Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why I Intergrate Online Work into Class

As of last year, I'd been teaching for 12 years. I was teaching at very 'inner city' schools, in New Zealand we have a decile ranking system for each school based on parents income. We were a '1' which was the lowest. My classrooms for the last four years had a single (i.e. one) European student. I had the 'worst' classrooms, with the 'worst' Boys, in not the "worst" school but one with a 'not-very good reputation'.

I'd always been heavily involved in sport as I thought that was the best way that I could motivate the students. When I say heavily I was putting my hand up for coaching responsibilities that others wouldn't necessarily take on. To cut a long story short I was taking the reigns for somewhere in the region of 25 teams a year, in ten different sports. I didn't really have a bigger idea than that, but I felt to motivate the students its what worked best.

Last year for the first time I got involved in online work and I fell into blogging. Started March 12, by June I was posting pretty much every day. I realised pretty soon what a wonderful tool it was, or the potential that it had. My students 'got it' very early on in the piece. The students were Pacific Islands students (predominantly Tongan and Samoan) and Maori. Their culture was so important to them that sharing it with others, in many forms, had a huge affect on the moral and effort of the class.

We didn't have the greatest resources at my school. We had a (singular) classroom computer and there was only three video cameras in the whole school. Two of those were broken most of the year. There was only one digital camera, but we worked around that.

What motivated the students so much, was their engagement. Getting a response from around the world was just so empowering for the students. I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning and we had days when no-one visited our class page! Things started slowly but that was great because everyone, me included, fed off the momentum. Inadvertently we discovered that there's not a lot of videos out there about speaking Tongan or Samoan language and the students felt pleased to be sharing their culture with the world. Once we started moving up the google search engine ratings success fed off success, there's a lot of displaced Pacific Island people out there wanting to connect with their culture.

We networked with other schools around the world. These experiences for the students were so powerful that I can't put them into words properly. For those of you who didn't catch it Mr C and his class from Noel Elementary School in Missouri, USA helped with a Samoan Sasa or Slap Dance. The link's here.

I know I changed, as a teacher as a result. I went from someone who was professionally going through the motions to someone who wanted to really be involved in innovative teaching. The sport went out the window to some extent as I tried to make do of the digital world. I'm so passionate about it all that it was a major factor in my changing of jobs after 12 years teaching in the area. I live in another city now, at a similar type of school, when I applied for the job I wasn't going to say 'yes' to a school that wouldn't allow me to work with the students in an online capacity. That's been gradual steps but again thanks to some of the people that we've made connections with we've taught other classes in other countries (Mr Lamshed's Boys Class in Adelaide), we've had other New Zealand classes teach us... (Appleby School in Nelson, NZ) and not a day goes by where in class we don't use the blog or online work in a meaning and powerful way.

I'm very grateful for the contacts that I've made and the lessons that I've learned through being active online and I know the students have benefited. That's why I'm so passionate about what I do and the opportunities that online work provides for students. I know that online work and blogging is not a cure all for difficult classrooms but I am truly convinced that it is an indispensable tool that I couldn't do without, and something that has so much to offer to students and teachers a like


Jarrod Lamshed said...

Fantastic post!

I completely agree with what you've said here. Using the internet and blogging has become a necessary teaching and learning tool in my classroom and I can't see myself doing my job without that now. I have only been classroom blogging for a term and can already see the opportunities it opens up for my students and myself.

The learning connections we have made from all around the world are brilliant!

Ali Colbeck said...

There is nothing I enjoy more in life than hearing from people that are passionate about what they do. Yours is a great post full of the optimism available to educators who harness the power of new technology (no matter how scary it may at times seem!)
thank you

Wm Chamberlain said...

My life changed incredibly this year since we collaborated on the slap dance. That was my first collaboration on line with another school. It allowed me to be exposed to so many great people in Australia and New Zealand. Thanks for including my class and I can't wait to continue the partnership going forward.

Manaiakalani said...

What an inspiring story you have shared. It is cool to read from the comments of others here how you have influenced their teaching (and their dancing!) through your innovative work online.