Thing13: Exploring the International Jungle

I was struck by the title of the  pre-conference keynote speech given by Professor Stephen Heppell for the 2008 K12 Online Conference – “It Simply Isn’t the 20th Century Any More Is It?: So Why Would We Teach as Though It Was?”. As I listened to Prof. Heppell reminisce about the early days of the internet and his first foray into online learning experiences with children, one comment in particular struck me. He had connected primary students, secondary students, and scientists through email and chat and watched as all parties learned from the experience. He said that this extraordinary experience would not have been successful without teachers – not teachers providing learning,  but teachers provoking learning by asking probing questions and thereby guiding the learning taking place. What a profound idea.

Prof. Heppell’s story of the experiences of these students (in the late 1990’s no less) got me thinking. One of the projects I want to develop for this year is the global collaboration of my engineering students with the students in Bangladesh for whom they will be developing alternatives for reliable energy, clean water, and sanitation resources. My thoughts have been, how can I make this happen? I looked through the sessions offered and found “Connecting Classrooms Across Continents: Planning and Implementing Globally Collaborative Projects” by Kim Cofino and Jen Wagner, along with their accompanying Wiki, Globally Connected Project. What a wealth of information!

The presentation provided a clear road map for developing a global project, beginning with the initial connection with another teacher (or teachers) to planning, implementing, and assessing the project. The accompanying wiki provides a wealth of resources and ideas to help teachers get started.

I also found it interesting that the K12 Online Conference  used Essential Questions, part of the Understanding by Design (UbD) process by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.  Kim Cofino and Jen Wagner used UbD to outline the steps for developing an online collaborative project. This was interesting for me for a couple of reasons. One, I’m familiar with and have used UbD in the past; two, I’m currently taking a PBS Teacherline class on curriculum mapping and in the process of writing essential questions for my Honors Pre-Calculus class; and three, UbD is the premise for the unit plans I am developing for all of my classes. Quite a coincidence.

I am now at a crossroads. Which path should I take as I explore the many options and opportunities for global collaboration? Which tools will be the right ones to use? Which resources will best guide my decisions? How do I decide? To quote the immortal Yogi Berra: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it!” I think I will.

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