Pedagogical Serendipity (or, how Twitter saved my Kindergarten lesson)by Kevin Jarrett

Cross posted on Welcome to NCS-Tech!

Planning lessons is hard.

I teach in a K-4 computer lab. 25 classes, five a day, once a week, 42 minutes each. Like most people who teach in a lab, I'm constantly on the lookout for great lesson material, particularly ideas that tie into what the kids are learning in their regular classrooms.

So I was thrilled when my Kindergarten teachers took the time to share some lesson/project ideas they found in our Language Arts series. They provided me a photocopied list of monthly "CULMINATING PERFORMANCE TASKS" (CPTs) with timing suggestions ("sometime in December," etc.) and I was set!

Or so I thought.

So, our Kindergarteners are currently learning about farms. This particular month's CPT suggests the students "research farms on the Internet." Huh, what? Kindergarteners? Many of whom are non-readers? Doing Internet research? On their own? Not happening!

I was back to the drawing board.

In the not to distant past, my options would have involved emailing friends and some frantic but focused Google searches in pursuit of similar lesson plans and resources like the "4-H Virtual Farm." (That site is good, but is still not suitable for non-readers to navigate without assistance.)

But, this is 2009 - educators like me now have something better. Twitter!

A vibrant conversation ensued, involving several members of my PLN, including my friend and colleague Gary Stager. He seized the opportunity to do what he does best - challenge our assumptions, forcing us to think differently about the learning and our approach.

The discussion continued without me - I had to turn in for the night - but along the way I got connected to Brenda Sherry:

Her neighbor, a dairy farmer, had just delivered over 100 baby calves. I also met Penny Lindballe:

... the teacher wife of a grain farmer. We were on our way!

At this point, I had (at least) two willing teachers ready to connect my students with real farms and farm life. My first thought was Skype, but with five lessons to deliver on five different days, it didn't seem feasible. I needed an approach that was repeatable, reusable, flexible, and respectful of the time these volunteers were able to offer. Logistics threatened to sink my grandiose plan to connect my class and students to the outside world in a meaningful, powerful, authentic way.

Then, Penny suggested getting her family to contribute to a Voicethread for our class and it hit me - Voicethread was the answer! It would give us the ability to "converse" asynchronously, using text, audio and video. Voicethread's navigation is dead simple; I know my kindergarten students can easily make their way through material presented that way. Voicethread's asycnhronous nature means that Brenda, Penny and anyone else we bring into the mix can contribute ideas easily and at their own convenience. Thank you Penny!

All we needed were questions from the students. Another member of my personal learning network (PLN) whose tweet I cannot find (so sorry!) suggested I use photos to spark a conversation among the kids. So, I headed over to Flickr and created this gallery of farm pics. So far, it's been working GREAT! The students are really reacting to the photos. By the end of this week, all my students will have had the chance to ask questions (which I captured using my digital voice recorder). I will insert the questions into the Voicethread I created for Brenda, Penny and the others to see and use.

My Canadian farmer friends will have the entire last week of December to contribute text, audio and video responses to my students' questions. When we return on January 4th, students will spend the beginning of my computer lab class reviewing the Voicethread. Imagine - learning about farms directly from farmers themselves, in their own words, from the comfort of our classrooms! Short of visiting an actual farm, what could be more fun? The students will then use Tux Paint to create an image explaining what they learned about farms, including something involving a) farm animals, b) farm people, and c) farm crops.

How cool is this going to be? Penny's kids are ready, I'm pretty psyched, and Brenda is too!

Yes, planning lessons is hard.

But when you engage a global PLN filled with creative, thoughtful and fun-loving lifelong learners in the process, amazing things can happen!

Hope this helps,