Selecting a Project to Connect Your Classroom to the World

In addition to setting up a backchannel this year, I have a goal to make sure that every class I teach has a global connection project.

With Business Week predicting that 38% of us will be on a first name basis with someone in India in 10 years — I believe that teaching students effective Techno-personal skills is more important than ever.

Connecting is not just a cutsie project any more, it is an imperative.

Why are Technopersonal skills different than Interpersonal?

Techno-personal is different than traditional interpersonal skills because technology is the wedge. Sarcasm, regional vernacular, and humor have to be used carefully with a global audience in mind. These things are not innately learned. Why would most of us who teach blogging START students off in a walled garden? So, the messes can be private! (Teach the kids while they are young, or they will get fired for the “innocent” mistake when they are older.)

How will we connect?
This is my plan (thus far) for this year. Each selection has a pedagogically relevant, curricular reason for its selection.

It is not just about using technology or picking something cool or fun, it is about an intentional, planned, well thought out project or forum for a specific purpose. Remember this when you pick your connection project.

Here is what I’m doing. I hope you’ll share what you’re doing in the comments.

Fifth grade
(after 6 weeks of keyboarding)
Classblogmeister
This is a great walled location to start students. After a while, we give parents the password to let them communicate. This is handed off to the sixth grade teacher the next year for use in English.

Eighth grade keyboarding (1 semester) –
Classblogmeister

I make it public this year and allow others to see and comment. I encourage students to post and comment on other blogs from around the country.

Ninth Grade (Full Year) –
Youth Voices

I am SOOO excited about joining this amazing collaborative which kicks off this week and there is room for you! I am extremely impressed with the openness, professionalism, and wisdom of the teachers who have started Youth Voices.

It is so hard to do a great job with innovation in all of my classes. My strategy is to have one project that I originate (Flat Classroom / Horizon for 10th) and the rest, I will join with the Best of the Best (as I see in my humble opinion.)

If you’re interested in joining, you can listen to their podcast from last week and see if your high school class fits. (They do have a space for middle school as well.)

Computer Science (10th Grade)
Flat Classroom Project
Horizon Project
Julie and I are going to meet again in a few moments to discuss these projects. We are looking for a few more technically proficient classrooms who would like to investigate our changing world with us (we really want an American Public School to join us as well.)

We’ll be blogging about the Flat Classroom project later during the week. These projects are founded on fundamental principles of teaching students global collaboration skills, cultural awareness, and immersion in creating projects about and experiencing the trends that are shaping our world today. I believe that students emerging from these rigorous projects are ready for challenging internet-enabled learning environments and a corporate environment that is in a constant state of flux.

I always tell my students that there are only two types of people as it relates to change — victims and victors. I want them to understand, accept, and profit from change.

Current Events
This is my elective course for seniors and I’m so excited a
bout our participation in the University of Michigan’s Arab-Israeli Conflict Simulation with super-expert Jeffrey Stanzler. This project is well thought out and sound and adequately supports the objectives of this course: multiple perspectives, creative thinking, diplomacy, and a thorough knowledge of the complexity socio-political happenings.

This simulation has some profound scenarios in which the students must grapple with very complex political situations and are mentored by college students at the University of Michigan who are monitored and mentored by Dr. Stanzler and his associates. This is an incredible situation rich with teaching and cross pollination of knowledge of so many kinds and I believe a model for our future in education.

We need to be harnessing the power of all segments of education creating such tandem learning projects in which each participant extracts the sweet nectar of learning in their own discipline.

Making Elementary Connections
Every class in our elementary school is being required by our visionary curriculum director to have one project connecting students. Our teachers are allowed to select the project. I gave them a few suggestions and here is a copy of the e-mail I sent to the curriculum director about great projects for elementary (slightly edited):

1 – http://www.technospudprojects.com/ — The Dr. Seuss project is going to be great. I know Jennifer, the person in charge very well — she has these pedagogically sound projects down to a science. We had a teacher participate here last year and it was a great experience for the class!

2 – Susan Silverman is enrolling for the Lucky Ladybugs project right now – http://kids-learn.org/ — It is teaching Who What when Where and How at the elementary level — This is the link to the project – http://kids-learn.org/ladybugs/project.htm

3 – epals is another great place – http://www.epals.com/ — They have teacher supervised global penpals which are great! It is such a neat project. You can see the projects here – http://www.epals.com/projects/ and you can specifically see for ages 6-11 (http://www.epals.com/projects/group1/) — they have a great one on mythology.

For next year:

4 – Global SchoolNet has a great cyberfair — Perhaps next year we can get a submission — See this flyer. http://www.globalschoolnet.org/gsh/cf/winners/CF-DDFlyer2008.pdf

Why do we connect?

Education is the only entity that basically creates its own reality.

Businesses that do not adapt go bankrupt.

Education systems that do not adapt just keep on going.

However, there are those of us (some, like myself who have come from business before going into teaching) see and understand the importance of moving ahead and while the theorists debate the efficacy of Web 2.0, we’re producing students who will literally take a Byte out of their children’s or grandchildren’s proverbial lunch.

