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.

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.