Still Amazed....

It doesn't matter how many times I've been part of a video conference, it is still exciting to watch the connective power of the Internet at work in the classroom! Our Jr. Kindergarten class this morning was able to get in touch with a year six class from Novo Hamburgo, Brazil. Maybe it was the over 5, 000 mile classroom separation, or the idea that you are making a personal connection with someone from a completely different culture or way of life, either way it was just plain COOL!

I can't underscore enough the importance of connecting classrooms. These short but effective video chats are changing the way our children at St. John see the world. As one Kindergartner remarked, "they really do look like us!" Our first grade students said the same thing as they Skyped with another foreign county....California! Well, it's foreign to use in the midwest!

There were several hiccups during the call this morning, but those set aside, the experience gave our preschool teacher a great place to start. I think the neatest part was having a 6 year old Jr. Kindergartner be the interpreter for the group. Of course her dad was there to help out as well (Portuguese was the language of the day). Everyone involved needed the interpreter and it was a great confidence booster for that student to have such an important job during the video conference.

As some of our teachers are finding out, connecting outside their four walls can be quite addicting. Once the kids know it is possible, that with a single click they can be in touch with other kids, they want to connect ALL the time.

I am beginning to be skeptical of the "digital generation" critics who say that our kids are becoming less personable and exhibiting less social skills because of the technology. With a high-speed Internet connection, a computer, and a web-cam, our kids are making vital connections that are breaking down distance, linguistic, and cultural barriers. If anything, the technology has the ability to make them more social. The trick for the classroom teacher is to capitalize on the power of a digital connection, while helping students process that experience within the context of everyday face to face interactions.

A couple of lessons learned from this mornings video conference:

1. Choose your video conference time so as to maximize bandwidth. Because of scheduling conflicts, we started our call about the same time our teachers were sending lunch count and attendance over the network. Talk about a bandwidth nightmare! Also it was about lunch time in Brazil. The dad who helped translate said that at lunch most people in the city hit the Internet pretty hard, which also contributed to slow things down on their end. This excessive traffic bumped us off a couple of times and made caused our web-cam to not show to the Brazilian class.

2. Plan ahead....
Our preschool teacher did an awesome job of having questions prepared in advance. There wasn't a lot of down time trying to come up with questions to ask. Also, she had prepared the kids in advance to be patient for technical problems. The kids knew ahead of time that their attention needed to be brought back once any technical problems were fixed.

I'm looking forward to helping them connect again in a couple of weeks!

So when is your classroom going to adventure outside of your four walls next?