Online Book Club – Course 2 Final Project

flickr photo shared by M i x y under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) nbsp;

In the Beginning

As I initially considered options for the course 2 final project, I thought back to a post I’d written in week 5 of course 1, where I’d suggested the idea of a digital book club as the focus for a global collaboration that one of our teachers was trying to set up. That didn’t get off the ground, but I still felt there was real merit in the idea and wanted to pursue it further. I contacted Danelle Kneyse, an ex colleague and fellow Coetailer, who is now a fourth grade teacher at Shekou International School. She was keen to collaborate around the idea, but we wanted to reach out a little further too. In discussing the project with Trina Roth, we decided that if we could find one other person who was either a grade 4 teacher, or who was, like Trina and myself a specialist who could connect us with a grade 4 class then we could set up a collaboration between 4 grade 4 classes. The hunt was on; we put out feelers via Twitter as well as on the Google Doc, sign up created by Blair Lockhart.

As we waited for someone to take the bait, we talked further about the project. We brainstormed ideas and agreed that an online book club based around blogging, could be a very effective medium for teaching students about the enduring understandings we were learning through course 2, namely;

  • The communication tools that exist today are powerful mediums to help spread positive change and global awareness
  • Online behaviors and actions impact the access and safety of personal information
  • Responsible use of online tools can help protect the personal information of others

We thought reading would be a good curriculum area to choose for a collaborative project because the units of study were likely to be more consistent between schools, than for example a social studies unit We began to envision a unit ​for students which would teach students the skills and understandings they would need to use blogs to share their thinking about books. In the process we would be purposeful about teaching students ways in which to create a positive positive digital presence ( We would use the unit to teach the ISTE standards which we were exploring in Course 2, as well as relevant language arts standards relating to reading, writing and oral/visual communication. We discussed a sequence of lessons which would include setting up a blog, blog writing as a genre, responding to others’ posts, attributing images and creating a podcast. ​

The idea was that alongside these lessons, teachers would teach a series of parallel reading lessons targeting one or two reading standards; by having students blog in response to focus questions we could be sure that their blog writing would provide evidence of their learning around the target standards.

Forming a Broader Global Collaboration


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We were delighted when Jamie Stark, Digital & Information Literacy Leader at International College Hong Kong, emailed to say that he’d like to join us in our project; now we were a team of four. When I checked in with Rebekah about our plans for the project, she suggested we take a look at Quadblogging. This is a concept developed by Nelson Thorne, whereby classes sign up to be included in a group of 4; each week one class is the focus class, with others visiting and commenting. This concept provides students with a guaranteed audience within their Quadblogging community. As a group, we decided that while we didn’t need to sign up for a Quad, we would use the concept as a framework for our own collaboration.

Rebekah also mentioned that in a group of four, it would be particularly important to divvy up the work.  We had already decided to use Kim Cofino’s Step by Step Guide to Global Collaborations to plan our project. We copied and pasted this into a shared Google Doc, which we all began adding to (this document provides an interesting record of the evolution of the project). After a number of attempts to find a time when we could all Skype to plan further, we finally managed this on Thanksgiving afternoon, of all times! After that initial conversation, we found that with time differences as well as different working weeks, the easiest way to communicate was by commenting on the Google Doc or via email. Each one of us brought our own experience and expertise to the table and we agreed that we would all sign up on the planning document, to take care of different aspects of the UbD and the task in general. Trina and I were fortunate, in that we were often able to work together to achieve the different aspects of the task that we signed up for, which gave us the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other and get more immediate feedback, as well as build on each others’ ideas. 

Reflecting on the Final Project and the Global Collaboration Experience

I have to say I am pretty pleased with the final product. Thanks to our combined efforts we now have a solid unit, that we can present to our Grade 4 teachers, as well as a process that they can use to set up their own global collaboration in the form of the Online Book Club. I think the unit does a good job of integrating reading and writing objectives with learning around the issues for 21st Century Literacy, that were explored in course two. Each school uses different language arts standards, but they are all well aligned to the unit objectives. Each school’s standards are included in the UbD and identified with the school’s initials. We included two summative assessments; the blog posts and comments will provide evidence of students’ understandings of the reading and writing standards, as well as two of the ISTE standards and the podcast will evaluate students’ understandings of the ISTE standards identified in the rubric, as well as each school’s indicator for oral communication. There are a number of different options identified for the producing the website; teachers can choose to use the one that best suits their needs.  The Project Website  Jamie developed to house the unit will be an excellent communication hub, as well as provide a home for all the different resources involved.

