This fall, during Rock Our World, Oneco’s Gifted Program's fifth graders spoke with Gina Hill’s fifth graders from Aquin Catholic Elementary School in Cascade, Iowa. While the students were chatting we noticed that they seemed to enjoy discussing literature. Right in the middle of this chat Ms. Hill and I discussed doing some sort of book project this spring. Then in early January Ms. Hill and I began to think through and plan things using email and Facebook. Both of use had dealt with Literature Circles in the past and shared the same vision. We did spend some time sharing different components of these circles and we were very similar. However, we had many questions that needed to be answered first. What were the reading levels of our individual students? Which books had already been devoured by our students? With those things considered, we threw several novels around and we finally decided on Do the Funky Pickle by Jerry Spenilli and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. After the books were chosen, we decided that Ms. Hill would take most of the responsibilities for Do the Funky Pickle and my job would be to work with the students reading Homer P. Figg.
The next set of questions that needed to be answered had to do with that technology tools would server our needs best. Due to our experiences with Rock Our World we both had video conferencing capabilities. So how we would communicate synchronously was easy to answer. However, how the kids would receive and turn in assignments to a teacher thousands of miles away? How will the necessary asynchronous communication take place? We discussed several tools to preform these tasks, but ultimately ended up deciding on Moodle, the online course management system. I have a developed a few courses in the past using Moodle and are housed on my county's server. However, I needed to ask permission and for help from our Instructional Technology Department. We needed for Ms. Hill to be able to help create the course and for her students to also be enrolled in our Moodle. Lucky for me, they have always been very supportive and helpful when it comes to my endeavors. Since the Moodle was new to Ms. Hill, she took upon herself to visit Moodle.org and learn what she could from there. Between her investigation, a brief how to document I sent and a twenty minute iChat session we were up and running.
Then on Thursday, February 24th we began with some activities to build background knowledge for each book and we had set up to conducted video conferences. We attempted to hold them on two different computers in each of classrooms at the same time. We thought we would use Skype for one and iChat for the other. Through that experience we learned a few things. First, that although the kids were engaged the focused having these conferences happen simultaneously caused issues with being able to hear clearly. There was the need to keep asking students to repeat things, which we felt was wasting time. So we decide to divide them the next time. Along with that, for some reason we were struggling to keep the audio feed with our connection through Skype. We would lose the audio on one end, have to hang up and call back. We decided not to try to figure out why and that we would just be using iChat from now on.
For Week 2, we had a bit of a problem with our video conference schedule. The Oneco Gifted 5th grader only meet on Thursdays and the students in Iowa were being forced to go skiing Thursday, March 3. However, through the use of technology we did our best to keep the kids connected. On Wednesday, March 2nd Ms. Hill video taped her Do the Funky Pickle book talk, while I iChatted and recorded the Iowa book talk for Homer P. Then I video taped Oneco’s book talks on Thursday. Finally, we uploaded them into the Moodle for the other group to watch.
As for the Moodle the students seem to have adjusted very quickly to how things work and it is giving them some much needed experience with online course format. Another wonderful thing about Moodle, is that it can be edited and added to with ease when a need arise. For instance, we just added a text chat feature for our use during our next video conferencing session. This way while one group is iChatting the other group can also be engaged in a synchronous activity. Personally, I can not wait to see how that works out.
Overall, this whole experience has been amazing so far. Ms. Hill and her students from Iowa have been incredible and we appreciate the fact that they have been willing to take this adventure with us. Please stay tuned for further post on this adventure.