My tech journey this year has led me through Edmodo to the Google suite. Recently, I have adopted with gusto a few GAFEs, and for those of you who -- like me -- are still newcomers to ed tech, I wanted to share a few ways I've used these resources in my Grade 6 classroom this term...
1. Science: Class-Wide Google Doc
Recently, we completed a study of Electricity in Science. Students read about and built circuits as well as simple motors. The latter were designed using a magnet, a battery and a wire. We used an experiment guide from U of T Physic Department, and consulted multiple YouTube videos for inspiration and guidance.
While students worked in pairs and small groups, I circulated the classroom, snapping photos, offering assistance and recording my observations. Afterwards, I posted a few of the photos into a Google Doc and shared it with my class, inviting comments on one or more photos. (And yes, I discovered you can change the background colour, and quickly availed myself of that feature, hehe.)
Communication is a critical component of the Science curriculum, and in my classroom, it's a particularly important part of the program, as so many of my students are either new to English, or have special learning needs, or both, and struggle with the academic language.
As the unit progressed, one of my occasional teachers (OT) co-created (with the students) a list of vocabulary relevant to the study of electricity. We added to said list throughout the unit, and it remained posted while the students completed this assignment.
I can see many applications for such an assignment, particularly as it includes visuals, which would be super helpful for students who may have been absent from school and missed the experiment/activity.
2. Global Digital Collaboration
Another way I've used Google Docs (and Slides) is to foster collaboration among peers beyond the physical classroom: Earlier this year, I met a teacher online, on Edmodo. She was from Australia, and was looking for a colleague from another English-speaking country to collaborate with on a financial literacy project.
After some initial mucking about online, our two classes got serious, and became involved in a two-month project that would encourage the students to research and compare taxes in their respective countries, develop savings plans, and more, using Google docs or slides to share their work. We co-created the assignment and rubric (and alternates for our modified students) to encompass math, literacy, media and learning skills.
We posted everyone's work on a Padlet, so that students could see one another's work and be inspired to do their best throughout the assignment period.
It's been exciting to watch the work unfold, and the results have been quite amazing!
Below are a few screen shots from various groups' projects... you will see how they have incorporated the use of tables to organize their work, and how they are developing their mathematical communication skills for various tasks.
I also love how they have started using the comments as a chat feature, and are developing real working relationships with their peers across the globe!
The time difference has made live chat a challenge, but every now and again, my Australian colleague and I will discover a few students who have been on simultaneously early in the morning or late at night in their respective countries, and thus are able to chat in real time.
More information about this project can be found here and here.
3. Class Surveys Using Google Forms
My third and final use of GAFE this term has been the discovery of Google Forms. Using forms, I have created both assessment observation checklists and also full class surveys.
Recently, I created a survey about student involvement at school this year, both in terms of extra curricular and in-class leadership. More than 80% of the class completed the survey, and the data I collected was extremely helpful to me as I was writing my learning skills comments for report cards.
(click any image above to enlarge)
I particularly liked how one could include images within the survey; I elected to throw in a meme here in there to make the kids smile and to keep them motivated to complete the survey (it was quite lengthy, and a few needed help with reading/understanding the questions).
I even included a clever meme and silly "bonus" question at the end (which 90% of respondents answered "correctly", hehe)...
I'm now using forms to develop a survey to collect students' reflections on our use of technology as a learning tool this year, and I have already created two surveys to send out to participants in my summer programs, in order to plan better, more customized workshops for my colleagues.
I can see students using google forms in many capacities, particularly in the Data Management strand of math. Data collected is automatically disaggregated, or can be seen en masse, and Google instantly creates pie charts and other visuals. These could be analyzed by students in class.
Onwards with Technology
As I reflect on how my chosen profession has evolved since I began my career in 1998, excited when I got my own overhead projector and set of acetates in my classroom at the time, I am amazed by the leaps and bounds with which technology has changed the teaching and learning landscape.
While the plethora of tools and resources can sometimes be overwhelming, and navigating them requires a strong commitment to critical literacy, it is certainly an exciting time to be an educator. I'm excited to have had the opportunity to play with GAFE in my classroom this year, before heading to my next adventure in public education in September.
