The Five Phases of Flattening a Classroom

a simulpost with TechLearning

The Five Phases of Flattening a Classroom
Right now, Julie and I are both doing several things to help duplicate ourselves and help others understand what it takes to conduct a Flat Classroom project or Horizon Project.

I’ve outlined what I believe are the five phases I take my classes through to prepare them for independent, self-directed levels of collaboration. I suspect these ruminations will evolve.

Phase One: The INTRA-connected Classroom
First, one must have a classroom that is connected electronically to itself.

This includes:

  • A walled blog (I use Ning.)
  • Intra-class Instant messaging and Skyping I teach this using a backchannel in some of our class discussions. By observing a live backchannel chat, I teach appropriate behavior and what it means to be a professional student. I also have them video and audio skype each other.
  • Intra-class collaboration using a public wiki
    • First, someone they sit next to.
    • Next, someone who sits on the other side of the room. (I have to cut off the verbal tether to transition students to online interaction!)

I wouldn’t DREAM of connecting my class to another until I teach appropriate electronic behavior. There is a BIG difference between understanding how to USE electronic media and understanding appropriate BEHAVIOR. The using is easy, the behavior takes time and vigilance.

PHASE 2: The INTERConnected Classroom
I connect ALL of my classes to one another on the Ning. Students must learn the dynamics of interacting with people of other ages and in other classes. This is a wholly different dynamic than intra-classroom because students are interacting with students they may not see on a daily basis.

This includes:

  • A walled blog (I again use my social network, Ning that is private.)
  • Inter-Class projects and collaboration on the wiki (i.e. Your 2nd period class is doing a project with your 4th period class)
  • Asychronous communications — sharing videos, photos, blogging, and more where students must respond and communicate on a topic. (You have to cut off the tether of both time and space and teach students to collaborate with those who will work at a different time and in a different space than they are occupying at the moment.)

This further helps students understand that they are working with REAL people with an online presence and takes them in a gradual transition to a fully online project. It also helps you pick up on potentially troublesome habits of students while ALL students are still under your direction and policies.

Phase 2A – IntraDistrict or IntraAssociation students
For those in a district or association — I would add another possible step in here of connecting by grade level and subject. Honestly, I can see no excuse for not connecting all fifth graders in a district or all World History Students.

DON’T STOP! I don’t think that one can get enough diversity within a private school or public school association or within one district to truly accomplish what needs to be done in terms of cultural understanding with today’s teens. Move on to the next phase.

Phase 3: Flat Classroom – Many to One Connections AND one to Many connections with Teacher Direction

In this phase, students as a class are connected to one person or group of people typically via Skype. This is essential because they can see me model appropriate behavior and techniques.

This includes:

  • Presenting to another location as a class via Skype.
  • Interaction with an expert (such as our keynote speakers for our projects) via wiki or videosharing.
  • Connecting to others through my quoting their work (with permission) and sharing with others. (a sense of global audience and they are more likely to read and see me model appropriate behavior.)
  • Public (anonymous) blogs of my students who have permission from parents. (others blog on a large blog with 1,000 other students at Youth Voices.)

This gives them awareness of a global audience and transitions them to full blown connections as individuals. They learn accountability and I am able to isolate their individual practice and habits to help them.

Phase 4: Flat Classroom: Many to Many with Teacher management
This is Flat Classroom with many students collaborating with one another directly to create wikis and digital artifacts (they outsource part of their video to one another.) On this project, the teachers are still very involved in group dynamics and media issues with the teams.

This includes:

  • Collaborative Writing and Editing between students
  • Involvement of experts and other educators to provide a rich, diverse global audience and feedback.
  • RSS readers and customized learning spaces (for self-directed learning)
  • Instructions delivered via wiki to all students (they use their RSS reader to get their assignments.)
  • Interaction with a keynote or thought leader to inspire them and help them understand global audience from the beginning.
  • Digital Storytelling with outsourcing of part of their video to a partner in another location (This requires an EXTREME amount of communication between the partners and is quite challenging.)

This is a HUGE step between Phase 3 and 4 and the first time I did it as a teacher it was a bit overwhelming. I liken it to going down a really long water slide for the first time… knowing it is supposed to be fun but also knowing that once I start, I’m not stopping until the end comes!

Phase 5: Flat Classroom: Many to Many Connections with STUDENT Management

This is the Horizon Project. This is everything that we do in Flat Classroom with an added component: student self-management and organization.

This includes:

  • Students manage the teams. We have project managers, assistant managers, editors elected for each wiki AND subgroups have the option of organizing themselves as well.
  • Increasing use of social networks and IM’s of the students to connect.

It HELPS if students have done flat classroom first, however, usually, that is not the case.

However, I would say it is essential for teachers to move through this process by phase. I don’t think that we could have had project managers on our first Flat Classroom for the simple reason that Julie and I were still learning what we were doing.

Now, the other Horizon teachers can handle student organization because they trust Julie and I to facilitate it and help it work.

This is my favorite project because the student management piece is truly monumental and so EXCITING!

Sometimes I wish that Horizon was not in the shadow of its father, the Flat Classroom project because in a lot of ways Horizon is a younger, stronger, improved version of Flat Classroom. However, both projects are very important and exciting!

What is your phase?
I’d be interested to hear from you, the reader, to see what phase you are at in your classroom.

Just as a baby doesn’t jump out from its mother’s womb to compete in a 100 yard dash, likewise, it takes time to progress to flat classroom.

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13 thoughts on “The Five Phases of Flattening a Classroom

  1. Excellent post. You are speaking from a position of authority on this topic.

    Honestly my district phases in and out of the steps. I think we are making an effort to establish phase one. We have a new board, a new super and I think we are moving in the right direction.

