Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher is co-founder of the award winning Flat Classroom projects and co-author of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds. Her second book Collaborative Writing in the Cloud (with Common Core) will be out in the Fall.
How do engineers design a car? How do fashion designers design clothing? How do teachers design global collaborative projects, MOOC’s, and blended learning opportunities? Each of these begin with some common factors:
Start with your “to be” list before you have your “to do” list.
This concept comes from Classroom Habitudes by Angela Maiers. What do I want students to be on this project? Here are some common “to be’s” as I work on projects like the Flat Classroom project, A week in the life Elementary project, or the Eracism Debate project:
-Students will be collaborators and inventors
-Students will be curious: about each other and their topic.
-Students will be professional students: understanding privacy and appropriate behavior that is inclusive of those who speak English as a second language.
-Students will be bridge builders and cultural analysts as they compare and come together.
-Students will be adaptive, proactive, and self aware.
These are just a few of the “to be’s” that have been on my list but the biggest “to be” is I want my classroom to be “flat.” This term comes from Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat and means that I want my students to connect to each other, the rest of the school, the community, their country, and their world in meaningful ways that remove the walls of my classroom. The world is their classroom and my classroom is contributing to learning in the world.
Global education requires customization.
Ask yourself as you design the project, am I facilitating an environment where these things can happen. Remember that you are a “teacherpreneur”. You are a teacher who customizes the learning experience to your local standards and requirements while working to cooperate with other teachers when possible.
Remember that troubleshooting IS higher order thinking and that WHEN struggles and miscommunications happen that you are to use the teachable moment. Problems are the artist’s palette upon which globally savvy teachers paint the masterpiece of meaningful learning, expect them.
Construct Communication Conduits.
In Chapter 2 of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds, Julie Lindsay and I talk about the requirement for effective synchronous and asynchronous communications methods. Just connecting on Skype isn’t enough if you’re global. You need appointment secretaries like Timebridge. You need email connectors like Google Groups. You need collaborative writing platforms like wikis or collaborative word processors. You need video sharing sites like YouTube or Ning. You might need a Facebook page or a Twitter hashtag. Create a communication map but be ready to adapt when people in your community establish their own conduits to connect. Just as river dams must have outlets, you aren’t controlling what is happening, you are channeling communications to empower a learning objective.
We have the “handshake phase” in our projects where students are getting to know each other with the objective of creating strong, immediate connections. Just as you decide in the first few moments whether you will like someone or not, but your learners will decide in the FIRST or SECOND interaction whether your community is worth the effort of engagement. Make connections, encourage communication, have students share in ways that show who they are and connect as fellow human beings.
Build and foster community around content objectives.
Some of the best books I’ve read on managing global communities include Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki and Tribes by Seth Godin, because that is what we are doing, we are working to enchant tribes of learners. We are community builders around our topic. In the business world invisibility is un-employability. In online blended communities, invisibility is inaccessibility. If people don’t see you commenting and sharing and communicating, they think you’re not there. You must leave digital footprints so people know you’re treading among them and part of the community. This is a not a community where you are lord and master, but one where everyone is a just a surf – quite literally. You’re all together learning and moving forward but you will be recognized for what you contribute, not for who you are and being an excellent, curious learner starts with you.
Also keep the main objective front and center. An inability to focus is often the achilles heel of the Net Generation. Conversations can and will happen around a variety of topics, but it is your job to steer them towards the key topic for your objectives. You are still the teacher and you still have goals, milestones, and objectives to reach. Just as a sailor steers his sailboat towards the shore, you cannot control the wind, but you can control the general direction. Sometimes the wind of conversation blows you in a direction that you did not intend, but it can still meet your objectives. Be willing to correct your course and adjust your sails to speed up learning and energize the community. One of the most exciting, invigorating things for learning is when students see and notice their teacher adapting the learning environment to what is happening. Do it and let them see that you ARE noticing the community and responding with your actions. This is when you begin to enchant your learning tribe, and as one who has the privilege of working this way, this type of teaching is as addicting as sailing.
Establish and reinforce the Habits.
In my upcoming book Collaborative Writing in the Cloud from Eye on Education, I share some of the best research I’ve found on collaborative work which was written by Justin Reich at Edtechresearcher. For example, in the book I quote how he shares that an effective discussion is one that has at least four turns in the conversation. Anecdotally, I’ve found in the Flat Classroom projects that when I see students actively discussing a wiki page on the discussion tab, then the writing tends to be more collaborative.
In my blog post Wiki Wiki Teaching: The Art of Using Wiki Pages to Teach, I share how students should start and end class, but the habits I teach students (and hold them accountable for) encourage collaboration. Theresa Allen, the leader for the DigiteenTM project (full disclosure: this is a Flat Classroom® Project) has students respond to at least three other blog posts during the “handshake” phase of the project and as they check off their response, they receive a work ethic grade from the teacher to foster this interaction. The process of commenting is not what helps connections happen, but rather the process of meaningful commenting. Familiarize yourself with the habits, for as the habits of the community goes, so goes the community.
Celebrate and Retrospect
At the end of the race, you can hear the cheers. You can see the finish line and the clock. So what do you do? You SPEED UP. You’re about to finish something meaningful. You’ll get a t-shirt, or maybe even a medal. You’ll have family congratulate you. If you’re smart, you’ll write in your runner’s journal what you did well and what you should do differently next time. You will share on Facebook with your friends what happened. Racing is a rush because it has a finish.
Projects and interactions must have a clear finish. When you let projects and events fizzle out you let the sizzle go out. You miss the opportunity to celebrate and cement learning. In Flat Classroom, we have student summits where students present their topics, share what they learned, and about the learning process. Every time we do this, a teacher or student says “I didn’t get it until we all talked and now, I get what we were doing. I want to go back and do it again.” Then, next time they collaborate, they get it. Because every collaborative experience and global experience is different, you don’t see the big picture until everyone gets together. Like a patchwork quilt, each patch is unique, but when they are sewn together, they become a work of art.
Global Collaboration is vital to the modern classroom
It isn’t about what you’re keeping out but what you’re bringing into your classroom. We aren’t making copies in our classrooms, we’re making originals. We desperately need rigor with engagement and are teaching the most hyper-connected generation in history. But schools are comprised of bricks AND clicks. We need online and offline spaces to learn. From my own experience, once you go flat, you never go back!
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