How do you talk to students about a homophobic Muslim walking into a gay nightclub during the month of Ramadan, and killing 50 people and wounding dozens more before being shot by police? This question holds particular significance if you yourself happen to identify as queer, and if you happen to be teaching in a class where a good chunk of your students are Muslim!
Today's average middle school is rife with both homophobia and islamophobia... and not just amongst the student body!! I have spent a great deal of time this year working with my students to develop a growth mindset that I hope will serve them well both as academic learners and as citizens of the multi-cultural, pluralist society we call Canada. An event like the one that happened this weekend in Orlando, FLA, will for sure test their mettle, so to speak.
Regardless of your teaching or parenting context, I think it's an important news story to unpack with students, and thanks to several colleagues who shared some timely resources with me, I would like to offer some ideas for how you might do this with your own students, Grade 4 and up...
Begin with a "Third Point"
After a brief introduction summarizing/acknowledging the events of the weekend, you might share a news article and brief video like this one, from CP 24. While students are watching, I would have them consider certain questions or ideas. Below are some examples I'll be sharing with my class:
Letting them watch the clip twice may be helpful in allowing students to dig a little deeper.
Provide Open Space for Dialogue
Classrooms come with a diversity of opinions and personal biases. Encourage students to consider their own biases as they explore their reactions to what happened. Building in structures like "think-pair-share" may allow students more opportunity to talk with others about their feelings.
While you want students to share authentically, it's also important to reinforce the respectful "talk moves" you've hopefully been teaching students all year. It's okay to disagree, but it must be done respectfully. Questions, rather than openly stated disagreements, can be powerful ways to find out more.
Inviting parents and families into the conversation helps to extend the dialogue at home.
Unpacking isn't enough... students need to feel empowered to do something. Taking the conversation further is one idea, especially for older students. Here is a newscast by Desmond Cole. In it, he addresses the massacre, and talks with various guests about the multiple facets of one's identity, and intersectionality. This might be assigned for students to share at home with family, thereby extending the conversation beyond the classroom walls.
Students might also be encouraged to write a letter to the survivors, encouraging them, or to the family members of some of the victims. Other ideas include researching homophobic laws in the US and Canada, finding out more about Islam to combat the stereotypes out there and reading up on prominent allies in the LGBTQ and/or Muslim communities.
Finding ways to celebrate diversity and challenge homophobia and islamophobia at school are additional important extensions to the conversation.
How will YOU be unpacking this with the young people in your life? I look forward to your responses -- feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me directly.
Today in my Grade 6 class, we had a moment like this, and it wasn't because the kids can smell the end of the school year:
The source of the excitement was an announcement about the arrival of a package that was "too big to fit in my mailbox", and could I send someone down to the office to pick it up, please.
I usually know when packages arrive, who they are from and what they contain, so at the look of uncertainty on my face, pandemonium broke loose. Some students jumped up and down, vying for a coveted courier position, arms desperately flailing in the air, while others mused aloud about what it could be...
As soon as the package arrived in the classroom, the mystery was solved: "It's from Australia --TimTams!!!" yelled one of the two delivery students, having looked at the return address enroute from office to classroom and remembering the promise our Austrialian friend Ms. Cross had posted on our virtual collaborative classroom a few weeks back.
And then they all insisted I tear open the package immediately!
Indeed, TimTams it was! TimTams, and Australian flags, and play money, and a whole, long decorative banner which three students immediately carried out to the hall to post above our lockers!
The pedagogy of a cross-cultural collaboration is important, it's true, but so is the fun of just receiving a care package -- sent by plain old snail mail -- from a class in another country. Thanks, Australian chums!!! For the fun diversion today!
Some readers may already know about these sessions offered through ETFO Provincial: 3-day sessions on a variety of topics, offered across the province. $75 gets you tasty lunch all three days, plus all the materials, handouts and 3 days of great PD!!
Registration is now open online!
There are grade-specific options, sessions for integrating technology and 21-C learning into your program, upping your Assessment game and more.
In my experience, the sessions are very practical, and are tailored to teacher need. This will be my fifth summer presenting, and I have attended sessions in the past five years as well as for several years beyond that. All good stuff!
If you click the top of the columns in the registration link shared above, you can sort by location, date, presenter, etc. to suit your need. (And yes, I will be presenting two sessions this summer - consider coming and spending 3 glorious days together!! Haha!)
