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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Class Chats: Connecting Elementary Kids in Powerful Ways (Spread the word!)



FYI. For those of you who have been emailing me, I use the Logitech Quickcam Fusion as a great option for kids because of the privacy and avatar options. (They have the option of having a cartoon as their face which tracks with their speaking!


Back in Early March while I was off at MACUL, I received an email on my school account from Cherrie MacInnes from Washington Street School in Brewer Maine.  This amazing woman E-mailed me on a Sunday morning with the following message:

"Dear Administrators and Third Grade Teachers,
The 3rd graders at Washington Street School in Brewer, Maine are on aquest to google chat with a third grade classroom from every state in ourcountry. Students from W.S.S. would share interesting facts about Maine and your students would reciprocate with some interesting facts about your state. The conference would be a one time lesson lasting between 20 - 30minutes. My class will record the date of our video conference facts on a large map of the United States and keep a journal as well. We will learn alot about the USA and meet a lot of great 3rd graders along the way!All that is needed is a computer with a built in or attached cameraand an internet connection.  Video chats can include an entire 3rd gradeclass, a small group or individuals. We want this to be convenient and easy for you!If you are interested in helping us to reach our goal, please contact Mrs. MacInnes at {email removed}. We look forward to hearing from you."

So, when I replied she had already set up with other classrooms but mentioned that some other teachers at her school are doing this and mentioned that her school had set up a really neat website called classchats (www.classchats.com)  I had asked her if she had told her story.  Here was her answer.

>>>> Hi Vicki,
>>>> I'll be glad to help out any teacher interested. The tech teachers in my
>>>> district have created a web site: www.classchats.com
>>>> We're hoping it will grow and provide a place for classroom teachers to
>>>> connect.
>>>> I have not shared our story at any type of conference. Our project will
>>>> be in the newspaper, Education Week in a week or two and in Weekly Reader's
>>>> May 7th issue. It's been a really exciting learning experience for all
>>>> involved.
>>>> Thank you, Cherrie

So, then I told her I wanted to share her story with you.  Here is how they got started.

Hi,
 My classroom did a web conference project with a 3rd grade classroom in Minnesota. The interest level was so high and there was such a positive energy that I didn't want it to end. So I came up with the idea of trying to chat with a 3rd grade classroom in every state. I didn't know if teacher would be receptive to doing this but their enthusiasm and interest has been so exciting. I know there are other teachers in our country using web conferencing to enhance learning but it was very interesting that not one teacher in all 50 states who responded had ever done this before. Their tech people have been helping them; some schools have gone out and purchased web cams so that teachers could participate. South Dakota ended up on the front page of their local newspaper. It's been such an unexpected and exciting experience. I'm so pleased that teachers within our initial group are now conferencing with each other. I wanted to figure out how to create some type of data base to connect with teachers. It took me four weeks of emailing hundreds of schools inevery state to reach our goal. I don't think people will want to participate if connecting with teachers is that much work. Luckily the tech people at my school have supported this project and shared the same excitement...enough to work together to create the web site. I'm hoping that people will join and eventually have an accessible place to connect with educators around the world.

Thank you for your interest, Cherrie

Now this is a story that needs spreading! This is what is happening - beginners are getting out there, making the connections happen and DOING IT along with amazing IT integrators MAKING IT HAPPEN.  I get dozens of press releases in my inbox daily but this is a story that actually deserves one.

So, consider this my press release for Classchats and Cherrie.  I'm asking the blogosphere to share what they are doing, get teachers to sign up and help elementary classrooms connect.

I am reminded of what video conferencing guru Jody Kennedy from White Plains City Schools in New York told me when I talked about how she got started:

"We got started with a series of low-risk, high energy experiences. I got excited and it spread."

You can't get lower barrier to entry than Skype or Google Chat and a $30 webcam from Wal-Mart.

There are no excuses any more.  Will you help me spread the word about what they are doing? They haven't asked for any publicity - they didn't reach out to anyone except other classrooms.  These are the types of grassroots efforts that need our support, encouragement, and praise.

Way to go Cherrie!  You are a hero to me!



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