Friday, September 29, 2017

Bringing Down the Walls of the Classroom

When you are inside the 4 walls of your classroom (7 walls in my case) magical things happen. Students and staff grow and develop, risks are taken, and lifelong relationships are forged, just to name a few of the amazing things that transpire. While students and teachers are in their classrooms, sometimes they forget about, or are not fully aware, of what is happening outside of their four walls.

When I discovered the power of Google Hangouts and Twitter, for example, I became much more aware of how those tools could help me bring down the walls of my classroom in order to take my students places that they may never go, meet people they may never meet, and bring people into our classroom who would never be able to physically join us.

People who know me know that I am a firm believer that the technology tools we have at our fingertips today can benefit student learning/achievement and that of the teacher's as well. What I want to share with you today is how my students and I find ourselves learning with, and from, a class in Thunder Bay, Ontario. 

It all started with a tweet from Mr. Peter Cameron:

Peter is quite an avid tweeter and uses social media to its full capacity to connect with other educators, his parent community, and benefit the learning of his students. I showed my student his tweet and we decided it would be a cool experience to work with his class. We let him know that we would be borrowing the book from a library and jumping in with him.

When the book arrived we jumped into it immediately! Talk about being excited to READ, the students wanted me to halt our day and get started.

We started by looking at the front and back cover, activated prior knowledge about what we saw and read, then jumped in by reading the first two chapters. Chapters 3 and 4 provided us with some more information about the story and we engaged in some reading comprehensions activities. Before I read chapter 5, we talked about visualization and I informed the students that they would not get to see the illustration for this chapter because they would be visualizing it!!

When we completed our visualization activity, we made a quick video for Peter's class.

Peter then used our video to engage his students!! He used our work to assist his students with predicting what would happen in chapter 5 of the book. This excited my students! They were/are so proud of their work and feel good knowing that their work will help the students in Thunder Bay with their learning. 

As we moved on with our reading we wondered how we could continue on our learning journey and engage Peter's class at the same time. We decided to use our class Q-Chart to create a variety of factual, prediction, analysis, and synthesis questions for the students. 

While tweeting about the questions we came up with for Peter's class, we ended up catching the attention of an educator who informed us that a replica of Paddle to the Sea was currently sailing on Canada C3.

Ok, now the students were really excited and interested. We started off by reading a book that another class in Ontario was reading with the hope of connecting to talk about our learning and now we are working on communicating with a ship sailing from coast to coast to coast with a sculpture of Paddle to the Sea on the ship. Things started to really open up and now it was clear that the 4 walls of the classroom where no where in sight. There was nothing to stop us from taking our learning to "sea".

The students are now asking to check the Canada C3 twitter page to see if they have posted a pic/video of their Paddle to the Sea carving. I have NO problem with that! We continued our learning by providing Mr. Cameron's class with some levity around chapter 7 - a little taste of what is to come.

While preparing for our Terry Fox run, the students were reminded of the Thunder Bay connection to Terry Fox. We decided to tweet Mr. Cameron to see if he could provide us with some photos of the memorial in Thunder Bay. As expected, he didn't let us down.

You can imagine the effect this had on my students. As we sat in our classroom, doing what we do, our connection to Thunder Bay with Mr. Cameron's class was providing us with wonderful learning prompts around language literacy, great modelling of digital citizenship, and an opportunity to learn more about the Terry Fox - Thunder Bay connection from people who actually live there. Amazing. Mr. Cameron didn't disappoint. 

As we continued our reading, I decided to work on making predictions by activating prior knowledge.

We read chapter 8 and made some predictions. Then we read chapters 9 and 10 to see if our short term predictions were confirmed or not confirmed. We took a photo of our work and passed it on to Peter's class. 

This last activity brings us to the present day. We aren't sure what exactly will come next but the kids are really into it and they feel like what they are doing is benefiting their learning and that of others. They are working hard and producing artifacts of their learning that they are proud of and know that there is a "real" audience who cares about what they are doing and will be using their work to help them learn. As their teacher, I am very excited to see that they are motivated and care about what they are doing. They are sharing their work with me and their classmates - within the walls of our classroom. They are also seeing that they can share their work beyond the wall of our classroom. That there are ways for them to publish their work to the world and that there are no limits to what they can do, who they can connect with, and what they can share. 

We are bringing down the walls and extending our learning experience outside of the class and school - and bringing people from the outside into our classroom/school environment. We have the technology to make things like this happen and I believe that it is important for us to try and engage in activities like what Peter and I are doing here. It certainly doesn't have to look like what we are doing, but I think that it is important to connect with others and leverage the technology that we have at our disposal to start showing our students what is possible and how it can benefit their learning.

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