Tag Archives: fcp

Wrapping Up Flat Classroom Certification

I remember the first experience I had with Vicki Davis and Julie Lyndsay. It was the first NetGenEd Project, a couple of years ago. I have even written about it a few times. It all started when a couple of administrators had asked me if I would be interested in participating in a Flat Classroom Project. To be honest, I am not sure that they thought my application would be accepted. I am glad to say that it was the beginning of a valuable professional relationship with two of the busiest women I know.

Still, in the school where I work, I was the teacher that would most likely have the desire to do something as progressive and outside-the-box in my classroom. Also, with a background in edtech, I also have the strength of will to persevere through the inevitable obstacles that would lay along the path of participating in a globally collaborative project that leveraged so many Web 2.0 tools. They were right, I am glad to say, and I was accepted. Better still, it began a valuable professional relationship with two of the busiest women I know.

Since then I have done another project, that time the original Flat Classroom variety, and now intend on it being an annual part of my practice. Yet, one one of Vicki’s statements has stuck with me from the very first teacher orientation meeting, “The thing about working on the bleeding edge is sometimes you bleed.” That sentiment was all that I needed to get hooked, because that is where I wanted to be, asking my students to take big risks, solve complex and messy problems, and sort out more of the meaning and value after some immersive wayfinding that provided no tidy, easily found answers. I want them to do some scholarly pioneering. Thus, being a member of the first Flat Classroom Certification course has mirrored that desire, as well as being a valuable peek behind the curtain of how the wild ride is built from the ground up.

Participating in a globally collaborative project that has been designed by someone else, with a set of criteria, expectations, and assessment strategies, is an entirely different experience than building one. This course peeled back the finish of all the Flat Classroom flavors and showed the how they were built and why. Then we participants were asked to begin building our own.

The process of designing a globally collaborative project is no small task. Defining a problem or topic that is accessible around the world requires a kind of depth and breadth of vision and awareness that not as altogether common. It crosses disciplinary, as well as geographic, boundaries. Teachers designing and operating in this new unbound educational space need to be both generalists and specialists. More than anything though, they need to be expert learners, modeling an openness, curiosity, and cultural sensitivity, not to mention a facility with the technology tools that have flattened our world.

As onerous as designing a project modeled on the Flat Classroom approach can seem, the course provides a scaffold for meeting the challenge. More importantly, the course was a constant reminder to me that building, and even managing projects of this nature, is a recursive, iterative process. It is truly rooted in a design ethos. Prototyping ideas, testing them, assessing, revising, collaborating, expanding the network of connections, revising more are all aspects of “flattening” and expanding a classroom through designing a project.

Picking up on the notion of collaboration, this course allowed the participants to instantly become part of a Personal Learning Environment and Network. In so doing, all of the teachers involved are actively modeling precisely the kind of learning and practices that global collaborative projects like the Flat Classroom Project demand. Just being a participant offered a platform for collaboration, and collaboration by its nature is a recursive and iterative process, sharing and building on the sum of the course’s parts.

Coinciding with the drafting of their forthcoming book, Vicki and Julie continued their vivid efforts to make their groundbreaking work even more transparent then they are already wont to do. They share because their vision is broad and deep, and their evangelism holds a sincere recognition that they cannot be agents of change alone. Connecting classrooms around the globe and promoting collaborative efforts of inter-cultural synthesis requires an ever-growing network of like-minded educators. This course provides the seedbed for that network to take root and grow. While this course is only one of many efforts, the community of educators that has begun developing has fostered relationships that will remain long after completing the course. I encourage anyone that has the opportunity to take it to do so.

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More Thoughts on Global Collaborative Projects

My first genuine global collaborative project was the inaugural NetGenEd Project, a version of the Flat Classroom Project. I have previously reflected on that a couple of times, but it proves to be a milestone teaching experience. There was something really thrilling about being part of something much bigger than a single classroom or even a single school for that matter.

It was a fast and furious experience that took a lot of time for the students to make any sense of it. To be honest, it took some time for me to make sense of it too. One thing I discovered, I am considerably more comfortable with a certain degree of chaos then my students are. Consequently, as I reflect on some of the essentials of designing a global project, I find myself returning to Vicki Davis’ Five Phases for Flattening Your Classroom. Being a participant in a project someone else has developed and cultivated through several iterations is one thing designing my own is another.

Of course, I am very keen on developing a MOOC for NWP and continuing to work on that idea, it is rooted in teacher professional development. It is not a student project.

I do have a few ideas for student projects. Principally, I have been working with some colleagues that also teach grade 9 English in developing a project. It is has a bit of an odd history, as the a now retired Technology Integration Specialist was encouraging me to leverage my Flat Classroom Project experience in looking Thomas Friedman’s follow-up Hot Flat and Crowded. I think she figured that I would rope the others into something that would span the ninth grade, that was interdisciplinary but had literacy as a central hub. There were a lot of disconnected threads in the original discussions, but the others were game to try something. Yet, I am not sure that they are ready to invite the world in just yet.

Like I mentioned, throwing  students into the global collaborative environment that already exists is a bit easier, like working with a safety net. However, it is completely conceivable that we could plan this project to operate clearly in Phase Two – Interconnection, within our school and the entirety of grade nine. Even if ever other teacher is not quite ready for that, I could certainly map out a team matrix and have my three sections commingled with teammates outside of their own section. This seems like a really valuable step to prove to the others that it can be done and is not necessarily the most difficult thing to plan. Of course they might be willing, I have only broached the topic at this point. We are still kind of in preliminary planning stages.

