My PLN friend, Scott Boylen of Iowa, asked me to reflect on a collaborative project our students completed about the Parts of Speech. Here are my thoughts:
1. Do you think that the collaborative project you were involved in with Mr. Boylen’s class was meaningful for your students in ways that go beyond the “average” classroom?
The project was meaningful because students were working with other kids their age; they saw that other writing students also learn the Parts of Speech, and that they could learn those together, creatively in order to teach others. The project was more than a project, it was a service to others, and that always adds to engagement and meaning.
2. What things do you think students gain from working in a collaborative project with a group of students in a different school, state, or country?
Our students struggled with collaboration with strangers so they learned:
- to write clearly to express ideas
- to ask questions
- to check back to project guidelines
- to give and take
- to follow others’ expectations
- to share tasks and meet timelines
- learned their part of project
- learned other parts of speech by collaborating in our classroom to help peers there
3. What are some of the things that you would say that the students need to know and/or do to get the most out of a collaborative project?
Students need to know that project work is messy, that they are creating something, and so need to be open to many ideas and options. They need to know that they will be expected to give and take, and that their ideas are just as important as the others, so they must participate in the discussion in order to create the best possible project that represents their groups’ creativity, research, and options.Therefore, ideas must be thrown out and be respected. They need to know to expect different ideas, and to consider them carefully, and not dismiss them because they are different than what they had expected or wanted. They also need to know that sometimes you just have to let go– and let someone else lead.
These are real skills that people in charge of things problem-solve daily; it is the work of those who succeed at their tasks because they take risks by sharing, are open to others’ ideas, and are willing to try new things. They move forward; they are not stuck with the past nor afraid of the unknown.
So I let my students wander around the room and observe the thinking and working of other students — to see that no one is following a “correct response” and that each group is struggling with who does what when and why.
I think next year I will consider cooperative projects with paper that require these skills before working online. This way students will have the opportunity to struggle with the muddle with peers before we work online.
4. How would you suggest a teacher who is interested in collaborating with another classroom get in touch with someone interested in collaborating on a possible project?
1. Join Twitter. Follow other teachers. Lurk awhile. Look for projects. That’s what I did — just intercepted a project and jumped in. It might work, or not, just like the project.
2. Join Classroom 2.0 Ning. Look or start a group for a possible project — or just a start to get to know other teachers who are interested. Consider joining all these related Steve Hargadon social networks: Classroom 2.0, Teacher 2.0, Library 2.0, and Student 2.0
3. Join Skype Classroom and look for projects.
4. Start a blog at Edublogs and link to other teachers there. I recommend edublogs because it is education focused and my experience with edublogs has brought me to some very interesting projects. Start a teacher and a class blog. The people at Edublogs are ready with many resources, including a blogging challenge that will help you learn. There’s one for teachers and students. You could start at your own pace by just following an old challenge.
5. Join QuadBlogging. Work with three other teachers and their classes to create a great experience for your students. An easy way to start a project.
6. Consider Google Apps for Education: This free, powerful suite of applications allows for the best collaborative experience ever. Check out possible projects based on these lessons. We use Teacher Dashboard (not free) and Gooru Learning (free) with our Google Apps.
7. Consider wikis, although they are not as “collaborative” because only one person can edit a page at a time. Ideas here. The two most powerful wikis are Wikispaces and Pbworks. Both offer free editions. Try them with your own class first, then start a project.
8. Check out Edmodo (free and works with Google Apps). It’s an educational social media site that looks like Facebook and allows for collaboration among classrooms and provides grading options as well.
9. Try Collaborize Classroom, another free social media site with grading capabilities built in.
5. Do you need to have all of the details worked out for a given project before you even start to look for others to collaborate with?
Just find people who want to collaborate, choose a topic, and start. Throw something out there just to try that meets your objectives. Work things out as you go — add to the project as you go. It’ll never get done otherwise, and it won’t go as you planned anyway! Allow the mess, then reflect on what to do next.
Life is trying things to see if they work. ~Ray Bradbury
You’ve got to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down. ~Ray Bradbury
6. What are the reasons you have had your students work on collaborative projects with others classes?
We all get stuck in our own little worlds and think ours is the only way. Sometimes we are surprised at what others think. The world is smaller now; we are all connected in the land and environment, and in the media and social networks. We must learn to consider others and to work together. I want my students to open their minds while still holding on to what is true to them and their community. I think of these words:
When you find anything good in the white man’s road pick it up.
When you find something that is bad or turns out bad drop it and leave it alone.
~Sitting Bull Hunkpapa oyati
Most of the time, you will find the good when we share with others around the globe. It’s what we have found.