Our first weekend workshop to create workbooks for Grades 4-6 in Natural Sciences and Technology took place this weekend at St John’s College. It was a fantastic workshop – St John’s College were brilliant hosts, Helene Smit our facilitator was wonderful as always, and most importantly, our group of 22 dedicated and passionate educators made this collaboration an event to be proud of.
The Fred England Media Centre at St John’s Prep buzzed with activity from start to finish. Educators arrived promptly at 14h00, and we began with a group introduction and facilitation session, to learn more about each other, and find out about everyone’s expectations about the workshops and bring any concerns to light. This is very important as it opens the floor to discuss these concerns, and assists in allaying any fears that individuals may have about the weekend. We also learned that everyone has an “edge”. This is someone’s own personal limit, the end of their comfort zone. It is important to be reminded that everyone has an edge, and that we must each be mindful of this and tolerant towards each other. Some of the anxieties that came up were “am I good enough? – am I tech savvy enough? – what if I don’t know which programmes to use? – will the books be aimed at the right level for my school?”. Each of these were dealt with upfront, and it set most people at ease as they discovered that many of these anxieties were shared by the group.
Following this we did a few different activities. Educators were given the task of critiquing a sample chapter of the workbooks, which really got the creative juices flowing and helped everyone understand what makes a good workbook. We also discussed and established guidelines for writing the workbooks – by the end we had 54 points written up, ranging from evidence of logical progression to the importance of consistency of scientific method, avoiding using unnecessary or difficult words, to including activities that maximise learning. This was a very important activity as these are guidelines that need to be adhered to throughout the process, to ensure a high standard of work and consistency in the workbooks.
We then broke everyone up into their preallocated strand groups. They were given the task of identifying key concepts and activities/investigations for each heading/topic. This was facilitated by concept maps for each strand (spanning Gr4 to Gr12) and large frameworks that we had prepared. It was an amazing experience to be part of – so much knowledge was shared around the tables, and the educators really got into the subject matter and brainstormed the activities.
This saw day one of the workshop come to an end, and everyone relaxed over dinner with a glass of wine and good conversation.
Day two commenced at 08h00, with the return of all our volunteers. It was wonderful seeing smiles and positive attitudes all round as everyone arrived and got straight to work. The first task was to finish off from the day before – unpacking the key concepts for each strand and grade.
We had a slight change in plan from our side with regards to how the writing would happen. We had planned on using templates prepared in Word, but then decided that Google Docs would be a better option for the authoring process. Using Google Docs meant there wouldn’t be a number of documents emailed back and forth and we wouldn’t have to worry about version control, as by simply sharing the documents with everyone, multiple people could work on one document at the same time, and see the changes being made as they went along. Megan quickly created the templates in Google Docs, and we helped everyone set up Gmail accounts and shared the documents with them. This turned out to be a fantastic decision on our part, and Google Docs worked really well as an authoring platform for the weekend. The best part of this experience came at tea time, when educators realised that by using Google Docs they could all work on their document at the same time, without having to be in the same place!
Following this, the authoring really started happening, as one by one the educators got up and running on their computers, and started adding content to the framework in the Google Docs. Some assistance was needed with certain functionality – such as how to (find!) and use the drawing tool, or how to insert images into the document. The level of computer literacy ranged too, with some educators being quite comfortable with using the internet and their Google Doc, while others needed more help to get them going. This sharing of skills and knowledge is what education is all about, and it certainly added to the “feel good” aspect of the workshop, as we helped empower educators in this regard.
Educators were given a helpsheet with information on where to search for open content that could be used in their documents. This included the websites Connexions, OER Commons, CK12 Flexbooks, WikiEducator, Wikiversity, Curriki, PhET Simulations, Slideshare and TeacherTube, as well as how to search on Flickr for Creative Commons open copyright images. Introducing educators to these resources means that they can legally copy and reuse content (according to the copyright licence), without the fear of traditional copyright law and the publishers taking action against them.
Sunday morning saw the return of the majority of our educators, and once again everyone got straight back to work. Before long we had a quick check in with everyone as a group, to see how the content was coming along and how everyone was feeling about their work. Most educators were worried about working “too slowly”, but Helene soon pointed out that perhaps no one was too slow – that this speed was actually the norm and this was the pace that we could expect everyone to work at. On that note the work resumed, for the final push to the end of the workshop.
Overall this was our best workshop yet. The processes we designed ran really well, the enthusiasm and dedication of the educators was infectious, and the determination with which they all worked to persevere and learn was inspiring. A real community of practice started to form, as the group shared their ideas and experiences and learned from each other.
There is still a long way to go in terms of creating content, but we know that by Workshop 2 more progress will have been made, and we’ll be that much closer to our goal: free and open, top quality workbooks for South African primary school learners. A huge thank you to everyone involved, and we look forward to the next workshop from 23 – 25 March 2012!