“I bet they are going to be nervous, I remember my first time I was nervous too.”
“They are going to be so excited! I was really excited when we did this for the first time”
As my first grade class were preparing to learn about suburban Maryland by talking to a group of third grade students in my sister-in-law’s class, they were already building empathy for people they had yet to meet. Soon they would be face to face, talking in real time with a group of kids in another state.
In seeing and hearing students who were different than themselves, and learning about their experiences first hand, my classes not only learned the lessons in social studies, science, speaking and writing, but more importantly, they developed an incredible understanding of how kids around the world were similar to themselves. They also grew to appreciate the differences and learn from them. While the value of pre-thought, written, communication cannot be discounted, the ability to embrace the natural flow of conversation with someone in real time brings learning and connecting to a new level.
We did this using several simple tools. Our main method of video connections was using Appear.in. Appear is a web based platform. We were able to connect with many groups, quickly, and clearly from all over North America using Appear.in. In some schools programs like Skype and Google Hangouts may be blocked, but Appear is still open because it is less widely known. This was the easiest and most “kid friendly” way to do video calls with various classes. There are enough challenges when connecting with people from all over the world without limiting methods of communication.
Another major challenge is schedule flexibility. While teachers at the elementary level do have some more flexibility in their schedule, many more are bound by their availability. The more flexible you can be with time, the easier it will be to connect with others. While the scheduling problem has presented itself many times while working to connect with other classes, one of the things I have found, is that connecting doesn’t take long. Once you are comfortable with the tools and your students with the process, you can easily connect with and discuss something with another class in less than fifteen minutes.
In the end, despite the challenges, the reward is remarkable. Remember that your students will not only have the opportunity to seek out feedback from a live, authentic audience, but they will also have the opportunity to gain greater understanding and build empathy for others. Technology has presented us with the incredible benefits found in connecting and learning with one another, with real people, in real time..
About the Author
Brian Costello, owner of BTC2Learn LLC, is a Google Certified Innovator & Trainer in his 8th year of teaching in Southern New Jersey. His career started as an instructional aide before going on to teach Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd Grades for the past seven years. He now works as a middle school technology integration specialist. He is an avid writer, blogger, and Twitter user and has published his first children’s novel: Will McGill and the Magic Hat. He has also published for CUE Blog: Connected Educators, Class World Tour, and The Global Audience Project. Brian was a spotlight speaker at Tech Rodeo and presents on topics including educational technology, leadership, communication, and professional development. He recently launched The Global Audience Project to help classes find, and be, authentic audiences for projects. Follow him on Twitter at @btcostello05