Inter-cultural understanding…

What could be more engaging than kids talking to kids across the world? What better way to learn about other people? What better way to encourage inter-cultural understanding and global awareness?

Our Year 4 students are currently exploring other cultures. They are using the iceberg model to investigate how cultural beliefs and values influence people’s customs and perspectives. Part of their inquiry will include interacting with children (and adults) from a variety of cultures via Skype and Voicethread. By constantly referring to the iceberg, they will gradually develop their understanding that the things we see  (food, festivals, customs) reflect the deeper beliefs and values of a culture.

Time and again, I have found the best way to make connections for this kind of learning is through my existing online PLN. Tweeting for interested collaborators in this unit has, so far, brought us willing collaborators in Indonesia, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and other parts of Australia. Friends in India have agreed to connect with the Year 4 children too. It’s not the best time of year for this inquiry, as schools in other countries are finishing for the year, but it’s still worth asking… If you’d like your students of any age to collaborate with us, either via Skype or by responding to our coming Voicethread, please let me know!

By whatedsaid | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon


10 ways to create global connections…

Use your imagination….

Picture two boys on opposite sides of the world playing chess in a foreign language. Imagine kids in Australia asking kids in Thailand about conditions where they live. Visualise 5 year olds in different countries singing for each other. Suppose kids in a privileged school could find out from kids in an Indian slum what not having ready access to water feels like. These are some of the global interactions that have taken place at my school in the past year. I’m dreaming of bigger things…

I know there are teachers and classes who have been connecting and collaborating successfully for longer than I have. I was inspired by them. I still am. This post is to encourage those who haven’t taken that first step…

1. Think small.

Connect with a teacher you know (me for instance!). Exchange ideas. Start simply, by having your students exchange emails.

2. Be inspired.

Read about great global collaborations other teachers have made. For inspiration read posts by Kath McGeadySylvia Tolisano and even some of mine.

3. Connect asynchronously.

Set up a Voicethread and have students ask questions. Share the link with others around the world. Encourage participation from everywhere. Create a conversation.

4. Sign up to Skype.

Make a start by having your class talk to someone. Practice with the class next door. Ask a contact in another place to Skype with your kids. One thing leads to another.

5. Make friends with your tech support people.

Ask for support. Show appreciation. Tell them what it’s for. They’ll probably be interested and more inclined to help.

6. Make it relevant.

Don’t just communicate for the sake of it (although that could be a starting point.) Find someone to collaborate with on a topic that’s relevant to the learning in your class. You can try sites like epals, but we’ve had our greatest successes via people we know from Twitter and blogs. Check out Yoon’s post about our recent connection.

7. Let kids own it.

They can make connections too. They can plan interactions. They can think about who to talk to and what to ask. Listen  to their reflections.

8. Consider the benefits.

Think about the difference between learning in the classroom and learning directly from and with people around the globe.

9. Don’t be put off by obstacles.

Ask for help. Accept there will be times when it doesn’t work. Have a plan B for when technology fails. Be patient. Be persistent. Don’t give up.

10. Think big.

There is a whole world out there and learning doesn’t have to be confined to the classroom.  Invite people or classrooms around the world to collaborate with you on a global project.


It’s about the learning, not the tools…

Frankly I’m tired of tools.  Exhausted from experimenting. Weary of web 2.0 options popping up on a daily basis… Well not entirely 🙂

At one point, I was excited to keep trying out new tools, figure out how they work, share them with my colleagues and use them to support learning and engage my students.  I wrote a post a while ago  saying I would start a series sharing one new tool that I tried each week… but never continued the series.  I used to support Linda, our ICT coordinator in introducing a new tool at every session of our early morning tech sessions for teachers.  But, while I am still experimenting with new tools, learning and exploring new possibilities, I have decided to slow down.  It’s important for the learning to drive things, not the technology.

which tool?Most of our teachers are willing to have a go, but not yet entirely comfortable with technology.  They are still daunted by too many different tools, when and how to use them.  So, this week we started using our tech sessions in a different way.  Instead of introducing new tools, we will revisit the ones that teachers have already been shown and discuss further possible ways of using them to enhance learning.  And give teachers and students a bit more time to consolidate and become completely comfortable with each tool in their toolbox.

We started by revisiting Voicethread. If you’ve been with me since the start, you’ll know it’s one of my favourites. To start off with Michele from our junior campus showed us the fabulous connection our 5 year olds made with a school in the US  using Voicethread. (more about that next time.)

Everyone shared ideas for how Voicethread might be used.  As a way for students to respond to an image or video related to their units of inquiry. As a place to share their own inquiry findings and have other kids, teachers and parents comment.  As an opportunity for discussion, a way to collaborate with people in other places, an option for a text response, a way of practising skills of speaking, listening, reading, writing.  Claire liked the idea of setting up a Voicethread as one of her literacy rotations, where kids could respond to a text in an engaging way, without teacher supervision.  Des thought it would be great to upload a talk she had heard and have her class comment on it.  Or perhaps all the Year 4 classes could collaborate.  Rubi has a contact at a PYP school in Mumbai and hopes to connect with kids there for a unit on understanding other cultures.  Talila loves the idea of getting her students to engage in Hebrew conversation.

