Reflection on Our World, Our Stories

The Our World, Our Stories project has come to an end this week. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of 2011 for my class.

My grade two students worked with classes in the USA, Canada, Belize, New Zealand and Ghana to share their stories and learn about how others live.

We used our blog http://ourworldourstories.edublogs.org as our central meeting place.

Our World Our Stories Blog

For seven weeks, the students blogged, commented and conversed about a wide range of topics. 30 posts and over 700 comments were published.

Week One: Typical School Day

Week Two: Recess Activities

Week Three: Food

Week Four: Our Local Environment

Week Five: Traditional Stories and Festivities

Week Six: Traditional Song

Week Seven: Final Celebration

Highlights of the Our World, Our Stories project:

  • Seeing the students excited about learning. The beauty of this project was that it was authentic. Learning about other cultures by reading a book is no longer enough for today’s generation. Our students can now develop friendships and have ongoing conversations to learn about others. Seeing my students curious about how other people live and coming up with such a wide range of questions was a real highlight.
  • Creating a joint reading of Mem Fox and Leslie Staub’s book Whoever You Are as one of our culminating activities. This picture book was perfect as the message was based around the idea that everyone in the world is different but we’re all equal. The most exciting part was that Mem and Leslie commented on our blog and brought such joy to our young students. This was truly a moment that many students will remember for life.
  • Recording a song together to celebrate the friendships we’d made. All the classes had different interests but we found singing was a common highlight for many students. The ‘traditional song’ week was very popular. Linda Yollis and her music teacher, Mr B, were the masterminds behind our joint performance of Make New Friends. Check it out!
  • Working with such dedicated and passionate teachers. As our students are quite young, the structure of this project was organised by the teachers with input from the students. It was a real pleasure to work with the other teachers who work so hard to create exceptional learning experiences for their students. This is was not the first time we have worked together and it won’t be the last.
  • Being nominated for an Edublog Award and inspiring others. Our World, Our Stories has been nominated for Best Group Blog in the 2011 Edublog Awards. Vote here! It was also pleasing to see some teachers liked our idea so much that they created their own spin off! Update: we won! Find out more http://ourworldourstories.edublogs.org/2011/12/15/we-won-an-edublog-award/.
  • Global collaborative projects are one of my very favourite aspects of teaching. I’m excited to see where global collaboration will take us in 2012!

    For those of you who have followed Our World, Our Stories, what has been your highlight?

    What have your students got out of collaborating with others?

    Connecting with Other Classes Through Blogging

    One of the things I love most about blogging with my class is the global connections we have developed. When I first started blogging in 2008, I didn’t even think about the possibility of connecting with other classes. It was a good six months before we started to cross paths with other blogging classes around the world.

    One of the first connections we made was with Mrs Yollis’ third grade class in California. Read one of the first posts about our friendship on Mrs Yollis’ class blog here. Our friendship has now developed over three years of blogging with different cohorts of students.

    There have been so many highlights from our connection with Mrs Yollis’ class. Apart from regular conversations through comments on each others blogs, we have skyped a number of times, worked on many collaborative projects together and one of my students has even visited Mrs Yollis’ class. Excitingly, that number will increase to two this week!

    Photo courtesy Linda Yollis

    Riley meets Mrs Yollis! Photo courtesy Linda Yollis

    On a personal level, I have learnt so much from Linda Yollis and she has shown me the power of setting high standards for students, involving families and taking risks (among other things).

    Mrs Yollis’ class is not the only class we call our blogging buddies. There are classes from the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Asia, Europe and Australia featured on our blogroll who we have had meaningful connections with.

    I have found many teachers are inspired to embark on blogging with their class when they realise what a powerful avenue for global collaboration blogs are.

    Here are some tips for forming friendships with other blogging classes:

    DO

    • Visit Sue Waters’s compilation of class blogs from around the world and add your blog to the list.
    • Work on building your own PLN. Twitter is a great meeting place for teachers who want their classes to connect.
    • Show a genuine interest in blogs you start commenting on and work on being an active member of the blogging community.
    • Find blogs that are at a similar stage to you. If you have just started blogging, you might get more out of a connection with someone at a similar stage as you rather than someone who has been blogging for many years with an extensive blogroll.
    • Hunt for like minded educators. The teachers I have bonded most with are those who have classes around the same age group, who post at a similar frequency, who have a regular online presence and who share similar teaching philosophies and goals for blogging.
    • Keep blogging relationships student centred. While I enjoy collaborating with other teachers, our core business is the students. Help students to get to know their blogging buddies, develop their relationships and extend their learning.
    • Smart small by getting into the routine of commenting on your new buddies’ blogs before delving in to more structured collaboration.
    • Encourage parents to be part of your blogging community and comment on your buddies’ blogs or attend Skype sessions. Blogging is something your whole school community can be a part of!

