Monthly Archive: April 2020

Expanding Communities.

Header Banner for the Flipgrid

Community Engagement. 

I have to say that connecting with another class on the opposite side of the world was one of my class’s favourite learning experiences this year. For Course 5 in COETAIL, we had to use collaboration through our online community to facilitate learning in the classroom. I have done something similar the past four years during a geography unit where I have connected with past colleagues to do a mystery Skype to learn mapping skills. Although this helped to strengthen old relationships for me didn’t really push me into making new connections. I understood that through the activity, I would learn about the possibility and benefits of developing relationships over a distance to benefit students and that my classes in the past have always enjoyed the process and are highly engaged, but I was a little nervous about putting it out there and basically asking for help. I don’t know why I usually like to do things on my own and like to solve problems on my own. Some of the learning goals I had in mind for this series of learning engagements were. 

  • How to use technology to communicate and learn with others in a different place
  • How to ask questions. 
  • Becoming positive responsive digital citizens. 
  • geography with it too through naming continents and oceans and achieving a math goal about describing positions on maps using coordinates such as latitude and longitude. 
  • Developing international-mindedness.
  • Find out about how other schools use the UN Sustainable Development Goals to help develop action plans in ours. 
Email thread of opening communication and first planning sessions.

Reaching out

The relationship actually started by accident, I put a description in a Course 4 blog post of how my final COETAIL project would involve my class asking another about the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Luckily, Ryan came to my help in the comments and mentioned that his school teaches them in the primary and offered to find a class for me. This was fantastic, reaching out in a community of like-minded professionals was going to be a lot easier than I thought. In no time at all, I was sitting in Japan emailing a teacher in Brazil to set up some learning experiences. After a few emails back and forth it was apparent that my class would be able to learn by communicating with a different community of learners. 

Student’s adding lots of personality.

Smiles and shades

This learning experience gave students a great opportunity to express their personality through the profile pictures after they took their videos. When I opened the Flipgid now to look back at questions and responses it is an absolute wall of colour as students decorated themselves with greetings, emojis, sunglasses, and mustaches. In every single response, picture, and video, the children are smiling. The class was always looking forward to the opportunity to connect and I know that the other class was too from conversations with Rachelle, and from this thread on twitter. 

Some proof on Twitter about how happy the students were.

Frontloading

In order to set the students up for success, there had to be a lot of frontloading for this task. This included getting students to practice with the application, practicing a 20 questions scenario (which they love) and thinking about how we portray ourselves online as digital citizens. I accomplished these things with the help of the tech coach, spending classes looking at maps and practicing with me, and working as a large group to brainstorm effective questions that will help us to learn. I think that frontloading is an important part to get students ready to communicate with another class like this. We want to be sure that students are safe, are going to have some success, and understand the tools to use for it. By practicing Flipgrid on our own in the class the students became very comfortable with the application, and are even able to use it now at home on their own during Continuous learning. I think that this is quite remarkable for eight and nine-year-olds.

Students using deduction to narrow down a continent their mystery partner is on.

Fluid

What I liked about this type of teaching and learning is the fluidity of it. The process was very natural and evolved over the course of the project. Once I reached out to Rachelle, she had other ideas about how to proceed and by adding her as a collaborator on Flipgrid it helped to have another perspective and input on the learning process and also extended it further. This shared ownership of a learning experience helped a lot by adding new thoughts, bringing in new experiences and expertise, and helped me to be more thoughtful about collaboration online as an educator. My original plan of how the students would quickly do a Mystery Skype type thing evolved into much more of an online relationship through learning about each other’s countries by my collaborator adding another topic to the Flipgrid. Another thing that helped this experience evolve was the student-driven nature of it. Because we were in no real rush to talk (we basically had a day to think about things before the other class responded) the students also came up with other questions throughout the day to ask as they pleased. This student agency was fantastic to see students sitting doing another subject, then just jumping up with another question, going outside and recording themselves, then posting it. 

Levels of engagement were high, 1311 views, 3.5 hours spent on it.

Next steps

Except for COVID-19, there were no problems at all with this process. It was smooth easy communication. I think that losing a tight timeline for completion of asking and responding contributed to this as there was very little pressure to get things done. The excitement and engagement of the students also helped ease the entire process. I want to continue to develop this relationship in the next few weeks even with the current educational circumstances. I think that there could be further opportunities to explore international mindedness and even how wellness looks at different schools. As I write this the students are waiting for a response, and I hope to continue the conversation for longer. Community Engagement through technology is a fantastic way to help students learn.