Please feel free to share this post widely with your OT colleagues as well, as some of the sessions are specifically designed for them.
Some sessions fill up quickly, so don't delay -- make your summer PD plan, and sign up today!
Decided to kick off pride month by celebrating last weekend with Canadian Aviation Pride's "Northern Escape" in Toronto.
Friday's festivities included an aviation themed art show featuring the work of photographer Laird Kay, at Akasha Art Projects on Church St.
This was followed on Saturday with an aviation job fair and a cocktail reception at the 519. While Tats chatted up the HR folks at various airlines, I loaded up on swag for my students!
We opted to skip the late night at Woody's, and made it home to bed before midnight.
This meant we were awake and alert enough to enjoy the next morning's brunch at the Hothouse Grille, along with a little Sunday jazz.
Then it was off to the airport to admire the two planes that had arrived on the island, flown in by members in the US for the "Queen of the Fleet" Competition. (Actually, the were three entries, but the third was a Falcon jet, and since jets are not permitted to land at CYTZ, they had to park their plane at Pearson instead!)
Both planes on the apron were very nice, and one even had a custom made banner swinging from its propeller! In the end, it was decided that everyone was a winner.
While the first group of boys went up for a tower tour, Tats and I said or goodbyes to some new friends, promising to investigate the possibility of flying to their Province town event in Sept.
Then we forewent our own tower tour and the aviation themed drag show that was to follow, and headed to the city's northern region, to attend another performance instead; one of our sons was participating in a dance recital!
After grabbing a quick bite with a friend on Albert's Real Jamaican on St Clair after the show, it was time to head home, walk the dog and face the fact that this thrilling weekend was finally drawing to a close.
Happy Pride Month, Everyone!
Standing on the Go Train platform in Oshawa waiting for my train back to Toronto, I thought about an article I had read earlier in the day, about provincial payments to various Ontario teacher federations.
My own union, ETFO, had not accepted such monetary gifts, but had instead negotiated $600K to support professional development for our occasional teachers across the province.
To the untrained ear, $600 000 still must sound like a lot of money, and as I am in a bit of a unique position to be able to speak on this topic, I thought I would write a blog post clarifying where some of this money goes, so that naysayers may have a better understanding.
First it's important to understand that times have changed since I graduated from the Faculty of Education at OISE and sailed into my first teaching contract at a little country school in Caledon nearly two decades ago; today's average teachers' college grad spends several years doing daily supply work before perhaps being lucky (and good enough!) to land a long-term-occasional (LTO) for several weeks or months in a single school. From there, they may finally apply for a full time contract.
Until they land this much-coveted full time contract, occasional teachers (OTs) are generally not eligible for the same plethora of Board PD offered to contract teachers, including the Ministry-sponsored New Teacher Induction Program , or NTIP (though if they have been teaching for 97 consecutive days for the same teacher, they are eligible for some elements of the program).
A Need for Accessible OT PD
Welcoming a cohort of teachers into the profession to languish on supply lists for three years or longer without a plan to support and promote their professional learning is not a super wise idea. It's no secret that OTs earn considerably less than contract teachers who have been teaching for a few years. And they are not eligible for the same health benefits plan.
Expecting them to pay for expensive AQ or other privately offered courses when they may already have a heap of student debt from their undergrad and teaching degrees is unreasonable.
This is where teacher federations have been helpful.
Union - Offered PD
Occasional teacher unions have long offered professional development; they are closest to the ground, and are best poised to understand the needs of their members. As these needs evolve in the current job market, teacher unions seem like reasonable organizations to partner with to provide funding for continued in-service training.
Typically, this PD is offered after the school day, so that OTs can still pick up a job during the day, and then come for a workshop after school somewhere.
Unique Needs of OTs
Professional learning opportunities for occasional teachers are by necessity different from those offered to contract teachers. Daily OT work can be isolating, especially for newer OTs, who have not yet built up a professional network.
Student behaviour management is constantly on the radar, and occasional teachers want and need practical strategies to get through the day in a possibly unfamiliar classroom or school. A workshop for contract teachers may focus on longer-term planning, whereas a session for OTs may be more likely to focus on individual skills, concepts, lesson plans... while still addressing the latest trends in education. This prepares the OT for their daily job tomorrow and next Thursday while also offering them an opportunity to build their professional knowledge in preparation for a job interview.
