Our school mission is “to enable a child to become a thinking, caring, and productive person using high standards in a positive learning environment.”
Since the world today enmeshes us in the nexus of the Net, our learning environment must also include standards for participating online. Therefore, a goal in the writing classroom is “to teach the content required in ways that inspire online responsibility and ethics in this new, very public world.” As these students learn to write, and learn to write in voices many others may read, we discuss the importance of an “overly positive attitude.”
On March 4th, our fifth grade students had the honor of Skyping a visit with our fifth grade writing friends at Presbyterian Day School in Memphis, Tennessee. We had learned that they had not experienced Native American drumming or dancing, so our Eaglet Dancers (preschool through grade seven students), presented an exhibition to share our regalia, the Crow Hop dance, traditional dance, fancy dance, split dance, and the round dance. The dancers were beautiful and fluid, bouncing to the beat in careful and confident steps; swaying and spinning according to the demands of the dance. Their teacher, Ms. Sanger, proudly guided them in their excellent exhibition for our guests.
Even though our fifth grade students only watched, they anxiously awaited this day to watch our dancers and our friends in Memphis who watched our dancers. Two of our fifth grade students wrote and presented an introduction and welcome for our friends. The welcome was short, sweet, and positive, meeting our goals. Indeed, the whole fifth grade class observed patiently during the program — as they had promised– calmed by the steady beat of the drum wrapping the rhythm with the beat of the heart.
And at the end, Ms. Sanger gathered both groups in a round dance — two circles of students thousands of miles apart — connected in the cloud, bound by the beat, and linked in the images of each other, an acknowledgment of friendship and acceptance awaiting future ventures. Thanks to Ms. Sanger for her thoughtful efforts.
The PDS students created essays and stories on a wiki and on Mapskip so our students could learn about Memphis, as their students had learned about our culture through dance and conversation. Their teacher, Mrs. Trefz, teaches writing in ways that engage students in authentic projects with 21st Century technology. She chose the Mapskip project which allows photos, audio, and text input on online maps. We are thankful she found such a wonderful way to share. Our students thoroughly enjoyed listening to her students’ voices and reading the power in their words; they quickly found similarities in sports, food, hobbies, music. In honor of their work, our students have begun commenting on the wonderful words and detailed information prepared by the PDS students. They are learning to take notes through highlighting and sticky notes in Diigo, so they can proofread their comments for Mapskip, using their writing skills in the “overly positive” attitude expected.
In this online venture, our students met our goals — presenting a positive voice in their online written connections to the stories. Notice the connections to their lives and other subjects as well as the positive voice in their draft Diigo responses:
(Note: Names are pseudonyms.)
Taking Diigo notes:
Enmo expressed enthusiasm and said, “We get to read their comments and answer their questions online.”
Fred noticed, “They have a different accent.”
“What I liked? I liked the dancers dance around the class,” Landa wrote, remembering the joint round dance with everyone involved, dancing around their common-room and our classroom.
Rellder liked that “…they are interested in our culture.”
“I liked to learn about your [their] school…and the teacher clapped after the dance [to get quiet again],” commented Lenaria in discussion and in reflective writing, connecting to similar procedures at our school.
And Lamjo, the fifth grade dancer and presenter recalled, “I learned that they are doing the same thing… I like to connect with the other students and learning about what they have showed us on the map. So I am really getting to learn more about Memphis, Tennessee each week so I am so happy and interested each week to learn about what the PDS kids in the fifth grade have been showing us.”
In an authentic adventure, students who live across the United States from each other demonstrate writing skills, online responsibility, and ethical choices in visual and textual collaboration. But even more, they care enough about themselves, each other, and the world to share of themselves to learn together, discovering in the process that differences can unite. We have enabled “thinking, caring, and productive” students, and they expect we will continue to do so. The goals are gained because kids do care.
I thank Ms. Sanger, Mrs. Trefz, and our school districts for providing this opportunity to learn 21st Century skills and to show productive and caring work.