Sharing My Misadventures in Connected Learning … But That’s Not All!

The post below is something I originally posted on my personal blog, where I share my thoughts, explorations, and reflections on technology integration in early childhood education, particularly as a means for global collaboration. One of the core ways I feel connected to to the global education community is through the Global Classroom Project and the monthly #GlobalClassroom chats so I was excited to have an opportunity to share my experiences directly with this community. I am currently engaging in a massive online open course on educational technology (#ETMOOC), which is what inspired me to write this post about my (mis)adventures in connected learning and trying to form relationships between my school and other classes and teachers around the world. I hope it might have an inspiring or intriguing idea that will spark your own collaboration and if you have tips or ideas for working through these misadventures, I would love to hear them!

Before the second week of #etmooc “Connected Learning” slips away, I wanted to write a post reflecting a bit on the prompt: “Is it possible for our classrooms to support this kind of (connected) learning? If so, how?

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by dennisar

I definitely think that our classrooms can support connected learning and that technology can make the “how” much easier and more feasible to facilitate that learning. To me, connected learning involves engaging students in real-world applications of skills and knowledge. One way to do this is by asking students to try and solve problems that people face everyday, such as concerns with the environment (Inspiration from GOOD.is) or building prototypes to help the elderly more easily navigate outdoors (see the FIRST Jr. Robotics Challenge).

I also view connected learning as a motivation to teach my students tools that can empower and enable them to be change agents. With these tools, students can build meaningful connections across different mediums, connections that not only facilitate learning but establish relationships. This means introducing ideas of digital citizenship and cyber safety at very young ages so students can begin using tools that they will likely continue to use as they grow older instead of tools that they will quickly grow out of (e.g., teaching 2nd graders how to conduct safe and effective Google searches versus restricting them to KidRex and allowing kindergarten students to tweet with other kindergarten students in class).

But most importantly, in my opinion, connected learning translates into global connections and collaborations for all students and teachers.

With modern technologies like Skype, Voicethread, Google Translate, Twitter and other (a)synchronous tools, it can be simple and free to connect students, even if their time zones never overlap or they speak different languages. There is no longer a need for expensive web conferencing technologies and with web 2.0 tools, students don’t have to wait weeks for a reply from students in another country. Therefore, it seems to me that we should be scaffolding and encouraging global connections in every classroom, starting with our youngest students. These connections can blossom into meaningful relationships where students can share experiences and learn together about the cultures, perspectives, and knowledge of each community. That feels like true connected learning.

The Global Classroom Project Logo

So what does that look like in the classroom? At my school, I have slowly been working to build some of these local and global connections so students can engage in more connected learning. While we have had some success, we have definitely had a few misadventures as well.

We tried signing up for an Elementary Mystery Skype project created by some  educators who had seen it done with older grades. Three of my teachers signed up, willing to take the risk and do something they had never done before, but although all three were paired with another teacher, none of them heard a response back about setting a date to actually Skype. After following many inspiring #kinderchat teachers, I talked with a kindergarten teacher at my school about having her class join Twitter. We sat down and discussed how it could work, we wrote up a detailed letter to parents, we planned how to introduce it to the students but since their initial Twitter “launch” the class hasn’t been able to get other classes to tweet back. I think the kids are beginning to feel like tweeting means sending a message on the computer and never hearing back. Whether it’s been via Skype, Twitter, or even email, we have found that making that connection with another teacher and class can be much harder than getting the technology or other preparations in order.

1st Graders Excited to Skype with a class in Canada

1st Graders Excited to Skype with a class in Canada

Luckily, we also have some success stories to share. Thanks to the Global Classroom Project database, I was able to connect our Spanish teacher with a class in Spain so her students could Skype in English and Spanish. While moderating a #globalclassroom chat, I connected with another educator who wanted her students to be able to share their experiences of a Quaker meeting. This led to two of our fourth grade classes Skyping with their fourth grade and discussing their religious practices, as well as the similarities and differences in their schools. Comparing lunches and “specials” was a big highlight. Through Twitter, I was also able to set up a Skype session between a Canadian class and one of our first grade classes – our students were shocked to see all of their snow! And in a few weeks, we have a session scheduled with NASA for our youngest students, who are studying space, to hear about “Humans in Space,” one of the offerings in their Digital Learning Network.