Math for OTs: A Joint Effort
A significant chunk of the $600K mentioned near the top of this blog post went to a project that saw several mentor teachers, including experienced OTs and contract teachers such as myself come together to collaboratively plan a full day of professional learning in Math. I know, because I am one of those teachers!
Under the guidance of an experienced federation professional learning leader, the team of us then prepared to go out into the field and facilitate these full day math/teaching sessions with OTs across the province. This year, I have visited 3 locals: Thunder Bay, Waterloo and Oshawa, and will be facilitating a fourth session next week in Hamilton. Each of the sessions has been well attended, and the participants actively engaged on multiple levels.
In addition to doing math, we spend the day learning about and using a variety of apps and software commonly found in classrooms across the province over the past two years, which participants may not have been exposed to in their pre-service training.
We also do some professional reading together, and engage in many formal and informal conversations about classroom management techniques.
To be honest, it's a bit of a presenter's dream: Even though it's only a day (I always prefer a multi-part workshop, for retention and capacity building), it's a FULL day, DURING the day, when participants are fresh and alert. In addition, we had a budget we could spend per participant, so I was able to purchase some excellent resources to share at each session and then raffle off as prizes at the end. Thanks to this, many teachers walked away from each session with with either a practical teacher math reference or a student-friendly, classroom-ready, math-themed picture book.
The best part of these days is that the OTs get paid to attend, so that they don't have to give up a day of paid work to come learn with colleagues.
Paying a room full of teachers for each session, plus paying my own release time and travel expenses as a workshop facilitator, and providing supplies and resources for the workshop is not a cheap venture. But it's am important and effective one, and the investment in our province's teaching force, who directly impact student success, is well worth it, in my opinion.
Good Things Lie Ahead
In addition to facilitating math sessions for OTs, I have also presented 2-part classroom management workshops aimed specifically at Occasional Teachers and 3-day summer institutes for OTs. Each time, no matter where in the province I present, I have been amazed at the caliber of teacher who attends. These OTs are committed, passionate and professional.
If this collective crew is any indication of what lies ahead, Ontario's students are in for a real treat in the next decade as those of us who are further along the continuum either retire or move on -- as I will come September -- to other, out-of-classroom education positions, freeing up space in Ontario's classrooms for these more recent teacher graduates to take over 21-century education!
So, now you know where at least some of the money goes.
After more than 20 years, I finally succumbed (succame?) to one of the many Alumni invitation emails my Alma Mater sends, and registered to attend a few events for this year's Spring Reunion at U of T.
The first, a "Soiree" for LGBTQ alumni, was held at the 180, near Bay and Bloor.
The 180, a resto-bar-lounge atop one of Toronto's tall buildings, offered a lovely view of the city, and since the weather was so fine, we soon installed ourselves at a table out on one of the venue's two decks.
Sadly, this first reunion event was a bit of a bust socially, as I had to run off within an hour of arriving, to attend the keynote of a conference I was signed up for with ETFO. While that conference itself was amazing (and the guest speaker in some sense ironically suitable for the evening), I was sad to have missed the opportunity to get to know some fellow graduates from my "tribe" in a focused social context.
After registering at King's College Circle (and picking up some U of T swag for my students at school), Tats, the boys and I headed over to the archaeology department, where we were invited to explore some skull replicas, and identify which skull did not belong (one was a chimp skull, it turns out). Then we had to order the remaining skulls from oldest to most recent.
Next it was off the astronomy lab, where we were treated to an amazing, 1/2-hour presentation by a grad student whose specialty was exo-planets, and who led us to awe and wonder with his digital show displayed on the dome of a mini-planetarium in the form of what looked from the outside like a large, black bouncy castle (sorry, didn't think to snap a photo of that one!)
After the planetarium, we got to check out the old telescope and take in the view atop another of Toronto's tall towers...
As we exited the telescope show, we found ourselves outside the next "family" event, an array of physics experiments and hands-on activities in the lab next door. The boys really enjoyed exploring and learning about fiber optics, superconductors and more. There was even an invisible light bulb!
