanks go out to Olga Kozar, a TESOL Master’s student at Manchester University for this idea.

Consider the metaphor of a pot luck dinner, where people cook and bring different dishes to the table. The dinner is more exciting than what each individual would have eaten individually—but the guests return back to their homes being able to cook only the same dish they brought to the pot luck. Even though they may have gotten recipes, they still need to learn to make the new dishes themselves. On the other hand, had they cooked together in the first place they would have observed and learned a lot more from one another; they would have taken away some practical, hands-on skills even if cooking together had meant a messier and a more chaotic process. So give collaboration a chance! It is worth the effort.


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Digital Citizenship


My digital footprint. Of course, I had heard of the digital footprint before now. But what I didn’t consider is its longevity, possibly its permanence, and its insidious nature. What does this mean for the kids today? Teens, by their very nature, do not clean up after themselves. What’s more they take pride in their very teen-ness. There’s the loud, sloppy, indifferent, ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’ version …let’s say teen 1.0; and then there’s the quiet, secretive, head down, maybe in a book or plugged in, ‘can’t you stop bothering me’ version…let’s say teen 5.0; and then there are all the ones in between. But regardless of where they fall on that spectrum, worrying about their digital footprint is not in their top 100 list. Understanding what a digital footprint is, discovering that you have one and what it looks like, and then deciding to do something about it is a process.

Take me for example. I do care about my ‘brand’ (now that I know I can have one), but I needed to learn to get past the rock that I live on. The idea that since I live rurally and remotely nothing I do on line will come back me. I mean, who cares about what I say or think anyway? No one knows me, right? I am not suggesting for one moment that I have ever been cavalier about my behaviour or the words I have used online. It’s just I really didn’t believe that anyone was listening. And then along comes the Flat Classroom Certified Teacher course and its expectation that students (that’s me) get out there. No more lurking folks. Rev up that Twitter engine and tweet and retweet and join tweetchats. It’s time to create content. I had run into Storify some where along the way and thought, “well this looks like a nifty little tool that students (the teen kind) would really like to use”. Pulling content together on a theme from social media sources to tell a story for marks might just make a few kids cry with joy. The trouble is that I don’t have any students. Sure, I can pitch Storify to my teacher colleagues, but I had to know what I was talking about. The opportunity arose with a quad-blogging assignment (more about that in a future entry) for which I suggested, quite quickly to my partners, “Let’s do a Storify”. They graciously agreed, and we were off.

You know that rule that says, ‘if you suggest an idea, you get to do it?’ I set up the Storify and my partners worked diligently to pull the social media to it, so I could assemble the final product. Et volià! We were done.

It’s what happened next that stunned me. Our Storify generated a topic for discussion in a global tweet chat, which got embedded into a blog promoting the topic, and the little Storify assignment took off. In ten days, over 800 people have viewed the Storify. And all of a sudden, I felt the responsibility of the work that I am doing online. I hoped I was proud of the work because it was too late not to be.
Let me be clear. I was in good hands. Both of my partners are global educators and professional educators. They knew what they were doing, to be sure. And the Storify was co-created—it was their work as much as mine. This experience only happened to me because the Storify was in my name. It was my profile on the page. Somebody was listening, at least for a moment. And if that person was curious and wanted to know more about me, what would he or she have discovered?

For our students, we must explicitly teach the implications of their behaviour online, and we must keep at it until they hear us. Someday they will care about where those digital breadcrumbs lead.

Here are a few sources that can help:

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Opportunities and Challenges of Communication


As educators, we may not think that we have to learn how to communicate in the online environment, but we do. While working on the quad blogging assignment with my Flat Classroom team mates, there were times when I really just wanted to talk to them, face to face. It wasn’t that I couldn’t communicate with them well through Twitter or on our Google doc; it’s just that I wanted to hear from them that we understood each other. And I wanted to see their responses to our discussion. And I wanted them to hear me. Virtual conversations seem truncated to me. There is no time or space to illustrate an idea, expand a thought, or clarify a concept through metaphor, analogy or anecdote. Maybe it’s just me because I am a chatty person and an English teacher, but I don’t think so.

Consider the graphic above. Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano of  created it to illustrate her understanding of how teachers’ acquire both blogging skills and know-how. Clearly, learning how to use the medium is a process, but so too is learning how to communicate through and with the medium.

Another example is learning how to use Twitter both asynchronously and synchronously. My team mates and I used Twitter asynchronously to communicate information about when and what information had been placed on our Google doc, and to plan how we were going to collect data from Twitter. That communication went well. However, the synchronous use of Twitter via a Tweet chat is another skill altogether. We did not use Tweet chat for our flat classroom work, but one could create a hash tag for a group of students and they could then synchronously chat. There are many challenges to chatting successfully in a Tweet chat: speed, remembering to add the hash tag, and the art of re-tweeting can make chats intimidating experiences. Solution: teacher and peer modelling, practice, and more practice.

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Finally the walls will be coming down


April 2010. The Flat Classroom project and I met. I was planning a new interdisciplinary course for my high school that would focus on student leadership. Yes, I managed to convince my administrator to embed the student council into the timetable. I was so excited! The course would explore youth leadership from the global to the local level. I had already gathered the more well-known resources from places like Free the Children, and WarChild, and less known resources like “Building Leaders for Life – A High School Leadership Class Curriculum”. I had come up with lesson ideas that would incorporate Web 2.0 tools like BlabberizeGlogster, and Bitstrips and content that would draw on the vast list of “The international day of…”. But I wanted something more. That’s when I chanced upon the Flat Classroom wiki.I couldn’t believe my eyes! This site was amazing, and the idea behind it profound. I started to organize myself for the opportunity the Flat Classroom Project was offering. I read the site, I  bought The World is Flatand began drafting project ideas.

July 2010. The Flat Classroom and I have been detoured. In accepting the position of literacy coach for our school board, I gave up the chance of a lifetime. It was such a hard choice, and really that is what was in the balance: serving teachers so that they may serve all their students well or going global. It’s no secret now that what I did choose was the coaching position, but I also had a hand in the selection of the person who would take over the student leadership course. It had to be someone with energy and passion for learning with kids, of course. But it also had to be someone who was open-minded, who could think outside the box, or beyond the walls.

[Caroline Black (@CarolineBlack39) has now taught the leadership course for two years, and for two years she has grown into the role of teacher, leader, mentor, guide, and resource person for her students. Together, they have made the school a better place for all by incorporating world events in their work, learning about Kony 2012, raising money for the Terry Fox Foundation and a local charity, as well as running traditional student activities.] 

March 2012. The Flat Classroom is now a book. I joined the virtual book club and attended a few the sessions, and I am re-invigorated by the possibility a global project running in my school. I have been patiently waiting for the universe to align parts required to make this thing fly. I needed to wait a bit longer.

June 2012. I show Caroline Friedman’s The World is Flat and Lindsay & Davis’ Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds. I carefully explain the big idea behind the book and how she, with my support, could incorporate one of the projects into her student leadership course. I wait apprehensively for her reaction. But there is no doubt; this is something we will do.

August 2012. Here I am taking the Flat Classroom Teacher Certified course. There will be hurdles to jump and mountains to climb, but the process has begun. Finally.

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