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Making Conclusions and Taking Action.

Student and a sibling taking action at a local beach.

Thinking back I should have written this post first so that it would be a bit more chronologically organized in the blog feed. But as we always jump back and forth in our unit of inquiry, why not do it as we read too. Also, the end of a unit is the beginning of something else so that works too.

Usually at the end of a Unit of Inquiry students are busy making conclusions about material learned and applying it through action. These final two stages of the Inquiry Cycle that I will be talking about are an important time for students to develop agency, consolidate understanding, connect to the world around them, and celebrate their achievements and possibly jumping off into another unit, bringing the cycle full circle. I want to outline how some of this happens in an upper elementary classroom and provide some examples of how I have navigated these stages. 

A student who decided to make a reusable snack bag to reduce waste.

It is important that we take time during these stages to ensure that students have lots of time to express their understandings, draw conclusions or generalizations about the world around them. This gives them a chance to express their opinions about a concept or topic. I think that when students are given a chance to express their thoughts at the end of a unit it is important that they are given a variety of options. Teach thought has a great list of different ways of expressing understanding. I usually have my students brainstorm the possible ways of communicating their ideas then let them choose from there (although the skits can get pretty wild). Allowing students to choose the format they wish to express themselves in provides a lot of opportunities in the class to get creative, teach different skills, and involve technology through poster making, recording movies, and taking pictures. 

Community

Projects from the previous stages of the inquiry cycle are a great way for students to make conclusions through the lens of a familiar topic to key concepts and also provide an avenue that can lead to action. In my last unit about waste, a student improved her research skills as she learned about ocean plastic. She then decided on a family outing to clean up a beach. This was a fantastic example of student action, something this amazing doesn’t always happen, but when it does it is truly inspiring to others. Making conclusions and taking action also helps develop a variety of transdisciplinary connections through writing reflections, working together on common action plans, and communicating ideas. 

Students preparing a section of the garden while others harvest garlic.

One of my favourite examples of taking action was during a Sharing the Planet Unit in Grade 4. After learning about how organisms rely on each other, partially through gardening, the students decided to work with the canteen to provide fresh produce. Although we didn’t feed an army, the group of students that were involved were very proud to stand by the salad bar to offer up the fruits of their labour. They also decided to use the proceeds from the sales to purchase new toys for our service relationship with an orphanage. 

This action allowed me as a teacher to provoke a lot of new learning in the classroom. In order to sell produce the students had to learn about the pricing of vegetables through research and a shopping trip to the local market, calculating totals, how to promote their products, and how to measure and weigh. Taking action and making conclusions is not always an end, but a beginning of something new. The process of creating an action plan connected to a Central Idea itself is another example of continued learning. Through developing an action plan students learn to create achievable goals, plan effectively, and review their progress. 

Celebrate

Students sharing their ideas and work at a gallery walk with other classes invited.

This is also a time to celebrate the learning in the class. Sharing conclusions and actions with various members of the school community gives students a chance to feel valued, inspire others, and share their learning with parents or administrators. Creating something and coming together to explain their conclusions and/or action brings the learning full circle and a sense of purpose for the students. Although the class may get nervous sharing with those not normally in their class we can always expect them to rise to the occasion. 

Students creating a final video presentation to share their learning.

Assessments

Making conclusions and taking action is also a good time for assessments to help create final feedback on achievements for students, and provide data for a report card. I firmly believe that simple is best here. No need to create a giant test or project here. A simple thinking routine such as “I use to think, now I think” or a 3-2-1 bridge are ones that I like to do with elementary students. They give you a quick snapshot of their key takeaways from the unit without being overly onerous on the students.

Wrapping up.

This brings a conclusion to my series of posts about the Inquiry Cycle. Some of the things I like about it is that it is:

  • Student-centred and driven
  • Action-based
  • Promotes deep learning
  • Community involvement.
  • Multi-disciplinary. 
  • Fun
  • Transitions into new units easily.

I think the last one here is super important. Learning should be fun for the teacher and the students. When everyone is engaged, everyone does better. I think the important part for all the stages is for the students to have a clear understanding of the learning objectives from the start, and constantly check-in with how daily learning is related to the objectives.

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