Dabbling might be the first step of Mark Prensky’s process of Shaping Tech for the Classroom, but it is critical for teachers to explore and discover digital tools. As we gain confidence, we can implement these tools more successfully in the classroom, hopefully leaping more quickly into creating new things in new ways.

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I am constantly dabbling with technology in the classroom, and more recently I have felt more ‘techie’, exploring new tools in my own time. With an updated RSS Reader, I am now following my student blogs more easily. Though I’ve had two different RSS readers over the last two years, I have recently been motivated to explore new blogs and add new URLs to my Google Reader. I am now often quickly checking in on my student blogs and their blog posts. It has been easy to give feedback to students, validating posts and making them aware that I am reading and keeping up with blogs. An issue still arises time and time again, however. Making the time to comment and read blogs carefully is always hanging over my head, and it’s difficult to make the necessary time to comment on blog posts.

My colleagues constantly inspire me, as was the case when my class created ‘What Rings My Bell?’ slideshows using Photo Peach. I find Photo Peach an ultra-easy digital tool to use in the classroom to create products easily and demonstrate learning in a visual and inspiring way. Plus, it’s accessible to all students because it’s so user-friendly.

I am now continually thinking about Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and how it relates to learning in the classroom. I’ve realized that students in my class are constantly creating, evaluating, analyzing and collaborating, although I can always improve my teaching techniques, use different digital tools and empower students in different ways.

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Currently, I am working on improving our student blogs, making effective blog posts, reflecting on learning and creating social networks through commenting on others’ blogs. My students are becoming more skilled in selecting and inserting images, making attributions, embedding YouTube videos and Photo Peach slideshows, and inserting audio files. As always, there are some students who become the ‘experts’ in the class but, in my opinion, this is the only way to successfully use technology without the teacher going mad! Over the next few weeks, my students will focus on making clear descriptions and blog posts, explaining their learning and making effective comments, with the help of our tech coach, Chrissy Hellyer.

Recently, as part of an author study unit in reading, my students were asked to perform a collaborative task using VoiceThread. Each group was comfortable working together, having videoed several discussion groups together during the unit. They had refined their discussion skills using a rubric and set goals for improving their contributions. The students are now skilled at using i-movie and uploading to YouTube independently and are gaining skills in reflecting on their performance when viewing videos of their learning. Listening to their discussions, their learning was evident when they referred to author’s craft, made references to passages in books and made connections between books. My main issue, however, was watching all the discussion group videos. At an average of ten minutes long, with five discussion groups and several discussions each, I am still devising the most effective way to evaluate the discussions. Sitting in on discussions for a few minutes is possible, and usually the most manageable way to deal with so many videos, but technical hitches often get in the way.

As the culminating project for the author study, each group created a VoiceThread slideshow to recommend authors to others. This provided a perfect opportunity to create social networks and learning communities. Now my aim is to find others who will collaborate- hopefully friends teaching Grade 4 around world, but firstly our Grade 4 team and colleagues at International School of Bangkok who are participating in COETAIL. From previous experience, I need to find partners who are motivated to create learning communities and who are willing to put in the time.

This week has also been an inspiring week for technology in my classroom. In the elementary school at International School Bangkok, we’ve been celebrating International Week. I was blown away by the quality of my students’ country presentations, which displayed  a great deal of thought, effort and quality of design. Students used a wide variety of tools to create their projects- in particular posters, PhotoPeach, i-movie and PowerPoint. Time after time, I gasped at the creativity of students and their skill at inserting images, and embedding links and YouTube videos. Many times their skills surpassed mine, as they weaved images and words incredibly effectively on slides.

The activities this week were also a reminder that students can still create incredible learning with simple pen and paper. In fact, a student wrote on her blog, “In Pakistan we use Arabic numbers so i made a activity with Arabic numbers and Aleenish numbers. Aleenish numbers were created by me!” Such a basic reminder that with pen and paper it is still possible to create amazing products, but then we can step up the learning even further and blog about it!

Embracing Collaborative Projects

Collaboration, on a global scale, is a key component of 21st Century Learning. So how can we embrace globally collaborative projects in our schools and classrooms? There are numerous wikis and collaborative projects out there, but which are truly educational and worthwhile?

Over the last two years, I’ve been involved in a few collaborative projects. Some have been grand pie-in-the-sky dreams that never amounted to the projects I had imagined, like Classroom Bridges.

Creating Classroom Bridges

As I mentioned in the blog post: Connect, Create, Collaborate, this project was a dismal flop. It snowballed into a collaboration of 7 classes over 6 continents, but I struggled to get other teachers to commit the time and energy to guarantee the success of the project. From being truly excited about the possibilities of networking across all six of the habitable continents, the wind was knocked out of my sails and all year I battled with trying to get others to share and collaborate. Again and again, I keep finding examples of Jeff Utecht‘s phrase (Reach (2010)) that teachers often become overwhelmed and find it hard to remain active. Or even get a project off the ground in some cases!

Currently, my class is involved in two projects, the Postcard Project and a sharing of our Top 10 books with classes in Taipei, Brussels and Tunisia. Again, I am wondering about the value or effort involved in these projects. While they appear fun, exciting or valuable on the surface, I am constantly asking myself if sending postcards between classes across the world is really valuable. We often receive postcards from younger classes containing basic information, and writing on a postcard seems so limited. While we reply to the cards, it is often a struggle to complete our replies in a timely matter. I’ve decided to view the project as a fun activity which we’ll continue as a very basic example of social networking.

I am now endeavoring to share our class’s Top 10 books with other classes around the world. Again, I have encountered problems with commitment, and though one class has shared information with us, making time to follow-up on the activity is also a stumbling block. I’m hoping that our Top 10 books can be integrated into our upcoming ‘List articles’ writing unit.  This unit lends itself to sharing top 10 lists with other classes via our blogs. While sharing with other Grade 4 and 5 classes in our school (International School of Bangkok) is guaranteed, sharing with other classes around the world, such as Taipei, Brussels and Tunisia would be much more rewarding for both myself and my students.

PictureFrom exploring wikis which feature collaborative projects, I was inspired by the Flat Classroom Project. One project, ‘A Week in the Life’, caught my eye on the wiki, in particular because it is so similar to my aims for the Classroom Bridges project. It also connects remarkably well to a Social Studies unit in Grade 4 focusing on influence. While I still hope to be able to relaunch the Classroom Bridges project, after consultation with our Technology Coach and refinements to make the project more feasible, ‘A Week in the Life’ would be a perfect collaborative project for our Grade 4 team.

Through my Google Reader, I was also made aware of a collaborative project on the Langwitches blog. Currently, a Grade 5 colleague and COETAIL online member, Stacie Melhorn, is involved in an action research project on “Quality Writing through Blogging”. This ‘quadblogging’ project seems exciting yet achievable, connecting just four classrooms and making the tasks manageable.

It appears that, for my own collaborative projects to be successful, I need to scale them down and make them more manageable. I am reluctant to make teachers sign up and jump through numerous hoops to participate in a project, but there does need to be some form of accountability. I’m still grappling with how that should look, but I’m hoping that with the assistance of our knowledgeable coach, Chrissy Hellyer aka Teaching Sagittarian, I will finally experience greater success in connecting global classrooms.