Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Connected Classroom

Why connect?  A lot of learning has gone on for thousands of years before the internet came along.  Rulers have been wrought; professors have been produced, engineers have been engendered; teachers have been taught. So why be electronically connected? Why would a class tweet out its learning? Why would students have a Google Hangout with a company miles away? Why would one class Skype another? Because they can?

No.  Not simply because they can connect.  But because they must connect.

Right now the ice in West Antarctica is retreating.  In fact, this melt is deemed unstoppable.  Global sea levels will begin to rise.  Shorelines will change; areas will flood; coral reefs and entire habitats could disappear. Our children will be dealing with some serious climate change issues.  To prevent further damage, the world must band together.  We will all rise or fall. . .together. We must connect.

Researchers in the International Space Station are using the microgravity environment to further understand cancer.  German biologist Gabriela Grimm sent up the Danish thyroid cancer samples on the American SpaceX3 Dragon berthed by the Canadarm2.  All of us will deal with the effects of cancer in some way.  We are fortunate to have people from around the globe working on such a cause. . .together.  We must connect.

And the global  issues persist: poverty, war, famine.  And the local issues accumulate: funding for education, sedentary children, peer orientation in students.  Only in working out differences and working together will we be able to tackle the issues.  And what about learning in schools?  Isn't cancer and climate change far removed from the local school?  Not a bit.

We connect because we can effect change.  Now.

The possibilities are endless.  And we've just gotten started.  Here are a few things we do.

Make deals, and share

Greg Tjosvold is a local educator and author. He was offering a class set of his middle school level novel "Cash Converter" over twitter.  It was for free to teachers on the understanding that they would provide feedback.  I jumped on this one.  This wasn't an impersonal purchase of a well-established author's work.  This was a grassroots find.  A nugget in our own backyard.  Not only was the book great for us to use for our literature circles but we were able to have him visit our class.  We gave him pages of feedback.  We helped him and he helped us.

To start our new poetry unit, we used Nicholas Gordon's Poems for Free site.  Hey, gotta love free.  I tweeted him the night before to let him know that we would probably be tweeting from our class our reactions to his poems.  He was nice enough to oblige.  We read through many of his teen poems, shared how we felt about them using Today's Meet, then sent some feedback right to the author.

Become an expert, and share (even as kids)

When people from FreshGrade, the game-changing assessment app, asked our class to share their knowledge on project-based learning, several students jumped at the opportunity.  Hey, why not Skype into a company's lunchroom and share?  Each student prepared what they were going to say.  They were well-spoken and knowledgeable.  They were able to respond when asked questions.  Everyone gained here.  My students shared with a real audience who was truly interested in what they had to say.  And I believe the picture of project-based learning became clearer to the Freshgrade staff.

Make a difference, and share

One of our projects called Addressing an Issue has been like the gift that keeps on giving.  Students selected a local or global issue that they would like to make an effort to address.  Two of my students sold baked goods to raise money to support The Global Foodbanking Network.  Well, GFN asked if they could share an article on these students.  Once again, the students had to craft something.  They created an article sharing their story and lobbying for more support to address world hunger.  They emailed GFN a genuine piece of writing that was shared on the website.

In all of these examples, our e-communications connected us up with the real deal.  We had genuine audiences.  Genuine audiences are much easier to find with electronic connections.  But more-so, my students were able to make a difference, help an author, a company, a cause.  And connections breed more connections.  A class can't start with curing cancer or halting global warming; but they can certainly make a difference with the 200 days they have together.

Why connect electronically?

Because I want my students to be able to touch the world from the classroom.

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