Shared photo streams – Imagining more connected learning…

Creating shared iPad photo streams was a brainwave – so simple and obvious, yet so effective!

They provide a space to gather evidence of learning, share practice and celebrate the learning taking place across the three campuses of our school. It’s an opportunity for members of our learning community to find out what’s happening in other grade levels, the kitchen garden, the art and music rooms… We’re encouraging more comments and conversation around what’s posted to make this even more meaningful.

We’ve come a long way in the past few years in terms of flattening classroom walls and connecting with the world. Today, the images I see in our shared photo streams suggest new possibilities…

Our art teacher posted a series of beautiful artworks by our 5 year olds. Beyond sending them home to be stuck on the fridge… imagine if photographs of these creations were published in an online book, along with captions written by the children and photos of them at work creating them?

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There is some powerful thinking happening in Year 6 as their awareness of inequity is raised. Imagine if they were collaborating with learners globally, sharing their tough questions, exploring different perspectives, comparing and contrasting action taken in different countries and deepening their understanding together.

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Year 5 learners revisited and reflected on their class agreement, halfway through the school year. What if they compared their agreements with those established by classes in other parts of the world? Imagine how communicating with other classes, discussing commonalities and differences might heighten awareness and strengthen learning communities within and beyond their own classrooms.

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I love the photos from the Year 1 inquiry into how we express ours ideas and feelings through performance. Imagine if these performances were filmed and posted online for children in other places to see and our children received feedback from all over the world.

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And, as I was writing this post, a fresh idea just struck me.

Imagine if two or more classes of similar age in different parts of the world created a shared photo stream and posted images, shared learning experiences and wrote comments to each other. Are you in?!

Our access to digital technologies make all of this, not just possible, but easy.

Just imagine… and then we can make it happen.

Beyond geography – A global collaboration

Geography, when I was in primary school, included rote learning of capital cities and populations and, most fun of all, making flags and colouring in maps.

Half a century later, Year 2 (7-8 year olds) at my school are inquiring into how geography affects the ways people live. They will explore landforms, climate, people and how they live, not from a textbook, but by connecting with children their own age in other parts of Australia and the world.

So far, each of our five classes has made contact with a class in another part of Australia and partnered up with classes in Indonesia, China, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand and Cambodia. Some of the teachers on both sides are new to this kind of interaction, but all are keen to connect via Skype, blogs, email and whatever other creative means they can think of.

Romy, one of new Year 2 teachers and her class connected this week with Sari and hers, from Surabaya, Indonesia, who was one of the participants in my recent digital citizenship workshop.

“The kids were so fascinated that they could be in touch with a school in another country and it really provided them with an opportunity to think about how different things are between the two schools and countries, but it was wonderful to see the smiles and wow moments when they realised they had things in common.”

A few years back, many of our teachers were nervous about getting involved in this kind of interaction without a great deal of support. Connecting with kids in other places has become more natural over time, but has often consisted only of a single Skype session, with little if any follow-up. Before each Skype session kids would prepare questions… and then sometimes be so busy waiting for their turn to ask, that they’d forget to listen to responses. We’re great learners though, always refining the process and learning from our mistakes.

This is the first time a whole Year level is on board at once and I’m as excited as the teachers are. They have made initial contact with their collaborators and most have decided it’s worthwhile connecting with their classes informally the first time, so that the children know who they’ll be interacting with. They have come up with a range of lovely ideas such as creating puppet videos to introduce themselves first!

There are many opportunities ahead for reading, purposeful writing for an audience, speaking and listening, mapping, learning about our own and other countries… and a host of worthwhile trans-disciplinary skills. And there will be opportunities for the development of a variety of attitudes such as appreciation, confidence, curiosity, respect and cooperation.

In the next few weeks, our Year 2 learners will be calling for photos from all over the world, with descriptions of how local geography (in the broadest sense of the term) influences the way you live.

Watch this space!

Into the unknown…

How do you take blogging beyond the classroom? The brief for my session is to show teachers what’s possible in the hope of inspiring them to take their current practice further. It’s one in a series of sessions for the Global Education Project.  Some of the participants are new to blogging, others are further ahead… I like to encourage them, irrespective of where they are at, to take one small step forward and see where it leads.

