Global Education

Sparking Learning and Empathy with Empatico

As educators, we make it a goal of trying to develop students into good citizens, preparing them for the world that awaits them once they leave our classroom. This is no easy task and I can’t think of much more important for the betterment of our world. Prior to becoming a technology integration specialist, I was a classroom math teacher at a Middle School in Western New York. During this time my focus was on making sure my students developed their mathematical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving. I also focused on helping students to become kind and caring at this transitional time approaching their teenage years. The best way I knew to do this was to form positive relationships and model this behavior myself. It worked for many, but it sure was tough. Middle School kids could sure be cruel to each other. They seemed to enjoy life going about their day to day focused on not much other than themselves and what their peers thought of them. Looking back to my Middle School self, I was just like this. These students were a smart bunch finding their way, making mistakes, finding humor in just about everything, even my math lessons. My teaching was confined to my own classroom. You entered Room 207, we learned in Room 207, asked questions in Room 207 and what went on in Room 207 probably for the most part stayed in Room 207 aside from the few students who actually told their parent or guardian what they did in math class that day when they got the question, “So, what did you do in school today?” Keep in mind, this was prior to digital portfolios and parental communication SMS tools like Remind and Bloomz. What was missing from my classroom was a connection to the real world, beyond the book. A math problem referencing a real-world scenario was the best I did. I needed to do better for my students if they were truly going to be prepared for the real world.

Fast forward several years later to today. The advancement of educational technology and the continued movement towards a global society along with teachers looking to engage and empower students has changed the landscape of classrooms and schools. No longer does learning just have to be contained in “Room 207.” In my new role as a technology integration specialist, I aim to bring meaningful learning experiences to the classroom by utilizing technology. To focus on meaningful integration, I love connecting back to the International Society for Technology in Education Standards. I especially like connecting to the latest student standards. These include Empowered Learner, Digital Citizen, Knowledge Constructor, Innovative Designer, Computational Thinker, Creative Communicator, and Global Collaborator.

While embarking on my journey of seeking global collaborations with technology I came across Empatico, a project brought to classrooms by The KIND Foundation. The headline that caught my eye was: “Empatico introduces your students to the world, no passport needed.” Along with it was also the phrase “Match with another classroom. Discover standards-based content. Connect in real time.” This sounded like a recipe for meaningful technology integration and learning to me. Also, the name Empatico hit very close to empathy, something our students need to develop in becoming good citizens. It is aimed at students ages 7-11 (Grades 1-5 in the U.S.) and is completely free (and always will be). The idea behind creating this for children is that having early positive experiences with diverse types of people can strongly influence how they develop perceptions of others in the future. After doing a little more reading about Empatico, it was clear that this program very well aligns with the ISTE Student Standards.

Empatico5

Within a couple minutes, I had an account created and a profile set. I connected with classroom teacher Lori Wunder of A.J. Schmidt Elementary School, one whom I support in my role as a technology integrator/TOSA. I was excited to share with her this new learning tool. There were four activities for us to choose from. In finding a common match with another classroom, we had to set our availability on their built in calendar as well as select two of the four activities. This would allow there to be a shared interest in topics. The activities available were Helping Hands, Ways We Play, Community Cartographers and Weather Out The Window. The total activity time is 2-3 hours, which includes a preparation activity before the interaction (40-70 min) and a reflection activity after the interaction (20 min). Matched classrooms can and are encouraged to modify or extend the connection to meet their individual needs. In our case, what started just as laid out in Empatico, spun off into a collaborative Kindness Project. Our classes both selected Community Cartographers and Weather Out The Window.

Within the dashboard was a Resources/Materials tab with ready to use items for teachers including printables and ideas. These included and could be filtered by need:

  • Teacher Tips for Intercultural Experiences
  • Reflection Circles
  • Backup Plans
  • Room Setup
  • Parent Take Home Letter
  • Empatico Skills Mini-Lessons
  • Activity Templates
  • Reflection Tools

We were matched with a class in Andover, Kansas from Prairie Creek Elementary. Within the Empatico Teacher Dashboard, there was a messaging portal that made communication a breeze. I loved that I also received an email message when our partner class responded. Within a couple days we were having our first connection. Empatico promotes the exchanges as seamless and I couldn’t agree more. With one click of a button, our classrooms were connected over video.

