This year my 2nd graders built a wiki with students in the Bronx and Australia. The wiki is a central location to post pictures about the different environments where we live: urban, suburban and rural. My students used BrainPOP Jr. movies to learn the vocabulary, took quizzes and drew pictures on BrainPOP Jr. to assess their understanding, used digital cameras and created their own pages on the wiki. It was an exciting lesson, the students were engaged, learned a lot, and had fun. When I describe this project to people the first question they usually ask is something like, “How do you even start something like that?”
The answer is social media. Connecting with people is a fundamentally important skill for educators heading into the second decade of the 21st century. Connecting not only helps you learn what is happening in other classrooms, but it helps you build relationships with other educators that bear real pedagogical fruit.
This past summer, I connected with a teacher in the Bronx who had an idea to connect kids from the three different environments as a way to bring her lesson to life for her students. We began to plan out the details to see what was logistically feasible. She was in an urban setting and our school is suburban, but we still needed a rural school to round out the project. If I did not have a worldwide network of educators to reach out to, we would probably have had to give up on the idea. However, I knew a teacher from a rural part of Australia and I decided to ask if she could help.
So, sitting on my couch, smartphone in hand, I tweeted out the question. Within minutes she responded with contact information for a teacher in a rural school who might be interested. Over the course of the next few weeks, while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, waiting for the waiter to bring dinner or during commercials on TV, we used social media to plan together.
If it wasn’t for social media, the three classrooms would never have connected and this project would never have happened. BrainPOP Jr. supplied the content, social media supplied the connections, and our students supplied the application of the lesson on their wiki.
Blending twitter, BrainPOP, wikis, time zone differences, and different schedules is not easy, but if you are passionate about educating kids and modeling the skills they need to succeed in the coming decades, it is worth it.