The post that appeared one evening in the Edmodo group “Collaborize your class” looked innocent enough: a Greek high-school teacher wanted to find a partner for a project about human trafficking. The Mediterranean Sea is Europe’s southern border, and Italy and Greece are at the front line. My class of 16-year-olds specialising in ancient Latin and Greek seemed a suitable group of students, so I answered. Little did I know that this decision would lead to an exciting eight month-long challenge and a significant friendship with Mr. Dimitris Pallas from Kalyvia, near Athens.
After careful planning and a Hangout, we presented the project to the students, with the important difference that it would be part of the regular curriculum (including marks) in Italy, while being an extracurricular activity in Greece. The consequence was that after the novelty had worn out, we could expect constancy and reliability from Italy, and passion from Greece – with the Italian students sometimes envying their partners for their possibility to opt out!
A project Group was immediately created and the students were invited to post a visual presentation about “The three things I love the most” (I’m deeply grateful to EVO – the Electronic Village Online – for this technique). This immediately set an atmosphere of personal involvement and curiosity, as the students started sending pics of themselves and their families while finding out that they shared musical tastes and hobbies.
Then, an impressive TED Talk about modern slavery by the famous US photographer, Lisa Kristine, ignited the serious part of the project. The request for everybody (all of them English Language Learners) was to write about the emotions they felt while watching the video, and the result was extremely touching.
Mr. Pallas and I spent long winter nights selecting good web sources for the students’ readings and arranging them into six big topics. The students were grouped into small international teams and a Small Group set up in Edmodo for each single team. In mid-January, they set off.
The Small Groups were the place where they would organize their work, ask each other questions and communicate with the teachers. Our next step was introducing them to the marvels of collaborative writing through Google Documents: the Small Group Folders displayed their team instructions and contained the link to the shared Google Doc. The latter was their sandbox; in different colours they would add and edit their written contributions.
More than four months later, the outcome was a 24 minute video about human trafficking and modern slavery (created by Mr. Pallas, with the students’ findings and thoughts spoken in Greek and subtitled in English) and a public site, created by Mr. Pallas and edited by me using the students’ slide presentations. I’m very grateful to Lisa Kristine for granting us permission to use pictures from her TED Talk. Sending a letter to her was both an exercise in authentic English writing and a lesson about respecting copyright.
Reflecting about the strong points and the weaknesses of this experience, I would say that on the one hand the project provided a great opportunity for using English in an authentic context, as it was the only shared language for teachers and students alike (with lots of opportunities for extensive reading and robust writing). On the other hand, it was a bit too long and complex, demanding excessive work from the teachers themselves. Today, I would choose just a couple of topics within the larger frame, or an easier theme.
From a social point of view, the result was astounding. The students were extremely involved and motivated. Rarely have I seen such a degree of interest in my English classes! If ever. Moreover, as we progressed through the year, we became a team. I can say that I have developed a very special relationship with this class.
Last but not least, Edmodo proved to be an invaluable tool for the success of the project. The most significant features in this context were certainly the possibility to have Small Groups with their folders section, and the ability to use Google Drive and Edmodo together.
If you are interested in this kind of activity, have a look at the resources for educators we developed along the journey. Use and enjoy! http://kalyviatrieste.wix.com/nowyouknow#!resources-for-educators/c1o8b