Meet Lindsey Bates, Year 3 teacher at Serpell Primary

The starting point for any good inquiry learning is the known. It is all well and good to begin there, but if the known is where you end up, well, it’s not really learning. This is true of our students and it is true of us as teachers and learners.

I recently attended a Blogging Master Class by Edna Sackson. The afternoon was engaging and inspiring and she left us with a sense of adventure and a challenge: to take the next step in our blogging journey, whatever that might be. I had to go from the known, to the unknown.

I had run a class blog for four years, we attracted a few visitors from around the globe, and I had even made connections with classrooms overseas via twitter. But I hadn’t actually tweeted. My challenge was clear.

Having just completed a blog post about my grade’s newfound fascination with Commander Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station (ISS), I knew that the stars were aligning. I followed Edna’s clear ‘how-to’ guide about how to get noticed on twitter and @ed Commander Hadfield into my tweet. The 120 characters sat on my screen- trapped between laptop and cyberspace. What if I finally spoke up, put myself out there, and no one cared to listen? What then?

After much hesitation I clicked ‘tweet’ and off my words went. Seven minutes later a reply came through. Within minutes my blog post was racking up views. The world did care to listen.

My students now feel themselves to be close and personal friends of Commander Hadfield and are delighted and inspired by the idea of the world watching us learn. It has only been a few weeks, but our virtual audience and connections continue to grow. Who knows where these adventures might take us?

Once you experience the authenticity that comes from learning and reflecting within the globally connected environment that educational blogging can provide, there is no going back to the once cosy and comfortable four walls of your classroom. Learning might begin there, but one can never anticipate where it could end up.

What’s your next step into the unknown going to be?

What is Digital Citizenship?

What is digital citizenship? That’s the driving question behind our current Year 5 unit of inquiry.

It’s the start of the school year here in Australia, so the unit begins with the establishment of a learning community in the classroom. Students will explore what citizenship comprises in the context of the class community, ‘a sense of belonging, rights and responsibilities, duties and privileges, agreed values and mutual obligations required for active participation in the group.’ (Australian Civics and Citizenship Curriculum)

From there, it should be an easy jump to considering digital citizenship, through the conceptual lenses of responsibility , reflection and connection. Our learners will explore these questions…

  • How do we analyse and evaluate digital content?
  • What are our responsibilities when creating digital content?
  • How can we communicate our ideas creatively and effectively online?
  • What can we learn by connecting and collaborating with others in the world?

We’re hoping to help connect our learners with other learners, both locally and globally and, in the process, develop and consolidate these understandings…

  • People are consumers and creators in a digital world.
  • We need to think critically about digital content.
  • Everyone needs to be responsible for digital content they create.
  • The internet enables us to connect,communicate and collaborate with people all over the world.

The Year 5s would like to hear from teachers and classes interested in collaborating via Skype, blogs, Twitter, Voicethread, email or other media they have not yet thought of. They are keen to connect with classes anywhere who are eager to broaden their horizons, collaborate on an inquiry into digital citizenship or simply share and compare learning. They’re looking for once-off as well as ongoing collaborations.

WORLD CLASS

Are you interested?

A family connection…

When our Year 6 kids first Skyped with Raj in Chennai, India, for an inquiry into our Asian neighbours, it was a something out of the ordinary. Raj dressed in a special shirt for the occasion and the children sat politely in their seats, venturing to the microphone when it was their turn to speak.

A couple of years later, this is nothing unusual any more. Various classes have communicated via Skype with individuals and classes in other countries. Students and teachers alike have learned a great deal about different people, countries and cultures through these personal connections.

From 4G’s room in Melbourne to the living-room in Chennai.

Today Year 4G is interacting with Raj for an inquiry into cultural beliefs and traditions. It’s completely relaxed. There are groups of Aussie kids moving around, chatting about what Raj is saying, a core group is on the floor at the front lapping up every word and some serious inquirers sit at their tables taking notes. It doesn’t matter that some kids drift in and out of out of the conversation… so does Raj. It’s a holiday and he’s talking from home, with his son Aditya chiming in from time to time. It’s not the first time Adi has joined a session, but this time Raj is in the living-room and we can see the rest of the family going about their business in the background.

