Launching a Virtual Book Club

Since I first responded to a tweet from @mgraffin about joining a global project, I have become a vocal advocate of connecting teachers and classrooms. Thank you so much to Global Classroom Project for inspiration and a place to connect and contribute.

I am giddy with excitement about a new opportunity to connect educators and get more inspiration for expanding global projects. I will be hosting a Virtual Book Club discussing the fantastic book Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time by Julie Lindsay and Vicki A. Davis. The book club was announced last Sunday night in my school division and I am thrilled that we already have thirteen teachers signed up! Even better, we have teachers from across our school division and from all different grade levels. It is a wonderful thing when already busy teachers find time in their lives to discuss powerful educational ideas with their peers. 

Now, I am ready to get some global participation in this book club. I can’t think of a better way to brainstorm about global projects than to have teachers from across the globe in the session together. So, we are inviting all teachers, parents, students, thinkers and learners out there to join us for six live meetings to share what they think about the projects, resources, and research discussed in Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds.

We will be meeting on Tuesdays at 00:30GMT (Mondays at 7:30pm EST)

(find the time in your country/time zone here)

on the following dates:

January 7th – Meet the Flat Classroom, Chapters 1 & 2

January 21st – Connection and Communication, Chapters 3 & 4

February 4th – Citizenship, Contribution and Collaboration, Chapters 5 & 6

February 18th – Choice and Creation, Chapters 7 & 8

March 4th – Celebrating, Designing, Managing a Global Project, Chapters 9 & 10

March 18th – Rock the World

Meetings will be live using Blackboard Collaborate and will last one hour. We will spend the time sharing thoughts about ideas raised in the book. It will also be a great opportunity to connect with other educators that share similar passions and beliefs about flattening our classrooms walls. We will share strategies and resources for building those 21st century skills like collaboration, communication and creativity in authentic ways.

Inspiration for this Virtual Book Club came from Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis themselves. I was lucky enough to participate in a Virtual Book Club hosted by Engaging Educators last spring. It was great because I

  • actually read the book (instead of the book just staring at me from my book shelf, desperate to be read but collecting dust instead)
  • met educators from across the United States and around the world
  • learned about global projects that already exist that I could participate in
  • was inspired to do more to help students and teachers connect and collaborate

I hope that you can take some time to read the book and join us for our discussions. If you are interested, please complete this quick form so that I know you are interested and I’ll get back to you with information about our first meeting. And, please, spread the word!

If you aren’t familiar with the idea of a virtual book club or with this text, here’s more!

What is a Virtual Book Club?

A virtual book club is one in which readers come together to discuss a text using a web-based platform. Readers connect by logging onto a website in which they can be active learners and collaborators. The virtual room allows readers to speak, listen, chat and read about what others think about the text. All participants need is a web link, a computer with access to the Internet (and preferably a working microphone) and thoughts and ideas about the reading. It is like a book club but you can stay home and be in your pajamas!

What book will we be reading?

We will be reading the text Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis. This book is co-written by classroom teachers that have transformed learning in their classrooms by communicating and collaborating with other classrooms around the world. Learn more about how global learning provides authentic literacy experiences, gets students engaged in their learning and opens up numerous opportunities for differentiation.


Connecting Classrooms to Build Understanding


I have recently had the great pleasure of working with an AFJROTC Global Studies class in North Carolina and an English class in Dezful, Khuzestan, Iran.  Students met via Skype, asking and answering questions they developed.

When speaking with Col. Henry Gaither this summer about a Global Studies class he was teaching, we both became very excited about the opportunity to connect his class with the cultures they would be studying using web tools such as Skype.  When I asked where he wanted to connect to first, he selected Iran, Iraq, Israel, or Syria.  I was a little worried about finding a partner in one of these areas, but turned to several wonderful sources that list teachers looking for global connections.  I have linked several of these resources on this Global Collaboration LiveBinder.

I was lucky to find Ali Talaeizadeh with the Fahim Language School in Dezful, Khuzestan, Iran on ePals.  After several Skype calls between teachers, we were able to schedule a time to connect the two classrooms.

We used Google Docs to plan our call.  You can view our planning document by visiting our agenda.  Students in both Iran and North Carolina generated questions for their partners and formulated responses to their assigned questions.

Here in North Carolina, we experienced a little hesitation and reservations on the part of some faculty and parents.  Col. Gaither suggested that we write a letter to our parents clearly explaining our goals and objectives and requesting their permission.  Sending this letter seemed to alleviate many of the concerns that had been expressed.