    But we also reach into phase 3 and 4 on different occasions. Depending on the teacher, the moment, and tools available we have broken down the walls a few times.

    Of course the point you are making is that it happens as part of the daily learning and really is invisible to the folks that participate daily. In that case we are behind and if this is a race we have teachers in all positions, but students that remain at the starting line.

    It would be my hope to get enough teachers half way through the race so we can begin getting more students on the track.

  2. Well, being a new tech teacher in a school that doesn’t allow blogging I’m currently at phase zero. However, my hope is to be at phase 2A and hopefully 3 by the end of next year with 2 of my 4th grade classes-one from each elementary building. I’m currently working on a proposal, to present to our superintendent, to introduce blogging next year. Your step by step phases will be very helpful as I write this plan up. Thank you for taking the time to outline your project.

  3. I am in phase 1. My 3rd hour class is collaborating with my 5th hour class. They are just doing a “handshake” and introducing themselves to the group. It still blows their mind that there are people in the group who are not in their class.

    Thanks for the inspiration! Next year I’ll try phase 2a with the school across town and hopefully keep going from there.

  4. @Ken – I too move between then, however, I have to move the students in a progressive set of freedoms — get them ready for the “big dance” so to speak. Despite what some think, flattening a classroom is not as easy as stepping on a piece of cake and squishing it– it is a tough progression and I specifically plan that progress.

    Congratulations on having visionaries on staff!

    @elementaryteacher — It sounds like that personally you’re midway through even though your classes aren’t — I see you around the internet a lot — I believe your heart is there and that is a start!

    @hohmanprovement — Hey, that is Phase 2 — connecting your classes between periods! Congratulations, that is a big first step — and you’re seeing the shock that happens when the students realize that they can work with someone who is not in their room!

    Keep moving forward!

    I hope more people will share what they are doing and the tools that they are using! Kudos to all of you!

  5. Picked up on this post via twitter.
    I’m connected but my classroom is at phase zero. I’m tagging this in my del.ici.us, I hope I can find it when I’m ready to get moving.

  6. Reading your post, I do wish I had high school students or even college. As a middle school teacher, we only really touch the surface. My students are not emotionally/socially mature enough to collaborate fully. I go through the phases and find the learners here need a lot of repetition. There is a lot of opposition to my pedagogy from students, parents, faculty. I think this will change, it just hasn’t yet.

  7. Currently, I am in phase 2 and starting in phase 3. I have plans for more of phase 3 as well. My most capable students are in my Academic Bio class and I have a set of curriculum that needs to be met. The environmental class I teach would be great for a flat project but they are pretty immature and skills are much lower than an average student. However, I am impressed with how they work now compared to the beginning of the year (still a long way from where they need to be).

    I love the class wiki. It is quite an achievement for the students and what they have learned. Do you archive your wiki? Do you start over with a new one each year?

  8. Thank you for posting your steps. It will be easy (easier anyway) to progress since you’ve shared them. I think that you take your students in a natural progression and teaching them how to behave in a collaborative setting before they actually get there is a great idea. Thanks for your blog, tweets and podcasts (WOW2.0)!

  9. Our classroom is somewhere between stage 1 and stage 2. Our class uses Qlubb to organize their events and activities. It’s an easy tool for the kids/parents to coordinate activities and assign tasks.

  10. Thanks you for sharing your expertise online. As a newbie to Web 2.0, I need a lot of support. The depth of your expertise just isn’t available in my district. So I applaud your efforts to share it with the world.

    I do want to help my students step into the much larger world outside my classroom and yet I still feel a bit uncomfortable about classroom management.

    So I am wondering if you would comment on the art of teaching appropriate online behavior. I’m especially interested in what you say to them in advance, how you monitor a classroom full of students during the activity, and what you do to redirect student attention when they go off on tangents. I am especially interested to understand how to reach the reluctant, resistant and/or openly rebellious student(s).

    I am sure that an engaging topic for discussion is key. As a specialty teacher (biotechnology), I’m thinking about creating some kind of conversation about genetically engineered food or stem-cell research or human cloning. You’ve probably already written extensively about what it took to conceptualize and set up the Flat Classroom Project.

    I’m wondering if you could point me to a post to start reading so that I can modify your process to create a student-centered dialogue around the biotech themes. If you could start me with a short and sweet post, I’d be very grateful.

  11. Thanks for writing this post because I have been talking about your project over the past few days at my CEC conference and I will be passing this on to those who were interested in how this works. The wiki is great but too overwhelming for some people who just wanted an overview. I think this is helpful for me to explain it. Thanks.

  12. hmmm.. I am not really certain which phase we are at, except that we are not at phase 5 yet. I think we skipped something, somewhere. However, we have had an expert, Jeff Whipple, (from Canada) come into our Australian classroom via skype and bridgit conferencing tools and teach grades 4-6 how to use a wiki.
    We are working on the 1001 tales project with a shared wiki between global classes.
    I have just taught 4 classes (110 students) all in one go in their school theatre from the comfort of my home.This was Jeff Whipple’s school in Canada and I taught them about Australia, our culture, our school,town, farm etc using skype and slideshares shared via a wiki. They are studying Oceana right now. Where will that leave textbooks?
    Our students have videoconferenced with Korean students and shared concepts, topics and concrete objects eg vegemite, blue tongued lizards, meat pies, mobile phones, school uniforms and we demonstrated a game of cricket for them and we in turn, saw snow falling outside their school (our students have never seen snow) via a webcamera and skype. We share blogs with global classes.
    It is such powerful learning and makes for student directed education and maybe one day we will get to phase 5.

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