Wrapping up the GCC Project

If I had to choose the most valuable thing I’ve learned through my COETAIL journey, it would be the power of community and the ways to stay connected through space and time. Through the courses I have found great satisfaction and development from cultivating my PLN, and this is the learning that I want most to share with colleagues and students.

My Course 5 Project, called Together in the GCC, has been a great way to show participating teachers and students the power of connecting people, near and far, to work towards a common goal. This was the second year I’ve led the project; the first time was last year when Alexis Snider and I built the project in Course 1. The project has come a long way this year, and you can read about the big changes in my post called Collaboration in the GCC.

Below is a visual of the project and it’s 3 phases that culminated with teams of students collaborating to create a train route connecting the 6 GCC countries (Oman, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar). One of the best changes to this year’s project was the emphasis on digital communication during Phase 3. We initially had thought we could partner kids from different schools to complete the Google:My Map, but because of timing issues, we ended up teaming kids from different classrooms within the same school. It turns out that this was a great place to start and allowed teachers to better support the students’ digital communication and collaboration. Since the project outline will be the same next year, as well as most of the teachers, we may attempt to build a couple teams with students from different countries; but most will be more successful to begin this learning working with students within their school. Here are links to the Team Agreement, Collaboration Rubric, and Train Project Rubric that we used in Phase 3.

GCC Project Overview

Since the project lasted 9 weeks, and involved so many people, it was difficult to show all the great products, pictures, and video interviews with the students and teachers. Although I couldn’t fit it all in, I was glad that I was ‘forced’ to capture so much of everyone’s thinking and reflecting during and after the project. All the conversations have led to many great ideas that will undoubtedly make the project better next year. It also gave teachers a voice and sparked many conversations and therefore ownership over the project. My hope is that the project will carry on long after I have moved on. Thanks in advance for your feedback!

Connections and Communication in the GCC

My Course 5 Final Project is a regionally collaborative project involving classrooms from the 6 Gulf countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This is the second year we have ran the project, but this year we made many adjustments to enable more communication and collaboration between students. In order to facilitate interactions between 188 students, I knew we would need to improve communications between the 10 participating teachers (plus any support specialists).

screenshot-plus.google.com 2016-04-06 12-02-36

Last year to accommodate communication between teachers, we relied on Google Hangouts to chat in groups or just pairs. This year, with plenty of positive interdependence built in, I knew we would need a forum where we could all initiate conversations, post resources, and ask or answer questions. I decided to create a private Google+ Community called Together in the GCC. I liked that I could create a closed group, and although I could have done the same on Facebook, I knew all the teachers were at schools using Google Apps for Education.

2-Together in the GCC Educator Community Community GoogleThis forum has worked well for our project. It was easy to quickly poll teachers for input or majority decisions, and it was also great for me and other teachers to pass along resources needed for the project.

The biggest challenge was getting teachers to participate in the community. For the most part there was one main teacher from each school that was active, and of those half only responded to questions within a days time. With a tight timeline already, this issue will definitely need work at the beginning of the project next year if our aim is to truly go through the project together with our students relying on each other’s research and presentations in order to create their final project.

To address this, I think it would help to email out a ‘Welcome Video’ that included a short tutorial about the community. The tutorial would need to go over tips to be an active member like: setting up a notification email to see when others post, how to post and reply, the importance of using the ‘+1’ button, places to find members and their emails, and how the feed is organized. screenshot-drive.google.com 2016-04-06 12-05-23In addition to introducing features of the Google + community, I will also include an overview of what is housed in our shared Google Drive Folder and how participating teachers can add their resources to be shared by all.

I have also kept the initial Weebly website updated, which I created when the project was first launched last year; it’s also called Together in the GCC. This year, the intended audience became the students, rather than the teachers, as it was last year. I think the site was less utilized this year because teachers didn’t need it for project resources; and instead of students accessing the materials there, most teachers passed them to their students through email or Google Drive. For next year, I think it would be a good idea to continue to use the Weebly site for students, but pay for the ‘premium’ account in order to allow other teachers edit the site, including the home page blog roll with messages to/from students.

screenshot-togetherinthegcc.weebly.com 2016-04-06 11-33-39

Google+ Communities is not a perfect tool, however, and I would really like to see them add an archive section to quickly access all the documents that have been attached to posts; much like Facebook has a place to scroll through all the photos attached or tagged.

