Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…

3 reasons why having a connected classroom is awesome, important and necessary.

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Back in the days before I was a teacher, one of the things that really got me interested in the profession was some of the epic things Bianca was doing with her classes – connecting them with people and classrooms outside of her immediate context, sharing what they had been doing and collaborating on things. For me, it showed how much school had changed since I was a student, how much potential there was now with ICT and social media to do stuff that really stretched beyond the classroom. I saw how excited Bianca used to get about the things she and her classes were doing, and suddenly school became more interesting to me.

Having had my own class full time for a year now, and having done some cool stuff connecting my class with others, I’d like to share a few reasons why, for me, having a connected classroom has been really cool.

1. Purpose/audience and engagement.
You could technically say that these are two separate reasons, but anyway…

Gone are the days in which students wrote things in workbooks to be marked by the teacher and then left in a tray, collecting dust, only to ever to see the light of the day in between leaving the classroom and being thrown in the bin. My students do the majority of their writing for an audience outside of their classroom. They may still use workbooks, but these are mainly for the purpose of drafting blog posts and other writing to be posted online, for drafting scripts for videos and screencasts. Here is a little list of some of the things my little K/1 class did this year, and who for.

♦        Paper Slide VideosPromise Road Kinder Panthers in Indiana

♦        The 20/30/50 WC   — Outback Turtles from North Star, also @Beyond57

       Blog posts              — @Beyond57, Coffs Harbour PS, South Grafton PS (and other mid-north coast schools), 3B Bees.

       Stories                    — Converted into picture books by @Beyond57

       Minecraft Videos    — Mid-north Coast kids, @Beyond57, Everyone

       Graphs & Maths     — @1RFirstGrade

Now obviously everything that my class created here was for an audience and clearly had a purpose beyond just submitting to me to ‘mark’ and give feedback. In addition to this, however, I find that this sense of purpose increases engagement, not only for myself as a teacher, but also for my students.

I personally find it more exciting to be making stuff for people who are interested in what I’m making, who are going to respond, and I find that students are too. I ask them, “Why are we doing this?” and, “Who for?” and students can tell me. They want to please their audience!

2. A meaningful context for kids to start thinking about the world around them, and the people in it.
Every time we connect with a new person or classroom, I discuss with my class where they are from. We open up the location on the IWB, discussing where it is in relation to us, distance, differences in climate, culture and food, proximity to places that they have visited and much more. Now I could stand in front of the board and do this any day of the week, but having classes from all over the globe connecting with mine provides a meaningful reason for us to be having these discussions.

Next February, when school goes back, I’ll be Skyping with a class from Canada to help kickstart the year. I know my students are really going to enjoy it, and it really will open up the world for them.

Check out this vid from the Kinder Panthers to K/1MEPS to see how little kids actually know about countries from the other side of the world and how connecting classes is an awesome way to teach them some more. (go to 2:00).

3. In a shrinking, globalised world, kids need to learn early how to collaborate on connected projects.
I have a few friends who work in academia and I’ve found that at the moment, the push for Open Science is quite strong. One of the reasons for this is that, currently, a handful of publishers have the dominant hand over what is published by hard working academics. This is problematic, not only because of the high profit margins under which they operate but also because open projects, in which all are able to contribute, modify, critique and publish tend to get meaningful stuff done much more quickly.

Have a look at some of the stuff that Matthew Todd at USyd has been involved with to get a better idea of why I think Open Science is important, and how connected projects are an essential part of the process – and the way of the future.

I believe that opening up the classroom, even if it’s as simple as by connecting classes from as early as K-2, is an important step in getting some meaningful work done and helping students realise that their learning can, and in some cases does, have implications beyond the four walls of their classroom.

There you go, I reckon the connected classroom shredz.

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