Connecting and Communicating

As the old sayings go, “Teaching is an isolating profession.”  and “Every classroom is its own world.”  I never really understood those phrases before I started teaching.  How could teaching be isolating when you are around students all day?  Its own world?  There are classrooms of kids right next door!

But when I finally had a classroom of my own, I quickly understood.  Even though I had students all day long, I really didn’t know many of the other students.  Even though I was next to the library, I felt miles away from the other middle school teachers.  My students and I developed daily procedures and habits we followed the entire year.  The only time I would see other teachers is for 15 minutes a day in a noisy cafeteria.  Indeed, I felt isolated and in my own world.  And being an extrovert, it was driving me crazy.  I was so busy with the day-to-day activities of planning, teaching, and grading I felt like I was in a rut.

My role is very different this year.  While I don’t see students all day long, I see multiple groups in the technology lab and in their laptop-equipped classrooms.  Instead of seeing only 6th through 8th grade students, I see Kindergartners through 8th graders.  While I don’t have to grade or have meetings with parents, I still have to plan my lessons.  And for a while, it was comfortable and fine.  But something was missing.  I felt we were doing the same things over and over again:  find out the content from the teacher and make Powerpoint presentations on the content.   We weren’t moving forward or pushing the boundaries.  Yes, making flaming transitions on your slides is interesting, but after help dozens of students do the exact same function, it gets a bit old.  We needed to spice things up.

It was about that time my principal sent me a link to a project aimed specifically at middle school students about digital citizenship.  It was called Digiteen, a project under the Flat Classroom Project.  I read the material and decided to give it a try.  At the same time, I started reading the Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds book.  Both of these activities, along with being more active on Twitter, are beginning to change my entire view on education and technology.

My background is in technology:  I hold a B.S. in Computer Science and I was a professional software developer for 12 years before I started teaching.  So my view of educational technology naturally begins with the technology itself.  But the more I teach, the more I realize that’s the wrong approach.  You can’t start with the technology and make it fit the student.  You start with the student and mold the technology to fit the student’s needs.  It’s taken me a long time to get used to this concept.

But beyond my own thinking, I’m thinking of the impact Digiteen is having on my students. Many of them have never connected or communicated with people outside of their own city.  For the last few weeks, they have been posting to students from all over the world on Edmodo and our class wiki.  And today we even used Skype to communicate with some of them.  These are important moments for them.  Moments I hope they remember and build on.

I’ve broadened my connection and communication to my elementary students, creating blogs for each of their classrooms.  My goal is to connect all the blogs and have them comment on student’s posted from different classes on different grade levels.  Then we can go global and really connect with the world.  I’ve also discovered the multitude of global projects my students can participate in no matter how old they are.  Exciting times indeed.  This is only the beginning.

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