Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How to (Not) Fill a Blank White Page

Working with Ms. MorrisMr. Lindgren-Streicher, and Mr. Thomasson back in August and similar in concept to Google's 20% time projects, the Blank White Page Project was conceived as a way to connect students and teachers through questioning and self-directed learning. While we are implementing this within the confines of the continental US, this project could be adapted to include classrooms around the globe.

The Process

  1. The class discusses types of questions and students make a list of questions they have always wondered about. The questions should be open-ended and require research and creativity to answer. 
  2. One of the teachers in the group creates a Google form for recording and a Google site for housing the questions. 
  3. Students go to the BWP site and record their questions.
  4. The teacher moves the questions entered by his/her students on the Google form to the various categories on the BWP site.
  5. Students return to the site and peruse the questions, choosing one to answer. 
  6. Students create "an answer" to the question, share it with the teacher, and the teacher posts it to the site. Answers can be in any form as long as they address the question.

Students can complete the BWP project individually or in groups comprised of members from their own school or elsewhere. Using Edmodo, Twitter (#BWP12), Skype or Google Hangouts, students can collaborate on creating and sharing answers. This process can be continually repeated throughout the year and additional teachers and classes can be added to the site. Additional participants could be found via networking on Twitter with other educators-- just pop into a #flipclass chat on Monday nights-- or via posting a request to one of the communities on Edmodo. I've met teachers online from all over the country, Canada, and Australia, many of whom are interested in connecting their classes.


Since this is project based learning, students could be scored with rubrics on the use of technology and creativity and effort in answering the chosen question. Self evaluation and reflection is also an important piece of the assessment process.  Students could also be additionally evaluated on their communication skills and ability to collaborate. The objective is for students to take ownership of their learning, so they should "own" the grade, not the teacher.


MY Implementation Issues

This has really been bothering me. I was so excited to begin this project (and I STILL AM excited to continue it), but I have met with some set-backs this year that have impeded the process and participation. I'm very frustrated by these set backs and not being able to better connect with the other teachers and classes.

  1. "Hey guys, wait for me!" Not all schools are on the same schedule. My collaborative colleagues began classes in August, and my school year did not begin until after Labor Day in September. I was the last one in the group to get my students started. Between mandatory diagnostic testing and getting the school year rolling, I wasn't able to get started on BWP until mid-September, a full month and a half behind the other participants. 
  2. "We can't get in the computer lab today."  While we have computer labs, media centers, and now a solid wi-fi infrastructure for BYOD in my district, we are not as far along with integrating technology on a daily basis in the classroom as compared to a 1:1 district. I am bound by scheduling constraints and access to the computers themselves. We have 6 computer and mobile labs for 2000+ students right now and students' home access is inconsistent.
  3. "What's a Google Site?"  I may be a MS Word wizard, but I haven't earned my wings yet flying through the cloud.  I didn't learn about Google Sites and how to create Google Forms until this summer and, other than using Microsoft programs, my students have also had limited exposure to technology in the classroom. This September was the first time many of my students have filled out a Google Form. My district is on the cusp of emerging from a ground-based school to one in the clouds as more teachers integrate web 2.0 tools in the classroom, and (after much delay) we are finally becoming a Google school and students will have their own Google Drive and access to collaborative apps. We are all learning as we go! 
  4. "We got walloped by a hurricane."  Seriously, walloped. I was all set three weeks ago to get students started on answering questions for BWP, and then we got hit by Hurricane Sandy and school was closed for two weeks to be an evacuation shelter for our regional community. Numerous teachers and students were and currently are displaced and the past week has been about the recovery efforts and supporting the community. I can't complain about a change in plans considering the circumstances. 

Thinking Ahead

For any collaborative project that extends beyond the bounds of the physical classroom, teachers need to consider the following logistics: 

  • Infrastructure: Does the school/classroom have the ability to connect to others? Does the school have available technology for completing the project and staying in contact?
  • Timing: How will the school calendars and schedules hinder communication and the process?  What are the timelines for the project?
  • Participants: Are all participants on the same page? Do all have the same expectations? Are all participants able to give the same level of commitment?  

If I've had issues on a national-scale, these could be compounded when applied to a global project. It is important to be proactive and prevent issues from occurring so that the project will be a success. I want the BWP to be a success because I know that it is a valuable self-directed project for my students, as well as myself. So, after much delay, we are ready to move ahead.

We all have so much to learn! 

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because your would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions." 
- Rainer Maria Rilke

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