Following our brush with science, we stumbled upon the BBQ tent, where a wide array of free lunch (yes, even for vegetarians) awaited us. Tired, hot and hungry, we gratefully sat at a flower-adorned table under a large, airy tent, and ate lunch together.
After a quick stop at the photo booth, we left Spring Reunion, and headed up to Spadina and Bloor, to grab an ice cream at Greg's (which I had first discovered when I was doing my undergrad at U of T!)
We didn't have a chance to talk with many other alumni, but I felt really good about the students we spoke with. They were bright, engaged in their topic, and seemed like interesting, kind people. I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth and depth of at least few students' understanding of equity and social justice -- while I myself loved the university experience at U of T, I also know that University in general is a class divider, and I was pleased to see that at least some of my alma mater's current science students were aware of and could speak articulately about the impact of social structures on such things as gender, for example.
Tats laughed at me when I got a little teary-eyed while eating a burger during lunch... "They just want you to make a donation, you know!" she reminded me.
Maybe so, but given the manner in which we were well and authentically dined and treated as a family on Saturday and as a lesbian couple at the event the week before, then isn't this the kind of university I would want to make a donation to?
With great anticipation I awaited liftoff from Pearson; although my time on the island this May would be extremely short (2 nights), I was looking forward to breathing in the tranquillity that I knew was awaiting me there... this little taste would tide me over until I return in August for my usual month-long stint.
A female FO on the West jet flight and a host of fluffy clouds viewable from my window seat promised good things to come...
A first sight of the island less than two hours later did not disappoint; into view came the much anticipated red soil and patchwork of carefully sectioned-off farmers' fields so charmingly ubiquitous on PEI.
The barely-audible-yet-distinct little sighs of passengers around me confirmed that I was not the only one on board completely smitten with the view.
Sighs turned to delighted chuckles when our pilots informed us over the aircrafts loudspeaker that it was a balmy 26° locally!
Not long afterwards, we landed in Ch'town, where the vast majority of those disembarking were greeted by some friendly islander with whom they were lucky enough to be connected. Among them was Brian, "our" islander, a neighbour and friend. Soon we were installed in his car and rolling along hwy 2 towards our little corner of the island.
At my insistance, the first stop was the lighthouse beach not far from our home -- I wanted to check the old structure was still standing (it was), and that the ocean was still where we left it (it, too, was just fine, though terribly cold, as I discovered when sticking my toe in!)
No matter, what we lost in swim time, we made up for in magnificent beach views and pre-sunset photos...
Upon our arrival at the house, I found my first task awaiting me: The good people from the census department had been by a few times, it seemed; several "friendly reminders" to complete said document had been stuck in the door, the first two having been removed by our friend and the cleaner before him.
I had already done my legal duty and filed one such in Ontario, so punching in the I.d. number and explaining that this was a seasonal property only was a fairly brief intrusion on my short holiday in Paradise.
The next morning before breakfast, it was off to our local beach!
There we discovered that the usual beach access had been blocked off due to the fact that the fellow who owned the vacant lot there had finally decided to come home to roost. This was evidenced by the in-progress foundation and the mock-up that was miraculously on display despite somewhat windy conditions. And by the porta-potty blocking the path to the beach!
After we found our way to the ocean via an alternate access, we walked for some time along the water, and I took the opportunity to try out the panoramic photo feature on my phone's camera!
After our beach walk, I enjoyed a nice nap in the hammock, following which I set up my drums in the music cabin and warmed up my rusty chops!
A quick walk in the back field after my drumming session revealed the trees were still standing, the purple lupin were coming in nicely, and a few critters had set up their homes out back!
My girlfriend, meanwhile, texted a photo of Sneakers; back home in Toronto, she (the dog) had just successfully graduated from Part Two of her dog training course: The biting wildebeest could now successfully be told to "go to your pillow", and generally stayed there for up to 2 minutes -- especially if treats were involved!!!
For us weekend islanders, though, it was time to head next door and attend to the reason for the season: the annual community lobster dinner!
As has been our custom for some years now, a group of summer islanders and year-rounders gathers to enjoy the first lobster of the season (and numerous salads, deserts, baked goods and beverages) together and welcome spring back to the island.
