Learning Landscape

Online Collaborative Projects

Penpal Schools

Because of this class, I recently found an opportunity for my students to engage with other students in other countries when learning about weather through PenPal Schools.  PenPal Schools is an online platform which connects students around the globe to learn together on specific topics during a specific time frame.  Now that we have been doing the activities on PenPal Schools, there are definitely some pros and cons, however, the most important growth that I see from my students is the willingness to learn independently – without being assigned to do so.

For example, my science students are currently studying weather.  PenPal Schools assigns weekly activities to our students and they do get their assignments accomplished; however, I can see that my students will look at maps and Google Earth without me telling them to, so that they can find out exactly where their penpals live.  Also, they convert °C to °F without me telling them to do it so that their  American penpals can understand temperatures in Taiwan easily.  Furthermore, some of my students will research weather data about their penpal’s city during their free time.  They have become interested in another part of the world and they can talk about current global weather patterns.  Last, in general, my students are motivated to speak about new information they have learned from their penpal on the other side of the globe.  Lately I have been finding it difficult to get my students to speak up in class; however, I noticed that this online unit motivates them to share in class.

Technology – Changing the Learning Landscape

Weather Unit:

During our weather unit, students are learning how to understand weather; how to predict the weather; and how weather affects our lives.  However, because of technology, we have been able to make the learning relevant and also, students have been able to integrate other social skills and other disciplines that they might not be able to demonstrate in a traditional science class.  When we began our weather unit, we were able to search global news about Extreme Weather Around the Globe.  Instantly, my class became interested about how we could help other people in crisis.  So I just went with it and what turned out to be a normal “current event lesson” in science, became an authentic action based project and my little sixth graders ended up raising about $2,000 USD which we could donate to a specific school in Texas.

Below is the story of our learning.  You can see how technology was used throughout this unit in a natural and authentic way.  Students were not “ASSIGNED” anything, they just did these things because they wanted to, so  I could relate to this week’s assignment about how technology is really changing the landscape of the classroom.  You can read on to see how many of my students got involved to raise money for hurricane victims.

Global Citizens:

In the beginning of our lessons of inquiry, Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas.  It gave us an immediate opportunity to understand how weather affects the citizens of the planet and to take the opportunity to brainstorm ideas on how to help communities when they are greatly affected by extreme weather.

We learned that Port Aransas, Texas was completely devastated after Hurricane Harvey tore its way through the Gulf of Mexico and the Texan coastline.   Our team immediately wanted to help, so we began to research and we ultimately found Brundrett Middle School.  The school has plans to rebuild, but they need a lot of help.  We then began to reach out to our KAS Community for support.

Maggie and Amos quickly created this iMovie to notify people about our project:  Fundraising for Hurricane Harvey Victims.  All of the sixth graders gave speeches to KAS classes, grades 1 – 12.  I was very impressed with their willingness to cooperate and participate in such a bold way to inform our community.  With Amos and Maggie’s video, speaking in front of a whole class was much more manageable.  Thanks, Maggie and Amos!

Donation Jars

Our first efforts to collect funds was to gather donation jars and put them in a place where grades 1 – 12 could participate.  After the sixth-graders gave speeches to the classes, they left donation jars so that those students could help.  All of the sixth graders participated without hesitation.  They were able to bring their laptops in order to connect easily to the Apple TV’s found in every classroom and utilize any useful media during their presentations.  I was able to help prepare them because I simply just posted the student created videos in Google Classroom.

Here is a video which reminds students that they can donate and help our cause:

Bake Sale

After many meetings of brainstorming ideas and proposing ideas to the administration, we decided to organize one big bake sale on October 13 to try and raise funds.

Darrin helped by creating a flyer in his free time.  We sent this via email to our school community gmail users and posted it on our school Twitter page and Facebook page.

Also, Chloe and Arielle made this lovely video to advertise our October 13 Bake Sale.  We used this to send to our community a couple of days before the bake sale.

On October 13, the BAKE SALE WAS A SUCCESS!!!! All of the students and parents bonded together. Parents donated lots of food and beverage items and the students cooperated as they organized the tables. Then the sixth graders did such a fabulous job running the bake sale. I was really amazed by their teamwork and independence. I think I will stop teaching, open a restaurant and hire my students! They did such a great job at this bake sale; I think we could make a really great restaurant!! Only joking – I just wanted to express how enjoyable it was working with the sixth-graders. They are so efficient and enthusiastic!

Here is the video showing how we prepared for the bake sale. We collected all of the MS and HS donation jars so that we could organize cash boxes for our incredible bake sale. Wow! We were so organized!  I don’t think we could not have had this much success without the use of technology.



Soon, I will know all of the results from our fundraising efforts for Brundrett Middle School.  I do know that at the moment, we raised close to $2,000.00 US Dollars!  My math students will be able to create graphs from our data and we will be able to explain our success in another video to our school community.  I’m sure my students will also present our results at the next middle school assembly or we’ll create another video explaining the results.

Go Grade 6 Dragons!

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4 Responses to Learning Landscape

  1. Hi Gene,

    This was a great post! I love how you are using technology to foster global collaboration for your students. I also love how you are using authentic global issues to drive the work that your students are doing. As I was reading the Horizon report both of these trends in education were highlighted over and over again. The report highlights collaboration as a trend and notes that “An added dimension to this trend is an increasing focus on global online collaboration where digital tools are used to support interactions around curricular objectives and promote intercultural understanding.” Using Penpal schools the way you are is a great example of this. I’ve never heard of this program and I am excited to check it out.

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Thank you for your comment. It’s true, my students are having a great time connecting to other kids around the globe. The only criticism I have is that the students are meant to send messages about their learning. It would be nice if they could embed items like in a post. My students are however, including URL’s to different websites that they would like to share with their PenPals and they are able to send the URL of their websites (student blogs) and perhaps the PenPals could subscribe.

  2. Dear Ms. Chagaris,
    I just found this website on your twitter account. I am really glad that you join this great team, thank you for always trying to make KAS a better place! I love to connect with my pen pals throughout messages, but the time was short. I also love to be a global citizen and help people!


  3. Thank you for your support, William. I was very happy to see your post. Your encouragement really inspires me to be a better teacher. It’s a tough job and there are so many decisions to make when trying to plan meaningful lessons. I know I might not always have the best lessons, but it is true. I do try to help KAS be a better place, but I think that students like you also help us to be great. Keep up the great work, William!

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