How To Redefine Your Classroom By Connecting Students

connecting students

Do you remember the days when you had to pay to get online access at places like Starbucks? Well those days are over, and we all connect very easily at any of their thousands of locations. Many others businesses realize that we value being connected as well, and have made it easy for us to be online while shopping, eating or waiting to pickup an order. Just like our schools! Oh wait, (insert scratching record sound here) most schools don’t do that at all. An unfortunate number of schools are afraid of connecting students and their collective angst is coming at a huge cost to our students.

As we begin a new school year, it would be great to see a shift in the way we look at learning. One where we begin to think of our students as not just learners but as connected and global learners. After all, they are connected in unprecedented ways once they eagerly leave school. As connected learners there are certain skills they need, new literacies they must develop, and if we are going to get them ready for their future – we must expand on our definition of learning.

Enter school year 2013-2014. Think of your classroom. There are so many connections in that room kids are still not making because of social relationships and the landscape of the room – such as the kids who sit next to each other and have never learned each others names. It is time to change all of that and begin breaking down the four walls of your classroom and rethinking what a classroom should look and sound like. This is a redefinition process and if you only do one thing this year, rethinking connections and classroom collaboration will have a dramatic impact on student engagement and learning.

Here are some easy ways to begin connecting your students: Start small and choose only one but find at least one way to connect your students this year. The best thing about connecting your students is that you don’t need 1:1 devices to get started, just the desire to rethink learning.

Think Outside the Four Walls of Your Classroom:

Find another class to do a project, blog or twitter chat with. Even if you don’t have a lot of tech in your classroom you can assign this as homework and let them use their own devices. Here is an inspiring example from Carolyn Skibba (@skibtech) in Chicago where she creates an ebook project with another class from Iceland. Collaborative Writing in 3rd Grade. This is a third grade project but it would be so impactful at the high school level.

Change the Classroom Set Up to Allow For More Student Movement and Interaction

If your classroom is set up so that all students stare at the front of the room, go back tomorrow and change that. Allow them to interact with each other and use discussions to help them master information. Yes, there will be some off task behavior, but value that experience – a lot can be learned from side conversations. The great part is – most groups do stay on task if the questions and material are thought provoking enough.

Have Students Create Blogs to Foster Global Interactions.

As I travel around the nation giving workshops, I wish I could inspire every teacher to use blogging in their classrooms. This is such an easy way to give kids an authentic audience and connected learning experience. With Kidblogs it is safe and easy to do. Once teachers realize that most news today comes from blogs, and that most news channels get their stories from blogs, they begin to realize how important understanding the blogging process really is for our students. Students need to understand how it works, how to understand the information bias posted on blogs and how to validate that information. The first step is to have a blog of your own. Here is a great EduSlam episode to inspire you: Reframing the Blog with David Theriault. Warning may cause tears.

Use Skype to Promote Interaction with the Outside World

Learn French with another class in France or Canada, or explore the wonders of marine biology with Skype’s new classroom website. The Skype in the Classroom site helps you connect with other teachers and get involved in amazing projects. On this site, you can look up possible Skype lesson ideas or contact a guest speaker. The possibilities are limitless.

If Your Class Has 1:1 Look For Other Schools to Collaborate With

Students should be reading digitally, and for this skill I love apps like Subtext. The best part about Subtext is that students could read a book with a class 3,000 miles away. If you want to talk about getting kids interested in reading, I can not think of a better strategy. This year for Global Read Aloud, I am working with five classes in NYC, Chicago and San Diego to connect and read a book together. If you are interested in learning about Global Read Aloud, this year’s project runs from September 30th through November 8th. Student read a book together with other students throughout the world. Then students blog, skype and learn with the other classes. They connect globally around a shared book. This is an amazing and easy way to get your feet wet. When you see how much kids enjoy the process, you will be hooked forever. Again, to get involved visit their site: Global Read Aloud

Tweet Your Learning with Another Class

Find another class in the area or on the other side of the world to talk about your learning with by Tweeting. Here is a great example of how to get started in the Elementary Classroom from EduSlam.me. In this EduSlam, Karen Lieberman talks about how her 1st grade class interacts with authors and other classes using Twitter. Her story is ground-breaking and could inspire you to try this with your own class.

Understand That Learning is Happening Through Networks – Not Textbooks.

When you think of textbooks, think Blockbuster or Borders. Textbooks are a solitary and isolated learning source and their days are numbered. Learning will become about networks. It will be about the people and information you know how to access and create. Your students are not quite savvy enough to do this effectively on their own, so show them how to interact with a network of experts from your subject area. Follow the tweets of great writers or scientists. Ask them questions about what you are studying in class that day – and be prepared to watch kids get excited about learning.

Holly Clark is from San Diego, CA. She is a Google Certified Teacher and National Board Certified Teacher. You can follow her on Twitter @hollyedtechdiva. She is the newest member of the EdTechTeacher team. She will be featured in many upcoming webinars and speaking at theEdTechTeacher iPad Summits. EdTechTeacher advertises on this site.