Cool Tools for Schools is a great way for me to explore new technology tools or brush up on old ones, that perhaps I didn’t realize need significant brushing up! This year my new activities at school included Nearpod.com, Teaching Fake News, Coding Night, Skyping, and ePals. Because of Cool Tools for School, I am able to try out new activities and do research before applying them in the classroom. Most recently we’ve Skyped with a forest ranger from Everglades National Park and a zoologist from Smithsonian National Zoo. I’ve also connected with teachers in India and Russia so far and my students have begun an email exchange with students in India. I’m hoping over the remainder of this year and then beginning the next school year I can develop relationships with teachers in order to have a more meaningful and constructive exchange. This year has been experimental for both myself and the teachers in India using the website ePals. My comfort level grows with each successful exchange I host for my students and I can see right away how powerful connecting with students in other countries can be. My students were asking thoughtful questions and our discussions led to being respectful about cultural differences and how something that is accepted in the United States may be frowned upon in India.
I also wrote about Twitter and using it in the classroom. This wasn’t as easy to implement because I had to get permission from my principal and I had to set up an account and experiment it over the course of a few weeks. Twitter has a lot of pop-up ads and even with my account very tightly locked down I felt that some of the ads could be inappropriate. I received permission from my principal to use Twitter in the library and then I reached out to the other librarians in my school district to see if they wanted to do the same. As of right now, my plan is to use Twitter as an introduction to social media with my youngest classes (kindergarten and first grade). We will begin by reaching out to our very small Twitter community (the other schools in our district) and as I get more comfortable with it, I will expand the community perhaps to parents and grandparents of our students.
I will continue seeking out virtual guests. I have two more arranged for this school year. One, the kid representative of KidsSavingtheRainforest.org. She is 12 years old and she’s going to teach us about the rainforest in Costa Rica. The last one is with a National Park in California and this is the only virtual guest I’ve contacted through the Microsoft Skype for Educators website. I’m hoping that because it is through this resource that the connection will be excellent. We had some difficulties with the Smithsonian Zoo, the zookeeper kept freezing while she was showing us the lions and tigers.
The connections I’ve made with virtual guests and ePals have excited a few teachers in my building. Teachers don’t seem to get involved with coding, presentation tools, social media websites, etc. But building my online community seems to be a great way to show teachers the potential of collaborating with me in the library.
This course has been a great way to continue to read about advancing technology. It encourages me to try new things and make small adjustments here and there. This year’s major breakthrough, for me, was connecting with a broader community online.
I love learning in this way at my own pace. Some things I just sample and don’t go back to. Other things like building my online community are going to change the way my program impacts students. And other things like Google Maps and Twitter will make a small difference to my students but overall the things I learn and try in this course improve my practice. I look forward to taking the course again next year because even if I do something small, it keeps me moving forward in a world that it means I become obsolete if I don’t keep up with changing technology and opportunities.