Reflections on the Flat Classroom Workshop

Last weekend I had the honor of co-leading the Flat Classroom Workshop (pictures here) with Julie Lindsay at the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong. I have to admit that although I knew it would be amazing after everything I had heard about the Flat Classroom Conference in Doha earlier this year, I had no idea just how amazing the whole experience would turn out to be!

Flat Classroom Workshop

Workshop Structure

The flat classroom workshop is a 2.5-day project-based learning experience for both students and teachers. We had about 30 high-school students and 10 teachers participating face-to-face, and about 20 registered virtual participants. The goal of the workshop is to allow participating students and teachers to experience a flat classroom project in a condensed amount of time. Basically, in the 2.5 days of the workshop, the students and teachers go through almost the entire process of a flat classroom project that might normally take six to nine weeks.

The students and teachers in the workshop are given a challenge (in this case, to develop and propose a solution to the problem of the digital divide). Students and teachers worked in separate teams of 5 (i.e.: teachers worked with only other teachers, and students worked only with other students). All teams had members from a variety of schools, including official virtual participants.

Flat Classroom Workshop

Over the course of the 2.5 days, teams had to research the digital divide, propose and pitch a solution to a small group of conference participants, present more formal pitches to all workshop participants and a virtual uStream audience at the end of the first full day, and then finally the three most-likely-to-succeed ideas were presented to the entire 21st-century learning conference as the final plenary session.

What was amazing to me about this process was the fact that not only did the teams have little to no understanding of the digital divide before the conference started, but most had never met their team members, and most of them were working in a different school with different equipment than they were used to, and they had to work together with virtual participants as team members, yet they jumped in with both feet, producing finished presentations that were absolutely outstanding.

Flat Classroom Workshop

Here’s what really stood out to me over the 2.5 days:

Project-Based Learning Works

It is absolutely amazing what students can do when you give them an authentic and achievable task and then get out of their way. We provided several focus sessions on pitching an idea, a basic overview of the digital divide, the power of visual imagery, and an introduction to digital storytelling, but for the most part the teams were on their own. Of course, Julie and I were facilitating the process, but watching students learn how to learn together and seeing the results of their cooperation was a great reminder for me that this is the way a classroom should be run.

Third Culture Kids

When the students first met each other, it was interesting see that they started their introductions with their ethnic background first. Once they established their cultural history they were able to bond about similar experiences (most of them were 3rd culture kids and many of them had never lived in their “home” country)  and work together in an open and accepting environment. It was interesting for me to see how important it was for them to acknowledge their cultural history and experiences before beginning the process of working together.

Flat Classroom Workshop

These Tools Are Still New

I’ve been working with web 2.0 tools for a few years now and they are starting to seem “old hat” to me, but for most of these students (and teachers), even though were particularly interested in technology, many of these tools were new or they hadn’t used them in this way. Of course, they all have Facebook accounts  and they regularly Skype with their extended families, they really didn’t have an understanding of how to use these tools for an academic purpose, and it was exciting to them to discover new ways to use them. It was a good reminder that the use of web 2.0 tools in education is nowhere near as prevalent as it can seem here in the edublogosphere.

Learning to Listen

One strong difference Julie and I noticed when we were presenting was that I will occasionally ask students to close their laptop lids to listen, while Julie doesn’t. I don’t think that one way is better than the other, but it’s made me wonder: do we need to teach (and model for) students how to stop and listen? I know when I’m working on my laptop and listening to something else at the same time, I am able to stop and listen when I need to, but I wonder if that’s a skill that needs to be taught and learned (not an innate ability that all people just naturally have). Can some students naturally pay attention while others are distracted by the laptop? I know that many of our teachers in the CoETaIL course find it very distracting to have their laptop lids open throughout our face-to-face sessions, but it didn’t bother the students at all, could it be a generational thing?