The process of collaborating across distances, with people that you may never have met, is not without its challenges. However, the rewards are evident in the resulting product, which could not have been achieved by any one of us individually, or indeed by collaborating within our own schools. In addition, I know I have gained personally from the process of working with and getting to know others; I now have new nodes and branches in my PLN.

I know that our Grade 4 teachers are excited to take the unit and use the network we have established to teach their students about the value of sharing and communicating around common goals. As the book club gets underway, I think the students will enjoy and benefit enormously from the experience. Thank you team!

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Getting out of their Way

As I wiped away the tears shed while watching Martha Payne’s story, and considered how truly inspiring it is to see the difference one young child can make in the world, I recalled a service project that a colleague and I undertook with our Grade 1 students some years ago. The project was inspired by friend and renowned literacy leader, Bonnie Campbell Hill, who, when diagnosed with terminal cancer, gathered with friends and family from near and far and set about organizing a worldwide fundraising initiative, called Bonnie’s Big Idea. As part of her Big Idea she partnered with Room to Read, to raise money to provide educational resources for children in India. We liked the fact that the children had heard of Bonnie and that they could relate to and appreciate the need to support children of their own age, who were either unable to go to school, or attended schools with no resources. The students became very invested in the cause and together we developed a Powerpoint presentation that they shared at assembly in order to encourage other classes to get involved in the fundraising effort. 

RVIS Students with some of the Gift Jars they made. Photo - Fiona Al Rowiaie

RVIS Students with some of the Gift Jars they made. Photo – Fiona Al Rowiaie

Screenshot of RVIS Donation

Screenshot of RVIS Donation

At school and at home they made a assortment of gift jars, including cookie, muesli and pancake mixes. All told our students raised nearly $2000. As a way of making the donation process concrete, we invited the school director to visit our room and he ceremoniously exchanged the credit card in return for the credit card. The great thing was, as we entered the details the donation was immediately registered, along with a message of thanks. That was hugely exciting for our students; even more exciting was that John Wood, founder of Room to Read, sent an email to our students thanking them for their donation and praising the process that they’d gone through to raise the money.

I know that this project had a lasting impact on the students involved – my daughter was one of them and to this day, she talks about it with pride. I too, am proud of the project, both in terms of the learning experience it offered our students, and the money raised. Technology, in the form of videos, websites, email contact and the online donation record, all helped make the cause and the donation tangible and authentic for our young students.  However, on reading Magali Brutel’s post, Empowerment and Internet Search I came across the image below, which crystallises the difference between our project and Martha Payne’s. Ours managed to engage students, whereas Martha’s teacher, together with her parents had empowered Martha to make her own difference. Thanks for sharing that picture Magali; I’m not sure I would have understood the difference so clearly without it. 

Engage or Empower?

flickr photo shared by William M Ferriter under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Once the difference had sunk in, I began to think more about ways that we, as educators and parents can empower students to use technology to make a positive difference in the world. Students such as Martha Payne, Kevin Curwick who used Twitter to fight cyberbullying and the group of youngsters in Seattle who set up Richard’s Rwanda, to support girls’ education in Nyamata, followed their own passions and interests to make a difference. Involving students in a project such as the one we organized with our Grade 1 students could provide a positive experience in philanthropy that would act as a springboard to other initiatives, but as Jennifer Keenan rightly points out ‘first, they need to find something that they are passionate enough about to want to invest the time’.

As educators, one thing we can do is to use technology to help them to find something that inspires them, that they are passionate about. Sharing some of the inspirational stories highlighted in the Shorty Awards (thanks go to Jennifer Keenan for highlighting this in her blog)  this , in the same way some teachers regularly share Chicken Soup for the Soul stories could help them see the possibilities for positive endeavour and find something they care enough about to invest of themselves. At the same time we need to be teaching students the digital citizenship skills which will allow them to find creative ways to harness the potential that technology has for supporting their cause. There can be no clearer evidence of this, than the community that grew around Martha Payne’s blog, amplified by her father’s Tweets. Our students are very adept at using social media to share and connect around their passions. We need to provide the tools and the structures to enable them to bring that same knowledge and creativity to the classroom. Then, as Scott McCleod points out, rather than trying to control students, for fear of where their passions may take them,  “We have to get out of their way and let them be amazing”.

