Monday, November 16, 2009

To Be or Not To Be- Hamlet Cross Country

Earlier this school year, I tweeted out a request for classes wanting to collaborate with my college preparatory English Literature class. We were already in the midst of Oedipus Rex, but were soon to be exploring the worlds of Beowulf and Hamlet. This semester we have been studying the idea of heroes based upon the Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey as well as looking at different types of heroes: anti-hero, epic hero, and tragic hero. I received a response from Laura Deisley who is the Director of 21st Century Learning at the Lovett School in Atlanta, GA. She thought she had a teacher in her building who would be willing to take the jump and collaborate with us.

After a number of email exchanges looking at ideas, timing (they are East coast, we are Rocky Mountain time), moving schedules, permission from administrators, we decided to live blog two parts of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. My students would be discussing with Debi Ohayon’s AP students Act 3 and the end of the play. My students have been reading Hamlet for a little while and were a little further along then Debi’s, but are not part of the AP curriculum here at AHS. Also, my students have EEE PC’s we use each day in class and have live blogged in previous classes so they were aware of the challenges of live blogging. Debi’s students were not used to this methodology in their classes.

Despite all the challenges from both sides and nervousness that this could be pulled off, today we made our first connection. We made this happen with great thanks to Karl Fisch and Laura. From the lovely Atlanta based school to our AHS home here in Centennial, Colorado, we managed to connect our students together…and they were impressive. Debi’s students rose to the challenge that the technology and new discussion method presented, and my students didn’t back down when discussing Hamlet with an advanced placement class. Both sides walked away commenting about how great it was to hear different points of view than from the students in their own class. They were surprised at how similar their thoughts were, but appreciative of the various ways ideas were presented. New ideas were explored and discussed, and common thoughts were expanded upon. Students on both sides of the country talked about how valuable it was to have a new angle and perspective on Hamlet.

And the kids acted like kids too. At one point, a student in Debi’s class even asked out another to their Sadie Hawkins dance. Too Cute.

As far as the set-up of how we created this cross-country connection, we each had a webcam and mic set-up for the inner circles of the fishbowl discussion so they could see and hear one another. Each inner circle faced the screen projecting the other class into their classroom using Skype. Both classes commented about the value of being able to see each other. For the discussion with the outer circle, the students used CoverItLive embedded in our class blog. The kids did a really nice job discussing the text with one another. There were some quiet spots, and talking over one another, but for the most part they all felt comfortable enough to agree, disagree, and have a thoughtful, intellectual discussion. Even those on the blog felt they walked away having made a new friend or debate partner.

On December 9th, we are going to live blog again with our friends on the east coast this time using the entire text as our basis of discussion. Hopefully by then we can iron out some of the technical challenges(hard to hear at times, webcam view to see all kids, etc…), help the kids feel more relaxed and building on their previous success, and create a longer lasting relationship between these two learning communities. I would encourage you at the least to follow along, and if you want, maybe brush up on your Hamlet and join in.

For me thus far, I have been so impressed by Debi’s willingness to jump right into live blogging and sharing her students with ours. Additionally, Laura Deisley’s support of her staff is commendable. I have only seen Karl Fisch work this hard before. It is nice to know its replicable. I have also been impressed with our students’ intellectual prowess to tackle not only reading Hamlet, but their willingness to lead and discuss their understanding with students on the other side of the US. They put themselves out there (or I put them out there J). They didn’t back down from the challenge, but rather set a high standard for themselves and other students wanting to discuss texts with classes from around the world. They continue to challenge me and I hope one another. As always, I am expecting bigger and better for the next go around.

1 comment:

Carolyn Foote said...

Thanks for sharing the details of the process! I was just showing a few teachers CoverItLive today and ran across your example, which gives me something concrete to share.

I hope your work inspires others to try these types of collaborations!