Overheard at the Flat Classroom Workshop

It’s all about Inquiry and Individualization

When I think of the digital divide, I automatically think about those who have access to technology versus those who don’t. What was interesting to me was that while watching the students try to develop a solution to this global problem, almost none of them tackled the issue of the haves and have-nots. They almost all chose to work on the problem of the “analog” generation versus the “digital” generation. They drew on their own experiences, for example: their grandparents who have difficulty communicating with them online. They focused on the problems of one generation not communicating the same way as another generation.

I was impressed to see that they were not only concerned about the older generation staying in touch with their families, but also about learning from their elders and valuing the input and perspective they have on the world in a format the younger generation understands. The fact that the topic and project given them were broad enough that they were able to find a perspective on it that they were passionate about clearly helped them to be motivated to find solutions that could actually be implemented in their lives.

The Power of Peer Grouping

When Julie organized the groups, she made sure that students and teachers were in separate groups – there were no mixed groups. At first, I wasn’t sure what I thought about that grouping, because I was interested to see how students and teachers might work together to use media, collaborate and find solutions. However, on the final day, when a little more than half of the participants (students and teachers) were working together to produce the final plenary session for the conference, it was amazing to see how quickly the traditional student-teacher dynamic returned. Literally the instant the student and teacher teams were mixed, the students stopped talking and the teachers took over.

After a few minutes, we split the groups, and the teachers and I debriefed for a few minutes about what had been happening and how quickly it happened. Although none of us were surprised to see it, all of the teachers had been consciously trying to step back and not take control, but it happened nonetheless. It was almost as if it were involuntary.

Flat Classroom Workshop

Process Over Product

I started out in an MYP school, and perhaps that’s why my approaches to teaching and learning have usually tended to match that philosophy. Seeing the MYP Design Cycle in action again at the Workshop (after working in Elementary for the last two years) really reminded me that students can tackle almost any technology project, even when starting with little or no previous knowledge, and work their way through it following that process. All the teacher needs to do is provide the framework for the students to lead them through that process of learning. It isn’t about the content, but about the process of learning with technology, and that process can be adapted to fit any content.

Virtual Audience and Virtual Team Members

The authentic task and opportunity for choice were great motivators, but it was especially interesting to see how the students reacted when we emphasized our virtual participants. As soon as a virtual team member was in the chatroom, students would jump in and talk to them, when they presented in front of their virtual audience on the uStream the students seemed to sit up straighter, and when we announced the global (online) vote the students wanted to watch the percentages changing in real time. It seems like this generation is so used to sharing so much of their lives with a (potentially) global audience that doing things without public interaction might not be worth it for them. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but it certainly makes me wonder what they must think when faced with a pencil-and-paper task to be read only by the teacher – when they’re already used to sharing their lives and their work with the world.

Participant Feedback

We’ve asked all of the participants to share their thoughts via an anonymous survey and their blog on the Flat Classroom Conference Ning. You can read all of their blog posts on the Ning, but I thought I’d include a few highlights here as well.

Chris Smith was also very generous with his time and spent quite a while with our participants recording their thoughts and experiences with his handy Flip. All of the videos are available on the 21st Century Learning Conference Ning – they’re all short clips and well worth watching.

From Beatrice (student):

It was a life-changing experience to connect, communicate, and cooperate with people from various cultures. I interacted with people I’ve never met before, and even spoke in front of a large audience; if you know how shy I am, you will understand how meaningful it was to me.

I think that the ultimate goal of Flat Classroom wasn’t to learn about technology, or to bridge the digital divide (although those were very, VERY important objectives!)– It was to Flatten the World.

I believe that when we broke down the walls of the classroom, a small crack was made on the walls of the world. Starting from flattening the classroom through technology, we shall flatten the whole world step by step.  I’m looking forward to the day I’ll be attending a “Flat World Conference.”

From Saundra (teacher):

The flat classroom project is not about creating a flat sameness from the peaks of diversity. It is about recognizing diversity and weaving it into a shared vision of how a problem can be solved. It is learning what it means to be even in understanding and experience and use that to create something new and uneven.

