Author - Brian Costello

The Global Audience Project

For some reason I never gave a second thought to the novelty of interacting with people on the screen from across the world. It always seemed to be normal. Two years ago I had three kids in my room while I was testing a Google Hangout with Kory Graham (@Korytellers). They were mesmerized, in part because she was talking about reading Winnie the Pooh and three 6 year-olds had a really hard time hearing an adult say “pooh” with a straight face, but mainly because she was a real person talking to them from almost a thousand miles away.

Just a year later my class had become experts in video chatting with classes from all over the world. They were familiar with the operations for appear.in and Google Hangouts. They were curating information about the places they’d been, and they were directing where they would like to “visit”. Talking with other kids, sharing their projects, and learning about the projects other kids were doing, quickly became something my kids LOVED. When they had the opportunity to talk to other kids from around the world, they always learned something valuable. Every class project took on more meaning for them with the question, “Are we going to share this with another class? Those kids in Minnesota? Or maybe that class in Delaware?” That was when I realized how special connecting my class with the world had become. They were not only engaged, but they had understood that there was a world far beyond the tiny town most of them had never really left. Most importantly, they were developing a solid understanding that while people everywhere are different, there is so much common ground from which they can build.

These legs are the base upon which developing global connections can be built. Not only do you create a higher level of engagement, but you help kids understand their world in a way they previously did not. You are giving them more than just a lesson, you are giving them a connection to a world many did not know existed. Many of students will never see far off places and experience what the world has to offer in person. You aren’t just sharing a lesson, you are sharing the world.

I had the opportunity to share the global project my students created at ISTE16 in Denver. During the 90 minute poster session I shared everything from the experiences and reflections of my kids to the tools we worked with to create the project and the troubles we had. I spoke to dozens of teachers during that time and almost all of them had the same question: “How did you find the classes you talked with?” “Twitter mostly,” I’d reply. They would give me a look of defeat before deflating a sighed “oh”. It was then I realized that the response I got from teachers at ISTE was from some of the more tech “willing” teachers. If they were deflated by the idea of finding connections on Twitter, what would the “regular” teachers do to connect their classes?

The answer I could think of was simple, they were not going to do it. That answer wasn’t good enough. After seeing how powerful it was for my students to have the opportunity to share their learning with the world, it was something I felt all students should have the opportunity to do. It left me with the question: How might I make it easy and efficient enough to connect with another class that almost any teacher would be willing to do it. If only it were as easy as a Google search!

When I was applying for the Google Innovator Academy in Toronto, this became my platform. I was dedicated to making this simple enough for anyone to do it. Over the course of the weeks leading up to the Academy and the three days in Toronto, The Global Audience Project was born. Now, all that is left is to continue making it a thing. It exists, but it is now my job to spread it to enough people that it becomes self sustaining. It will start with the early adopters. It starts with the people who are already sharing projects. Ultimately, if I can build enough support for it to become a significant sustainable resource, then the Global Audience Project can start to make the real impact on helping classrooms connect.

Find out how you can share your projects, be an audience, volunteer to coach, find a coach, share your story, and soon find a database of project ideas by visiting www.globalaudienceproject.com.

Ed. Note- There are many global collaboration projects happening out in the education world right now. Along with the Global Audience Project there’s also Rock our World led by Carol Anne McGuire, Global School Play Day  led by Scott and Tim Bedley, and many, many Mystery Calls going on… (ITM episode here: http://www.infinitethinking.org/itm-42—mystery-calls.html)

Brian Costello is in his 7th year of teaching in Southern New Jersey.  Brian started his career as an instructional aide before going on to teach Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd Grades.  He is an avid writer, blogger, and Twitter user. He recently published his first children’s book, Will McGill and the Magic Hat. Brian speaks at Educational conferences on topics including educational technology, leadership, communication, and professional development.  

Classroom World Tour

Best Internet Concept of global business from concepts seriesWhile many contend the world is getting smaller and that as we grow older it continues to shrink, seeing how kids interact with a wider world tells me otherwise. I work at a tiny school, in a small rural community and it is all too rare for our kids to experience the world outside of our small town. We are one of many such towns tucked into pockets around America and around the world.

