Thursday, November 21, 2013

Making Global Connections with Mobile Devices

We know how connecting our students to the world around them is essential to 21st century learning and creating partnerships between student and educators throughout the globe. Taking our students beyond the classroom walls in the quest for knowledge and understanding teaches communication, cooperation and creativity on a global scale. Teachers all over the world are using tools like Skype, Facetime, and Google Hangout to make learning more exciting and memorable. Connecting with another part of the world offers an immediate way to help students discover new cultures, languages and ideas, all without leaving the classroom. Teachers can use these tools to educate students on different cultures, languages and people.

Just last week our 5th grade Hebrew class Skyped with a 5th grade classroom in Nesher, Israel through the Global School Twinning Network. A global collaboration project doesn't just happen overnight. Like any successful project, it requires planning, preparation, connecting and communicating. It had taken several weeks to plan the 30 minute call. All parties involved had to decide on the right date and time that would be best for both schools in the different countries with 8 hour time differences. Then both Hebrew teachers designed lessons which included writing brief introductions about a subset of the students in the other classrooms native language. In addition, each class spent time perfecting a special song about Israel and Chanukah that they would sing to each other. The students planned and planned but hadn’t really connected with what they were going to experience until the conference call happened. You should have seen the faces of all of the students! They felt as if they were in each other’s classrooms. Our students spoke Hebrew, the Israeli students spoke English and the singing was amazing. We culminated with all of us singing the Hatikvah. Priceless. Only after the call did our students realize how exciting their morning was and how it was only possible through technology!! Next time we “meet” we will encourage real-life conversations where our students can practice conversing in Hebrew and help our friends in Israel practice their English skills. Although in this example we did use a classroom desktop and webcam to Skype with the other class, we will consider using an iPad one time to be able to take our Israeli friends on a “tour” of our school campus!!

Global connections can be incredibly easy with the help of mobile devices. Assuming your wireless abilities are up to snuff, you can make impressive connections through video conferencing apps. One advantage to using video conferencing apps on iPads, for example, is that you can take your students out of the class and to another, more relevant area. For example, if you had a gardening program at your school, you could connect with a professional gardener or farmer through the use of the mobile device. Your class can go out to the school garden where the professional could look at your garden and give you tips on how to keep your produce growing well. Another advantage of conferencing on an iPad is that if you are on a field trip with your class you can connect back to your school so they can experience some of what you are experiencing. For example, a couple of weeks ago our school had a contest on which classroom could bring in the most canned food for a local food bank. Class 4A won the contest and their prize (in addition to an ice cream party) was that they got to load up the truck with all of the canned food collected (kids loved it) and then go to the Food Bank to stack the shelves so they can see how their efforts in charity go directly to people in need. In hindsight, it would have been wonderful if 4A Skyped their friends in 4B so they can also see the fruits of their labor!! We will definitely try that next time.

Mobile devices, like iPads and iPhones make it very easy and flexible to connect with the outside world. The apps that are available are mostly free so it’s doable on any budget. You just need to be able to make a connection beforehand and put some thought into it. Programs like the Global School Twinning Network, ePals , iEARN,  Skype in the Classroom, The Global Classroom and the Global Education Conference are great resources for you to start your journey “out of the classroom.”

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