Empatico1Empatico2

You could feel the positive energy in the room as kids were so interested in meeting their partner class. Students asked questions about each other’s school day, hobbies, and community. We learned that we both had something in common in starting Kindness Projects in our schools and both agreed to help each other out and share experiences. During this initial video connection, I could see students making connections to how they were similar and also to some of their differences. It was during this call we also learned of our partner class’s Kindness Project. They were creating cards and gift boxes for a local children’s hospital. It inspired our students in Mrs. Wunder’s class to create cards for our local children’s hospital connecting on the hashtag #theroadtokindness. We calculated the distance between our schools in Google Maps. 1,142 miles to be exact. We also realized it would take us almost 17 hours to drive there. Students couldn’t wait to connect again for the next part of the activity.

We scheduled our second connection to take place a couple weeks later. This allowed students enough time to construct their maps of their surrounding school community and put their cartography skills to work.

When it was time to connect again, we switched between classes describing their school community surroundings. Here is a video highlighting part of the exchange. During this exchange, it was really snowing heavily outside in Angola, NY. The students in Kansas loved to see the snow because it is rare they get much of it. It helped set the stage for our next activity exchange, “The Weather out the Window.”

Here are a few examples of student maps shown in this Tweet.

I was impressed that a few of our students even labeled specific names of an apartment complex and a lake nearby their partner school. I loved that it forced them to communicate creatively and ask the right questions in creating the most accurate map possible while knowing almost nothing about their partner school’s community.  

After our connection ended, we took to Google Maps again, this time to satellite view and street view to see just how what it really looked like compared to what students mapped based on what was communicated to them. The students loved being able to explore the area in Google Street View feeling almost as if they were right outside the doors of their partner school. We also found a few of the places referenced that made it feel even more real. It was a fabulous global learning experience and collaboration.

Circling back to the indicators to ISTE Student Standard 7: Global Collaborator. They are listed as:

  • Students use digital tools to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, engaging with them in ways that broaden mutual understanding and learning
  • Students use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints
  • Students contribute constructively to project teams, assuming various roles and responsibilities to work effectively toward a common goal.
  • Students explore local and global issues and use collaborative technologies to work with others to investigate solutions.

Empatico hits on many of these indicators and serves as a launching point to teachers wanting to venture out and explore new global education opportunities. Knowing that I experienced students becoming empowered learners, creative communicators, digital citizens, innovative designers and knowledge constructors through Empatico made it a huge success.

In addition to the 4 activities in Empatico, they also launched a two-week long Caring Kids Challenge that which we signed up to participate in. The Caring Kids Challenge was designed to provide free, simple activities to reinforce positive social skills and help students build stronger relationships while navigating differences with curiosity and kindness, in the present and for years to come. These were short 10-20 minute challenges and they certainly sparked some empathy for our learners. The first week’s challenge focused on respectful communication, one of the four Empatico Skill Pillars. The second week’s challenge focused on cooperation and critical thinking skills. All activities and challenges take on a focus of perspective taking in helping students relate to the experiences of others and understanding how those others feel.

Getting back to #theroadtokindness collaboration that became an organic extension of our Empatico connection, here are a few snapshots of the magic that took place:

Ready to get started in your classroom with Empatico? Visit https://empatico.org, click Get Matched with a Class, create a profile setting available times to collaborate and you’re on your way to being matched with another class somewhere in the world. Enjoy the ride and the learning ahead, but more importantly, enjoy the benefits of a classroom actively developing more empathetic students!

As my first child begins Kindergarten next year, I can’t help but think that if he is experiencing these during his educational experiences on a fairly regular basis, he will be well prepared for anything that may come his way. I want my son to be a good citizen, a global citizen. I can only hope that he gets to experience the power of Empatico along his journey. Fingers crossed!

One Word 2017 Reflection

Looking back at 2017, my one word was ‘discover.’ It is safe to say that this was THE perfect word that I landed on for the year. I had no idea just what I would discover at the time of choosing my one word for 2017 but here is my reflection and look back on the year.

What exactly did I discover?

