Monday, September 23, 2013

Dot Day Festivities

Last week I celebrated Dot Day. This was a new event for me. It began with "the Mighty Little Librarian", Tiffany Whitehead, sending a call out on Twitter for middle school classes to Skype with her in honour of Dot Day. My initial response was something like: "Yes, count me in! Oh, and ummm, what's Dot Day exactly?"

Dot Day is inspired by the picture book The Dot by Peter Reynolds. As the website linked at the beginning of this paragraph shows, Dot Day celebrates creativity, courage, and collaboration and began with teacher Terry Shay in 2009.

To celebrate International Dot Day, two of my Grade 7-8 classes had a Mystery Skype call with two of the classes in Tiffany's school. Neither of us had conducted a Mystery Skype call before, so it was pretty courageous of us to try this type of collaboration. Based on questions each group asked the other, we had to guess in what city we lived. Our plans were that if we had extra time during the call after each group had successfully determined the location of the other, we could ask questions about what life was like in that community.

Tiffany wrote about her experience with Dot Day 2013 on her blog and this blog post is my opportunity to share. My students were really curious and excited about this exchange. They even willingly gave up five minutes of their recess to come in early to be set up in front of the web cam for the encounter. My Tuesday group watched the screen carefully and listened attentively to Tiffany and her students as they spoke. I should have recorded the inter-student dialogue, because I was impressed with their thought processes. For this encounter, Tiffany and I agreed to allow open-ended questions. When one of my students instructed us to ask "Do you live in America?", another student noted the Stars & Stripes hanging in the corner of the library and declared that we should have already known the country from this clue. Another student immediately detected a strong common accent when the students were speaking and inferred that the group might live in Texas. Once we learned that Tiffany's school was in a location near Texas, a small group of students hustled away to locate an atlas (and when they had problems finding it in on the shelves, they searched online). Tiffany's group, to our great surprise, guessed our city correctly in very little time. When we asked how they were so quick, they confessed that Toronto is the only city they know in Canada. Since the "mystery" portion of our call was resolved early, we asked each other questions, like their favourite books, student readers choice programs, weather, and school mascots. We challenged Tiffany's group to guess our school name; we offered the clue that our school was named for a famous Canadian. Their first guess? Terry Fox. Their second? Justin Bieber! The call ended a bit abruptly as my computer decided to shut down without warning; however, we had an enjoyable conversation between the classes.

Thursday's group was equally as enthusiastic, and attempted to create a strategy before the call. (I had to remind them that they had to answer questions honestly.) Tiffany and I had reflected together via email after Tuesday's session and decided to try yes-no questions instead of the open-ended variety. The questions my students asked were well-formulated: Do you live in America? / Do you live in a southern state? / Do you live in a state that is swampy? / Do you live in Florida? / Do you live in Louisiana? The only unfortunate aspect of this call was that we had technical difficulties. The visuals from the Tuesday Skype call were a bit fuzzy so we thought we'd try a Google Hangout. My computer was missing a plug-in and I couldn't load it quickly enough. Then, when we tried to return to Skype, Central Middle School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana could hear and see us, but we could neither see nor hear them. It was a bit frustrating to have to rely on just a text response, but it did lend an added air of mystery. Once the Toronto students discovered that we were talking with people from Louisiana, their most burning question was their main personal connection to the state:  Do you have Popeye's there? (Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen is a fast food chain for fried chicken.) They answered that they do but that they enjoy authentic Cajun food like jambalaya and blackened alligator.  That blew my students' minds - I think they were sad to learn that it would probably be impossible for their new contacts to send them cooked alligator in the mail. Our next steps will be to create some "gifts" to send to them; this coincides nicely with our intermediate inquiry unit on value.

Here's an amazing, unexpected twist to our first-ever Dot Day celebrations at my school, and it has a lot to do with a dynamic new teacher to our staff. Francis Ngo teaches drama-dance to our primary classes as well as kindergarten technology. During his prep time, he often comes to the school library to use the computers in there. My prep time coincides with his and I happened to ask him during one shared prep period if he had ever had experience with either Mystery Skype or Dot Day. He hadn't, but was intrigued. We examined the International Dot Day website together and were really impressed by some of the neat activities suggested there. There's nothing quite as professionally satisfying as finding a colleague who gets just as excited as you do about teaching possibilities. We were both squealing like kids on a roller coaster at the ideas bouncing back and forth. In the end, it wasn't just the intermediate students that celebrated Dot Day: our youngest learners participated as well! Francis used a collaborative art site (FlockDraw) to have students make dots together. This helped with part of his mandate to have the students demonstrate their proficiency with clicking and operating the mouse, but, as he described it to me later, it was almost magical to see the looks of wonder on their faces as they saw other dots appear on their screen. It was creative and collaborative (and courageous on Francis' part to attempt this with 4- and 5-year-olds in just their third week of school). Our first forays into International Dot Day were a success and we can continue to channel the virtues related to this celebration throughout the year.

No comments:

Post a Comment