This is the week of Raj’s father’s Sadhabhishekam, a Hindu commemoration of the 80th birthday. The Year 4s explored photos from the occasion, before the session, and have loads of questions about the clothing, the food, the rituals… and about the values and beliefs underlying these. They are familiar with the iceberg model of culture and know that there’s much more to explore than what you can see above the surface. They have even classified their questions in this way, and one class has a paper model of an iceberg, with sand at the bottom, where they place their ‘very deep’ questions!

The engaging thing is that Raj draws in whichever family member the question relates to. The children meet his father, in traditional Brahmin dress. He demonstrates the application of the holy ash on his forehead and shows them the thread he has worn since his coming of age. His mother brings the box of vermillion, used to apply her bindee and she opens her hands to reveal the henna patterns applied for the birthday celebration. Raj’s wife Radha, demonstrates how she draws the kolam, a welcome pattern symbolizing ‘no end no beginning’, usually drawn on the floor outside the house.

They show the children ritual items and artefacts and almost share some traditional Indian sweets… It’s a shame we’re more than 8000 Km away! I have to say… it feels as if we are in the living-room in Chennai.

What does it mean to be a global citizen?

Our Year 6 students have been inquiring into a range of countries in the Asia Pacific as part of their exploration of what it means to be a global citizen. The central idea is that to be a global citizen, we need to understand and engage with our neighbours. They prepared a range of questions to help them understand our neighbours and then they engaged!

Here’s an example…

What’s the story? (Edna)

The session was planned for 2.30pm Melbourne time, but I reached the library a bit earlier to find a group of kids already chatting excitedly. Tahni, Alex, Ronnie, Ruby, Jaimie and Elijah were about to connect with Craig and his Year 4 class in Saigon to further their inquiry into Vietnam.

Craig’s Year 4s were quite delightful, as was the entire session! Craig fielded the tougher questions and encouraged his students to respond to the ones they could. Theirs is an international school, but they explained that their life and school are not typically Vietnamese. It was great to hear the authentic Vietnamese voice of NguyenU Phuong, the Vietnamese Teacher’s Assistant providing her perspective too. Craig seemed a bit surprised at his students’ ability to identify and describe difficulties faced in their country, such as Dengue Fever, flooding and traffic congestion.

The Aussies talked quietly amongst themselves in between, comparing the responses with their own lives here. Their questions showed that they had already done some research and they connected what they heard with prior learning. As well as wanting to know about school, festivals and daily life, their deeper questions related to government and social inequities, big ideas from earlier units of inquiry.

The session went on longer than expected and the Year 6s loved every minute of it. As they gathered their belongings to go back to their classes, I heard their comments:
‘I got so much out of that’, ‘All my questions were answered’, ‘I didn’t even know there were PYP schools all over the world’, ‘The kids were sooo cute’, ‘You learn so much more this way, than from just looking stuff up’….

What’s the other story? (Craig)

As with many students attending international schools, our students come from upper middle class to upper class homes. The students see what they have and their lives as being ‘normal’. It is quite common for families at our school to have housekeepers, nannies, drivers, security guards and the like. Other children come to school on the back of a motorbike, which is the most common form of transport used in Vietnam.

To prepare for the session with the Year 6 students in Australia, my students were asked to think about the questions over the weekend so we could brainstorm and share ideas prior to the Skype conference. I was quite pleasantly surprised by the thought the students had put in and some of the contributions that they’d made. My students reminded me of the mosquito borne virus, Dengue Fever, which has affected the families of at least 7 of my students, including my wife. They also came up with the flooding that we deal with on a monthly basis due to king high tides on the Saigon River. I wish I was that switched on to the world around me when I was 9 years old.

While my students recently completed and video recorded many personal interviews as part of  their current unit of inquiry, the Skype conference with Year 6  students from Edna’s school has given me the inspiration to try something similar when we’re inquiring into cultures and religions. I have former colleagues teaching all over the world who might be willing to support my students as they continue accessing primary sources. Instead of reading books about religions in February,  the students inquiring into Judaism can Skype with students at Edna’s school, those inquiring into Islam can talk with students from my former school in the Middle East.

I think by the time the conference had come to an end, everyone had taken away something positive – what could be better than that?

Refining questions…

The whole of Year 6 (100 students) gathered in the open space to prepare for their coming Skype interactions with teachers and classes next week.

They are inquiring into a range of countries in the Asia Pacific as part of their exploration of what it means to be a global citizen. The central idea is that to be a global citizen, we need to understand and engage with our neighbours. So they will!

