Friday, November 18, 2016

Collaboration Nation

There are so many web tools out there that have educational value, are easy to work with, and are fun and engaging for students.  Students love the interaction with the computer.  Whether it’s a laptop, a touch-pad or a phone device, more and more interaction on these devices is becoming the norm.

What makes the difference, however, is whether or not the devices are being used as a way to occupy students’ “free time” in the classroom or for the early finishers, or used as reward for various things.  I put the words “free time” in quotes on purpose…I don’t believe in teachers giving students “free time” where there is supposed to be instruction or practice of newly learned objectives.  I am OK with the use of devices for early finishers, as long as it’s not to play some type of Arcade Game.  Having students earn time to work on devices should go hand in hand with past, present or future learning, and in an organized manner.  I like to call them ACD’s…or Activity Choice Days…but, I digress.

Since so many districts across the country have gone to a one-to-one system, where every student has their own device, doing their own work, research and projects.  I think it is more important than ever to teach them how to work together.  Expanding the number of devices is great, but let’s not lose the collaboration skill that we worked on so diligently before all of these devices became a part of our daily school activities.

Fortunately, there are tools out there that that have plenty of ways to share and collaborate.  Without trying to name all of them, for fear of not mentioning a good one that folks out there use and endorse, I will share the one we have made use of in our district.  We have the Microsoft Office 365 package. There are so many Apps in the O365 suite that allow for collaboration.  Just recently, a teacher asked me to help her in the classroom with having students create a group project.  Working and planning with the teacher, we shared the tools, created the groups, decided on the basic parameters of the project, and created the rubric.

We hoped the small groups would work together and figure a way to collaborate thoroughly on the project without us telling them exactly how…since some of the work would have to be done at home, meaning working independently…or did it?  Because of the previous work we’d done with Office 365, one student in the first class of the day, asked out loud if they could create their project and share it with each other using O365.  We were thrilled and told them ‘Certainly.”  It caught on like wildfire.  Those that were very comfortable with how to make this happen, readily helped all of the other groups get on board to collaborate online as well.  Watching this “help” session was so fulfilling, seeing them excited to lend a hand to their fellow classmates.  Leaving the classroom and mingling in the halls, the news spread quickly, and all of the classes for the rest of the day wanted to follow suit.

So now these students are working online, working as a group at school, working independently at home, yet working together online on a “live” project.

Because of the way this teacher was open to letting the students work in groups, and be innovative thinkers, they became a “Collaboration Nation.”

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