Sometime during first semester, the date escapes me, Christian Long put out a tweet looking for someone to collaborate with his Texas students regarding 1984. Karl Fisch forwarded the tweet along to me, and so began our venture into Long’s World of Learning-Texas and Colorado style. Maura Moritz, my partner in 9th grade Honors, and I were going to have our students read 1984 at the end of first semester, and end at the beginning of second semester. Following this reading, our students were going to read Cory Doctorow’s response to 1984, Little Brother. Along the way, we were asking the students to think about “What have we learned or not learned in the 60 year span from Orwell to Doctorow? As a result, where are we going as a society?”
Working with Christian is like jumping into the Alice’s White Rabbit Hole- you just never know where you are going, but it is an adventure along the way. Christian and I spent a few Skype sessions with Maura planning out what our collaboration would look like. More importantly, the ability to exchange ideas outside of our department was refreshing. Christian has such a passion and stream of consciousness about his love of teaching and learning. To sit and talk with him is to take in all that it means to be a great teacher. Quite simply, my mind hurt when we would finish talking.
And so the plan became that quite magically all our teaching hours aligned. Christians’ period 2, 3, and 4, matched with our period 2, 3, and 4. We decided that since our students here at AHS had read 1984, they would lead Christian’s classes in a propaganda discussion. The kids planned a day of small group discussion focusing on various aspects of propaganda. Their planning is here and website they created for the discussion is here.
It is really interesting to sit back and watch the kids take over. There are those kids in class that are the planners/ organizers, those that are creatively minded coming up with all sorts of ideas, and then there are those that are along for the ride. Initially, the kids broke up into small groups planning what they were going to teach Christian’s kids. This worked out well and was well orchestrated. When the day came, their plan was that Christian’s kids would rotate between their small groups learning about a different facet of propaganda from a variety of kids. The plan was great, the implementation was more challenging. At least I can say for once, my kids were the guinea pigs and Maura’s got the benefit of our experience.
The technology allowed for some problems between the Texas to Colorado connection. One set could hear, and another couldn’t or one group could access the website, and another couldn’t. We set-up the classroom so that the kids were far enough away from one another each group having a computer with built in webcam that allowed them to Skype into Christian’s classroom in Texas.
The second day went much better- our kids led a large group discussion with Christian’s kids asking them to bring together all they had seen and talked about from the day before. This was a fun exchange of ideas regarding the purpose of propaganda (is all propaganda negative?), rights and responsibilities, safety and security, etc…
I think going forward some things we need to change are:
1- I think fewer groups and more time- maybe having two groups lead the entire class for 15 minute blocks of time.
2- Need to build in set-up time for technology: kids work out Skype difficulties day before so Skype is ready to go, kids all try website ahead of time to make sure all have access, etc...
3- Kids need to be better prepared to lead discussions. My kids had one or two questions, but didn't know how to work through problems with discussion or lack of responses. Kids need a wide depth and breadth of questions to ask. I guess this just proves not everyone can teach! Kids also need various means of delivering information when website doesn't work.
4- Less laughter from kids, more focus on professionalism and responsibility of task. Kids can have fun while still being academically challenged.
Maura’s classes went really well. I am glad we were able to have this intellectual exchange. The power of collaboration far outweighs and of the technical difficulties. I was amazed at the shift in my students from being learners to teachers and watching them struggle with how challenging it is to teach and engage your audience. I know they walked away with a new appreciation for me, and I walked away with a new collaborator- Christian, thanks for this opportunity and here’s to many more.