We had just moved to the "big" house three blocks from the park and a 10-minute walk to our elementary school. Though we had not moved far, my sister and I did not know anyone in our new neighborhood. Only 2 1/2 years apart in age, we had often been each others playmate. But, with a new world before us, I was ready to explore. Not so my younger sister, and with my big eyes gleaming like diamonds and her big eyes brimming with tears, I grabbed her hand and said "Come on. Let's go make friends."
Not much has changed since I was seven years old. Although I am one to crave the solitude of a mountain hike, early morning walk on the beach, or the quiet spaces I screen and scream for daily, I still am just as "curious as hell," "outgoing," and "greedy for knowledge" as my friends and colleagues suggest today. I guess that is why I love All The Places (I) Can Go in this connected world of reading, writing, communicating and learning. And I love nothing more than grabbing someone's hand and introducing them to my world of learning...so they can make friends, too.When Anne Smith tweeted she was studying Shakespeare and looking for some collaboration, I sent a quick reply back and DM to Karl Fisch. I'd met Karl at ISTE two summers ago, spent more time with him this summer at a PLP retreat session, and I'd met Anne when she and Karl presented last year at NCTE. Impressive is the first word that comes to mind regarding both of them and their work, and so my response was a instant "yes." Finding a teacher who'd hold hands and jump with me is not always guaranteed, but I've got great faculty here and I think they are starting to trust my renegade ways. So, jump we did, and after some traditional back and forth emailing and a Skype conference call, Anne, Karl, Upper School English Department Chair Debi Ohayon and I settled on a collaboration: two joint classroom Skype and live blog sessions on Hamlet.
Following Anne's lead with her established protocol for outer circle liveblogging and inner circle research/presentation/commenting, we prepped our AP English Lit students, tested out webcam and mic settings with Karl, and launched the first classroom on Monday with a study of Act III. Anne did a lovely and very gracious job of recording her impressions of the day, and I received the following from Debi last night. Debi is my first "guest post author"-the first of what I hope will be many teachers' reflections as we construct our ideas around here:
Oh, how good it feels to reap the rewards of hard work! When Laura first asked me to collaborate with a teacher in Colorado, I thought it sounded interesting but knew my plate was already too full. Being department chair as well as a supporter of her work with 21st century learning, I didn't want to let her down and she didn't want to let down the folks at Arapahoe High School in Colorado, contacts of hers, including Anne Smith, a truly innovative English teacher, and Karl Fisch, director of technology at the same school and creator of the now famous "Did You Know?" video, who were extending this invitation. Boy, am I glad my curiosity or sense of duty or both propelled me forward, as it has been a thrill to watch this pilot project become reality, despite the time commitment, logistical challenges, and alterations of my syllabus. The excitement that both my students and I have felt being pioneers as well as participants in a joint classroom experience across the country has been enormous. As Laura suggested, just the concept of kids in the 21st century talking in different time zones about an early 17th century text is intriguing. It's certainly not just about the fun (though it is really fun); the students agree that the Skype/LiveBlog shared classroom has enriched their learning experience. Meredith Thornhill captured this sentiment today in class during our feedback session when she said, "We got to branch out beyond our own classroom and discuss similar ideas as well as gain insight about other ideas from students we didn't know." Furthermore, Mark Morel said, "It was not only a blast, but a highly intellectual experience that I will always remember." I know many educators fear technology being pushed for the wrong reasons, but I'm quite convinced this was an example of technology enhancing pedagogical goals.
Three of the core competencies we are addressing right now in the upper school at Lovett are critical thinking, oral communication, and teamwork. The student-centered approach of this project, implemented on a regular basis in Anne Smith's classroom at Arapahoe high school in Colorado, prompts the students to do the mental work. They create, design, ask and answer the questions. Looking back over the transcript of the blog, I see that many open-ended, thoughtful questions were posed and many well-supported answers were given. Anne herself noted how she was impressed with our kids' use of the text. I was impressed with her students' serious approach to learning and eagerness to engage my students in dialogue. The inner circle had the opportunity and the responsibility of clearly vocalizing their ideas. So often we think oral communication means giving a speech, but this was a different forum for public speaking. In addition, I noticed the Cover It Live Blog was an excellent avenue for students, such as Lyndsey Peters, who prefer not to be vocal in class, to voice themselves with confidence and conviction. Regarding teamwork, some of my favorite moments during the hour were when classmates such as S.E. Spencer and Cedric Heckel-Jones came to the aid of peers by rephrasing someone else's interpretation and gently clarifying for both classrooms or shall I say both halves of both circles? Other favorite moments included the pop-up voting polls on issues like "Is Hamlet actually going mad at the end of Act 3?" and "What kind of hero is Hamlet?" Often the results of these votes fed into more analysis. Without a doubt, this was much more than an exercise in fancy new technology.Overall, when I asked my students to describe the experience with "either a thumb's up or thumb's down," they unanimously gave the endeavor a thumbs up; Chandler Dunklin made a point of distinctly giving it two thumbs up and even asked if we could do it weekly! Sure there are kinks, mostly technical, to iron out for next time, but nonetheless we all felt a part of something special. I'm pretty certain that the something special was a uniquely communal learning environment. Since I also have a personal invested interest in character education, I would be remiss not to note as a bonus what a delight it was to see teenagers from different parts of the country, representing both public and private schools, using literature to discuss timeless, universal moral issues.
Thanks, Hamlet. Thanks, Shakespeare. Thanks, Laura, Anne, and Karl. Jim Wingate, too, for all the technical help!
All that is left for me to say is this: Cheers and thanks, Debi! You've taken a big risk, and you are rewarded with not only a memorable experience but students who are "doing the learning." Well done. And, Anne and Karl: We're looking forward to "round 2"!
Link to Live Blog Recording: http://smithewl9010.blogspot.