"There is just one moon and one golden sun. And a smile means friendship to everyone. Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it's a small world after all!" - Sherman Brothers
It's one of my family's favorite rides at Walt Disney World, but it also speaks a lot about how technology can make our world seem smaller. Many of our students are not able to see what life is like in other countries by traveling there; some have never travelled outside of their own city. Although the benefits of foreign travel are well worth the costs involved, it's just not feasible to many families. Technology can allow us to connect, visit and share with other classrooms all over the world!
There are several tools that you can use to connect with other classrooms around the world. The first is Mystery Skype. Mystery Skype is a game of sorts. The goal of the game is that students on each end of the Skype conversation ask each others questions in order to guess where the other class is. This gives students the chance to discover more about geography, language, science, and even more in a virtual game of "20 Questions". It's an amazing experience if you are able to do it live during the school day, but it doesn't have to be. You can record video messages and send them back and forth as well. Here's a great guide to using Skype in the classroom.
Google Hangouts is another tool teachers can use to connect with each other. The folks at Lee's Summit R-7 school district in Missouri have created a great website explaining how teachers can use Google Hangouts to connect with other classes. "Where can I find other classes to meet? I don't know a lot of teachers outside of my state!" Never fear, Google + to the rescue! Join the Connected Classrooms Workshop G+ community to find other educators with similar interests, subjects, and grade levels to meet with. Google also has the Google Connected Classrooms website to find virtual field trip opportunities.
In my #BFC530 chat this morning, I also learned about VIF's Learning Center. This website/program lets you connect with educators from all over the world. There are also lesson plans designed for a global classroom experience. This is a great opportunity for project-based inquiry lessons on global topics. Also, VIF provides Professional Development through a PBI designed program.
There are many benefits to connecting to other classrooms around the world. I don't think that we as teachers have enough time to thoroughly teach globalization and explore world cultures. Connecting with others gives us the chance to teach tolerance, understand global issues, and discover our place in this global community.
Some teachers use connected classrooms as a way of team teaching. Teachers find a common topic/standard they wish to collaborate on and develop a lesson plan together, with each teacher presenting a different part. You could also do this as a Book Group. Students in both classes could be given a list of questions to discuss or even come up with their own questions. Think about the possibilities of doing a Current Events chat as well (this is a great opportunity to talk about respecting each other's opinions and differences). It's interesting to see what students outside of our country think about us - it can give our students a whole new perspective of ourselves.
Also, it's hard for teachers to be the "expert" on every topic. That's just an unrealistic expectation. Virtual field trips with leaders in the field of marine biology help students to understand the different ecosystems in our oceans. Students can visit with museums all over the world to learn about science topics or visit an archeological site. The possibilities are endless.
"All this sounds great, but don't I need special, expensive equipment to do this?" No, all you really need is a computer with a built-in webcam and microphone, or an external webcam and desktop microphone. If you have a projector you can use to share your screen with, it will make it easier for your students to see the other group. You'll also need access to a high-speed internet connection, which a large majority of schools have. That's it! With the exception of Google Hangouts being enabled if you are a Google Apps school or having the Skype software installed, there is nothing special needed. If you are in a 1:1 program at both locations, you could even have your students do individual hangouts (must be over the age of 13 to use Google Hangouts individually).
I hope you'll take the opportunity to explore the world of connected classrooms. This is an amazing opportunity to show our students the world and create, communicate, and collaborate with others!