Over the past two and a half years I’ve been focusing on helping teachers make connections with other classes around the world. For the most part, our collaborations have been about general topics – book reports, water, persuasive writing, enhancing oral language, things that almost any classroom teacher would be able to connect with, and they’ve been great!

But this year, inspired by Clarence Fisher‘s ThinWalls project, I’m looking for something new, something deeper. A real connection based on shared goals and common assessments. Something that will last longer than your average globally collaborative project. A classroom connection, based on specific curricular needs, that will last an entire school year.

I’m fortunate to be working with so many wonderful teachers at ISB and around the world that are willing to be patient and wait until we find just the right classes with just the right needs. They are willing to build these collaborations from the ground up, focusing on student learning, and taking the time to plan meaningful and authentic experiences for all involved.

One of these projects is our fifth grade Students Teaching Students podcasting and blogging collaboration around the Lucy Caulkin’s Readers and Writer’s Workshop.

In order to ensure that all classrooms involved share the same goal for the project, we are following the Understanding by Design model of curriculum planning. And to make sure that we’re all in it from the ground up, we’re planning via a Google Doc. Although I’ve used Google Docs at school with team members a lot, I haven’t yet used them for curriculum planning across time zones and schools. I’m looking forward to seeing how it works out.

So far, all of the project participants are listed on the Doc, with contact info and class details carefully noted. We have determined the basic focus of the unit and are starting to share tips and advice with each other. Over time, I’d love to use the Doc (or a Calendar) to plan common events or activities.

For example, here is what we have so far for this project (all a work in progress):

Enduring Understandings:

  • Good readers use strategies to deepen their understanding.
  • Good readers read fluently and with expression, paying particular attention to the conventions of grammar.
  • Authentic audiences encourage good reading and writing.
  • Collaboration and communication both inside and outside the classroom will prepare students for being productive citizens within our global society.

Essential Questions:

  • How do I use reading strategies to deepen my understanding?
  • Why is fluency important?
  • How does my audience influence or affect my reading and writing?
  • How does collaborating with others help me to learn?


  • Student self reflection
  • Teacher self reflection
  • Class blog as portfolio


Goal: Your goal is to entertain your audience with personal stories about reading strategies
Role: Broadcasting team: On-Air Personality/Show Host, Producer, Writers, Mixing Team, Manager
Audience: Peers at ISB, both younger and same-age, partner classes around the world
Situation: You need to teach your audience effective reading strategies
Purpose: To collaborate with your  team to effectively communicate reading strategies to a wide audience

Supporting activities ideas to build understanding (brainstorm):

  • commenting quality – rubric for commenting
  • specific points in the year where you pick an earlier piece of writing that you rework and link back to old version to see the growth

Planned activities to support learning (brainstorm):

  • Introduction to online safety
  • Introduction to blogging
  • Introduction to GarageBand/Audacity
  • Podcasting a written piece for fluency
  • Posting a podcast
  • Read a story from a book for practicing fluency to be podcast later
  • Developing quality commenting skills
  • Collaborative teaming to develop a podcast focused on reading strategies
  • Reflective pieces of writing on the blog

I love the idea of being able to plan a curricular unit for several classes all from one Google Doc. This is my idea of collaboration – everyone literally on the same page and working towards the same goals. Although I’ve done quite a few of these projects before, I usually ended coordinating via e-mail and never really “flattening” the planning process – I inadvertently usually had all planning go through me.

This type of process, with the project clearly outlined, is the way I would normally plan a project with a classroom teacher face-to-face. How amazing and easy it is to now do the same thing, anytime, anywhere, with a Google Doc!

I’m hoping that this transparency in planning, and the clarity in goals for the unit, will help us stay focused throughout the year and enable us to dig deeper with our students.

What do you think? Have you ever used a Google Doc to plan this way? Have you ever had shared curricular goals that are ongoing throughout the year with another class, in another country? How did it go?

14 thoughts on “Making Meaningful Connections

  1. Kim, I’m amazed by what you’re doing; it’s fantastic. There are so many great ideas here. I’m a teacher librarian, and always looking for ways to support teaching and learning in my school. We’ve just started using a Google doc to put up ideas and discussion amongst the library staff. I particularly like your idea of the classroom connection based on curricular needs that lasts the whole year. Will you be showcasing this? I’d love to see the details when they happen. Good luck and have fun.

  2. @Tania,

    Thank you so much! I think you can do tons as the librarian – you are such a valuable resource for teachers! I’ll definitely keep sharing as this project progresses and you can always keep track of what’s happening on the classroom blogs linked in the post above. Thanks for your positive feedback!

  3. Hi Kim,
    This project sounds so great. I particularly like the way you have used the UbD as the paradigm. So often I think the curricular goals get sort of lost in the use of the technology, which concerns me. I am a fairly new tech teacher with ten years classroom experience. It is difficult to move teachers from the powerpoint at the end of the lesson to a meaningful use of technology. I am really excited to follow your progress and appreciate your transparency as you go through this. I have seen very few blogs that actually discuss the real teaching applications well. As I struggle with this on my own end, I am happy knowing that you are actually doing it and our community will one day become part of the larger learning experience. Thank you.

  4. @mpodulka,

    Thank you for all the positive feedback! I totally agree that it’s so easy for technology to take over the curriculum if you’re not careful. The process of UbD helps make the curricular goals of the unit so transparent from the beginning that it’s almost impossible for the technology not to be authentic. I am a planner at heart, but I really do believe that the planning is key. Start with good unit design and you will have a good unit of study!

  5. Kim, I’d had a real explore of your site some weeks ago and through it found blogs by Jeff Utech and was thinking how far behind I felt with all the changes that were happening with technology and using it in the classroom. We’ve just had the digital learning conference at JIS where I work and I must say, I am in ‘hook, line and sinker’. Little did I know a couple of weeks ago I would end up sitting in session after session with Jeff. (Nine I think). Only wish now I had been in Shanghai. At the end of the conference yesterday there was a great deal of talk about going away and taking one thing at a time but the problem being so many of us don’t know how to do that. My love is the teaching of literacy and using technology to support that and that’s as soon as I get my blog up I’ll be looking to discuss the small steps and hopefully hear about other steps others are making. Your blogs are great, informative and help give me ideas about the direction I can go in. Thanks for what you share with everyone.

  6. @Suzanne,

    It sounds like you had an amazing experience at the conference last weekend! I’m so glad you’re finding this blog helpful! And thank you for sharing your positive feedback!

    I think the advice of taking one thing at a time is very sound. Maybe your first step is finding some blogs that will help push your thinking and leaving some comments. Maybe over time that will lead you to create your own blog and start sharing your thinking and your learning. That’s how it started for me and now I can’t imagine being a learner without it!

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