We talked about how to scaffold thinking so that students’ contributions to the Voicethread will be meaningful.  I remember reading a blog post last week concerning how to get kids to make more valuable blog comments. Whether they are commenting on a blog, adding to a discssion in Voicethread  or responding to their peers’ learning,  the use of a thinking routine will provide a structure for their thinking.  I have blogged extensively about Project Zero‘s thinking routines in the past and can’t stress enough the part they play in fostering higher order thinking. The ‘Connect Extend Challenge‘ routine for any kind of response in Voicethread (or anywhere else) seemed to us one of the most appropriate.  It enables students to make connections to what they already know, explain how their thinking has been extended and then pose a question about the topic/image/video/presentation which they find challenging. One of the teachers suggested simplifying it for the younger kids to ‘Get one,give one’  –  Say something you got out of it (or learned from it) and something new you can add or suggest.

We always come away from these sessions pleased to have reflected on our practice together, aware of how much we have learned and continue to learn from each other, enthused to have a go at applying new ideas… and I always think how lucky I am to be part of a true community of learners.


Making foreign language learning more engaging.

I read a post this week about the challenges of making the teaching of grammar less boring in foreign language lessons. While I know that it’s important to teach grammatical concepts and rules, it’s the application that makes the learning worthwhile.  If the students know they will have meaningful opportunities to apply their language learning and to create for an authentic audience, they will surely be more engaged.

Our teachers explored a few such possibilities today and, while we teach Hebrew, these ideas could work for any language.

We started by looking at ways to use Power-Point to enhance second language learning.  Inserting sound creates all sorts of opportunities for the students to record themselves, thereby practising important reading and speaking skills.

  • Insert a series of images into slides and have students record a story based on the images (insert sound, select record).  This can be written first and corrected by the teacher, then read out, or students can simply improvise and tell the story right away.
  • Students select their own pictures or take their own photographs to use for their story. You can see an example in a previous post here.
  • Students work in pairs to create a conversation which they record, based on the selected images.

The slide show can be uploaded to Slideboom, or another such site, so that the link can be shared with parents and others, so that there is an authentic audience for the students’ creations.

Most of the above can be done with Voicethread too, adding the extra dimension of allowing collaboration. You can see see more detail in a previous post about Voicethread, with examples here and another example here.

  • Start with an image or a series of images and have students speak about them in the foreign language (using those newly learnt grammatical skills!)
  • The students can be added to the teacher’s Voicethread identity and everyone takes turns to talk about the image or set or set of images.
  • The students can login and add their own comments or storyline to the images.
  • Other students and parents can record comments on the final product.

If you have ever read this blog, you will know that ToonDoo is one of my favourites! We have our own school toondoospace, which is a secure, private version of the online comic creator. These were the ideas that came up in today’s session for using ToonDoo to practise language skills:

  • Students can choose one panel to create a scene illustrating new vocabulary.
  • They can use 2-3 panels to create a story, adding text bubbles, incorporating new vocabulary and grammatical constructs.
  • Several toons can be combined to create a toonbook.
  • The teacher can create the first scene of a cartoon story and save with the ‘let others redoo’ option. Students can then continue the story.
  • As above, except the teacher gives the middle panel and the students create a beginning and end to the story.

My friend for the week is…

Family legend has it  that when my sister-in-law was at boarding school, she would write home saying ‘My friend for the week is…’  It seems there were so many new people to engage with that she was able to find a new friend each week.  That’s similar to the way I feel about all the web 2.0 tools that I could use in my class!

When I first began exploring web 2.0 tools, I wanted to experiment with each new one I discovered! But I realise (I’m an Aussie, that IS how you spell realise)  that it’s important to remember that the tech tools you use in your classroom need to support learning.  It’s about the learning, not about the technology itself.

So bearing that in mind, here are two of my favorite web 2.0 tools for the classroom . These are the ones that I keep coming back to because they have been so successful in engaging my students and enhancing their learning:

ToonDoo is a wonderful online comic creator. Anyone who regularly reads my blog will know what a fan I am, since I regularly use my toons to illustrate my posts. Our school has it’s own ToonDoo spacewhich is a private, secure site for our students to create toons, express their creativity and demonstrate their learning. It’s excellent for second language practice too. I blogged about it here.

I find Voicethread a versatile tool for conversation around images.  You can upload images or videos and comment either by typing or by recording your voice.  Others can participate and comment, which allows for collaboration as well as feedback.  Again, it’s great for second language practice. See examples here.

And here is a new ‘friend for the week‘, with which I have begun to experiment and whose usefulness for my students’ learning, I have yet to assess:

Primary Pad is a web-based word processor designed for schools, that allows pupils and teachers to work together in real-time.  It is a very simple, straightforward tool for collaborating on a document simultaneously, which young kids could easily manage. My head is already buzzing with possibilities for how it could be useful for learning.  More on that next time, after my students have experimented.

New series: ‘My friend for the week is…(via Phyllis.)

Give them a voice…

Voicethread is a great tool that can be used in so many ways, for all kinds of conversation around images.  It allows you to upload pictures or video clips (or a whole power-point even).  Once files are uploaded, users can record or type in comments.  Great for discussion, feedback, collaboration..

Here’s an example my Year 5’s made today.  Each pair chose two characters from the story we have been learning, about the Jews who were rescued from Ethiopia in Operation Moses. They then created an imagined conversation in Hebrew.  It’s not a showcase presentation! This is authentic classroom learning…  if  you listen carefully (even if you don’t!) you can hear all  the background noise,  the teacher asking for quiet so that people could record, the mistakes in their Hebrew and the technological issues which sometimes affect recording!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And this one was created by Jocelyn’s class during their unit on fair trade. She uploaded a video and the students recorded their comments.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

See our Scopus ICT wiki for more information and examples.  Leave a comment with your idea for using voicethread.  (I will NEVER stop asking!… I know you’re there and reading… why don’t you share?)