Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Skype Connections

This week I have had the amazing opportunity to connect our classes with a school in Van Meter, Iowa through Skype. We have a combined blog where all the teachers involved can post their reflections. (My original post there is copied below.)

During the Skype call, we read the book "Where the Wild Things Are" to both classes and now we are going to create our own wild things using the website www.buildyourwildself.com. Once these are made, we will put them in a video that we will send to our partner class. This is our way of doing an introduction video without worrying about showing students faces since we want this video to be public for others to see and learn from.

Why do I feel this was a valuable experience for our students? The excitement on the student's faces when they not only saw the other class on the Smartboard, but actually talked to them is why I feel this was valuable. As our third grade students introduced themselves, the other third grade would wave and say "Hi ___!" What a powerful feeling for a third grader! This will be etched in their mind for a long time. This personal experience/memory helps the mind retain the information. When we created our wild things for the introductory video, I asked the class to record a verbal greeting for the beginning of the video. Their choice? "Look at the wild things we made!" They were proud of what they had made, and were conscious that it was being sent to another audience. Again, all of this creates an experience that helps the mind retain the information.

While the reading of our book was mostly done as an activity for the Skype call, we will continue to build off that activity. For example, the students can use their picture as a springboard for descriptive writing. We can put the pictures into a Voice Thread and have the students record themselves describing their wild thing, with the emphasis being on strong, descriptive words. They can then view the other students' picture/recording and see what words they used. This is learning from each other in an engaging way, two more paths for the mind to retain information.

Now, replace the book and pictures with curriculum material. When the material is presented, experienced and used in project extensions in the above ways, the ability for the student to internalize and remember the information is much greater than if we had used the traditional lecture, notes, test method; and I believe that is our ultimate goal.

My original post from http://vanmetermerton.blogspot.com/

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.


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