The atmosphere was thick with excitement; most of us had not seen one another since new year's, and many not since last summer -- everyone was eager to catch up on local news and of course to eat, drink and partake of general merriment.
Approximately 40 people gathered to enjoy the warm spring evening, some of us even eating together in the screened in porch!
Another opportunity for a panoramic image also presented itself in the twilight sky that is one of the single most impressive views on the island... yesterday's golden sunset had been replaced by a magnificent canvas of magenta, rose and indigo hues.
I paused to admire it for a moment before returning to the jovial conversations inside.
The next morning, we took a different route to the waterfront, again enjoying the fresh morning air on the island.
The same harbour offers an unlimited assortment of vantage points, each one featuring its own unique brand of awe and wonder. Still, silent sometimes, the rural parts of the island provide almost constant inspiration for personal reflection. To be here is to engage with one's innermost thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears... one is constantly musing, about life, about human relationships, or about oneself.
All too soon, it was time to go.
After a quick lunch and a handing-off of leftover groceries to the neighbours (during which brief interlude we witnessed a low-flying eagle being chased out of the area by two angry and possessive crows, and a bushy-tailed red fox on the prowl for the same mouse or rabbit that the eagle had probably been hunting), we packed ourselves into Brian's car for the drive back into town.
We were not headed directly to the airport as we had to make a VERY important stop in Charlottetown, first! ;-P
Important and much sought-after provisions having been procured, it was finally time to leave the island for real; we ate a simple supper at the airport restaurant before heading through security and into the waiting area to take our seats along equally unenthusiastic island-leavers, and waited dully for our boarding call.
PEI departure shots from the aircraft are too sad; also I did not have a window seat on the way home, unfortunately. So I did not take any pics out the window.
Let us leave the weekend memories at red foxes, beach walks, musical reunifications and nice chats with island neighbours and friends. A refreshing weekend promise of the summer to come, and a much-needed infusion of rest and relaxation to get me through the final six hectic weeks of school!
Those of you who have been following my blog know that I've been playing with online teaching/learning a considerable bit this year, largely by posting my classroom on Edmodo.
Although organizing my classroom materials virtually has been a beneficial organizational process/tool for both me and my students, the main reason I wanted to explore online classroom settings was to experiment with and develop my understanding of digital collaboration. Lately, with the help of an Australian colleague I met through one of the professional groups I belong to on Edmodo, we've been able to do this.
For those of you who have heard of Google docs/slides but haven't really taken the plunge yet, this blog post is for YOU!
Collaborating with my Australian colleague to develop and support an global financial literacy project for our combined students has been an interesting challenge, but a combination of virtual tools and personal perseverance and passion is making our idea a reality.
Step One: Co-Developing an Assignment
After some full class and small inter-class group mini-assignments to get to know one another and explore media tools, my colleague and I decided it was time to dig into the meat of the matter, and finally put together a robust collaborative project on the initially-intended topic: Financial Literacy.
Through the use of Google docs, we were able to collaboratively develop and edit an assignment for our students (and a modified version for some of the groups).
Having just begun the Google journey myself, I was amazed at the ability to simultaneously edit and add ideas, and comment on one another's work as we went!
Step 2: Crafting Small Groups
The previous tasks we had assigned online helped us to notice who worked well together and which students were keen about online collaborative learning. We based our groups largely on those observations, also putting together students in some groups who would -- for English Language Learning challenges or other reasons -- benefit from a more scaffolded assignment.
My colleague began a list on google docs of her students with first names and brief anecdotal comments, then shared the doc with me so that I could add to it.
Using that combined list, we put together 13 small groups between our two classes, with roughly two of her students and two of my students in each group.
Step 3: Introducing the Assignment
Once we had agreed on the small groups, we created them under our shared class in Edmodo, and posted the assignment document in each small group.
We also printed out hard copies of the assignment, and shared them with students in class. This gave each of us time to review the project goals and expectations with our respective students, and respond to any initial questions in person. Then the assignment was sent home for students to share with their families and be signed and returned, so that we'd know the people at home were aware of what we were up to.
(click any photo above to enlarge)
Amazing Cross Cultural Beginnings
As evidenced by the thread samples posted in the images above and the work samples below, students really got into the project, and began working on the various tasks (there are 10 in total, 5 for the modified groups) right away.
