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 Lulu.com.

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.

Word Shakers in the Idea Hive

In his TEDGlobal talk, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson uses the term, “liquid network” to describe a learning environment where innovation and deep thinking happens. He describes it as “kind of chaotic where ideas are likely to come together, where people were likely to have new, interesting, unpredictable collisions – people from different backgrounds. We take ideas from other people and we stick them together in new forms to create something new.”

The Idea Hive recently created their own “liquid network” in a shared writing project. The Idea Hive is a year-long collaboration connecting Clarence Fisher’s students in Snow Lake, Manitoba with my students in Wingham, Ontario. In previous posts, we’ve described the Skyped read aloud, backchannel and virtual bulletin board process that connects us daily as we journey through the novel, The Book Thief.  At this point, we’ve reached the story within the novel called “The Word Shaker”. This illustrated fable is written and presented by the Jewish character Max, to the young German protagonist, Liesel. The story mirrors the use of propaganda by Hitler. In Max’s story, a young girl (“the Word Shaker”) is encouraged to fight words of hatred with words of love.

After being given copies of the 11 images only from the fable (no text), students in the Idea Hive were asked to work together to predict the story Max had written. Each group (2 students from Ontario, 2 from Manitoba) used a shared Google doc and the sidebar chatroom to communicate and create their story.

During the 45-minute work periods, the room was completely silent as students participated in their group’s chat room, formulating plans to be transferred by the agreed-upon “recorder” into the document. After the first work period, Clarence and I each had a discussion with our own students about the process. Students loved the high rate of participation by most group members. They engaged in debate, synthesis and cooperation. They had fun. Frustrations due to technical troubles were similar at both ends. This highlighted the fact that collaborative skills (inclusion, wait time) were even more important when working only with text.

Avery is excited and proud to tell the principal about the shared writing activity he's working on in the Idea Hive with his partner here in Ontario and two others in Manitoba.

The students’ level of engagement in the following days spoke for itself. The silence in the classrooms continued as students actively “chatted” in their groups. On day three and four,  students who were home sick joined their group online in order to participate in the project.

As students wrote, Clarence and I dropped in and out of the 11 chat rooms, offering quick suggestions or asking a few questions. We watched the story document develop while the brainstorming and discussion carried on in the chat room sidebar. Clarence’s description – “mesmerizing”.

Once the groups finished writing their interpretation of Max’s story, the groups presented together some of their images via Skype to the Idea Hive class, then posted their finished work on their blogs (click on student names below to view group stories).

So, other than creating a story, what did the students learn?

Student reflection….

While chatting with others via computer, I learned….

….to slow down and be patient.  Not all of us think alike and we work at different speeds.  …to stay cool with someone and not be annoyed, because you never know what could be going on with the people on the other side. Tyler

…to really think before we typed to avoid sounding like we were singling out one of our partners, or that we thought our way was the only way. … to go with others and give them a chance.  Our story wouldn’t have turned out as good if we didn’t include our partners’ ideas. Kori

…that if someone is going off track then you shouldn’t follow.  In fact, you shouldn’t be afraid to tell them to get back on track.  Brad

….it was easier to talk on Skype after talking in the chatroom, because I felt I already knew them.   Nataja

…to ask more questions.  Alyssa

…that it’s important to start the chat by socializing with your partners.  Trevor

…that I want to do this again because I like interacting with people I don’t know.  Our story was better than the one I would have created on my own.  Ethan

…that working this way changes your way of thinking.    Justin

These students have learned lessons far beyond those outlined in the curriculum. They are displaying skills that any 21st century employer seeks.

Innovation often happens in unlikely, unpredictable ways. Creating opportunities for our students to learn in this “liquid network” help to lead our students in completely different pathways they’d never thought of. Across 2 700 km, students used the power of words to collaboratively developed an understanding of the importance of words. In a text-only collaborative process, they themselves became “The Word Shakers”.

Securing the Connection

As we end our third week of the shared read aloud of The Book Thief, it’s clear the students in Ontario and Manitoba are supporting each other in their learning.  Today as I read via Skype, Clarence participated in the backchannel discussion.

Good prediction @Jason/Jordan     Heaven/Jessica at 11:47 AM

@Heaven/Jessica, Thank you. What do you think will happen?     Jason/Jordan at 11:49 AM

Liesel has an overactive imagination.     Alex & Juli at 11:55 AM

Agreed @Alex & Juli !  Hailey; Melissa! ☺ at 11:56 AM

and my favourite…

It was like you were here reading with us Mrs. D     Alex & Juli at 12:03 PM

Following this activity, the students posted comments on the linoit wall and each other’s blogs.  Students then checked their incoming comments, and as time ran out, some promised to reconnect tonight.

Kassie’s Blog

Across this 2 700 km link, Clarence and I are developing relationships with each other’s students as we comment on their blogs. Reading into the computer microphone to all the Idea Hive students,  my classroom takes on a new feel.  We are larger, stronger, more connected.

