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Collaboration A Key Skill for the Elementary Classroom

Motivation often comes from the most unlikely of sources. My mother recently waxed nostalgic about life before computers. She said, "Life was much simpler then. The internet brings the evils of the world into our homes and shows us how dangerous it is out there". I felt that while I did not agree with her sentiments, I did share some of her concerns about the use of the Internet. As a teacher, I was now on a mission to find a definitively positive use for this technology, and, as luck would have it, I did. I decided to use the power of the Internet to create an authentic collaborative learning experience for my third graders.

Collaboration is an essential skill for the 21st century and also an integral part of CSTA's K-12 National Computer Science Standards (see note below). It is also an important skill for the elementary classroom. A large part of the socialization process for young students is learning to work together, to share responsibility, respect each other's opinions and negotiate compromise. Moreover, according to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills:

http://www.p21.org/

it is imperative that students learn the 4Cs (Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and innovation

After a rough start convincing my young charges of the importance of collaboration, I decided to combine a variety of educational mediums in which to engage my third graders. They had been eager, since the beginning of school, to share the experiences of their older classmates programming with Scratch.

According to the developers of Scratch, the Scratch Online Community was designed to be a source of inspirational ideas, to provide an audience for children's creations and to foster collaboration among its members. Collaboration takes many different forms on the website, from contributing to programming projects, commenting, tagging, bookmarking, joining galleries, participating in discussion forums and remixing, thus making Scratch the perfect vehicle for my students' collaborative experience.

Using their desire to explore this paradigm, I embarked on a mission to find another classroom with similar goals. I posted a request on the Scratch Educators' website:

http://scratched.media.mit.edu

for a class and, thanks to the wonders of global communication via Twitter, a teacher from a private elementary school in Dublin, Ireland responded. Our adventure in a global partnership, an important 21st century skill, was about to begin.

The first step in the project was the creation of a blog, where the students would introduce themselves, share their projects, and brainstorm ideas for future collaborative Scratch programs. The students couldn't wait to get started. They eagerly shared relevant information about themselves, their families and their schools on the blog (created using www.kidblog.org). We also created a post on the blog for shared resources.

The first programming exercise used the Scratch curriculum guide draft's Dance Party outline:

http://scratched.media.mit.edu/resources/scratch-curriculum-guide-draft

After the students finished their programs, I uploaded them to my school's account on the Scratch website and then placed them into a specific gallery:

http://www.scratch.mit.edu/galleries/view/152596

Now we wait for the dialogue to begin. As my students will shortly find out, the real fun comes from exchanging ideas and listening to each other. It is not enough to share, but to engage. Progress only comes from working together. And they are more than ready to be full participants in this experience. In the charming words of one of my students "I can't wait to work on Scratch with you". I share their enthusiasm, and I am equally eager for them to get started.

Note: discipline. Significant progress is rarely made in computer science by one person working alone. Typically, computing projects involve large teams of computing professionals working together to design, code, test, debug, describe, and maintain software over time. New programming methodologies such as pair programming emphasize the importance of working together

Patrice Gans
CSTA K-8 Representative

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