From Toby (student):

Our team has bonded over the past few days and we’re über tight. The tasks have been challenging yet rewarding. What we learned about our cultural differences will stay with us always. Hopefully we’ll be visiting Seoul soon! XD The time limits tortured us yet brought out the best in us. It was the first time we learned the concept of digital divide and we learned much about this through the workshop. We also learned a lot of teamwork and collaboration skills, as well as the secrets to creating a creative, memorable presentation.

From Sara (teacher):

The process that we engaged in over the last 48 hours at the 21st Century Learning Conference Hong Kong is what happens in reality. It’s not a lecture, it’s not passive (nor is it aggressive, thank goodness), it’s a genuinely tangible manifestation of real life. It’s a real problem, it’s a real solution, and it’s real time.

From Wu Ming (student):

This is my first time participating in some activities with someone from foreign countries and international schools. I found my language skills not as good as my teammates. My English is not fluent enough to fit the pace of the conference. I spent most of the time catching up with my teammates but not thinking of ideas. Though, I am glad that I was allocated into a team with friendly mates. They gave chance for me to try presenting and improve by time. I am comparatively bad in speaking English, but I am gaining confidence in speaking English after this activity.

On the other hand, the activity is fascinating. This is my first time (again) to attend lessons with a notebook all along. I enjoy computer lessons before since I can use the computer, not just sitting in the classroom and listen to what the teacher say. This activity provided a great chance for me to use computer without the need to worry about the timing due to the insufficient amount if computer. Other schoolmates from our school enjoyed this activity too. There are also many snacks provided so that we wouldn’t get too bored or sleepy. This is a nice learning environment for me, and I like to have this at my school.

Finished Products

If you’re interested in seeing the final products, check the Workshop wiki for embedded multimedia on each team page. You’ll also find the video archieves for our uStreamed sessions, including the final plenary.

Flat Classroom Workshop

Final Thoughts

I’m still on cloud nine a week later! The students and teachers that participated are absolutely amazing in every way. Seeing such a large group of students and teachers so passionate about learning, communicating and collaborating, and so committed to making a difference was a life changing experience. I sincerely hope that our FaceBook group, and our various Nings and wikis, will keep us connected – I, for one, want to keep learning with everyone who participated!

Flat Classroom Workshop

I owe Julie and Vicki a huge thank you for continuing to push boundaries, for connecting me (and so many others) through the Flat Classroom project so many years ago, and for giving me the opportunity to co-lead this workshop with Julie. I can not wait to do it again!

And I must admit, I’m kind of wishing I was still seeing this stunning view every day:

Flat Classroom Workshop

Workshop ‘Till You Drop

Once again, this school year is shaping up to be my busiest yet! (Seriously, how is it even possible to be any busier?)

In addition to moving into a slightly new role and continuing to teach courses for our SUNY Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy, I’m also very excited to be involved in a number of EARCOS weekend workshops around the Asia region.

All of these workshops are open for registration now and we would absolutely love to have participants from schools all over the region (and beyond!). We’re just starting to promote them (with the exception of the Flat Classroom Workshop) so please spread the word around your school!

The Flat Classroom Workshop at Hong Kong International School: September 16 – 19, 2009
Workshop Leaders: Julie Lindsay and Kim Cofino

The Flat Classroom Workshop is a 2.5 day strand of the 21 Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong. The aim of the workshop is to bring together geographically dispersed teachers and students with a view to learning about Web 2.0 communication and collaboration tools in a flattened learning environment while working on a project theme that can be transplanted back into their home school. The selected theme will inspire unity and action as well as fostering continued connections after the event in Hong Kong.

It is envisaged this will improve global understanding and cement friendships for ongoing collaborations. It is also envisaged that this will provide an opportunity for students and teachers together to “create the future” of education by employing best-practice use of emerging technologies, including mobile computing. Through exploration of a global or social issue and developing an “action” plan to work globally to overcome this, participants, both local and virtual, will model “flat classroom” modes of learning.