We started by viewing a few clips to highlight some drawbacks from previous sessions, so that we can learn from our mistakes…

More here, here and here.

We moved on to a famous quote ‘Too hot, too cold, just right’ (Goldilocks) and discussed examples of  how to refine our questions to make them ‘just right’ … relevant, appropriate and engaging.

Students split into groups based on which country they have chosen, and applied their new understandings to refining and prioritising the questions they had already prepared.

The questions they shared at the end demonstrated the thinking and learning that had taken place in most groups.  We’re looking forward to some great Skype sessions with India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, China, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea and the Philipines!

Do you know anyone in Burma, Papua New Guinea, Laos or Timor that could help us?

Taking learning forward…

What do our students know about the countries around us?  Not that much, apparently.

Our Year 6 classes have kicked off their new unit of inquiry by thinking about what it means to be a good neighbour and then discussing which of the requirements apply to being good global citizens too. They know we need to work towards understanding our geographical neighbours, engaging with and learning from them, but it seems that many aren’t quite sure who our neighbours are!

By the end of the unit they will know a great deal more. They will inquire into Australia’s interconnectedness with countries in the Asia Pacific, explore the region through Google Maps and a range of other resources and, best of all, they will interact with real people to find out about the countries in which they live.

“Learning  from someone is much more real than learning about them.”  (Year 6 student)

In my very first post on this blog, I stated that my goal was to flatten the walls, take the learning beyond the classroom out into the world, and bring the world inside. Not long after that, the first time Year 6 explored this topic, I persuaded the teachers to have the kids interview a friend in India via Skype. It was an experience that opened new doors and highlighted what was possible.

A year later, for the same unit of inquiry, student’s created a Voicethread with their questions and were able to pursue their personal inquiries via Skype too. They interacted with people in Japan, India, Singapore, Thailand, Bali and Sri Lanka.

This year, we would like to find even more primary sources in every country that our learners choose to investigate. Rather than a formal class structure, it would be great to see them in small groups talking via Skype to as many people as possible. We’d love to have them engaging with students in other countries and continuing to connect with them after the initial interviews.  It would be great to see them work collaboratively on Google Maps to which they add photos, information, questions and new learning. Hopefully they will use their class blogs to reflect on what they learn and to record their wonderings, so that people ‘out there’ can respond.

Do you want to help us learn?

Do you live in the Asia Pacific Region? You don’t need to be an expert. We’d be happy to send you some questions in advance, if that helps. We don’t mind using Skype, Voicethread, email or any other collaborative tool we know or have yet to learn (if it’s not blocked in our school…). We’d love you to include some students, preferably Year 6 or older, as we sometimes ask tough questions, but we’re just as happy to talk to adults. We’re willing to tell you a bit about Australia, in return.

If you’d like to join our learning community and can spare us a little time in the coming weeks, please let us know.

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Update: My PLN has delivered willing people or classes in India, China, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Phillipines, NZ and Indonesia! Still looking for Thailand, PNG, East Timor, Malaysia, Burma and Laos…

Final update: We got Malysia, Laos, Thailand.. and a few came too late, as our school year is just about over, but we’ll save them for future collaborations. Thank you!

Inter-cultural understanding…

What could be more engaging than kids talking to kids across the world? What better way to learn about other people? What better way to encourage inter-cultural understanding and global awareness?

Our Year 4 students are currently exploring other cultures. They are using the iceberg model to investigate how cultural beliefs and values influence people’s customs and perspectives. Part of their inquiry will include interacting with children (and adults) from a variety of cultures via Skype and Voicethread. By constantly referring to the iceberg, they will gradually develop their understanding that the things we see  (food, festivals, customs) reflect the deeper beliefs and values of a culture.

Time and again, I have found the best way to make connections for this kind of learning is through my existing online PLN. Tweeting for interested collaborators in this unit has, so far, brought us willing collaborators in Indonesia, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and other parts of Australia. Friends in India have agreed to connect with the Year 4 children too. It’s not the best time of year for this inquiry, as schools in other countries are finishing for the year, but it’s still worth asking… If you’d like your students of any age to collaborate with us, either via Skype or by responding to our coming Voicethread, please let me know!

GLOBAL LEARNING
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