When I was reading through all the course material for this week I began to feel a bit overwhelmed! As a teacher of late elementary school students, the idea of getting my students “career ready” is a bit daunting! I think about how much my students have to still learn in order to be successful individuals in the world outside the classroom and my head begins to spin a little bit. How can I make my ten and eleven year olds more prepared for the future; a future perhaps that we can’t even imagine. As I looked around my classroom as my students came in over the past two days I noticed that as so many of them were unpacking their belongings in their cubbies (yes, we still have cubbies, we are not quite ready for lockers just yet!) they were putting away various devices that they had brought with them. In my mind I find it a bit crazy that a ten year old would have a cell phone or an AppleWatch, but yet this is the world we live in and this is the technology that they are are so familiar with and accustomed to. What I also noticed as my students unpacked, was how many of the conversations revolved around plans for our upcoming Spring Break. Many of my students discussed traveling to go skiing for the last time this season, while others discussed heading to Florida or California to escape the woes of the cold month of March. One student even mentioned heading to England for a week to visit distant relatives and explore “the English countryside” (his words, not mine!).
As I started to think about how well traveled my students are, and how often they have a device attached to them, an idea sparked in my head for a Connected Learning App. The app I want to create would be called VirtualPenPal. I thought this app could blend the two ideas of travel and technology together. Now I work in a district where there are certainly students who have the means and the ability to travel on Spring Break, but it is also a district where many students do not or can not afford such a luxury. So I thought an app that allowed students to travel all over the world and meet new people might be a great way to create equity within the classroom.
My app would be called VirtualPenPal. On this app students could find and connect to other students and classrooms across the world as virtual penpals. Students would be connected to other students across the world and learn about their culture, traditions and their country. Our district is very protective of student privacy, so this app would be a great way for students to create a safe profile (or even Avatar) and connect with others around the globe. Students in our elementary schools are too young to have personal e-mails, so writing an e-mail to a penpal wouldn’t work for us. However, with this VirtualPenPal app, students could compose emails, voice recordings or even videos and share them safely across the globe to other students or classrooms. VirtualPenPal would also alleviate any time issues that might exist for students trying to communicate across the world. While it would be ideal to talk in real time (via Skype or GoogleHangouts) to another class of students across the world, it would be almost impossible to find a time during the day where both classrooms would be able to meet during school hours. With VirtualPenPal students could write e-mails, record voice memos or create videos that could be retrieved and viewed at the convenience of the receiving classroom.
I think an app like VirutalPenPal would add equity to the classroom because it would provide all students an opportunity to explore and learn about the world outside of the classroom, regardless of how much financial means a student has at home. VirtualPenPal would also help students become “career ready” because they would be practicing vital communication skills such as writing a letter, or recording a video to communicate a set of ideas. Students would also be practicing public speaking as they prepared a video or voice memo to send off to their virtual penpals. Technology could be integrated into the app so that students could learn how to use their phones or iPads to their full capacity (via the camera, other apps, the internet etc.)
I think VirutalPenPal would be an awesome tool that could create powerful connections for students across the globe.