Garage Band for Beginners at the International School Bangkok: November 14 – 15, 2009
Workshop Leaders: Vincent Bullen and Kim Cofino

This hands-on workshop is geared toward teachers who have little or no experience working with Garage Band and will be ideal for elementary classroom teachers and music specialists. We will highlight classroom projects and upon completion you will walk away with the skills and knowledge necessary to integrate Garage Band with your class.

Garage Band is a powerful and user-friendly software program that allows you to create soundtracks, accompaniments, podcasts, and much more. During this course you will learn how to

  • create musical projects (even if you don’t play an instrument),
  • involve and inspire your students creativity,
  • create podcasts,
  • add effects,
  • how to export and share your projects.

Create the Future: Become a 21st Century Learner at Beijing (BISS) International School: January 16 – 17, 2010
Workshop Leaders: Julie Lindsay and Kim Cofino

Embrace Web 2.0, 1:1 and online learning in conjunction with multimedia for your classroom through this project-based workshop. A hands-on approach is emphasized with opportunities for learners at all levels to explore, discuss and model 21st Century pedagogy using digital tools. Break out sessions will include personal learning network and digital portfolio development, digital citizenship best practice and Web 2.0 toolbox. Participants will also work in teams on “flat classroom” objectives including Web 2.0 skill building, global collaboration and project management. This workshop is designed to open doors to new modes of teaching and learning and focus on the learner (teacher an student) as communicator, collaborator and creator.

TechTrain 2010: Beginners Learning Technology Together at the International School Bangkok: January 30 – 31, 2010
Workshop Leaders: Tara Ethridge, Kim Cofino, Chrissy Hellyer, Dennis Harter

TechTrain 2010 is an EARCOS weekend workshop hosted at the Interantional School Bangkok, Thailand on January 30 – 31, 2010. The goal is to bring together beginning technology users to help build their understanding of digital tools and how they can be used to enhance the learning experience in the classroom. We are hoping a workshop at the beginning level will appeal to those teachers that want to get started using technology in their classroom, but don’t really know where to start. We want to make sure that the weekend is focused on actually producing something that can be used in the classroom on Monday, and that most of the sessions are hands on, allowing teachers to actually use these digital tools with support.

Difficult Conversations

One of the things I’m enjoying most about being on our coaching team here at ISB is the opportunity to openly share our challenges so that we can all work together to improve our practice. This week we had our first book club meeting to discuss the first chapter of Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives edited by Jim Knight.

To facilitate our conversation, we followed the Final Word protocol. Each of us selected a particular section of the text which stood out during our reading, and following the protocol process, discussed what was so important about that statement in a round-robin format. Although we all selected different sections, they seemed to have a common element: how to move beyond simply supporting teachers to increase their comfort level within our curricular areas to implementing changed practices with all faculty members to improve student learning.

The section of the book that we ended up focusing on the most was about Coaching Heavy and Coaching Light. The author of this chapter, Joellen Killion

assert[s] that there are two kinds of coaching – coaching light and coaching heavy. The difference essentially is the coaches’ perspective, beliefs, role decisions, and goals, rather than what coaches do… Coaching light occurs when coaches want to build and maintain relationships more than they want to improve teaching and learning. From this perspective, coaches act to increase their perceived value to teachers by providing resources and avoiding challenging conversations. (p. 22)

Coaching heavy, on the other hand, includes high-stakes interactions between coaches and teachers, such as curriculum analysis, data analysis, instruction, assessment, and personal and professional beliefs and how they influence practice… Coaching heavy requires coaches to say “no” to trivial requests for support and to turn their attention to those high-leverage services that have the greatest potential for teaching and learning. Coaching heavy requires coaches to work with all teachers in a school, not just those who volunteer for coaching services. Coaching heavy requires coaches to seek and use data about their work and regularly analyze their decisions about time allocation, services and impact. (p. 23 -24)

Reading this section I realized that often times I am coaching light, but not always because of a decision I’ve consciously made. I am hyper-aware of the anxiety level most teachers have when dealing with technology, which often results in focusing more on making teachers comfortable with the tools than initiating difficult conversations about changing practice. I wonder if this issue is specific to those of us working in the technology area, or if it’s really just the same as coaches helping to implement a new math, reading or science program?

