A few days ago, someone asked me if I could go back to a “normal” classroom and teach without technology. Could I teach without my Smartboard, or document camera? Could I teach without student access to computers? Could I teach without internet connectivity? Immediately, and perhaps with some defense, I responded,
“Of course I could, I’m a teacher”.
But, to be honest, I am not sure if I even know what a classroom without connectivity looks like, without resorting to memories of my own experiences as a student. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve ever taught in one of those “normal” classrooms. Normal for me has always been to access and use relevant, current and authentic tools that engage students. Most of the educators, the ones that are probably reading this blog, like me, have found a way to bring the necessary tools and equipment to their students- not to make their jobs easier, but to give more opportunities to more students. But this isn’t about the equipment. The question I was asked, was could I teach without connectivity? I say no, I couldn’t and I won’t. The purpose of this blog post is to demonstrate how simple concept like collaboration can have such a profound and deep impact not only on student learning, but on teacher learning.
First, a short video that my class created for our Holiday Concert. We wanted to demonstrate how our class could connect with other classrooms around the world by teaching them some of our traditions and cultures – thus, we sang an old french Canadian Song: D’ou Viens Tu Bergere – From Ontario to Australia and across both coasts of North America. We used Skype. I couldn’t have done this video without my link to my PLN on Twitter.
My students often say that the Smartboard in our classroom isn’t a Smartboard at all. It is a window. Through this window, they can view the world. Our students can literally walk down the streets of Rome or Egypt. They can show and share with each other their native countries and can view the devastations caused by natural disasters, war, or environmental issues such as pollution or global warming. For these students, unlike how most of us were educated, what used to be an abstract concept has become real.
Connectivity, in this classroom of 10 and 11 year olds has become an essential part of how they learn. They depend on it to share and collaborate. These students do not see the relevance of their work or ideas, unless they can collaborate. “What difference would it make if I just put it in my desk, ” a student told me recently. The connectivity has allowed me to differentiate for all levels and styles of learners. Students use translation software to communicate. Some students use graphic software like Bitstrips, or Glogster to produce a report, instead of written essay. Some students use Podcating to to upload their ideas. Students with the most prominent learning disabilities in this classroom have learned to micro-blog such as twitter as a means to ask questions or deliver their own content.
For me, I also use the connectivity to ask questions, share ideas and access expertise from those more knowledgeable then myself. Recently, a teacher from the Upper Grand District School board, Mike Anderson, streaming into my classroom last week to teach a patterning concept to my classroom:
The students were so engaged by this (so was I) and continued the activity on their blog – classroom math blog In fact, students spent the rest of the week writing creating their own codes (and doing math, quite readily).
Another collaborative project in which my students feel compelled to read – and with though and expression is through a program that Kathy Cassidy and I are experimenting with between our classrooms, called RippleReader. The focus of the program is literacy, but what draws the students into the books is the fact that my students, hundreds of kilometres away are reading stories to Kathy Cassidys’ Grade One class.
To go back to the original question, can I teach in a ‘non-connected” classroom? Even without the use of an internet connection, the collaborative nature of our society requires us to work together, share, comment, agree, disagree. So the question is not really relevant. What is relevant is that my students are participating in this culture of sharing and learning from others – like you are, reading this post and that many of their past and future teachers are not. What do we do about it? We continue to take risks, use innovative tools, and open up opportunities for our students. Ask yourself, does your classroom or school have a “window to the world?”.