Green Up – Presentation or Conversation?

I was talking with Lauren tonight about the Green Up Project. This project was designed while Lucy and I were at the New Tech Foundation Workshops back in July. We set out back then to create a project that targeted digital literacy, as well as the Geography and English outcomes (standards).

I wanted to push students into a discourse community, and was really interested to see what that would look like. I chose a Ning to create it, but then we could have used something else. We planned from the outset that this project would include the entire grade of 160 students in one project – rather than three classes working on the same project, but not connected in any social way online.

This was the first project that Lucy and I had designed – and was greatly supported by Sac, the Geoography teacher, who has an amazing, calm, collected and connected empathy with students.I think that Lucy and Sac thought the idea of the project was crazy. Certainly the other schools at the New Tech Workshops were thinking and saying it.

The project had some ideas in it that I thought were really important.

  • Teaching students to start working as independent writers
  • Building an online extension of the classroom collaboration
  • Being able to support and mentor students – after school in a virtual classroom
  • To scaffold and build a reflective writing process
  • To expose the ‘true’ underlying ‘literacy of students’
  • To make the ‘tech mastery’ low – but interesting enough to engage students
  • To bring in teachers from my PLN to act as student mentors
  • To give students a sense of global audience when presenting their learning
  • To evaluate a discourse communities effectiveness in transforming learning in a short time frame.
  • Can students read a political blog, learn content and then apply that learning to reply to the political blog in a mature and relevant way.

So back to the start of this post. I was talking to Lauren about ‘curriculum’ and she asked me what my school role is. My role is Head of Information Technology – which supposedly has no official connection to curriculum. I am supposed to be liason office between the school and the Catholic Education Office IT Department, and assisting teachers with ‘technology support’.

But here we are replying and talking to students most evenings online. But it’s not me at all. Its lots of people who daily give me feedback, ideas, support and inspiration. Some I occasionally ‘talk to’, others I talk to all the time. But that is what makes a project like this possible.

Without bringing people like Lauren, Sue, Angela, Judy, Jeff, Ewan, et al into the group, dropping them right in the middle of the action – I would not have learned as much as I did in a few weeks and neither would the students.

It takes a lot of effort to manage a collaboration on this scale – but that is what the students liked so much – it was on a massive scale, and so there was always a new post, a new comment or new video to look at. Just like developing a PLN for teachers, doing it for the students added a significant change to the learning.

It is fitting then that today a group of students did their final presentation. We Ustreamed the event – and again, the people in the PLN repeated the Tweet, and helped in the set up stage testing the stream, Skype etc. So I don’t think that I’m ever working alone – and neither are the students.

While there was an in-room panel of pundits to watch – the real power of the event was that the students were so very aware that they we’re online and publishing their digital reputation. They did a fantastic job.

Reece showed how his group used Second Life to explain and demonstrate their project. Student showed how they used Animoto and Sony Vegas to create a video to discuss the issues. Students had rehearsed (some better than others) their presentation – and were so nervous. While all this was happening, the back channel gave comments and support – and Jeff (who’d done a full day, plus a parent evening in Great Falls MT) – was chatting to students, which really settled them and brought home just how global education can be. Jeff is an amazing guy – the kind of teacher I really want my kids to spend time with and would fill my school with (if I had one).

If you haven’t checked out his blog – go drop in and give him your support, he’s making some great changes in his school – and once again, like many, he’s doing it for the kids, not because it’s his job

So this project stated with an Englishman a Fijian and Australian. During the life of it, the students were taught by Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, a German and a Scotsman. (and the teacher in the classrooms).

It was so fitting then, that the presentation was streamed to the people who have been giving up their time to offer advice and support for the last few weeks – it was really important to us to have your there.

Anyone can sign up for a Ning and make kids join it. The ‘shift’ happens when a project is designed to achieve much more than that. The was no way when we planned it, that we could ever imagine how much the students would get out of it, how much advocacy they would show for their own learning and how quickly they raised the bar in their skills. This is not because I am ‘good at IT’ or ‘know about computers’ – it’s because those driving the project understand that the tools are useless unless they are connected to a conversation.

That’s the message in the photo.

You might be in the same room as others, but the conversation is usually somewhere else – but almost certainly it is digital.

Its is so hard to explain to people how important this is to the success in the classroom. Making a Ning does not create anything new, unless you not only understand how technology can change learning and are participating in it.

My concern is that people mistake the technology used as being the key factor in it’s success. That is wrong. It is that the technology that connected people and shifts the curriculum itself.

Signing up a class on Ning does none of that. It is far more complex than that. Im not sure how to articulate that …

The final thing I’m going to post on this is a Podcast with Lucy and some of the kids. We’re now moving onto another project – that is again designed to shift the kids enthusiasm and skills to a higher level.

4 thoughts on “Green Up – Presentation or Conversation?

  1. Thank god !! (well you are a Marist school) you have posted about students once again not about technology. This project is one of the best examples I have seen of a student/teacher/community learning dialogue. Anyone can do blogging or do wikis or do nings but not many can make them powerful and actually work. Congratulations to yourself and Lucy for remembering that edtech has a ED at the start for a reason.

    If the task wasn’t rich and there wasn’t depth to the learning it would have been the equivalent to any other project regardless of the tools that are used. This links back to a few of my posts in my blog which talk about how tech integrators will never be taken seriously until they have input, collaboration and feedback into the curriculum, that is afterall where mindset is and should be, not with the tools but with the students and the learning.

    On a personal note and I am going to post this on the ning thanks to your students for taking the risk in allowing “outsiders” to critique, give feedback and converse with them. I know that as a presenter it is a bloody hard job and I am not sure I could have done it as a teenager. I have learnt an amazing amount from the project about Westmead, giving feedback and about myself as a writer. I saw an amazing progression in these students and one couldn’t help but wonder whether their own writing was improving at such a rate. In the “adult” blogosphere you do not get many comments about your style of writing and I kind of thought it would be a valuable thing. I may invite some of your greenup crew to critique me…

    Watching the project tonight made me wonder howmany teachers would have done as well as these students? I am not sure I would have been as creative in my presentation but I think if I get an invite to another one of yours’ and Lucys’ projects I may ask to be a student as well as a guest just to practice what I preach.

  2. Please congratulate your students who presented today. They showed great creativity using a variety of technology and despite a few minor hiccups, the presentations went very well. I thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration shown by the students who presented and their knowledge of the local area was easily seen in their question and answer sessions with the panel. Again well done to all, those in front of the TV and those working behind the scenes as well.

  3. Dude…you shouldn’t talk about me like that…head will get big like wife…

    By watching and listening to you, Angela, Tasteach, Jude, Lucy, and your students, I believe this teacher was learning as much or more than anyone involved in that project so…you are a great teacher…Network + me is powerful…someone told me once…PLN makes sense to me now…

    Thank you…

  4. Wish I could have seen them presenting to the minister — tight deadlines and work just didn’t allow for me to get away. I think what you’re doing is fantastic and am so impressed with the quality of the work the kids are producing and the depth of their learning.

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