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.

The Future

First off, this is a huge topic with endless answers. Although I agree with A.J. Juliani (and Elon Musk) that these types of changes need to be thought through using first principles thinking rather than analogous thinking, I’m going to start with the latter first.

Photo courtesy of Scott Swigart via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Scott Swigart via Flickr

What I wish I had had, and what I want for my own kids, is for education to take shape around them in response to their strengths, rather than them having to adjust and fit into the mold of traditional education, perhaps denying what it is they are good at in order to work on what the system thinks is important. I know lots of teachers, who became teachers, because as kids they felt school wasn’t relevant to them or even that they weren’t smart enough to be successful at anything else. The things I could have done if I had known what I know about myself now!

Photo courtesy of Kit Keat via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Kit Keat via Flickr

Yong Zhao says each child is a Rudolf. Unique individuals, with unique strengths, just waiting for the right opportunity to develop it. If a new situation (fog) had never come along, the other reindeers wouldn’t have realized that Rudolf’s big, red nose was a gift and not a burden. Our students need exposure to authentic problems, collaborative situations, and life beyond the classroom so that they too can realize how important it is to develop their strengths and contribute with their passion.

Sir Ken Robinson says there are two kinds of people in the world: those that endure what they do, and those that what they do, is who they are. But what if school is so narrow, that many kids never stumble upon their passion? Robinson explains that for many, school dislocates people from their natural talents, and that like Rudolf, we must create circumstances where they show up.

I suppose to figure out where to go in education, we must agree on the purpose of education? While I could cite tons of resources about the many different perspectives on this question, I’ll bring it back to my kids. The reasons I want my kids to get an education is to prepare them to be successful in the future. This education includes skills and knowledge to get a job, how to work with people in said job(s), and how to learn in order to develop their passions or tackle a new challenge.

Also, for my own kids, I would have no problems with them not learning to read until 1st or 2nd grade if instead of literacy cramming, there was more room to maintain their natural curiosity and love of learning, while developing their inquiry and problem solving skills.

Peruse the article 110 predictions for the next 110 years  and the video that A.J. Juliani says “changed his perspective on what his job was as a teacher,” and see if you can stop your head from spinning. The world will be a much different place for our children.

To wrap this up, I’ll try to bring these ramblings back ‘down to earth’ and into the classroom. I think that what we need now to head for the future is to put learning into the students’ hands. We need to spark our children’s curiosity and their need for learning with student centered, real-world-applicable teaching methods. Taking learning beyond the classroom, using gaming, introducing kids to the world of MOOCs, and connecting students to others students and professionals around the globe are just a few strategies that will help make students into learners.

Side Note: Be on the look out for A.J.’s upcoming blog posts on Why We Learn (and how it is changing), How We Learn (and why it is changing), and Our Future and The Purpose of Schooling.

 

Lead the Way

I think student empowerment begins with teacher empowerment. It is up to mentors, teachers, and parents to expose children to the transformational power of online communities. As Derek Muller explains in his new clip called Learned Helplessness, school has become something kids have to endure and therefore kids develop a learned helplessness around learning. Many students do not see learning and achieving their passions as something that they can do for themselves. Watch the clip below:

I’ve always been energized by collaborating on projects and working off each others’ ideas to create better ones. However, all of my experience until now has been face to face. Global collaboration is new to me and I’m wondering How’d I not think of this before?!

There are several projects and professional learning happening this year at my school that has shown teachers the power of connecting to a greater community using the web:

  • Our 1st and 4th graders participated in the If You Learned Here global collaborative project. It was an exciting experience connecting and contributing to a project housed in the cloud between participants. Our students enjoyed sharing about their school, as well as learning about other schools around the world. Recently the 1st and 4th graders met up to peruse the collaborative ebook that served as the project’s final product, and the prideful buzz in the room was contagious.
  • Our 4th graders are in the middle of a project called Together in the GCC and it has led to making connections with teachers and students from Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. The kids eagerly gather research each week in preparation to create videos and share their finding with the GCC community. Equally enthusiastic are the teachers, who collaborate each week to share ideas and tips. When first starting the project, I found participants through Twitter, as well as emailing schools and asking that they forward the project description to their 4th grade teachers. We began communicating via email and Google Hangouts, but now easily converse about the project using Google Chat. We have formed a powerful partnership and hope to continue the project and make it better each year.
  • I recently helped plan a unit with Jodee Junge for her 3rd grade class to learn about human migration. We will use Flipgrid to gather migration stories from teachers, parents, and Jodee’s and my PLN. By hearing of others’ migration experiences, we think it will evoke empathy within her students and enable them to better internalize the concepts and causes behind migration.
  • This year I have taken on the roll of New Faculty Coordinator and am utilizing my new skills and ideas for online collaboration. I am using Google Classroom to facilitate discussion, share tutorials, and even create assignments such as Make a Twitter account, connect with each other,  and follow your new school.  I shared Jeff’s Twitter tutorial, as well as a clip of him talking about how the internet is a mass of communities.  I also shared the recent Where There’s Smoke Podcast about Communities that included Jeff as the guest speaker. It gave many of the teachers, most of whom are beginning their first international teaching post, a sense of calm in knowing that the pulse of the community is not where it was created, but in the hearts of the members and that the community can still flourish even if it is apart. I also surveyed the teachers to get an idea of their experience with the Google Education Tools, which you can’t live without at our school. Knowing what they need, I have been creating and sharing short screencasts showing them how to effectively use Gmail, Calendars, and Drive. The best part was that a few of the teachers responded with other tricks and tips and agreed to create a screencast of their own. Little by little, these new teachers have ‘friended’ me on facebook and are sending me emails and opening up with their fears, anticipation, and excitement. I am getting lots of great feedback and am confident that we are creating strong, supportive bonds without ever having met.
Photo Courtesy of Mike via Flickr
Photo Courtesy of Mike via Flickr

These projects and learning experiences have opened me and many others at my school, to new ways of creating student centered approaches to learning. It is important to show teachers and students the possibilities of connecting to other learners around the world. Once we allow our learners to be back in the ‘driver’s seat’ of their learning process and goals, we can leave Learned Helplessness behind.

 

 

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.

IMG_1648
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.