    DON’T

    • Rush in to finding blogging buddies before you establish your class blog. I have found it is most beneficial to ensure your students know the basics of blogging such as safety, etiquette and quality commenting before embarking on collaborative ventures.
    • Start writing comments on random blogs simply saying “please visit my blog”. I see this all too often! Like all friendships, blogging relationships require give and take and develop from genuine interest.
    • Introduce your students to too many different blogs at once. In 2009, I tried to have my students comment on and keep up with dozens of different blogs which only resulted in confusion for both me and my class. We launched this year with our Quad Blogging project and have three core blogs we visit regularly. Additionally, we have a variety of other blogs that we drop in on on a semi-frequent basis which were introduced after we got to know our Quad Blogging buddies. We get a LOT of people visiting our blog and asking us to connect with their class but there is only so much we can do. I no longer feel compelled to start ongoing relationships with ALL of our visitors.
    • Give up – if you have trouble finding a suitable class to connect with or finding time to develop relationships, keep trying! It is worth it.

    DSC07449

    What are your tips for forming friendships with other blogging classes?

    Skype in the Classroom

    As I have blogged about many times in the past I love to flatten my classroom walls and collaborate globally with my students.

    I have found Skype to be a wonderful tool for collaboration. It is easy, free and has countless uses.

    Skyping can bring learning to life!

    In my grade two class we have skyped our blogging buddies many times and have also skyped “experts”. There are so many other uses for Skype, and for teachers of languages, I view Skype as a vital tool!

    When I have told other educators about the potentials of Skype, they often ask how can they find other classes to skype and collaborate with. In the past, there were various roundabout ways to make connections but now there is a one stop shop called Skype in the Classroom.

    http://education.skype.com

    On Skype in the Classroom, teachers create a profile about themselves, their class, their location and interests. They can then browse through a directory of international teachers interested in skyping to find someone they’d like to connect with. From there, it is as simple as adding the teacher as a Skype contact and introducing yourself.

    Skype in the classroom is in beta, which means it is still being developed and refined.

    I was involved in the initial trials of Skype in the Classroom in late 2010. While I found it extremely easy to use and valuable, I signed off as I was receiving more offers to collaborate than I could manage!

    If you are new to collaboration or looking for specific types of contacts, Skype in the Classroom may be a useful tool for you. It makes collaboration so easy; the only issue you may face is the isolating time zone here in Australia!

    skype in the classroom

    If you don’t know how to set up Skype, check out the Tech Tools for Teachers newsletter we wrote last year.

    How do you use Skype in your classroom?

    How would you like to use Skype in the future?

    Have you signed up for Skype in the Classroom?

    My Journey with Global Collaboration

    Bright Ideas is a blog by the School Library Association of Victoria and the State Library of Victoria. Rachel from Bright Ideas recently asked if I’d share with readers how I got involved in global collaboration and I was only too happy to help. Hopefully, together we can inspire more teachers to make connections globally and open up whole new worlds for their students.

    As I mentioned on the recent Virtual Staffroom podcast, one of things I love most about blogging and using technologies in my classroom is the opportunities for global collaboration.

    2008 was the year that I began blogging and also collaborating globally with my students. In the three years that have passed, our experiences of collaboration have become more integrated, frequent and richer.

    I created the following diagram to demonstrate how my involvement in global collaboration has progressed (tip: click on image if you want to see it more clearly).

    diagram progress global projects

    A summary of how I progressed with global collaboration

    2008

    Christmas Card Exchange Project organised through iEARN: our class was matched with seven schools around the world and we exchanged Christmas/holiday cards.
    PROS – Learning about all the different countries involved and their holiday traditions.
    CONS – Lack of “real” connection to the classes and lack of technology used (the contact was slow!).

    2009

    Teddy Bear Exchange Project organised through iEARN: our class was matched with a class in Canada. We exchanged teddies via snail mail and we “helped” the teddies write weekly emails to each other. We collated all the emails on a page on our class blog.

