The first was with a middle school teacher in Connecticut, named Paul Bogush. Paul apparently has a connection to Ginger Lewman, an online friend. Ginger sent out a twit that Paul was looking for help with a project he was working on in class. She added a link. I followed her link to Classroom 2.0 where I discovered that Paul was looking for elementary students to critique songs his students were creating about the Oregon Trail. How serendipitous it was that we are studying the Oregon Trail now. So I responded that we would be interested.
Today, we Skyped with his class so they could find out what kind of songs our students liked. They were surprised to find that fifth graders have moved past children's songs and are more interested in songs played on the radio. We did, however, find a common interest in the Chicken Dance. A student from our class volunteered to do the dance for them and then two eighth graders performed for us. It was great fun. And we can't wait to see what they create.
Our third Skype call was with my Teachers Are Talking co-host Susan van Gelder. Susan was gracious enough to speak with some of my students who are researching the government of Canada and various provinces there. She explained how the government works and gave a clear explanation of a Parliament. She then answered questions about Canadian homes, her house (she was in her home while Skyping with us) and any pets she might have. She even sent us pictures of her cats. It was wonderful watching the students seriously taking notes while she spoke and respectfully asking questions. All in all, it was quite successful.
But the second Skype call of the day was, by far, the most impressive use of collaborative technology I've ever seen in my room. Today was the day that we skyped with our writing partners.
Brian Crosby and I started a collaborative writing project based on the book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris van Allsburg. We partnered up our students on individual stories from the book. Their assignment is to create an original story based on a picture and a title. After enlisting Christine Southard for this project, we then duplicated it for 8 other teachers. Each story is going to be written and edited in a Google doc. It will then be published in our Class Booktalk Wiki, where VoiceThreads will be available for the students to compare story versions.
So all week, the students have been brainstorming ideas in the Google doc. It has been asynchronous due to the time differences. Today, we scheduled a time when both classes would work together. So at 1:00, each child opened up their document and found that their partner was editing also. This was exciting enough. But that's wasn't all. Brian and I each set up a computer with Skype that we placed in a corner of the room. One group at a time sat at the Skype computers and discussed their story. They were so excited to see their partners, so enthusiastic about clarifying the story elements, and highly motivated to write. One girl in the class told me afterward that her entire storyline had changed after speaking with her partner. "But," she said, "now it's better."
Our principal was invited in to witness this project. She was amazed at the quality of discussion going on, floored by the technology skill of the students (even more so when I told her this was the first time the children had used Google docs), and inspired enough to say we need to find grants to give us enough money to buy 1 to 1 laptops for our classroom.
I, too, was amazed watching this activity. The children were so energized over writing. The smiles on their faces when they sat down and saw their partners for the first time was priceless.
Overall, it was the best technology day I've ever spent in school!