Charlotte's Web ThingLink

Friday, May 5, 2017

Reach Out and Meet Someone

Educator Alan November talks about the importance of connecting our students to students from across the country and around the world that might be unlike themselves. This same belief inspires some of our teachers to search for projects to help their students build a broader view of the world, and to invite experts into their class their students would not have had access to otherwise.

Google Hangouts

One of those teachers is Todd Sinclair, 5th grade teacher at Oster. “My class has had digital pen pals since early February.  We kicked it off with a Google Hangout (GHO) and then jumped into a shared Seesaw account that I share with my counterpart in Virginia.  We have shared out our state reports and other projects with our digital pen pals which has allowed my students to get some authentic feedback from outside of our immediate classroom community.  Students correspond and share about vacations, science camp, and other student interest items.  We have slowly expanded beyond penpal letters.  We are currently writing chain stories where a student writes a paragraph to a story and then hands it off to their pen pal for the next paragraph.  We started using Google Docs for this prior to Seesaw updating their site to allow easy uploads of GAFE tools.  We have shared My Maps of vacations, Google Slides of book recommendations, and created Venn diagrams with Google Draw to compare penpals and states.  The students' favorite activity was filming locations on campus with the iPad and sharing them with their penpals.  I have since loaded these into a shared map where we are also slowly loading up 360 videos to share (they were the inspiration for my DonorsChoose 360 camera project).

Creating a space for the students to share their experiences with students from across the country has been a valuable and unique experience for my students this year. I look forward to expanding these lessons and building on the lessons I've learned this year getting it started. I'm actually taking a family vacation in VA this summer.  I am planning to meet with my tech/teaching peer while we are there to plan out a few our adventures for next year.”

Another 5th grade teacher at Oster, Jason Tarshis, reached out to Lauren Tarshis (no they aren’t related), author of the I SURVIVED series of books. “We did the hangout back in the fall and it was great. She was in her Connecticut office and talked about how she picks a topic, does the research, etc. She inspired my kids to read and write more and the next day more than a dozen kids had one of her books. She talked about publishing and New York  City too.  It was super cool and the kids loved it.”

Reaching out does not have to be confined to upper grade students. As early as Kindergarten, ELA standards require students to “Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners…” and to “Ask and answer questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood.”
Through the Connected Classrooms Workshop G+ Community, Nikki Grist and her Alta Vista Kinder class “Connected with a kindergarten class in rural Vermont that was studying communities and wanted to connect with a more urban classroom. We had a great time learning about life in rural Vermont because it was very different from life around here. For example, many children lived on farms and went home after school to help around the farm. The local farms provided the food for their school lunches. They only had around 12 students in the class. We discovered many differences between our school and their school.

To prepare, I had the students make a list of questions that they wanted to ask the students at Lakeview School. You can see the list of questions in the pictures. We also took pictures of our school and area and put together a digital photo album to share with them. It was really fun and I'd definitely do it again!”


To help her students learn more about community helpers, Helen Kamali, Kinder teacher at Noddin, had her students make a list of what they would like to learn about. Then, she recruited parents to help her find people for her students to Facetime with. Each week, students meet someone else on their list. Students meet in groups to write questions they would like to ask. Each student uses a different color pen making sure everyone contributes. Then, the groups take turns Facetiming and asking their questions while the rest of the class tunes in. “My students learn there is a whole wide world out there. One time we met a class in Florida. They wanted to see our mountains; we wanted to see their ocean. Then, we compared and contrasted our two schools.”

Mystery Calls

A number of teachers have tried Mystery Google Hangout or Mystery Skype calls this year. Through a series of yes-no questions, students narrow in a the state the mystery classroom is from. But younger classes do mystery calls too. Jackie Knudson, a kinder teacher at Noddin, has a sister who is a kinder teacher in another school. They spend a lot of time honing skills with Mystery Number or Mystery Letter calls. “The students find it so engaging, and I have really seen a growth in higher level thinking skills.” Hoping to ease the transition to first grade, Jackie plans to GHO with a first grade teacher so her students can get an idea of how first grade compares to kinder and the changes they can expect.

When doing a Mystery call, it’s best to have students prepare questions and have roles. Here is a resource from Pernille Ripp to use as a guide.

Virtual Field Trips

There are lots of other resources to use to invite experts into your class. One is the California Parks Dept. PORTS program. Rangers will tailor the interactive presentation to students from K-12. Some of our 6th grade classes have learned about Roman and Greek mythology through the art at Hearst Castle.

Another is Exploring the the Seat of Your Pants (EBTSOYP). They bring “researchers, daring adventurers and innovative conservationists, and to give them the chance to ask big questions.” Every Virtual Field trip offers five classes from somewhere in the world to have an “on camera” spot. Those students get to ask the scientist questions.

Global Read Aloud 

There are so many ways for you and your students to reach out and meet someone new. At the beginning of this school year, many USD teachers and students took the first step in sharing experiences with students from other states and even other countries through the Global Read Aloud project. We hope that you will join the 2017 GRA that begins in October. Look for the Google Form to poll teachers for interest in August. We’ll begin matching classes then.

However, no need to wait until next school year. There’s still time for a mystery GHO or Skype call or to arrange a PORTS or EBTSOYP virtual field trip. You might want to practice a Google Hangout with another class in the district or your school. Dianna Talley and Carole Lynne Brasher at Guadalupe plan to do just that. Jackie, Kevin Deaton, Kay Flodquist, and Sharon Victorine put together this Hyperdoc of K-5 grade level ideas.

Just follow the links to get started, or call on one of your Tech Integration ToSAs, Gena or Mary Fran, to get started.