Google Docs/Slides for Project Management
As I had discovered by a few team projects I'd worked on over the past few weeks, Google docs allows users to collaboratively develop a document or slide show: Two or more users who have access to the same document in Google can be writing and crafting material simultaneously or at different times on the same document or slide show. One can also highlight items and make comments in the side bar, which other group members can then read and respond to as needed.
Using shared documents like this enabled students to work together across the world from different computers at different times, and allowed us as teachers to snoop on their progress to leave comments and make suggestions as students work on their projects.
Click one of the images below to see some samples in progress, along with the comments....
Challenges and Opportunities!
A key barrier to collaborating effectively has been access. As one would imagine, a public school board's definition of "open collaboration" is by necessity bounded by security concerns. What this meant for my students in Ontario, Canada was that while they could create a google doc and share it with others in our school board, their Australian counterparts could not access and make changes to the docs, and vice versa (if the Australians created something, my students could not access it to work on).
A series of panicked emails from me to my IT Instructional Coach, and his helpful replies, and a few in-person conversations with a mutual colleague near a computer helped to alleviate the drama and develop possible workarounds: The solution we finally settled on was that I would create a blank document or slide show for each small group, grant public access (though not public searchability -- so only those with the link could access and make changes), and post said docs and slides onto a Padlet.
This padlet with its access to all 13 groups' work had the added bonus that it allowed all students to see all the other groups' work. This meant they, too, could provide feedback comments if they wanted to, and be inspired by the ideas that others had begun to incorporate into their doc or slides. (Unfortunately, it also meant that others could potentially sabotage the work of their peers, as they could randomly and anonymously erase work done by another group -- a great deal of trust had to be established, and this certainly offered an opportunity to practice honesty and integrity!)
Key Skills Developed
Although the access thing was a bit of a nuisance for us at first, we saw it as an opportunity to practise and model perseverance and tenacity with and for our students. Rather than giving up when one thing didn't work, we tried another, and another, until a solution could be found. By climbing through windows when we found doors closed, we have been able to model real life problem solving situations for our students.
In addition to fostering collaboration and problem solving skills, and developing an understanding of financial literacy, this project is also helping students develop their digital citizenship and negotiation skills: As they do not know one another "in real life", it can be easy for some students to simply "walk away" mentally from a task or online disagreement. As teachers, my colleague and I have been able to moderate conversations with one another's students as well as our own, and mitigate disagreements by turn in person and online as needed.
Deadlines, format and structure also have to be negotiated, and the students are really stepping up to the plate!
While we are looking forward to seeing their finished products in June, my colleague and I are also enjoying the journey; watching our students grow as collaborators and global, digital citizens has been a rewarding if admittedly-somewhat-frustrating-at-times experience.
Overwhelmed or Excited? Seek Help!
I am a digital immigrant. My initial resistance to this sort of online collaboration was due largely to my own inability to comprehend conceptually how it could work. My schema dictated what I was able to imagine, and most helpful for me have been the conversations I have had over the past few years and especially the past few months with people younger and more experienced with learning technology than I am. Experiencing, failing, and trying again have been valuable for me, both in the sense that I have been able to learn more about how it works so that I can teach others, but also in that I have been able to model resiliency and risk taking for my students, who are NOT digital immigrants, but who may lack a working understanding of how to use technology effectively as a learning tool.
Although I found Google docs overwhelming at first, I am increasingly seeing the value of tools like this to foster the sorts of competencies and habits of mind our students will benefit from in the world they are growing up in.
If you are a newcomer to "all this stuff", I strongly encourage you to find mentor in your school (bring chocolate!!), a coach in your board, or a summer course online or in person, and learn a little more. The world will become a bigger, brighter, more exciting place for you -- I promise!
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera now focuses most of her written attention to prolific blogging, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and, more recently, SMARTbansho and Homeschooling 4. Contact Vera by clicking the photo above.
The views expressed on this blog are the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of her family members or the position of her employer on the the issues she blogs about. These posts are intended to share resources, document family life, and encourage critical thought on a variety of subjects. They are not intended to cause harm to any individual or member of any group. By reading this blog and viewing this site, you agree to not hold Vera liable for any harm done by views expressed in this blog.