Honestly, I could care less about the terminology, Web 2.0, or whatever. In fact, the Arab-Israeli debate is not really a Web 2.0 project, although Jeffrey and I connected via Web 2.0 networks.

The fact is that the education that refuses to come to reality is going to render itself obsolete. If I hear one more person say “The kids today have changed,” I’m going to scream. How about the problem being, that the kids have changed and “School today hasn’t changed for 50+ years.”

I see the latter as the problem.

It is about providing connecting, global experiences as part of an effective education and there may be multiple ways to do it. Currently my school does not have a 1:1 program, and although I wish it could be so, we’re not there at this time. But I would put the technical knowledge that my students graduate with up against anyone, because I expressly teach them how to learn new software and how to operate in any environment with someone from any culture.

And not to let anyone think I am a self lauded island of success, there are other teachers out there doing amazing things! (And I could name more!)

I have been focusing on reading the blogs of other teachers lately. The progressive, those who have useful things to share.

For, there are those who have burst the seams of the traditional classroom and extruded a glimpse of all of the energy, enthusiasm for learning, and excellence that many pundits say is gone from today’s education.

Those are the ones I want to watch.

I think that those who spend all of their time debating whether Web 2.0 is important are kind of like debating whether the point guard is important in basketball.

Web 2.0 is part of the technology team that can deliver excellence in a classroom — however there are always other ways to deliver the ball, I guess — although using the point guard makes things easier. (Of course in high school you get a new point guard every few years, and I’m sure Web 2.0 will be replaced by a new recruit at some point — that is why we mustn’t get too hung up on terminology when we’re really talking about practice.)

I think that to focus on the technology is to get one’s eye off the ball.. .the ball being the delivery of an excellent education that will promote and provide for the prosperity of our nation and world into the future.

None of us wants to look at our child or student or grandchild and feel that something we have not done has caused irreparable harm to their future.

I would argue that to ignore digital citizenship in this digital age is indeed to cause great harm… something us educators must never do.

What will you do to connect your classroom?

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6 thoughts on “Selecting a Project to Connect Your Classroom to the World

  1. Vicki, while I do not want to downplay the important role that theorists and theory have to play in moving education forward, the important place to watch is where the school based educators put things into practice. In fact, it’s only by watching enough grassroots teachers in action that enough evidence can be documented for purposes of theory construction. This concept of global collaborations initiated by teachers themselves through their own digital networks is very new as prior to Web 2, teachers who wanted to pursue this sort of opportunity would use specialist sites and services like think.com or e-pals. These services still fulfil a need but like-minded practitioners now have the tools to leverage and construct meaningful learning and customised learning for their students.

  2. Thanks Vicki, for the vote of confidence and the link back.

    The O.R.E.O. project just hit 800 registrants……..so it should be a good one to watch too.

    As for global collaborations, as mentioned by Graham, this is my 9th year of doing projects — way before Web 2.0. And though think.com and e-pals are great — I think the projects that are hosted by “a teacher” rather than a corporation are the way to go for a first time project member.

    Smiles
    Jen

  3. Hi Vicki,

    Thanks for the link back! Bringing more global collaborations to ISB is my major goal for this year – whenever I explain why they are important to teachers and parents I just share all sorts of example from my own life.

    If this kind of communication and collaboration is so essential to my professional (and personal) life now, I can’t even imagine how important it will be when my students are adults….

  4. Thanks Vicki, for continuing the discussion.

    As I see your list of what might initially seem like a long list of teachers making global connections for their students, I’m reminded that there are far too few teachers actually involved here. I guess that’s where I step in.

    As a result, I’ve decided to open up my next Professional Development course to any interested teacher. In fact, as a result of my offer, Robin Ellis will be co-teaching the class with me. We’ve never actually met in person and she’s on the other side of the country, but we’ll be co-teaching a professional development class. The class will be appropriately called “Social Software in the Classroom”.

    It seems to me that until we educate our teachers about the kinds of opportunities that are out there, then the vast majority of our students will simply have to learn the tools on their own.

    If you or any of your readers would like to join Robin and me, feel free join in the fray. Click here to access the class, create an account to be added, use collaborate as the enrollment key.

    To infinity and beyond,

    Darren

  5. Vicki,
    I continue to be amazed at how you balance all of this! Now projects too! These are not low key projects either. I have read some of them and applaud you for what you are giving your students – real connections to the world in a practical format.

  6. Vicki, thanks for the nice mention of our Arab-Israeli Conflict Simulation. Being an avid reader of your blog, I know that you put a lot of energy behind the idea that making global connections can create a fertile ground for deeper thinking on the part of your students, and for kids to have a palpable awareness of audience/s.
    If our simulation has any power, it lies in the potential of audience/s to inspire us, and to challenge us.
    So many teachers have told me that their students have connected with these distant audience/s (both peers and the university student mentors) and by virtue of having someone–out there–pay attention to their ideas, they take their own ideas a bit more seriously. Of course, this is an idea with which you are very familiar 😉
    In any event, I hope that your students will enjoy the creative and intellectual enterprise of walking in the shoes of people whose ways of seeing the world are very different from our own (and if your readers are interested in having their students join us this fall, I would welcome hearing from them!) Cheers…Jeff

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