This is a story that has been told already--- plenty of times in the "tech" community--- but I just have to tell it one more time in celebration of how classrooms can be transformed overnight and produce excitement and engagement in students and teachers as they "plug-in" to a global audience.
As I said in an earlier post, I am starting to believe that this is the "Tipping Point" year for technology integration. I have teachers coming to me daily to learn how to get their classrooms more "tech-connected," how to build a blog or website, how to bring in skills that today's learners need (I am really, really trying to stop calling those skills "21st Century Skills" since it truly has become a laughable term a decade into the century... habits are hard to break, however, and I've yet to completely quit "cold-turkey"; forgive me if I lapse in using the worn-out expression in this or subsequent posts).
Many conversations with teachers continue to start with "tools". For instance, "I'm ready for a website for my classroom." Though I always like to start with purpose, if the tool starts the conversation, I'm fine with that... it eventually leads to conversation about purpose and many times, the initial desired tool is abandoned and something that "fits better" or may even be more transformational replaces it.
My good friend and colleague, Charlene Kohn, came to me about a month ago and wanted to meet about getting her classroom's website up and running. She had already done much of the work (design, links, etc). During our first meeting, I asked her what her purpose was for the website. She had already defined that she wanted a presence to share hermessages that she writes for students and parents, archive those messages, and also report out what the students were learning. A newsletter, if you will. Charlene has been putting out a paper newsletter since she began teaching decades ago. She was excited to extend this offering to parents and even a global community via the web.
As we discussed this purpose, it became clear that Charlene wanted to extend beyond a newsletter offering, because she wanted students to showcase and write about their work as well.
Charlene and I set up 3 more meetings. These meetings each ran about 45 minutes. That's all it took to "tweak," "expand," and further "identify" what her vision was, as well as what tools would best serve her class.
Turns out, Charlene wanted a website and a blog. It took very little time to introduce her to Kidblog.org (which is an amazing site both for simplicity and easy management of student blogs) and she created student accounts and uploaded their work from a recent research project on Wild Animals. (Her students are Multi-age 1/2, so she provided the typing for their first post as well as uploaded the artwork).
On our last meeting, we reviewed how comments and posts could be moderated and I told her I would "tweet" out the address at my lunch time to invite other educators to comment on the student work.
And of course, here's where the "magic" happened. Within the first hour of the tweet, her students received 60 comments. By the next morning, this number had doubled.
Charlene, her students, and her Teacher-Intern were "blown away."
"This is crazy!" said her Intern. (She meant "crazy good"). Here are some quotes from the students:
"Makes you feel proud of yourself for your work."
"I love that people can send us comments."
"Makes me happy that people can see our work."
"Makes me feel like I'm really happy... like I'm going to faint!"
"It's cool that anyone in the whole entire world can see what we're learning about."
Once teachers get that "crazy good" feeling, there's no going back. When they get quotes like those above, or see their students faces light up because they got 8 comments from people around the world, or watch students go home and continue to comment on each others posts, or see students create new content for their blogs while on vacation... they know they've "struck gold" and their classroom has been transformed. As for the students, I hope that there's no going back as well, but it can't be guaranteed. Will their future teachers offer the same great practice of blogging or some other means of gathering an authentic, global audience in order for work to be purposeful and celebrated?
Thank you in advance for heading on over to Mrs. Kohn's Student's Blog: http://kidblog.org/DrKohnsClass/ and checking out the amazing work of her students and leaving a comment or 2... or 20! Enjoy the "crazy good."
Postscript: It's time now for me and Mrs. Kohn to "pay it forward." Jim Wenzloff (of November Learning) taught me about the site Comments4Kids which is where people can post requests for folks to leave comments for their students (just like I did for our students). You can easily follow the Twitter hashtag to see requests or post your own: #comments4kids. So if I ask for comments from the community, I pay back that kindness by heading off to do the same for another teacher and students.