Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Connecting Students To The World

I can remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in sixth grade and sitting at a desk in my language arts classroom. We had been doing an integrated unit in all our classes about cultures around the world. We’d been looking at all sorts of places that, at the time, seemed exotic to me. I had “traveled” all over the world through the books, articles and stories we read. But that day, sitting at my desk was special.

I had gotten a letter from my pen pal in Asia.

We exchanged letters a few times throughout the school year. We learned about each other and what our lives were like. It was one of the neatest projects I can remember doing in school. (I wish I had saved the letters!)

Today, those places that seemed so far away and exotic aren’t really all that distant. Technology has flattened our world and made it possible for students, no matter where they are, to connect, just as I had through letters, in ways I never dreamed of when I was in school.

There are many technologies that you could pick up today and instantly break down the walls of your classroom. But I think there are two really simple ones that can work in any classroom, whether every student has their own device or there’s just one computer for everyone.

Reading and writing blogs is one of the simplest ways to connect your students to the world. These spaces are often the places where students today are discovering that there is a world beyond their own. In a friend’s classroom, students wait eagerly each morning to see all the dots appear on a world map that show all the places where people read their classroom blog the previous day. There is power in those dots! In lower grades, a blog that is written as a class is a great way to get started. In upper grades, students can maintain their own spaces. Either way, they get to see that their words do travel far! Check out Getting Started With Blogging In The Classroom for ideas.

It seems that Skype is one of those tools that is talked about as an afterthought, but it really should play a key role in breaking down global barriers and connecting your classroom to the world. Skype in the Classroom has made it so easy for educators to “advertise” their classrooms and partner with others in countries everywhere. There are also places to look for experts to bring in virtually. My favorite, Mystery Skype, brings in a visitor from an unknown location, and using their investigative skills, students have to guess where they are from.

Whatever tools you use to connect, do something. Students need to see that their world is much bigger than your classroom and is filled with possibilities, just like my teachers had showed me by having me write to my friend in Africa. And today, it’s easier than ever!

What tools are you using to connect your classroom to the world? Leave your suggestions below.

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.