I’ve been working with a school on an action research project. We are still in the planning stage. Over the next few weeks we will begin the diagnostic activity, instructional activities and then a post-assessment. The project is focusing on 21st Century Research Skills. The idea is that any subject area teacher could use these activities with content from their own courses when doing research. The planning and activities can be found here: http://pss21cresearch.wikispaces.com/
I am always amazed at the power of sharing and collaboration. We created a wordpress blog with buddy press added in, allowing staff to share, comment and form groups to collaborate. Each day I am amazed with the educators that are making use of this tool to share. In it’s infancy we have one teacher from each school plus many, many more joining in on the sharing. As we continue, the goal is to remove the “node” of the network from consultants to a more dispersed network among all teachers. Baby steps, but it is quite energizing to see the sharing going on.
I was sitting in a meeting today and to my pleasant surprise we had a discussion about an organization I have started to become involved with and support lately. COPE Dogs is an organization that schools partner with and students take on the task of training service dogs (with a certified trainer). These students work with the dogs during their 2-year training program. They also take them to visit the elementary schools as reading or math buddies. In our school board, we have four or five schools participating in this program.
You know those days when nothing works out as planned? I mean…. NOTHING? We had one of those days this week. My colleague Jim Carleton aptly named it The Day of Plan B’s (and plan C’s and plan D’s). We had two classes on either side of the school board (about 90 km apart) who were co-teaching a math lesson together. The plan was to use the Polycom video conferencing equipment for the introduction which included discussing the situation in Haiti after the earthquake, showing photos of the destruction and then sharing the video Waving Flag. After the introduction including a discussion of 3-D shapes and some of the characteristics, the classes were to break into groups. Two students from each classroom were on a computer in Adobe Connect and were going to work with a pair from the other class. Their task was to design 9 buildings using 3-D shapes and then the birds eye view of their rebuilt village for Haiti. They had to choose the buildings that were most important to Haitians (not our students, so for example, most included a church). This was day one. Over the next week the Grade 6 class was going to use Geometers Sketchpad for some further activities with their 3-D buildings and the map of the village. The Grade 4/5 class was going to build the buildings using nets. They would then reconnect with their partners to consolidate the activity.
So, day one, myself and Jim are on either end of the video conference with the teachers. I get a text message “we have no v/c lets use Adobe Connect for the introduction”. The polycom wasn’t working. Ok, so we connect to an adobe room and get going. The microphone on one of the computers isn’t working. And, my computer on the guest wireless won’t connect to adobe connect at all. Ok, so there goes plan b. We ended up doing a teleconference with two iPhones. On each end we plugged the phones into speakers, skype called each other and then shared the lesson via adobe connect shared screen on the computer without a microphone. And it actually worked. Kinda.
When the time comes for breakout groups the students all go into three adobe connect rooms. We frantically tried to get them all into the correct breakout rooms and the grade 6’s sharing the SMART notebook file with their grade 4/5 partners. With all the time we had lost problem solving the video conference we ran out of time and never got the students into the right break out rooms. They ended up just introducing themselves in the chat and connecting with each other. In the end, it was the biggest lesson fail ever, yet we were all still smiling and laughing. The teachers we are working with are awesome!
The next day we tried take 2 and made a few changes. First of all we remembered to bring the replacement camera for the polycom unit we were supposed to bring in the first place 🙂 Then, we decided break out rooms weren’t our best choice for this project and created 12 separate adobe connect rooms and then assigned them to the partners. We also decided that we didn’t need the SMART notebook file, the students could simply share right on the whiteboards within adobe connect. These were saved and we could go back to them when needed.
I couldn’t make take 2, I was elsewhere, but I got a text message around lunchtime from one of the teachers saying “it worked awesome!”. Looking into the adobe connect rooms after the students had left I can see the chat and whiteboards displaying their work. They did some really neat things and came up with great ways to decide which student was doing which job. The way I figure it, we are always taking with students about persistence and perseverance. Well, this sure was a great example. 🙂 The day of plan B’s continued on way beyond this failed lesson and into the afternoon, but of course… a little creative problem solving got us where we needed to go.
I’ve written about Minds On Media, the brainchild of Brenda Sherry and Peter Skillen, before. I am a big fan of this model of professional development. Created for ECOO, there are multiple stations around one large room. Teachers go wherever they wish. They learn whichever technologies they are interested in. If you get bored, you move. If you find something you want to go deeper into you stay at that station the whole time. It allows for teachers to choose tools that are useful and accessible to them and connect it to the learning goals they are trying to facilitate in their classrooms. It provides all the things we like to talk about being good for our students; differentiation, multiple access points, choosing the best tool to reach the goal and the teacher as a facilitator of learning instead of the holder of all knowledge. The day I co-lead a mini-Minds On Media session with a group of educators I learned more from participants than I “taught” for sure. Very collaborative.
Brenda and Peter have written about the role of the pedagogista here. Basically, our role was to circulate and help teachers step back from the technology and have discussions about the critical thinking, developing learning networks and inquiry-based learning. In addition, when someone wanted a little one-on-one time we helped out.
Throughout the day I had some great conversations with amazing educators. Many of them started with the educator saying “This is all so awesome, I just don’t know where to start”. After a full day with Garfield Gini-Newman around critical thinking and another day with Will Richardson doing the personal learning network blitz, we had all seen so many excellent ideas, tools and strategies. The struggle was to choose a starting point that fit for them. The question “what are the learning goals you would like to work on?” usually led to a discussion that allowed the teacher to narrow down their choices to a few tools. Then some more investigation allowed them to choose the right tool(s) and get started creating their lessons, focusing in on the critical thinking they wanted to reach. I learned more in these discussions than I have from many other professional development sessions combined. The previous day with Will Richardson had opened a whole new world for many of us in the room, and the value on networked learning was incredible. The room was buzzing.
There were also conversations that were just pure fun… One teacher was looking into beefing up her learning network and wanted to start blogging before she went to China to teach for the summer. She wasn’t a facebook user but wanted to share photos and experiences with family and friends while abroad. At first we started to create a blogger account, quickly questioning whether or not it would be available in China (unsure if Google is accessible freely in China?). She knew that she would have email, but unsure of which social media sites would be available. That led us to a posterous blog where she should simply email a photo or blog entry and it would be posted. As we wrapped up updating her twitter profile with a picture, I started to get that nagging feeling… Great fun, but we needed to get back to the critical thinking… 🙂 Just as I was thinking this, she said… “so… I could do this with my English class. They could…”. We then started into a great conversation about how blogging could be used in the classroom.
I’m not sure how many educators get a chance to observe classes or sit along side a student while they learn, but this day was absolutely fascinating. Having the time and purpose to observe and question was wonderful for my own personal learning. One thing I began to notice was that after about an hour or so, teachers started to navigate to the tables in the centre of the room or settle in at a media station. After browsing the stations they either went to a place they could begin to design, build and construct with support people around them or settled into a station to go deeper into a media. Mali Bickley nicknamed these areas “creation stations”. This is ideal in my mind. How many times have you left a PD session and had all sorts of great ideas, but never found the time to actually get started. These teachers left with that project started. The biggest hurdle overcome.
Lots of great educators have blogged about this OTF session.
Thank you Brenda and Peter for a wonderful opportunity and weekend!