Conferencing with Monsters
I recently helped facilitate a video conference between two 2nd grade classrooms that used monsters as a vehicle for improving descriptive writing. It was actually a quite humorous connection, as the students presented their self-created monstrosities to the other class, and then asked them to guess the adjectives that were used to help give the creature it’s physical appearance.
Adjective-enhanced physical features that were prominently featured included “stinky headed”, “flag striped”, and “skinny legged”, although one group did have a unique “bingo-winged” monster that made us all chuckle. Besides the engagement that came from the actual video conference, the big take away from this experience is that making technology a part of your regular routine in the classroom isn’t that monstrous of a task (you see what I did there?).
Start with something you already do
Pick an activity or lesson that you already do and feel fairly successful with in your classroom. Too often teachers feel like they need to “spice” up something that isn’t working well in their classroom with technology, when in fact the opposite is true. Integration usually works best when you start with something that you have mastered, whether it’s having the students successfully write persuasive essays, an inventive way of correctly identify the differences and similarities of alkali and alkaline metals, or producing techniques for remembering the times table. When you can limit the variables for what you need to accomplish, chances are you’re going to be more successful. Which is why I always recommend teachers start with a video conference where it’s more of a presentation of what’s already been learned, or take part in a connection that incorporates elements of learning the teacher knows they have achieved already in the classroom. That way the only variable is the actual class to class connection itself.
Keep the activity simple
In this case, the students in the 2nd grade classroom were broken up into groups, each group creating a list of adjectives that they wanted to use to create their monster. Once the short lists were complete (about 4 or 5 adjectives), the teachers simply emailed one another the lists (nothing too fancy here), and got the students working to recreate the monsters using only the list of adjectives provided. The idea is fantastic as it focuses on audience, interpretation, and a bit of drawing skills. Each class did their best to draw monsters based on the other class’s descriptions, and then presented the finished monsters to one another. Each class had to guess which of their own adjectives were used to create the various monsters, and while some were a challenge (hard to show wort spots on a monster’s nose with crayon apparently), the activity was simple enough that all of the students could participate.
As simple as this activity was, it was a great way to practice writing for an audience, and more importantly, seeing what someone else could do with the words our 2nd grade class had created. The students had to make sure their adjectives were clear and made sense. They even had to match them with nouns that made sense, and create lists that would give the other classroom a chance to picture the entire monster, not just focusing on one part of the body. In total, the teacher prep time was very minimal. Each teacher read a book about monsters to their class, had the students discuss adjectives, create lists of monstrous adjectives, then share the lists with the other class.
Find ways to use technology you’re familiar with
Probably the best way to get teachers to start integrating technology in a meaningful, and more importantly, simple way, is to start with technology that they’re already comfortable using. I’ve found that a great number of teachers in my district use Skype, or are familiar enough with the software that they understand it’s power to connect people across great distances.
While this particular connection was made with a more industry-standard H.264 video conferencing tool (geek talk, I know), Skype has proven to be very successful in connecting individuals and groups for many years now. With no worries about IP addresses to enter, clumsy cameras and video conference units to manage, Skype works very well as long as you have a solid internet connection. I’ve actually helped facilitate a small handful of video conference connections using just Skype, a webcam, and a decent external microphone attached to my laptop.
Thanks to Skype in the Classroom, it’s becoming easier and easier to find a partner teacher or project idea, share contact information, and start collaborating without the need for expensive equipment, or even technical support from a tech in the district. They even have a clever little map on their homepage to show you where the 250 newest teacher to join the community are located, giving you an idea of where Skype is spreading, and where there might be a great opportunity for making a connection.
Following these guidelines, I’ve managed to help introduce video conferencing in many classrooms within my district this year, and have helped facilitate wonderful connections that gave students in our district opportunities to connect, talk, and collaborate with students around the United States. I’m excited for next year, when I can show off what we’ve achieved this year, and hopefully make the process of bringing more opportunities for technology into the classroom a bit less beastly and cumbersome.