Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My Classroom Walls Are CRASHING Down!

In the last year, my classroom has begun to change dramatically.  In December of last year, I was given a classroom set of iPads.  I have been extremely impressed with the amount of creativity and collaboration that these devices have brought to my classroom.  As we all know, each class is different and I am discovering that many of the things that worked for my class last year aren’t working as well this year and things that are working this year, didn’t necessarily work the best last year. My classroom this year consists of a room full of high-energy boys.  This energy can be a blessing or a burden depending on how you handle it.  I decided to take this energy by full force and filter it into learning.  My class wants to learn, and they want their learning to be immediate and meaningful. Who doesn't? Right! 
With the help of my colleague, Brent Catlett, this is starting to happen. Brent is the creator of http://eduhangout.org (#eduhangout)  which encourages teachers to make connections with other teachers across the globe.  Through this connection my class, as well as 3 other classrooms in the U.S. were given the opportunity to participate in virtual field trips through Google Hangouts. This event was the beginning of Google’s new community Connected Classrooms (#connectedclassrooms).  As an educator, joining these communities is a MUST!  
Our morning started with a visit to the Seattle Aquarium.  My students in Nebraska were able to meet with marine biologists and learn about the changing seasons in the ocean.  A scuba diver used an underwater camera to show them some of the marine life such as kelp, rock fish, and salmon.  While doing this, the scuba diver would explain to them what she was showing them.  I was amazed.  I never thought my classroom in Nebraska would be echoing the sound of scuba equipment as we discovered that salmon use their noses to navigate home.  The students learning was immediate and at their fingertips.  Throughout the presentation, my students were able to share about the seasons changing in Nebraska and how it was similar to the life in the ocean.  I couldn’t believe how much my students were learning in that short amount of time.  
Seattle Aquarium
Once our visit to the Seattle Aquarium was over, we ventured to the Minnesota Zoo.  The students met with a zoologist, Adam,  who shared with them interesting facts about the black bear and it’s preparation for hibernation.  The students loved interacting with Adam and asking him questions.  This Australian, in Minnesota was able to get their wheels turning.  After the hangout, my students were still talking about all of the facts that they learned.  Hibernation and black bears became a sparked interest as well as how this guy from Australia ended up in Minnesota.  They were anxious to explore and find answers.
Touring the NASA warehouse.
Our final visit for the day was to NASA to learn about the Solar Impulse!  The what?! You might be asking (me too!).  Prior to the hangout, my students were asking me where is the NASA we were going to visit and what is Solar Impulse?  My response...."I don’t know, I guess we’ll find out."  As the hangout was starting to begin all we heard was French being spoken between the gentlemen from NASA.  I’m pretty sure this is when the goosebumps started.  I thought to myself, this is big! The kids were confused and in awe.  When everything was in order and the presentation began, the gentlemen shared with us that they were in Sweden and Switzerland working on an airplane called the Solar Impulse.  In the next few years, this airplane will be able to fly around the world without stopping.  It will be completely powered by solar energy.  My students were taken to the warehouse to see the making of the plane.  They were able to see the massive wing and small cockpit.  They were enthralled with the idea that a toilet was built into the seat and that the pilot would only sleep for about 20 minutes at a time during this almost week long flight.  I on the other hand, couldn’t believe that the co-founders of this project were talking to MY CLASS!  It was amazing to hear them share their knowledge and to listen to their words of encouragement and inspiration.  I hope that in a few years when they hear of the Solar Impulse flying across the U.S. they will remember the advice that was shared with them.  "When you have dreams, you have passion and when you have passion, you can do anything!"
This opportunity was amazing and brought so much learning into my classroom.  The walls of my classroom are “falling down” as I speak.  My students are anxious to explore the world and I’m anxious to guide them.  Thank you Brent and Google for sparking the fire in my students and myself.  Connections like these are what keep my students motivated to learn and I’m looking forward to making more connections across the world in the near future!