Alisha Portolese: Scenarios: Integrating Collaboration Skills Across the Curriculum Using Open and Remixed Lesson Plans

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Alisha Portolese
17 January 2013

This is my first try at using a narrative scenario for learning design as part of OLDS MOOC week 2 - I hope this is on the right track. I also hope to get some feedback!

Narrative Scenario: Integrating Collaboration Skills Across the Curriculum Using Open and Remixed Lesson Plans

Ms. Chatter is a 35-year-old teacher living in Toronto, Canada. She teaches grade three in a public school. She has been a primary teacher for 10 years. She is trying to incorporate as much group work and as many extended projects in her class as possible, but she finds this difficult because her students usually need a lot of help working well together in a group. Although some students need more help than others, no matter what, uneven participation and group conflict always arise.

Ms. Chatter wants to teach her students collaboration skills. She wants to be able to give her students more freedom with their work and the opportunity to engage in projects that extend over long periods of time because she knows these are more educational and rewarding for her students. She also needs to make every lesson count because class time is limited - she wants to align her lessons in collaboration with as many curricular guidelines as possible.

Ms. Chatter tries talking with some of her colleagues about how to do this but none of them have tried anything different than she has already. She searches online and finds a link to a lesson sharing website. She bookmarks the page to look at more closely later when she has more time.

Over her summer holidays, she has more time and revisits the website. She finds lessons on collaboration that are appropriate for grade three. She sees that the lessons are in the form of a template that could be used on its own or with another subject. She sees some examples of how it could be used with another subject, some of which are from other teachers that have tried it out. Most of the examples she sees involve a combination of the collaboration lessons with science or social studies units. Others have commented on the shared lessons, and she can see how some would work better for her class than others. After browsing the different versions, she creates her own using the base template and a couple of her favourite versions that integrated the lessons into a science unit that is part of the grade three curriculum. The base template has core points and tips about teaching collaboration that she finds very useful. It takes her a fair bit of time to prepare.

In the new school year, she tries her science and collaboration lessons out. They go pretty well but she sees lots of room for improvement. She revises the lessons the next summer for the next year. This time it is much quicker for her to plan the lessons. During this second year, she shares what she has done on a lunch break with another grade three teacher at her school. They chat together about how they could integrate the lessons with a unit in math. Although it is still a challenge to engage her class in extended projects and group work, she has found that by integrating the lessons with a variety of subjects at spaced times in the school year, her students are able to work well in groups by the end of the year. Since her students have learned helpful language and tools for collaboration, she is able to spend less time resolving conflict and more time facilitating her students' learning.

Scrutinize your scenario & revise as necessary:
What claims are you making: for your designs? about context? about the people involved? etc... Do these hold up? Summarise your claims below particularly those that you feel need more support.

The claims I am making about the design are that:
-  the base template and remixed versions can be easily shared and found online, and further mash-ups are possible
- the base template provides a foundational core that highlights the critical features of teaching and learning about collaboration and the needs of different age groups to consider when remixing or redesigning a lesson in collaboration
- it can be integrated with a variety of subject areas or done in isolation; examples that align with state/provincial/national curriculum are available
- over time, it results in improved collaboration skills

I cannot yet say if any of these claims hold up because I have not put it to the test yet. Right now these are merely aspirations. Where exactly online these lessons would be shared is undecided - where are teachers most likely to look online is the question that needs to be answered.

The claims I am making about the people involved are that:
- many students need practice with collaboration skills
- some teachers may worry about having the time to teach collaboration skills because classroom time is already divided between many school subjects (and field trips, school concerts, special needs, etc.)
- it is likely that the first time a teacher tries to use or remix a lesson it will take time. Some of this time is spent browsing and getting initial ideas and getting used to a new tool or platform.
- a teacher is likely to be more efficient planning any subsequent lessons because of his/her initial experiences
- some teachers might be more comfortable sharing their lessons with a peer in person than online; many teachers may “lurk” use and remix a lesson without sharing their versions online

These claims are based on teachers that I have spoken to and worked with, which is mostly primary teachers in public schools in Canada. It is possible that teachers in private or alternative schools, teachers of students of a different age, or teachers in other countries would have different experiences. If I ever were able to complete this project, it would be great to collect data on users to learn about their thoughts and experiences. Therefore, since these claims are based on conversations with a limited number of teachers, they may or may not hold up.

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Tiffany Crosby
3:03pm 18 January 2013

Great scenario. If you hadn't mentioned Canada, I would've assumed you was talking about a school in the United States. So the scenario that you described does hold up in the U.S. as well. I believe that this cross-unit collaboration and extended projects is where education at the primary levels need to head but there are real obstancles to achieving this dream. At least in the U.S., some major obstacles are:

* State performance metrics based on standardized test results and a narrow definition of academic progress. The teachers must teach what's on the test are the schools could be taken over for poor performance. This has seriously limited the innovation that is in the classroom and it has made collaboration less likely as it's harder for them to measure student knowledge acquisition.

* Entrenched teacher unions that would fight any changes that could mean a "reallocation" or "reassignment" of resources. Math teachers teach math, they don't teach science.....

But on the flip side, there are grants available for innovation teaching methods and there are numerous foundations that are making a push for change. That could be another incentive for pursuing this approach. Wouldn't it be cool if as a result of this, the teacher received an innovative teacher award and the school received a grant. Suddenly, interest would increase.

Alisha Portolese
4:59pm 18 January 2013

Thanks for your feedback, Tiffany! I love your idea about innovative teacher awards and teacher/school grants, I very much agree with you.

In the US, do you have math teachers and science teachers etc. as early as primary grades? At least in the province of Ontario in public schools, teachers only start specializing in grade 7 - otherwise students typically have one teacher that teaches nearly all the subjects. Some schools will have a specialized teacher for second languages, gym, and the arts, but not even always. That definitely would change things!

Yes, standardized tests are such a major obstacle. I hope that changes will occur where there is more value in the "soft skills" such as collaboration when it comes to assessment and university/college applications. It seems that with the current interest in 21st century learning things are going in that direction, but I think big changes will take a long time.

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