The Ashley Bryan School

The Ashley Bryan School
Serving Children in Grades K-8 from the Cranberry Isles

Friday, January 27, 2012

What is a "Polyberg" and why do we need one?"

No, it is not a parrot named "Berg" asking for a cracker. Nor does it involve large blocks of ice. It's a device our island Teaching and Learning Collaborative schools can't live without, and it has catapulted us into a whole new way of collaborating with our island peers.

A Polycom is a video-conferencing system. A Tandberg is basically the same thing, with some slightly different features (analogous to PC and Mac). Most TLC schools (Cliff, Isle au Haut, Monhegan and Matinicus) have Tandbergs; the Islesford School has a Polycom. So we affectionately call them "Polybergs".

Have you ever seen the old "Hollywood Squares" program? Well, Polybergs look a bit like that show--a wide-screen with each site appearing in a square section of the screen all at once. Whoever is speaking moves to the top, with the rest of the participants arranged around the screen. We can talk, read aloud, show and tell about projects and even rock out together on our Polybergs.

This past week alone, our Polybergs were used for about 14 different inter-island meetings--some for students (TLC student council, book groups, class meetings), some for adults (teacher collaboration meetings, Parent Teacher Community), and some for both adults and children (inter-island science and social studies unit kick-offs).

Our Polycom is the same kind of machine that is used by the TeleMed program to show doctors at a distance site what's going on in people's ears and throats and enabling the patients to talk to doctors "face-to-face" on the mainland. We use ours to connect with many TLC schools at the same time--sometimes sharing the screen with as many as 6 sites at once.

Can we teach on the Polyberg? Yes, but not in the same way that we teach in the classroom and only for limited purposes. Kids still need to have their teachers in the room to monitor and coach them, and lessons need to be specifically designed for the Polyberg--a time consuming operation. The Polyberg is best suited for multi-site collaborative practices between teachers and students, such as presentations and facilitated discussions. When students need one-on-one coaching and instruction, the Polyberg is not a good choice, because students will always need individualized, hands-on support to best learn new skills and concepts.

We are having fun with different islands "hosting" Polyberg meetings to showcase their work. We've had a great time with inter-island quiz shows, and of course our not infrequent inter-island Polyberg celebration dances.

The Magic of GoogleDocs

So.  How is it possible for students separated by miles of water to work together on classwork, projects and homework?  One answer is GoogleDocs.

GoogleDocs allows many people to work on a document, spreadsheet, form, or presentation together simultaneously or asynchronously.  The cool thing is when you're working on a project with someone else at the same time, you can see what they add to the document, as they are adding it!

Here's what it looks like:

These students...

and this student are working together on a GoogleDoc with other students from Cliff Island, Monhegan Island, Matinicus Island and Isle Au Haut.  
This is what the GoogleDoc document that they are working on together looks like.  When you open the document, it looks just like every other word processing document you've ever seen.  With one difference: other people can work on it with you in real time with no forwarding, copying, or other complications.  When you look at the top right hand side of the document you can see the people who are viewing the document at the same time you are viewing the document.

Now if you scroll down the document, you can see what people are adding to the document.  Do you see the blue and pink cursors on the document?  Each of those colors represents a different person typing on the document.  When those people begin to type, the cursors will even identify who the typists are!  You will be able to see what they type while they are typing it. 
GoogleDocs is just one pretty magical tool we use to collaborate with students from other islands.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Youngers and Kinders Eat the Earth!!!

"Make sure you eat the side we're not standing on!" one student remarked just before we all bit into our Earths!

The younger/kinder class made miniature Earth models using peanuts or almonds as the core, chunky peanut butter as the mantel and crushed chocolate chips as the crust.  They were very kind to share them with the whole school!

The Modern Schoolhouse

A couple of years ago, the teachers from the Islesford School, the Monhegan School, the Matinicus School and the Isle Au Haut School decided they wanted to build on the successes of their collaborative work as teachers by extending their experiences to their students.

Over the next several months we worked on the details for how students could collaborate across several islands with different schedules, different administrations, different school boards, different curriculum, different levels of comfort with technology,  etc.

