Friday, May 2, 2014

Breaking Down the Walls of our Classroom: Using Technology to Change the Face of Teaching & Learning

My students and I had a great experience today that really demonstrates how we are getting passed the four walls of our classroom to learn in new and exciting ways. Why haven't I written/reflected on this before? It never moved me like it did today.

In Social Studies we are talking about communities around the world and are about to start discussing and exploring characteristics/features of different regions. Using Google Maps we were acquiring a perspective of our Earth as the students zoomed in and out of different parts of the Earth. All of a sudden I received a message from +Nando Alves - a grade 2 teacher in Brazil. I had met Nando last week in the Connected Classrooms Community and he was touching base with me because we would like to have a hangout so his students can learn a bit about our community and my students can learn a bit about their community.

As I am sharing this with my students, we find Brazil on the map and then they proceed to zoom in to find Nando's location: Brasilia. In a matter of seconds the students locate where Nando and his students live and immediately zoom in to see what it looks like over there (via the white board projector). They immediately notice a huge soccer stadium Brazil National Stadium) and instruct me to ask Nando how close they are to the stadium. Nando informs us that they are about 45 minutes away from the stadium. 

The excitement in my class was off the chart as THEY were now leading this learning experience as I raced to type out the questions they had about the climate, food, clothing, and activities that Brazilians in that area engage in. Nando didn't have too much time to chat with us today but he provided my students with enough information to satisfy them for the moment. 

Nando got my email address and sent us what he calls a classroom 'card' - a fantastic way to visually introduce us to his class.

You might be wondering what the big deal is about this experience that my students and I had today. The big deal is that we are aware of, and open to, using the technology we have to innovative and benefit our learning in fun and interesting ways. There is no substitute for the motivation and engagement I saw in my students today. In fact, the plans I had for them today had to be adapted to fit what THEY wanted to do and around what THEY wanted to learn. Make no mistake, their agenda still fit with our learning goal - which is always what we are working towards - but THEY were leading me and their knowledge and interest in reaching beyond our classroom and country to make their learning real is where they are at. 

The culture they have created in our classroom community is about establishing goals and working to meet them in dynamic ways. It is OK to make mistakes, you just try again and try something different. It is OK to talk about your dreams and ideas because that is the first step to creating things and doing things that have not been created or done before. They use technology (Chromebooks, GAFE, digital resources) to break down barriers and do things otherwise not possible. They know that learning is not about answers, but about thinking and working with others in ways that will lead them to success - which is different for each of my students.

For the remainder of our time in Social Studies the students ended up using the Chromebooks to examine Brazil - its physical features - and compared it to Ontario's physical features. As I walked the room and talked to my students about what they were doing I was exhilarated. The same type of exhilaration I experience when my mind is blown at a really good conference (e.g. GAFE Summit, ECOO, etc).

Today it was about leveraging technology to learn about communities around the world - by connecting, in real time, with a native of Brazil and exploring where he lives then comparing it to where we live. They are really excited about connecting with Nando's class to learn about how grade 2 students live over there and to teach them how we live over here.

We connected our Chromebook to our projector, accessed Google + to reach out to people via the 'Connected Classrooms' community, and used Google Maps to explore the earth. Take the time to be open to, and explore, the impact technology can have to change the face of teaching and learning.   


  1. Wow, what a neat experience for your students. How exciting for you and your class to get information from a primary source. I look forward to learning more about the Connected Classroom.

  2. Thanks Jenn. I think you and your students would really benefit from the Connected Classroom Community on Google +. Would love to hear about your experiences once you get into it.