Tools of the Trade: Making Connections
by Rita Sorrentino
How many of us grew up with the adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” or perhaps, as a teacher, have been the recipient of a golden, gala delicious treat? For me, yes and yes.
Recently, I came across an earlier version of the popular apple/doctor relationship: “Ait a happle avore gwain to bed, An’ you’ll make the doctor beg his bread.”[i] For some of us, in our brown bag lunch toting days, this healthy snack was a favorite and often made its way onto the teacher’s desk continuing another long lasting tradition of the apple/teacher relationship. Before the establishment of public education, poor farmers would pay for their children’s teachers from their crops and apples were often abundant. In the ensuing years of low teachers’ wages, the gift of an apple provided good nutrition and economic support. Conceivably, in today’s many underfunded schools, a bright shiny new Apple product would be a welcomed gift of choice to service the needs of students in an ever-changing world.
With Google, Microsoft and Apple companies offering goods and services to the world of education, teaching and learning are moving to new realms of possibilities. Other digital tools and products extend learning beyond the classroom, connect learning with passion, and provide opportunities for continued professional development.
In her book, Connected from the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades, Kathy Cassidy, a primary teacher from Canada, shares her rationale and practices for connecting our youngest students to the world, using digital tools and technologies in safe and child-friendly ways. She notes that these young students are already using technology at home and it is imperative that we help them learn appropriate online etiquette and understand the significance of their digital footprints. Cassidy believes that blogging with her first graders is well worth the time and effort invested because it connects her students with others from around the world. It shows them that their work is valued, and takes learning to a deeper level as it engages students with meaningful literacy practices.
In each of the chapters, Cassidy gives practical steps for getting started, obtaining parental permissions, making connections with other classes, incorporating Skype and Twitter conversations, and using blogs as digital portfolios. The ebook is available in PDF, Kindle and ePub formats for easy reading on any device. The digital versions include videos and embedded links.
In Chapter 5, Cassidy shares how she now uses students’ personal blogs to organize their work samples. As her students begin to write regularly, the collection of their blog entries expands; thus making it possible to reveal their growth in writing from the beginning to the end of grade one. What begins originally as writing online for a class or family audience becomes a venue for using digital tools to share learning in all subject areas to an international audience. Each piece of writing, image or recording that is posted becomes a learning artifact on their journey of living and learning in a digitally connected world.
Even with limited technology, making connections is doable, but as Cassidy firmly believes, connecting for the sake of connecting is not the goal. Rather, looking for times and ways to connect that will make the learning better is the way she advocates to advance students’ learning.
Last year, a colleague and friend of mine engaged his first graders in a project that illustrates the mindset of Connected from the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades. For Derek Sciecinski, a first grade teacher in the Penn-Delco School District, pedagogy and learning outcomes are always first are foremost. With limited technology, he introduces his students to wider audiences and helps them learn valuable lessons about creativity, cooperation, collaboration and communication. He created a Twitter account for his class and shared their learning with the world at large. This included Skype with an author, online polling and inquiry learning.
When his first graders were studying about Pennsylvania, they used traditional and digital resources. One student noted that Pennsylvania had many symbols: a state flag, state bird, state flower, etc. but no state rock. Combining science and social studies, the students learned about various rocks of Pennsylvania. They continued researching, and then invited kids across Pennsylvania to vote via Twitter. When the results were in, they sent a proposal to Governor Tom Wolfe and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. If you want to know which rock won, click here. It is worth it to see the students so excited and engaged with their inquiry learning.
Mr. Sciecinski and his class’s efforts caught the eye of state Senator Tom Killion, R-9, of Middletown, who met with the students before introducing a bill on the Senate floor to start the process to make quartz the official state rock. Sen. Killion remarked that “embracing technology and using it for research and civic engagement is a lesson that will stay with these kids for life and make them engaged and educated citizens.”[ii]
Both Kathy Cassidy(@kathycassidy) and Derek Sciecinski (@firstgrade111) understand the power of a connected classroom and its potential to help students pursue topics of interest that can be shared with those near and far. For those of us wishing to make these connections, I am reminded of the Chinese quotation, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Or in this case, a single tweet, a blog post, or a comment. What will your step be? Please share in comments below.
Rita Sorentino taught at Overbrook Elementary in the School District of Philadelphia. She studied Reading Specialist/Education at Saint Joseph’s University.Rita is a fellow of the PA Writing & Literature Project. She is currently studying Italian and writes regularly on technology issue for the pawlpblog. Rita lives in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.