I have to say that connecting with another class on the opposite side of the world was one of my class’s favourite learning experiences this year. For Course 5 in COETAIL, we had to use collaboration through our online community to facilitate learning in the classroom. I have done something similar the past four years during a geography unit where I have connected with past colleagues to do a mystery Skype to learn mapping skills. Although this helped to strengthen old relationships for me didn’t really push me into making new connections. I understood that through the activity, I would learn about the possibility and benefits of developing relationships over a distance to benefit students and that my classes in the past have always enjoyed the process and are highly engaged, but I was a little nervous about putting it out there and basically asking for help. I don’t know why I usually like to do things on my own and like to solve problems on my own. Some of the learning goals I had in mind for this series of learning engagements were.
- How to use technology to communicate and learn with others in a different place
- How to ask questions.
- Becoming positive responsive digital citizens.
- geography with it too through naming continents and oceans and achieving a math goal about describing positions on maps using coordinates such as latitude and longitude.
- Developing international-mindedness.
- Find out about how other schools use the UN Sustainable Development Goals to help develop action plans in ours.
The relationship actually started by accident, I put a description in a Course 4 blog post of how my final COETAIL project would involve my class asking another about the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Luckily, Ryan came to my help in the comments and mentioned that his school teaches them in the primary and offered to find a class for me. This was fantastic, reaching out in a community of like-minded professionals was going to be a lot easier than I thought. In no time at all, I was sitting in Japan emailing a teacher in Brazil to set up some learning experiences. After a few emails back and forth it was apparent that my class would be able to learn by communicating with a different community of learners.
Smiles and shades
This learning experience gave students a great opportunity to express their personality through the profile pictures after they took their videos. When I opened the Flipgid now to look back at questions and responses it is an absolute wall of colour as students decorated themselves with greetings, emojis, sunglasses, and mustaches. In every single response, picture, and video, the children are smiling. The class was always looking forward to the opportunity to connect and I know that the other class was too from conversations with Rachelle, and from this thread on twitter.
In order to set the students up for success, there had to be a lot of frontloading for this task. This included getting students to practice with the application, practicing a 20 questions scenario (which they love) and thinking about how we portray ourselves online as digital citizens. I accomplished these things with the help of the tech coach, spending classes looking at maps and practicing with me, and working as a large group to brainstorm effective questions that will help us to learn. I think that frontloading is an important part to get students ready to communicate with another class like this. We want to be sure that students are safe, are going to have some success, and understand the tools to use for it. By practicing Flipgrid on our own in the class the students became very comfortable with the application, and are even able to use it now at home on their own during Continuous learning. I think that this is quite remarkable for eight and nine-year-olds.
What I liked about this type of teaching and learning is the fluidity of it. The process was very natural and evolved over the course of the project. Once I reached out to Rachelle, she had other ideas about how to proceed and by adding her as a collaborator on Flipgrid it helped to have another perspective and input on the learning process and also extended it further. This shared ownership of a learning experience helped a lot by adding new thoughts, bringing in new experiences and expertise, and helped me to be more thoughtful about collaboration online as an educator. My original plan of how the students would quickly do a Mystery Skype type thing evolved into much more of an online relationship through learning about each other’s countries by my collaborator adding another topic to the Flipgrid. Another thing that helped this experience evolve was the student-driven nature of it. Because we were in no real rush to talk (we basically had a day to think about things before the other class responded) the students also came up with other questions throughout the day to ask as they pleased. This student agency was fantastic to see students sitting doing another subject, then just jumping up with another question, going outside and recording themselves, then posting it.
Except for COVID-19, there were no problems at all with this process. It was smooth easy communication. I think that losing a tight timeline for completion of asking and responding contributed to this as there was very little pressure to get things done. The excitement and engagement of the students also helped ease the entire process. I want to continue to develop this relationship in the next few weeks even with the current educational circumstances. I think that there could be further opportunities to explore international mindedness and even how wellness looks at different schools. As I write this the students are waiting for a response, and I hope to continue the conversation for longer. Community Engagement through technology is a fantastic way to help students learn.