When I was young, my family participated in student exchange programs from Central America for my older siblings. For several years, during the summer, my brother or sisters were away and a stranger came to live with us. I remember sitting in awe listening and learning about the lives of these people living in my house and marveling at how different their daily life was compared to mine. It opened my eyes to a new angle on the world I never knew existed.
In this digital age we can create these long distance connections right in our classrooms. When our students are able to meet other students that look, learn, and live differently than they do, eyes open and perspectives change. They find so much in common, but also celebrate and appreciate differences. They marvel at new information and new ways of thinking. They feel pride in sharing about their communities and schools. The shy kids become a little less shy when they have the chance to speak and share in the comfort of their classroom but the “safety” of just using video to communicate. They feel validated and uplifted when a class across the country or halfway across the world acknowledges “Yes, we hear you and we feel that way too!” Students find their voices, and often find so much more.
If we as educators embrace and unleash the potential of these connections, we can take students far beyond the introductory stuff (How long is your recess? What books are you reading? How cold/hot is it where you live? Whoa…you like Fortnite and Endgame, too?) and we can eventually structure these video chats around some serious global issues! Below are 3 ways you can make connections with other educators and classrooms around the world.
- Empatico – For elementary schools, you enter your grade level, location, availability, and activity choices (they have 9 so far) and Empatico magically finds you a partner classroom with the same interests! You are matched with another class somewhere in the world, and when you are ready, you launch the video chat right within the website – it couldn’t be easier!
- Flipgrid (Grid Pals) – The amazing and wildly popular Flipgrid is widely known for its power to amplify student voice by allowing students to create video responses to prompts or topics – and kids LOVE it! If you did not know, Flipgrid has a unique use that you may not have considered. It can basically work as an asynchronous option to connect and communicate with classes in time zones with which you wouldn’t typically be able to connect! They have a whole section on their website that explains how to use something called GridPals to find connections.
- Skype in the Classroom – If you haven’t checked out the Skype in the Classroom site, please click on the link! In addition to virtual field trips and guest speakers, you can always find classes, teachers, and projects. There are so many choices and connections from all over the world, and Skype in the Classroom is always adding new things! You can also follow them on Facebook. They have a thriving community of educators who are always reaching out and looking for unique connections.du