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.

 

Flipping is a Flop

Original photo courtesy of Agribusiness Teaching Center via Wikipedia
Original photo courtesy of Agribusiness Teaching Center via Wikipedia

I have never formally tried to flip my classroom, and before this week’s research I wasn’t clear about my beliefs around reverse instruction or a flipped classroom. I will say that although I have used tools like Khan Academy and BrainPop to supplement instruction in class and out, I never got the sense that a full on flip was worth my time.

After digging in to the pros and cons, I feel that this is one of the many “technological” ideas that flops because it is still used to the things we have always done; just as Marc Prensky describes as “doing old things in new ways”.

One of the first posts I came across,  The Flip: End of a Love Affair, was written by a teacher who had formerly loved the idea of a flipped classroom. She explains her change in thinking brilliantly:

The reality is that many if not most teachers who opt for the flipped classroom strategy are not pursuing a student-centered approach to teaching and learning. The traditional model of learning is simply being reversed, instead of being reinvented. The lecture (live or on video) is still front and center.

Learning isn’t simply a matter of passively absorbing new information while watching a lecture on video; new knowledge should be actively constructed. When we shifted to a student-centered classroom, my students took control of their learning, and I quit lecturing. I haven’t lectured in almost two years.

A Flipped Classroom, a Slanted Classroom, or even a Fliperentiated Classroom are all variations of teacher-centered teaching. With these models it might feel like at first you are ‘getting more content covered,’ but in reality the kids aren’t learning more.

Furthermore, The Teched Up Teacher makes the great point that

A kid who does not do their homework normally will not watch the lectures at home even if you hold them accountable.

This is even more detrimental in a flipped classroom because now the kid can’t participate in that really cool activity you planned.

So flipped or not, you still have the same student motivation issues because school doesn’t feel relevant to their lives and as Rob Langlands says, “WTF?’

The exception to this is if teachers can flip their thinking and their classrooms as Jon Bergmann, one of the first “flippers,” describes

We started flipping our classes after a conversation with our assistant superintendent. She saw how we were recording our live lectures with screencasting software and told us how her daughter loved it when her professor at a local university recorded his lectures, because she didn’t have to go to class anymore. That’s when we asked the question, “What then is the point of class time if we make it so they can get all of the content by watching a video?” The obvious answer was that we could make class time more enriching and more valuable.

My thinking flipped from my class being about the content to being about the process of learning. I have said for many years, “I don’t teach science, I teach kids.” But today I want to change that and say, “I don’t teach science, I teach kids how to learn.” This was a seismic change in how I thought about my role as a teacher. I realized that I needed to get away from being a teacher who disseminates content, and instead become a learning facilitator and coach.

Photo courtesy of Dan Foy via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Dan Foy via Flickr

So all in all, it seems to me that a better use of time as an educator would be to learn strategies to create a student-centered classroom where inquiry and authentic ways of learning were at the heart. PBL, blended learning strategies, student video creation, peer and global collaboration, and many other techniques are ways that a teacher can use tools and strategies to funnel the right information, strategies, and motivation towards her students. And, like the educators stated above, the real trick is to teach kids how to learn so that when they don’t receive lectures from you in class (or on your YouTube channel) they will still know how to find the answers to their questions and solutions to their problems.

Taking Learning from Blah to Ah-ha!

In the  Introduction to Project Based Learning booklet, Buck Institute defines standards-focused PBL as a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks.

Many teachers cringe at the thought of Project Based Learning because what comes to mind is an end project that does not add enough value for the extra time to be worth while. Another fear is that projects create chaos in the classroom and that the teacher won’t be able to maintain control over the learning outcomes, assessments, and rigor.

When talking with teachers I often reference the visual below to assure them that PBL is a twist on what they are already doing, and won’t require abandoning the many effective strategies they already have in place.

Image courtesy of New Tech Network via newtechnetwork.org
Image courtesy of New Tech Network via newtechnetwork.org

John Larmer, in an Edutopia article, explains that many of the (fill-in-the-blank)-Based Learning models that have cropped up over the years are, at the foundation, very similar.

The term “project learning” derives from the work of John Dewey and dates back to William Kilpatrick, who first used the term in 1918. At BIE, we see project-based learning as a broad category which, as long as there is an extended “project” at the heart of it, could take several forms or be a combination of:

  • Designing and/or creating a tangible product, performance or event
  • Solving a real-world problem (may be simulated or fully authentic)
  • Investigating a topic or issue to develop an answer to an open-ended question

So according to our “big tent” model of PBL, some of the newer “X-BLs” — problem-, challenge- and design-based — are basically modern versions of the same concept.

Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning are the most often interchanged terms. BIE has “decided to call problem-based learning a subset of project-based learning” because project-BL can be framed as a project “to solve a problem.”

Image courtesy of John Lamer via Edutopia.org
Image courtesy of John Lamer via Edutopia.org

We’ve been dabbling in PBL for about a year now in our elementary school and I thought I’d take this week’s learning and direct it towards a regionally collaborative project I created last year for 4th grade called Together in the GCC. The project was successful last year on many levels, but when reflecting after the project finished, the participating teachers felt that a more authentic end product would be helpful for the students to maintain their interest and use the information they gathered throughout the project.

The lynch pin to a PBL unit is the authentic task presented at the beginning to guide learning and motivate participants with a meaningful context. Knowing Fiona Al Rowiaie is a long time resident of Bahrain, I asked her to help me brainstorm an authentic task that would require knowledge of the GCC countries and Council, as well as take the project from a globally collaborative project to a PBL-globally collaborative project. There has been talk of a train to connect the GCC countries, so we decided to start there.

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

We settled on a final project for teams to propose a GCC train route with 10 stops. The team would need to identify the 10 cities they think are best suited for the train stops within the 6 GCC countries. When choosing the cities, they would need to consider the cities’ geographical interests, cultural interests, population, industry interests, historical interests, and environmental interests. Teams would create Google Maps with the stations and present their route and city choices in a video. The videos would hopefully include visuals and evidence to persuade the audience of their route. There are too many kids to have one overall winner, so we will have several groups vote on the winning proposal. We will however, collect and report the most popular choices for the train stops; and who knows, maybe sometime soon we’ll get to see how close we are to the ‘real’ decision?

We plan to allow 2 weeks for the teams to create and share their final project; therefore the first 3 weeks would be targeted towards gathering and sharing information about the cities in the GCC countries in order to equip students to make informed decisions on the train stops.

This project will take place after Winter Break, so I’ll check back in to report our progress and reflections.