Together in the GCC – Course 1 Final Project

I am really excited about this project that I created with Alexis Snider and the 4th grade teachers at my school. Check out my last post, Key-laboration, to hear where we got our inspiration and ideas to create a regionally collaborative project all about the Gulf Cooperation Council. We are starting the first week of the project today, but are refering to it as ‘Week Zero’ in order to allow for a ‘get to know you’ period and to allow time to iron out kinks. Because of differing Spring Breaks, we also had to plan in two Week Zeros, Ones, and Twos – one of the many things we had to change from our initial planning.  Consequently, I’ve learned that flexibility, along with thorough planning, are the keys to creating and managing a global or regionally collaborative project.

Check out the website, Together in the GCC, for the most recent updates and progress.

Key-laboration

Photo Credit: Amy L. Riddle via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Amy L. Riddle via Compfight cc

I’ve learned that collaboration is a key component in a 21st century school. Collaboration within a school between all stakeholders is essential, however these partnerships are only the tip of the iceberg. Real learning and motivational power can be created by globally collaborating with learners seeking the same content.

Collaboration locally or across countries creates a ‘positive interdependence‘ that I first learned about at a training for Kagan Cooperative Learning. As I am assisting 4 classrooms with the participation in a global collaboration project, called If You Learned Here, I am realizing that this is the perfect positive interdependence situation.  Positive interdependence only works well when it’s alongside personal accountability. It is important that individuals take part in the learning first with the understanding that what they learn and create is needed by his or her learning network. Our students are very motivated to provide examples from their school lives so that others may learn about where they live and work.

Feeling motivated by the outcome of the If You Learned Here project, I had the idea to revamp the 4th grade (very dull!) Gulf Cooperation Council social studies unit into a regionally cooperative project. I contacted a fellow CoETaILer teaching at ISG Jubail, Alexis Snider, to see if her 4th grade team would like to learn with us. Following many of the successful components used in the If You Learned Here project, the Together in the GCC project was started.

Right on time, Kim’s Step-by-Step Guide to Global Collaborations was posted to provide detailed reminders that I might have overlooked due to the excited frenzy of a good idea. I am having a great time planning this unit (no, really!), but because it is a bit late in the year, so many schools and teachers are already committed to their schools current mapped out units. Our plan B, is to go ahead with the project, with or without classrooms from all Gulf countries, and have students from participating classes take on the roles and provide research for the missing countries. On the bright side, it will be invaluable to have a trial run before including hundreds of students when we start recruiting at the beginning of next year.

Speaking of collaboration, another KEY to the success of a global (or regional) project, is access to other educators via Twitter. Using hashtags to notify likeminded people, like #edtech or #coetail helps to reach out to a large audience in order to find participants.

Me watching as my Twitter post directed anonymous gophers, ligers, and ducks to my project overview.
Me watching as my Twitter post directed anonymous gophers, ligers, and ducks to my project overview.

My face says it all here. My eyes (or the door, if you want to go with the original key metaphor) have been opened to the educational possibilities that collaboration tools like Twitter, Google, Flipgrid, Padlet, and MANY more are providing us. A very cool realization.

 

 

Agree to Disagree. For now.

IMG_1647
It looked much more blue in person, I swear!

On a walk with my husband, I pointed out how odd it was to have a light blue car.

“What?! That car is clearly white, Randi.”

“Noooo, that one is white. This one is light blue.”

We stopped to take pictures of each car to further examine this difference of opinion in “better” lighting at home.

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The very white car, for comparisons sake.

 

the dress
PHOTO: HTTP://SWIKED.TUMBLR.COM/

This timely debate ironically occurred during the Great Dress Debatewhich I had read about that morning on Glennon’s Momastry Blog. She calls this dress The BEST peacemaking tool she’s seen in a while. As interesting as the science is around why the dress is seen differently, the part of this debate (as Glennon mentions) that stands out, is the need to adjust our communication skills to allow for a space in the middle where we can give value to another point of view, but disagree politely.

Because the job of a technology integrationist heavily relies on the relationships you build with teachers, I give special attention to these types of lessons.

I recently had a conversation with a colleague who is frustrated by many of the new technologies I have suggested for use in his history class. After reading a post by Ann Durham, Adjust or Go Home, I was inspired to point out that he has an international fearlessness that he doesn’t apply to his technology use.  He argued that he is not a ‘bandwagon’ kind of guy and that the tools I am showing him will be “in and back out” in a flash. While I admit that the education system on the whole does cycle through way too many bandaid approaches, the use of technology to access, share, and create resources beyond the walls of school is here to stay. But… sensing his increased frustration, I instead listened and accepted his point of view (while politely disagreeing).

I believe that if we teachers don’t begin to update our teaching methods to provide a 21st century pedagogy, we will be outdated, irrelevant, and out of a job in the near future. Although this is my belief, I know that many people need to see and experience the value of these changes before they go through the trouble of learning them. Doing old things in new ways with a tech tool here and there, does not show the real value of technology to a teacher. But then, how can I make a believer out of one who won’t try?

