For the last couple of years I have been very keen on exploring different ways in which I can connect my students with the outside world. This has been a priority for me because I truly believe in the motivation that working for an authentic audience can bring. Before starting Coetail, I had managed to establish a couple of connections with other classrooms outside my school via email and through Flipgrid. Although these two connections worked well, one of the major questions that I had moving forward was how to find someone outside your school to work with. Nothing like a nagging question to lead you into a little inquiry, right?
So, after almost two years of investigating and trialing various options, I have found multiple ways in which you can find connections, from matching with another classroom, all the way to locating guests speakers worldwide, joining virtual field trips or finding a collaborative project to complete. By no means the list below is exhaustive, but it is a good start if you are new to this field.
I have divided the connections between those where you can set your own agenda, and those where you don’t.
Finding another class to work with – You set your own agenda
Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever platform you are using to build your PLN, use it to your advantage. If you post a request, it is very likely that either, someone who already follows you would want to connect, or there will be someone who can put you in touch with another person who would be interested based on your grade level or topic. The more specific you are with the purpose of your connection, the more chances you stand of finding an interested party.
Flipgrid – #GridPals
In case you don’t know, Flipgrid is a site where you can create public or private grids with topics to which your students respond through videos. Other people who you have allowed access to your topics/grids can watch your students’ videos and also respond to them via video. One of the menu options of Flipgrid is #GridPals. This option shows you a map of the world with every teacher who has an account on Flipgrid, and who has marked him/herself active on #GridPals. When you sign up to Flipgrid, they ask you to include a short bio in your profile. This bio will appear on #GridPals if you have marked yourself active alongside the contact details that you have provided for other teachers to contact you. In this bio you can include the grade level(s) you teach, your subject(s) and interests, as this will help other teachers find you and for you to find others. Flipgrid is free for educators.
Below you can see a small section of the #GridPals map zoomed in on Hong Kong. The green circles with plus signs are teachers active on Flipgrid. If you hover over their circle, you can see their bio and how to connect with them.
Skype in the Classroom – Mystery Skype
Skype in the Classroom is a treasure trove of resources to help you connect your students to the world. One resource that can help you find individual connections is through Mystery Skype. In its origins, Mystery Skype was designed as a game where, through a Skype call, two classes asked each other questions to guess each other’s locations. Now a days, you can set up your Mystery Skype in whatever way you want – each class has 20 questions to guess: it can be a number, a historical event, a location, you name it. The limit is your imagination. Check out Craig Kemp’s detailed post on using the Skype in the Classroom platform to find a connection, and tips on how to set up a Mystery Skype call.
Finding another class to work with – You join a project, task or challenge
Skype in the Classroom – Skype Collaborations
Another resource from Skype in the Classroom is Skype Collaborations which lets you create a project and post it on their platform. In this way, other classes can find you and work with you. You can also use their database to search for other projects to join. There are featured projects in various categories such as Geography & Culture, Empathy & Compassion, SDGs related projects, amongst many others. You can filter projects by age group, subject, content, country or region, skills development and/or language.
The Wonderment’s mission is to inspire wonder in kids around the world . This site allows educators, parents and students to present their own challenges or projects for others to join in. Smaller challenges or tasks are called Paths, and tasks that impact whole communities are called Projects. As an educator, you will create your own account, and through your account, you host your own students’ accounts. Identities are heavily protected and everyone gets a “bot name” and you choose from the bot avatars that the site provides, so there are no profile photos and no personal information is shared. This site has an amazing potential as students are free to explore the paths they want and complete challenges that will make the world a better place. It’s a win-win. Check out this video that explains how The Wonderment works.
Empatico is a platform that helps Elementary classrooms connect. In their words, “Empatico empowers teachers and students to explore the world through experiences that spark curiosity, kindness, and empathy. We combine live video with activities designed to foster meaningful connections among students ages 6-11.” Once you sign up, Empatico will find a matching class for you to connect with, based on your location, age group, language and interests.
PenPal Schools is a global project-based learning community. With a teacher account, you can enroll your students in different topics that are already created on the site. You can find topics by subject and student age. Each topic is comprised of lessons and a global showcase. Once your students are enrolled in a topic, they have to complete the different lessons in the topic. Each lesson would have a video and a text. The students have to respond to them with a post. Once they have posted their response, they will be able to look at other students’ responses (there could be hundreds of other students doing that lesson) and engage by responding to their posts too. As they complete the lessons, the students complete a project to share on the platform through their project editor tool.
The Travelling Tales
The Travelling Tales connects classrooms around the world through collaborative short story writing. This global collaboration project is the brain-child of Joel Bevans, a fellow Coetailer. You can sign up to complete a Travelling Tale by providing basic information about your class (age group, subject, language, etc.). Bevan will then match you with other classes (four or five) who you will co-construct the tale with. Once he has matched you, it is up to the teachers to communicate and organize which class is going to be in charge of which part of the story. The stories are put together using Adobe Spark and should be inspired in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Once the story is completed, Bevan publishes it on YouTube.
Finding guest speakers or joining virtual field trips
Skype in the Classroom – Connect with Experts
Another useful tool from Skype in the Classroom is the Connect with Experts tool where you can find guests speakers, Skype lessons, or join a virtual field trip. When looking for guest speakers, you can filter by age group, subject, availability, country/region and/or language. When looking for Skype lessons or virtual field trips, you can search by subject, age group and location. This platform provides how-to starter guides and even mini-courses that you can take to make the most of these experiences. As I mentioned at the start of this post, Skype in the Classroom is truly an amazing tool that makes it extremely easy to connect your classroom to the world.
Fear of the unknown makes it difficult to take risks. Will it be safe for my students to use this or that platform? Will it be an enriching experience? Is this time well spent? These were some of the questions that I asked myself before, and that I still ask myself whenever I am planning a connection. Don’t let these questions drown the possibility of something great. Ponder, and when the answer is yes to those questions, then, start small. Choose one option that you feel is doable for you and your class with the means that you currently have. Most of the platforms I have mentioned here have how-to guides that will take you step-by-step through the process and help you prepare. After having participated in various Skype calls with guest speakers, collaborated in a Travelling Tale, and set up multiple connections through #GridPals, I have to say that both my students and I have gained from each of these. Take the leap!