Flatten your Classroom Walls
Ask yourself a question for a minute. Really think about it. Are you a connected educator?
How does one get connected with teachers from around the world to share ideas, learn new tools and hear different perspectives? The answers aren’t that simple. I was asked this question in 2011 at a technology conference in Illinois called ICE (Illinois Computer Educators). Right away my answer was, “Yes!” Little did I know what I was getting myself into. To truly understand this question you need to stop and look at yourself as an educator. What are your values? What is important to you?
After the conference I came back to my classroom the following Monday filled with a massive bag of tricks. I believed I could make a change in my classroom but didn’t know where to start. Then it dawned on me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I valued oral story and language. Conversation and oral language were perfect for what I was doing as a teacher researcher. I was in graduate school at the time and needed data for my final graduate thesis. I was collecting data on the link between oral language skill and writing ability. What were the connections? I was curious about the link and if it made a difference. Oral language was something that I felt was taking a hit with the curricular push to do well on ISAT (Illinois State Achievement Test). I made it my goal that year to incorporate and focus on oral language. I quickly realized how little I knew about connecting to other educators outside of my school. I had numerous conversations with people at the conference about global education. I had the chance to speak with a woman by the name of Lucy Gray, who is the founder of The Global Education Collaborative. She is also the co-founder of the highly acclaimed online Global Education Conference. http://www.globaleducationconference.com/ After the conference I went back started digging. I googled “global education”. To my surprise, there were hundreds and thousands of websites about the topic. I felt so ignorant to the subject that I almost closed the browser and threw my hands up in the air. Way too much information. I have learned over the years that an overload of information as an elementary classroom teacher turns your interest level to… Well how do I say this nicely… worthless. I pushed on through, basically due to the fact that it was for graduate school. What I found next was surprising.
The first website I clicked on was https://education.skype.com/. This excited me greatly. I knew about skype. I have even used it before to connect with family members across the country and world. It never dawned on me even once to try it in my classroom. So that is what I did. I created an account, browsed all the different projects and made some initial connections. Then I figured, why not create a few projects on Skype in the Classroom and see what happens. Suddenly, within hours, I had twelve people interested in my projects and started making connections. I went home that night and logged into my Skype account. I had numerous contact requests and started chatting with the contacts. We were talking about all sorts of things. Family, curriculum, technology, ect… As the evening went on I had a request from someone named Anne Mirtschin. She was from Victoria, Australia. Her students were arriving at school and asked me to participate in a Mystery Skype. I didn’t know what a mystery skype was, but I agreed to do one anyway. Below is a picture of that Mystery Skype session. It was so much fun.
If you don’t know what a mystery skype is, click on the link below to learn more.
What can I say, I was hooked. Connecting with classrooms around the world was so much fun. My wife didn’t seem to appreciate the loud talking and noise in the house while I was connecting across the world late at night, but she quickly got over it. I made it a goal the following year to incorporate Skype into my normal classroom routines. I spoke with parents and administration in the beginning of the year about this and got the support. If I could connect my students to classrooms around the world and link it to my curriculum, it was a win-win for everyone. That indeed is what I did. In the 2012-2013 school year I was able to connect to all 7 continents and over 40 countries. It was truly amazing. I complied a short video of some of our experiences to share with other teachers that have an interest in Skype.
These are many of my friends now. Without these people to bounce ideas off, gather ideas, vent and share my successes, I wouldn’t be the teacher that I am today. Thank you everyone. You know who you are! Go HLW Skypers!