Friday, March 11, 2011

Adam Taylor is a Two Foot Giraffe

Teacher Blog: Using Twitter to connect students around the world
Adam Taylor
Adam Taylor
Here in the MNPS Communications Office we don't play favorites. But we're quite fond of Overton High School teacher-innovator Adam Taylor.

Adam is a Teacher of the Year Finalist who never stops looking for ways to engage his students. Lucky for them, he's a self-professed technology nerd who has been using social media and mobile devices to increase class participation and even hold classes and lectures after school hours and on snow days!

Adam runs his own blog where he shares his techniques and best practices with educators around the world. Here on Children First!, we will occasionally repost his stories in order to help share his innovations with the community.

This week's entry shows just how far his social media reach has taken him. Adam and his class have held two class-to-class meetings with students in Pakistan - over Twitter. Each class gets the chance to find out what classroom life is like on the other side of the planet. Below is Adam's account of these meetings and how they came to be.

In October of 2010 someone suggested making a list of educators willing to have class to class online Twitter discussions. So I put out a survey to my Twitter educator colleagues to see if any of them would be interested in having online discussions with students. In a relatively short amount of time we had a couple of dozen on the list.

Immediately, I scanned the list to see where the different educators were from. Most were from the US but there were a couple form Canada and the UK. Then I saw one from Pakistan and Serbia. So I sent her a message and waited.

For those who misunderstand Twitter, it is so much more than checking to see what a celebrity ate for breakfast. Twitter is an awesome way to connect with thousands of educators across the world. We are constantly sharing ideas, web sites, articles, policies, and many other tools. For me, it has been the most valuable professional development tool ever!

While trying to connect with Katherine Maloney in Pakistan, I was able to connect with Mr. Akerson from St. Louis. Mr. Akerson and I were able to get our students connected. He is a junior high/middle school teacher. His students do not have Twitter accounts, so to participate in the discussion his students took turns using his computer to answer and ask questions. My students (at Overton High School) all have Twitter accounts and were having a blast talking with the younger kids. The discussion was about life in high school. The conversation went really well. The students were mature and polite.

I later came in contact with Jesse Moland, an educator in Baton Rouge, LA. We decided to have the discussion using an online application called Today's Meet. It is a microblog/chatroom site that allows you to make a chat room with a specific URL to share with all those who want to chat. Individuals simply go to the URL, type their name in the box, and click join to get in. This is a great tool because it updates quickly, and the chat can be archived by copy and pasting it into a document.

Unfortunately because of snow day conflicts we were unable to have the discussion with Mr. Moland’s students. We hope to reschedule in the next couple of weeks.

Finally, Katherine Maloney (teacher in Pakistan) and I were able to work out a discussion time. In fact, the first discussion was three days ago. The topic voted on by students was “student voice and say in the school.” Because the Lahore American School in Pakistan is 11 hours ahead of us, my students came in early that morning before school to have the discussion. As a result of the time change one class would need to be at computers outside of class time.

Katherine asked if we could have another discussion two days later during her school’s technology open house. For the second discussion, we decided to address cultural stereotypes. The principal of the school and a parent also participated in the conversation. It was really cool to see the excitement in my students as they were able to have a discussion online with students on the other side of the planet.

I can see this project going a long way to helping my students understand different parts of our country and the world. With the right online tools students are not limited to learning from a book or the teacher in the room. The world and the people living on it become the classroom and the teacher.

To learn more about Adam and his classroom you can read his blog, 2FootGiraffe. You can also follow him on Twitter (@2footgiraffe). Thanks for the post, Adam!

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