Overall, I really like Google+ Communities and have plans to use it in my role as the New Faculty Coordinator to answer questions, provide necessary information for their transition, and to facilitate communication among incoming teachers. I’m hoping that through the use, they might be inspired to use it with their students, especially in the secondary school.

I’ve been happy with the choice of the Google+ Community, and with more front loading about how to use the tool effectively, I think it will provide the opportunity for more communication around ideas, resources, shared decisions, and progress; all of which are needed to maximize our students global collaboration.

Collaboration in the GCC

Image courtesy of SpLoT at en.wikipedia
Image courtesy of SpLoT at en.wikipedia

Last spring, after the culmination of my Course 1 Project, Together in the GCC, I asked the participating teachers to reflect on what they would change our next time through the project. The feedback gathered was very similar. The main things that needed attention was:

  • Shortening the length of the project
  • More authentic opportunities for students to collaborate and interact
    • scheduling in time and creating a purpose for students to read and comment on each other’s blog posts
  • More depth to what we were learning, possibly decreasing breadth
  • Flipgrid was not the right tool for our group and purpose
Picture courtesy of Werner22brigitte via Pixabay
Picture courtesy of Werner22brigitte via Pixabay

Although all felt this project taught students and teachers lots about the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and it’s member countries, it still felt like we were doing a line dance together rather than a tango. A line dance require everyone to be stepping and moving side by side, not touching, and letting the music dictate your next move, not your partner. A tango on the other hand, must be done together. You must communicate, read, and rely on your partner to make you look good and vice versa. To me, this positive interdependence is what I had to get right the second time around.

I decided to take a Project Based Learning approach to the re-planning of the the project. I met with fellow CoETaILer and teammate, Fiona Al Rowaie, to brain storm a possible authenitic end goal for the project. A GCC train has long been in official and unofficial talks around the Gulf, so we landed on the idea of students deciding on 10 train stations within the 6 GCC countries. The driving question (DQ) being: Which 10 cities would best be suited for hosting a GCC trainstop in order to benefit the people and economies within the GCC countries?

From this question and authentic project idea, we worked backward to plan the first 2 phases of the project. Pulling apart our DQ, we knew the students would need a strong understanding of the GCC, including it’s purpose, benefits, and structures. Also to be successful in the final project, students would need to learn about the major cities within the 6 GCC countries in order to make informed decisions in the train station locations.

The new Together in the GCC project outline came together as:

  • Phase 1: Learn about the Gulf Cooperation Council and it’s member countries.
    • At the end of the research, students will compete in a Kahoot GCC Trivia Game over Google Hangouts.
  • Phase 2: Learn about and present on major cities within host country, specifically considering the cities’ geographical interests, cultural interests, population, industry interests, historical interests, and environmental interests.
    • At the end of Phase 2 students will post their presentations on a blog. Students will provide each other with feedback on their presentations, as well as use the information learned to decide which 10 cities to choose for the GCC train stations.
  • Phase 3: Use the information gathered in Phase 2 to create a Google: My Map of chosen locations for the GCC train route. Teams will also create a screencast using Google Hangouts to present their train route, along with evidence that supports their choices. Ideally we would have students in groups from different schools to give students the chance to collaborate, much like the teachers have been throughout the project. 
    • At the end of Phase 3, students will post their presentations on a blog and comment on their peers’ projects. Students and Teachers will choose the top (2?) presentations to be part of the final Together in the GCC video we share with our school communities and possibly news agencies in the GCC countries.

Although happy with the end goals in sight, there is much to be done in order to implement this learning in 10 different classrooms, across 4 different countries, facilitated by 10 different teachers, for their 188 students!

Below is the unit planner I provided the participating teachers and used to email and recruit potential classes to join the project.