The ultimate accomplishment of our year-long, job-embedded professional learning journey, The Connected Learner Experience, is the action research project that each team completes and presents at our year-end culminating celebration. Action research is a process in which our educators collaboratively examine their own educational practice systematically and carefully. They work together to identify a problem within their school or community, and then collaboratively to solve it. Action research is meaningful, positive, and reflective. It is data-driven, action-based, improvement-focused, and it’s transformative.

This post is part of a series of featured action research projects from our 2011-12 teams as they prepare for their culminating presentations. First up is this interview with our team from William Penn Charter School and their virtual field trips project.

William Penn Charter School is the oldest Quaker school in the world, established in 1689 by William Penn. This Pennsylvania school has a rich history and diverse enrollment of students. Learn more about this historic school.

View this exciting sneak peek into their project, entitled Field Trip Fiasco!

Your action research project tackled the possibility of using virtual field trips to enhance learning, and save teachers time and money. What made you aware of this particular challenge in your school? Why did you land on this issue as the focus of your action research project?

One of our lower school team members mentioned local field trip resources as an area of interest. After she mentioned the idea, many of us felt an immediate enthusiasm about learning and doing more. Personally, I had written a sabbatical proposal a few years ago about researching regional museums to supplement our Latin curriculum. Although the sabbatical didn’t happen, the idea has stayed in my mind. One of the other cohort members, who is very interested in environmental and outdoor education, had already done a lot of work and thinking about getting kids to learn “outside the walls.” A math teacher on our team is very interested in interdisciplinary experiences (e.g. geometry and art), so that was a natural fit. Our performing arts teacher immediately came up with the idea of using film at the various locations.

The idea of virtual field trips came up pretty organically from our informal conversation. It seemed like a natural companion piece and a way to really help teachers enhance curriculum and content delivery. We realized pretty quickly that there’s a lot of opportunities on the web, but that they are not always easy to track down.

I think a lot of our inspiration came from both personal experience and anecdotal awareness of the challenges facing colleagues in all divisions around the issues of trips, both actual and virtual.

Tell us a little bit about the process you went through during your journey through PLP’s professional development this year? How did your action research come together? Who did what and how did you identify who would be good at different aspects of the project?

Once we picked our topic and our “product” (i.e. a website), we each identified particular areas of interest and just kind of ran with them. For example, the arts teacher immediately found someone who was going to a museum and sent them with a flip cam and list of questions to ask the education director. She then edited the video. As the person most familiar with the platform for our webpage (the school’s professional development website), I took on creating the prototype for the website, trying out various templates and designing the icons. All of us skyped with Gene Carboni, who helped us think about some rights and privacy issues with the filming. Some other team members researched and added some of the field trip sites to the website.

We tried to meet when we could, though it was hard for us all to be in the same room at the same time. In some ways, it was easier to “divide and conquer,” doing work on our own and then coming back together to review, refine, and ask questions.

An image of the William Penn Charter School team shoots their Teaser Video

The William Penn Charter School team shoots their action research teaser video - Kevin Berkoff, Monique Durso, Sonia Duprez, Doug Uhlmann, EvaKay Noone, Marianne Master, and Chuck Hitschler

What was your biggest revelation or aha moment during this year’s action research?

I think we were all pleasantly surprised at how well our ragtag team worked together, and appreciated the chance to develop something tangible to help our colleagues and to further develop in the future.

How did the concepts and strategies you learned during your PLP journey help you along the way?

We were all pretty familiar with googledocs and googlesites already, but we made good use of them as a way to communicate when we weren’t all together. I think the conversation we had in the last webinar about the different stages and challenges of action research was helpful as we move forward.

What was a major challenge or roadblock you encountered during your project? How did you mitigate this difficulty?

From a logistical point of view: TIME. Three different divisons, three different schedules. Finding time to meet, in addition to doing the webinars, really stretched us thin. We did have some opportunity to get coverage, but it’s still hard to miss class. We did the best we could, and used a googlesite workbook and our Community Hub page to share ideas.

From a project point of view: We also ran into some issues uploading our video from the Penn Museum. We needed to create an email address and private googlevideo channel to do it. We had some help from our director of technology, but it felt like we were going in circles for a while.

What was the most positive or transformative thing to happen as a result of your project?

I think our project will be a great resource for our faculty. I hope that people can really begin thinking more about using virtual field trips in their classrooms in a systematic and exciting way. I think the students will both enjoy and benefit from this new way to learn content!

Do you think this project will have implications into the future? Is it ongoing?

Definitely. I showed the website to our professional development committee (people who aren’t involved in PLP), and they were incredibly excited. In fact, some have volunteered to form a small working group to refine and add to the website next year. There are also specific ideas about tying in to the work students are doing in a Global Studies course.

How has being a part of PLP changed you as a teacher or leader?

Being involved in the professional development committee at school, I am familiar with taking on a leadership role in terms of supporting faculty and professional development. PLP has helped make me more aware of the role technology and PLNs can play in that process. I think other members of our team have also been tremendous leaders, both before and during this process. I really believe in developing the teacher-leader model in our school, and this program works well with that. It’s another way we can empower educators and encourage collaboration.

As a classroom teacher, I have appreciated knowing more about the different resources and social networks that are out there. I teach high school and I think it’s incredibly important to know what the kids are doing and interested in, and trying to tap into it when possible. Plus, I find that knowing about technology (even though I teach Latin), gives me a certain amount of “street cred” with my kids. It’s just another way to open up a dialogue with the students.

Join us for a year of action research and learning

Check out the complete details on William Penn Charter School’s virtual field trip project hereLike the idea of using action research to solve problems in your school? We have built an entire year of job-embedded learning around action research and social media tools called The Connected Learner Experience. Teams are forming now. Check it out here and join us for 2012-13.

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Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice. She works with schools and districts from around the world helping them to infuse technology into their curriculums and by leading other digital conversion efforts. Sheryl also consults with governments, educational organizations and non-profits in development of their various professional learning initiatives. Sheryl is a sought-after presenter at national and international events, speaking on topics related to digital and online learning, teacher and educational leadership, online community building, and other educational issues impacting children of poverty. Sheryl served on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Board of Directors for six years. She co-authored The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age with Lani Ritter Hall. Sheryl has four children and four grandsons, Luke, Logan, Levi and Tanner and a trio of dachshunds. You can find out more on her blog and on Twitter @snbeach.

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