Tag Archives: Flat Classroom Certification

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.

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.

Thoughts on an NWP MOOC

One of the charges for my Flat Classroom Certification was to begin designing a project. While I have a couple  of other ideas that have been taking shape in my head, in the last month or so one idea has been taking serious root. So while it is not an exact fit with the course, the instructors were generous enough to allow me to pitch the following as part of the course. It definitely an idea that has taken hold of a lot of my thinking of late, as I investigate it more. I welcome any and all feedback as I continue developing the idea.

Last year began a genuine fascination with the Massive Open Online Class (MOOC) concept, courtesy of George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Despite my better efforts my initial efforts to participate fell short. Regardless the concept was a fascinating one to me. When this year’s Personal Learning Environments Networks & Knowledge MOOC ran, I jumped back into the fray and this time participated more fully. Participating to the end was considerably more satisfying than my previous attempts and it got me thinking about the applications of this new learning model. Additionally, a team including Siemens, Dave Cormier recently released The MOOC Model for Digital Practice wanting to experiment with them.

I would love to try it with my high school English classes, but there are some limitations when working with minors. Plus, it is harder to imagine as many participants being interested in a course geared toward fourteen to fifteen year-olds. Then it ocurred to me that National Writing Project (NWP) might be the best place to experiment with a modified MOOC application.

The National Writing Project already offers an extensive network of educators across disciplines at all levels, early childhood through university. Moreover, the network is comprised of teacher consultants (TCs) that have already experienced the formative Invitational Summer Institute (ISI). However, there are over 200 local sites offering an ISI, which is the official introduction to the network, and beyond that what local sites can offer is considerably uneven, depending on available resources. While all sites offer some kind of follow-up continuity events, these are point of continual struggle for all local sites.

Consequently, my idea is to adapt the MOOC framework for interested NWP TCs. The idea would be to offer a kind of synthesized packaging of some of the work that affiliated NWP channels are already doing into an Advanced Invitational Summer Institute, of sorts, where the invitation to participate is essentially open. While the target audience would really be designed to appeal to existing TCs, already familiar with the NWP model, and looking for another ISI like experience, it could potentially be a way to enlist and introduce new participants to the NWP network, as well as potential international connections.

There are a lot of potential advantages to this approach, it seems to me.

On a fundamental level, the open nature and scale of an effort like this provides an additional means for interested TCs to be involved in the network on their own terms, pursuant to their own personal interest and goals. Of course, this already exists with available resources, but it is only possible through considerable individual effort navigating all of the various NWP channels and initiatives. Not all local sites have the capacity to provide large-scale guidance throgh the deep resources that already exist and are constantly emerging. One of the goals of an effort like this would be to provide some relatively focused guidance and curation for participants navigating and making sense of their journey with them material and resources.

Due to the great diversity in what each local site can offer in addition to the mainstay ISI, it allows TCs who would like to deepen their experience and connections within the network a chance to do that with a grander set of resources and appeal, while still attempting to emulate aspects of the ISI models of professional development. While a virtual experience, another real advantage is the fertile ground that can emerge for cultivating new and interesting connections that may not have previously been a available or known. It is another step toward extending and strengthening the “National” aspect of the network.

Also, being a virtual experience, it would advance and even explore many aspects of teaching the “New Writing” or “Digital Writing,” an area where NWP has been a clear leader in professional development. A MOOC of this kind would then serve as a grander hub of activity, that would build upon and bring together some of the best offerings of NWP, for example like the work that is done in the E-Anthology, Digital Is, Teachers Teaching Teachers, current Initiative strands, in a guided or facilitated way geared more for the “advanced user” but open to anyone interested. It would provide some focused inquiry on elements of NWP work that many TCs might not know exist or don’t yet have a strong grasp until they have made a more concerted effort to investigate.

The benefits would be in the participating. More than that, I see it as a valuable enhancement or enrichment for interested TCs that may not feel as connected. The open invitation has a lot of appeal to me, and the prospect that people outside NWP or even internationals  might participate is a genuinely exciting possibility. With a variety of ways to participate, individuals have enormous flexibility on the amount, degree, and interest in participation. Additionally, it potentially offers an alternative way towards continuity for building capacity on a larger scale that could benefit the local sites where participants are affiliated. The open nature of it also offers potential to not only eliminate geographical boundaries for existing TCs in larger rural states but enrich already existing efforts in those contexts. The potential content and knowledge that an effort like this could create is worthy of investigation, as well as being a potential boon for NWP related activity and awareness.

If anyone else is interested in this idea, I would love to hear your thoughts.