I’ve been hearing for the last couple years (since I started my position) how teachers should be striving to use technology to broaden our student’s world. To enable them to connect globally and communicate with an online audience in an authentic way. In many cases, fancy technology tools come into the classroom and unfortunately are not used as anything but a glorified pencil and notebook. Which is why, I so often hear from our Technology Integration Specialist, that we need to be looking for ways to use technology to go beyond things paper and pencil can do for us, specifically connecting with those beyond our physical communities.
Recently, a teacher requested this very experience for her students. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to provide these experiences, but rather that I’ve been nervous. I’ve skyped and facetimed several times with my own devices at home with family members, very comfortable situations for me. However, reaching out to a stranger and asking them to connect via school computers and equipment feels unstable and scary. I’m a shy person, so reaching out to a stranger is difficult in that aspect alone. On top of that, I don’t know exactly how to set up a skyping experience with our desktop computers that don’t have cameras or microphones. I have equipment that can be plugged in, but very outdated.
Anyways, when this teacher asked, it was the push I needed to step forward into global collaboration. She wanted her students to experience a virtual field trip or to have a virtual guest speaker to study habitats. I began searching Skype for the Classroom and while that looks like a very organized and easy to use program, it seems to book up quickly. Many of the programs were unavailable in the time frame I needed. From there, I began searching National Parks and sanctuaries and contacting them through the email posted on the park website. I heard back from a Turtle Sanctuary in Costa Rica, a Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica, and from Everglades National Park. Other places were not able to connect.
I now have the support of my principal and we are very excited to try out a skype appointment with Everglades National Park. If all goes well, I feel that the possibilities are endless!
I have also been looking for ways to connect more classes to a broader audience on a regular basis since my post on Twitter. I have a Twitter account set up and am going to start communicating with other schools in our district soon. Thinking of Twitter made me want to connect with schools in other countries. Our third grade classes are studying Italy, India, and Iraq. I thought it would be great to have them connect with students from those countries. I couldn’t find a way through Twitter to find schools from those countries. I looked at the ePals website, which is organized by Cricket, the magazine company, and I think it’s just the platform I’ve been looking for.
On ePals, I’ve connected with two schools in India and one in Italy. Already we’ve heard about Holi, a celebration of color in India. I’ve only set up a pen-pal exchange so far, but the website also encourages deeper sharing and collaboration. It is a safe space where students are only accessing other students. No one from outside is advertising or attempting to access conversations, like Twitter. I am hoping with ePals that we can begin with short exchanges and then as I become more familiar with connecting with a global community, that we can begin collaborative projects like the Design a Robot challenge.
I love the idea of connecting professionally to other teachers while traveling abroad. I can see the potential and hope to continue forward with technology in a way that enables and allows me to build more connections and enrich the perspectives of my students. I read about the Fulbright Teacher Exchange… I think I’ve got a new dream!