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?

    Start Your Own Global Project

    Last week I blogged about Our World, Our Stories which is a new global project my class is involved in.

    2008 was the year that I began blogging and also collaborating globally with my students. Since then, our experiences of collaboration have become more integrated, frequent, richer and self-initiated.

    It is an amazing experience to see your young students communicating, conversing and learning with children from all corners of the globe.

    What is a global project?

    I define a global project as any sort of collaborative project that involves two or more classes from different schools/countries. There is usually a defined purpose and structure to the project. The learning is usually documented and shared on an online space such as a blog. Some global projects have a culminating event.

    A common starting point

    My first experiences with global projects involved my students joining pre-organised projects. When you’re first starting out, you don’t need to think of the project idea and find your own connections. There are agencies and groups that can do this for you. You might want to check out The Global Classroom Project, iEARN or ePals if you need a starting place.

    When you and your students are familiar with the concept of working with other classes, you might want to think about starting your own global project. I have found this is very beneficial because you can customise the learning experience to meet your students’ precise needs and interests.

    Here are 10 steps, based on my own experiences, to starting your own global project.

    1. What do you want your students to get out of a project? As teachers, this is the question we’re always asking ourselves when planning new experiences. If you start with this question in mind, you will be more likely to help your students achieve their full potential. Clearly we all have systematic standards we need to be covering in our classrooms. Global projects don’t have to be an add-on. They can be an authentic and innovative way to teach and go beyond core standards.

    2. Find teachers/classes to connect with. Twitter is my number one place to find a diverse range of educators to connect with. If you have a class blog, you might find this list of blogs around the world useful. It was compiled by Sue Waters to help teachers find other classes to connect with. When deciding how many classes to connect with, my suggestion is to start small and see how you go. I have found that the benefits from global connections comes from quality over quantity.

    3. Decide on project outcomes. Discuss with the other teachers what you want your students to learn and document this somewhere (I use Google Docs when collaborating with other teachers). The learning outcomes may differ for different classes but of course would have a common thread. Sometimes the outcome might be based on making an impact in the world (such as our Ugandan Global Project) or simply based on student learning and development (such as Our World, Our Stories).

    4. Come up with a timeline/structure. Once again, I use Google Docs to create a table that outlines each week that the project will run with ideas for activities/themes/milestones. Of course, this is just a guide and a working document.

    5. Create an online space. I think of an online space, such as a blog, as a place where the classes can meet, collaborate, converse and learn together. Of course the online space doesn’t have to be a blog; it could be a wiki, YouTube channel, VoiceThread or any sort of web 2.0 tool. When using a blog for a global project, such as our Collaboration Corner blog, one teacher can start the blog and add the various teachers as administrators.

    6. Regularly connect with the teachers. When working on a global project with other classes, I use Google+ Hangout, Skype, Twitter, email or Google Docs to stay in touch with the teachers. I find projects are generally more successful when the teachers are working harmoniously behind the scenes to steer the learning in a forward direction.

    7. Involve the community. Publicise your project to parents, the school community and your PLN. A global project is a fabulous opportunity for students to work with a diverse range of individuals in their community near and far.

    Research has shown that where effective partnerships exist, the quality of schooling improves, students enjoy more satisfying educational experiences, and communities are strengthened.(http://www.familyschool.org.au)

    8. Be organised but flexible. The great thing about global projects is there is so much extra learning that is unexpected but powerful. I have found global projects work best when they they have a clear framework but also a large degree of flexibility to pursue student interest and curiosity.

    9. Culminate the project. A culminating event can be a satisfying way for students to showcase and celebrate their learning. This could be a movie, fundraising event, song, Skype party, digital story, community event or art display. The possibilities are only limited by the imaginations of the teachers and students.

    10. Review your project. Naturally you learn from every involvement in global projects. Be sure to discuss with your students what worked and what ideas they have for next time. A thorough debrief and reflection can lead to even more powerful outcomes next time!

    What other questions or advice do you have about global projects?


    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.