I do believe that those difficult conversations are much easier once you’ve developed a trusting relationship and that only happens when teachers feel supported. Killion mentions that it often takes coaches a whole year to move from coaching light to coaching heavy because of all the ground-work required to build trusting relationships, but that they can also get trapped into coaching light indefinitely if they are not careful.

I’m wondering now, how can coaches tell when it’s time to move from coaching light to coaching heavy? I’m also conscious of the fact that those deeper conversations don’t always have to happen in a formal setting, they can be quick snippets in the hallway that build upon previous sessions or discussions over lunch or even in a social setting. Do coaches keep track of where they are with each teacher, as you would with a class of students, so that you have a running record of what step to take next?

The other issue that jumped out at me was that coaches are required and expected to work with all teachers. This directly contradicts my long-held belief in working with the willing. Perhaps I simply need to adjust that to: we should start with the willing, but know that eventually we do have to work with everyone. I do still firmly believe that to work with everyone, with the focus on improving student learning (which may entail changing teaching practice), requires clear and transparent communication from administrators about our roles and purpose.

Perhaps the most reassuring sentence (for me) in this particular set of paragraphs is that coaching heavy requires coaches to say “no” to trivial requests for support in favor of more meaningful actions that will have a deeper impact on student learning. One of the biggest challenges for me has always been saying no. I like to believe I can do everything, and that I can make everyone’s job easier by supporting everyone, everywhere at any time. It’s important for me to remind myself that this only ends up diluting the impact I can make on both student and teacher learning. I need to remember that I am in control of my time and that I need to prioritize which tasks I undertake on a daily basis. Letting my day get carried away with the little things is not fulfilling my role, and it’s not helping my school move forward. (Maybe I should post this above my desk?).

Saying that a coach’s role is to support teachers misleads teachers. A coach’s primary responsibility is to improve student learning. (p. 27, point #3)

Reading this, I wonder what most teachers would think. I know that I have often been referred to as a “support” person or a “resource” person, and to be honest, I never felt the term was quite right, but I didn’t know why. Now I do. A “resource” is something to be used (or not) and then tossed aside. A “resource” is not something that might cause you to change deeply held beliefs or to re-evaluate your practice. A “resource” is not challenging. If teachers see us as “resources” or “support” people, they will not understand the work we are trying to do or how we fit into the school’s vision and purpose.

By making observations, stating their point of view, and inquiring into practice, coaches erode stagnant practice and unchallenged routines to spark analysis, reflection, and appropriate change. In this role, a coach is not about change for change sake, but rather for continuous improvement and fine-tuning to meet clearly articulated goals. (p. 13)

All too often it feels like teachers view technology as yet another swing in the pendulum of education, something they have to adopt because it’s the “cool new thing,” but not because they really believe in the impact it can have on student learning. It’s reassuring to me to see that other instructional coaches face this same dilemma.

One of the most difficult conversations that seems to come along frequently in technology is when teachers want to replicate what they always do (for example, a poster) “on the computer” because it will look cooler to the parents (or to their administrators) – not because of the potential that technology might have to offer. I’m thinking that effective questioning strategies, as part of coaching heavy, are what can move the conversation along from substitution to transformation. I’m also wondering if distributing a LOTI survey can help begin to plant the seeds in teachers’ minds about the different levels of technology implementation?

Final Thoughts

Once again, I am impressed by the value of looking at other, more established, fields in education to understand more deeply and improve my practice in the area of technology facilitation. Considering we’re only on the first chapter of the book, I’m sure coaching is going to provide a lot of room for growth!

