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.

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