By Mary Worrell
Members of the PLP International Cohort’s U.S. teams celebrated the end to their year-long experience together with a culminating event in Fredericksburg, VA earlier this month. Even though it was the U.S. teams celebrating and presenting their projects, teams from Australia and New Zealand attended the event via the PLPLive Ustream channel. It was 11 p.m. for the Australians and 2 a.m. for the New Zealanders, but they were still on hand to support their fellow U.S. teams. (The Aussie teams will have their learning showcase event in July.)
The projects presented at the event showcased the learning of participating teams over the last year. But the event was also about book-ending the PLP experience with another face-to-face event where people who had gotten to know each other online could catch up and collaborate in person.
Alex Ragone and Melanie Hutchinson said each member of the Collegiate School team in New York City got something different from the year with PLP.
“It created some really clear ideas of what we have to do and how we can get there,” said Ragone, director of technology at Collegiate.
“I didn’t realize how far along we’d come until the end,” said Hutchinson, lower school curriculum coordinator at Collegiate. “My whole life has changed and this whole new world has opened up to me.”
Ragone said the Collegiate team started utilizing what they’d learned by dipping just a toe into the pool with some digital communication tools for faculty and parents, but since then they’ve begun to expand and have started to try and communicate what they learned through PLP with the rest of the faculty. For their project, the Collegiate team created a Yammer for their faculty, which Ragone described as an internal Twitter network for faculty members.
“It’s just another place to have conversations,” Ragone said.
For the team at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Va., the PLP experience has been more of a journey than anything else, said Hiram Cuevas, director of academic technology at St. Christopher’s, team leader, and PLP 21st Century Fellow.
“When our team started to branch out within PLP, we realized we were growing at different rates, but that we were all growing,” Cuevas said. “There was a realization that it was okay to take your time.”
Cuevas said many of the teachers on his team, and he personally, took the PLP experience as a chance to expand their personal learning networks.
“I found myself gravitating toward increasing the size of my PLN so I could grow personally, but also provide support for my team and support for other teams within the cohort,” he said. “The other thing that two of my teachers have learned is that it’s okay to lurk, but don’t make a habit of doing so. Learn how to be contributors.”
The St. Christopher’s team developed a wiki for faculty members populated with how-tos for Web-based tools and technologies.
“We wanted to create a safe environment and one in which everyone has an opportunity to flourish,” Cuevas said. “We also included tips for working internationally with other schools.”
Susanne Nobles, an English teacher at Fredericksburg Academy in Virginia and a member of the school’s PLP team, said being a part of PLP helped her overcome the overwhelmed feelings she had about technology.
“The year was powerful. They said ‘do this for yourself and that’s enough,'” Nobles said. “I didn’t have to worry about putting it into my classroom. I could spend time figuring it out for myself, but I ultimately did use it in my classroom.”
Susan Carter Morgan, team leader, instructional tech coordinator and English teacher for Fredericksburg Academy, said the team of peers put faculty members at ease when the group presented what they’d been learning through PLP.
“I had a comment after our presentation that ‘this is the first time I’ve been this comfortable talking about technology ever,'” Morgan said. “Having a team of people is wonderful. It woudl be very hard to be alone and have this voice of authority because I’m not an administrator. But we have this team of people research, work on projects, learn for themselves and apply it to their classrooms.”
Morgan said that the PLP model, which involves giving teams little direction in the beginning stages, was initially frustrating but ended up allowing the team to flourish on its own and find its own direction in the learning process.
“Because we took up this intentional time to meet monthly, we grew, pushed back a little bit, and tried to change each other’s thinking. We focused on our thoughtful approaches to teaching and learning,” Morgan said. “We shared things that worked, we learned them ourselves and realized how we could use them in our classes. When we learned together we realized that’s what we wanted our faculty to do.”
Team Ravenscroft went from feeling required to learn about technology to wanting to learn about it, said Kathleen Christopher, academic computing coordinator, team leader and PLP 21st Century Fellow.
“I think the biggest thing that is different is that at the beginning they felt a sense of obligation to participate and try new things because they were a part of the group,” she said. “Now they actively seek out new activities because of their own developing interest in what the tools can help them accomplish with their students.”
The Ravenscroft team developed a professional development wiki as a way to pass what they learned through PLP onto their fellow faculty members.
Matt Scully is director of technology at Providence Day School (PDS) in North Carolina and his team’s leader. The team is trying to get faculty members revved up for a professional development day in October to be led by the PLP team.
“A lot of what we’re trying to do is make sure we’re having conversations,” Scully said. “Not necessarily about technology, but about curriculum, differentiation, assessment, and mention where tools can help.”
One of the PDS team members expressed some skeptism at first about whether his students were learning as much through the new methods. After a gentle push from PLP he conducted his own action research project to see just what was happening in terms of student achievement and was surprised at the results, especially when aggregated by gender. It appears that his female students did better using social means to learn and study.
Like Cuevas, Scully said the year-long PLP experience helped him expand his personal learning network.
“It has made all of us very reflective on our practice in the classroom,” Scully said. “We had to step back and ask ourselves why we did what we did and why.”
Each PLP team developed a project to culminate the year-long experience. Please visit their wiki pages to review their hard work and innovation:
Fredericksburg Academy- VA
The team at Fredericksburg Academy created a school-wide, virtual learning community to introduce faculty to the idea of reflective collaboration and sharing. They are also planning monthly, after-school sessions to share Web 2.0 tools. You can read more about their project here.
Christchurch School- VA
The team at Christchurch is working to implement 21st century skills and Web 2.0 tools into its existing curriculum. You can read more about this transformation
St. Christopher’s School- VA
The St. Christopher’s team developed a wiki where teachers can learn Web 2.0 tools and see how other teachers have utilized them. You can read more about their project here.
Flint Hill School- VA
You can read more about Flint Hill’s project here.
Norfolk Academy- VA
You can read more about Norfolk Academy’s project here.
Ravenscroft School- NC
The team from Ravenscroft decided to develop a school-wide, professional development wiki to share and scale what they’ve been learning with the rest of their faculty here.
Providence Day School- NC
You can read more about Providence’s project here.
Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School- MO
You can read more about Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School’s project here