Teaching at a small somewhat remote school can pose some interesting challenges. One of those challenges is bringing variety into our classroom. There are only so many ways to mix up grouping a class of 6 students. Even though my students are amazing, sometimes they yearn for something new and exciting. I have really turned to technology this year to try and expand my repertoire of resources and bring in current and exciting content to keep the kids pumped engaged. While I feel I have been somewhat successful the students still long to connect with content on more of a personal level. They want to share experiences as well as to hear about the different things that other kids their age are doing. This is exactly what happened when I started using Twitter to connect with other kindergarten classes all over the world.
People often ask me how I use Twitter. I usually answer that I use it in different ways for different purposes. I use it professionally to share and gather information with my Personal Learning Network or PLN. I also use it with my Kindergarten class in a very different way.
The interesting thing is that I wouldn’t be using Twitter with my class if I didn’t use it personally first. The reason behind this is actually pretty simple. I really started investing time in growing a PLN via twitter in the fall of 2010. After a couple months of working to build a network of professionals and educators to follow on Twitter I noticed a tweet from a kindergarten teacher at the Calgary French & International School in Canada about a project they were launching called “Kindergarten Around the World”. The idea was to connect kindergarten classes from all over the world with each other using Twitter. I thought that would be something that my students would really enjoy.
I sent a message to the teacher expressing interest. I got a message back with details about the program and since this was the first time the project would be undertaken their was a set of goals but also a bit of wiggle room for participants. I really wasn’t totally clear on exactly how it was going to play out but I though “why not?”.
The requirements were actually very simple:
- Each class would need to be in the 5-6 year old range.
- Each class would have to speak either French or English as the primary language. (The school spearheading the project was a French/English school)
- Each class would have to have/create a Twitter account
- Each class would have to have regular Internet access
These were things that I could handle! I set up a protected Twitter account for my class. In order to follow our tweets a person needed to be approved by me. Our partner class did the same and we were on our way. The general goals put forward by our friends at CFIS were:
- Compare and contrast their own daily lives with those of other students around the world
- See themselves as part of a larger international community of kindergarten students around the world
- Develop awareness and appreciation for other cultures
- Reflect on own school lives and daily activities
- Explore the use of technology as a tool to communicate and build relationships
And before I knew it we were underway. As I explained what we were going to do to my class of 5 and 6 year olds I got a lot of glassy eyed stares. They really couldn’t comprehend the concept as they had never seen or done something like this before. After about a week or so they started to catch on and really grasp what this “tweeting” actually meant.
I think if I had to pinpoint one thing that helped the kids achieve the “ah ha” moment it was when our friends sent a picture they had taken from there classroom window. It was dark, gray, snowing madly and the trees we could see had no leaves on them. My students jumped up and said, “Look it’s winter time!”. That may seem obvious but when you live on the equator as we do you never get to see that seen from your window.
We in turn took them on a video tour of our school showing them all the areas of our school. My students really enjoyed being the tour guides and showcasing all of the places that have special meaning for each of the kids.
As the project progressed our classes go to know each other better. Throughout the course of any given day a student might mention that wanted to share whatever it is that they were working on with our friends in Canada. There were other times that my students would connect something we were talking about back to our friends in Canada. It was a way for students to personalize content on a number of levels.
We also developed a bit of a routine when it came to tweeting. We would all gather on the carpet in the morning and after calender time we would use our Smartboard to bring up our Twitter page. The students were engaged and excited to hear which of our questions had been answered and what new questions our friends had for us. Each student took a turn answering or asking a question and then they would come to the board and actually press the “tweet” button on the Smartboard. They quickly realized the more they participated the more they got to come press “tweet” on the board and see their question or answer pop up on our Twitter page. They felt empowered.
I quickly realized that in sharing about our school and homes with our friends in Calgary my students developed a sense of ownership and pride. Our school is very transitional and all of our students come from somewhere else. Most of our students will not be here for more than 6 years and a good portion will be here for 3 or less. In sharing with our friends the kids realized just how special their school and home was.
An example of this came when we shared a link to the orangutan sanctuary that our school visits every year. For our students this is nothing out of the ordinary and just something you do when you get to a certain grade. They could see by the reaction from our partner class in Calgary that this in fact was something that few people would have the opportunity to do or see and that this was something very special.
During the course of the project we had a couple other classes join the conversation. We also started conversing regularly with kindergarten class in New Jersey, USA. They shared with us about a trip they took to a farm up the road from their school. That lead to a great discussion on what types of food are grown here on Borneo compared to what types of foods are grown at a farm in New Jersey.
The actual Kindergarten Around the World Project” ran for one month and although the initial project is complete we continue to converse via Twitter with a number of kindergarten classes around the world. Checking our Twitter page is still part of our morning routine. The project has pushed my to expand the use of technology in our classroom as a way of collaborating and sharing information. I have found that the more you share the more you get in return. Each morning we discuss as a class what we would like to share with our Twitter friends and what questions we would like them to answer for us.
In light of the success of the project and how much my students enjoyed sharing I started a classroom blog as well. As with our Twitter discussion topics, the students pick at least one thing that we are doing in the class that they would like to share on our blog. In addition to writing about what we are doing we use photographs and video to connect with our audience. The parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles love being able to see what is going on in our little classroom.
An example of how we used Twitter and our blog in tandem is through an Earth Day project we did. As a class we discussed what Earth Day was and brainstormed ways we could change our behavior in a way that would have a positive impact on the environment. As a result each student developed an Earth Day pledge. Each student wrote out their pledge and made an illustration of themselves fulfilling the pledge. We shared via Twitter that we were doing this and some of our friends tweeted back that were interested in learning more about what we were doing. This is where we transferred the conversation to our blog. We took pictures of each student’s illustrations and each student actually typed out their pledge on our blog under their illustration. I wrote a little blurb about what we were doing and we had a nice way for our friends to see what we had done. The students really enjoyed being part of the process and now expect that they will be involved in the publishing process.
If I hadn’t been using Twitter as a way to connect with my PLN I would have never found out about how to use it in my kindergarten classroom. I also am not sure I would have started a class blog if I wasn’t involved in the Kindergarten Around the World project. It has changed the way I look at what I do and what is possible to do in my classroom. I really see my class as part of a larger community of kindergarten classrooms around the world. I know that my students feel as thought they are part of a community of kindergartners as they have learned and shared with students in different parts of the world. It has been a great way for my students to share in the experience’s of other kindergartners. It has broadened the scope of what they can experience and see in a such a personal and relevant way.
If I’ve learned one thing from the experience it’s the power of sharing and collaboration using tools such as Twitter and blogs. If you are looking for something new, exciting, relevant and resource rich I’d recommend Twitter as a great place to start. It may take a while to develop a first rate PLN but you’ll be paid back in spades. If you can’t find what you are looking for then develop it yourself and share it with others. Chances are someone else is looking for the same thing.
You can also read a write up about the Kindergarten Around the World on the website EmergingEdTech.