It's not new, but it's new in my building and in my room. We've been experimenting with how to connect three different groups of students...in this case, my class, another set of class from a nearby middle school and a third group in California.
Our first attempt was to read aloud a book that was relevant to our unit of study. We constructed a list of vocabulary words that would be important to know as we read the book, one of the teachers developed a graphic organizer that helped students actively listen for information and categorize that information, and then joined together to listen. Our reader had embellished the read aloud with famous posters and art prints and stories that expanded what listeners were hearing.
By the end, we had developed a common experience for all three groups which will be important as we all move into the independent tasks. Everyone will be trying to decide if John Brown is a martyr or a terrorist using evidence from a set of common sources of information; everyone will be developing Google Earth placemarks showing important dates/events in the abolishion movement; and having an online dialog between the classes about what role John Brown played in the country's history.
Students intently listened and were highly engaged with the task. More than being a flashy technology interchange, it really came down to trying to understand some big ideas. Was it OK for John Brown to use "any means necessary" to accomplish his goal? Exactly what does that phrase mean? Have we seen anyone in today's world that believes this is true? What implications does all that hold for the kids in the room?
So why do this with the other classes? Couldn't this be done alone. Absolutely. But I believe we'll gain something more from having been a part of the group. If I didn't believe this, it would be a huge waste of time and effort to link up with the other teachers and classrooms.
- First, I think my class studies ancient history so the contribution of the 7th graders, who study American history, will be invaluable as they serve as our experts in that field.
- Secondly, Mr. Miller's class has done far more with Google Earth than my class. So I'm hoping his students to be our "go-to" technical consultants when we run into problems.
- My students are learning a new technique. Realizing after this, the kids had little idea about how to behave or interact in this kind of learning exchange, I have the opportunity to expand the environments they know how to use. I can only imagine that this kind of online conferencing will be more important as time goes along
- Hopefully my students will use their moderating and commenting skills with another set of people....another way in which to practice and get better and better. These higher level thinking skills of evaluating, finding merit in other people ideas, being respectful and creatively finding mutual areas of agreement are increased with a larger community of learners.
If you have any classroom materials that would help me better lead my students in fine tuning their listening skills during a webinar, I'd be thrilled to hear about them. I wonder if I shouldn't tap into their sensibilities....maybe allowing for backchats or Twittering of some sort. Some way to keep them engaged and listening....digesting the information that flowing past them.
I've never done this before so I expect problems, setbacks and frustrations. Honestly just having that in the back of my mind helps me tremendously in not giving up and really keeping a sense of humor.
We had lots of glitches (video problems, audio problems, I couldn't find a webcam to work with my school computer, I didn't have the dongle I needed to connect my mac to the projector, the sound system kept turning off because I was using 2 video projectors which responded to the same remote control)....but I was just determined not to give up. I enlisted the help of my techiest kids....together we searched for ways around all the obstacles. This part was quite fun because they thought of as many solutions/work arounds as I did....so we really felt like joined-learners!!!
I'll keep updating folks on how this project goes. If you have ideas on how to make the video conferencing go better, please let me know. Or any ideas on what you've done to make this kind of learning work out better...I'd sure appreciate hearing your tips and tricks. Until later...Cheers.