This question, reminded me of a conversation with John Burns, Director of Innovation at Shekou International School. He advised me to start with the early adopters, the ‘LEADers’ of the group and showcase their work and accomplishments in order to bring the ‘wood be doing’ folks on board.

So, although I hate to skirt a good debate, after reading and reflecting this week, the path is clear. My best method for teachers who are not yet convinced that technology (used in the right way!) would add value to their classroom practices, is to showcase the results of the teachers in our school who already have an Innovator’s Mindset. At this point in our school, there is still room to politely disagree about using tools to flatten walls and globally connect – but that is changing.

Our minds are built to make sense of the world using our surroundings. Just like our minds interpreted the dress color differently, those of us who have been teaching a long time with ‘tried and true’ practices are still interpreting our classroom and students’ results as a success. But what they don’t see is that even though students passed their memorization and paper/pencil tests, they will enter higher education or the workforce at a disadvantage because they are without 21st Century Solution Fluencies.

 

 

 

 

Death by Comparisons

Comparisons are crippling and recently I have been in a few situations where either myself or another person was completely ignorant of the truth because the information gained from comparisons wasn’t accurate.

I have several friends who have decided to close their Facebook accounts because the constant stream of highlights from other peoples’ lives makes them feel inadequate. An article featured on Fast Company, “Want to be happier? Stop Comparing Yourself to What You See on Social Media,” makes the point that a different perspective is needed when viewing the success of others compared to your journey. You can set goals by “realize[ing] that the comparison is not about the person, but a tool to tell you what you want in life” and letting it be an inspiration.

For me professionally, I think this is great advice. When reading through other CoETaIL-ers blogs, instead of thinking what their doing that I’m not, I need to look at them as my community of colleagues who are little by little teaching me how to be a 21st century educator. Including myself as one of the ‘nodes’ in this community also means that I too have, and must, make contributions.

These hesitations of mine make me wonder if my students last year felt the same way when blogging and sharing our thoughts with other classrooms. At the time I felt that the pressure to present their best writing to ‘strangers’ created much needed accountability, however maybe I should have taken the time to dig a bit deeper into how they felt about the transparency of their thoughts. As I create and align the digital citizen course work this year, I am going to keep in mind the lessons around community and the reasons for blogging. If we can teach our youngest contributors that being a part of a digital network is about collaborating, learning and sharing with the community – maybe they won’t be as fearful to proudly write about the journey, no matter how far along, because there are lessons others could learn.

istockphoto

A downside noted in the resource Social Networking and Peer Relationships is that the “use of social networking sites has been reported as leading to lower psychological well-being for some girls (Devine, & Lloyd, 2012).” Also noted is that “kids may compare themselves unfavorably to others when reviewing online profiles; (online profilers have been found to overly represent positive and under-represent negative aspects of their lives) (Qiu, Lin, Leung, & Tov, 2012).” These warnings emphasize the need to teach about social media, digital footprints, and network communities in school.

When researching tips to revise my digital citizenship units, in answer to the cautions above, I came across a post on Getting Smart. Amos Goldie listed these among his top 5 tips to Protecting Your Digital Footprint:

  • Periodically check whether the ONLINE “you” matches the REAL WORLD “you.” Like checking our real world appearance in the mirror every once in a while, it’s important to know how other people see and judge the online “you.” One of our assignments directs students to post “What three words come to mind when you see my online profile?” and then analyze the responses they collect. Often, students are surprised by the image they are putting out there. Be mindful of how you represent yourself.
  • Never compare your REAL life to other peoples so-called “perfect” ONLINE lives. We all put our best foot forward online – it’s human nature, and it’s called “curating” your identity. Unfortunately, when sensitive teenagers find their life doesn’t measure up to their peer’s shiny, happy “curated” lives, they can suffer social media-induced loneliness and depression. Don’t envy others’ seeming happiness – it’s often a mirage.

Most people consider their devices and social media for only social purposes, when surprisingly there is so much more to be gained by using them. Vicki Davis, in her post A Guidebook for Social Media in the Classroom, gives a tough love message about the necessity of teaching social media best practices to keep your students from damaging their digital footprints and reputations.

Between my own mixed emotions about sharing and learning, as well as the many resources I have read, I have come across an important element that I missed when previously teaching digital citizenship to my students. I focused so much on the positives of being a part of an online learning community, that I overlooked the emotional implications of that membership. It’s an important lesson in community and collaboration where some (myself included!) might have to adjust their ‘perspectacles‘ in order to consider themselves part of the learning community, flaws and all.

I am a North Struggling to Go East.

At the beginning of each year, our school reviews the different personality types in order to better understand how and why our colleagues work the way they do. North people are quick starters who adjust their plans along the way; West people are detail oriented; East people think about the big picture before they start planning; and South people concern themselves with feelings and want everyone’s ideas to be heard.

