Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Collaboration Builds New Understanding

Every time I work on a collaborative project I learn more. Through the magic of the Elementary Tech Teacher's ning I found out about the Winter Wonderland wiki project. Each time I work on a project, I learn new ways to challenge myself and my students.

Many of the projects I work on still leave me wishing for more contact and understanding between my students and those of other classes. The three teachers leading this collaboration have certainly tried to bring more contact between the students. This project is for Kindergarten through grade three.

For Students - High Points in My Mind
There were two Google Form questionnaires for the project. One focused on the student's favorite winter holiday. The other focused on travel plans in December. I had my third grade students answer the questions on their own. I called the first grade students to my computer one at a time to answer the questions. I want to take the student data and make some comparison charts between the participating classes and my students.

For Teachers - High Points in My Mind
There are a large number of teachers signed up for the project. This is fantastic because even if many drop from the project, there are still going to be several participating classes. Early on in the project, teachers started using the discussion tab to ask each other questions and receive answers.

For Students - Areas to Improve
In all these types of projects, the teachers have huge buy in due to the amount of work they do. The students (in my case) drew one picture and sang a song. I had to make sure all the images were gathered, the song was recorded, the movie was created to merge the images and song. Once the movie was created and exported into Quicktime, I loaded it up on Vimeo. Finally, I embedded the movie on our wiki. I repeated the steps for two kindergarten, two first, and two third grade groups. I've been watching the number of class participants grow. I have the RSS connection to page edits and discussions in my reader and see the conversations taking place.

Here's the key area I need to improve: the students do not get the same build-up and involvement. I only see them once per week for forty-two minutes. I know, as I sit here reflecting, that I have to take more time to explain the projects I become involved in with the student's classroom teacher. I need to somehow allow the excitement to build within their classes. It's going to be hard because most of the computers are still running OS 9 in the building. For PC readers, it means there is a lack of ability to view some types of data on the Internet. If I can manage to upgrade at least one machine per classroom to OS X next year, I can ask the teachers to give the students access to checking on their partners over the course of the week.

By the time the students get to my class, they should be more excited to work on their own projects.

Built-in Excitement
We live in New Jersey. Some parts of our country just sound more exciting to my students. In the first and third grades, the students couldn't wait to see what was created in Hawaii and Alaska. It was really fun because they recorded their songs in their native tongue.

I tried to show the variety of projects to the students. My first graders were amazed by a project made by students in Alabama. Mrs. Coggin used a Smilebox template with Santa holding a laptop. The laptop reveals the student project.

The class in Hawaii really kicked it up a notch. They had a song about Alfie the Elf. Their teacher assigned a sentence from to song to each students. It made for a really fun viewable project that told a story.

Since we do not live in a high interest state like Hawaii, I have to make my projects that more interesting and attractive to the student audience.

For Next Time
I have to do what I know in my heart. When I create a project for students/ with students, it is not enough to just get it technically correct. It needs to tell a story. Big surprise? Not really, but I'm refocusing myself. I read the book Made to Stick over the summer. I have to read it again and apply those principals to the projects we create for other classes.

Was It a Waste of Time
I am confident that this is not a waste of time.
They are creating images for a bigger purpose than the forty-two minutes of one class period.
They are beginning to see that other people are responding to their creations.
They are getting the idea that they can see someone else's work and leave a message as a class.
They are learning that other people will answer their questions.
They are taking first steps to bigger, more personal connections with other students.

I look back at the first wiki I created in March 2007. It is a baby step along the way to some very rich material we have on the wiki today. I look forward to my students work on our wiki in March 2011. Each lesson I learn along the way marks the path to a more personal and involved experience in the future.


  1. It was great reading your feedback on the first month of the project. My kindergartners did the movie too. They haven't seen any other projects yet or even understand that others are participating. I see my classes once every six days for 40 minutes and some are still struggling with logging on, so their actual work time is very limited. When we return in January I hope to help them understand the collaboration and we will be looking at other class projects. I'll be doing the same with 1st-3rd grades as well. I want them to come up with some questions or comments to ask others. I think it's these interactions that will make this a collaborative project. Then we'll get a start on January projects.

  2. Love your feedback on the project Ann. I agree that it's hard, especially for younger grades, to get the connection and it's hard to fit it in and have actual hands on computer time. I did have some of my grades watch some of the finished videos before the break and I posted comments from them as we watched. I plan to do more of this when we come back from the break too. With 3rd grade, I think I may have each of them take one of the 3rd grade classes and watch the video(s) and post their own comment - with supervision, of course.

  3. Nedra and Vicky:
    It is hard to get everything in in 40 minutes. I know my students have been enjoying looking through the comments with me.

    I think the Winter Wonderland project had a fabulous start in December. It will only get better as we work through the January and February projects. The best part is that I am still working on the skills I would normally, but now they have a real audience for their work.

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