Going mainstream?

While attending a small conference a while ago, I was in a discussion on collaborative student connections.  Once we got through the list of hurdles that face us, both technologically and pedagogically, we got to the stories of when it works!  And, wow, these are powerful connections.

A group of middle school students working on travel brochures for the countries in the Middle East that they were studying worked their way through the thinking process to the point where one of them wondered if there were “travel experts” they could contact.  The teacher observed that with all the online services for travel today, a “travel agent”  wasn’t in their experience.  Once they had that information they began to look for agents in the Middle East who could help them  – suggestions from the students flew around the room – the agents need to be English speaking, they need to have an email to be contacted, etc.  Once they worked out the parameters for finding a travel agent the search began and led them to a British couple in Cyprus.  Next step?  The students requested a SKYPE interview and got it!  They  asked questions about culture – what to wear and eat, location – what to see,  and safety – where and when to travel.  The travel agents answered all of their questions and then….asked if they could have the top three brochures to display on their website!  The teacher told us that the students couldn’t wait to get started.

Another teacher had a story of collaborative poetry writing between Texas and North Carolina middle school students.  The poems started on Google docs and it wasn’t until the poem was completed that the people at each end were revealed!  Some interesting, non-conventional pairs emerged and added to the students understanding that it’s what is inside that counts as well as creating some excellent poetry.

I remember years ago when we held an online peer review through email. ( It would be so much easier today with online collaborative documents.) We paired third graders from a school with learners with limited language skills and a well –performing school where the students had rich vocabulary.  At the end of the year, we saw improvement in both sets of students.  The vocabulary and grammar skills in the first school showed improvement as we hoped but they also improved in the second school.  Why?   Perhaps because the kids became more aware as they did their reviews.

With so many tools available for collaboration I would love to hear about more classes that are sharing.  Please share your experiences connecting your students to the world they live in.  How do we bring these experiences into the mainstream of education?

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