Thursday, November 11, 2010

Beyond Skype

As I was helping one of our teachers get ready for her Skype session, she mentioned that someone asked her the value of our Skype. That made me stop and think, because the minute we started planning this connection, I could see the value of the relationship and I even had curricular ideas popping into my head! I also knew the collaborative effort of all our teachers would bring more ideas!

How does this Skype benefit student learning? At first I was going to look at the core curriculum areas that will springboard off our Skype session; but as I started writing this, there is no way to do this without simultaneously discussing the 21st Century skills our students are gaining. The original Skype itself helped foster relationships in our global community as the students are seeing similar classroom situations and meeting new students, some with the same name as theirs! This reinforces the connection with the other class and thus reinforces all the learning that results from this connection. Our Wild Thing videos were a great way to introduce our personalities to each other and a great spin off from the award-winning book “Where the Wild Things Are.” These wild things can now be used to help the students work on developing word choice, by describing their picture through Voice Thread or some other applications.

Our second graders are already writing back and forth to each other as pen pals using a Wiki. This is a great reinforcement of language arts skills while learning to communicate with those outside our community. They are learning about students in other communities (social studies) and using map skills to locate the other school in relationship to ours.

This Wiki will springboard into collaborative projects in many areas. We are already talking about combined problem solving in math, surveying each other to create graphs, and creating a collaborative story where each class contributes alternating pieces of the story. We will start with whole class activities and eventually, the students can do these types of learning experiences on their own with their pen pal. The third grade is planning to create book clubs through their Wiki based on a chosen set of books. Our kindergarteners are exchanging gingerbread men through the mail and photographing their visit to the other school. This will extend off into literature and creative art projects as well.

As educators we know that the greatest learning occurs when there is a personal connection, a personal motivation, to our lessons. The relationships we are building between the two schools are a springboard to all the curricular activities we will do together and I look forward to each and every one of them!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How Six Classrooms 300 Miles Apart Connected Their Learning One WILD Day!

"And when he came to the place where the wild things are they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said "BE STILL" and tamed them with the magic trick."

Last week from inside the walls of Van Meter and Merton schools, the kindergarten, second, and third graders GOT WILD with their new friends.

As I watched the teachers from Merton read Where the Wild Things Are , it was fun to watch the excitement from the children as they acted out the story. And they weren't only reading together, they were also learning together.

When Merton second grade teacher Corinne Meissner read the book, she would stop and talk about vocabulary that might be new to the students. She not only called on students within her classroom, but also called upon the students from Van Meter. As Corinne talked about these words, Mindy Doggett, second grade teacher from Van Meter, wrote the words "Mischief, Gnashed, Rumpus" on the white board as they discussed what these words met as a connected classroom over 300 miles apart.

The connections and learning between these classrooms didn't stop there.

All of the students then created their own WILD THING in the computer lab using the Web 2.0 tool Build Your Wild Self.
They had so much fun making themselves wild and reading the description of their new creations.

As a way to share these creations with their new friends and others, we took their Wild Things are turned them into a slideshow.

And as the children in Van Meter, Iowa and Merton, Wisconsin watch their Wild Things slideshows I know that they will smile and think about the first time they met new friends and made connections with others in a different place.

This is the only beginning and what a great place to start.

Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are. 1963.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Making Connections

As I look back on what I have done this week, the Skype sessions I have helped coordinate with Van Meter, Iowa classes and Merton, Wisconsin classes stand out above anything else I have done. Yes, I have really tried to create some engaging, thought provoking, 21st Century lessons for my classes this week, but what is more 21st Century then connecting with other people in our world!

I have made these connections on many levels. Working with Shannon Miller is an amazing experience. Her knowledge and enthusiasm are spurring me on to be a better teacher. Working more closely with the grade level teachers in my own school has been a great lesson for me. I get to see them relate to their students in a whole new way and learn by watching them. Listening to teachers at Van Meter, and their passion for their students, brings out my own enthusiasm. Most importantly, I get to see our students connect with students almost 400 miles away, and get really excited about it!

Our second grade students were so excited at the end of the Skype call to have met their new friends in Iowa! I knew they couldn’t wait to do it again. Our third graders were so involved in questions for their partner class they didn’t want to stop! Our Kindergarten class couldn’t stop looking at the class on the Smartboard. I don’t think they even looked at the book we read very much!

So what does this boil down to? The content we covered (reading “Where the Wild Things Are”) took second place to the relationships we were establishing. Building global relationships is a 21st Century skill. The students were engaged in their new friends and the ability to communicate with them. Human beings have a need to communicate. We now have the technology to communicate beyond the classroom and establish relationships that help us learn, grow and become global citizens in a way never possible before.

Yes, we will continue to incorporate the curriculum into our connections. But it is the connection that is making the curriculum more meaningful and engaging. I am really proud of all our teachers who are involved in the Van Meter – Merton Connection. I am even more proud of our students for their interest, enthusiasm and desire to continue our new relationships.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Power of the FIRST Connection!

On Monday morning before school, 2 kindergarten teachers, 2 second grade teachers, 2 third grade teachers, the Merton technology teacher, the Van Meter Elementary principal, and the Van Meter teacher librarian sat down to talk about how they could start connecting their two schools and the different classrooms. The meeting was so exciting and everyone enjoyed the conversation of how the two schools could connect, learn, and create with one another. The unique piece of the meeting is that we were over 300 miles apart in two different towns.

On this day, Van Meter Community School in Van Meter, Iowa and Merton Community School in Merton, Wisconsin were collaborating through Skype and taking their students' learning outside of the school walls. Lisa Morowski, Merton's technology teacher, and myself, the district teacher librarian, connected on Twitter a few weeks ago and soon after started planning our first activity to kick off this new partnership. We shared the idea with the teachers, collaborated on times that would work, and set our plans into motion. What an exciting week this would be!

Today was the first day our students connected! It happened in the two kindergarten classrooms. As I watched our kindergarten students being read Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak from the classroom in Wisconsin, I could feel the connections starting. The students were engaged, excited, and sharing. It was hard not to smile as I watched them meet their new friends. And I loved it when one asked, "When are we going to get to go and visit the Wisconsin students?"

I have had people ask me before, "What is the power in these Skype connections? What do students really get out of them?"

After school my son Hagan, who was one of the lucky kindergarten students at Van Meter today, came up to the library and got a new book from my desk. Hagan and I had read it together last week and he knew there was a map of the United States inside the front cover. Hagan got up on a chair where I was working and said to me, "Mommy, I can show you where our new friends live on this map. They live in Wisconsin. It is right here by Iowa."

There is your answer! Our students are gaining knowledge, experiences, and relationships that they might not have had before. Hagan not only learned where Wisconsin and Iowa were on the map, he was now able to make a personal connection to this knowledge. And he also has a whole other classroom full of wonderful children and teachers that he will be learning with throughout the year. This is something that I want for not only my own children, but for all the students at Van Meter and around the world.

That is the POWER of the first connection!