Tag Archives: collaboration

Extra, Extra…read all about it!


7th Graders Hit the Press with Special Editions about Power and Control!
So, I’ve been MIA. I haven’t been lazy or unmotivated, I’ve been piloting a Google Apps program in my 7th and 8th grade classes. My next post will detail my amazing experience teaching and learning in the Google cloud. For now, I’d like to highlight a favorite collaborative project done completely in Google.

Tolerance and Acceptance drives the 7th grade curriculum. My essential question for the year is What is right? Tolerance and Acceptance is explored through Power and Control, Belonging, and Lessons from the Holocaust in literature, writing, poetry, journalism, and multi media. I chose Animal Farm, by George Orwell to discuss the implications of absolute power and individual control. My students actively read, had heated discussions, and wrote blog posts from the point of view of a character. These are usual occurrences in my classroom when we analyze a class novel…but my students were so engaged that I needed to give them an alternative outlet for their learning…

In thinking about the novel…a fable…I glanced down at my Kindle edition and saw “Animal Farm: A Fairy Story”. I began thinking of fables, then saw the word “fairy”, which brought me to…you guessed it…fairy tale. In my very first year of teaching (16 years ago), I did a fairy tale journalism unit where students worked collaboratively to produce an over-sized newspaper based on a fairy tale. I knew I wanted to adapt this project for Animal Farm and bring it into the 21st Century! Google was the key to doing that!

While designing this project, I thought back to the elements that made my original project successful…creativity, writing skills, and collaboration! Who knew that Google docs, Google presentation, and Google sites would come along to incorporate those original elements from 16 years ago. Before I even introduced the technology aspect of the project, students needed to learn the components of a newspaper, how to write a newspaper article, and what makes a good story. Once I established that, I could get into the nitty gritty project details.

I envisioned a digital newspaper that was created collaboratively with all of the original elements from my fairy tale newspaper which included: newspaper name, lead story, an individual article from each member of the group, editorial, letter to the editor, advice column, comic, and 2 advertisements. The project details can be found here along with detailed writing instructions here. I also provided some extra credit opportunities to add to the group newspapers, which the kids had a ball with! Students were able to work collaboratively using Google presentation and Google docs. They wrote and edited articles in docs and put together their newspaper in presentation. With these Google applications, I was able to “see” who was working on their articles, editing their newspaper, and collaborating in the cloud. This allowed me to be present in each group…even if the group was working at home! This has been a teaching game changer for me. I no longer have to worry if one student did all the work…I can see it with a time and date stamp, a revision history, and a collaborative chat window. I found this has made students more willing to own their work…and be a responsible group member. Although I had this access, I still created a Google form self/group evaluation survey that I used in assessing their project.

While planning the newspapers, I knew this would be a perfect opportunity for a multimedia component to the lesson…a newscast! I will say this…my 7th graders are not shy…they love making videos…and had no problem dressing up as cows, farmers, and reporters! With flip cameras, smartphones, and apple technologies, my students far exceeded my expectations for a newscast. I honestly wanted them to have fun with their newspapers by presenting it in a creative way. What I didn’t realize was how drawn they are to multimedia and how skilled they are in producing it! All I told them was the newscast could be live or video…they were the ones who created story boards, added special effects, used editing software, put in credits…as well as the all important bloopers section! We spent two classes completely engaged in their self produced newscasts!

In order to share all of the collaborative projects, I put together a Google site with all of the newspapers and newscasts from both sections. I won’t be sharing that here since there are student videos, but I will share a few of the completed digital newspapers. This site has allowed me to create a live portfolio for other students to learn from. I can’t wait to see what next year’s class comes up with!

