Sunday, March 25, 2012

True Collaboration In The Classroom

Students using Google Docs to collaborate.
A couple of weeks ago I started my Stop-Motion Animation Unit. Typically the work done in my class is individual, my classroom is a computer lab and I teach each class only twice a week (although students do help, teach, demonstrate and share their individual projects with each other). For the stop-motion unit I have the students in teams of 4 where they brainstorm, write a script, design characters, design and build sets and props, film and then work on the post-production aspects of their project together.
This year I am using Google Docs, I set up Google Apps for Education at my school this past fall, so now all students have a school email and access to the Google tools. In the past I approached this project in a very typical "group setup", assigning roles, using paper handouts where the students were to write up the scripts etc, encouraging them to use shared digital documents, but because of the time constraints I was never really able to figure out anything even partially successful.
This time round everything changed. The students have all been collaborating real time, using the chat feature to brainstorm with each other, and writing up the outline, script, planning their sets, characters, materials, in a very authentic and engaged way using Google docs. I set up a template that had an outline and basic writing prompts so each group had a common starting point. I am amazed at how much work has been done so far in the writing and planning aspect of this project while the sets and the props have also been built. Last time it seemed as if I was pulling teeth when it came to the writing and the planning and storyboarding.
The real highlight of this process is the participation of every group member. I have always had trouble with the idea of group work because I typically see group work in other classes being the "smart" or "motivated" kid doing the writing and the "other kids" in the peripheral, either contributing verbal suggestions or maybe just sitting there, knowing that the work will get done and the group grade will work to their favour.
I am excited about the energy radiating from the students so far as they work out their ideas together, in a truly collaborative way.
(more photos of their work in progress)