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Digital Citizenship


What does it mean and whose responsibility is it?

‘Digital citizenship describes the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.’ Ribble and Bailey offer this concise definition, but go on to elaborate by identifying 9 themes of digital literacy. Just like Citizenship itself, digital citizenship encompasses a whole slew of knowledge, skills and behaviors that together, make someone a responsible, balanced, ethical member of a community. I loved the different perspectives on Digital Citizenship offered by middle school students at YIS



When considering whether or not it is important for schools to teach digital citizenship, we need to consider first whether we consider citizenship to be a worthy part of the school curriculum. I think most educators would agree that this is definitely the case (although many would argue that pressure on academic achievement sometimes makes it hard to find sufficient time to devote to it). Therefore, we need to not only ensure we devote time to teaching traditional aspects of citizenship, but the knowledge, skills and behaviors needed to be a responsible, effective member of the digital world. Of course, just as parents have a key role to play in raising their children to be good citizens, so do they need to be instrumental in supporting them to become responsible and effective digital citizens. To this end, schools, have a combined responsibility for educating not only students, but the parents who will need to guide and monitor them as they navigate the digital world.

So when, where and how should we teach it?

If we are to ensure that time and instruction is devoted to citizenship and by extension digital citizenship, then we need to embed it in our school curriculum. Since our school’s inception we have recognized the importance of citizenship by having students meet with teachers four times each year, to evaluate the behaviors and attitudes they bring to learning; they do this by considering their performance against a range of character attributes described on a grade appropriate learner profile and this forms a key part of the student’s report. The format for the RVIS Learner Profile has evolved over time and as we have grown into an IB school we have taken on the IB Learner Profile of 10 attributes and adapted it to suit different divisions of the school. The IBO states;

‘We believe these attributes, and others like them, can help individuals and groups become responsible members of local, national and global communities’.

The last part of that quote makes clear the intrinsic link between citizenship and digital citizenship. At RVIS we have made the connection overt by using the same attributes to outline the responsibilities and behaviors of digital citizenship. Thanks to the work of my colleagues and fellow Coetailers, Randi Wilkinson, Jodee Junge and Deidra West, this is now formalized in Elementary and Secondary Digital Citizenship Agreements that are signed by students and parents at the beginning of the year.

These documents were adapted from the RUP Learner Profile located at, licensed by Ju Garcia, Julie Lemley, & Katy Vance under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. They are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Reflecting on the agreements Randi comments; ‘I think the final product is good for teachers and schools who are just beginning to learn about and teach digital citizenship to their students. However, as my school continues to teach digital citizenship and shifts from fear to empowerment,  I hope to transition to more simple and empowered agreement like Angela’s and Christy’s Empowered RUA”. In my opinion, we have come a long way in our thinking at RVIS and it won’t be long before we are ready to make such a transition.

The agreements are, of course, only one facet of nurturing digital citizens; they need to be prefaced by age-appropriate teaching and learning. At RVIS we currently use the Common Sense Media Scope and Sequence for Digital Citizenship to frame our instruction from K-12. In upper elementary and secondary we incorporate a blended approach using Digital Passport for Grades 3-5 and Digital Bytes for secondary school students. This year we addressed the issue of where and when to embed this teaching, by making it the first social studies unit of the year. Of course, it goes without saying that instruction and practice in this area needs to be ongoing. We can view this initial unit of instruction as the Awareness stage of Ribble and Bailey’s Four Stage Cycle of Technology Integration. It needs to be followed by stages 2, 3 and 4; Guided Practice, Modeling and Demonstration, and Feedback and Analysis. In conjunction with this, we need to work with and educate parents around digial citizenship, so that students are hearing a consistent message between school and home. As Ribble says; There needs to be a common language between our schools and homes that clearly outlines what we expect our students (as well as ourselves) to know and follow. Digital citizenship can begin to bridge these groups so that when we talk about how we expect our students to act, we have some common ground on which to begin. Common sense Media provide some excellent resources that can be used for this purpose.

As I said earlier, over the course of the last year, our school has come a long way in its focus on digital citizenship (thanks largely to the leadership of our Tech Integrationist, Randi Wilkinson and the willingness of teachers and administrators to make the leap). In discussion with Randi I can see that this is the first step in an ongoing process, to empower our students through the teaching and learning of digital citizenship.


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