The day of our scheduled call came and Ali was experiencing difficulties with his Internet connection.  Luckily I was able to use Skype to call his cell phone and his class spoke to us on speaker phone.  The Iranian Internet connection was restored while we were on the phone and we were finally able to connect with video so our students could see their partners.

The audio was not perfect and there was a bit of a language barrier I think.  (You should have seen our North Carolina students’ faces when the Iranian telephone operator starting speaking Persian over our overhead speakers!)  But there were many indications that this activity was a huge success.

We asked the students in North Carolina to reflect on their experience and these are some of their reactions.

“It changed me because people judge them without really knowing who they are.  They actually seem like really nice people instead of what some people say or think about them.”

“I now know that most of them aren’t bad.  They are nice and outgoing.  They also seemed really interested in knowing about us and how we felt about them.”

“My perceptions were different than I thought. I thought that when we saw the Iranian people they would have both boys and girls in a class instad of being separated. Also, I thought they would have worn clothing styles similar to ours.”

To read more about this project including additional student reactions you can visit our Google site, Connecting our Class to the World via Web Tools.  We are looking forward to our next global connection with a school in Morocco!

Global learning with five and six year olds

As part of our unit of inquiry into Where We Are in Place and Time, our KC class has  joined a global project called Kindergarten Around the World. We have partnered up with Michelle’s KinderPals class in Abbotsford, Canada.

During a recent Skype meeting with our KinderPals in Canada, the two classes agreed to collaborate to write a fictional story. KinderPals got the ball rolling by tweeting some ideas to KC, and we discussed them and responded with our ideas. As the story ideas became more sophisticated, the KC children wondered how we could share our ideas as, “there are too many letters and they will go red and then we can’t send it” on Twitter, their usual communication tool.

I introduced the children to Google docs. We created a document and I explained to the children how we could share the document with others and choose who could edit the document. As we recorded our ideas in the document, some children wondered how we would know which ideas were KC’s and which were KinderPals’. Trenton suggested using different colours. The KC children chose red. Nia suggested offering to swap colours if KinderPals wanted to be red.

The classes took turns to give feed-back on the ideas so far and to add their own ideas. They tweeted each other when they added some more ideas to the Google doc so that the other class could have a look at the updated version.

The KC children wondered how they could share their ideas about how settings actually looked. After some discussion they decided to draw detailed pictures which we shared in a  PhotoPeach so that KinderPals could give feedback. With hind-sight, a VoiceThread would have been a better  collaboration tool; ideally, I would have guided the children towards VoiceThread when they were brainstorming sharing tools but I missed that window of opportunity.

Some of the children in KC asked if we could Skype with KinderPals again, “because it will be easier to decide when we can see them and ask them, otherwise we have to wait for ever, till the next day, to wait for a twitter.” Other children explained that it is difficult to Skype because KinderPals and KC are in different time zones, and when we are at school, KinderPals are at home. Someone wondered if we could Skype KinderPals during our sleepover. Hal suggested checking on the worldtime buddy app that we use to keep track of different time zones of our friends around the world. We found that skyping wouldn’t work during our sleepover. We discussed the idea of synchronous and asynchronous communication (I didn’t introduce the vocabulary, just the concept; perhaps next time I would drip the vocabulary). The children realized we would have to use other tools for communication. 

Eventually, after much to-ing and fro-ing between the classes, the book was finished. After much discussion we published it in issuu and as an iBook so that anyone could read it.

As the project unfolded, both groups of children were expanding their knowledge of 21st century communication tools and were seeing that their learning environment expands far beyond their classroom. I marvel at the fact that these five and six year olds are developing online learning networks and switch so comfortably and appropriately between web 2.0 tools to comunicate effectively far beyond the classroom. Over the course of the year the children have blogged, tweeted, emailed, air-mailed, Skyped and used Google docs, a wiki and VoiceThread to make connections and compare and share their learning with children in different time zones in the other corners of the world. It occurs to me that these children of the digital generation are limited only by the limitations of those that teach them; the more we as teachers can explore, experiment and take risks by going out of our comfort zones and trying new things, the better able we are to support and scaffold the children’s digital inquiries.


Inquiry Teapots

Originally posted at Teaching Paradox

This is an absolutely wonderful project that is screaming out for international collaboration.  Think of it like a chain letter, but math related.

