Going Global: Getting Back in the Game

Nearly half a school year has passed and I haven’t run a collaborative project with another classroom yet. It’s time to get back in the game. I’ve got a new project in mind that I’ll reveal in a moment. But first, a little background…
My First Global Project
I got the idea a couple of years ago to try to create an “Online Book Club.” The premise is simple–the classes involved all read the same book and then “discuss” the book online and create little book projects together.So I tried to drum up some interest through a couple of online networks (I think Classroom 2.0 and the Global Education Collaborative) and I was excited to get some responses. I set up a wiki and started reading the book with my class and was totally into it and…it pretty much fizzled. Participation was pretty low by the other participants…there were never any group projects or discussions. Fizzled. Bummer.
Back to the Drawing Board
The thing is, I knew I had a good idea. I love reading. I love books. Kids love discussing books. What better topic to center an upper elementary global project around?So I decided that I’d give it another try. Attending a conference presentation by the amazing duo of Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay (founders of the Flat Classroom projects) at the ISTE conference helped a lot. I realized that I needed to have a better plan…more structure, more communication, and better communication. I also learned that practice makes perfect…things like this don’t always work perfectly the first time around. Their story was inspiring and their tips were incredibly useful. I was pumped up to give it another try.
So I chose a book and reworked the wiki page by including teachers’ guides and an explicit chapter by chapter schedule for teachers to follow. I also realized that we needed a bulletin board-type of site for students and teachers to discuss the book. I decided to use Edmodo, which is free and super-easy. In addition, I realized that I needed to get people involved that were genuinely interested in and committed to a long term project. So I contacted teachers participating in a similar project, The Global Read Aloud (created by the fantastic Pernille Ripp), and got some good response.

Our “21st Century Book Club” ended up reading 3 books together. Kids created several projects, including some pretty awesome Glogs about Benjamin Franklin and some poetry inspired by the novel Love That Dog. My class also got to Skype with a class in Georgia and a class in Alabama, which they absolutely loved. AND the author of one of the novels we read, Kate Klise, through a bit of magical serendipity, even joined our wiki and emailed our classes to tell us how awesome our online book club was. Definitely a successful venture. Since then, I’ve been blogging and presenting about Global Collaboration (check out my Library 2.011 presentation here) every chance I get. I’ve involved my students in other projects with schools in Taiwan, Russia, and Turkey. But there’s more we can do, I know it.

What Now?
So I’m itching to get “back in the game.” But, of course, I am also itching to take it to the next level. The online book club is a project I believe in, and my kids love it, but it’s missing some depth. I want this year’s version to feature more critical thinking and more collaboration. I want students doing some deep analysis of the books, rather than just talk about their favorite characters an making predictions. I want them creating things TOGETHER instead of separately. I’ve seen it happen in projects like The Flat Classroom, and I want to make it happen now, too.
So I’ve picked a book, the intricately awesome A Wrinkle in Time. (I’d like to read When You Reach Me for the second book, too.) And we’ve got some early commitments from teachers in Philadelphia and Canada. I’m still hammering out some of the details, but I know I’d love to schedule meetings between small groups of students via Skype for in-depth discussions of the book. I really want to dig deep and foster critical thinking skills by looking at the big ideas of the novel: Friendship, Family, Good vs. Evil, Identity, and Technology. I’d also love to find a way for them to work collaboratively on book projects. Maybe podcast or video or wiki or Google Doc. Or all! But I want projects that they create TOGETHER, not just with each student separately adding a part and calling it a “group project.”
Are you interested in joining in? I think we can take this online book club idea to the next level, and we’d love to have you work with us. Please contact me or check out the Online Book Club wiki to learn more. (Or check out my blogs about my classroom: Room 316 and 20 Kinds of Awesome) You can also subscribe to our blog and follow @engaginged on twitter for more information about this and other projects, as well as other posts on Global Collaboration, engaging students in meaningful learning and useful resources for educators everywhere.
Thanks for your time!
-Ben Curran