Tonight, I have a deep sense that we are truly becoming one. The Idea Hive is growing closer.

@Alex and Julie, I felt like I was with you today too!

Holocaust Education via @langwitches & Group Skype

This week, the Idea Hive experienced a significant “first”:  a shared read aloud of The Book Thief using Skype, backchannel chat, and Linoit, a virtual bulletin board.   In previous posts, Clarence shared the beauty of this story, and the pre-reading activities leading up to the book, designed to develop students’ knowledge of Germany in WW II.  In the Hive Thinking classroom, students collaborated to produce research summaries of various topics including Hitler Youth, Jesse Owens, Hitler, Kristallnacht, and the Holocaust.

Following this step, students viewed a video created by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, Kristallnacht- Night of the Broken Glass.  While viewing images, including many of her Jewish grandparents in Germany, Silvia narrates her family’s story surrounding that horrific night on November 9, 1938, when Hitler showed the world his plans for the Jewish community. Please take the 9 min. needed to view her story.  I assure you it will be worth it.

The next day, the Idea Hive students met via Skype to share questions they planned to ask Silvia in a follow-up group video call, a new Skype feature.  During that group video call, it was incredible to watch students in Ontario and Manitoba listen and interact with Silvia as she spoke to us all from Florida.  This call allowed our students to experience together, the emotions shared by Silvia, as she answered their questions.  Silvia helped students learn how similar behaviours are mirrored today in social media sites such as Facebook.  Students connected, as they learned together in an authentic environment.  One of my student’s parents shared the impact this experience had on her daughter.  “When she came home, she talked and talked about the Holocaust.  She cried.”

photo

After the call, I asked my students to share their thoughts on how Skype affects their learning.

When we Skyped with Silvia, what happens years ago, makes more sense. She told us way more than I’d read in a textbook. She made me put myself in Germany during the night of broken glass.

When you’re talking to someone on a Skype call, with people around the world telling their story, you realize how really brave they are, like Silvia. They inspire us to share more of our experiences.  Brad P.

Skyping helps us learn. When our class Skyped with Silvia Rosenthal, she told us more information about the holocaust and WWII than a textbook would have told us. This makes it exciting for us because we can see her expressions and it makes it more real.  We can feel her emotion.

In order for this to work, there must be preparation involved so you have a reason to Skype. Preparing for a Skype call is just as important as studying for a test or practicing a speech for your History project. We prepare because it helps us present the information the way we want it to sound. We also prepare so there is a serious conversation, and so we don’t stumble over words as we are speaking to our audience. Ethan J.

During the Skype call, the students are very quiet and involved.  We are very interested with the call because we are not just reading a boring old textbook.  We are hearing somebody’s story. When we had a Skype call with Silvia on Monday, we got into it, asking questions that we’d previously planned.  And we all know you cannot ask a textbook questions!  If you have access to this technology, why not use it?!  Alyssa H.

The group Skype feature enables our students to share powerful, emotional learning experiences together.  It’s another step in our year-long goal of creating a community of learners in the Idea Hive.

Creating Connections in the Idea Hive Classroom

The collaborative project with Clarence Fisher’s class from J.H.Kerr Public School in Snow Lake, Manitoba, is heading into its 7th week.  The connections have begun.  During the first week of school, using Google Forms, both classes from the Idea Hive completed a survey about their personal interests.  Last year, I created this survey as a way of getting to know my students; this year the Idea Hive students used it for the same purpose.  Once the survey was complete, all students had access to the results once the spreadsheet was “shared”.  After reading the results, looking for similarities and differences, each student wrote their first blog post.  Even though we’re 2 700 km apart, they were surprised with the results.

I have more in common with the Idea Hive then I thought!  Alyssa H.

During the next-step Skype call, we had an Idea Hive class discussion about commenting, highlighting how to continue the conversation.  In order to make sure every student received a comment on their blog from the opposite school, we assigned everyone the names of at least two students. Students were also encouraged to connect to any and all student in the Idea Hive.

Relationships are stronger when you can put a face to a name, and so the Flickr photo contest began.  Wearing the Idea Hive button, students posted pictures of themselves on the Idea Hive Flickr site.  Not only did students now know what each other looked like, but they also could see students in their respective communities, hanging out at the beach, cleaning horse stalls, outside the mining museum or in the soybean field. Students loved checking out the site to see who had posted – “Hey, she has the same shoes on as me!”.  Everyday lives, creating more connections.  The kids were thrilled to get coverage of the story in the local newspaper.

In preparation for Meet-the-Teacher night, I created this bulletin board to inform parents about the Idea Hive, and introduce them to their child’s new classmates from Snow Lake.  Parents also got to learn who the “other” grade 7/8 teacher is!