@Namastececi send out a call on Twitter to see if anybody would like to be the recipient of a teapot project.  I said Yes.  Over the next few weeks we exchanged a couple of emails about progress and addresses and such.  All the while, I had no idea what a teapot project was.  I was hoping that she would explain it to me, but I kept my mouth shut and played it cool, like I knew what was going on and I had done tons of teapot projects.  Truth, I had no idea what was coming in the mail, and I kind of liked it that way.  It made me very curious, and I shared it with my students, and they were curious.  Did they make their own teapot?  Was it like a time capsule, only inside a teapot?  Why teapots?  Maybe the teacher was English?  Maybe, there was actually tea inside of it?

It turns out, the teapot is irrelevant to the project.  The project was the box that the teapot was delivered in.  The kids planned it, designed it, created it out of raw materials, and then shipped it.  The teapot was merely an abstract object that was testing the durability of the box.  It could have been anything.  A plate.  A cup.  A figurine.  Anything made of glass that may have broken if the box was poorly constructed, or the packing was inadequate.  When I received the package and took off the bubble wrap, it all clicked.  I got it.  My first thought, without even opening the box and seeing the teapot which I know knew was inside, was ‘what an awesome math lesson, I have to do this.’

Unfortunately, it is a little late in the year to start, so first thing next year we will do this.  This will be our big kick-off for our year of Inquiry Math.  I sent out word on twitter that I would be doing this, and already we have a home for the teapots.  @terSonya in Idaho is going to receive our box.  But, we have two.  So, I was thinking I would bifurcate them and send them to different places.  I need one more taker.  First come, first served.

NOTE: While writing this post, the second teapot was taken by @mkurashige in Hawaii!!

Inquiry Math Project

This project was done by @Namastececi.  It was an original project which came out of a workshop led by Chris Betcher and it was initiated by two teachers from the China school and @Namastececi and @aleaf .  The original post can be seen here with full explanation of the steps involved.  I will follow a very similar path, but there will be a few changes as my unique collective interprets evens in their own unique way.  I will blog about it when is complete, because I have no idea what it will look like.  All I can say, is that @Namastececi‘s original lesson progression was absolutely beautiful.  Here is a brief summary of what she did.

  • Trip to a local supermarket to investigate shapes and language of packages
  • Design an idea for a box on paper, and then Google Sketch
  • Sketch out ideas on 2D cardboard
  • Construct 3D model
  • Pack teapot in newly created box
  • Work out shipping options
  • Wait for reflection from friends

Looking over this project, which took her about 3 weeks, I am struck by a couple of things.  First, this is real mathematics.  Problem solving at its best.  There is a connection to the real world, there is a noticeable problem that has a solution that can be accomplished in a variety of ways.  It requires critical thinking, creativity, and thinking from different perspectives.

Second, this project is multidisciplinary.  Here are a couple of links I made, but I am sure there are many more!

Design, Aesthetics and Art – What is the functionality of packaging?  How do shapes help keep products safe?  Why do designers use so many colors and textures on their boxes?  Does how the box look make a difference to the person who receives it?

Technology – Google Sketchup is a great program, one that is difficult to get used to, but promotes resilience in technology and creative thinking.  It also lets them see their creation is real 3D, instead of just imagining it.

Teamwork – This kind of thing is best done in a group.  The filtering of ideas and compromising is essential.

Geography – Where is this package going?  What time of year is it there?  What season?  Will that impact our package and design?  How far will it go?  What route will it take?

Money vs Time – How much does it cost to send it?  What are the options?  How fast will it take for the different options?  Which one best suits our needs?  Which one will be safest for the product?  How do we decide based on these factors?  What is more important, money, time, or safety?

Democracy – The act of choosing one from the whole class is an excellent lesson in democracy and decision making.  Yes, students will be upset if theirs is not chosen, but it is a powerful look at how decisions are made.  How do we decide which one?  What is important to me?  What aspects of the package do I value?  Why am I deciding the way I am deciding?  What factors are influencing my decisions?

Connections and sharing – The global nature of sending the package to another classroom is setting up a relationship.  Ideally, we would Skype about it afterwards and have a conversation.  Friends are made, learning is shared, the world gets smaller, but it also gets larger.

Beautiful project.  So excited to try this next year!

Six Months in a Leaky Boat

I’m embarrassed sometimes by the attitude some Australians have to our neighbours, New Zealand. Frankly, I’m a bit of a fan of the kiwis. They’ve given the world plenty, but for mine, their finest contribution has to be the Finn brothers…

One of the more mundane challenges of global learning, as I’m quickly discovering, is the lack of coordination in holidays between the northern and southern hemispheres. With most of the Writers’ Clubs’ schools located on the other side of the equator, they’re now frolicking in the warmth for three months, while we here in the south hunker down for a winter of mid-year reports and a brief mid-year break before the “premiership” term, term three.

