Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Kidsedchatnz & USAkidschat

Kidsedchatnz is a great learning tool and as coordinators we’re always trying to spread the word to attract more classrooms to take part. Recently we were visited online by a US teacher who was interested in what we were up to. Amanda Rogers (@mitchellrogers) was so convinced by Kidsedchatnz that she has recently initiated USAkidschat (when referring to both they can be called Kidschat).

I’ve been asked lots of questions about how to introduce Twitter to classrooms and have blogged about it. But when Amanda begun the process of setting up a chat program for elementary children in the US I instantly recognised that I would have questions too as there would be a new set of answers due to the different environment she was operating in. While Amanda is responsible for creating the US version, I can’t take credit for that in NZ and instead owe my own involvement to @Pascaldress. My own role is as a coordinator & promoter though with 6 others, including Pascal.

This blog post is written by both Amanda and I, with her answers italicised before my own non-italicised answers. We hope that this post will help to inspire more teachers to integrate twitter into the classroom and provide you with some assistance for starting that journey. If you have any other questions about twitter chat sessions please feel free to comment, tweet or email.

Why did you first get involved with the Kidschat sessions?
Some of my system’s tech specialists shared an article with me highlighting Kidsedchatnz.  I had recently starting participating in professional Twitter chats myself, and thought it was a brilliant idea for connecting students.   I asked for access to the chat so that I could “lurk” and see how it all worked.  I was so impressed with all the authentic learning I saw there that I decided to try to organize a chat for US classes.  Our district celebrates “Cyber Safety September,” so I decided to experiment with a weekly chat for the month of September just to see where it would take us.

I was doing PD as part of the beginning teacher program at the Learning Network in West Auckland. They ran a session on integrating technology, Twitter and #Edchatnz were mentioned, so I quickly came to learn about Kidsedchatnz which must have been just after Pascal had started it. My role as a coordinator came about soon after Pascal needed to pass the responsibility to others.

How do you promote the twitter chat to other classes around the country?
I started promoting with Twitter and a Google form.  I wrote a brief description of what I was trying to do and tweeted the link to the form.    After a few people had signed up, I developed a website (usakidschat.weebly.com) to house a blog and all the needed information for participating. The Edutopia article that Stephen (@palmyteacher) wrote has also had excellent reach.

Kidsedchatnz uses Twitter predominantly for promotion, but we also use our blogsite Kidsedchatnz.blogspot.co.nz to post the weekly topics & questions. The blog gets an incredible amount of traffic every week. We have also promoted Kidsedchatnz at PD sessions across NZ such as Educamps, conferences and there will be a taster session at uLearn 14 also. Our blog includes lots of information on how to set up twitter and subscribe to the lists as well.

What was the topic for the first chat and why was this chosen?
Our entire purpose for planning this chat was to incorporate it into our digital citizenship curriculum.  Therefore, our first chat topic was digital citizenship.  This was also a good opportunity for the classes to get to know one another.  It went very well and we had a lot of great discussion.

I’m not sure about the very first chat ever, but this year we chose to talk about our holidays and what each child brought to the classroom. It was a great chance for each child to voice what they bring to the classroom and think about what they wanted their class to be like this year.

Have you targeted a particular year/grade level and why?
We target grades 3-5, however we invite everyone.  There were some 2nd grade classes involved in the first chat.  This is the age many students begin to express an interest in social media.  This offers a purposeful opportunity to guide and teach them how to use it responsibly. I also wanted to keep the age group focused enough that the students would share similar interests and be able to communicate effortlessly with one another.

We concentrate on years 0 - 8, the primary school years. There are other chats starting to evolve for high school ages in NZ. We have thought about running sessions that are more targeted but we’re not sure if there is the demand.

Why do you think the Kidschat model is such a great learning tool for children?
The major draw for me is that it gives students an audience and a voice.  Writing is not effective unless you have someone to read it.  Students are empowered when they realize there are people out there who value their opinions.   It also encourages fluency, as the chats move quickly and students are forced to read and comprehend quickly.  It gives them a purpose for being a fluent reader, rather than just because they are being tested on it.  Another wonderful facet is that the students have a sense of control.  They choose the topics and their answers guide the discussion.  This chat is preparing them for the global workplace and teaching them how to collaborate beyond the walls of their communities.

Real world literacy, children are reading and writing with a real audience. Blogging is fantastic but a chat session allows for instant feedback as their work gets retweeted, favourited and replied to. The topics change every week, which allows for children to engage in the topics that fit their personality or learning interests. We also use flipped sessions so that children are getting plenty of learning from each chat.

How popular are the chats and how many tweets can be sent in a session?
We are only a couple weeks in.  Our first chat had 10 participants, but quickly drew interest from other educators.  We currently have about 20 members, so hopefully it will continue to grow.

Kidsedchat regularly has between 15 - 25 classes taking part and can attract between 500 to 1100 tweets per session. It can be really fast-paced, but that’s what makes it so engaging.

How does the size of your country impact on a chat session?
Obviously, the US is large and connecting over 4 time zones is tricky.  We set our time for late in the day on the East coast to ensure that West coast schools would be in session at the same time.  There are conflicts with lunch times, recess, etc.  One of our classes ate lunch in their classroom so they could participate last week.  Some join in late or leave early.  We just have to be flexible and understanding.   At this point, most of our participants are in the Eastern and Central time zones, and localized to a couple of different areas.  Hopefully as we continue to chat and share about what we are doing, our reach will spread out to the West coast.  

NZ is quite small, with only 1 time zone. Even so, we’ve found it really difficult to find a timeslot that fits everyone’s needs.

How does your chat session fit within the curriculum?
With the adoption of Common Core standards in the US, students are expected to publish writing in a meaningful way and collaborate to solve problems.   Kidschat offers a perfect setting to practice these skills, while preparing students for a global workspace.

NZ’s curriculum really supports the Kidsedchatnz model, it wants collaborative, future focussed learning and is a rather broad document that allows for teachers to interpret the curriculum in the way that best fits the needs of their community. The topics change weekly and have covered all aspects of the NZ curriculum, naturally, every topic integrates literacy using a 21st century social networking tool.

Where next for your chat session?
As we are still in an experimental phase, our next step will be to determine if this is something that will become a fixture within our classrooms.  This will ultimately be up to the participants.  At the very least, the classes will have developed a network they can rely on for collaborating on future projects.

The coordinators would love to have more classes involved in Kidsedchatnz. We’re talking about some videos to showcase what a chat looks like and demonstrate the student voice behind Kidsedchatnz.

One day we may even be able to coordinate a combined Kidsedchatnz USAkidschat session.

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