    PROS – We learnt a lot about life in Canada; children learnt about email.
    CONS – There wasn’t the chance for a “real” connection to develop between students – it was all through the teddy.

    *****

    Blogging Buddies: in our second year of blogging we began forming connections with many classes around the world. We would leave comments on our new friends’ blogs and keep track of what they were up to in an informal manner.

    PROS – Blogging suddenly become more powerful, interesting and meaningful as we had a real international audience. Students began to learn there was a life outside of their neighbourhood.
    CONS – All our interactions and learning was “ad-hoc”.

    2010 – first half

    Our relationships with our blogging buddies continued and expanded while we looked to more structured, self-organised and personalised projects.

    Collaboration Corner http://collaboration-corner.blogspot.com
    I created a blog with Linda Yollis in California. Our classes had got to know each other since early 2009 via our class blogs.
    We called the blog “Collaboration Corner”. This was a place for the students to work on projects together and have rich discussions through commenting.

    We had two main projects in the first half of the year:
    •    Lunch Box Project – this complimented our “Food” theme. A child from each class took turns making a post about their lunch. They used a tool like Fotobabble to narrate a picture of their lunch. Some great conversations got going in the comments on healthy eating, food preferences, cultural difference with food, food groups etc.
    •    Our School – the students used tools like VoiceThread and video to show their American friends around their school. The students made posts about the play areas, library, office etc. The students were really interested to compare how school is the same and different in Australia and the US.

    PROS – The students got to really connect with their blogging buddies and the blog provided a window into their lives. Skype was used to enhance this connection such as our Skype breakfast party. A lot of content was learnt about food, time zones, schools, geography. A lot of reflection and new ideas also arose.
    CONS – We were working together and learning a lot but what for?

    2010 – second half

    Ugandan Global Project http://ugandanglobalproject.blogspot.com
    This is an idea I came up with because I loved how my students were learning and connecting with their buddies overseas but I thought something was missing. I knew we could take it further. I wanted my students to be able to use these global connections for a greater good; to raise their social conscience, help others and learn more about the world in which they live.

    In this project, we set up another blog and invited some of our blogging buddies to join in. We had two Australian classes, three American classes and one Chinese class involved all working together to help out a school in Uganda.

    The students were sponsored by their family and friends and at 10am on Friday 22nd October, all the classes around the world ran/walked for one hour to earn their sponsorship money.

    Throughout the project all the classes involved worked on various tasks to learn more about Uganda and put up posts on the blog on topics such as
    •    A day in the life of a student in Australia/USA/China/Uganda
    •    A traditional song in each country
    •    The run/walk event in each location
    •    Time zones
    •    Currencies

    Behind these posts, the commenting was fantastic! The students (all aged 7-9) were involved in some rich conversations.

    This project raised $20,000 which is making an enormous difference in the lives of our Ugandan friends.

    There are also incredible flow-on effects still happening. A group of Americans who followed our project blog decided to volunteer at the Ugandan school. There are around 20 of them in Uganda at the time of writing and they’re making an invaluable contribution. Additionally, a teacher who read about our project contacted the school founder asking how she can help. The possibilities of these after effects are endless.

    I feel that one of the ultimate goals of being a global citizen is to be able to work together for a common good, be understanding of others and have a social conscience. Through blogging, my students are developing as effective global citizens and I’m so proud of what they are achieving! I can’t wait to see where we’ll go next…

    What next?

    Needless to say, I want my students to be involved in more global collaboration in the future. I think a mix of informal collaboration and more structured projects works well. We’re now at a point where we don’t need to look at projects organised by outside agencies as we are part of a large international blogging community.

    When it comes to projects, I like the idea of working on some projects that are simply designed to increase student learning and global awareness, while also aiming for perhaps an annual big project (like the Ugandan Project) where the aims go beyond individual student learning.

    How to get started

    If you want your class to connect and collaborate globally, I recommend you read this post by Edna Sackson “10 Ways to Create Global Connections

    If you want to start in a more structured way like I did, there are many free and paid organisations co-ordinating global collaborative projects.

    You might like to try…

    http://www.globalschoolnet.org/

    http://www.iearn.org.au/

    http://www.theteacherscorner.net/penpals/

    http://www.epals.com

    http://www.ozprojects.edu.au

    Good luck!

    Leave a comment if you want to share your experiences of global collaboration.