Putting the Magic in Education with Collaboration

Teaching is a tough profession. Today, in a world overflowing with technology and opportunities to be a connected educator, we make the choice to be isolated.  Collaboration allows for teachers to bring back the magic and energy in teaching!

This year I have learned what it really means to be a connected educator.  Working with teachers around the world has allowed me to see a whole new side of connecting.

My favorite teacher to collaborate with this year has been 4th grade teacher, Rachel Card.  I had an opportunity to talk to Rachel at my first Ed Camp.  In November of 2014, we both attended the Blue Water Ed Camp, and found huge success in the format.  Collaboration and brainstorming was immediately in the works.

Fast-forward two months.  Rachel and I were both involved in the #Miched chat one Wednesday evening.  Somehow something another teacher said got us both on the track of thinking about Genius hour.  When Rachel mentioned that her 4th graders would be participating in Genius hour this spring, I wondered what it would be like for our students to have the opportunity to collaborate while doing the project.  I remember the idea of having “penpals” popped into my head.  She had a few fantastic ideas about how we could structure it using Kid Blog, and truly had a vision of what this could look like.  The new found energy that I had was unbelievable.  I could not believe how excited I was to plan a research unit!

Over the next few months, we delivered a spectacular Genius Hour Project to our students.  We took turns creating between 3 and 5 key questions for students to focus on while they would spend time researching over the course of the week.  We used Kid Blog to keep this organized.  It was neat to be able to comment on the other classes’ blog entries.  My students enjoyed giving helpful advice, and serving in more of a mentoring role.

Although, it was not long before the students were aware of how sharp the 4th graders in Mrs. Card’s class are.  These students demonstrated passion, depth in their thinking, technology skills and were very prompt in completing their assignments.  My students learned several things from their blogs as well as finished product.  It was so neat for the students to realize that Genius knows no age.  Students of any level can be innovative in their thinking.  We can each learn something new from another student.

The finished products between both classes were amazing!  Many students created websites and blogs.  A few students chose to do a Prezi or other electronic medium.  Overall, students were able to demonstrate their thinking digitally.

After Genius hour was complete, we decided to continue collaborating.  Our next objective was to find a way to do the Makerspace within the confines of several classrooms.  We started the box challenges in my class.   Once we found a way to be successful within the parameters of both of our classrooms we sent the box challenge through inner office mail.  Students were collaborating and creating things!  It was amazing!  Again, my students got an opportunity to serve in a leadership role with fourth graders.  Seeing students  pour over their textbook trying to find the perfect objective and supporting questions was downright amazing!

After the box challenges, we moved into a large Earth Day assignment.  A full description of what we did is mentioned on the entry Earth Day Makerspace.   The collaboration was extremely helpful.  Rachel pointed out the perfect TED talk to build the perfect frame around our lesson.  Again, amazing results.

After showing a few miscellaneous videos that my students had created to show dept of thinking and voice, we decided to take an article that would allow students to take a stance and respond with evidence.  Both classes read the article, then, one would start by selecting between 3-5 students to identify their position and support it with evidence from the article.  Once a class received the video, they would then use a similar number of students to do a rebuttal based on the claims that were made from the other class.  This activity will continue throughout the remainder of the year and has truly helped my students to develop skills that require close listening and reading.  Aside from working on basic public speaking skills and digital citizenship, students are receiving real world experiences talking about bigger issues that matter. They are using their voice, and realizing what they have to say does matter. They are realizing the proper way to discuss a controversial issue.  Students have been working hard to create objective responses that in no way target the individual making the claim that they disagree with.

You tube, imovie and Twitter allowed us to connect and constantly share what we were working on back and forth.  To top off the experience and be able to collaborate with even more teachers, we  submitted a proposal to speak about our projects at the 21st Century Conference in the fall, and were accepted. It is neat to think about the journey we have taken to get to this point.  Collaboration has removed the walls in our classrooms.  We are serving a much bigger purpose.  Our students get to see the positive impact we can all make working together.

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