Planning and Starting a New Project
Experienced teachers will advise that you and your classroom start by getting involved in an existing project online, rather than trying to start a project of your own. Participating in other projects is a great way to meet other potential partners, and learn about the many different projects initiated by teachers and students throughout the world. It can be a great way to develop ideas for how to integrate collaborative projects into your classroom, without having to take on the role of facilitating the involvement of other classes your first time participating. As you begin participating in other projects, you will soon find that you have global colleagues and peers to turn to should you wish to coordinate a project of your own in the future. In this way, your classroom truly becomes a global community member that can draw on the breadth of a network as your classroom develops throughout the year. And, you will certainly develop ideas about how you would want to structure a project as a facilitator after experiencing at least one yourself.
Once you do feel in a good position to start a new project, a basic model developed early on by Margaret Riel, when she was at the AT&T Learning Network, and now used by many of the projects in iEARN, is that of "Learning Circles." The Learning Circle model may offer a helpful structure for starting a new project. A general overview is provided below, with more detail available in an online Learning Circle Teacher's Guide available at http://www.iearn.org/circles/lcguide/.
A Learning Circle is created by a team of teachers and their classes joined in the virtual space of an electronic classroom. The groups remains together over a period of months working on projects drawn from the curriculum of each of the classrooms organized around a selected theme. At the end of the term the group collects and publishes its work.
Learning Circles promote theme-based project work integrated with the classroom curriculum. Learning Circles also encourage interactions among teachers providing a very different model of professional development.
The Learning Circle Teacher's Guide is organized around the six phases of Circle interaction:
- Getting Ready for Learning Circles
- Opening the Learning Circle
- Planning the Learning Circle Projects
- Exchanging Student Work on Learning Circle Projects
- Organizing the Circle Publication
- Closing the Learning Circle
Additional Resources for Planning and Starting a New Project
Online professional development courses
IEARN-USA offers online teacher professional development courses on integrating collaborative project-based learning into classroom teaching using Internet and technology. The courses bring together K-12 teachers from the U.S. with their peers in other countries who wish to integrate technology into their teaching, using online collaborative projects that meet their local/state/national educational standards. Participants who successfully complete course requirements receive certifications from iEARN and, in some cases, professional development credits from their states' educational bodies.
iEARN Mulimedia Guide provides teachers with a step-by-step
assistance in integrating online collaborative projects into their curricula,
designing new projects, finding partners, and sharing the project outcomes.
Project Planning and Direction.
Includes resources through a list of steps in designing and carrying out a project. Step 1: Choose the curriculum-related goals. Step 2: Choose the activity's structure(s) Step 3: Explore examples of other online projects. Step 4: Determine the details of your project. Step 5: Invite telecollaborators. Step 6: Form the telecollaborative group. Step 7: Communicate! Step 8: Create closure.
Making Networked Projects. An introduction to planning and
conducting your own simple, networked, collaborative-learning projects.
Finding Partners. In general, if you have a project to announce, GSN Project Registry http://www.gsn.org/ is a resource for getting the word out. If you are looking for a classroom on your own then Global Gateway http://www.globalgateway.org.uk/ or ePALS http://www.epals.com are perhaps better places to turn. If you are interested in bringing your new project idea to an existing network of online educators or in joining existing curriculum-based projects, iEARN http://www.iearn.org, http://us.iearn.org is a network of over 20,000 schools in more than 110 countries.
Some Practical Suggestions
Learning to use new tools of technology (email, website publishing, videotaping, and videoconferencing) for local to global curricular collaborative projects requires professional development support and technical support. Teachers who have been successful in doing International collaborations have found that building a support community is essential. No one person can learn to be an active participant in this environment alone.
Start by building collaborative support at your local school level. For professional development, partner with several other teachers in your building who are also interested in International collaborations. Start by getting familiar with using email amongst your classes within your building where you can get together face-to-face to reflect on how your uses and skills at using the Internet are developing, to ask each other questions, and to give each other support. Together you can look to resources for International collaborations to enhance your curricular goals.
As teachers are collaborating online to build International projects, a good starting point is to introduce yourselves to one another through email. As you share your teaching and learning goals, work towards identifying common curricular topics that your students are doing and that they can then share with one another.
It isn't always necessary to generate a new curricular topic in order to do online International collaboration. There are many common topics among elementary age classrooms around the world that can be the focus of local to global collaborations. A valuable place to start is to have your students begin by communicating with global peers on topics they already know well so that the content is something they are familiar with and are eager to share. Children can write best when they are writing about that which they know well. Provide plenty of in-class learning experiences around the curricular topic your class has chosen to share online so that all your students can inclusively be participants in the global conversations. Your students will be better able to contribute meaningful content in their online collaborations if they are communicating from classroom learning that is rich in content and experience.
When communicating online, have your students include not only the topic content they are sharing but also questions of inquiry to their global peers that invite ongoing dialogues. It is important to mentor students in appropriate content for global communication that generates positive interactions. Likewise, as they receive communication from global peers, it is important to respond with an affirmative appreciation for what they are learning from one another. The purpose of local to global communication is to build dialogues of understanding.
Include your school or district support personnel in your collaborative effort so that they can provide technical expertise. Many parents are developing Internet skills at their places of work and can also become valued mentors for you and your teaching colleagues. University Schools of Education are increasingly offering professional development courses online which can help you get started. When starting to connect internationally, it helps tremendously to join an already active network with projects you can join that are lead by experienced teachers.
As you are mentored and become familiar with using the Internet for collaborative curricular projects, you can begin to generate and design projects. Many teachers have found that as they build a community of teachers with whom they can collaborate, they continue to do projects with these same teachers. You and your global teaching peers can develop an ongoing collaborative community of teaching and learning together. As you gain new students each year, you and your online colleagues can repeat the projects you have doing together in previous years and continue to build your local to global collaborative curricular teaching and learning expertise! As we build communities of teachers and students who collaborate globally to learn within real world contexts and issues of importance, we have the greatest hope of making this world a better and more positively sustainable place now and in the future.
By Kristi Rennebohm Franz