I discovered that so many of our teachers are moving forward in terms of trying new things in their classroom with educational technology. I love their attitude and openness to new ideas. I also discovered that nobody knows their classroom better than them. By acting as a thought partner and not through me fully driving the direction of the lesson, our collaboration created better learning experiences.

I discovered ways to amplify student voice. From throwing a random tweet at Sean Farnum about collaborating on a student podcast (which led to this and this and this) to harnessing the power of tools like Flipgrid, Buncee, and Seesaw to hosting a student edcamp, I not only discovered ways of amplifying student voice but the real power and value that comes from doing so. Just tuning in to what students have to say is powerful. Listening to the Student Ignite sessions at ISTE 2017 is something I recommend. Check out Curran Central’s talk here to get a taste.

I discovered the true value of a PLN, or PLF as Sarah Thomas remixed the term for the better at ISTE 2017. This PLF exists on Twitter and in my own backyard. Folks down the hall and teachers in the region at our regional educator forums are a wealth of experience, knowledge, and resources. We share the same vision and the face to face conversations and sharing is always special. I am grateful for Andrew Wheelock and Melanie Kitchen leading and facilitating these sessions. On Twitter (and Voxer), social media has been such a powerful way to connect. The folks here are truly dedicated and looking to create the best possible learning experiences for their students. I discovered that so many of them go out of their way to help, encourage, support, stretch my thinking, and most importantly, share some smiles and laughs together along the way.

I discovered the need to move from digital citizenship to digital leadership. Are we providing these opportunities? Digital citizenship cannot be taught from a textbook, worksheet or lecture. Discovering the book Social LEADia from Jennifer Casa-Todd was a game changer for me. I was grateful to meet her at Canada Connect Conference this year and also connect with her coding club over a video Google Hangout session. Meeting Marialice Curran also helped shape my view of what positive digital citizenship and leadership can look like. Discovering Dig Cit Summits and following along with them led to some great learning and new ideas.

I discovered failure. That’s right. I messed some stuff up. Not that I haven’t experienced it before, but I discovered looking at it differently. Things did not always go as planned. Nobody got hurt and I did not lose my job over it. One of my flaws is that I am often concerned with how other people view me or think of me. Trying to get things perfect comes along with that. This past year I let go of that worry and it was freeing. If I could travel back in time and give the high school me one piece of advice, this would be it.

I discovered the Teach Sustainable Development Goals movement thanks to Fran Siracusa. I was fortunate to be able to connect virtually to learn about how technology can help make the world a better place. Through this tweet she shared, I also discovered #CelebrateMonday, eventually connecting and learning from Sean Gaillard, the founder of #CelebrateMonday! I took the pledge shortly after and promise to keep the conversations active. Through Fran, I also discovered Connections Based Learning and some amazing projects their team led by Sean Robinson participated in. It completely changed how I look at the integration of educational technology. It is so much more than just improving academics (while that is important) and test scores.

I discovered global connections and collaborations are amazing. I have yet to experience a global collaboration and thought I could have made a better use of the time or done something differently. Each one is unique and each one helps students ask more questions than provides answers. I want all learning to feel like this. Buncee Buddies, Belouga, Empatico, STEM Hub, Mystery Skypes, Global Maker Day, K12 Valentine, Awesome Squiggles, Gingerbread STEM, Best Class Podcast, Minecraft Literature World, Read Across America, Global Speed Chat, PenPal Schools, Seesaw Connected Blogs, Skype-a-Thon, and even a high school Student Twitter Chat (#usetech4good – #positivelykind – #digcit). I will aim to discover even more of these learning opportunities in the new year and beyond. I really appreciate the hashtag created by Bronwyn Joyce, #OneWorldOneClassroom.

I discovered just how much I don’t know and how much room I have to grow. As a father, as a husband, as a friend, and as an educator. I am on the right path but discovering and identifying this will make me better.

I discovered the power of gratitude. I have always been a grateful person. My parents raised me this way. However, I never gave much thought to just how powerful gratitude can be. When at the Children’s Book Expo I stopped at a table with a sign reading 365 Days of Gratitude. I met a student author, Muskan Virk along with her mother, Meera. I picked up a copy of the book. Inspired by her message, I invited Muskan to Skype with our school. She agreed, shared her story and her message with students and teachers. It was a highlight of the school year and will leave a lasting impact. I look forward to connecting with her again to discover other ways she is making a difference in the world.