I was suddenly aghast. What will happen to our Writers’ Club without some of our star performers? Will it go into hibernation, awaiting the spring and a new influx of students?

Fortunately, New Zealand has come to the rescue. Our group of Australian schools can now do some trans-Tasman sharing of writing before the tidal wave of northern hemisphere of schools comes online to join us. Pinehill School in Auckland have already signed up, and have taken to the community like a duck to water. Welcome!

You can check out their writers here. In the meantime, check out some more of the fantastic Finns…

Find and Be Found

I’m often asked what the point of the Writers’ Club is if you are already blogging. Surely having a global audience is not exactly revolutionary – all you need to do is to start a blog, and theoretically, you have a global audience, right?

Well, yes and no. The big problem I have found with blogging in the classroom is (a) finding the blogs of others, and (b) having your blog found by others. The result is your audience, and hence the number of comments you receive, are usually pretty small.

And I speak from experience. If you’re reading this on the *official* Rob Sbaglia blog, at, you should know that this is my 112th published post, and once you take away replies I’ve made to comments on this blog, the total number of comments this blog has recieved is…. (drum roll)… thirty five. That’s an average of 0.31 comments per blog post, or not even one comment per three published posts. And I’m out there tweeting my posts, putting them on Facebook, reposting on nings and so on and so forth. I can only imagine what an average ten year old’s blog receives if they are blogging.

So how to give students an audience for their work? Some teachers take to twitter to get their kids an audience – there is even a #comments4kids hashtag for that specific purpose. But as Adrian Camm recently noted, this is somewhat artificial. And it’s not sustainable. I want my students being able to find and be found without the need for my assistance.

The Writers’ Club does this in a number of ways. First, it uses Buddypress, a social network plugin that goes “over the top” of the blogs. It makes it much easier to find the blogs of other student authors around the world, and to have your work be found by those same authors. It does this in a number of ways.

First, there is an activity stream that shows all the recent happenings across the site. You can refine this stream by seeing just the recent blog posts, comments, forum posts, and so on.

Secondly, because everyone is a member of the one big community, there is no need for putting in email addresses or anything else to identify the person leaving the content. The account you use to write on your own blog is the account you use to comment on the other six hundred blogs that are on the site. This means that if you comment on my blog, I can click on your name and YOUR Writers’ Club blog automatically pops up. I can then go look at your work and return the favour.

Thirdly, there is a nice little plugin called “achievements“. This gives awards to students automatically based on their contribution to the community. Students get points for writing blog posts, commenting on the posts of others, responding to the feedback from others, commenting on blogs from other countries, and so on.

Is it working? Well, students are getting more comments on their blogs than I am. I think that’s a pretty good start.

Hands on the Wheel

Being a new dad is easily the most amazing experience of my life. My little girl, now thirteen months old, astonishes me every day with her rapidly developing communication skills, and her mobility – she has gone from slow crawling to pushing her wheelie-bug around the house with abandon in what seems like the blink of an eye.

Her latest toy is a steering wheel, which has a horn, indicator lights, and so on. It reminds me of her developing independence – she’s gone from a baby, totally dependent on her parents, to a toddler, exploring the world on her own.

Giving students the steering wheel when it comes to the online world can be daunting. As teachers, we like to be in control of what’s going on, and can doubt the abilities of students to self-organise. While some students struggle with the idea of self-organisation, I do believe that many students ARE capable of it, and just require the leadership to be show how to do it.

A great example of this has been on our Writers’ Club. As well as providing students with their own blog, it also provides them with the ability to form groups and create forum discussions around particular topics. I haven’t explicitly made this a part of the Writers’ Club’s way of operating – it’s just kinda been there, and I’ve left it alone to see what, if anything, would develop.

Slowly, we are seeing students starting to use the forums to discuss things of real significance. Given the steering wheel, these students haven’t driven it off a cliff, as we might fear. They’ve driven into interesting new places, and taken control of their learning in a way previously unimagineable. For example, here is a conversation comprising of members from three different continents, discussing literacy without the direction from their teacher.

These students are showing what learning can look like within a vibrant online community. While structure is needed for student learning, there must be room within that structure for students to own their learning. It’s time to let them have the wheel.