The East way of thinking is the most difficult for me and ironically, in my new position as a technology integrationist, the most essential. My mission this year is to help my school revision our technology usage and ramp up our innovative teaching and learning practices. The deadline to having this ‘plan’ on paper is coming up and I have been struggling to write it. I know what it looks like and I know why we should do it, but writing up a detailed, date specific, sustainable plan is a whole other beast. I’d much rather just get started and fill in the blanks as we go – see, total North! However the thinking around constructivism and connectivism this week has helped to inform my ‘big picture’ thinking and vision-plan writing.

Being a ‘specialist’ this year and out of my comfort zone, I feel more like a learner than a teacher. Of course, I have still been teaching many things to students and teachers about using technology, but most of my time and efforts have been spent learning about theories that worked for me as a teacher and now as a student.

The readings and understandings this week remind me of the Chinese proverb that says:

Tell me and I’ll forget

Show me and I’ll remember

Involve me and I’ll understand

In my mind connectivism is an extension of constructivism and both play a huge part in the success of the 21st century learner. If “constructivism suggests that learners create knowledge as they attempt to understand their experiences” (Driscoll, 2000, p.376; as cited by Siemens, 2005), then learning must be social and attached to prior knowledge. Connectivism is the act of developing ourselves as connected learners and understanding how to learn across the ‘nodes’ while synthesizing the information to meet our learning goals. Therefor the perfect storm would be for an educator to combine both theories in a learning situation where the student was engaged in a creative experience and activity that was shared and learned about by being connected to an online community. As Eric Sheninger’s writes about in his book, Digital Leadership, these students would also be intrinsically motivated because they are solving real world, relevant problems while connected to a community with the same goal.

Below is a useful diagram I saw in Sheninger’s, Digital Leadership, (found on Te@chThought.com) that encompasses the concepts I’ve learned about in this week’s readings.  It’s also provided me with a visual checklist to help guide me through the task of writing our school’s technology re-visioning plan.

Churches, 2008

My Journey From Content to Communities

 

Original photo by Anthony Messeh at Franthony.com

At the beginning of this school year I was unexpectedly asked to fill the position of Technology Coordinator. In my own classroom, I was an expert in leveraging technology to turn my students into independent learners – but that was on my own terms and any flops were mine to overcome. I was under no illusion that I was well prepared for the job of influencing others to create an innovative and technology rich classroom. So – I started researching.

My reading started with a simple search for ‘technology integration’ resources. The search quickly lead me to the world of Twitter, where I was immediately connected to technology integrationists, coordinators, and eCoaches all over the world. I was fascinated at the wide range of topics that were covered in one place. Tweets would often lead me to blogs, and the blogs led to more helpful resources. It was then that my search for great articles, became instead, my search for great circles.

‘Surrounding’ myself (virtually) with like minded people made my studies and research easy. I was instantly notified about the new tricks and successes other educators in my PLN, or ‘professional learning network’ were experiencing. I was able to learn from other teachers who were using innovative strategies in their classroom such as project based learning, maker spaces that inspired creativity, formative assessment methods, digital portfolios, classroom coding projects, and standards based grading, just to name a few. I have also become ‘in the know’ about upcoming trainings that are happening all around the world; which used to take me hours to find using broad search terms. In addition, to knowing about the trainings, I can also look back at what participants gained from the conference by searching the hashtag; this helps me decide if its a training that would benefit me or others I know.

Jeff Utecht pointed out in his book REACH that a community is a group of people who have a common interest. Therefore where you seek content, you also find community. You can direct relevant and timely information your way by being connected to likeminded people. The best part of this transformation for me was that I didn’t even know I needed it. Having internet communities do the work for me wasn’t something I’d considered possible, let alone easy! It’s now part of my mission to expose teachers at my school to the power of a PLN and the ability of a few easy tools to funnel information and contacts around the world right to a phone or computer.

According to the Living and Learning with New Media Report, students are already well versed in digital communications and spend a majority of their day conversing with online social circles. The argument could be made that young people understand the fundamental principle of the ‘World Wide Web’ better than most. As its name implies, it is about connections, not content. Educators who want to provide relevant and career preparatory skills, need to incorporate learning strategies that are social and connected to other learners outside classrooms. Once students and teachers alike are harnessing the power of online communities in order to learn content, our students will be become active members of a global society who not only learn from others, but also create for others to learn from them.

Although my knee-jerk answer to this week’s essential question was “both, right?” I’ve now reconsidered by having a look back at how I have already learned so much this year. Although helpful, it wasn’t by reading great articles I found through Google. Rather, it was by connecting with a wide circle of educators interested in technology, innovation, and creativity that led me to a wealth of human and text resources. And, obviously my most important find was when I stumbled upon several Twitter users that described themselves as #Coetailers.