In January of 2017, Jerri Kemble, our Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Technology, shared her desire to connect students globally and asked if I’d like to help get it started. She knew the brother of Josh Bobley, Vice Principal of Copernic Kindergarten Elementary in Shanghai, China, and set up a meeting for me, and two of our virtual school principals to collaborate about possible options. After our first session with Josh via WeChat, a Chinese platform for chatting and texting, we were all super eager to begin the global collaboration between the kindergarteners of Lawrence, Kansas and those in Shanghai, China.
Once tasked with getting started, I immediately thought…
• What will we share?
• How might we make this collaboration meaningful?
• Do we just keep it free-flowing and allow students to share their curiosities about each of their cultures?
• What steps do we need to take to ensure we can communicate?
• What are the differences of hours between the US and China?
Honestly, at this point, I felt like a 5-year-old. The curiosity and questions were popping in my head like popcorn kernels in a boiling pot of oil. As soon as I would consider one thought as a “great” idea, fifteen more would pop up and bury the first one. One thing was for certain; I knew the teacher I wanted to ask to be a part of this collaboration. Nicole Corn! If you guys don’t follow her on Twitter, do so now by clicking her name. She is an incredible educator and is always creating exciting opportunities for her students. Plus, she’s always up for my crazy ideas to try something new.
After chatting with Nicole, she helped me solidify some of my rambling thoughts and prepare our next steps for collaborating with the vice principal in Shanghai, Josh. If anyone knows what’s best for five-year-olds, it’s Nicole. She suggested we use the app Seesaw for our documentation. Brilliant! I use this app for professional development sessions, and Nicole uses it on a daily basis with her students. So, both of us were familiar with it and felt it would serve its purpose as a 21st Century portfolio for our exchange.
I contacted the Seesaw app via Twitter and asked tons of questions to learn the ins and outs for how global collaborations through Seesaw typically worked. After observing how other educators around the world conducted their collaborative efforts, I worked with Josh, and we decided I would create an international class within Seesaw–22 Chinese kindergarteners and 22 American kindergarteners. Unfortunately, the wifi connections in China aren’t very reliable, and believe it or not, the Chinese had not ever used the Seesaw app. Therefore, I helped train the Chinese staff via email and WeChat. Just as soon as we had the class built and were certain we would begin adding content, the Chinese had a four-week holiday–Chinese New Year or Spring Review Festival.
While I was a bit disappointed our collaboration would be delayed, Nicole didn’t miss a beat. She began creating videos to explain how our US schools look, sound and feel. Nicole Corn is fantastic at building leaders among her five-year-olds, and she had them lead parts of the video and record pieces, as well. We sent the video to the vice principal who shared it with the families of Shanghai to view and learn more about us.
We had quite a few hurdles to jump over, but between the classroom teacher, Nicole, the vice principal, Josh, and I, we managed to clear them without any injuries.
After three (seemingly) long months, we:
• Decided which teacher and class of students would participate.
• For the US- Nicole Corn of Sunset Hill
• In China, they met with individual families to make their selection of twenty-two Chinese students
• Worked with our graphic designer to create our logo (Only 15 or so revisions…not too bad. LOL.)
• Determined a platform for our collaboration–Seesaw app
• Added all of the students with little flags next to their names, because three of them share the same American name.
• Wrote and edited a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by our DA and the DA of China
• Work through the time zone difference. They live fourteen hours in the future.
• Established a mutual Gmail account and password
Josh and I have spent much time communicating over WeChat working out tiny kinks such as:
• Our students speaking slowly and loudly in simple sentences
• The translation feature of Seesaw
• Shorter videos that would upload on limited bandwidth
• Parent access to upload content for the Chinese students
• Cultural Holidays:
It’s safe to say…it has been worth the wait!
We are only in week two of our collaboration, and the students love it, as do we! Take a look at the video below and prepare your heart for pure cuteness! The students are learning so much about the Chinese culture.
A few highlights:
• Discovering… What’s the same? What’s different?
• The students have enjoyed sharing their thoughts via voice comments within Seesaw. The interaction is KEY to making the collaboration authentic.
• I love the community involvement, as the parents are interacting and commenting, as well.
The USCKE project is a group effort, and I am HONORED to be a part of this dynamic experience.