Social learning networks promote student engagement, global awareness

When students engage with other classrooms around the world, their effort is ‘through the roof.’

Think about it … what do kids want? What do you want? How about the chance to be masters of tasks, have lives with purpose, and have the choice of when, where, and how when it comes to engagement in learning and teaching?

The classroom is no longer a physical place. Perhaps it never has been. Learning is experiential and it occurs, usually not on schedule, but 24 hours a day. What does this mean in an age of Common Core standards and high-stakes testing? The Common Core standards seem to fit well with students’ need for critical thinking and higher-order thinking skills. I doubt that the high-stakes testing philosophy fits well at all. As a teacher, I can’t help but ask if it even fits anywhere!

One of the goals of a social studies curriculum is to ensure that students are aware of different cultures and geographies—including how these are similar to or different from their own. Social learning communities make this easy. They offer a window to the world.

I connect my students to classrooms and learning experiences all over the world. Like-minded teachers exist, and they also seek global collaboration. Social learning platforms are the perfect place for collaborating in real time through online workspaces. For instance, ePals offers internal blogs and links students with numerous entities, such as the Smithsonian.

Through the years, I have found that when my students use ePals to reach out to and engage with other classrooms, the level of excitement and effort is literally through the roof. Students tell me they actually care about what is going on in the classroom. They value the relationships they create with students across the globe. Students’ writing improves dramatically, because they know their global peers will be reading their assignments.

Speaking of the Smithsonian, we have just completed a project called the Extinction Project. It is a collaborative effort between my classroom and a set of classrooms in Singapore. Rose Manuel, the teacher leader of the Extinction Project, will join me and personnel from the Smithsonian in a Skype call that will span two continents and affect hundreds of students.

With the Extinction Project coming to full fruition, we now see our opportunity to launch the iSOLVE Project. This project, also housed in ePals, takes responsibility and good choices regarding conservation and endangered species to a new level. The iSOLVE Project actually lets students engage in conversations about how they cope and survive in their own daily lives, and additionally, how they save and protect each other through life’s trials and difficult times. We hope that this project is as powerful and helpful as we think it can be.

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