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Using Technology to Make Global Classroom Connections

By Matt Harris, TIE Columnist
Using Technology to Make Global Classroom Connections

As I look into my crystal ball, I foresee that when historians look back at the late 20th century and early 21st centuries, they will marvel at the advances we made in two areas: transportation of goods and people globally, and the exchange of information.
As international educators, we are quite familiar with transportation of people around the world, as we move from country to country (whether to work or for those generous holidays). The transportation of goods might feel a bit less impressive for us though, as we wait yet another week for our shipping to arrive.
In the classroom, we have been most impacted by the readiness and exchange of information. Our students are connected to a wealth of knowledge, people, and resources the likes of which education has never experienced.
It has become an expectation that we prepare students for this globalized information exchange while also meeting the requirements of exams and university admissions. This can be a challenge, but also a huge opportunity.
Imagine breaking down the walls of the classroom to share global connections that build their 21st-century learning knowledge through hands-on experiences. This is best done with learning activities that connect students across geographies where they engage in authentic exchanges. And there are a number of ways to do this using technology.
So, I thought I would offer some practical ideas for educators to open those global connections to their classrooms.
Travelling Tales
Travelling Tales is a program in which classes collaborate to create a shared book. Five classes sign up to create a story, and each class develops a portion of the story.
The program is designed to fit into existing language and literacy lessons, rather than be used as an add-on. The stories are elaborated with visuals and text delivered through an interactive video format.
Travelling Tales books are being written all the time in and among schools around the world. The power of this type of collaboration is that it does not require any alignment of time zones for shared work.
The Global Read Aloud
Every year, starting in October for a six-week period, classes will read the same the book aloud with or to their classes. Thousands of schools participate at varying levels of involvement with the simple goal of making as many global connections as possible.
Schools share their read-alouds and connections on a variety of platforms, including Twitter, Skype, Padlet, Flipgrid, and other similar avenues.
Again, this is a powerful form of collaboration because it does not require time zone alignment, but synchronous discussions can be used to create a more meaningful experience for the students.
Global Math Task Twitter Challenge
This Twitter-based mathematics challenge connects classrooms through tasks and problem solving. Each week a group of “Task Tweeters” will share grade-specific math problems over Twitter and classes around the world will post solutions to Twitter using the hashtag #GMTTC. The experience connects classes completing similar problems and it opens dialogue for students around mathematics and problem-solving.
Empatico is a free tool that connects classrooms around the world. Their mission is to create empathy between students and schools by putting them together through virtual introductions and shared experiences.
Empatico will make a virtual connection between two classrooms using tools to connect via video, shared files, partners, and shared tasks. Empatico is one of the largest networks of global connections in the world, with representation in nearly every country.
Mystery Skype
Mystery Skype is a program where classes connect with other schools, experts, and individuals around the world. There is actually very little mystery about it. Participants volunteer to join the online collaborative and make themselves available during specific times. Classes that connect with them know in advance what they have to offer and what they will discuss. These connections can last 10 minutes or be repeated over the course of months.
iEARN is an NGO that works to connect students around the world through shared learning activities. Designed to create authentic experiences, iEARN facilitates connections between schools and students through a global community-based approach. They facilitate connections, offer resources, and run programs for global collaboration. At present iEARN is being used in 140 countries with over 2,000,000 students.
All of these tools are good; the biggest challenge lies in making that first connection. l

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