I discovered the real value in Minecraft Education Edition thanks to Mark Grundel and Garrett Zimmer. Their MOOC helped me learn so much about game-based learning and taking risks. It carried over to our classrooms and our students benefited. I took the leap and applied to become a Minecraft Education Global Mentor and was accepted into the program this December. It will run throughout 2018 and I am excited to discover more possibilities from others around the globe part of this community.

I discovered the need to give myself a break. Sometimes I push and push and push to the point of exhaustion. I discovered while the push helps me do what I do well, that pushing too hard will never bring about the best version of me. It is all about balance.

I discovered the power of leaning on your support. Doing it alone will always be an impossible climb, even if you think otherwise. The term “better together” is the truth.

I discovered to appreciate the unknown and what might lie ahead. We’ll never be able to predict our journey but appreciating that we are on one with great people around us is something special.

I probably discovered much more than I am even capturing here but this is what jumps out. I encourage you to take the one word challenge. If you want to take the idea a bit further to your students, check out what Dene Gainey did with his class here. That’s right, he turned it into a writing activity for students and created a podcast from them!

Goodbye 2017. Hello, 2018! May your one word help you discover as much as it did for me. 

Miles of Smiles

As an educator who seeks to bring creativity and imagination to the classroom, often through educational technology, I have experienced first-hand the power of Buncee’s Buncee Buddies program. Past project themes included International Peace Day, Earth Day and U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Empathy is at the heart of these Buncee Buddies projects. Empathy isn’t a subject taught in school but a topic that can be woven into activities that can leave a lasting impact on students. Educators striving to make a difference in the lives of their students can do so by creating opportunities to build empathy in students. Another important aspect of these projects is community building. A community is built within the classroom amongst classmates and it is also built between partner classrooms many miles apart though appreciating similarities and differences. To extend building empathy and community beyond the school walls, we created a Buncee Buddies spin-off.

For many of us, the holiday season will bring smiles as we spend time with family and friends. Knowing this is a great part of what makes the holiday season special, the idea of Buncee Buddies Miles of Smiles was born. When we asked our students if they would be interested in creating a slide (or slides) using Buncee for someone outside of the classroom, their reaction of smiles and cheers reinforced to us that it was worth the effort. What can be created? Anything (since Buncee is a tool for creativity and imagination) one can think up that is smile-inducing but our ideas were: holiday humor, holiday stories, a holiday song, and holiday stickers and animations.   

The Buncee Board (collection of Buncee creations) reads:
#BunceeBuddiesMilesOfSmiles – Have a Buncee that is sure to make someone smile? Add it to this board! We’ll be sharing these with folks away from home for the holidays serving in the military, in retirement communities, nursing home/assisted living facilities, hospitals, etc. Let’s use our creativity and imagination to bring smiles for miles.  *Add a QR code to your Buncee to activate any animations, video or audio features you add.

If you are interested in spreading some smiles for miles, feel free to create a free Buncee account, create a Buncee and copy your Buncee link to the Buncee Board. Don’t be surprised if creating brings you a smile in addition to bringing a smile to many others. We cannot wait to share these with others. Anyone can view and share the board link. Buncees can be downloaded and printed or viewed digitally on any connected device.

Thanks to Buncee for supporting this idea and to everyone who has shared or contributed to #BunceeBuddiesMilesOfSmiles in some way. An especially big smile was created when Shannon Miller, fellow Buncee Ambassador, shared out a blog post on the project this week. At the time of this post, the Board has over 75 Buncees, almost 400 views, over 300 reactions, and over 50 comments. That is A LOT of smiles.

Enjoy the holiday season. Take time to create and especially take time to smile and spread smiles!

Skype-a-Thon 2017 at LSCSD

On November 28 & 29, 2017, Lake Shore CSD students participated in Skype Classroom’s Skype-a-thon event. Hosted by Microsoft Education, District Technology Integrators and Microsoft Educator Community members, Susan Walterich and Michael Drezek, helped coordinate many Skype sessions that reached near and far in an effort to help students learn from other classrooms and also professionals and experts through video exchanges and virtual field trips. Some of these exchanges included a Mystery Skype, a geo guessing game where classrooms alternate asking strategic yes/no questions using their knowledge of geography to uncover the actual location of their partner class.

