Teach Empathy and the SDGs By Connecting With A Partner Classroom

I’ve become incredibly passionate about connecting students globally using technology. I’ve seen the impacts of what this can do for students and the profound impact it can make on these little human beings that we teach!

When our students are able to meet students that look, learn, and live differently than they do, eyes open and perspectives change. They find so much in common, but also celebrate and appreciate differences. They marvel at new information and new ways of thinking. They feel pride in sharing about their communities and schools. The shy kids become a little less shy when they have the chance to speak and share in the comfort of their classroom but the “safety” of just using video to communicate. They feel validated and uplifted when a class across the country or halfway across the world acknowledges “Yes, we hear you and we feel that way too!” Students find their voices, and often find so much more.

If we as teachers embrace and unleash the potential of these connections, we can take students far beyond the introductory stuff (How long is your recess? What books are you reading? How cold/hot is it where you live? Whoa…you like Fortnite, too?) and we can eventually structure these video chats around some serious global issues! We can use this technology to communicate and collaborate with other classes to teach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and inspire our students to action!

I created the chart above to show how that progression – that deepening of purpose – can happen.

We have free and brilliant technology tools to make these connections possible. My three favorites are:

  • Empatico – for elementary schools, you enter your grade level, location, availability, and activity choices (they have 9 so far) and Empatico magically finds you a partner classroom with the same interests! You are matched with another class somewhere in the world, and when you are ready, you launch the video chat right within the website – it couldn’t be easier! My entire school district is using Empatico in our 175+ elementary classrooms and it has truly brought the world to our students.
  • Skype in the Classroom – If you haven’t checked out the Skype in the Classroom site, please click on the link! In addition to virtual field trips and guest speakers, you can always find classes, teachers, and projects. There are so many choices and connections from all over the world, and Skype in the Classroom is always adding new things! Oh, and follow them on Facebook too – they have a thriving community of educators who are always reaching out and looking for unique connections.
  • Flipgrid (Grid Pals) – The amazing and wildly popular Flipgrid is widely known for its power to amplify student voice by allowing students to create video responses to prompts or topics – and kids LOVE it! Well, Flipgrid has a unique use that you may not have considered. It can basically work as an asynchronous option to connect and communicate with classes in time zones with which you wouldn’t typically be able to connect! They have a whole section on their website that explains how to use something called GridPals to find connections.

As an ambassador and enthusiast, I’d be happy to help you learn how to use any of these sites, or give you more resources to teach the SDGs, or put you in touch with others who are really passionate about this work, too! Let’s do this together. Share the chart above and linked resources with colleagues. Then, let’s all give our students the greatest gift of all – exposure to global classrooms and global issues that inspire action – and empathy.

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Wheel of Names – A Randomizer Without Character Limits

I happen to have a little extra time to explore today because we have a snow day! ☃️ I just learned about this free site. It’s a randomizer, another online spinner tool, but what evidently sets this one apart is that there is no character limit. You can add phrases or even complete sentences to this one. (The whole sentence doesn’t show up in the slice of the wheel as it spins, but it does appear in the winner announcement at the end.)

 

There are times when this would come in really handy, like when you want to include writing prompts or insert whole questions for students to answer.

If you teach STEM-type classes, run a makerspace, or dabble in design thinking, this would be be fun to use for design challenges. Give students a pile of random supplies (cardboard tubes, clothespins, magnets, styrofoam, clips, etc.) and put design challenge ideas on the spinner sections – such as “make a vehicle for an injured hamster”, “build something that can move snow without it melting for at least 5 minutes”…there are so many possibilities!

If you look at the wheel above, you’ll notice that it even let me add emojis! 🤗

Check out wheelofnames.com and give it a spin!

As always, I’d love to know what you think! Feel free to leave comments and ideas here on the blog, or you can find me on Twitter as @kerszi. I also have a Facebook page called Integration Innovation.  And if you’re from Washington Township elementary schools and read this far into my blog in the month of March because you saw it in my Integration Innovation newsletter, the 1st two people that email me will win $10 Wawa gift cards.

Microsoft Learning Tools: Where Independence Is Free For ALL Of Us

reach out learning tools

  • Remember last year, or the year before, when students who couldn’t read called the teacher over to come read it to them…whether it was a text, an assessment, or even the directions?
  • Remember not long ago when students submitted rough drafts a dozen times, returned by the teacher for corrections again and again because the drafts were still riddled with errors that were truly unintentional – the student just hadn’t noticed them?
  • Remember how just the other day, teachers and classroom aides acted as scribes for students who had difficulty writing?
  • Remember when – ages ago – a student didn’t know a word’s meaning, we sent him to go look it up in a classroom dictionary? Remember how that “stoppage in play” totally interfered with the flow necessary for comprehension?
  • Remember how teachers would prompt students again and again to “just follow along” because they always lost their place when text was being shared or read in class?
  • Remember how it was a struggle for some of those students whose families speak different languages at home? Remember when those English Language Learners who still didn’t know every word, phrase, or colloquialism had their own special teacher – or even left class to go to another room?
  • Remember the time, it seems like only yesterday, when teachers were at the copy machine enlarging text and then highlighting key parts so that students who had trouble seeing it were handed their own special copies in class…just for them?
  • Remember back when some students had to pull out index cards or bookmarks to read in class, because too much text on a page made it impossible to focus? Remember how sometimes the teacher just copied chunks of text on individual photocopied pages to reduce visual distractions?
  • Remember how stigmatizing it all seemed…it was all done with good intention. It was all meant to help.  And it all relied on students needing PEOPLE to help them achieve success.

