Between late September and December my class and I have been connecting quite frequently through FaceTime, Google Hang Out, and Skype. Each connection has been unique. Sometimes we connect over a specific topic such as we did here, here, and here. Other times we’ve connected as a culminating activity after working on a project together such as here. Sometimes it’s been over a time frame meeting weekly like we did here and here. Yet sometimes it’s with the same class, over a variety of topics, but regularly enough that the students in my class know a lot more about these students. Each type of connection has a purpose, and they are all meaningful in their own ways.
This frequent connecting is a very conscious change I’ve made in my teaching practice. It’s new to me, my students, and their parents. Sometimes I wonder if I’m setting us up to connect too frequently, but at the end of every interaction we are all rejuvenated and excited about learning. Yes, occasionally our calls go on longer than they should (we can get real squirrelly when that happens), and sometimes they take longer to get started because of technology issues. But each and every time we connect outside of our classroom we learn something from those on the other side of our computer screen. We learn something that we couldn’t learn with out them.
My students love it when we find that other classes are doing similar things as us. Our very first call of the year was with Mrs. Cassidy’s class. My class was surprised to learn that they were learning about patterns in math just like we were. Our call with our Global Read Aloud friends in New York surprised us too. Their lives in many ways were so different than ours – they come to school by taxi or subway and their playground was on the roof of their school, and they have eleven floors in their school. Yet they were just like us in so many ways too. When we Skyped with Northern BC we were shocked to find out that they had snow, and they had a different time than us. There is a story for each and every call that we’ve made.
Time is certainly something that comes up over and over again. My class is always curious to know what time it is where the children on the other side of the computer are. One student actually asked me why we are always behind everyone else. While our friends are preparing to go home for the day, my class is just in from recess, or getting ready for lunch. When the call is first thing in the morning the class we are chatting with is usually getting ready for lunch. It’s confusing for my students, but it’s a teaching opportunity too. So far the only classes we’ve connected with that are in our time zone are those in our own school district – Mrs. Leech and Mrs. Sarchet’s classes. My class loves that they live where we do. We also know them a lot better because we took the time to go to their school and meet them in person.
The thing I like best about inviting all these people into our classroom is that it really creates a sense of wonder in my students. No matter what the specific purpose of our call is we always end them with our “wonder” questions specific to that class. The more we’ve connected the better we are getting at coming up with wonder questions. I really like that.
From what I can tell the two biggest reasons for not connecting is lack of time or lack of technology. Lack of time can be an issue when your sole focus is on covering specific prescribed learning outcomes in only one way. I have read my curriculum over and over again, and we cover a lot of prescribed learning outcomes with our calls. In terms of the Speaking and Listening Language Arts requirements alone we cover every single one. Here are just a few of those we are covering.
– interacts with others for the purposes of exchanging ideas on a topic
– asks questions for clarification and understanding to demonstrate comprehension
– takes turns as speak and listener when interacting with others
– organizes thinking by following a simple framework when presenting ideas and information
There are many more on the list and we cover all of those too. In addition when our calls are on a specific content area subject we cover those too. So when people tell me they don’t have the time to connect outside of their classroom I am puzzled. We have so many things to cover in our day that it surprises me that more people aren’t connecting. It’s such a powerful, and motivating way to learn. I can assure you that my students are learning things that I am required to teach them during these calls. And they are learning a lot more than that too.
Technology, or lack of it can be a real issue for some. I know it was an issue for me before my school became an open wireless school in May. It isn’t so much that we are open wireless but more that Skype was actually blocked on our old network. At the time I didn’t have a smart phone either so using my personal phone wouldn’t have worked . But if you have internet access that allows you to connect with Skype, Google Hang Out, or Face Time then you really don’t have much of an excuse.
To make this all happen we have a computer, camera, a projection device (or Apple TV), and a big screen. If all we had was a computer (our computer happens to have the camera built it) and an internet connection that allowed connection with one of those communication tools we could and would still connect outside of our classroom. So again, unless you’re missing one of those key components connecting can be possible for you too.
Now I alluded to it earlier, things don’t always go as planned. Lately we’ve been having issues with sound. Sometimes they don’t hear us but we hear them perfectly fine, and other times it’s the complete opposite. My students have learned just as much when things don’t go as planned as when thing go exactly as planned They have learned how to be flexible and how to adjust when things don’t go well. That’s a really important skill to take with you throughout your life. I also know they watch to see how I’m reacting to the problems. As a teacher I am always on stage when I’m in front of my students so it’s even more important that I keep my cool during these mishaps. I can assure you I am doing my best to model good practice. Hopefully they are learning perseverance, and/or adaptability from me.
Learning with others through Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hang Out is a very powerful way to learn. Are you learning this way with your class? I’d love to hear your story too.