Just where did they travel and who came along for the trip?

Accra, Ghana, Africa (5387 miles)
Mr. Kowalski, Mrs. Chimera, Mrs. McGough
L & M Memorial Academy (@excoba)
Mystery Skype – Students learned all about oware, ampe, banku, fufu, school days, music, future dreams/goals & Japhet Aryiku. Students also exchanged a traditional song.

Westquarter, Scotland, United Kingdom (3331 miles)
Miss Minazzi, Mrs. Ruszaj
Westquarter Primary School (@ElliePrimary1)
Mystery Skype

Giza, Egypt, Africa (5743 miles)
Mrs. Addison
Virtual Field Trip with Soheir Zaki Abdel-Fattah
Khufu Pyramid is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Students traveled to Giza complex which includes the Sphinx and Solar ship museum beside the three pyramids. Many students around the world have learned about pyramids and will learn how they are built and learn some amazing facts discovered in Khufu pyramids!

Mattawan, Michigan, USA (435 miles)
Mr. Lewis
Mystery Skype

Kingston, Rhode Island, USA (497 miles)
Mrs. Prieschel
Minecraft Author, Sean Fay Wolfe (@seanfaywolfe)
Guest Speaker Series – Students learned all about following their passions from Sean Fay Wolfe, a student turned top selling author. Now a college student, Sean Fay Wolfe shared his inspiring journey with students and encouraged them to learn, write and share their talents with the world.

Tampa, Florida, USA (1325 miles)
Mr. Kowalski
Turner-Bartels School (@MissBTBK8)
Mystery Skype

Middleboro, Massachusetts, USA (492 miles)
Mr. Sills, Mrs. Florczyk
Mystery Skype

Bogota, Columbia, South America (2636 miles)
Mrs. Brumagin, Mrs. Hackbarth
Matt Murrie, Chief Curiosity Curator at What If…360 (@MattMurrie)
Guest Speaker Series – Matt, who visited Lake Shore in person in October 2017, shared his experiences traveling the globe as well as similarities and differences amongst students and schools. He encouraged curiosity to be present in learning experiences as it is a natural resource powerful enough to not only power the world, but guide it!

Aztec, New Mexico, USA (1823 miles)
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Virtual Field Trip & Mystery Skype
National Park Services Ranger Andy along with cameraman Dave led students on a tour and lesson on ancestral Pueblos through various famous tourist spots at Aztec Ruins National Monument. Students visited the kiva rooms, learned about architectural principles, trade customs, artifacts and asked some great questions during the session. Many now want to visit in person!

Grimsby, England, United Kingdom (3525 miles)
Mrs. Chimera, Mrs. McGough
Grimsby Institute (@ElaineTopham)
Mystery Skype

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (1382 miles)
Mrs. Chimera, Mrs. McGough
Canadian Museum of Human Rights (@CMHR_News)
Virtual Field Trip & Mystery Skype
Students met Graham Lowes, the education resident at CMHR. He took students on a journey through the museum and talked about the stories of human rights the museum seeks to preserve and share for future generations. We learned that the museum starts out in darkness, moves towards the light, similar to the journey of one enduring human rights violations. They toured the Garden of Contemplation and traveled up a glass elevator to the Tower of Hope overlooking beautiful downtown Winnipeg. Students asked thought-provoking questions and several students made connections to their indigenous heritage through the Seneca Nation of Indians.

Cody, Wyoming (1934 miles)
Ms. Amoia
Yellowstone National Park
Virtual Field Trip & Mystery Skype
Students interviewed the park ranger or try to guess which park the ranger works in through Mystery Skype. A Yellowstone National Park ranger then led students on a virtual field trip to learn more about geology (geysers, hot springs, volcanoes), ecology (fire; wildlife–bears, bison, elk, wolves, and more), and cultural history (Native American, world’s 1st national park, tourism). Yellowstone is full of science, history and even math.

