Last year we piloted the Traveling Teddy project with seven teachers that we already knew. Some of our fears going into the pilot were:
Participants wouldn't be committed and not participate in key aspects of the project like the blogging or creating the QR code.
Not keeping to schedule. The schedule was very dependent upon all participating teachers who needed to understand that being late on mailing their bear off would affect how much time classes after them would have with the bear.
Our WORST fear was: Losing Teddy in the mail!!!
Having teachers we knew and trusted helped to alleviate our first two fears, and we had a backup bear just in case Teddy did get lost, his cousin Freddy could be Fedex-ed to the correct location to continue the journey! We really shouldn't have been afraid, because not only was the project successful, but it went over and beyond what we ever imagined! Here is the final video that my kindergarten class made last year at the end of Teddy's travels.
In August of 2014 we opened signups for #GlobalEdTed to the world. This meant having a huge level of trust on my part because I was now putting Teddy in the hands of teachers I did not know. Would they all understand that blogging was at the core of the project? Would they remember to make a QR code for the next class? Would they all be fair and make sure their bear was mailed off on time? Would they take the time to communicate with each other to make it a truly global experience? All these questions obviously made me extremely nervous, but there was nothing to do but to trust that it would all fall into place.
I was overwhelmed by the number of teachers that signed up. From seven classes we jumped to 50 classes in 23 countries! I quickly realized that the two bears I originally planned on having for the second year of our project (Teddy and Freddy) were not going to be enough. So, the bear family grew and twin girls Bessie and Jessie joined the project!
I am sad that I had to close signups for interested parties in particular countries, but in order to make it truly international, we could not accept too many classes within the same country. I have not found a way to allow more people to be involved without having to add more bears. As it is, four bears has been a quite a bit of work to keep up with so I don't think I can add more next year.
Working Out Logistics
You can imagine that figuring out the logistics at the beginning of this project was quite a task! I printed out the signups, cut them up then color coded each one by placing a dot on each according to continent they were in. Then I looked at the age groups that were involved, we had a range from pre-k to third grade. Slowly I worked out a balance of:
Age groups: I tried to keep PreK and K together and second and third together. Then first grade got mixed up between these two groups depending on their location.
Locations: I tried my best not to repeat countries within the same bear's itinerary but it was difficult because of the large number of signups from particular countries.
Distance: I had to work out a way so that most classes weren't sending their bear too far. However, some just had to mail their bear further than others, it was inevitable. Most itineraries began around Asia Pacific, moved through India or the Middle East to North America then back toward Asia through Europe.
The organization was not perfect, but I did the best I could!
I digitalized this onto a GDoc and shared the itineraries with the participants. This is where all participants can track their bear and also find information about other participants if they would like to contact them through Twitter or Skype.
The schedule allowed each class to have a bear visit for approximately a week and a half. Some schools signed up then later informed us that more than one group would be involved, so we tried to allow a little more time for them. We then approximated around one week for travel time between destinations. This meant that if we were lucky, we could fit in two schools per month. Of course, holidays cause a few delays here and there so it was important that the bears were not scheduled beyond May as most schools were finishing in early to mid June. This left some flexibility for delays, but not much.
Reflections So far...
I am amazed at the communication that is happening between classes. Not only have there been Skype calls and tweets but classes have left comments for each other. I've even seen comments happening between classes within the same school! Little did I know that the project would also provide a platform for teachers to share tips and tools! Take a look at this comment thread from the Teddy Bears' blog:
The posts have been adorable and I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing photos and watching videos that classes have made to put on the blog!
Things that I would probably change for next year are:
1. Create a checklist for teachers to read through before signing up to ensure that they are able and willing to fully participate.
I found that there were many teachers who signed up without fully understanding what would be expected of them as a participant of the project, such as blogging. After finding out they dropped out. this made the initial organization and logistics quite confusing!
2. Make sure that each class teacher within the same school signs up separately and have no more than two or three signups per school.
We had some schools sign up once and then later inform us that more than one group of students would be participating. On the other hand, we also had schools who signed up individually by class. I found it was easier to organize itineraries if teachers signed up separately rather than together. However, if there were too many classes from one school then it would create less room for bears to travel elsewhere. Therefore, I think limiting it to around 2 or 3 signups per school could work well. (One sign up = approximately 1.5 weeks.)
3. Emphasize the importance of posting the bears on time because every day counts!
I think that this year I did not explain well enough that I had scheduled classes in such a way that we only had a small window for delays. Once we factor in holidays, postage delays, and the fact that some schools finish at the end of May, further delays could mean some classes at the end of an itinerary no longer have time in the school year to participate. We have some slight delays currently but I think we can still get back on schedule. Worst case scenario, I may have to shift some people around to another bear's itinerary if delays continue.
Traveling Teddies 2015-16!
If you are interested in joining in, signups will open up again in August of 2015. Be sure to watch #GlobalEdTed for tweets and check back at our site, travelingteddybear.com :)