In December, 2015, year 8 students from Hawkesdale P12 College, Victoria Australia connected with a rural school in Japan using Skype. Students at Hawkesdale are isolated geographically and culturally but were fortunate to be part of a research project on “Inking the Thinking” with the Victorian Department of Education and Microsoft. This meant that each student in year 7 and 8 had a windows surface device with a digital pen.
Months had been spent planning this connection with Japan. A virtual visit to the classroom with our Japanese contact Mariko was provided using skype. My students could see inside the Japanese classroom, learn a little of school life and ask her questions so that they had some knowledge before seeing the Japanese students – it was simply a “taster”. A fully structured lesson plan, complete with timed tasks was put in place by Mariko prior to the live connection. Students in my class were surveyed about their existing knowledge of Japan. To my horror many knew nothing or very little!
Our formal connection was just prior to Christmas time in Australia. Our primary classrooms were decked out with Christmas decorations, the staff had a special morning tea with lots of Christmas baking and goodies, staff and students were in festive spirits and the students had organized a Kriskringle for the second part of the double lesson. (Names had been drawn out of a hat a week before and $5 presents purchased for their Krisringle). Skype was used to connect the two classrooms. 5 mins prior to the video conference 5 minutes prior to the videoconference, a quick skype message to Mariko, asked if the Japanese students might like to see our Kriskringle in action, to which she replied ‘yes’.
That ended any formality and structure to our fastidiously planned lesson. The whole lesson became learning on ‘the fly’ with students using the 50 mins with complete ownership of the learning. One girl had disappeared at the beginning and returned dressed up as Santa, complete with a sack of Kriskringle gifts. Japanese students viewed the gifts up close via the web camera. Their curiousity was aroused and an interpreter had to be used to ensure understanding of questions and answers. Some of the staff morning tea came in for show – Christmas fruit cake, a Christmas pudding in muslin cloth, Christmas biscuits etc. My students were curious about the masks that the Japanese were wearing in the classroom and the kitty blankets that donned their knees. It was hot summer time here but snowing over there.
In order to collaboratively document our learning by connecting with this rural school in Japan, students logged into their surface devices, created a shared OneNote and used a mix of pen and text to synchronously build the learning that took place. Our principal was able to login from his office and pose questions, add content etc. The full story and results can be found below. The stylus was used for highlighting, writing, adding colour and generating new ideas. Students chose the medium they preferred.
Students used a mix of keyboard and stylus. The stylus was often used to explore, annotate, highlight and draw attention to questions or their thoughts, to express their thinking, focus on areas that required responses and produce a multimodal and colourful, visual and engaging outcome. As student thinking and brainstorming evolved as a group, they added images, shapes, structured blocks of text, diagrams, shading, colour etc The stylus helped create a more effective, beneficial and engaging product, pushing their learning reflections further. They were not constrained by their speed and skill on a keyboard and mouse. If students had used a keyboard alone, then the result would not have been as rich. It would have taken too long to draw diagrams and lines for highlighting, text comments would not have not aligned well and it would have been too hard to add text or shapes over any existing text etc. Imagine the outcome if the Japanese students could also have collaborated on that document.
Following on from the documentation, the students decided to create a collaborative Christmas calendar for the month of December to share with the Japanese students. A snapshot of their synchronously built calendar can be seen in the imageabove. Students drew their own images using the stylus. It encouraged originality, creativity, imagination and resourcefulness. The calendar was rendered digital immediately for online sharing.
When students have a stylus, they can explore, think, express, collaborate and record their newfound knowledge and experiences in new and meaningful ways. They don’t waste time using a keyboard and mouse to effectively brainstorm, highlight and reflect on their learning. This means more thinking time and best of all more learning time.