Student Blogging Guidelines

Cross-posted on the Tech Learning Advisors Blog

Only one month into the new school year and almost every middle school student has their own blog hosted at ISB (plus all of our grade 5s, and quite a few high school students)!

Thanks to our fantastic middle school Humanities and Modern Language teachers, who spent their class time helping students create their own blog, we are off and running in record time! In fact, the process was so easy that almost all of our students had their blogs set up before we formalized our student blogging guidelines. So last week, I met with the Humanities department (and other interested teachers) to determine a set of basic guidelines for our students.

To get us started, we took a look at the blogging guidelines our elementary students developed last school year during their first experiences blogging. Interestingly, the guidelines our grade 4 students created last year were just as applicable to middle (and high) school as they were for elementary. We ended up using almost all of the guidelines from last year, with just a few minor re-phrasing issues and consolidation.

Given that the elementary students created these guidelines after a series of thoughtful lessons and meaningful class discussions, we see these them as prompts for deeper dialogue across classes, not simply a list of rules to follow. In order to help students make the best decisions, we’ve also followed each guideline with a question (also developed by our elementary students last year) they can ask themselves before they hit publish.

Here’s what we came up with:

Student Blogging Guidelines

As a student blogger at ISB, you are expected to follow these blogging guidelines below. Use the questions in italics to help you decide what is appropriate to post on your blog.

1. Only post things that you would want everyone (in school, at home, in other countries) to know.
Ask yourself: Is this something I want everyone to see?

2. Do not share personal information.
Ask yourself: Could someone find me (in real life) based on this information?

3. Think before you post.
Ask yourself: What could be the consequences of this post?

4. Know who you’re communicating with.
Ask yourself: Who is going to look at this, and how are they going to interpret my words?

5. Consider your audience and that you’re representing ISB.
Ask yourself: Do I have a good reason/purpose to do this?

6. Know how to give constructive feedback.
Ask yourself: What will I cause by writing this post?

7. Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
Ask yourself: Would I want someone to say this to me?

8. Use appropriate language and proper grammar and spelling.
Ask yourself: Would I want this post to be graded for proper grammar and spelling?

9. Only post information that you can verify is true (no gossiping).
Ask yourself: Is this inappropriate, immature or bullying?

10. Anytime you use media from another source, be sure to properly cite the creator of the original work.
Ask yourself: Who is the original creator of this work?

Commenting Guidelines

As a blogger, you will be commenting on other people’s work regularly. Good comments:

  • are constructive, but not hurtful;
  • consider the author and the purpose of the post;
  • are always related to the content of the post;
  • include personal connections to what the author wrote;
  • answer a question, or add meaningful information to the content topic;
  • follow the writing process. Comments are a published piece of writing.

Final Thoughts

I’m so impressed with the depth of thought shown by our elementary students! Being able to start this conversation with our middle school teachers using resources developed by 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students, clearly demonstrates that even our younger students really do understand both the power and the responsibilities of communicating to a global audience.

It’s also great to see that our ISB21 team vision of developing enduring understandings that are not grade-level specific, but rather provide a through-line for all divisions, has helped us focus on the bigger understandings and mindsets that students really will need to carry with them from year to year.

When discussing blogging safety and responsibility with the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders last year, we did it in such a way that what they came up with were skills and essential questions that would help digital students no matter what grade level they’re in.

Once again, I’m reassured that elementary school is the place to begin this kind of dialogue so that we can provide a solid foundation for 21st century learning that students can continue to build upon year after year.

These guidelines have now been adopted by our elementary and high schools as well, so that we have a common expectation for all students at ISB, no matter what the age or grade level.

It will certainly be interesting to see what develops at all grade levels now that all of our students have their own blog hosted at ISB. We’re hoping that these blogs become their digital portfolio for their entire time with us. Being able to track their growth and learning over the years will be such a powerful tool for the students, teachers and parents.

Does your school have common guidelines for student blogging? What do they include? Are we missing anything here?