5 Steps to a Connected Classroom
One of my absolute favorite things to talk about is the power of global collaboration – both for teachers and for students. It’s amazing what you can learn when you start connecting yourself (and your class) to others around the world.
One of the reasons this is a favorite topic of mine is because so many of my own professional growth opportunities (here’s one of my stories, and one more, clearly it’s time for an update!) have happened because of the global connections I have developed right here on this blog (along with my Twitter account and other forms of social media) since 2006. Looking back over all that time invested, I realize it was not easy, but it was absolutely worth it in every possible way.
5 Steps To A Connected Classroom
If you’re just starting out on your connected learning journey, or you’re already ready to connect your class, here are some of my personal top tips for a connected classroom, with lots of great examples of these ideas in action from some of my amazing colleagues in my personal learning network (which I asked for via Facebook yesterday, another great example of the power of being a connected educator).
1. Connect Your Class
My number one tip for teachers wanting to bring an element of global collaboration into their classroom is to start by building a public online space for your own classroom. It doesn’t matter what tool you use, the idea is to build an online (virtual) classroom for your students. This is a space where you will share resources, post assignments, engage students in learning opportunities outside of class time, highlight great student work, and link to the online spaces where your students are sharing.
Here are some awesome examples from my PLN, (shared with me via that Facebook post I mentioned above):
- Ms. Pana (Pana Asavavatana): Kindergarten, Taipei American School, Taiwan
- PageZ (Zoe Page) : Grade 1, Yokohama International School, Japan
- Peeking into Division 16 (Karen Lirenman, shared by Tammy Dewar) : 5, 6, 7, 8 year olds, Canada
- Learning in 21 (Robin Sully) : grade 3 & 4, Canada
- IFTS Central Coast (Dean Groom) : Grade 7 / 8, Australia
- Ms. Madrid (Rebekah Madrid) : Secondary Humanities, Yokohama International School, Japan
- Melville Room 8 (Stephanie Thompson) : Middle School, currently in Singapore
- On an e-Journey with Generation Y (Anne Mirtschin): Secondary, Australia
- KnightsRok (Liz Cho) : Teacher collaborative blog, South Korea
Bonus: I’ll be doing a video tour of these spaces, to highlight the elements I think are really important and effective soon. Stay tuned, I’ll be sharing a link here (and on all our Eduro Learning social media spaces) when it’s ready. See if you can spot the essential elements you think I’ll be sharing!
2. Close Collaboration
To build your confidence and comfort with global projects, you might want to start with a collaboration within your school – either right in your building, or within your district. You could start by simply connecting with another teacher of the same subject and/or grade level and have share and comment each other’s work.
The idea with this one, though, is to challenge yourself to do it in a digital space (not face to face, even if the classroom is right next door). It doesn’t matter if you start with a collection of Google Docs, or a Twitter hashtag, or commenting on each other’s blogs, see if you can build some strategies within a very safe and comfortable environment that will help you eventually branch out to a connection further afield.
3. Jump In!
It sounds scary, but there are lots of small ways you can explore the idea of a connected classroom without getting too overwhelmed. A good way to start is to explore some existing projects that are ongoing and always looking for collaborative partners. Lots of these are specifically designed to be one-off lessons that you can work in whenever you feel they are appropriate, rather than long term projects.
Our Eduro Learning blog post this week highlights a few great, ongoing and quick projects you can join. Here are a few more from my own PLN:
- Stories of a Lifetime (Jason Mn and Marc Faulder)
- Traveling Ted (Pana Asavavatana)
- Quadblogging (and a great reflection here from Nicki Hambleton)
- A biiiiig list (from Lisa Parisi)
If none of these seem right to you, you can try a google search to see if there’s something more relevant, or you can try to model something simple, similar to one of these, with a teacher you already know.
4. Connect Yourself
The best way to understand the power of global connections for your students is to be connected yourself. Developing your own personal learning network will help you not only understand some of the tools, but it will give you a good idea of the value of the learning experience, the logistics and the challenges your students might experience. Of course, you don’t have to know all the details about all the tools, but just going through the experience yourself may help you feel more confident when you start to explore with your students.
Here are some blog posts I’ve written about this topic:
- First Steps Toward Becoming a 21st Century Educator
- How to Connect Your Students Globally
- 5 Tips for Creating a Global Classroom
- Making the Connection
- The Power of Audience
And some personal reflections / experiences that might help demonstrate the value of having these connections:
Bonus: This section deserves some more attention, I’ll be writing another post about this in more detail soon. Keep your eyes peeled, I’ll share it here, and on our Eduro Learning social media spaces. If there’s something specific you’d like me to discuss, let me know in the comments!
5. Custom Collaborations
There are tons of ways to collaborate with other classrooms, but the ones I have found to be the most meaningful are the projects I’ve developed myself, in collaboration with another teacher (or more!). The reason this one is last on my list is because you need a close connection with at least one other teacher to create a truly custom collaborative project that meets the curricular needs of all classrooms involved, so building your PLN is an essential step.
Even when you know the other teacher well, there are still lots of specifics to consider, once you’re ready, have a look at my Step-by-Step Guide to Global Collaborations to make it as streamlined and easy as possible!
Here are a few reflective posts with projects that I’ve supported over the years too:
- Making Meaningful Connections
- Making Connections: Social Networking in the Elementary Classroom
- The Hook: Going Global with Collaborative Book Reviews
- A Global Kickstart
- Podcasting Power
- Third Annual 1001 Flat World Tales
- Gone Skype’n!
- A New Year of Collaborations
- The Grade 5 Flat Classroom Experience
- Collaboration Idea Number 3: Creating a Flat Classroom
- Developing the Global Student
- Why Go Global? Or Learning for the Future!
6. Bonus: Do Some Window Shopping
One more tip! Before you get started creating your own custom collaboration, it’s definitely worth spending some time doing some window shopping to see what other projects look like, to set some realistic expectations, and even just to see what the virtual spaces for this projects look like.
Here are some examples of established (and complete) global collaborations from my PLN, that are worth exploring to see what can be accomplished:
- Writing Matrix (Vance Stephens)
- Podcasts: This I believe (Ceci Gomez-Galvez & Nathan Lill, Shekou International School, China)
- Blog: TIME: Student Led Museum Reflections (Ceci Gomez-Galvez & Nathan Lill, Shekou International School, China)
- Student Creative (David Gran, Shanghai American School, China)
- Our Global Friendships (Lisa Parisi, Toni Olivieri-Barton)
Most importantly, focus on the learning first. Before starting any of these ideas, ask yourself what do you want students to know and be able to do at the end of this unit, collaboration or experience. You can do all of these types of projects, and provide many different types of learning experiences for your students, no matter which tool you use. The most important part is to focus on the learning outcomes first and then select the tool which best fits the task.
These are just my thoughts, though, so I’ve asked my PLN to share some of their top tips for a connected classroom too! I’m going to share those here soon, once I have a few more responses. If you’d like to share yours, please fill out the survey here.