When Was the Last Time You Saw a Mountain Lion on YOUR Playground?

image from Alba on flickr.com
image from Alba on flickr.com

One of the sessions I attended at TCEA 2014 in Austin last week was called, “Global Collaboration in Elementary.”  It was presented by Matt Gomez (@mattBgomez), and largely featured Twitter interactions his kindergarten students had experienced with other classes around the world.

That’s right – Kindergarten.

I work with gifted students in K-5, and I have to say that it would not have occurred to me to try using Twitter with my Kinders.  But, then again, I didn’t see a use for Twitter for myself until about nine months ago.

Matt did an outstanding presentation on the value of social media tools like Twitter for students.  (Here is the link to his presentation handout.) By using a private account, and choosing other like-minded educators to follow and be followed on Twitter, Matt connects his students to children in very diverse regions.  Through regular Tweets, the students have learned about their differences and similarities.  For example, one thing that many schools have in common is recess.  And, sometimes children may suffer the crushing disappointment of being forced to endure indoor recess.  But indoor recess in Texas is generally not the result of a mountain lion being loose on the playground, as a class in Montana tweeted to Matt’s students.  Surprising tweets like these have generated interesting conversations.  The experience has promoted tolerance, geographic awareness, and research skills.

Another unexpected side-effect of the Twitter project, as Matt explained, was the development of empathy in the students.  They care about their “Twitter friends”, and are more aware of global events and their effects.  Matt’s school is in Dallas, and they received Tweets from their partners inquiring about their safety, recently, when Dallas was reported to have several tornadoes.

Matt’s class has also connected with experts through Twitter, such as astronaut Chris Hadfield and local weather reporters.  These experiences have also given the students some inside knowledge about careers that they probably would not find in library books.

The nice thing about Twitter is being able to view a stream of responses, as opposed to using e-mail or other written communication.  Also, it does not have to be “real-time”, as Skype or other types of video chats need to be.  You can set aside a time each day to check out the stream as a class and discuss the comments and questions the students may have.  It’s also a good way to summarize your day before the school day ends.

As a result of Matt’s session, I’ve decided that I definitely would like to try this with my first grade class.  In this class, my students are researching different countries, and I would love to have them connect with classes around the world.  If you are a classroom teacher reading this, are interested in joining our classes on Twitter, and live outside of the USA, please contact me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com or @terrieichholz on Twitter to see if we can connect!

UPDATE:  Here is a link from Drew Frank (@ugafrank) with over 270 classes who are active on Twitter and interested in connecting.  You can also fill out the form on this page to add your class to the list!

UPDATE 2:  Here is another link from Kathy Cassidy (via @MattBGomez) of Primary classes that tweet.  For more Twitter resources, check out her page here.

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