Growing Innovation in Rural Sites Application:
Connected Classrooms in School District 74
Submitted by: SD74 Connected Classrooms Team Leaders:
Brenna O’Connor, Brooke Haller
Description of Innovation and Research Question
The Connected Classrooms project is an intentional departure from the traditional approach to education in its approach to technology and instruction and has been a successful pilot project in its district. This project exists in two different settings: Elementary Connect Classrooms and English 8 Connected Classrooms. The Elementary Connected Classrooms project is comprised of three elementary classrooms with students from grades 4-7 students in the communities of Lytton, Ashcroft and Lillooet. At the secondary level, the English 8 Connected Classrooms project links English 8 classrooms in the communities of Clinton, Lillooet, Ashcroft and Lytton. In each project, the teachers and students collaborate to combine their classrooms via daily videoconferencing, online collaborative work, and by creating a variety of multimedia content.
Collaboration lies at the core of the project. The three classrooms in the project are highly intertwined, despite each school being roughly an hour’s drive apart from the others; videoconferencing and online communication mediums are working to dissolve geographical boundaries. Connected Classrooms is one of many initiatives within our district designed to meet the needs of declining enrolment, limited student peer groups and rural isolation through collaborative technology and instruction. The project also respects that the interactive nature of our knowledge-based world requires the ability to collaborate and that innovation requires people to interact in a variety of ways, including through interactive technologies and project-based experiences.
The project has created a community of learners amongst the students and teachers. The learning is organized by core teachers who collaborate and plan with each on a daily, weekly and month basis; teachers model the collaborative process they promote within students. The nature of the videoconferences is highly collaborative; students engage in many project-based activities that are constructivist and require cooperation with classmates, creativity and critical thinking. Learners and teacher- facilitators interact through videoconference interactions, sharing smart board work via Brigit, and engaging in online forums and chat rooms together. Moodle has become a powerful communication and sharing tool; students frequently message each other and their teachers, and engage deeply in discussion forums. Participants also communicate by sharing a variety of multimedia content created by students and facilitators at each site.
How can the Connected Classrooms project broaden the learning community of our students and foster collaboration between geographically distant students by creating new learning partnerships both within and outside of our district?
Literature and Research
“Organizing [a] new learning model is the work of the 21st century" (Cookson, 2009, p.15). This is the challenge we are currently faced with as educators. Recent academic discourse has critiqued our current education system, claiming that we are left with the legacy of the industrial age which is “characterized by conformity, age cohorts, bells ringing to summon mass migrations and segregation of skills [that were] necessary for the workforce at that time” (We are the People, n.d.). This is a system that is no longer a ‘best fit’ situation for our students. Children who enter kindergarten this September will be retiring in 2070 (Cookson, 2009). In contemporary society, we do not know what specific skills children will need in the workforce when they become adults, however, recent literature points to the “seven C’s” as essential skills students in the 21st century (Trilling & Fadel, 2009). These include skills of collaboration, teamwork and leadership, cross cultural understanding, communications and ICT literacy all of which are at the heart of the Connected Classrooms project (Trilling & Fadel, 2009).
Through this project, students are provided with opportunities to extend their peer groups working collaboratively with students in different communities who come from diverse cultural backgrounds including both Aboriginal students from three distinct nations, Métis students and non-Aboriginal students creating opportunities to foster cross-cultural understanding. Technology is used as a vehicle in this project to promote and facilitate connections among students and teachers enhancing digital literacy. These skills of collaboration, cross-cultural understanding and communication and ICT literacy are invaluable in a changing world. Technology is “transforming how people work, think, and connect” (Azzam, 2009, p.24). The Connected Classrooms Project provides new ways for students to make connections and collaborate with a larger peer group.
