Thanks to Technology, UND Graduate Students Link Classrooms 1,800 Miles Apart
In a kindergarten classroom near Sacramento, CA a child practices reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears aloud. Sometime later and 1,800 miles away, a room full of kindergartners in Grand Forks, ND listen carefully to a digital recording of that child’s voice retelling the story to them.
This scenario, which took place multiple times last year, occurred thanks to a collaboration between two UND Reading Education graduate students. Ashley Johnson, a kindergarten teacher at Lake Agassiz Elementary in Grand Forks and Michelle Tucker, a kindergarten teacher at Natoma Station Elementary in Folsom, CA found themselves in the same small group in a graduate course at UND last fall. During their various conversations about their assignments and classrooms via Facetime, Zoom, and text, they discovered they were both teaching the same reading curriculum.
While studying a unit on Digital Teaching and Learning, both teachers found themselves exploring different ideas to incorporate into their classrooms. Both locked into something called Cross-Classroom Discussions, which would allow for knowledge sharing between students who would never engage with each other under typical circumstances.
“It could be with a classroom within your building, across town, or even across the country,” said Johnson. “We both thought, ‘Gosh, wouldn’t that be cool if we could get our students to collaborate on a project somehow?’” Tucker suggested to Johnson that they could have the same book read in class and then share the recording with the other class. Just like that, a collaboration was born.
Their lessons were based on the classic Goldilocks and the Three Bears fairytale. For the students, what might have been a natural enthusiasm for learning the new material was heightened by the notion of using technology to share lessons with an outside group of kids.
There were some challenges to overcome. “Since we have a two-hour time [zone difference], it was too difficult to engage in a live video”, said Tucker. In addition, Tucker’s school district in California started their school year a few weeks earlier than Johnson’s class in North Dakota, so the pacing of their respective classes wasn’t exactly in sync. Johnson came up with the idea of using ChatterPix, an app that records sound and animates accompanying images, to allow the classrooms to collaborate with a time delay.
“Using ChatterPix was a bit of a challenge for my class because I only have one iPad,” said Tucker. “I had to borrow my co-worker’s and use my home iPad to have three students record at the same time.” Johnson had her own challenges getting used to the new platform. “Truthfully, I think it took me longer to figure out how to use ChatterPix than it did my students. Kids today are so fluent with technology and are able to figure things out so quickly.”
In the end, the teachers’ efforts were worth it. Their students genuinely enjoyed recording and listening to themselves retelling the Goldilocks and the Three Bears story, as well as using the technology to listen to the stories of their peers in a classroom several states away.
Said Tucker, “The students really enjoyed hearing their recorded voices while watching Goldilocks’ mouth move in the picture, and they thought it was so funny to watch. They also enjoyed watching other kindergarteners’ videos retell the same story as them!” As for Johnson, her students “really took [the assignment] quite seriously and had some thoughtful feedback” which was shared digitally. The teachers also shared some of the recordings via their Twitter pages.
Given the phenomenal results of their effects, both teachers are highly enthusiastic about repeating similar efforts in the future, including the use of ChatterPix. Johnson reflected on how this experiment changed her approach to introducing new ideas to her students. “As teachers, we think we need to give students all this information to frontload them and prepare them with rules or steps to follow, but by just allowing students to interact with an app and explore the possibilities, they learn things we might be missing.”
“It was great to support each other and talk about what went well and what didn’t go well after teaching our lesson and using the tool,” said Tucker. “I’ve even used it with my own children, and they love using it!”
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