Holly Stipe’s 8th-grade Advanced Language Arts students at Issaquah Middle School along with Amy Krohn and Anne Miller’s 4th and 5th grade Science Technology class at Briarwood teamed up for a Global Collaboration this spring. The unit crossed miles to discuss the theme in their respective novels using Microsoft Teams as their gateway for collaboration.
ITP participants (Stipe and Krohn) worked across grade-levels in a Global Collaboration project that successfully united kids to discuss, collaborate, and create. Mrs. Stipe’s class read Warriors Don’t Cry while Mrs. Krohn’s class had several book options including Finding Perfect, Out of My Mind, Harbor Me, Crenshaw, Breakout, The Parker Inheritance, Amal Unbound, A Handful of Stars, and more. When thinking about what technology they wanted to use, they had several options to consider. Stipe and Krohn set up a collaborative Team where students were assigned to specific groups. Each group had their own workspace where they could find documents such as agendas and worksheets Krohn explains, “Teams was a platform that I wanted to become more familiar with and it was readily available to our students on their ITP devices. I liked that everyone had access to each other’s work if they needed and had a single space to upload anything they were working with or wanted to communicate.”
The 8th-grader students were tasked with the job of helping the 4th and 5th graders craft a theme statement for their novels. The goal was to find a theme that is universal and complex. This would then be incorporated into an Adobe Spark poster that both schools can display.
I was able to visit Ms. Stipes class during the second collaborative conference where 8th graders and the Sci-Tech students worked together on establishing norms of an online meeting while sticking to their agenda. In this case, students in one group noticed that muting when not speaking would become a norm since it could be overwhelming otherwise. The 8th graders also took on roles, one such role was the “Affirmer” who was tasked with acknowledging and supporting group and individual answers as well as encouraging participation from all group members.
However, technology does not come without its own set of problems. When first attempting to conduct their online meetings via Zoom, there were more failures than successes. Ms. Krohn states, “We had quite a few moments of technical difficulties between the video meetings and having projects ‘deleted mysteriously’, but they were all teachable moments and the students handled them very well. We also had some issues with appropriate ‘conversation channel’ behaviors in the sci-tech class.”
Ms. Stipe’s class worked quickly to overcome these technical issues. They quickly discovered the ability to initiate the “Meet Now” option when Zoom wasn’t working perfectly for all the groups. A great fix by the 8th-grade students who took the initiative to make their meetings happen! Ms. Stipe was proud of her student’s initiative and overcoming challenges. She said, “Helping my 8th graders’ problem solve on the fly when they needed to help their 4th and 5th-grade peers stay productively engaged.” Her 8th graders noted that they were not prepared for some of the group management issues that they faced even beyond the tech issues such as having a large group stay on task, staying focused, and following guidelines and instructions.
Despite some of the technical issues they experienced at first, the overall collaboration has been successful and having this face-to-face collaboration was one of the best aspects of their project. Krohn noted, “Our students loved that the video options meant they could put a face to a name. They couldn’t always hear what was being said, the muting process was tough, but they liked that they could see who they were talking to.” Stipe adds, “My 8th graders said they felt more connected to the students they worked with and could more easily ask questions in the moment to clarity and coach their buddies along.”
Both Krohn and Stipe recommend engaging in a collaborative project. Stipe recommends that teachers be willing to live with the ambiguity of a project like this. She states, “Being willing to give up some control is important – knowing that ambiguity is okay, and that going bravely into the unknown is as important for our students as it is for us to model that for them so they can be more fearless.” Krohn also recommends taking on the challenge. She shares, “Jump in with both feet and don’t be afraid of the trials and struggles. I’ve watched our students grow as much from the struggles as the content of the project. We know this, as teachers, but it is worth the risk of the unknown to see the overall growth and resiliency in our students.”