Advances in technology have changed the way we communicate with others and have provided new methods in which we can engage in learning (Azzam, 2009). Through the use of on-line literature circles and connected video conferencing lessons where teachers can lead lessons on subjects they are passionate about, the Connected Classrooms Project provides opportunities for students to experience different teaching strategies and offers a greater scope for individual choice. Students are able to choose from a variety of texts based on their own interests. It is hoped that through providing these opportunities, students will engage more deeply in their own learning. “A new electronic learning environment is replacing the linear, text-bound culture of conventional schools” (Cookson, 2009, p.12) and has the possibility of engaging students who were previously uninterested in their course work (Pape, 2010). Connected Classrooms provides this opportunity for a departure from a more traditional approach to learning and teaching and learning.
Sir Ken Robinson argues that it is necessary for teachers to teach for creativity, “where the pedagogy is designed to encourage other people to think creatively” (Azzam, 2009, p.26). Teachers “can and should model for their students the collaborative learning and knowledge construction that is at the core of 21st century competencies” (Carroll, Fulton, and Doerr, 2010, p.4”. Through promoting of collaborative planning among teachers, this project hopes to promote innovative pedagogy. A professional culture of collaboration enables teachers to become better educators collectively (McCombs, 2010). This involves encouraging not only students but also teachers to experiment and have opportunities to innovate (Azzam, 2009). Teachers need to teach in such a way as provide “the tools they need to find out what the answers might be or to explore new avenues” rather than providing the answers (Azzam, 2009, p.26). Ideally, our education system needs to be transformational where students and adults can “connect in a global, purposeful conversation that would make the world a better place” (Cookson, 2009, p.14). It is hoped that project facilitates these types of connections providing opportunities to broaden the learning community of our students and foster collaboration between geographically distant students.
- To enhance digital literacy and ability of students to collaborate through the seamless use of transformative technology.
- To create project-based learning experiences which are interdisciplinary in nature and promote collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.
- To build cross-cultural understanding between communities within our school district by creating new partnerships and linking learners in Connected Classrooms. The project seeks to build understanding between the different Aboriginal nations within our district and non-Aboriginal students with diverse backgrounds.
Evaluation of these outcomes will involve the gathering of qualitative data at the beginning and end of the year. Students will be interviewed at the beginning of the year and the end of the year. Journaling will also be used as a method of collecting student views and perceptions throughout the project.
Engagement with Community
School District 74 recognizes the need for innovation in times of declining enrolment and understands the challenges that rural, isolated schools face in regards to 21st century learning. Elementary Connected Classrooms is one of several projects designed to meet our district’s changing needs through technology and instruction. The success of Connected Classrooms depends on and reflects the shared contributions of classroom teachers, school principals, district administrators, students, and parents. Contribution from a variety of participants has added to the richness of the project.
Collaboration has taken place in cross-cultural and social contexts and learning partnerships have been forged that help to create cross cultural understandings between the unique communities within our school district. In both Connected Classrooms projects, there are three face-to-face gatherings a year for the students of the project; each community hosts a gathering. The focus of these gatherings is two-fold; we hope to build an understanding of the differences and similarities of our communities, and we hope to build relationships between learners that lead to collaboration. Building relationships creates a high level of trust that allows students and teachers to take risks, propose ideas, give and receive feedback, and brainstorm together. During the gatherings, visiting students also learn new insights about the host community, and gatherings generally take place both at the host schools or community facilities. Facilities and venues within the host communities have been supportive of the project and have made facilities available for students to gather at, often at a fraction of the usual cost.
Parents have been supportive of Connected Classrooms, and are involved at several levels. We have launched each year with an interactive Connected Classrooms Family Night, where we explain the scope and sequence of the year via a live videoconference at all three sites. Attendance by parents on these nights has been high and the evenings have been extremely positive. The Elementary Connected Classrooms team also plans to end this year by having a Celebration of Learning in a similar format: a live videoconference where students at all sites share the successes of the year and their collaborative inquiry projects with family. Parents are also invited to browse our moodle site regularly with a guest login so that they can keep current with the work being done in Connected Classrooms, and often engage in a dialogue with connected Classrooms teachers via email. Many parents view moodle on a regular basis and have expressed appreciation for the opportunity to follow their child’s progress and interactions online.