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Technology Closes Distance
Between Kids, Schools


In the not-so-distant past, students had pen pals in other states and countries to learn about life elsewhere. Now with the help of Skype and other technology, kids are able to chat and work on assignments with students from across the district or around the world. Included: Examples of how to use technology to connect classes.

Years ago, units about countries, states, or communities often culminated in students shoebox dioramas of the Great Wall of China molded out of clay or sandy deserts populated by plastic reptiles.

But now teachers of even the youngest students are using technology so kids can see and chat with their peers one town over or collaborate with students as far away as China.

I loved the fact that kids got to know the world outside school and learned that with technology they could talk to people anywhere, said Luisa Ojeda-Vera, a kindergarten teacher at Florida's Sand Pine Elementary School, whose students used Skype to connect with a class at another school in the district. They learned that wherever people are, they can talk to other people.


Ojeda-Veras kindergarteners last year eagerly awaited their Thursday chats via Skype with students in teacher Julie Horrigans kindergarten class at Watergrass Elementary School, another of the 45 elementary schools in their sprawling district. The students worked on the same projects and talked them over during their 20-minute meetings. As part of one project, students in both classes used media center resources to research their favorite dinosaurs and shared drawings and descriptions of the dinosaurs with their peers at the other school. Another time the children compared their likes and dislikes. Groups of four students chatted at a time.

Ojeda-Vera got the idea to link classes after seeing a student in her class use Skype to talk with his father who is serving in Iraq. She would like to continue to partner with Horrigan this year, and expand her students chats to students in other countries.

I loved the fact that kids got to know the world outside school and learned that with technology they could talk to people anywhere.

They were so excited to see the other children, Ojeda-Vera told Education World. They could see themselves in the little screen [embedded on the larger screen] and see the other kids on a big screen.


Older students also had a chance to use Skype technology to make new friends and fine-tune their writing. Fourth graders at Watergrass participated in a program called WriteSkype, a collaborative program involving ten elementary schools in the district. Brandon Maldonado, the schools technology specialist, arranged the program so students could share writing samples from their portfolios with partners at another school and receive feedback.

One boy was writing a novel and shared the latest chapter each month with his Skype buddy.

The state assesses students writing in fourth grade, so teachers spend a lot of time on writing skills, Maldonado told Education World. It really was for the children, a way for them to share and collaborate outside of their usual peer group, he continued. Teachers liked that students were getting feedback from another source and the kids liked the chance to meet with someone new and make a new friend.


Another school in the district, Oakstead Elementary School, decided to reach beyond the district. Third graders chatted with classes in Sweden and China as part of the districts Global Partnership Program.

The connections were facilitated by a school district employee who was in contact with Chinese and Swedish educators, and frequently talked with them about education issues. The Swedish and Chinese educators said they wanted to work with schools in the U.S.

Among the districts goals for the program are to have kids build relationships with kids from other cultures and use some technology to build those relationships, Oaksteads assistant principal Megan Hermansen told Education World. The Oakstead third graders employed Moodle as well as Skype to talk with sixth graders in Sweden and fifth graders in China. The collaborations were possible because the Swedish and Chinese students and teachers all spoke some English.

We wanted to increase their use of technology and have them use different technology, added Hermansen.


The connection with the Swedish school, Gustav Vasa Elementary School in Stockholm, had some setbacks, and students did not get to collaborate with the Swedish sixth graders on a project, but spent time learning about each others cultures and lifestyles. One area of comparison was architecture. Many of the buildings in Sweden are very old and ornate, Hermansen said. Everything in Florida is much newer and the buildings look similar.

The community would love for each of our classrooms to have a partner -- the teachers saw it working and saw what the kids got out of it.

As for the Chinese link, students spent the first year comparing cultures and building relationships and the second year collaborating on a project. Oakstead students even came to school early on a few occasions so they could chat with the Chinese kids at 8 p.m. their time. (The Chinese school, Yacai Number 2 Elementary School in Shenzhen, China, is a boarding school.) They were surprised at how much they had in common [with the Chinese students,] Hermansen said. The classes shared Power Point presentations about the Chinese New Year celebration and places of interest in the U.S.

Last year students collaborated on a conservation and recycling project and classes in each school created mini-compost piles and reported on how long it took materials to break down. We wanted to find an issue they were passionate about to work on together, according to Hermansen.

The program still had to tie in with Florida standards, and students increased their cultural awareness, enhanced their technology skills, and participated in the scientific process by monitoring the compost pile.

Teachers in both countries had to do a lot of advance lesson-planning for the weekly connections to be beneficial. Often the third-grade teacher came in at odd hours so she could plan live with the Chinese teacher.

Oakstead school officials would like to continue collaborating with the overseas schools next year, even if the district decides not to continue the Global Partnership Program. If the Swedish school wants to continue, well go forward with a project, noted Hermansen. The community would love for each of our classrooms to have a partner -- the teachers saw it working and saw what the kids got out of it.




Technology & Internet

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Originally published 08/30/2010