I recently overheard a teacher, Jeff Paige, telling another colleague about his trip to ISTE this summer. He was describing all the wonderful opportunities he encountered and learned about in San Antonio and one statement popped out at me that inspired me to write about this topic. As he was pointing to the jack on the wall, he exclaimed, "If there is a network connection in the classroom, you are not the smartest person in the room!" That struck a chord with me. As I thought about it, there are 7 billion people in this world who can share their unique experiences with your students. And those students have more than 7 billion people they can share their unique talents and expertise with! A truly global and authentic audience to collaborate and learn with.
Making connections is really about growing relationships. Finding others with similar interests, or even dissimilar interests. Finding others who agree with you and who don't agree with you. Finding others who can empathize with you, or give you a good kick to get going! Finding others who are willing to share of themselves and who are willing to let you share your thoughts, opinions, passions, or perspectives. Finding others to collaborate with, who help you grow as a person--and as a professional. To me, these are critical keys to making connections.
In the world we currently live in, the virtual connections are seemingly endless. You can tweet a fellow teacher or techie on Twitter. You can Hangout with a group of people in Google+. You can Skype with another classroom in a foreign land. You can dialog about a topic on a blog and you can share projects with teachers on Pinterest. The sky's the limit. Although it can seem daunting at first, start simply and just set a goal to make a connection. Talk to someone in your building, your district, or another NETA member who may be doing something similar. Then go out and do it!
Virtual field trips are an excellent opportunity to test the waters and get classrooms involved in connecting with the outside world. As educators, know that local or ESU distance learning coordinators are available to help uncover the hundreds of activities that may enhance curricular areas. In one classroom in Kearney, Graci sat riveted in her seat as she learned about Jesse James and his gang derailing a train in Iowa in 1873. Mike Irwin, from the Durham Museum, shows artifacts to the students, as they listen to the story of Engineer John Rafferty, dying in the crash and the outlaws taking $2,337 from the train. The students do a present day crime scene investigation of the incident to learn more about train robbers of the old west.
Another option is connecting with other classrooms, teachers or experts around the world using a webcam or other video equipment. A student, Fernanda, and her class have been studying different cultures in their classroom and have been preparing questions they would like to ask people living in different countries. After connecting and interviewing people in Brazil, Kenya, Mexico and other locations, Fernanda and her class shared that they loved meeting new people from these countries and enjoyed the many new things about where they live.
Jeannette Carlson, from Bellevue, is introducing her students to entrepreneurship via experts on Google Hangouts. Alison Anderson is creating a global book club for her middle schools students. Will Deyamport is collaborating with other teachers on lesson plans for his class. Louise Morgan is participating in the International Dot Day project by sharing the World Museum's World Dots Project Scratch animation with her students. Teachers all over are using the power of connecting to others around the globe to give their students opportunities they would never have otherwise experienced.
My challenge to you is to connect to someone outside your classroom walls. Learn and collaborate with them. Find a mentor who can help you traverse this virtual world. Then, begin connecting your students. Help them realize the power of connecting with others. Let them learn from experts all around the globe and give them an opportunity to share and to shine in this new, ever changing world.