Geography Walk meets TwitterTour

How often have you found a bug in the park and wondered what it is? Would you like to have the services of an entomologist at your immediate service?  Have you wondered what the street you are walking along looked like 40 years ago?  Your answers can be at your fingertips 

Many teachers can relate to taking students on a neighbourhood walk.  Commonly they are trying to get students to notice things either from a scientific, geographic, civics or historical viewpoint.    Often we have used cameras or sketchbooks to record our observations. Today, I watched from a distance whilst a group of Year 3/4 students embarked on such a walk but they had an added value component planned.  Prior to the day, their teacher contacted Museum Victoria Education staff, responding to their #twittertour of Melbourne idea.

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What followed is detailed in the Storify below, but what I believe, is that the teachers have modelled a new way of learning to our students.  We have shown how we can seek information in a number of ways, that there are a number of sources of information and technology can enhance that in so many ways.  By making their learning and their questions visible they were challenged as well as informed to a far greater extent than a simple walk in the park may do.    Read the Storify to get the feeling of the interactions.  At their young age, they cannot use Twitter or most social media tools on their own but they are being modelled the concept of being connected learners. They have seen their teachers reach out to experts and receive feedback. They were involved in the conversations to create the questions and responded to the answers.  Wonderful modelling in my opinion. 

Thanks to Museum Victoria Education Team and congratulations to Michelle for seeing an opportunity and running with it!

Through my Window

Child's Sketch based on written description only
Child’s Sketch based on written description only

I am always keen to find opportunities for our students to see themselves as learners in a wider context than their school.  As they grow, they will be connected in so many ways I could never have imagined 20 years ago.  So when we can find purposeful opportunities to enhance their learning and model the potential of connected learning I jump at it.

Recently, we conducted a Mystery Skype and it reminded me of many years ago, before I began blogging and before I was very aware of the wonders of Web 2.0 when  I worked with a class on a collaborative project called “Through my Window”.  In 2009 it went like this :

  • 4 classes connected (via email in those days)  They were based in varied environments, rural, city etc.
  • Each class took photos of scenes outside their classroom windows
  • They then wrote a Descriptive piece describing the scene in great detail – much work went into the language required : foreground etc
  • Each class then exchanged written descriptions by mail (NOT photos)
  • Each class then proceeded to draw the scene described to them
  • We then exchanged the images and were able to see how well our descriptions portrayed the scenes.

The learning involved was enormous, the ability to write a very clear description of a scene down to fine details, then the ability to decipher another person’s detail.  The students worked in teams and allocated roles, it was a wonderful task.  Probably my first experience with being a connected teacher and certainly the first time our students had collaborated in a meaningful way with students from other parts of the country.


Step forward  into 2014 and we participated in our first Mystery Skype.  This is also not new, but whilst looking at the level of engagement I was struck with the potential of this activity.  We are in Metropolitan Melbourne and were Skyping a class of older students from rural Victoria about 280kms apart and had prepared questions to help determine their location.  For 9 and 10 year olds, this is a challenging task, involving mapping skills, geographical knowledge and language, thinking skills, powers of deduction.  They utilised a variety of tools including atlases and digital mapping skills.  The digital maps proved essential as we narrowed down the possibilities as our destination did not actually appear on any of the printed maps we had.

The teachers had prepared the students very well with possible questions but as you can imagine the questions were only one element, it was just as important to make deductions from the answers and this requires high level thinking.   As this was our first practice we were thrilled to be working with a very experienced globally connected educator, Anne Mirtschin.  Despite having lots of students crammed in to one working space, they remained engaged, enthusiastic and respectful throughout.  We will definitely be arranging some more experiences like this to expand on the learning and extend their geographical knowledge.  I think it would also be good to re-invent the Through My Window project.  Our blogs would make that process much easier now.  In either case, we are helping our students branch out, learn with and alongside students in other schools and gain perspectives otherwise not possible.


Reflecting on the year at our school, a major theme would have to be CONNECTING. A few examples follow …

In the past week, I have watched our classes finish up for the school year – the usual gift giving, carol singing, graduation ceremonies, packing, moving classes and reminiscing. This year our classes had not only to say good-bye to each other, they needed to acknowledge connections they had created throughout the year via their blogs. Five classes joined together to create a particularly Australian Christmas message for their blogging friends. They continued to appreciate, as they had all year, that they had a unique story to tell their buddies in NZ, Canada, USA and the UK. “What’s a ute?”, came back a reply from Canada, highlighting our individuality.

Our recently graduated Preps prepared a movie (cleverly orchestrated by teachers but filmed, written and performed by the students) for the incoming class of preps introducing them to their school. They were ‘Taking Action’ after spending the term examining their community – sharing their knowledge and experience and connecting with the newest members of our community.

Our Middle students connected with US students when inquiring about endangered animals and a wonderful learning opportunity developed.  They also shared and received feedback on their writing from a diverse group of readers through their class blogs.

Our Community Arts Project recently culminated in the unveiling of a montage of family photographic images – connecting the families to the school community being a major focus of this project.  The project also connected our students as a peer mentoring process was put into action.

All members of our staff have participated in Professional Learning sessions most Wednesday mornings (Techie Brekkie’s) where we share new tech skills and tools and learn alongside each other. We were connecting as learners as we acknowledge our individual needs and skills. The staff has also recently planned to further the connections with other schools as well as create opportunities for more collaboration within our school, benefiting both the teaching staff and students alike. Many staff have continued to embrace the world of Twitter and blogging as an amazing opportunity to connect with other educators and our school is richer for this process.

Whether it be in the physical sense of a Better Buddies program, Junior students making a luncheon for our Parish senior citizens, having grandparents come to school to share their stories of the past or singing carols at a nearby nursing home or in the virtual sense through our on-line connections, connecting is a vital aspect of our daily lives in school. The days of closed doors are over !

Personally, I have loved the opportunities that I have had this year to have face-to-face meetings with people I had only previously connected with on-line – the first Melbourne TeachMeet in September and a trip to Sydney to work with the George and Alec Couros at Ravenswood School being highlights.  A key thought from that conference was that ‘Learning is Social’ and I believe we have demonstrated that well.

It is often easy to be self critical, to not appreciate things whilst you are too close to see them properly. It is hard to remember how things were before when we so quickly become accustomed to them in our lives. I hereby acknowledge the efforts and appreciate them ! Thanks to all the people who make these things happen – you know who you are.

Image: Salvatore Vuono /