“Who are we videoconferencing with today, Mrs. Cassell?” These are the first words I hear as my students enter the room. I have been a full-time elementary teacher with the Avon Maitland District School Board for the past nine years, teaching students in the primary and intermediate grades. Shortly after I started teaching I began integrating technology into my classroom program using a variety of SMART products, Edublogs, Google Apps for Education and iPads. One of my goals is to inspire in children an appreciation of how their lives are continuously enriched through the process of learning. And connecting my students with the world of learning that exists beyond the walls of our classroom is why I founded the Digital Human Library.
Take Me There
In 2011, I began experimenting with videoconferencing in my classroom to provide my students with new and exciting twenty-first-century opportunities for learning. Beginning in March of that year, my Grade 2s started to inquire about what it is like to live in different communities around the world. During one of our Community Circle Check-In Chats (this is when we talk about what we love about our learning community and share one wish), Kara said, “Mrs. Cassell, I wish we could talk to kids living in different countries, instead of just reading about them on the computer and in books.”
After sourcing out new learning partners using ePals, in countries like Mexico, the United States and Russia, we revisited our learning goals and created our success criteria. I purchased a webcam and we downloaded Skype. It was time to connect with the world.
In three months we had videoconferenced with students in over 12 different countries, including Kenya, Argentina, the United Kingdom and Colombia, to learn about other cultures, traditions, celebrations and languages. We also exchanged emails, videos and presentations with students living in countries where time zones didn’t permit a face-to-face connection. After reflecting on our learning during our next Check-In Chat, we agreed that it was the most exciting learning experience we had ever had. We felt connected to the world – it was exhilarating.
Fuelled by our enthusiasm to connect with people who wanted to share in our learning, our next wish was to collaborate with experts in the sciences to help us answer our questions about animals. One of our more challenging questions was “How do scientists learn about animals that live in the wild?” So we contacted Field Trip Earth (fieldtripearth.org) at the North Carolina Zoo to find out. The following week, we videoconferenced with Conservation Associate Mark MacAllister. Mark taught us about how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracks and tags wild animals. He showed us a video that