By: Laura Steinbrink

A lot of focus today is spent on ways to connect educators so that they can broaden their professional learning network and reap all of the benefits that affords. But while we acknowledge the power in sharing what we do with other educators, we don’t always equate that in the same way when it comes to students. Sure, we all know that providing an authentic audience for student work can really ramp up the quality, but we still tend to limit our thinking in the ways our students can connect with others and share their work.

Thankfully, there are now many tools aimed at connecting students, but we are often left with the question: Where should I start? As tools grow in simplicity and power in these categories, so do the ways we can use them to connect our students and their work with the rest of the world. Here are a few ideas that you can use to get started.

5 Ways to Help You Get Started

1. Virtual Projects

After working through ideas and experiments in connecting my students in a variety of ways to the outside world, I turned my attention to augmented and virtual reality (ARVR). CoSpacesEDU is a great platform for creative projects, and it had all the elements I was looking for to take student work and authentic audiences to the next level. My high school English 2 students were tasked with writing a children’s story, targeting students in kindergarten through second grade. Within the 3D/AVAR platform, students also had to think of each page/scene as a live 360° environment. One student couldn’t put it down and finished his story several days ahead of the due date. I generated the share link and shared it with members of the #4OCFpln, my online professional learning network (PLN). That is when the magic happened. My Missouri student’s story was first shared with a kindergarten class in Seattle, Washington. Those students were engaged with the movements of the elements in each scene as well as the story itself. The teacher created a Google Doc and typed the feedback her kindergartners gave about my high school student’s story, which I shared with my student and his class. Inspired, the rest of the class worked harder on their stories so that we can share them as well. Teachers in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, California, Illinois, and Virginia Beach were just a few in my network who shared the stories with their students. The audience doesn’t get more authentic than that.

2. Writing Projects

All Levels: Writing mentors can be handled with video. Hard copies of the written work are nice, but reading it to other classrooms and students all over the nation/world can up the game. Poetry especially is meant to be read and shared, so using a video platform makes sharing that with Grandma in Alaska or students studying English in Argentina really easy now. Teachers can also share folders in Google Drive where content is organized so that student partners from different classrooms, buildings, districts, states, nations can access each other’s written work. Nearpod, Adobe Spark (Page) and Buncee activities created by students, can be shared globally. Feedback can be done in a variety of ways, such as adding video critiques or even having video conferencing using platforms like Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Synth.  Edmodo and Wakelet are other platforms that can be used to get students providing feedback from anywhere to help mentor younger writers or receive assistance from older writers. Even something as simple as a Google Docs shared among writer and editing partner can really benefit writers of all ages.

3. Video/Audio Projects

Elementary/Middle School:  Students can create book talks using video platforms, apps, cell phones, or cameras that can also shoot videos. Google Drive makes it easy to store video files, create shareable links, use the links to generate QR codes, and store them in organized team drives or regular Google Drive folders. Apps like Flipgrid, Synth, Recap, and Seesaw can also generate links and QR codes for videos/audio files. Having students record themselves talking about the book they just read, regardless of what grade they are in, and then generating a QR code and attaching it to the book or on the shelf where to book is can really impact reflection, reading habits, summarizing and more.

Middle School/High School: Students at in these grades can also do book talks, or they can create a “book trailer” for the books they read, create the QR code, and place it on the book or on the shelf where the book is kept. Most cameras in updated cell phone operating systems have a built in QR code reader, so the need for a separate app is on the decline, making it easier for students and teachers to use QR codes at school. Having iPads or other tablets/devices in the library just for reading these QR codes also eliminate the need for students to use cell phones in the younger grades.

4. Entrepreneurial Projects

Another mindset shift that teachers and students need to make deals with the “when I grow up” idea. Now is the time to not only provide that authentic audience for your students and their work, but to take that next step and market their products. Designs they create can be sold as fabric patterns, mugs, and more. If you or your students can dream it, then they can create it, sell it, and discover the ultimate learning experience. A high school project can become a marketable career or just a passion to indulge while in school, upping engagement and learning. Josh Feinsilber launched Gimkit back in October of 2017 when he was starting his junior year of high school. His goal for the project: Get 10 teachers using Gimkit in their classroom. Today, as Josh looks forward to graduating from high school, Gimkit has over 700,000 monthly active users. That is the ultimate authentic audience. Marketing their creations is not really about money or success, though. It is completely about learning through the process. Finding a career, as a result, is pure gravy.

5. Kindness Projects

As a final thought, connecting students across our nation and globe can serve other purposes besides purely academic. One of the first ideas I had outside of academia came after hearing one of my online PLN members describe her new 3rd-grade class. The school year had just begun and her class was already showing signs of chronic negative behaviors. I had a similar class, only mine was a combination of juniors and seniors in my high school mythology class.  As my friend and I discussed our concerns, we realized that we could do something to benefit both groups. My high school class became kindness mentors to her third graders. We connected via Google Hangouts, Flipgrid, Recap, and a shared Google Drive folder. Our class gave advice on how to be nice, handle tough situations, and find ways to be kind throughout the day. Her class decided to teach my students how to be kind too, so they made similar videos. Attitudes improved and the experience will be one that they all will remember.

Get Started

As you wade through the ever increasing number of amazing edtech tools out there, think through your instructional needs and then look for ways to amplify the reach, scope, and power of voice your students can have by connecting with others. Find ways to be connected yourself too, since that is how you can find time to get different technologies into the hands of your students. Other teachers have already done the legwork, so capitalize on that. Learn from them. Remember what we have to gain here. The importance of grades dwindles significantly in the face of supportive, glowing, or helpful feedback from the other students. That feedback goes a long way to connect your students with your content, as well as with from a variety of ages and places. There are platforms that can help publish your students’ work into tangible items that can be sold to family and strangers alike. Lives can change. School might not seem so bad after all. Find what fits your students and their needs, and then get started.

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Laura Steinbrink is the Communications Director, Webmaster, and Instructional Technology Coach for the Plato R-V School District in Plato, MO. Follow her on Twitter @SteinbrinkLaura.


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