Flat Classroom Class with Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay at NECC 08

July 16, 2008

I have to say this was one of the highlights of my trip.  I had signed up for this class 2 months prior to ever stepping foot in San Antonio!  In my district I really want to get a flat classroom project  of some sort going.  Even if we start small and just do something with a district close by, that will be something great.  

When I was a classroom teacher, several years ago, we had pen pals from another school in our district.  We did iChat with them.  I had my iSight Camera on and the other classroom had their iSight Camera on. At first we did a group Chat, where we read a story to the class, and then we introduced the kids to one another.  (they had written a first letter back and forth prior to the chat).  Then we let them chat with each other over the course of the year.  This might have been the beginnings of a flat classroom project, I suppose, except that other than writing letters and getting to know one another, learning social etiquette (in third grade), there was no job to do.  No mission to accomplish together.  I had not even thought of that.  

So I wanted to take this class and really see what these wonderful gals were doing with this flat classroom project.  See what I could learn to take away to my district teachers.  Well, I have to say, that not only did I gain an understanding of the project itself, but with the expert teaching by Julie and Vicki, I received one of the best “professional development” experiences ever.

We started “low tech” by coming up to the front in our chairs to visit, talk and receive input about the project as a whole.  By beginning this way, for me, they broke all of the barriers that sometimes come with technology PD where teachers come in and instantly get on the computers and proceed to places unknown.  To start this way was so basic and natural, but such an aha for me.  Something as simple as that.  I begin my Digital Storytelling classes just this way, (we don’t break out the computers until at least the second session) but I hadn’t thought of doing other educational technology PD this way.  I will take that tidbit back and where it fits I will use it!

So we talked and learned about the project and then received cards with a simulation on them.  Each of us was assigned the role of a person and a team, as well as an assignment.  These were real people and real assignments and real teams that existed, that they had created for the project this past year, and that they were sharing with us now.  My role was as a girl student.  I was in the green group.  And our assignment was to work together to plan a research project that had to do with one aspect of a topic.  Based around the 6 principals from Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind, they split the project up into three groups.  Ours was:

* Uploading – Why we should be promoting Web 2.0 tools for sharing information

Here were the objectives:

    * Communities uploading and collaborating on online projects. Examples include open source software, blogs, and Wikipedia

    * Provide an outline of essential Web 2.0 tools (Blogs, podcasts, wikis) and discuss developments and trends in the participating countries

    * Discuss essential social and ethical issues to do with using Web 2.0 tools in both education and business.

    * Provide current scenarios and examples of using Web 2.0 as an effective collaboration and communication tool

    * Daniel Pink’s Category: Story and Empathy ( Story and Empathy – A compelling narrative combining persuasion, communication, and self-understanding. This video will tell a story and cause the viewer to empathize with the characters.)

…so that meant that through the portal of Story and Empathy, we had to work together on those 4 objectives, collaborating and communicating, researching and explaining this “uploading” topic through the eyes of story and empathy.  But here is the kicker…In my group there were 4 participants.  Ok, easy enough.  But we were released to go back to the computers.  And we had to stay there and work ONLY through the WIKI. (We could not talk to one another) Also, not only did my group have 3 participants in the room, we had a gal working with us from Alabama.  She was IN Alabama working with us.  

So let me help you visualize this scene for you:  Thirteen teachers sitting at the computers, the session was being ustreamed (video’d and live broadcasted for the world to see and also the participants in other parts of the world were learning at the same time with us.  They were up at the front with us, just virtually), there was a back-channel chat that Vicki had going, so that the others around the country could be at the ready to begin the project. 

So Vicki and Julie created this brilliant simulation for us to take the next hour and a half and together work through the joys, struggles, and the process of the Flat Classroom Project.  Something we NEVER would have understood through a powerpoint presentation.  My Professional Development AHA is obvious.  As I have stated on earlier posts during Gary Stager’s class on Project Based Learning, and Thomas Guskey earlier this summer, if I have learned nothing else this summer, it is that quality professional development has teachers experience, engage, communicate, collaborate, and produce.  Same as quality instruction in the classroom.  whoa!!!

So this project was very exciting.  Ultimately we would have created a video together, but of course due to time this was not feasible. It was a learning experience just introducing each other on the wiki and then trying to do the research and updating the wiki.  At one point I had found my way to a rogue page, one someone had created just off the site.  I was doing my inputing there, doing research about the empathy of the situation with the little girl who took her life because of the cruel mom posing to be the mean boy.  (This is the story and empathy part of our project-getting to the understanding of what can happen and what it can mean)

Here is my entry:

Current News 1

There was an incident in the news where there was a girl who thought she was befriended by a boy on “MySpace”. The relationship turned sour and it ended. “Josh” turned out to be the creation of a neighborhood family. It turned out to be a mother down the street of a girl who was in a fight with this girl. But the jilted girl committed suicide. Her parents want the people who made the fraudulent online profile to be prosecuted. Girl’s mother says law enforcement officials say the case doesn’t fit into any law.


