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Going beyond your classroom walls

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February has been designated Discover Languages Month by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. This blog post is in honor of this theme.

I’ll never forget an axiom that Dr. Thomas Lickona mentioned during one of his trainings: The larger the audience, the more motivation kids will have to share their work. I agree with that statement. When kids write, speak or display their work for an audience that transcends their classroom walls, amazing things happen in their levels of motivation and ownership. Not only does their motivation level grow, but so too does their sense of audience and communicative skills. I recently had the opportunity to encourage some of the teachers in my school to think beyond the classroom walls, and attempt to provide students with an authentic audience so they can share their work. Here’s a couple of lessons we learned.

Mystery location calls

Mystery location calls involve students in two classrooms on Skype asking questions in an effort to guess the location of the other classroom.

I was very fortunate to have met Peter Cameron during the summer last year at the ADE Institute. He is an outstanding educator and has an amazing class in Thunder Bay, Canada. After returning to our jobs in different countries — Mexico and Canada — the opportunity came up to make a connection with our schools. We decided to do a Mystery location call. We tried out different technological platforms, and I started my hunt for brave, innovative and adventurous teachers to embark on this mission with me. I’m so glad we have such innovative and adventurous teachers as James Columbus in our school in Monterrey. He immediately stepped up to the challenge.

After several weeks of preparation, we finally had the opportunity to connect. Overall, it was a great learning experience for both groups of kids. These are some of my observations and notes from the experience:

Technology facilitates learning. When I was in sixth grade, I wish I would have had the opportunity to connect with students thousands of miles away. Technology makes this easier now than ever before. The Redefinition level of the SAMR model calls for learning experiences that would have been otherwise impossible to achieve without technology.

The best technology tool is an innovative teacher. There’s no technology tool that will replace the experience, the pedagogical knowledge and the effectiveness in teaching kids how to learn from a teacher. However, such a teacher with the focus to leveraging technology to improve kids learning will maintain a healthy balance. This reminds me of TPACK.

Learning is sometimes messy. After debriefing with different people that were involved in the experience on our end, we concluded there were a couple of things we could have done differently to maximize the learning experience. Even our kids participated in this conversation and amazingly committed themselves to improve on different areas to make this an even more enjoyable experience. Once again, they are in a better position now to own and take charge of their learning process.

This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and academic relationship. The Mystery location call was just the beginning: the beginning to being exposed to more classes around the world, to more in-depth activities with the schools we have engaged with, to more independent learning, to more curious minds. However, none of this would have sparked in our minds if we weren’t part of a professional learning network. For us, it was through the ADE PLN, but we’re part of other PLNs — or PL communities — as well. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to connect with other cutting edge educators around the world.

We look forward to taking this experience further and connecting with other schools around the world to provide kids authentic scenarios upon which they can grow more as students and as citizens of the world.

Isaac Pineda is the technology integration specialist at Colegio Inglés, a private 1:1 school in Monterrey, Mexico. He is an Apple Distinguished Educator and an advocate for technology in education. He also works as a speaker and consultant providing professional development for teachers and administrators at schools in Mexico and overseas. Visit his website. Read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @Kairosedtech.