The Sum of the Whole is Greater Than its Parts: A Field Guide to Molching

As the students move towards the end of this year’s collaboration in the Idea Hive, Clarence and I presented our students with the book they wrote together, while living 2 700 km apart. A Field Guide to Molching came into being after we read aloud, via Skype, Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief. Set in the fictional town of Molching, Germany during Hitler’s reign, it’s the story of a little girl’s relationship with her foster parents, friends and neighbours. Filled with humour and heartbreak, the story is told from Death’s point of view.  It opens with a train headed for Molching, the death of Liesel’s brother and a track-side funeral. We knew our students would fall in love with the characters. They did. At the end of the story, the students didn’t want to leave Liesel, Rudy, Max, Rosa, Hans, and Frau Holtzafel – they were connected. Clarence and I chronicled the journey throughout the year.

So what if we traveled to the fictional town of Molching? What would “A Field Guide to Molching” look like? To help them visualize it, Clarence and I showed our students online travel guides. They determined the most relevant people, places and events to write about if  touring this town.

Using Google Docs and its chat room, students signed up for the writing topic of their choice in a google doc. Clarence and I dropped in and out of each chat room doc to give feedback and advice if needed. When we needed advice on the use of images from that era, Rodd Lucier (@thecleversheep) provided guidance. As a final step, the 84 page document was uploaded and published at

By the end of this event, students had learned much about the arduous writing process. I was reminded of the line, “The sum of the whole is greater than its parts.” That’s the big picture. It’s not about marks or report cards. It’s about helping students develop their collaborative learning and shared writing skills. It’s that simple, and that complex.

This week students were presented with the hard copy of “A Field Guide to Molching”. While Clarence and I had planned to Skype during the presentation, Skype had other plans (not) and it wasn’t meant to be. So with our Twitter connection, Clarence and I decided to go ahead. Even though we had told the the students this was the goal, their shock and joy was evident. After receiving their books, students posted their reactions on a web 2.0 tool they’ve become quite comfortable with – linoit. Many of the comments posted focused on how proud the students are of their work and how much they enjoyed writing together with new friends living so far apart.

I feel like an author and it feels good. We should have this book published. I bet people would buy it when they buy the real book to get to know about the town Liesel lives in.  Tanner M.

While we were writing the books there were disagreements and different opinions but at the end everyone was happy and the book turned out good. 😀   Heaven

We should so do something like this again next year for all of the Gr.7s going into Gr.8. I think we should give Mr. Zuzak a tweet about this, see what he thinks!  Tyler P. (great idea  – we’re working on that, Tyler!)

I’m so glad we actually finished… I’m a real writer!  Hailey

If I was ever given the chance to read that book again I would never let it down.   Justin S.

It makes me understand how many hours of hard work it actually takes to accomplish something. One of the things that i enjoyed the most was when we got to think of the ideas for the book and we got to talk to each other in the chat room.  Riley

One of my experiences that was everlasting was the feeling of being very important. Sometimes during the book I would close my eyes and think how good the story was. It was one of the best books that was ever read to me.  Sully

Sully, right back at you!  This has been one of the best teaching experiences that I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in.  Clarence and I have shared this story with Markus Zusak through his Twitter and Facebook account.  With any luck, the Idea Hive student authors will hear from the author who inspired them.


Facebook Book Club: Engaging Intermediate Readers

As spring rounds the corner, most intermediate students take on a new focus, which often does not include classroom work.  So it’s important to find activities that keep these adolescents engaged in their learning.  As a result, Marc Westra, from Brussels P.S., and I have introduced our students to the “Facebook Book Club”.

Last term, Marc’s intermediate class and mine completed a collaborative book club using VoiceThread, which I wrote about in a previous post.  With the year-end approaching, we wanted something equally engaging, but with a change.  Our classrooms are located 11 km. apart so we needed a tool that allowed communication and collaboration between our students’ group.

I had previously read about the Facebook idea from other educators and it seemed like fun.  Marc and I decided to have each book club set up one shared Facebook page for the protagonist in their novel.  On a weekly basis, each student will post a comment in the voice of the protagonist, as a friend, and add a reply to a comment.  In addition, they’ll add all the necessary “Personal Information” as they became that character.  Students are encouraged to customize their pages as they add extras such as video links or quizzes.

Some versions I have come across use an online tool (Fakebook, Fake Convos) or a Google Presentations template.  While the Presentations template is easier for the students to change, it lacks the sidebar “chat room” available in a Google Doc.  To me, the chat room is necessary as students discuss, plan and create together.  Other Google Docs templates I’d come across were broken into several documents.  Because this is a group activity where students are at different schools and communication is limited, I thought it easiest to keep the Facebook page as one doc.  The template I created is flexible, yet provides enough guidelines for those students who don’t have a Facebook page.  It’s important to remember that not all parents allow their children to use Facebook, so these students needed a completed example.  With this in mind, I created an example Facebook page, featuring my pet cat!

Today Marc and I introduced the project to our students via Skype.  As per our previous book club, we let the students choose their books after spending some time reading bits of each.  To start, we shared the Facebook Club doc which includes the outline and rubric.  This doc also includes the links to the template doc and the example.  During the skype call, Marc and I took turns explaining the project.  At first, I wasn’t sure how it was going over – the kids were speechless.  However after they had some time to digest the idea and muck around in the two shared docs, they were thrilled.  Those students who don’t have Facebook accounts looked a little nervous, but soon they were hooked as well.

Since Marc’s students didn’t have access to computers at their school today, I didn’t want to proceed too quickly into the project.  My students were asked to post an image of the protagonist in the collaborative doc.  In the next few days when the groups “meet” again in the doc, students can discuss and agree on the image and some of the “personal information”.  I have stressed with the students the importance that all group members work towards an agreement on some of the initial page information, and not “take over” the Facebook page doc.  “The process is just as important as the product.”

This project will take us to the end of the school year.  Based on the excitement displayed by the students today, reading is a task that they should enjoy with renewed focus!