“That is so cool!”
“How did you do that?”
“What are all the red dots about? They are awesome. Look there’s one in Japan.”
“And one on New Zealand!”
That was how the day started when I introduced my 6th grade to their new class wiki. I had a Revolver Map on the wiki and had asked the people in my PLN to visit the site. One of my goals for my students is to them understand what it means to have a global footprint and to have global connections. A spinning globe with flashing red lights is a great tool to capture the imagination of a student in middle school. While the girls in my classes play games online and often have Facebook accounts, they really have very little exposure to the larger world of the internet. In many ways, they have been kept sheltered from it, rather than encouraged to interact through it.
As someone who is committed to building and using a PLN, I wanted them to discover the wonder and excitement of global collaboration. The first step in that was to teach them that they were creating a global footprint, one that will stay with them all of their lives. They needed to know that the internet never forgets. I showed them that if they google my name, they will find that Hadley Ferguson is not only an educator, but also a well-known artist in Montana and a championship surfer. I am out there, my identity and my work. I then showed them how to create their own pages on the wiki to tell something about themselves.
The next step was to introduce them to my PLN and explain how I use Twitter. Many of them had heard of Twitter, so I explained how I used it to learn from and share with other teachers. They were amazed to find out that educators around the world talked together to make their classes more interesting and engaging for the students. I pulled up my Tweetdeck and showed them how many links were being shared and how many questions were being asked and answered. Then I typed in, “Doing a unit on feudal Japan. Anyone know someone who could help?” and posted it. We then went on with the lesson of the day.
In less than 10 minutes, Shelly Terrell, a member of my PLN based in Germany whom I have never talked to in person but feel like I know well from her tweets and her blog, responded. She knew of a woman based in Japan, Barbara Sakamoto, and suggested that I tweet her. This is where the world of the 21st century took over, amazing me and leaving me in awe. I then sent a 140 character tweet to @barbsaka, a woman who knew nothing about me except that an acquaintance of hers in Germany told me to make contact.
Barb responded in less than 12 hours, incredibly quickly given the time difference. She offered to help and sent me her email to communicate more directly. After receiving my description of what we were studying, she sent me a response with websites to visit, ideas for online research, and a connection with a female Buddhist priest, Victoria Yoshimura. Suddenly the world of Japan, not as a subject in a textbook, but as people on the other side of the world who want to help my students, came alive. Barb and Victoria both reached out with eagerness and thoughtfulness, considering what would support my class and offering wonderful suggestions.
This is the world that is available to my students and to me, thanks to educators and others who care about children and their learning. It is an amazing world when the adults take on the responsibility of supporting the learning of children. In many ways, each individual contact between us was not long, from me to Shelly to Barb to Victoria, but added together they built a new kind of relationship, one where sharing and collaboration are the keys, where it is about supporting others and receiving support back from them. It is now possible for me to be in Philadelphia and share the world of Japan with my students.
I am a middle school history teacher at an independent school for girls. I love to learn and find new ways to engage my students in their learning. I am the mother of four children, all grown now, whom I home-schooled until they went into formal school in 8th grade. I am also the grandmother of a wonderful 3 year old girl and a 3 month old boy. I blog at: Middle School Matrix. You can find me on twitter at @hadleyjf.