The Idea Hive is a classroom like few others around the globe. It is 2,700 kilometres across and joins together grade seven and eight classrooms from Joseph H Kerr school in Snow Lake, Man., and from Turnberry Central in Wingham, Ont.
After “meeting” through Twitter, the two teachers, (Clarence Fisher from Manitoba, and Heather Durnin from Ontario) worked together to build a community of learners in online spaces. Using a wide variety of social media tools (Twitter, Skype, Wordpress blogs, linoit virtual bulletin board and Google docs), our students have built relationships, explored their passions and engaged the world in critical and creative ways.
One example of a major project we have completed featured Markus Zusak's novel, The Book Thief. Before reading this outstanding novel, students from both schools worked together to research topics related to this book (WWII, Jesse Owens, Kristallnacht, etc.). A teacher in Florida Skyped with both of our classes simultaneously to discuss her family's Kristallnacht experiences.
Once this work of activating our students’ knowledge had taken place and they were critically engaged with questions surrounding their self-chosen topics, we read the book aloud to our students. But instead of completing this as a standard read aloud, we read it to our classes using Skype. Each day, one teacher read, while the other supervised the students and guided their discussions in a private chat room while the reading was occurring. We found this process to be incredibly motivating for our students and we were challenged to keep up with their thoughts and questions about the readings. Following the reading each day, the students reflected on what they had heard, posting their comments for the day on an online sticky note for all of the students to see and learn from. We found this to be a powerful experience for both ourselves and our students.
Once the book had been read, the Idea Hive moved into collaborative writing mode where each day students worked in small groups on Google docs to write a field guide to Molching, the fictional town at the centre of The Book Thief. Once again, students talked on Skype, worked in chat rooms and used a number of tools to pull together a book that was 85 pages long.
The teachers pulled the writing together and moved over to Lulu.com where the entire work was published as a hard copy book. The looks on the faces of the students when the boxes were opened and the real, physical books came out, was worth every moment of frustration. Finally, this portion of our collaboration culminated with a visit via Skype with the Australian author of The Book Thief, Markus Zusak.
This project is one example of the power of positive learning communities and the changes to our pedagogy that have grown from our collaboration.
The Idea Hive collaboration continues in the 2011/2012 school year.