The young ladies at Table One quickly informed me they had connected with her online via Skype that morning before school.
Emily was in Merced, 60 miles away, staying with her aunt while her parents were on a long weekend trip. The big writing assignment had to be done today, and everyone was present and accounted for in Room Nine except Emily. In the past, such absences would mean a lower grade. But perhaps Emily had taken her student device – which every student in our district is received through our #goingdigital project – with her to Merced?
“See if you can get her back on Skype,” I asked her table group.
Within five minutes, there was Emily, smiling at me on the screen. After explaining she hadn’t known until late last night that she was going to be absent, she asked what we were doing in class. I reminded her that it was the day for us to do a big writing assignment, and then asked if she could do her assignment on Microsoft Word, attach it as a document to an email then send it to me.
“Yes, please! I’m so bored!”
I emailed her the assignment and, before lunchtime, she had turned it in digitally.
Every student in my class learned that day how easy it is to communicate with someone digitally to get work completed and turned in on time. This is not only how technology can work in education, it’s how technology works in the real world. The only thing necessary for success is time to learn the technology and how to maximize what it offers.
On our day of deployment of our student devices, I invited my students to test various apps and programs, including Skype. As any good teacher knows, the first time you give manipulatives to students, you have to give students time to play with them first before you can really get to work. I asked them to see what they could do with their new devices, and Skype was a big hit.
My students loved it! Even though they were connecting with friends sitting no more than a few feet away, it was fun to Skype with friends, make faces at each other and then see how we could connect several class members into one big conversation. Of course, then we had to start discussing the elements of good digital conversation: let one person speak at a time, listen carefully and don’t make any extraneous noises, if possible. And most of all, when it is appropriate to Skype and when it’s not.
Three of my students went home that night and Skyped with each other to discuss their Genius projects. They are all interested in cooking and, through Skype, showed off their home kitchens and talked about their favorite foods. What I love about educational technology is that it helps me teach my students on many different levels. They’ve learned that they can work together on a group assignment when away from the classroom. They’ve learned that they can turn in assignments and projects digitally from remote locations and still be on time. They realize that they can collaborate with anyone, virtually any time, anywhere in the world.
My students are learning that what matters is connectivity and connections with others. They understand that distance doesn’t matter anymore.
Tammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., S.T.E.M. teaches 5th grade in Manteca, CA, USA, and Tech 110/290 at Teachers College of San Joaquin in Stockton, CA. A popular presenter, Dunbar has led trainings and spoken at numerous education conferences across the United States. She is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Master Trainer & Certified Educator as well as a Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Certified Educator, a TEACH.org Ambassador and NCCE Professional Learning Specialist.
Dunbar was named 2016 California Woman of the Year, Assembly District 12. She presented at the 2015 Microsoft Global E2 conference (where she earned two global awards for project excellence), won the 2010 eInstruction $75,000 Classroom Makeover Video Contest, wrote a successful Enhancing Education Through Technology grant for Manteca Unified School District in 2008, and was Teacher of the Year in MUSD in 2006.
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