One year on the first day of grade one, as we were thinking about our goals for the year, my students and I talked on Skype with three people who lived in different places around North America. These educators all told us what they had learned in their first year of school.
Before we made the first call, I explained what we were going to do. I’ll never forget Carson’s question: “Why would we do that?”
Just like their older counterparts, primary children love to connect with people from places around the world. Connections bring new perspectives, ideas, and learning in a way nothing else can. I could simply tell them that children everywhere on Earth play games and go to school just as they do, but when they are actually able to link with a class in Colorado or in New Zealand and ask questions themselves, the learning experience is much more powerful and lasting.
Our classroom blog is often the first way that we connect with people outside of our school. This year, each child posted an article on their personal classroom blog during the first week of school. To show them the connections that this blog could bring them, I invited people in my Twitter network to comment on one of the student’s blogs and to include their location. In my tweet, I included the hashtag #comments4kids. My mid-prairie six-year olds were amazed to find they had comments from places they’d only heard of — Texas, New York, Ontario. As we read each location aloud, it elicited a small collective gasp. Later we visited the blogs of a couple of other primary classrooms. I reminded them about how they felt when they received comments, and they happily helped me compose comments for their fellow bloggers in schools far away.
Building Global Awareness
In my classroom, group reading and writing activities often center on commenting or reading blog comments sent to us, building the children’s sense of membership in a global community. Comments that have been written directly to our class or to an individual child in the room are extremely meaningful text for young children, and engagement is high. Some of the most fun comes when the children begin to use their developing editing skills to find spelling or grammar mistakes in the comments from adults.
We often connect with other teachers, classrooms and “experts” using Skype. The students are astounded when they realize that while we are in school, it is the middle of the night for our friends in Brisbane, Australia. They marvel at the difference in our weather and seasons, and ask questions about why the students are all dressed the same and why they talk so funny. We use Skype to find out about mundane things such as what other people eat for breakfast or their Christmas traditions — or more extraordinary things like information about rocks and minerals from a professional geologist. Whatever the topic, these are all themes that support our grade one curriculum. The fact that we connect with others from around the world to learn these things gives the students an awareness of the wonderful diversity of the global family we are all part of, even as they learn science or social studies outcomes.
On some occasions, we have used wikis to collect information. We have asked people to contribute to our one thousand names wiki or our rituals wiki. We have collaborated with other classrooms to create a wiki of alphabet videos or a names wiki. We are fearless — we never say, “oh, we can’t do that, it’s just first grade.”
I am able to find people and classes to connect with my classroom fairly easily because I am personally connected to a network of educators online. This network has shifted over time, but is now centered mainly on Twitter. I am continually encouraged by the willingness to share, support and caring that educators display in that space.
By the end of the school year, all of my students, including Carson, can answer his question about why we connect with others from around the world. The simple answer is because we can learn from them.