Introducing TeachersConnecting.com

Introducing: TeachersConnecting.com

(Welcome Video)

Have you ever wanted to find a partner for collaboration between classrooms? Is there more to finding a collaboration partner then just your grade level, or geographic location? These are a few of the questions and concerns that I explored when creating this website. The website is the product of a different type of research that focused on answering my questions through the design process. The result is a website that connects teachers for cross-classroom collaboration. The website drew heavily from the connectivism learning theory and has been informed by academic literature about collaboration, constructivism, and connectivity. The design process included feedback from a development panel of non-teaching and teaching members from different nations, continents, and perspectives. The design platform, Drupal, also greatly influenced the site. I often share that this site is Facebook for teachers, or e-Harmony.com for collaboration partnerships (a more intelligent way to find a collaboration partner).

What this site is:

This website is a virtual convener. It facilitates a ‘handshake’ between teachers interested in cross collaboration project. The comforts in connectivity, constructivism, and collaboration make this ‘handshake’ more intelligent. This virtual convener is based on connecting teachers using more than simply the grade level or location of classrooms.

What this site is not:

This site does not host tools for cross classroom collaboration projects. These tools change fast and are best left to specialists in these areas (e.g., classroom blogging, voice & video conferencing, and real time collaboration on documents, presentations, & spreadsheets). On this site you can find a collaboration partner to use these tools with!

What to do next?

Go to the TeachersConnecting.com.
1) Introduce Yourself:
Register then complete or update your ‘User Profile’ page to introduce yourself to others. Remember to keep updating your profile!

2) Find a Collaboration Partner:
Look for colleagues. Then click on their user name to view their profile, add them as a buddy, and send them a message. Begin a dialogue about how you might work together.

3) Add or Browse Projects:
Plan a cross classroom collaboration project with a person you found. Use the ‘Schedule a Project’ menu item to create a project and sign up for it.
-OR-
Browse for projects in the calendar and sign up!

After the cross classroom collaboration rate the project and leave a comment that reflects on your experiences.

Then Share This Site With Colleagues

The Value of IWBs?

This post is a comment that I made on Wes Fryer’s Speaking of Creativity blog in response to his ideas about SMART Notebook now requiring activation. The ideas of fellow commenter Gary Stager are also referenced. Unfortunately my comment seems to be caught in the moderation loop or has not been approved. Here are my thoughts. I welcome your thoughts.

Wes,

We live in the world of Twitter, Plurk, Drupal, Skype, WordPress, Edublogs, and Voicethread. Do we all listen to the ‘priests chant from’ San Francisco? How do we bring teachers along to use technology with effective pedagogy? Maybe (and just maybe) a classroom computer is being used in the learning environment for the first time, even if it is for instruction. The ability to use a metaphor familiar to teachers, the whiteboard and digital ink, may promote that first use beyond e-mail or report card writing.

Mr. Stager and your characterizations of interactive whiteboards may miss the point. The low handing fruit can also be laptops or any technology. Teaching practices are the issue and teacher’s comfort with technology. Maybe these two elements interact in a strange way. Does one lead to the other? Is there an inverse relationship between teacher technology comfort and promoted teaching practices?

In February 08 the product manager came on our podcast to discuss this issue. The Notebook 10 registration requirement was the source of great debate on the podcast, via email, and even in comments on the show notes. Here is the audio: http://pdtogo.com/smart/?p=131 We have been discussing for 2 years the possibilities of a common interactive whiteboard format. It is called the SMARTBoard Lessons Podcast because of the Kleenex effect but all lessons are released in PDF format as well. The focus is having teachers share lessons and stories of classroom interaction and practice in a fun, informal way.

Underlying this whole discussion are a series of assumptions about value: the valued pedagogy, the valued technology, and the valued platform.

Here was the response from my plurk on the issue.

Please note: A second set of threaded comments on plurk about this post.

Please note as well: In response to the plurk thread I have re-arranged the organization of paragraphs (but have not changed the text). See the original format here.

Photo credit: You Can Do It! by foundphotolj

The Genesis of My Current Research Interests

Initial Student Blog & Online Collaboration Project in 2004/2005

It was June 2005, the last week of school before the summer holidays, and a heat wave had taken hold of the city. The computer lab on the second floor of the school was registering temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius and packed with my class of adolescent students. Instead of the usual comments, drama, and pre-teen behaviour that accompany many grade 7 activities, the students were each focused on their writing and reading assignment. Students were writing blog posts about their 2 days at a local camp for the year end field trip and posting them to an internet site shared by this classroom in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada and a classroom in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. After writing their posts, students entered the other classroom’s section of the site and read each post. After reading students posted comments that explained how that post connected to other text, their own experiences, or the world. In this hot room with stale air eyes were peering into this virtual looking glass, the rhythmic tapping of keyboards accompanied the hum of ceiling fans, and the ticking of the giant clock signified that over an hour had past. The silence masked the intensely social conversation that was occurring. The conversation was not with the student sitting in the chair beside them, this asynchronous conversation was occurring with students sitting half way across North America. Their conversations were within academic parameters. The reading strategy, making connections, had been taught and was now applied.

I experienced cross-classroom that fully engaged my students and myself as a professional. This experience used technology, but led to student interest beyond using technology and instead focused on the social learning opportunities that arose. Since the beginning of my teaching career, I used several recent technological developments in my classroom. In the summer of 2000 I purchased my first Internet address, mrhazzard.com, to set up a classroom website. This website featured student work that was captured and enabled with digital cameras, digital video recorders, interactive whiteboards, publishing software, web design software, concept mapping tools, and blogging software. Each of these tools showed potential and limitations. However, the turning point came when I began to collaborate with another teacher, teaching 2000 km away, that I had met at a conference about interactive whiteboards. This collaboration began as a professional sharing of ideas, and interactive whiteboard files before including our students. My students were engaged in cross-classroom collaboration projects that included reading groups between classrooms, as well as writing and reading assignments on the joint classroom web log, (blog). Students began to display interest as they used technology in the classroom to collaborate with other students but they did not comment on the technology tool.

Students commented on their relationships with members of the other classroom whom they had never met. Comments began to emerge from the students. “We have made friends before we met them (students from the other classroom),” shared one student in Winnipeg. A student in Sarnia mentioned that, “using the blog is just like what we do at night, only we talk about different things.” Anecdotally, this social connection seemed to engage and motive my students. The value of linking classrooms together for cross-classroom collaboration began to crystallize in my professional practice.

Several questions developed through this experience. Why are more classrooms not participating in such cross-classroom collaborations? How do teachers find a collaboration partner if they do not attend a conference with teachers from many countries and geographic regions? What made the collaboration experiences within my career successful? My research explores these questions.

Samples of discussion pages made during online synchronous concept mapping (click to view larger photos):

Literature Circle Online Concept Mapping SheetLiterature Circle Online Concept Mapping Sheet

Videos of the interaction (motion really helps enhance understanding):