During our planning in the days before school started, Clarence had introduced me to the online book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined.  I loved working through this book for many reasons.  Rather than being filled with stories of how dangerous the web can be, it paints a picture of a beautiful community.  The web is a place where humans can share common interests with others; a place showing humans at their best.  During the classroom activities, students provided insight into how they use the web.  Following the reading, Clarence suggested all students create a piece of art based on the book.  Visual art is not my strength, so there was some discomfort from my end, knowing I was likely not going to be able to provide much guidance for my students.  But the kids didn’t need me; most loved the  freedom given to create their interpretation of the book’s message.

The thing I liked about my art work is that it was fun to make because I usually don’t do this kind of art at home or at school. Justin S.

Once the was blogs were posted, it was clear that Clarence and I had directed our students slightly differently.  While Clarence’s students focused on key words and their use of the web, my kids wrote about the theme of the book, and how they demonstrated this in their art.  They reflected on their work – what they liked, what they would change.  Since report cards comments were due in two weeks, I needed some reflective feedback from my students.  Working collaboratively challenges teachers who face different deadlines to creatively adapt projects to meet reporting requirements.  From the students’ perspective, they weren’t concerned with the difference; they were excited to have another opportunity to continue learning more about their new friends.

I am happy that you get to see what we did and  I’m looking forward to what you guys did. I  hope you guys are excited to see our stuff.   Cassidy

As this second set of comments are being written, it’s clear from the students’ questions that the connections are firmly in place. “When can I do a project with one of them as my partner?” and “Can I ask them to friend me on Facebook?”

Clearly they’re ready for our next steps which include a shared read aloud and a collaborative mapping assignment.  They’re having fun, they’re growing as a community of learners.  One of the Idea Hive students said it best….

The Internet brings us together ….isn’t technology amazing?  We are really not that different.  We both go to school so why doesn’t every class do this?  Avery B.

Take-off!

This year, the first week back to school has been filled with many “firsts” as my classroom in southwestern Ontario begins a year-long collaboration with Clarence Fisher’s (@glassbeed) class in Snow Lake, Manitoba.  While Clarence and I have collaborated with other schools before, they were for short-term projects.  In his recent post, Clarence clearly explains the value of a year-long collaboration versus the usual “sprints” as he calls them.  Idea Hive is the name of the community our students will meet and work in over the next year.  As our students develop their online communication skills, they’ll meet new friends and acquire the learning skills needed to become responsible digital citizens – skills that are essential in today’s global world.

As Clarence and I began our discussion, we looked for shared visions, curriculum and tools.  From there, we developed a number of specific projects that will take us into the first three or four months of school.  Other projects are percolating; we’ll revisit them as we move through each month.  Most importantly however, we planned to hit the ground running.

During the first day of school, my grade 8’s, who I’d taught last year, helped my grade 7’s as they were introduced to their Google Apps account.  Within a few days, our Idea Hive students completed an interest survey using Google Forms.  Through an introductory Skype session on day three, students got a chance to meet and ask questions as they briefly got to know each other.  Towards the end of the call, Clarence presented our Flickr photo competition.  Students are challenged to submit pictures of themselves taken in unique places, wearing the Idea Hive buttons.  Clarence had previously sent these buttons and magnets to me so we could distribute them to all students at the same time.  We were now connected.  Because of our very differing geographical locations, there are a lot of opportunities for picture settings unique to both classes. This is a great way for students to begin to learn about each other in their daily worlds.

Connecting the Idea Hive

Over a two day period, I felt like an orchestra conductor as I guided my students through the process of setting up their own WordPress blog.  Although I use WordPress, I’d never tried this feat with twenty-three 12- and 13-year-olds at once.  With patience on all our parts, we completed the task.  The students’ blogs will be an important communication tool throughout the year as students comment on each other’s posts.  This interaction begins next week, after students analyze the results of the interest survey to find similarities and differences with their Idea Hive peers.

There’s been a lot of “first” this week.  Showing our students we’re not afraid to take risks is an important part of the modeling process in our teaching practice.  We hope our students model our code of conduct when kinks and wrinkles occur in our plans (we know they will!) as they develop their problem-solving skills.

On a personal note, this weekend I thought about the importance of modeling this very same viewpoint as I experienced another exciting “first”.  My 17-year-old son is a new pilot, a recent  graduate from the Air Cadet program, and he intended on flying his plane to an airstrip closer to home.  I had the opportunity to go with him as his first passenger.  His mentors, both in their 70’s, knew he was ready for the flight home, and therefore so was I.  At the same time, I was nervous, realizing my child could not rely on me for help, but thrilled seeing that he has the confidence to know he doesn’t need it.

Learning with, and from our students and children sends a strong message.  We have confidence in them.  Taking risks inspires those around us to do the same, as they develop into life-long learners.

On the runway, full power – take-off!  It’s going to be an amazing flight.