Salamanders, Toads and the Power of Connecting

I am so sold on the power of connected learning.

Earlier this month, Discovery Education had a special live broadcast about amphibians.  I knew my students would be interested and Karen Lirenman, who teaches grade one in Vancouver, knew hers would be as well. Why not watch together, we thought, and compare our learning? Because of the time zone thing my class didn’t actually get to watch it live, and the plethora of special events in classrooms in December meant it was actually a week later before our classes got to connect to talk about the learning.

It was Karen’s brilliant idea to have the students take notes on whiteboards as they watched to help them to remember what they learned. Despite the fact that much of the writing was only readable if you were the writer or a grade one teacher, it did in fact help the students to listen and remember, and made them feel very grown up.

Later, we chatted with Karen’s class via Skype to compare our learning. What did you learn? Naturally, there were things both classes remembered, and things that only one did. There were also the “wasn’t it cool that…” moments as we talked about some of the things we had learned, like the fact that some amphibians freeze in the winter and then revive in the spring.  Before the call, one of my students had said, “I have an I wonder for them”.  (“Wondering” is  one of the things we are learning to do in our classroom.)We had seen on Twitter that they were missing their gingerbread characters, and she wondered if they had been found. So at the end of the call, after we had exhausted the subject of amphibians, we also talked briefly about the disappearing gingerbread people from Karen’s classroom. The students were engaged in asking questions and in sharing their joint learning.

For me, though, the best part was right after we said “good by” to the other class.  I asked my students if they had learned anything from the conversation.  “Yes!” Would they like to learn this way again? “Yes!”  “Why?” There were lots of answers, including “I can see what the kids look like” and “We can hear about stuff they learned.” My favourite answer, though, was from a student who looked at me as if I had asked a silly question and replied “’Cause you can learn more stuff.”

Learning through connecting with other classes just seems obvious to my students. And that feels right to me.


3 thoughts on “Salamanders, Toads and the Power of Connecting

  1. Love the note taking on whiteboards idea. What do you use for whiteboard erasers? I still haven’t done any class connections like this but the new year is about to start. With some tech improvements 2013 will be my year to get my class connected. Thanks for sharing your experience & expertise.

    1. For erasing, I collect those thin gloves that are popular in the spring and fall (the ones that do NOTHING in the winter time). There are usually unclaimed gloves in our lost and found at the end of the year. I wash them and keep enough around for each child to have their own.

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