Tag Archives: 2012

Celebration Time! Come On!

During the fall of 2012, I worked closely with two teachers as they participated in the Global Read Aloud (GRA) for the first time. We were all beginners in reaching out to other classrooms-in our schools and beyond our schools-in using various web 2.0 tools, and in thinking through this kind of teaching and learning. The GRA 2012 ran the month of October, but our celebration happened in December because the teachers integrated other subject areas with the novel and expanded and extended the scope of the work. Students went well beyond a read aloud and summary posts. They connected the story of Ivan (The One and Only Ivan) to biodiversity and endangered species. They considered the larger issues as a class, and then small groups chose narrower topics to research. Each group gathered their findings in a Glogster, and then presented them to their families. This was a face-to-face event because for the most part the community does not yet communicate regularly via the Internet.

What can I now say about the role of celebrating the learning?

The event was spectacular. Students were showing off their work to their parents. They were accessing the tools, doing the explaining, and in total control. The teacher simply stood back and let it happen.

I think we need to always remember where we are in the collaboration process. Regardless of what is possible or of what others are doing, we needed to go through this step before we can really consider the type of collaboration and celebration that happens within a true global project.

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What do you mean, you need more time?

The desire to work in a linear and chronological order is, at times, overwhelming. I can multi-task and I thrive on having many irons in the fire, yet there is order in what I do first, second, and third. But then that must mean that I am working alone because I can control the circumstances. Collaboration, on the other hand, means that my work is contingent on the work of others. We are not dividing to conquer; we are working toward a common end that will have an ebb and flow determined by the pacing, resources, and schedules of others. None-the-less, if the Flat Classroom Challenges are delivered in an ordered fashion from 1 to 15, then that is the way I wanted to complete them.


My big learning about collaboration (this week) is that there needs to be lots of time to get the collaborative process up and running, opportunities for people to carve out the time they need to do the work, and an understanding that linear thinking may not suffice. This learning for me comes on two fronts – the Flat Classroom Certified Teacher (FCCT) challenges and my involvement in a collaborative inquiry with colleagues from within my school board – although they are connected. The collaborative inquiry group at work is bravely going where none of us has been before both in working collaboratively and in using a wiki to support the conversation. We need time to get our heads around this way of learning, thinking, talking, and leading. Through the FCCT challenges, I am learning that the order of completion is less important than the process by which you get things done. I cannot finish Challenge #9 without a partner to connect with, I cannot finish Challenge #12 until my teachers are ready to celebrate, and that’s okay. Julie Lindsay’s (cofounder @ flatclassroom and co-author of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds) constant understanding, reassurance, empathy, and positive attitude connect the two fronts for me. The FCCT challenges will be completed, albeit in a wacky order, and I am emulating Julie’s supportive and patient perspective with my collaborative inquiry team.

It’s been a big week.

Thanks Julie.

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Collaboration…..food 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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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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Flat Learning: Finding Our Way


I started coming to Manitoulin Island as a teen. My parents had built a summer home on Manitowaning Bay, and it became the place the family gathered for holidays and special events. One of the reasons people build or buy out here is because it is remote. Not removed or distant, just remote. You can drive onto the island via a swing  bridge and the nearest city of size is not days away by plane or dog sled, but a mere two hours by car. The word “island” also plays into the sense of being remote; the connotation that being on the island is being somewhere different, maybe even exotic, or quaint, charming, and rustic. That’s Manitoulin. With not a big name franchise in sight, not even a Macdonald’s, Manitoulin can feel like a place frozen in time. Or it did, until last December when the first cell tower went up.

Somehow, for many people, including teachers, the Internet never fully represented connection. It was for research, resources, and email. It was for static activities.  The students, too, did not reach out to the world with the Internet. Sure, they used Facebook, but to chat with each other. But now we have Smart phones, and our world is shifting. Teachers, who once banned headphones and mp3 players from their classrooms, are now considering how to use personal devices in their lessons. This in turn has led a number of teachers to request pods of computers in the classrooms for students who don’t own devices. This in turn has led to talk of dismantling the labs and putting the computers in all classrooms. This in turn has led to a realization that we can no longer teach in the way that we did; that learning is more personal and that it can be more personal.

This is where flat learning starts. It begins with a recognition that technology is a tool that can help us accomplish whatever it is we need to do, whether that is to improve students’ literacy skills, teach them senior physics, or develop their learning skills like collaboration and initiative. Flat learning is about differentiation, too. It’s about levelling the playing field for all learners–those who have trouble making it to school each day, those who need extra time to learn a concept or skill, or those who need to move on, now. Flat learning is about self-discovery and personal engagement; it’s about authenticity. It can answer, “What’s the point of this?” Flat learning is about feeling connected, first with each other. It’s about taking down the walls that surround us in our space, and then connecting with others beyond our space.

And flat learning is about hope. Sometimes, when we live rurally and remotely we can feel cut off from the world psychologically. We can think that this is it, that what I see around me is all that I can have. And no matter how many field trips and extra-curricular events we plan for our kids to show them “what’s out there,”  they always come back here. Flat learning and flattening classrooms is about the students learning to find their way out there from here through the technology that they can hold in their hands.

When I was first married, my husband worked very hard to convince me to move to the island. But I couldn’t live in a place that was so remote–few people, no university, no theatre, no book stores. I would surely perish. We did eventually find our way here, many years later, and earlier this month, I virtually attended a conference at which 11,000 people attended from 117 countries.

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Flat Classroom: Connect and Reflect


Shall we use the Seven Degrees of Connectedness as our guide to speaking about being connected? About the same time I chanced upon Rodd Lucifer’s (thecleversheep.blogspot.ca) infographic, I came across a blog entry by Steve Anderson that talked about the value of lurking. Steve’s point is that there is power in lurking and taking, at first. We know that all learners need scaffolding, choice, context, and time for the individual learning process. Steve goes on…

“Many say to me they find value in lurking and searching. But the true value was when they took that next step and signed up and added their voice to the conversation. I didn’t have to push. They discovered that on their own.”

Indeed. When we are ready, we will reach out. Certainly, enrolling in the Flat Classroom Certified Teacher (FCCT) course is my way of reaching out. Additionally, I think we should aim to be at various stages of connectedness at the same time to ensure that we are continually learning. In my school district, I am collaborator, friend, and confidant. On #educoach, I am a novice, and at the Edmodo Conference 2012, I was mostly a lurker.

This summer, I set a goal for myself to become more connected. I have been connected to professional sites like Choice Literacy and The Teaching Channel, and I have used Diigo for bookmarking and sharing, but I needed to be more interactive. I logged into an old Twitter account and jumped into two virtual book studies. It felt good, but not great. I needed to participate more fully, but I also needed something concrete to begin writing about. The  #PB10for10 event motivated me to get cracking on a blog. Writing about picture books served as a great entry point for me, and I had a ball! About the same time, I ran across The Global Read Aloud. Now, I had already made a commitment to work with a colleague on a Flat Classroom project, and I had just signed up for the FCCT course, but The Global Read Aloud sounded too good to turn down. So, I joined and have since found two teachers who will join The One and Only Ivan group. This connection led me to the Edmodo community, which in turn led me to participate in Edmodo Conference 2012.

What have I learned?

  • Lurking is a good start.
  • Jump in and learn as you go.
  • Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know…so keep going.
  • Learning is social, so connect.

– See more at: http://juliebalen.weebly.com/1/previous/2.html#sthash.yFl97NFl.dpuf

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