By Brandi Miller
How do global collaborations in the classroom expand student horizons and build empathy? First grade teacher Brandi Miller led the Educators in Action chat on February 7, 2018 about creating a #CaringClassroom through activities that connect classrooms around the world.
Brandi is in her eleventh year of teaching at Caldwell Elementary in Auburndale, Florida, and is constantly looking for new ways to make school a place where kids want to be. Her global collaboration project was sparked by a connection on Twitter, when fifth grade teacher Scott Titmas in Old Bridge, New Jersey posted that he was looking to collaborate on a student-led kindness lesson with an early grade classroom. Soon after, she joined Kindergarten teacher Laurie McIntosh in Alberta, Canada for her first Mystery Skype. According to Brandi, “it was those two people who ignited this flame within me and helped me to see the benefits of connecting beyond my four walls.” This chat brought together these three educators and others from across the U.S. and Canada who were passionate about global collaborations in the classroom.
After a successful first collaboration, Brandi and Scott continued with 3-4 additional sessions throughout the year, in which his fifth graders taught kindness lessons to her first graders. This fall, Brandi challenged her students to go broad and see how many states — and countries! — they could connect with throughout the year.
One educator the class met with was Roman Nowak in Ontario, who sent a book, read with the class, and collaborated on activities. Jennifer Burnett, a parent and fellow teacher at Brandi’s school, described her daughter’s excitement about the parts of the world she was learning about in Brandi’s class. She recalled how her daughter heard about a flood in Canada on the news and expressed concern for Mr. Roman, connecting a far-off part of the world with a person for whom she cared. Nicole Taylor, a technology teacher at Caldwell Elementary, remembered how delighted their Florida students were to see snow out of Mr. Roman’s window.
Second grade teacher Stacy Benton shared her excitement to try a global collaboration, and even has her principal and vice principal on board! Why? Like Brandi, she teaches at a Title I school where many students see their small town as the whole world. Stacy sees global collaboration as a way to encourage her students to be “global explorers.”
This deeply collaborative group of educators shared how they have made global collaborations part of their instructional practice — because they are seeing results.
Brandi observed that, even with many collaborations under her belt, each is a little different. Speaking about her colleague Brandi’s work, Nicole shared, “It’s been this organic idea that is still developing into this amazing project. She allows things to start, watches where they grow, and cultivates them. It’s opening up our kids to the whole world. … It makes them want to come to school every day because they want to see who they’re going to connect with.”
In Alberta, Laurie transitioned from teaching second grade to Kindergarten, and explored how to recreate the success she’d had with Mystery Skype to an earlier grade. She adapted the guessing game to focus on animals, numbers, and letters rather than geography to be more age-appropriate to her students — and was amazed to see how effective it was at engaging her kinders in learning.
Above all, she found that her students “really believe Mrs. Miller cares about them as much as her own kids — that they are cared for beyond our classroom.”
Scott reflected on the common refrain that there’s not enough time, and argued that these collaborations offered a more compelling way to teach the same content. First grade teacher Joe Merrill found that collaborations introduced students to new ways to solve problems together and keep them continuously challenged. Brandi shared her realization that this method of teaching touched on many more standards than a typically planned lesson would.
Tools & Resources
While Skype and Google Hangout are popular for live collaboration, educators shared many more tools that expand the boundaries of their classroom.
Lauren Bennaka’s kindergarteners in Missouri have teamed up with a classroom in Malaysia. They share blogs, comment on Seesaw, and record questions and responses on Flipgrid. Scott reflected on how these asynchronous tools open up the world beyond a single time zone. His students and Nicole’s teamed up to read and respond to a book over Flipgrid. Roman regularly shares songs and videos with classrooms all over the continent. He had students use Flipgrid to send him videos about books they liked so he could send responses — and create a fun mashup.
Brandi’s and Joe’s first graders completed a math challenge together, where each class created problems for the others to solve and taught each other. She shared, “It’s really powerful when they have a relevant audience because they know that it’s FOR someone else.” Joe loved how Flipgrid allowed his students to go back and revisit their work in a way that live collaborations don’t always allow.
Brandi closed on the reflection that our students won’t be global citizens if we don’t model it for them ourselves — take the challenge and connect!
We are grateful to Brandi for hosting this wonderful chat! We hope you can join one in the near future. Check out the chats coming up soon.