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 (https://edjudo.com/the-power-of-a-positive-digital-footprint-for-students.ht). 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
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!