Monday, March 24, 2008

Collaborative Work Groups

I ran an interesting activity in class the other day. It started and evolved around this question: Why do students have to work independently on projects? I got to wondering that the other morning as I was getting ready for school. So, I thought, what the heck? Why not let them work on a routinely independent project collaboratively? It was a research based project, and what the kids needed to do was to find some information in three different areas to get them thinking about a novel we were about to start reading.

Typically, I would have had the kids research, finding facts related to the issues. Each fact had to be found in and corroborated by two different sources before it could be posted for the public or classmates to see. This time, though, I let them work in a group. Each group selected its own group leader, and once they started finding facts that answered the questions that I had posed, they were allowed to turn to their teammates and ask them to help them find the corroborating evidence.

The activity worked pretty smoothly, especially with one of the two groups I had going in the classroom. I heard them talking to each other, sharing facts and ideas they had found which they thought were relevant to the questions I had posed. Then, other students were quickly going on different search engines, logging on to our library resources, and visiting other websites to see if they could find that same piece of information listed someplace else. All the while, the project manager was keeping track of all the bibliographic entries and making sure that each piece of information posted to our SKRBL board had two citations to go with it.

Of course, the interactions going on in the activity were higher than when I had the students work on the activity independently. It was really incredible to hear their interactions, to listen to their teamwork, to see their teamwork and to see the results of what they came up with. In addition, the activity mirrored, to a slight extent, a project team like the students might have to work on when they begin the next phase of their life after high school.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Student Voice & the future

Just finished participating in a video conference that came about as a direct result of my involvement in Classrooms for the Future (CFF). Our district was asked by the state of Pennsylvania, and specifically Holly Jobe, to share our findings and insights with a group of educators in the San Joaquin Valley, California, interested in bringing technology into their classrooms, and it was a really interesting experience. Our team decided to have on hand not only technicians, not only our CFF coaches, and not only our administrative team but also a classroom teacher, myself, and a student to the conference, and the student had a big impact on the tone of the conference. It reminded me a lot of Educon 2.0 when students voiced the role of technology in their lives and how it was affecting them in the classroom. Jessica, the student I had with me, very dynamically illustrated to the folks in California the impact the technology had on her as well as very much impressing our state level friends who organized this video conference. (She was congratulated by all the members of the group and personally thanked by Holly at the end!) It turns out California wants to mimic what we're doing with Classrooms For the Future.

The message I want to get out to anybody that might be reading this blog is this: as we continued talking about classrooms of the future, 21st century education, classrooms 2.0, schools 2.0, and students 2.0, we have to remember to bring the students into the discussion. They are dynamic and will be critical at convincing reluctant staff members and education personnel that there is a need for change in the 21st century.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Don't take too much for granted

I had a bit of a let down with one of my classes here a few weeks back. It was early in the new semester, which for us means that we get all new classes on the flavor of block scheduling we operate on. With this class in particular, I'd been working hard to establish a good rapport and get these students to buy in to the approach I wanted to use in class. In fact, I blogged about this class a couple posts back. I'd gotten pretty comfortable with these students and felt I was starting to make some progress with them. So, when it came time to do an activity using SKRBL, I left a bit too much unsaid.

I introduced the activity to the kids, gave them the directions, and sent them off to work. I was on my feet a good chunk of the period, as I'd anticipated, helping kids get on the right browser and log on to the site. As things progressed either our network connection or Skrbl's ground to a halt, and the automatic updates ceased reflecting on my computer, which was also projecting on the main screen.

So, much later in the period when I finally got to a computer that was able to pull a refresh on the page, I was shocked to see a post that referenced someone having a large anatomical part. Without announcing the specific post, I asked what it was all about and calmly expressed my dissatisfaction to the class. I told the kids that I knew it had been one of them that had posted it, and I was disappointed that one of the other students had taken the initiative to take it down. I reminded the students they were a network of sorts and should have been looking out for each other. Well, until things settled down and the service returned to normal, the post in question was gone and no one had owned up to doing it. I was at least grateful for that.

What's the lesson to be learned here? Never take a class's goodwill for granted. Before using any tool, a teacher must remember to make expectations for appropriate use and behavior clear to the students. That way, use guidelines are clear in the students' minds going in to the activity. Additionally, it's an element of teaching good digital citizenship: teaching the students to behave in positive and meaningful ways in all situations they are in on the web.