What is emerging, however, is a project that will be rooted in themes Friedman addresses in Hot, Flat, and Crowded, with that text functioning in a more supplementary role. Thanks to fellow classmate Honor Moorman, who tipped me off on the title, we will use What Matters more as a primary text, since there is great thematic crossover but in a much more appropriately accessible text for fifteen year-olds. It will leverage the core Flat Classroom Project pedagogical outcomes, a collaborative research and writing product and an individual multimedia artifact. We still have a fair amount of planning to do and I am definitely in a kind of sales mode about it, but it looks like it will happen. Once it takes root then with some iterative steps we can open it up to the possibility of some outside collaborators and continue developing the project.

Reviewing the Flat Classroom Pedagogy & Structure

In reviewing the Flat Classroom Project wikis, I was struck by how much has changed even since I first participated with a class. The projects keep evolving and improving, but they also seem to be getting increasingly complicated. I raise this point because there is an inherent complexity to the nature of the Flat Classroom Project, no question about that. However, complexity should never be confused with complicated. Complexity is desirable, challenging and invigorating for students. Complicated is undesirable, labyrinthine and confusing for students. As the scale of these projects continue to grow, there needs to be safeguards to limit how complicated the project gets while preserving its complexity. Of course this is easily said than done, but seems well worth pursuing. Nevertheless, the benefits continue to far outweigh any drawbacks.

Since first participating, I have thought that the central pedagogy of the Flat Classroom Project, a collaborative group wiki and a primarily individually student produced video, was a genius pairing of tasks. Still do. In fact, I have convinced my own team of ninth grade teachers of its merits, and we are developing a stripped down localized riff on the same premise, collaborative video and individual video.

As an English teacher these projects offer a lot of different kinds of composition opportunities, text, multimedia, individual, and collaborative. Very few, if any, projects provide the volume of opportunities in the a single project. Add to that the exposure to the number of tools, students are asked to think deeply about a range of issues related to producing multiple demonstrations of their understanding about a topic. The must engage in a substantial amount of reading, writing, and viewing as they conduct research. There is a fundamental inquiry disposition. In turn, there are significant demands to synthesizing the information gathered. Ultimately, creating two separate but related products.

The wiki component, which is primarily text based, requires understanding the rhetorics of hyperlinking, citation and referencing sources, as well as rich media content integration. These requirements, while rooted in traditional text-based composition practice, call for more than traditional research paper assignments and even eclipse many multi-genre research assignments. Combine this with the collaborative nature of the product development and there are multiple opportunities for deep and varied skill development as well as differentiation.

One of the other less obvious strengths of the collaborative wiki is that involves writing, but it is writing that is situated in such a way that it demands conversation among participants and involves a significant degree of explicit and implicit negotiation. It also provides a challenge to certain traditional notions of authorship, which present a variety of choices to each individual writer participant. All are supremely authentic writing experiences. Moreover, without a single individual being responsible for all creation, each individual can contribute their strengths and continue to develop areas of weakness. This outcome can be strengthened through direct observation and interventions as well as the design of the assessments.

The video component, which is primarily visually based, requires understanding of basic design principles, grammar of motion pictures, as well as a host of audio and visual production techniques. These requirements, rooted in media composition practice that is both old and new, call for far more than levels of communication than a typical written assignments and inherently furnish interdisciplinary connections. Creating a multimedia artifact is primarily an individual task, with the exception of an outsourced clip, extends opportunities for varied and differentiated levels of production experience.

The less obvious strength of the video is also related to writing. However, this is the digital writing, for lack of a better phrase. Many, if not all, elements of authorial skill and craft are at play in the development of a multimedia artifact. It provides technical challenges that also present a number of choices to the creator. Plus, the task begs for the employment of documentary techniques, which mirror development of traditional text-based essay but renders a richer, more expressive product. It is the more independent task of the two and allows for greater individuality of expression and assessment.

Together these core aspects of the project are a rare combination of products to accompany the completion of a project. For one, most projects render a single product. Additionally, most projects lead to a product that is either an individual achievement or the result of a group effort.  The Flat Classroom Project affords a lot of economy of instruction, where multiple wide-ranging demands, result in deep engagement with higher order thinking skills and involve two separate demonstrations of understanding.

One area that does warrant systematic and frequent review is the number of tools that are necessary for full participation in the project. This is where the projects can grow more complicated than complex. Of course part of what drives the various versions of The Flat Classroom Project is a commitment to Web 2.0 tools. Additionally, the projects encourage participants to develop their own personal learning environments. As a result, an ecology of Web 2.0 tools can play apart in both the administration and participation of the project.

Within this ecology there are both critical features and unnecessary redundancies. Add to this the individual preferences of each teacher and class full of participants and suddenly the list of potential tools used grows pretty long. This can at times hinder more than enhance productivity and can lead to a certain degree of fatigue, especially regarding inter-project communication. It also tends to be at the main intersection of confusion for students.

Considering there is only so much that can be accomplished within the given time frame of the projects, it is critical that each potential new tool must be examined closely and pass a high critical threshold before being folded into the project. It is particularly important for organizers to demonstrate a circumspect restraint. Choices about additional tools that individual classes or students self-select is and should remain free and open. It is primarily in the list of tools needed for teachers to administrate and students to fully participate that needs to stay as lean as possible.

I do think that the forthcoming Flat Classroom book may well provide enough prerequisite understandings for any teachers contemplating participation. Yet the pace of change in Web 2.0 tools will always necessitate some vigilance in this aspect of the projects.

Still, one of the greatest virtue of The Flat Classroom Project is the pedagogical framework. it is flexible and can easily be modified to suit many purposes and has a certain degree of overall content neutrality, while promoting progressive methods of technology integration and skill development.