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.

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.