Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Getting It Done in Hannibal, MO

Please meet us in Elluminate at 10:00 Pacific on July 24 for a tour of project teacher Terry Smith's classroom. This event is held in conjunction with the Reinventing Project-Based Learning Summer Course at University of Oregon, instructor, Jane Krauss. Find the event here and click on "event" to join the session. We look forward to meeting you there! Links to Terry's window on the world are found here on the course wiki.

Getting Off the Starting Blocks

During a poster session in the Global Gallery at NECC, I met a teacher who said she was eager to get her students involved in collaborative global projects. I talked up a few spectacular examples, describing just how far students can go when given the opportunity. But she was stuck on the starting blocks. “How do you find partners on the other side of the world?” she wanted to know. I told her about the Flat Classroom Project and several other wonderful collaborations that have grown out of the edublogging world, where like-minded teachers frequently connect. “I don’t have time to read blogs,” she said, then launched into a list of the many other demands on her day.

Making global collaboration easier for busy teachers is one of the goals of ePals, a free communications platform that includes classroom blogs, email, and other tools to foster connections. It’s the largest online community in K-12 education, with some 13 million students and teachers participating in 200 countries. Ed Fish, CEO of ePals, describes his strategies for getting barriers out of the way in this Spiral Notebook interview. By making it faster and easier for teachers to find partner classrooms, Fish says he hopes to release educators to focus their energy on the creative side of project design and implementation.

What I find especially powerful about ePals is the translation tool that allows communication among learners who don’t speak the same language. The tool translates text to and from Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, German, Japanese, English, and Chinese. Users pick the language pair that meets their needs. Rita Oates, ePals vice president and a longtime educator, told me that the tool was developed to answer requests from teachers who wanted to be able to overcome language barriers. And it works: ePals participants speak more than 130 languages.

I can’t help wondering why more teachers aren’t taking part in these kinds of online projects. Have you steered clear of global projects because you don’t know how to get started? What help or support do you need to start bringing the world to your classroom?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Trouble in the Flatlands

A decade before Tom Friedman wrote The World is Flat, Canadian teacher Dale Hubert was connecting children around the world through his Flat Stanley Project. “I was building a social network before YouTube or MySpace,” Hubert told me recently as he reminisced about his years in a virtual place he calls "the flatlands."

Through Hubert's grassroots online project, thousands of children from more than 40 countries have made connections—to each other, to literature, and sometimes even to world leaders, astronauts, and movie stars—by exchanging their own paper versions of Stanley Lambchop, the boy squashed by a falling bulletin board in the 1964 book, Flat Stanley.

And now the popular project may be coming to a close due to legal troubles with the estate of Jeff Brown, the late author. I explain the situation in more detail in this story for Edutopia.

It’s too soon to know how the controversy will end, but Hubert is determined to find a way to continue connecting children with the wider world. Already, Flat Stanley is a popular guy on YouTube, Flickr, and countless classroom blogs. Hubert imagines incorporating more Web 2.0 tools to expand the global conversation. And he already has a back-up plan if he can’t keep the current project alive. His goal, as always in the flatlands, will be “authentic and meaningful communication.” Stay tuned.

And So We Begin

I just launched a university course yesterday called (naturally) Reinventing Project-Based Learning. We've had a wonderful start with deep discussion (why projects?) and happy tech adventuring (our own Ning and wiki).
I'm of a mind that people will best understand PBL by experiencing PBL so off we go on a learning adventure that starts with the study of postage stamps and dives straightaway into the ways we transmit ideas over a distance- we'll analyze systems, civics, history, communications, commerce, geography and more.
Think about it (students are)-- Where might a study of postage stamps lead us?