Can you see me? Transparency in Teaching and Learning


I’ve been teaching for 15 years…I’ve been learning my whole life.  My passion is the process of teaching and learning together.  I love learning from others, sharing ideas, and collaborating.  It is a part of me…an extension that is so natural, that I don’t even think about it.  Recently, I was sharing and collaborating with a group of teachers on twitter about a google maps lesson when a fellow teacher, Zoe Branigan-Pipe,  wrote this on her blog about me:

Well – I feel pretty engaged. Today, I thank @mrspal, a colleague in Philly that I met through twitter and blogging. Just read her blog: https://middleschool101.edublogs.org and you will see that she has a passion for education that is viral. She is transparent in her teaching and makes it a priority to share and support others.
After reading her post “take a walk down memory lane”, an interactive, inquiry based activity using Google Streets View, she inspired me to try it out on my own students. Within the hour, she emailed me her lesson plan/student instruction sheet and seemed as excited as I was. Now that is open source, open content, free, creative commons, license free at its GREATEST.

This absolutely blew my mind.  Zoe was able to see me as a person and a teacher within moments of our initial contact.  I wondered if others could see me as well without ever meeting me in person…I really thought about how she was able to do that.  When mulling this over in my head, I realized that everything I do online is an extension of my authentic self.  My digital footprint truly represents the person I am in “real” life.  So, what are the implications of this lightbulb moment?

  1. We need to be transparent in our web 2.0 lives in order for authentic learning and collaboration to occur.
  2. We need to make sure that our digital footprints are reflective of ourselves.
  3. We need to teach our students that it is vital to preserve their own digital footprints by being authentic and transparent.
  4. We need to be transparent in the classroom on a daily basis by being open, fair, accountable, and flexible.
  5. We need to be transparent in our learning.  Our classrooms are not limited to the four walls that hold it up any longer.  By collaborating and sharing, we are modeling transparency in learning for our students.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to step outside yourself  to see what others see.  I no longer see a divide between “real life” and “online life”.  I am the same person…I am transparent.  Thank you, Zoe, for reminding me of the importance of that.

Replace One, Guide One


While watching the ASCD conference streamed live last week, I was eagerly anticipating Heidi Hayes Jacobs talk about Curriculum 21.  I had just finished the innovative book recently and have been telling every edu-type that I know to read it.  During the talk, there were some amazing nuggets of advice, awesome quotes like, “Lamination is the mummification of curriculum”, and a challenge to have every teacher replace one dated assignment or assessment with one that is current and highlights 21st century skills.

This past week, Heidi started a new ning for Curriculum 21.  Her first post was this:

Upgrading:  One Assessment at a Time

Each teacher in a school can make a commitment to REPLACE a dated assessment type with a modern one. For example, instead of doing an “oral report” with notecards, students can create a video podcast. IDEAS?

This immediately caught my interest, so I responded with a story of replacement that happened recently:

Hi Heidi.
I just wanted to share a wonderful experience with a middle school math colleague of mine with “replacement” practices. She came to me and wanted to figure out a way that she could make her mathematician reports that she has done for years more “current”. She wanted the basics of the assignment to be the same, but wanted to use 21st century skills in a meaningful, purposeful way.

I teach the same students that she does, so I know they are highly skilled in using technology, but I didn’t want to overwhelm her. So I taught her how to create a wiki and how to set the parameters for the students. She went and worked on her wiki diligently, and returned for some follow up one or two times.

Within 2 weeks, she had learned to use a wiki, created a wiki, was comfortable enough to use it with students, and had the students successfully complete the project!

Not only did she replace a dated assessment, but she also changed how she grading it by using a rubric. We had another session where I taught her how to use rubistar to create a rubric and roobrix to calculate the grade. In the end, she changed two things about the project, but the content met her original goal from years ago!

Here is the final wiki created by the students. She is so thrilled with the final results that she came to me two days ago to help her plan the next “replacement” assessment! She loved that the students were engaged, interested, and learning in a way that she hasn’t seen before. She also loved that she did this paperlessly!

Hopefully, this “replacement” practice will start to spread with this little seed. Thank you Heidi, for continuing to have the vision.
🙂 Megan

I would like to continue to support Heidi’s challenge to “replace one“, but I’d also like to add “guide one” to those of us that have the skills and resources to help those who would like to “replace one” but don’t even know where to begin.  If we begin to internalize this practice of replacing and guiding, we are creating a community of learners amongst ourselves that will continue to grow exponentially as each “seed” is planted.