Backchanneling In Grade 1

If you told me that one day I would use a backchannel in my Grade 1 class, I would never have believed you.  As far as I was concerned, backchanneling is an activity for high school students, post-secondary students, and adults, but not for elementary students.  My thoughts changed though when I read one of @zbpipe’s tweets about her use of EtherPad in the classroom.  Zoe Branigan-Pipe was backchanneling successfully with her Grade 6 students, so I knew that I had to try this out with my Grade 1’s.  The opportunity presented itself on Wednesday when I planned to use Crocodoc for an important brainstorming activity for our Community Project, but the Flash Player on our school computers wouldn’t work properly.  It was 7:30 in the morning, and I was trying to think of a good alternative.  That’s when I remembered @mrjarbenne’s last SMART Board inservice, and his use of Today’sMeet as a backchannel.  I had to give this a try!  I set up a chat room in just a number of minutes, and then I was ready to go!

This backchannel was a huge success!  Even my quieter students that rarely participate in class were sharing ideas as we reviewed the key elements of a community in an attempt to create a definition of “community.”  Students quickly figured out that they could ask questions of their peers and respond to questions too.  They were reading, writing, and thinking, and yet, as far as they were concerned, they were just having fun!  My class loved using Today’sMeet and was eager to use it again, but the students really wanted the use of their own computers.

I then decided to use Today’sMeet again on Friday.  @mcarls was running a GoogleWave session for educators in Buffalo, New York.  He allowed me to be involved in this session, and I decided to get my students involved too.  I set up a chat room for them to share their thoughts on GoogleWave and on our Community Project.  I then signed-out the set of laptops, so that each student could have his/her own computer.  Students were told that they could have a “life line”: a student sitting beside or across from them that could help them if they ran into difficulties.  I then put the GoogleWave session on the SMART Board: allowing them to see what the adults were sharing as they shared in the Today’sMeet Room. 

This weekend, I looked closely at the conversations between my students in the Today’sMeet Room and also looked closely at the conversations between the adults in the GoogleWave, and the similarities between the discussions were amazing.  Both groups started out with greetings, shared many of the same concerns, and even interjected with some light-hearted exchanges between on-task discussions.  When I really look at what happened in my room on Friday, I think to myself that I really was witnessing a “learning community” in action, and that I was as much a part of this learning community as my students.

It really is amazing what Grade 1 students can do, and I can’t wait to see what other exciting adventures this year brings!  For parents reading this blog post, I would love to hear your feedback on this backchannel.  What did your children think of it?  What are your thoughts on using it in the classroom?  And for educators reading this blog post, have you ever used a backchannel in your classroom?  What program did you use?  How successful was it? 

Thank you for sharing your experiences here!  It’s as we share that we learn more.


Tweeting With First Graders

When the year began, I was very hesitant about using Twitter with my students.  Social media tools always scared me.  I have never had a Facebook Page, and I still don’t, and all that I ever seemed to hear about in the news was the “evils of social media.”  With teaching Grade 1 students, I couldn’t believe that I was even contemplating the idea of using Twitter in the classroom, but I read about some schools in the States that use Twitter as an online agenda of sorts, and I thought that this would be a great way to keep my parents informed of school and class events.  It was worth a try — right

I knew that Zoe Branigan-Pipe, an outstanding Grade 6 teacher that continues to inspire me, uses Twitter, and so over the summer of 2009, I checked out her Twitter account (@zbpipe).  I then decided to set-up my own account (@grade1), and I e-mailed the Grade 1 parents to tell them about this new system of communication that I was going to try out this year.  I got a couple of followers, but nothing much, and I was starting to doubt this plan.

I continued to tweet about classroom and school updates though, and I e-mailed parents weekly to tell them to look at the Twitter page for this information.  Thanks to @WinonaKinders, I learned how to make a Twitter widget on the Grade 1 Website, and then I thought that at least parents could see these updates and keep informed.  Over the course of my regular tweeting, a Grade 2 class in Missouri started following my tweets. I then decided to follow them.

I think that following @2BGlobalrams was the turning point in Twitter for me.  This Grade 2 teacher has a “daily tweeter” as one of her classroom jobs.  I loved this idea!  I started talking to my students about the importance of protecting themselves online, and I taught them how to use their first names or initials when referring to each other online.  We then started doing our daily interactive writing on Twitter. It was incredible!  Since students were writing for an audience, they were starting to independently check their own work for spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors, and their writing was improving.

As a class, we then learned about a number of other Twitter tools, including Twitpics, Twitvids, and Twitpaint.  It was actually one of my Grade 1 students that taught me about this last tool.  We now use all of these tools to communicate with both parents and other schools from around the world.

Twitter has given my students a global perspective and a whole new reason to learn: a global audience of people that care about what they have to say.  Thanks to Twitter, I now see the benefits of using social media tools in the classroom.  The people that my class have met through Twitter have helped transformed my teaching, and without a doubt, made me a better teacher.

For teachers out there that use Twitter too, what do you think of this social media tool?  How has it benefitted your students?  For parents out there, what are your thoughts on using Twitter in the classroom?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


A Map Of Our Global Connections: Many Of Which Were Formed Through Twitter

View Global Connections: Starting To Grow in a larger map

Embracing the “Wave”: Using Google Wave With First Graders

A Small Look At Our First Google Wave With @jgriffith2’s Class

When it comes to using technology in the classroom, I’m willing to try almost anything (at least once).  When @jgriffith2 asked me if we would like to try out Google Wave with her class, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to use another Web 2.0 tool with my students.  My class has been communicating with Mrs. Griffith’s class as part of a Community Project, so my students were excited to connect with this class again.

Since I would be the one doing the typing during this conversation, I wanted to make sure that all of my students were involved in the learning process.  I decided to try backchanneling with them, so that they could ask questions and share ideas while also taking part in the Google Wave experience.  I had my students using their Palm Treos for this backchannel.  Obviously using a backchannel with Grade 1 students is no where as complex as using one with junior, intermediate, high school, or even university students, but it still worked out surprisingly well.  Yes, students were typing and sharing ideas while I was typing their ideas up on the SMART Board (and into the Google Wave), but what they were typing and sharing was information related to this activity that helped them with the follow-up activity too.  I trusted my Grade 1 students to multi-task responsibly, and they didn’t disappoint me. 

I would definitely use a backchannel again, and would even like to try out a Google Wave up in the computer lab, where all of my students can be on their own computers backchanneling in a more formalized way, possibly even using a program such as Today’s Meet.  I think that this would be a very engaging way for them to share their own ideas, converse with others, and add to the “bigger activity” too: the Wave.

It’s amazing that once you get yourself immersed in using these Web 2.0 tools, there are so many more possibilities available for you, and more importantly, for your students.  For parents and teachers out there, what do you think about using these Web 2.0 tools in the classroom? 

I can’t wait to see where Google Wave will take us as a class and where backchanneling will take us as a learning community of young learners!