Reflecting on Grade 1 Communities Unit (part 3-Making Global Connections Online)

This is the third part of a reflection on introducing grade 1 students at the International School of Phnom Penh to the learning potential offered by online communities. Part 1 of this reflection described how grade 1 homeroom teachers (Rachelle Pia, Carina Corey, and Kelly Davidson), the Tech Coach (Matt Dolmont), and the EAL teacher (me) collaborated to introduce students to the concept of communities of learners by using analog community boards. In part 2 of this reflection I explained how we introduced student interaction in these communities by teaching commenting skills. In this part, I will summarise the unit and discuss how we moved from the analog communities and comments to online communities, enthusiasm for which spread to other grade levels at our school and grade 1 students taught by Tara Barth from Myanmar International School in Yangon.

This reflection appeared in the April – May 2016 edition of the ISPP Pulse.

Grade 1 recently inquired into the transdisciplinary theme of How We Organise Ourselves:

Our central idea was:

Effective communication systems allow people to connect locally and globally.

Our lines of inquiry were:

  • The ways different communication systems work
  • The ways we connect locally and globally using communication systems
  • The effectiveness of communication systems

As part of this inquiry, students explored how modern communications systems like the internet can help us create Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) that give us the potential of connecting with learners in other classrooms, schools, and countries in online communities. Students found out how these connective possibilities allow us to share our knowledge about topics that interest us and learn from others who may have a more developed understanding.

This exploration began with the students participating in an online Google Forms survey that helped teachers identify the six most preferred topics of interest amongst Grade 1 students. These topics were: puppies, cats, sea animals, Lego, football, and MineCraft.

Students then chose to become members of one of six communities centered around each of these topics. These communities initially existed as analog communities on art boards erected in the shared Grade 1 and 2 piazza, each of which was posted to by a teacher on the team. Students were at first asked only to lurk, which in terms of digital literacy means to simply enjoy content on the boards and check them for new posts and updates.

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The analog communities piazza with teacher posted content. Students initially just joined and lurked.
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An example of a one of the analog community boards with teacher posted content.

After a few days, students were invited to contribute oral, then written, comments in response to new posts made on the communities. Teachers modeled comment writing on sticky notes and students soon followed suit on paper speech bubbles. In writing workshop and unit of inquiry lessons, students learned to comment in ways that paralleled responses to art forms students had written during their previous unit of inquiry. Students learned to make: evaluative comments in which they expressed how and why they liked posts; connective comments in which they discussed how the post connected to their personal experiences, other topics, or other aspects of the same topic; inquiring comments where they asked a question of the person who made the post or of the other community members; knowledgeable comments where they added their own knowledge of the subject of the post; reply comments in which they answered another student or teacher comment; and graphical comments that expressed ideas with images or drawings. Students could use key sentence frames involving commenting from this “Commenting Cheat Sheet” that was displayed around the communities with the sticky notes and pencils. 


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In these photos you can see student comments on content in the yellow speech bubbles. Teacher comments are on pink sticky notes. Some of the content pictures are from students.

After this period of experimenting with commenting, students contributed to their communities by adding content in the form of images, facts, questions, or mini conversations. At the same time, students learned more about gathering images and information from Internet sources, and about how to be responsible and safe digital citizens from Mr. Matt, our Technology Coach.

Teachers, remarking on how interesting these analog communities seemed to be to their members, and other students throughout the school, then posed the questions: “Is it possible for people outside Grade 1 in ISPP to join, comment, and contribute to these communities? How could we make it so our little interesting communities could become GLOBAL systems for communication?” In every class discussion, Grade 1 students ultimately concluded that these analog communities had to be put on the internet somehow.

The medium of instruction and activities then shifted from the analog communities boards in the piazza onto the internet based VoiceThread application. Using this application, teachers created six “VoiceThreads”, media-centered slides that could be commented on from computer lab PCs and class iPads with equal utility, based on the analog communities boards. Each Grade 1 student was listed as an identity on each slide and was able to comment on content with written text, recorded voice, video, or annotated explanations. Using identities allowed other members to see the name of the students who made each comment, thereby providing a simulated yet controlled online community experience. Students demonstrated the commenting skills they learned through their experiences of the analog communities, but in various media formats online!

To help students make connections between the lines of inquiry, especially regarding the effectiveness of communication systems and how they allow us to connect globally and locally, the Grade 1 teaching team opened up these VoiceThread communities to Grade 2 ISPP students and Grade 1 students taught by Ms.Tara Barth from Myanmar International School in Yangon. ISPP Grade 1 students soon found their own comments surrounded by those from children in other classes and in another country!

Example Voice Thread Communities Picture
An example of what the VoiceThread online communities looked like after students commented…

Ultimately, the Grade 1 students showed great engagement in and enthusiasm for both their analog and online communities. As teachers, we hope their collective experience with especially the online VoiceThread communities proves to be an intriguing segue into blogging that begins in Grade 2, and results in an increased awareness of how engaged digital citizens use the internet for research and knowledge sharing.

We also feel that rich online experiences such as these will help students practice and develop behaviors that will lead to illustrative and positive digital footprints. As our Grade 1 students will undoubtedly be assessed and judged by future recruiters and employers according to the nature of these digital footprints, we think the appropriate time to guide students in their uses of technology is NOW.

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