Monday, September 23, 2013

Breaking Assumptions: International collaboration through a new project to merge data management and internet awareness

One of my favourite TED talks is Chimamanda Adichie's Power of a Single Story. Having been very lucky myself to have traveled to numerous places in the world, living and working with the people there, I have understood the challenges of having a single story of a place or people. Prior to each of my experiences, I felt that I had read up on current events, history and the culture, to only be reminded when I got there about how individual each person in a place is and how challenging it can be to feel that you "know" a place.

I wanted my students to have first hand experiences with this. In the past, I was able to sail into new ports with students and see first hand how their awareness would change as they met and participated in cultural and social activities. However when teaching at a school in Toronto, it isn't as easy. So to bring the same awareness, I developed a project (that has just started) that I hope will bring the same thoughts and reflections to my students while staying inside our school's walls. I am calling the project the Breaking Assumptions Project.

Breaking Assumptions Project

Students will be asked to go online and explore another school/city/location on a website(s). In small groups, they will be asked to use their preconceived ideas and the pictures/information they gain to create a general picture of the people that live or work in that area. They will be guided to think about demographic categories (quantitative) as well as what a day in the life would be like (qualitative). As a class they will summarize their image of the other population and send it off to them. 

The students upon receiving the information from the outside party will analyze the responses. As a group they will reflect to see if they agree or disagree with the responses. They will be guided to prove the statements true or false by creating a survey in which they can collect the information necessary. Once the survey is completed, the results will be analyzed and presented in the form of an info graphic. This info graphic as well as the results of the survey will be both posted within the school as well as sent back to the original group to better inform them about our schools population and demographics. The original group will be encouraged to respond to share if the data better informed them, or if it left them with more questions. They will be the evaluators of the success of the project by completing an evaluation created by the students who completed the survey and info graphic. 

Day 1: (lesson plan)
Through a connection at my school, I was able to make contact with a teacher at a school in India. She was very excited about being apart of a project and offered her English class who were also in middle school to participate. After emails discussing each of our goals, I sent her the following document which outlined what I was hoping her class could accomplish (click here).

In summary, her class would look at three online sites that my school had produced. Her students would complete a See/Think/Wonder activity. To do this they would identify something they saw in the online document/video/pictures, what it made them think about and then what it made them wonder about who we were as students of our school. As a class they then did a summary of who they think a student at my school would be based on the information they gained.  They sent this information back to me, and it was excellent!

My students started off their first class completing the same See/Think/Wonder on the other school's website. After sharing what they saw and thought, I shared with them that this school did the same activity for us. My girls were really excited to see what they had thought.

Each group was given one of the response sheets that the school in India had sent back to look over. The gasps and outcries told me that I had hooked them. "Why would they think that?" or "Thats not right... we are not all blonde!" were heard around the class. By the end of the class it was determined that we needed to prove or disprove the assumptions that were made. Through a discussion of how to do that which included writing individual letters, making a movie to taking photos of each person proved to be too much work or too confusing. in each class a student would come up with the idea that perhaps doing a survey of the grade, asking specific questions would allow the school in India to see the results would allow them to gain a better understanding of us. And with that, the girls were hooked and the project was laid out

Day 2:(lesson plan)
Students needed to create the survey that would prove or disprove the assumptions that were created about them. To do this we had a short class discussion about how we could make sure that the information we collected from the survey was valuable. Through this discussion they learned the definitions of bias, open and closed questions as well as how questions can lead someone to select a specific answer. Each student was provided with an assumption that was taken directly from those sent from the school in India. In a small group of three, they had to come up with what question should be on the survey that would prove or disprove the assumption that was also a closed question, unbiased and the results would be useful to them. At the end of this class the survey was created and it was sent out for students to complete.

Additional Notes:
Coming up with the questions for the survey proved to be harder than I had thought for the students. They really wanted to make sure that the questions would be unbiased and also closed. To differentiate, I ensured that the assumptions that students received would challenge them appropriately. These assumptions ranged from "All students are Canadian citizens" to "Due to small classes, students must have good relationships with their teachers". The first assumption can be translated easily into a closed question, while the latter requires some creative thinking.

As the teacher, I did not edit or change any of the questions prior to putting them into a Google Form that was used for the survey. When putting in the questions, I already could tell that some questions would not gain the feedback necessary to prove or disprove the assumption. Also some questions were not well worded and could result in many different types of responses meaning different things. When the students go through the data, we are going to have the opportunity to share which questions were challenging to answer and why. My goal is by working through the experience and feedback students will be able to see the importance of well worded questions to collect valid data.

Final Thoughts:
Going through this project for the first time has been exciting but also slightly worrisome. Since I am not editing or providing feedback though this project, my students are going to be learning from their mistakes and ultimately feeling the pressure of sending these mistakes to their audience in India. I decided prior to this project that it would be a formative activity and not be marked. Their signature assessment (marked assessment) will be an individual task that will occur after this project is completed and the students have identified how they could improve and what a good data collection methods and analysis looks like. My goal with that is for them to create the rubric by which they will be assessed based on their experience with this project.

Also, working collaboratively with someone who I have never met overseas has also been challenging since communication and understanding of goals wasn't clear at first. But I am VERY thankful that my partners at the school in India have been excellent and have made this project possible for my students. I hope that this will be provide them with the same valuable experience as it has for my girls.

No comments:

Post a Comment