Thank goodness those days are gone!  Thank goodness for Microsoft’s Learning Tools.  If you are in education: teachers, principals, administrators, counselors, therapists, specialists, paraprofessionals, and even parents…the most critical thing that you should do is to learn about Learning Tools, and then show ALL your students how to use them.

First of all, everyone needs to know that Microsoft Learning Tools are free – completely free – for everyone in the world.  This is not a special license, or a paid service, or a subscription, or only something that certain schools have.  And yes, even if your school is a “Google school”, you can still use Learning Tools.

Secondly, I mentioned teaching ALL your students how to use Learning Tools.  I mean that.  These are not just tools to help students with special needs or disabilities or who require accommodations.  All students – all people – can benefit from knowing that there are helpful tools built into their computers or devices.  A tool by definition is just something that makes a task easier.  I used two Learning Tools to write this article.  First, I used the Dictation feature because I work faster with speech to text capabilities.  Don’t you?  I also like to get my thoughts out verbally and then go back to tweak or edit later.  Second, I used the Read Aloud feature and had this whole text read back to me (several times).  I listened for errors – typos, misspellings, grammatical errors, omissions, etc.  I was able to change the sound of the Read Aloud voice and also the speed at which it was read to me.  When I heard something that didn’t sound right, I stopped and fixed it.  It’s the best editing tool I’ve ever used.  (Bonus tip: I often use the Read Aloud feature with my Outlook emails, too…I have long ones read aloud to me while I do paperwork or some other task.)

read aloud feature.jpg

I’m writing this in English and I’m a native English-speaking person, but what if you’re not?  What if you don’t understand parts of this?  Please let me direct your attention back to that ribbon above.  Look at that Language section of the ribbon.  Push a button, and this whole document is accessible in dozens of different global languages – and that list is growing!  Accessibility is a HUGE focus for all of Microsoft products.  Your ELL students can stay in the class, push a button, and be included.

translator.jpg

Learning Tools also has an invaluable tool called Picture Dictionary.  It’s not just for elementary, or special education, or non-native language speakers – it’s for anyone who comes across a word in text that they don’t know!  That certainly happens to me, and I’m pretty sure it happens to ALL of us from time to time.  Don’t run for a dictionary, and don’t open a new tab to find one of those online dictionaries with gobs of big words and parts of speech and definitions that still often don’t make sense.  Just open Learning Tools Immersive Reader, click on the word, and a picture appears.  There’s also a reader button on that picture that will pronounce the word…another ability I’m grateful for from time to time!

picture dictionary.jpg

There are other invaluable features in Learning Tools depending on your students’ needs.  Show it all to them.  Teach them all to access what they need when they need it.  Let them turn on the Line Reader to focus.  Let them turn on the Syllabication feature to help them “sound it out” or the Parts of Speech feature to let them know exactly what kind of word they’re trying to read.

line reader      syllables & parts of speech.jpg

These are tools that STUDENTS can turn on or use, WITHOUT asking another person to help, WITHOUT calling someone to their desk, and WITHOUT drawing attention to themselves.  They’re free, they’re embedded, and once students know that they’re there and how to access them, they are empowered to learn better.  I need to say that again:  They are empowered to learn better.

When you need a little help to do something, you either reach out for a person or a tool.  Give your students the gift of independence.  Show them the gift of Microsoft Learning Tools.

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Endnote: I wrote this whole article in Microsoft Word – both the desktop and the online version.  I generally do this rather than writing directly in my blog platform because I truly and honestly like to take advantage of the Learning Tools and other features that Microsoft has made available.  I then copy/paste it into my online blog.

Presenters:  If anyone has an upcoming opportunity to present Learning Tools, please feel free to use and reference this blog post.  The “Remember” questions at the top are sure to get a hearty dialog started in your presentation, which will make the magic of Learning Tools all the more powerful once you demonstrate it.  If you’d like for me to share the Word version of this article with you so that you can use it as the interactive piece for your presentation, please just contact me and I’ll email it to you!

As always, I’m available here at my WordPress site (wordpress.kerszi.com), on Twitter as @kerszi and on my Facebook page called “Integration Innovation”.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

Type Accented Letters on iPads

📱Micro-tip: If you have an iPad or iPhone, did you know that if you “long hold” on some of the keyboard letter keys, you get variations of that letter with accents? If I long hold “n”, I can type señor. If I long-hold the “u” key, I get über-excited! If I long-hold the “e” key, I see this:

This is especially great to know if you have students and families from other countries, but I think it’s a wonderful tip for all teachers and students to know. Add that to your edtech resumé! 😉

As always, you can find me on Twitter as @kerszi or on my Facebook page called Integration Innovation!