Those of my readers who have followed our Flat Classroom Project may be interested to know it is pretty much all over for this season. The awards have been announced and students have voiced their opinions on the project, the process and the flat world. The wonderful judges have contributed their time once again to discuss where we have come from and where we could now go to. However, Vicki Davis and I continue to discuss and reflect on what actually happened and what significance it has had in terms of our own teaching and student learning.
Quite a lot has been written about School 2.0, 21st century learning, different models of education in the classroom, bringing schools out of the 20th century, and new schools modelling best practice reform recently. There is a common theme running through all of these that focuses on defining what 21st century skills are and describing the ideal learner and learning scenario in this new century.
Well, in my humble opinion, the Flat Classroom Project is an excellent example of what 21st century learning is about. Let me explain this with reference to what is called the Learner Profile from the International Baccalaureate Organisation.
From the IB learner profile booklet it states, "The aim of all IB programmes is to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world."
I would like to focus on five of the 10 attributes: Inquirers, Communicators, Open-minded, Risk-takers and Reflective.
Natural curiosity and a love of learning was fostered throughout this project by the intense need to work with a complete stranger. Students started the project posting a short personal audio introduction to the wiki. To us it was curious that the southern American accent and lifestyle was so different. Why did these students spend time hunting quail and other animals, why did they seem to play and watch so much football? We inquired further and learned more about our partners and their lifestyles.
Working effectively and willingly and being creative when expressing ideas was very important throughout this project. We found that given the time zone differences we were never in the classroom at the same time therefore synchronous interaction such as chatting online or using Skype (VoIP) was limited. This did not matter as we also had asynchronous methods with which to communicate. The wiki itself provided a discussion forum for each page where teachers and individual students for that topic could post messages to each other.
This project was designed to share life experiences and cultural differences. The cultural interaction promoted knowing more about the world (Time magazine's first 21st century skill) and a sense of celebration of similarities rather than dismissal due to differences. We designed a code of ethics that stated "Remember you have a global audience. Everything you create can and will be viewed by others. Our schools have paired together because of our mutual standards of excellence and pursuit of 'flat classroom' experiences and educations for our respective classrooms. Represent the best your country has to offer in your actions and understanding."
As the students approached unfamiliar situations and uncertainty their true strength of spirit helped them explore new roles, ideas and strategies. This was not an assignment that could be written in one night. This project relied on time management, planning, organisation and above all interaction with their partner. It involved learning about new IT tools that would allow students to use multimedia to express their ideas. It was a whole new learning paradigm that needed independent, responsible and brave students and teachers to see it to completion. It also allowed for opportunities for excellence in different areas and, as per the flat world theme, all students were leveled by having the same chance to excel. Not all did excel of course as this is the real world we are discussing, not a fairytale.
A major focus of the Flat Classroom Project is to take time to reflect on what has been done, how it could have been improved and where to go from here. Through their personal blogs, group discussions and written reflections students have given thoughtful consideration to their own strengths and weaknesses and the learning that took place.
The pedagogy of the Flat Classroom Project allows for embedding social learning into the mainstream curriculum. It uses real-world topics and authentic assessment. It focuses on student-centred learning and personal development largely through responsible online interaction and use of Web 2.0 tools. It fosters and developes 21st century skills and global learning. It breaks down the classroom walls and flattens the teacher-student relationship.
It has been a life-changing educational experience for us all.
Congratulations to all participating students and teachers for leading the way so that others may follow and find their own adaptation and meaning.
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