(See, the students have to site everything they do.)  Anyway, I was updating the wrong page, and then my colleague form Alabama, Laurie Fowler,  saw what I was doing and she started fixing it for me!!!  Such a great team.  My team was Awesome.(Go Green!)  We just got to work and began collaborating by starting the research and then just starting small and updating the wiki page.  Each of us sort of took a spot and started. Other teams sort of were at a stand still, not too sure how to begin. (which is totally real word-you’ll have groups dive right in and others not so much)  I can see that a real project would have to be divie’d up and spelled out a little more precisely but what happens in this type of project is that the students do the dividing up of work.  There are team leaders appointed.  The students decide who does what, and the best part is that on the wiki page, using Wikispaces, every update, every entry is automatically posted on the history page.  So the group, and the teacher can actually see who did what.  So the students who might normally not engage in a group project are held accountable.  There are other wiki products out there, but I loved what Vicki said about Wikispaces.  “I’m a geek, and I want my wiki to work” and she can always rely on her Wikispaces wikis. 🙂  Plus the other features of this free product make it the clear choice for this project. 

Anyway, the simulation came to a close way too soon, but I walked away with some excellent food for thought, plans, and learning.

Through this project and this 3 hour class, which was really a 2 day workshop honed down into 3 hours, I learned a few things about Flat Classroom Projects:

  • Lots of planning upfront by both teachers-collaborating.  This is actually a great way to model for students how to collaborate.
  • Have set outcomes-making learning meaningful.  It has to be meaningful.  This has to be a project that both groups of students come to the other side with meaningful outcomes.
  • Teachers need to stay involved-and brace for the obvious glitches.  Technology is can be messy-and teachers need to be wiillng to take that risk, and just jump in.  I read an educational blog by one of my yodas, Brian Crosby,  called “Learning is Messy“-and isn’t it true that if it is worth doing, it takes effort?!  This is not a “sit at your desk while the kids work” project.
  • Making learning relevant-this project will make learning relevant to the students.  I know that the pen pal project that I had my third graders do took on a whole new meaning when we began to skype and communicate together. I can only imagine what this type of project would do to two classrooms full of engaged pre-teens or high schoolers.  I think that it would just up the ante that we all are searching for in our classrooms to engage our students and take the word “boring” out of their vocabulary.
  • I learned lots more about wikis in general-how to edit, tag, look at the history, and understand the whole wiki site as a “site”.  Also I learned how to make a table of contents.
  • That I want to share this with people in our district–and I think I can get some takers, in fact I know I can.
So my learning was twofold.  I now understand more fully how to go about a flat classroom project.  Also in this class was Jane, from a neighboring district here in Arizona.  She and I were in different groups, but we do the same jobs in our districts.  We exchanged phone numbers and emails, and we will be getting together in the fall to begin work on establishing a project between our districts.  We’ll start there, and see where it will lead us.  
But through the model of good teaching practices, and reflection, Julie and Vicki gave me another gift.  That is the gift of good teaching.  I learned.  I grew as a professional that day.  In pedagogy and skill. Wow! What an impact.  Thanks to both of you.  
Here is the link to our (Green Group) Flat Classroom Practice Wiki!


  1. Nancy, thank you for describing our workshop so well! and for your very kind comments about what we did in the three hours to move participants to the next level. Yes, we did try to cram in a 2-day workshop into 3 hours, but made a decision to have that early session away from the computers so people could see the importance of planning and the need for asynchronous interaction. You have made excellent observations about how to run a flat classroom including being organised and having an end goal…these are so important.
    I am so excited to hear about your plans for a future flat classroom collaboration and hope you will share this with us all via the Flat Classrooms Ning http://flatclassrooms.ning.com/ as well.

  2. Thank you so much! I appreciate the reflection and thought put into this and it helps me remember that the transformational experiences often happen sans powerpoint! Thank you so much!

  3. Hi Julie and Vicki,
    Thanks so much for stopping by. I am so excited about this year. Someone from Japan has contacted me already, and I have approached several teachers in my district already and so I really think we are on the verge of launching a project. I am so excited, and thanks to you both, have the confidence to move forward and take the steps necessary! I’ll post on the ning and keep in touch!! I wish the best for you both this year!

  4. Hi Nancy,
    Thanks for this great post! I loved your discussion of the simulation and how much it helped set the scene when we started working online. Even from afar and via Ustream, the simulation was very effective. Kudos to Vicki and Julie for coming up with the activity.

    I would love to keep up with you and your classes this year. Anything I can do to help, please let me know.


  5. Hi Nancy,
    You’ve done a great service here. I am preparing for Vicki’s two-day version of the workshop you describe here! (http://edtechteacher.org/workshops2009_Flat.html) Very helpful insights into the pedagogy Vicki and Julie used with you and that they use with students.
    Thanks so much!

    • I am so glad that this post continues to share….Julie and Vicki have been such a model for all of us to learn and grow from in the global realm. I hope your session went great, Dennis, and I would love to hear about it. If you blog about it please come back and post your blog site here so I can read about it!


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