Monday, 27 February 2012

ECC Winter Gathering

A short while ago, students in ECC travelled to Lillooet for our second Elementary Connected Classrooms Gathering of the Year. Each site hosts one gathering a year, and this time the Grade 4/5 class from Cayoosh hosted the event. Travelling between the sites helps to give the students a hint of the community contexts for each site, and an aspect of their community life is highlighted each visit. In October, students travel to Ashcroft for our annual visit to the Desert Hills pumpkin patch, in the winter students look forward to skating and swimming at the Recreation Center in Lillooet, and the year end gathering wraps up in Lytton at the Kumsheen Rafting Resort grounds. These gatherings are an opportunity for students to develop deeper relations with the students they have come to know through videoconferencing, monthly news videos, and moodle work.

The excitement on the bus was palpable the morning of the trip, and my students had been looking forward to this day for a very long time. The travellers were welcomed with giant signs made by the ECC class at Cayoosh and many welcoming faces. Students had a blast swimming, skating,chatting, and taking photos with their ECC counterparts from other sites. Moodle was buzzing with messages about the trip between students for several days.

A great day was had by all!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Learning about community from interrupted learning

Something happened during the ECC lesson today that made me think, made me stop. As it centers on the notion of community, I think it's the perfect way for me to enter into this space. So, get comfy, settle in. Here's my story...

Being Thursday, it was my turn to lead the ECC lesson. I started the lesson on image editing. I was fully 'on' as an ECC teacher. My students were fully in connected mode as well, meaning, for today's lesson anyway, students were sitting at their own desks, netbooks out but not open, listening and showing the respectful quiet needed to allow the audio to go out clearly from my microphone. From the views onscreen, I could see that I had the interest of Lytton and Ashcroft students too. The lesson seemed to be going well.

Twenty minutes into the lesson, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man walk into my classroom. The TA walked with him through to the back of the room preventing an interruption so I continued with the lesson. I didn't know the man, but I didn't stop teaching. I think I paused a little, or maybe tripped over my sentence slightly. It wasn't, however, the man's entrance that tripped me up. It was that I noticed something as I continued to teach, something that made me stop, if only for moment, and pay attention.

What struck me was the students' reaction to the man's arrival. To those students in my room, it seemed an intrusion. His entrance, albeit very respectful, interrupted them. When I noticed their reactions, which were, thankfully, fleeting and respectful, I was reminded of something.

During my graduate coursework last year, an unknown person had walked through the room that my cohort was studying in. Even though no one had said anything to the person, it was obvious from the body language that the person was intruding into our space. Afterwards, my prof had talked about how she was pleased with our reaction. She said that the person seemed an intruder to us, and that our reaction showed her that we had come together as a close community of learners. It wasn't that we were rude or uninviting (we weren't), it was more that we had, by that time, become a solid group and that the unexpected appearance of a stranger in our midst was obvious to us and to anyone watching us. Had we not been such a cohesive group, a stranger walking through would have been just another unknown person, like others in the room.

Let me at this point explain our unannounced guest from today. The man's entrance was not rude, or intentionally interruptive. He was respectful, unobtrusive, and supposed to be there. He was, in actuality, the TOC coming in to cover me so I could have release time to write this blog post. As it was his first time as a TOC in my classroom, he had arrived a bit early which showed, in my opinion, good professional judgement.

Why was this of value to the ECC and our collective learning in this space? What did I learn from this? From the little pause that tugged at my attention at the time?

The TOC's appearance and the students' reactions showed me that we are at this point, indeed, a community of learners in the ECC. When we are fully 'on' in ECC mode, we are a shared community. Unannounced visitors can cause subtle, but noticeable intrusions to our learning environment. The students identify with their peers and other teachers on the screen, people they rarely see face to face and who are so geographically far away, more than an unknown person physically walking into the room.

Furthermore, while students in Lytton and Ashcroft may not have even noticed the TOC arrive today, it was only the quick actions of the TA that saved the disruption from spreading to all sites because you can be sure that if I'd had to speak with him myself, learning in all three classrooms would have been interrupted. Not that we don't experience interruptions in lessons, we do, but they are internal interruptions, created by those of us in the ECC. They are a normal part of our shared community different from an outside interruption into our learning environment.

Even after teaching in the ECC for almost two years, I often wonder about teaching in such an innovative way, about how to create a community of learners in three separate places at once, about how to reach students through a video camera to create a learning relationship that exists only through technology.

Today, for a split second, thanks to an unannounced stranger, it all crystallized into a simple, valuable understanding that makes all the effort, questions, strategies, time and pedagogical stretching worth it.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Online Literature Circles

This past week, we’ve launched our second set of books for our online literature circles. This is always one of my favourite times in Connected Classrooms!

This year, we’ve chose survival as our over-arching theme for this years lit circles. Each time we introduce a new book set, we launch with book talks. Each teacher book talks their three choices for this set during a videoconference, and fields questions about the books. Students are eager to get their hands on the new books, and it’s fantastic to have such genuine excitement for books. The bin has been sitting in my office for a week, highly coveted, and students are keen to begin their new reading adventures.

Students in the project are responsible for responding at least once a week to the deep thinking question their book leader has posted on moodle in their reading forums. During each new set, the teachers each lead and moderate a forum for three books. In many forums, students often begin their own discussion threads, and it has led to some very interesting online conversations. Students work at their own pace; some students finish a book within days and are on to the next, while others may take several weeks. We also offer the option of audio books for many of the books in our book bins, and this makes challenging text accessible to multiple levels of readers.

This set is a combination of decades-old classics, science fiction/fantasy, comedy, aboriginal content and Canadian literature.