24 June 2013

Maiden Voyage - Global Collaboration

My first attempt at global collaboration was nearly a titanic disaster. That is to say, it was a phenomenal success. As with anything innovative and ambitious, most of what we did was improvised along the way. Nothing turned out as planned and everything went better than expected.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain

Philosophical Foundation
The project started as our "Sharing the Planet" PYP Unit of Inquiry, Friends in Distant Lands. The central idea and lines of inquiry centered on children's challenges and opportunities. The action goal was to help children in need. My primary inspiration was participating virtually in a Flat Classroom Conference, although action has always been a feature of my teaching.


Friends in Distant Lands Wiki

I did not want to plan a project. I wanted to provide the opportunities for inquiry that would empower my students to plan their own project(s). If we shared our opportunities with collaborators, and they shared with us, our perspective could broaden and the possibilities for taking action would expand.


Collaborators
I put out a few advertisements before the unit started for collaborators, such as on PYP Threads, and curated many resources like documentary films about children's rights, a novel, and relevant websites. It occurred to me to create a wiki to document, reflect, and share resources we used and the work we were doing, and as collaborators joined, I added pages for their projects.

Inquiry
When it was finally time to embark, we unpacked the theme and central idea. We made a list together about what we thought is important for children, which led us to the UNICEF website. Finally, we created a Google Form to survey people about their awareness of children's needs.


"Our voyage had commenced, and at last we were away, gliding through the clean water, past the reeds. Care was lifted from our shoulders, for we were free from advice, pessimism, officialism, heat and hot air." K. Adlard Coles

I was not certain what would come of our international partnerships, but quickly, things began to 'heat up'. Our collaborating class in Hong Kong, as well as many people around the world, responded to the form adding their perspectives, insights, and wisdom to our discussion. We received work samples and videos from India related to our central idea. We explored a variety of media including a feature film, Rabbit Proof Fence, TED talks related to children's issues, the novel Kensuke's Kingdomnews articles, etc, and used our class blogs to explore and discuss.

Perhaps our most successful collaboration was via Google documents. Students from different classes wrote questions on a chart with a column for each student to submit answers. When they were complete, they contained responses from students in different countries. It was very valuable to analyze, compare, and contrast people's ideas. The potential for this simple collaboration tool is immense, especially when coupled with video exchange, Skype, or Google Hangouts.


An expert guest speaker is an invaluable addition to  any inquiry.
Finally, we were honored by a visit from Asumi Suzuki, a teacher who volunteered at Phaung Daw Oo School in Myanmar. Her stories and insights into children's challenges and opportunities there provided an intense and vibrant perspective to the inquiry that could only lead students to further inquiry and action.

Project
The inquiry into children's issues segued perfectly into our next unit on digital media. I set up a wiki for my students to use to explore basic web design and finally create a simple page to raise awareness for a global issue. We used our class twitter account to advertise our pages and received a fair amount of feedback. Many chose to advocate for children's issues, which was quite gratifying for me!

Reflection

The project was a whirlwind of information, questions, and digital data. Looking back, however, we did precisely what we set out to do. I mean, my students did exactly what they were supposed to do. I just hung on and tried to keep the ship on course.

I plan to use the wiki again next year, and hopefully recruit more collaborators, add pages, and accumulate media and resources. Since the mission of the project is very broad, "help children in need", it can be utilized in any variety of ways. I think this kind of open collaboration will prove to be the most beneficial and effective.

Picking up the maritime metaphor, I feel as though I've spent a healthy amount of time practicing sailing a new boat around the harbor. Next time, we'll be setting out for the high seas!

"A ship is safe in harbor but that's not what ships are for." William G.T. Shedd