Writing in the late 80s and 90s
One of the activities I remember most about elementary school was writing letters to my pen pals. It didn't matter the grade level, usually my teacher had a best friend who was also a teacher in a different town. The two classes teamed up to create an authentic writing experience. We wrote letters back and forth to ask questions, tell stories, and make connections to someone outside the school. Unlike writing to a celebrity or politician, our teachers knew we would get a letter back because it was a requirement for class.
An old idea updated
So, when my student teacher, Rachelle Galang, got a job teaching in another town, I knew we had to offer our students the same kind of memorable learning experience. Since Rachelle taught Kindergarten and I taught 4th grade, we knew we needed to find a way to challenge and engage both groups of students even though they were at very different academic levels. Thankfully, a mentor-like collaboration and augmented reality saved the day!
Rachelle’s Kindergarten class in Brandon buddied up with my 4th grade class in East Lansing to do a joint research project during Genius Hour. Though our students were different ages and in different locations, they worked together to think deeply and construct knowledge using a variety of resources, tools, and strategies.
The Kindergarten students came up with questions, or wonderings, they had about the world. With their teacher’s help, the Kindergarteners used an augmented reality app called Aurasma to augment individual videos of themselves asking their questions over separate, self-selected pictures. Rachelle shared those pictures in a folder with me using Google Drive.
I printed out the pictures and my students choose their buddy based on their personal interests. Each 4th grader watched his/her buddy’s video and came up with a plan to research and report back an answer. All the while, they had to keep in mind the age of their audience so they could effectively communicate their findings in a way their buddy could understand.
In the end, the 4th graders augmented the videos they created with their answers over a different picture that was sent back to their Kindergarten buddies. Essentially, the students were partners working on the same project in a different location.
To wrap things up, we did a Google Hangout with both classes so we could meet our buddies and celebrate our successes.
To access the entire lesson plan with ISTE and content standards, suggested materials, and a detailed list of steps to follow, please click on the button below.
What did I learn? My reflection.
- Collaborate with another class
- Teach my students how to consider their audience and their needs when they present information
- Provide a safe place for students to do presentations with high-engagement, productivity, and ownership but low-anxiety
- Learn to work with a deadline in mind
Assessment and Management
Due to my purposes, I did not include a rubric or formal grading procedure. Instead, we had a timeframe with a deadline and certain processes that had to be followed to accomplish the task and meet the deadline. I wanted my students to have choices in their learning, feel a sense of ownership over their work, choose topics that interested them, and have a low-pressure form of presenting with an authentic audience. Due to this, I did not include rubrics or grading procedures. Instead, I wanted my class to focus on the process, their audience, and the product rather than the grade they would receive. With this, their work was detailed, creative, thorough, engaging, and catered to their audience.
The anxiety level was low, but the production quality was high. My students felt ownership over their work and were excited to make connections to other students. Since I served as a facilitator during this lesson, I was able to interact with each student individually, formatively assess where my students were with their learning, and make suggestions or cheer them on to accomplish their goals. Students were highly engaged because they felt accountability to another person, they had a specific task to accomplish, they could use tools and strategies that were familiar to them, and they had a deadline to meet.
Teachers with different purposes could easily create a rubric and grading criteria for this project.
These lessons can be modified or adapted to fit a variety of students, standards, and needs. Depending on how you implement this project, this activity can be as simple or as complex as you want. It can be modified based on your students’ needs, background knowledge, your access to technology tools, and/or your ability to connect to a different classroom. The same process can be followed, but the level of complexity can be adjusted to suit different grade levels or individual student’s needs. The timeframe can be modified to adhere to the amount of time a teacher can spend in class and/or how many standards need to be covered. English Language Learners, special needs students, gifted students, and general education students all thrived in this lesson in the 4th grade and Kindergarten classrooms.
Not only are the students collaborating with their buddies from a different school and grade level, they are also encouraged to collaborate with each other, their parents, and anyone else who can help them answer their question or give them good ideas for an effective presentation. Students are encouraged to elicit help from their families at home. Though my students each received a question to answer, you could have students work individually, in teams, or in small groups to complete this lesson. Additionally, this would be a great way to involve parents, volunteers, and/or experts in a classroom activity.
If you want to partner with another classroom in a different part of the world, I would suggest putting out a request on Twitter. There are many teachers/classrooms that are thrilled to collaborate!
Students have choice from the beginning of the lesson. They choose their Kindergarten buddy based on personal interests. This is to promote engagement and autonomy. Students choose how to research their answers (surveys, Internet research, books, personal experience, or any other method that lends itself to answering their question). The choice of presentation is also offered. With students in the driver’s seat, the hope is they will take ownership over their learning and have pride in their work.
If a classroom set of iPads is not available, you can use one single iPad or tablet instead. That is how I originally did this lesson with my students (with the exception of the research part when we went to the computer lab). It took more time to have students record their presentations with one iPad than a class set, but I was able to see each presentation as my students recorded their videos. With this, I was able to offer suggestions about content and delivery and help with the technological part of the process. Augmenting the videos was fun and it excited the kids. However, you could do this lesson by sending the videos in a different way too.
Useful Websites on Mrs. Wever’s classroom website (look under Search Engines)
Safe Search Kids (Google Kids Search Engine)
MEL Kids (Michigan Electronic Library has many databases and safe search sites for kids. I especially like Kids InfoBIts and InfoTrac Junior Edition. You will either need a subscription, or you can access them directly from MEL Kids.)
Detailed lesson plan
Mary Wever’s Useful Websites (look under Search Engines)
Erin Klein’s guide How to Make an Aurasma Augmented Reality Video
Do your students collaborate with other students from around the world? I would love to hear how other classrooms are collaborating to make memorable lessons for students. Please share your stories in the comments.