Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cathy’s Perspective

After my superintendent made a trip to Brazil and toured CECR – Escola Parque in Salvador, Bahia, I connected with Tyrone Santiago, who teaches there. The result has been a fabulous relationship between us as professionals and our students who have learned so much about the culture of the two countries. One of the highlights of our weekly exchange is the use of TappedIn.

I was first introduced to Tapped In as a spot for professionals to meet for synchronous chat as a part of the PBS Capstone courses. As Tyrone’s classes and mine already met using webcams at another site, we sought a way to move the students to a new level of thinking and sharing. They loved talking to each other synchronously, but I only had one webcam available and the 24 students had to rotate times they could talk.

The students wanted to use the synchronous chats to “get to know each other.” However, it seemed there was too much going on at one time to have a meaningful discussion. As my students tried to solve the various problems, they really wanted me to stay out of it. They could handle it. Talk about critical thinking skills – they were analyzing and problem solving every step of the way. When one or two figured out how to do something, they helped everyone else.

Tyrone and I chose for the students to view some of the same movies, starting with Freedom Writers. It took place in a violent neighborhood and our students would be able to relate to the students in the film. First we each made up questionnaires and uploaded them to our blogs, but there was still something missing. I had been telling my students, they needed to “stay on topic” with their classmates in Brasil and talk about the movie. We needed more interaction with everyone involved and the ability to provide direction to the discussions. I went to TappedIn to see if it might work any better.

I started with no more knowledge than TappedIn is a site where you could do synchronous chats and it is considered a safe site. What an experience! The staff was there to answer questions and to assist every step of the way. Two hours later, I knew how to navigate the site, set up a classroom and a group, and was made to feel it is okay to be new at something. In a later discussion with another staff member, I shared that I knew about threaded discussions, but no one seemed to know where we could go to do that. The staff member introduced me to how to set up threaded discussions using Tapped In.

My kids were ecstatic. They had a set question to discuss. They could think out their answers before putting them in print. They could respond to each other, and they could see most of it at one time. There was time to use the translation sites without feeling pressured, and they could stay on topic throughout the threaded discussion. They could see many similarities in the two cultures; and they learned that teenagers on two different continents think in very much the same way.

I have found TappedIn to be a great site to meet with students within the classroom and between two classrooms. When schedules could not allow us to meet face to face, the threaded discussion allowed the interaction to continue. We continue to plan for our students to communicate through Tapped In. It has truly made this experience a highlight of my teaching career.

Cathy McDonald

Lovejoy Technology Academy

Brooklyn, IL, USA

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