So, while the actual “how” of connected learning can certainly be a challenge, I think it is doable. My students have been able to use a range of web 2.0 tools that have enabled them to develop deeper relationships within their individual classes, between their class and other classes at the school, and between our school and other schools. They are becoming more comfortable with the idea of leaving messages through various platforms and receiving comments and messages back from parents or other students after a pause (which can be tough to understand when you’re only 5 or 6). Teachers are beginning to consider ways we can connect with other students and classes in other parts of the world to enrich their units of study and make different topics and concepts more concrete while also more making them more complex. I hope that with time, patience, and perseverance  our connections will continue to grow and with it, the connected learning that we are all able to share.

August #globalclassroom Chat Archives & Reflections

Image: Connections I Found on flickrcc.net

This month’s #globalclassroom chats were a fascinating affair, enabling many people to make new global connections, and explore tools and strategies for global collaborative projects.

These chats were personally very significant, as I discovered a fellow West Australian educator participating in the chats for the very first time. Trust me, this was cause for celebration! 🙂

Topic: Global Communication Tools: the importance of, and sources for, connecting beyond your classroom.

As Mark Otter was unable to participate in the chats due to other commitments, we asked our moderators to share their thoughts and reflections on the chats:

Laurie Renton (@RentonL), who managed to attend two chats, was struck by the diversity of the #globalclassroom conversations ….

This time around, I saw SUCH value in visiting the archives of these discussions. The links shared are invaluable. The varied experiences shared by each of the participants brought such a richness to each of the discussions. Both hours went by SO quickly, and people were SO engaged, than many of us continued to share long after the hour was up!

Donna Roman (@DonnaRoman) and Maggie Powers (@mpowers3) teamed up to moderate the Tuesday night chat, and did an amazing job as first-time moderators.

Their chat explored many of the lessons we’ve learn the hard way, and reflect the considerable experience of some amazing global educators. As Maggie writes;

I’d say the key take-away message was the idea that regardless of the tools, you need passion and authenticity for global projects to happen and work well, this means connecting with “real people” and focusing on a meaningful topic that is directly related to kids’ interests/wonderings.

In terms of specific tools, Twitter came up throughout the chat as a tool to create a global network (for class partnerships) and as a stepping stone for future collaboration / projects.

Storybird was also named as a tool to use with young learners, as well as Google Docs, Skype, Facetime, (quad)blogging, wikis, and projects like Flat Class and Global Classroom Projects. These two projects, in conjunction with iEARN were the main ways people seemed to find classroom partners.

There was a discussion about how some tools (e.g., asynchronous ones) may be better than others when dealing with practical concerns like time zones, such as Voicethread.

The idea was also raised that there’s a need for teachers to have a certain amount of global awareness before asking their students to cultivate that awareness and use these tools.

Finally, we briefly discussed the fact that some schools have a school-wide approach to #globaled (e.g., it’s part of school improvement plan) while other teachers are working independently to get involved in projects and connect their schools. Some teachers are doing this by linking global projects to PBL or Common Core.

Finally, we’d like to warmly thank Julia Skinner (@TheHeadsOffice), who returned to moderate her second #globalclassroom chat, and who has done such an amazing job in growing these chats.

And thanks also go to @clivesir, who quietly and expertly archives the chats each month. You will find the archives for the August #globalclassroom chats here.

Please take a moment to explore, and share your thoughts. We look forward to seeing you for our next chats!

http://theglobalclassroomchats.wikispaces.com/Chat+Archives