Kavali Andhra Pradesh, India (8313 miles)
Mrs. Chimera, Mrs. McGough, Mr. Kowalski
Master School India (@Mschoolindia)
Mystery Skype Exchange
Students learned traditional song and dance as well as what a banana plate is. They also exchanged similarities and differences in their educational experiences. Both schools led each other on a virtual tour of the building. At the Middle School, students from India were able to see a FACS classroom engaged in cooking chicken, the pool, library and even a sneak peek at the holiday chorus performance.

Over 14 million virtual miles were traveled by classrooms around the globe. Lake Shore students accounted for a few thousand of these and the connections made and memories formed are sure to last a lifetime. We look forward to involving even more classrooms for Skype-a-Thon 2018 next year and hope that this experience will lead to teachers trying global education experiences in an effort to take learning beyond the four walls of the classroom through technology.

You’re Not Alone

“Hi, my name is…”

It started with those few words. Several Grade 5 students had already recorded their brief message on things they love. I figured the last student to speak would share something about a movie, music, family, friends, a sport or hobby. I was wrong.

Just a week earlier I came across a tweet from Sean Farnum (@magicpantsjones) asking for guest student submissions to his student run class podcast for a special Valentine’s edition. How neat would it be for our students to add their voice to something that would be shared with the world? How neat for Sean’s students to hear from kids from another school hundreds of miles away. Since we already a class participating in the 2017 Global Virtual Valentine’s Project and set to create digital Valentine creations using Buncee, I figured this would be the perfect place to find a few willing students to lend their voice to the podcast.

In introducing the Global Virtual Valentine’s Project and the guest podcast activity, I let students know that their work and voice would be shared to a global audience. I could sense the that the class was excited to get started. I was excited in knowing that for many, this was the first time most, if not all of them, were able to share something beyond the walls of their school.

While students were busy creating their digital Valentine to be shared with our partner classroom in India, I began to call students back to an adjoining room to add their voice to the guest podcast. The students started recording and they shared some of the things they loved. Getting family together, lacrosse, hockey, sledding down hills in the snow, snowboarding, skiing, buying candy, softball, friends, basketball, New York, hiking, dance, camping, and finding sticks were all shared. It was rolling along pretty much as expected.

The last student to volunteer to speak for the podcast came back to record. This student seemed a bit shy so I did the same I did for a few others seeming hesitant by coaching them up a bit. I told her to start by introducing herself, speak loud enough and explain what exactly she loves and why. I then asked her what she loved. She told me she loved bugs. I said, “That’s great, so why don’t you talk about your favorite bug, why you like it and maybe what others would…” Before I could finish she cut me off and said with confidence, “I know what I want to say.” Perfect, I thought. She’s ready to share what she loves about bugs. I pressed record and she said:

 

When I pressed stop I told her thank you and that she was amazing. She smiled back. I wasn’t quite sure what else to say at that moment. I could tell that this young girl felt empowered by getting this message out. I am glad she didn’t take my advice and just talk about bugs. What I thought would be a simple activity using technology turned out to be something bigger. Often times in education these moments occur when we least expect. This was one of them.

In one short recording, because another teacher across the country took the time to create a podcast to empower his students to share their voice, it allowed one of our students to share hers. I am thankful for all educators who create opportunities for students to share their voice and to share their work with the world. This reinforced something I’ve been thinking since taking a more global approach to learning and using technology in the classroom. We get a different, more authentic voice from students when they have the opportunity to share to the world. Creating opportunities to publish beyond the classroom, be it writing, art, or multimedia, hold more benefit than one may think. Perhaps providing more opportunities for this will allow students who feel like they do not fit in to find a like minded audience and a place where they do.

This student wanted her message to be heard by anyone who might be listening, anyone who may also feel like her. In addition to the podcast recording, she also added it to her Buncee slide to share with the classroom in India. It was fitting that she attached the audio clip to the ladybug on her slide. I know she would want me to write this in hopes that more people hear her message. This is why I felt the importance of writing and publishing this. I  believe this message can also apply to educators who may be going against the grain and pushing new ideas that sometimes don’t fit in. It could also apply to a teacher that is feeling some burnout or that what they are doing isn’t making a difference. To all in the classroom and those impacting classrooms, know that your voice matters. Know that what you do each day matters. Know that you’re not alone.