The following are narratives of network collaborations:
Special education teachers across Oregon, Washington and Idaho worked together to develop strategies for supporting their students to lead their own Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings. Through action research, the teachers investigated whether their students' abilities to self-regulate and advocate for their own needs increased over time as a result of engaging in student-led IEPs. Each teacher within the group determined how she would implement student-led IEPs within her own teaching context--would she begin with one or two students or more? The teachers co-designed a common presentation outline and discussed how to conference with students to support them in learning about their IEP goals, to monitor their own learning progress toward goals and how to communicate about both. Using a self-regulation inventory scale, these teachers noticed a trend across sites in their students awareness of their own learning and their self-advocacy skills. Students were empowered to navigate the special education system and develop life-long, self-regulated learning. By engaging in joint work with other teachers, the teachers realized that they could do more for their students and that their students could do more than they thought they could.
The teacher of a combined 4th - 5th grade classroom from a rural school in Idaho collaborated with a 5th grade teacher from a remote school in Alaska to co-design deep instructional sequences that engaged their students in open-ended mathematical problems and developed their ability to construct strong mathematical arguments. These teachers worked collaboratively with a graduate student from Boston College through a process of lesson design iterative cycles that reflected on previous lessons to revise and improve instruction through analyzing student work samples. They began their work by unpacking the key elements of an argument and designing a single-point rubric naming those components: evidence, claim, justification, rationale, conjecture. They then designed sentence frames modeled after scientific arguments to support students in making their mathematical thinking and reasoning visible. Students across both sites presented their arguments of the problem-solving strategies they had utilized and their answers to the same open-ended problems (from Jo Boaler's YouCubed website) to each other in small groups through Zoom meeting breakout rooms. Students presented their arguments and mathematical thinking to peers across state lines in small, intimate conversations and modified their arguments based on the feedback from their peers often talking together with sustained energy for 30 minutes about one problem! Through this works, students experienced an authentic audience of peers outside their own school buildings and developed the perseverance to persist through difficult problems--both adding purpose and meaning to mathematical learning. The teachers developed the depth of their pedagogical knowledge in understanding math argumentation through deep dialogue, feedback, revision, and co-analyzing student work. They developed their own knowledge and practice in ways they could never do alone and they raised the level of meaning and purpose in students' learning.
With a desire to increase student engagement in science through inquiry-based problem-solving, a group of secondary science teachers co-designed a student collaborative project to investigate the growth of plants in aquaponics systems across three different states. As the only science teachers at their schools, the teachers met virtually to support each other to modify system designs and set-up and to co-design new curriculum and learning experiences. They agreed on plant species that each school would grow so that growth rates could be comparable, what data sets students would collect and how students would analyze and share their work with each other. The increase in student engagement was visible as students engaged in design-based engineering to build the aquaponics systems. Student curiosity drove in-depth investigations into understanding the requirements for sustaining life within a diverse ecosystems where biological systems interact. Teachers who were used to being isolated and working alone suddenly found themselves in 'science departments' with colleagues facing similar struggles, challenges and teaching realities.
English Language Arts teachers from Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska connected their students through an on-line classroom to write argumentative essays about a variety of topics including the efficacy of one-on-one devices, the value of a college education and the morality of using drones in warfare. Through the virtual environment, students edited each other's writing and provided constructive feedback for revision throughout the writing process. The most powerful outcomes of this work were the connections the students made with each other. Growing up in rural and sometimes isolated communities, students learn to interact with each other almost like siblings and often become complacent about their abilities, academic performance and relationships. Connecting with other secondary students across contexts exposed the students to new ideas and ways of thinking and stretched their comfort levels when producing and sharing their work for feedback from peers they did not know. An increase in a sense of accountability, knowing the purpose of their ideas, and confidence were observable. Isolation is a very real experience for both teachers and students in rural schools.