Oprah isn’t the only one who changed the world with a book club. A couple of educators who first connected through their own online book club are transforming the education world with their work, and it all started with a fortuitous meeting that turned into long-term collaboration.
Today, after hundreds of Skype sessions, presentations, virtual conferences and podcasts, Matthew Winner, library media specialist at Ducketts Lane Elementary School in Maryland, and Sherry Gick, library and instructional technology specialist for Rossville Consolidated Schools in Indiana, are demonstrating how easy it is to be a catalyst for education transformation.
Now, back to that book club.
Winner and Gick met via an online gamification-themed book club where they read the sci-fi novel Ready Player One. Winner ran a sidequest connected to the novel, and Gick won the prize for the quest.
Like-minded education soul mates
Along the way, Winner created a Google Doc listing educators who were interested in connecting to other classrooms via Skype. He shared the document as part of International Dot Day, and Gick signed up to Skype with Winner’s class.
“She made a good first impression and felt like a like-minded educator,” Winner said of their first Skype connection.
And with that, a relationship began that Winner describes as finding his “educational soul mate.”
The duo’s first formal collaboration was on #EarthPals, a Twitter page dedicated to inquiry-based environmental projects. Participating educators have students identify an environmental concern at their school, brainstorm ways to address it, create and carry out an action plan, measure results and report findings to the school community. The students Winner worked with studied energy usage while Gick’s students researched paper recycling.
Winner and Gick collaborated with a third grade teacher at each of their schools and met with the third grade students once a week. Gick’s students learned that, even as kids, they could make a difference — not only in their classroom, but in their school, their community and, ultimately, the world. Students collected information and shared their results via Skype. They also used a closed Edmodo group so the students could ask questions of each other.
The joint project, which earned them an ISTE Librarian Network Award (formerly named the SIGLIT award) culminated with a TED Talk-type presentation by students.
Inspiring students to change the world
That project led to what Gick calls “our epic #GeniusCon collaboration,” an inquiry-based, Genius Hour-inspired project that sought to answer the question, "If you could change one thing about your school, what would it be?”
This project attracted student voices — first graders through college students — from across the nation. And they came up with a host of suggestions including ways to end bullying, improvements to dress code and cell phone policies, changes to lunch menus and plans for after-school clubs, school-based gardens and extending library book checkout times.
“Having a close collaborator like Matthew means I always have a like-minded educator to talk to, to be inspired by and to bounce ideas around with,” Gick says. “It means I’m never alone and always have that voice to help.”
Mentoring other educators
Winner appreciates the camaraderie and the collaboration. “It feels good to know you’re not alone in your building. In the library, you tend to be alone, so being connected becomes vital to us. We know there are strengths in connecting our students and empowering their voices in the global community,” Winner says.
“I think the main thing that Matthew and I both do is to try to make a difference right where we are daily,” Gick says. “That ripple effect can be huge. We try to be transparent and share as much as possible on social media to inspire others as well.”