Since students at both schools are completing this WebQuest at the same time and were given a specific feudal social class to base their historical journey around; Garth and I thought it would add value to the total experience of the project if we could give the students at both schools even greater opportunities to collaborate. The first new collaborative piece to the puzzle are Blog Buddies. Students had the opportunity to talk to their parents and bring back a signed permission slip giving them permission to read, comment and learn directly with a student at the other school. Garth and I both teach about 120 students and 95 students signed up to be Blog Buddies. The goal is to give students the opportunity for peer review and collaboration. Students were arranged via gender, so a large number of students are reading the work of students in different feudal social classes. This idea is so student-centered, it was actually thought up by students. Both Garth and I had students ask us if they could work specifically with a student, or students, from the other school. Friday Garth and I handed out the url's to our students and allowed them to go explore the Blog Buddies web pages. All day I heard comments from my students about how they had this or that in common with their new friend. They didn't use the word classmate, or kid, or student, they continually used the word friend. I also loved to see how being given the opportunity to read another students web site, made that student so much more real to them. I tell my students all the time that Mr. Holman's students are just like them, but their is still some mystery about a seventh grader several cities away that my words cannot solve.
The second new avenue for collaboration is our digital window to the world. Garth and I were able, with great school support, to procure an extra data projector for our classrooms. We each mounted a camera and laptop in the corner of our classrooms and now leave our Skype connection on throughout our day. On the wall of our classrooms we have built a window to the other school. In my classroom our window to world is framed by the essential questions students developed at the beginning of the year. Garth and I both added the phrase "Leave Digital Footprints Worth Following" to the wall, as well. This was also a student suggestion! We both told our students that any time they have a question and want to talk to the other school for help/conversation, they are free to walk up to the camera and start talking. Both Garth and I leave the volume muted and have an Ohio State University souvenir signaling device (Go Bucks!). We were not sure how successful this window would be; and the first few days students were so busy getting lost in their WebQuest that they didn't seem to notice that it was there. Then, a few of Garth's students asked if any of my students used Minecraft. As it turns out, Minecraft is pretty popular amongst seventh graders. Because of the conversation via the window to the world, the students started a GoogleDoc and are currently in the process of organizing a combined feudal manor.
Garth and I are very excited not only about the new ways we are allowing for students to control their learning, but at how many great ideas are being generated by the students. Both the ideas above and countless other little ideas every week are brought to our attention. I really feel that the students are starting to take the leading role in their learning (within our classrooms at least). It is great to see such positive results.