Pocomoke students become globally connected

Pocomoke students become globally connected
Posted on 04/11/2016

The total area of the small town of Pocomoke City is just under four square miles, but the students at Pocomoke Middle School (PMS) are going much farther in their daily educational endeavors with the assistance from the district’s digital conversion efforts.

During the month of March one sixth grade language arts class took the concept of collaborating with a rigorous text to a new distance – approximately 200 miles to be exact. Dr. Brian Cook’s students initiated in a partnership with teachers and students from Middletown Middle School (MMS), located in Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS), entitled “Globally Connected: Making Two-Voice Poetry an Authentic Learning Task.”

The two-week project focused on leading students through an analysis of how an author develops the point of view of a narrator, but it wasn’t done in traditional fashion. Instead, the instructors – Cook, Kristi Schmidt, a teacher specialist for English Language Arts in FCPS, and Katherine Shaffer, an English Language Arts Teacher at MMS– created the project utilizing a modified version of the Distance Learning Model. This manner of learning is done digitally, without being face-to-face with the teacher or classmate.

“The distance learning model is unique because it gives students an opportunity to learn in a digital environment while being in their regular classroom,” Dr. Cook explained as every student in his class was paired with a student from MMS. “While most of the instruction occurred with me facilitating from Pocomoke, there were opportunities for students to experience Ms. Schmidt and Ms. Shaffer facilitating the lesson from Middletown. During group discussions and partner activities, each student utilized a form of video conferencing to discuss different components of the text and worked on a digital shared document.”

Each day, the project began with students receiving instruction from their home teacher. At that time, students reviewed daily learning targets and success criteria expected of them. Afterwards, students from PMS connected with their counterparts at MMS using a web-based video conferencing program called Google Hangouts. Students read and analyzed portions of the text with their out-of-county partner with teacher-made discussion questions. Often students documented their discussion and work using a Google Doc, an online shared document where both students can collaborate simultaneously.

At the conclusion of the project, students worked with their partner to create a two-voice poem to display mastery of developing point of view. Each of the two voices in the poem was meant to reflect a different character’s point of view on a topic from the text. Students presented their final product digitally to audiences from both schools, each pair having a student from both schools. Also, every student was required to evaluate the presentations as they were going on using a Google Form, an online rubric, or survey.

Harnessing technology to connect students spiked their engagement at both schools for the duration of the project. Every student indicated they enjoyed the challenge of working digitally, but admitted working in this format brought about its own challenges too.

“Some difficulties with this project were that you didn't know who you were working with,” Lauren Moses, a sixth grader at PMS, stated in her project reflection. “This made it difficult to talk about the project because you did not personally know the person you are working with.”

Another challenge for students was learning to master using some of the Google features associated with Chromebooks, which are laptop-like devices designed to connect to the Internet. For many, it was the first time using these applications.

“I found it awesome that we could use a Google Doc by typing back and forth with each other from so far away,” PMS sixth grader Mackenzie Krebs said. “One of the difficulties for me was performing in front of their class [MMS] and my class; I was really nervous.”

Cook indicated one of his goals of the project, which embedded Maryland’s College and Career Readiness (CCR) and the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) standards, was offering authentic learning tasks that prepared students beyond the classroom. Cook stated allowing students to utilize technology – often already used at home – in a controlled learning environment elevates the probability students are being prepared to maturely interact with others in a digital world.

“Students in the current generation are wired differently than the previous generation with the multitude of smartphones and tablets available. However, many students were never taught to use those devices in a positive manner,” Dr. Cook mentioned. “As more and more devices enter into our classrooms, it is imperative to model for students positive ways technology can enhance their learning. I believe this project absolutely illustrated that goal.”