As a teacher in New Zealand they were part of my everyday practice. With a few colleagues that I had never met we created #KidsEdChatNZ (I still follow the hashtag to see what they are up to and proud to have been there at the beginning). Statistics lessons involved tweeting Google surveys around the globe and watching as the results came in and graphed themselves in real time (you would be surprised at how many people can’t swim). We Skyped with other classes, read and responded to blogs all over the world and we were regular Quadbloggers. The New Zealand Schools Timelapse project was an amazing example of how distance and walls are no longer a barrier to collaboration (except when you are behind the Great Fire Wall) and was created out of some tweets before school and a Google Doc.
Then I moved back to China. Before my first trip to China I was that same thing each day teacher, going through the motions, but this time I was a different person/teacher and I did not know what being in China took away from my teaching toolbox – Blogs, Twitter, anything Google and more.
I have a VPN and by the click of a button my device thinks it is still in what ever country that I choose and I get to be the same learner that I was, but my students who are 9, do not able to connect with the outside world. My students are amazing. They think critically, are amazing communicators, have excellent co-operative and self motivation skills. They understand the world better than many adults that I know and they all speak at least 2 languages. They have travelled the world, seen the rich and seen the poor. But can they write a blog post about their experiences? No.
So my task is give them opportunities of connection. We began with collaboration and connecting on a micro scale using individual student emails and they have been a huge success. The class is beginning to see that four walls do not make a classroom. They can now email me and each other in the evening or weekend with questions about home learning tasks or send in their work or photos of what they have been doing – yes I do check my emails several times throughout the evening and I will always respond. We became pen pals with a school in Australia, but as terms are different, just when we were beginning to make a connection they all moved to high school and the connection stopped. We have tried a few Mystery Skype conversations and this is something that the class are looking forward to once we are back after our Chinese New Year holidays.
I have been working on what we can do as a class that does not require a VPN. We have a Class Wiki page that has digital resources and links for each subject, but it is a resource designed to assist with new content and vocabulary and I have not looked into making it a student based page with each child having a page within the site (this is a possibility). Although we are not a 1:1 device classroom, at home my whole class have their personal iPads, so we have been playing with Socrative for our home learning. The app is really easy to use and has loaded every time with out a VPN. We have been responding to literacy, writing and taking revision quizzes and using it as a tool to write reflecting on the days learning and I am able to add self assessment questions to each learning task. I think that a class blog would be a good step towards connecting us with other classes and even though they can not see it at home, or sadly share it with their parents, we can use it in class each day to share and connect.
So we have taken some steps and have more to take. If you have any ideas as to what you think I could leave a message below.