In the end, we created the Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Collaboration (TLC).  As the TLC, we agreed to work together to develop a common curriculum so that all of the islands involved in the project would be teaching the same things at the same time, allowing opportunities for collaboration.  We agreed to go on two curriculum-related field trips together each year, in addition to our annual Inter-Island Event.  We agreed to continue to support each other through our own collaborative practices.  And we agreed to teach in virtual settings using technology to allow our students to learn and work together.  This element of the TLC has been both the most challenging and the most rewarding aspect of our project. 

The details for making virtual classrooms work are many, and it wasn't (and still isn't) easy to make it all work all the time.  But today, two years into our TLC we are making it happen--almost everyday!!  Here are some examples of how our students are learning and working together via technology:

Inter-Island book Groups!  Every Tuesday and Wednesday morning, the students from five island schools (Islesford, Matinicus, Monhegan, Isle Au Haut and Cliff) work together in five on-line book groups.  Students in grades K-2 at the Islesford School, the Monhegan School and the Cliff Island School meet together on their video-conferencing systems to listen to the book My Father's Dragon.  Third and fourth grade students from Cliff, Islesford and Isle Au Haut meet to discuss The Chalk Box Kid.  Other third and fourth graders from Isle Au Haut and Islesford meet to discuss The Lost Trail.  Another group of students in grades 4-8 from Islesford, Matinicus, and Monhegan meet to discuss  City of Ember.  A final group of eighth graders from Monhegan and Islesford work to discuss,  make sense of and analyze  The Scarlet Letter.    Book group mornings are busy and productive! 

Students and teachers house their work on "wikis."  On these online platforms, teacher post assignments, discussion questions and materials for students to work on.  Students post their work on the wikis so everyone can see each others work and make comments. 
In addition to book groups, we also meet with the other four schools regularly for Social Studies and Science lessons.  Today all of the students in grades K-8 from all five islands met for an introductory lesson on the layers of the Earth. 

Here is what the video conferencing system looks like when we're all conferencing together. 

This week, it was Cliff Island's turn to teach the intro lesson.  They prepared a pretest, a presentation complete with student-made movies,  teacher-made slide shows, and YouTube videos.  

Individual schools within the TLC also work together for other classes.  In this picture you see the 3rd-8th grade students on Islesford working with the 6th-8th grade students on Monhegan during a writing lesson.  For several weeks these two groups met to learn about narrative writing.  Each student worked on a personal narrative, and every week they revised their narratives based on new techniques they learned during these writing classes.  Sometimes the students broke out into pairs using Skype.  By sharing their writing pieces via GoogleDocs (a word processor through gmail that allows users to share and collaborate on work with their contacts) and communicating via Skype, the students were able to peer conference, giving each other helpful feedback.  When the students completed their personal narratives, they shared with the whole group and received warm and cool feedback from everyone in the group. 

 Of course, not every TLC event is academic.

Students also participate in an inter-island TLC Student Council!

Here is the student council's first every meeting.  Now all of their meetings are on the video conferencing system.  Each student council meeting also ends in a dance party! 

As you can see, we are very busy learning and having fun in this modern schoolhouse!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Journey to the Center of the Earth!

Waiting patiently for our journey to begin!

Finally!  Mr. Halloway is ready on Cliff Island!  "What do you think the inside of the Earth is like?" he asks.  "Draw your ideas!"

Everyone gets to work!

Maybe it's like this?

How about this?

It must be this!

Or this?

Hmmmm.  This could be it?

Or this?


Or mine?
 After a presentation from Cliff, the olders and middles were ready to do some more investigating.  Some students read about the history of geology.  Some students read about the geology of New England.  And some students read about the layers of the Earth.  Now they are ready to show what they know!

We are making a model of how the tectonic plates collide to make mountains. 

I am working on a diagram of the layers of the Earth.

We are taking notes about the history of geology!

Math in the Older/Middle Room

With students in grades 3, 4 and 8 in the same room for all subjects, there is always something interesting going on at all different levels.  On any given day in Math class there are four different math lessons going on!  Here are a few....

If you are in third grade, you're learning about and working with fractions! 
You are learning how to divide things into equal groups using fractions!

If you're in fourth grade, you might be learning about how to measure and draw angles using a protractor, how to identify and classify polygons and how to measure the area of figures.  Or you might be working on long division with remainders!

If you're in eighth grade you're learning about the Pythagorean Theorem!