Introduction Getting Ready
Learning Circles Teachers' Guide
Open Circle Plan Projects Share Work Publish
Close Circle Overview

Phase 2: Opening the Learning Circle

Circle News: First Edition!

The first Learning Circle activities are designed to help you and your students learn more about your Learning Circle partners. Learning Circles open on a certain date. The opening message is the first edition of a weekly CIRCLE NEWS broadcast. It welcomes you to the Learning Circle and lists your Learning Circle partners. It is a good idea to make a print copy of this message and save for future reference. You may want to post it in your classroom for your students as well. CIRCLE NEWS on a weekly basis continues to provide direction and support for Circle Interaction and to carry special events across Circles. It is a bit like loudspeaker that reaches across classrooms with news and information.

Electronic Roll Call

Once your Learning Circle is set up, there is an electronic roll call to see who is present and ready for Learning Circle interactions. Your first message will assure the members of your Circle that you are able to receive and send messages.

We know that many teachers are very busy and will not be able to begin sending messages with their class on the first day of the session. But you will find that your Learning Circle partners are eager to meet you and will want to know when you will be ready to participate. It is important to send a message to your Learning Circle as soon as possible. This assures the members of your group that you are really "there" and gives them a sense of when to expect the next message from you and your class.

If you have any difficulty getting through to your Learning Circle, please check with your service provider. Remember that being in a Learning Circle is a commitment to a team. Others will be depending on you and your students. If you fail to contact your Learning Circle, your Learning Circle Coordinator, or your network provider, you may miss out on the planning phase making it difficult for others to incorporate your Learning Circle project into their schedule.

Do not be concerned if some of the people in your Learning Circle do not respond to the Electronic Roll Call. In any Learning Circle, it is possible that there will be some classes who will not participate at the level you desire and perhaps one or two who will not participate at all. This is not, and should not, be seen as a problem. Your Circle is large enough to allow for some of the listed people to change their plans prior to the beginning of the Learning Circle.

Teacher "Hello" Message

Your first message is your personal introduction to your Learning Circle. It is helpful to address your Learning Circle partners by name in the first line of this message so that they will know you are talking to them. In this message you need to introduce yourself and invite others to send you messages.

Begin by telling something about yourself. Take some time with this first message as it will provide others with their "first impression" of you. But please don't feel that you have to say everything in this first message. In fact, people enjoy meeting each other a little bit at a time. You may be surprised at how quickly you can develop a meaningful relationship with people you have never seen by adding bits about you as a person over time.

Here are some ideas for what you might want to include in your first message.

  • Describe your interest in telecommunications.
  • Share past experiences in Online Learning
  • Describe your position in your school.
  • Give some personal information about yourself.

In the last part of your message you might invite your partners to respond. Some teachers may feel reluctant to just join in. If they see a personal request for their appearance, they feel more welcome. Here are some suggestions.

  • Ask the teachers to introduce themselves.
  • Pose a question that you would like others to answer.
  • List particular questions for each of the teachers.

Take this opportunity to say how often and on what days you plan to check mail. This information will be vital as your Learning Circle tries to decide on which projects are possible to complete during the session. A teacher who regularly checks mail (even every other week) can make a very worthwhile contribution to the Learning Circle if everyone knows that this is the pattern to expect.

Classroom Surveys

You and your students will have the names and locations of the other participants in your Circle but it is unlikely that your students will know very much about the other places. They will be very curious. The Classroom Survey is designed to help them understand how people in the other classrooms are similar and different .

The Classroom Survey is a very effective way to introduce yourselves to your partners. Students will be eager to see how the other classrooms answered the questions and will be eager to receive your survey. The last part of the survey asks your class to describe the Learning Circle project you and your students want to sponsor. This will help facilitate the planning that takes place in the next phase of the Learning Circle.

Welcome Packs

Students are excited about the prospect of working with students in other locations, but they find it difficult to conceptualize the similarities and differences. An effective way to help students learn more about their partners is to exchange "Welcome Packs." A Welcome Pack is a small set of materials that describe you and your students, school and community. Welcome Packs are sent via postal mail and should be limited to the size of a large envelope.

An alternative to a welcome pack might be an Internet home page with information about the students, school and community. The construction of either of these can be a very productive learning experience.

While welcome packs serve as another way to introduce students, please do not wait until your Welcome Pack arrives to continue your work in planning Learning Circle projects. Teachers and students are often very creative with ideas of what to send. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you help your students create their Welcome Packs.

1) Welcome Packs are fun to create, but they should not be so time-consuming that you and your students fail to participate in the Learning Circle dialog. You will need to have them ready in as soon as possible. Please check the time line for the date for mailing out Welcome Packs.

2) Once a class mails its Welcome Packs, the students are eager to receive the ones from the other classrooms. Welcome Packs are sent out by the end of the second week so that everyone will receive them about the same time.

3) Heavy packages cost more to send, especially overseas. You might want to keep cost in mind as you and your students make your choices.

Welcome Packs should be mailed (or posted online) by the end of Week 2. You can find the postal addresses of Learning Circle partners in the first "Circle News" message sent to your Learning Circle.

Cross-Classroom Communication

Students are very eager to learn about the other schools and the information in the Classroom Survey and in the Welcome Packs makes it much easier for everyone to participate in the electronic exchange. When you receive your Welcome Packs you might want to divide students into groups and have each group read, summarize, and present the information from each Welcome Pack to the whole class. These groups might want to send a message to each of the Learning Circle partners with their observations and questions. This exchange helps students become more personally involved with the other schools. This group-to-class or group-to-group pattern of communication makes it possible for large numbers of students to work in a team with each other. A forum structure as well as the thoughtful use of message subject headers can make it easier for everyone to follow the interaction in Learning Circles.

Student to Student Messages

Your students will be learning a great deal about students in other locations from their messages, but the form of communication in the Learning Circle forum is not personal letters between two students. With 150 to 300 students in a Learning Circle, it is very difficult to match up students for this type of exchange. More importantly, research has shown that this type of exchange exacts a high cost in teaching, planning, and classroom time, returning only the most limited educational benefits to the students.

Students who want pen or computer pals can list their postal or email addresses and a few words about themselves in a Student Directory in the Welcome Pack. These directories can be used by students who wish to find pen or computer pals. However, please do not send message meant for a single person to the Learning Circle forum. The Learning Circle is an Electronic Classroom and messages in this forum are addressed to everyone in the Circle. If a student wants to send a message to another student at one of the schools, this message should be sent to the school account rather than the Learning Circle forum or mailgroup.

Bulletin Board Displays

Bulletin Board Graphic

A bulletin board display is one effective way to share your Learning Circle experience with other students and teachers in the school and with parents and classroom visitors. Using a world map and a Learning Circle banner, each of the partner classes can be displayed and a place can be identified to display the messages as they arrive from these different places. The Classroom Survey results can be used to create graphs and the pictures and information from the Welcome Packs can be displayed on the bulletin board. When students begin receiving electronic mail from each of the classrooms, the messages can be printed and posted on the bulletin board. This display makes it possible for students in other classrooms to share in the excitement of the long distance exchanges. Creating this public display also visually communicates to students the value you place on their collaborative work.

Teacher Comments...

Checklist for Opening the Circle

The Phase 2: Opening the Circle Checklist will help you see if you are ready to continue with Phase 3: Planning the Learning Circle Projects.

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Copyright © 1997, 2002, Margaret Riel