One of the things I am constantly repeating to my students is that it is important to be a connected educator. My passion for technology (in education, and everything) comes not from all the shiny whiz-bang things you can do with it, but from it’s ability to connect people that otherwise wouldn’t be connected. I also really strive to model the best practices that I am teaching my students, so I was really excited when I had the opportunity to Skype with a real live classroom. But, how did that opportunity even come up? My PLN, of course.
Twitter– I’ve been following Mrs Harris on twitter for years, and she follows me back. Our common interests are that we are both educators, and we both use technology in our teaching. She teaches 8th grade in a Maine school, which means she has 1:1 laptop access thanks to MLTI. We also have kids around the same age (her son was born a few months after Willa) and we both like to cheer on Maine Hockey – go Black Bears!
When she tweeted something about her students having finished their Voicethread projects, I sent her a message about how my students would be doing Voicethread later in the term and maybe we could work something out that they could share their work. The conversation moved to email, and we set a date! Which was snowed out… but our snow date was the next week, and it went great. Heidi’s students were well prepared — they had planned what they were going to share, and they were articulate in their thoughts when we asked some questions that they hadn’t planned for. They shared some of their work, and they also talked about when NOT to use technology. My college students were quite shy (which the 8th graders even noticed!) but did ask some good questions, and their reflections after the visit were great. They all felt it was a valuable use of time, and I especially found it valuable for my students to hear that real, live, 8th graders were using the very things I am teaching them in ED307. In addition to learning about tech, they noticed the classroom management style of Mrs. Harris,and the general energy of a post-lunch 8th grade classroom.
How we prepared:
Heidi and I set up a test run, without students the week before. It was spring break for me so I used the same classroom at the same time to make sure all the connections worked. I also used an ethernet cable to ensure that we wouldn’t lost our connection because of flaky wifi.
On the day of the chat, I had my students move all the tables to the side, and move all the chairs to the middle. Then I made them move all the chairs CLOSER. We had my laptop pointed at them, and the screen displaying us behind them. I also brought my wireless keyboard and trackpad so that I could make adjustments off screen.
Heidi’s class had clearly prepared in advance, and had notes to help guide them. She had hoped to use a different camera, but that didn’t work out, so she pointed her laptop at her students as well. When there was a question about how to share her screen, her students jumped in and helped (and I pointed that out to MY students – you want kids to feel empowered to help if you need it!) and we were off and running.
For followup, I had my students reflect on the experience in their blogs, and I shared those reflections with Mrs. Harris. I also found that some of my students tried Blabberize – one of the tools the 8th graders mentioned, and that we hadn’t used — and Mrs. Harris has plans to try Pixton with her class later this year.
And, by the way, did I mention I’d never actually met Heidi in person? It’s true! (Actually, I think one time she recognized me at our shared OB’s office — remember, we had babies around the same time– but didn’t speak up.) This past weekend, at Target, I heard someone calling my name – and it was her! We took a picture and I tweeted it out, tagged it with #ed307, and several students on Monday had seen that. The power of the PLN, right there.