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.