Educators frequently talk about developing children that can collaborate with a variety of people to create solutions, develop ideas, and ultimately make the world better. Meanwhile we attempt to prepare our kids to collaborate in an increasingly small world by encouraging them to work in groups within their class, or at best their within their school. In schools across the country kids are being taught to collaborate with their peers, but for many that doesn’t provide the diverse experience they really need.

CUE my newest project (see what I did there?) [Ed. Note- Yes, you’re very clever]  If you have ever taught primary grade Social Studies, you know that much of what you do is based around communities. Who lives in the community? What is the area like? What are their professions? What are the geographical features?

How do we make social studies relevant and real?

It’s time to create opportunities for kids to experience the world outside their fishbowl. With that goal in mind, my classes this year are going to learn about communities from the kids who live in them. By leveraging my connections, both digital and in person, I am working to bring my kids into the classrooms of different communities around the world.

This idea grew from one developed by Kory Graham’s Kory Teller’s program. She has teachers from around the world read to her classes via Skype and GHO. Her class met many interesting people and developed some great relationships with several teachers and classes. One of the biggest successes of this program was having students from an alternative high school reading to kindergarten students. It wasn’t just important to show those young students people from outside their world, but it also worked to instill a strong feeling of value for many of the students that had the opportunity to be readers.

Networking conceptStarting from there, the kids in my classes are combining Google Hangouts, Google Forms/Sheets, and Tour Builder to create real opportunities for different experiences. Our class starts with a simple Google Form. That Form has several questions about the community, climate, and the kids themselves. Throughout the year we will compare those answers to those from kids around the world. We send the classes the Form in advance so we can be prepared to learn and ask more specific questions during the Hangout. We also plot the location of the new class on our class Community World Tour. We take a closer look at the area around the school and discuss geography, how their definitions of urban, suburban, and rural may be different than others, and see how the area looks different than our own.

During the call we share a project with the class, such as our International Dot Day projects, or spend time asking questions. We get the chance to interact with the people who are living in the communities we are now studying. As part of the call we share about our own community and travel using screen sharing and Tour Builder.

After the call is over, we add to our own tour in Tour Builder. We add notes, pictures, and any other interesting facts about the community we have visited. We have our own Google Form to document what we have learned about each community. Each child in my class has access to a tour of all of the communities we visited.

In the end, we will have visited many different places and learned about them from other children. This is a true opportunity for students to learn. They love the opportunity to learn from peers, and to teach kids about their own area. This activity has more meaning to them than any text I could share. They will see, hear, and learn from real people, in real places, that they can see. While many of our students cannot actually travel the world to learn from different communities, they can experience them through a variety of digital tools.

Which brings me back to the beginning- How do we help kids build comfort and competence in working with a truly diverse population? By introducing them to the wider world and actually interacting with people. My ultimate hope is that this project will grow into multiple opportunities to collaborate and build relationships with kids from many different places. No matter what happens, I know I am using my connections to create a more meaningful, lasting experience for my kids that will impact them rather than just instruct them.

If you want to be part of our Global World Tour please fill out this form. You can also reach out to me on Twitter @btcostello05 or through email Btcostello05@gmail.com .

*Ed. Note- Brian will be presenting a session based on this project at ISTE 2016 in Denver, CO. Congratulations to Brian and to everyone who’s sessions were accepted.  

Costello HeadshotBrian Costello is in his 7th year of teaching in Southern New Jersey.  Brian started his career as an instructional aide before going on to teach Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd Grades.  He is an avid writer, blogger, and Twitter user. He recently published his first children’s book, Will McGill and the Magic Hat. Brian speaks at Educational conferences on topics including educational technology, leadership, communication, and professional development.  

The Connected Educator’s New Clothes

Emperor's New ClothesFor over a year I have been excited about being a connected educator. I frequently lose myself in conversations, blog posts, and chats that speak to my diverse interests. As someone who enjoys consuming information and having intellectual discussions, the connections I have made are energizing and valuable. When I first started to connect with others I wanted to share this incredible resource with the world. Like most who get over-excited about sharing a new passion, I went ahead full force. I shared what I was learning with everyone the way the proud emperor displayed his new clothes. Unfortunately, people refused to see the beauty of my “new clothes” of connected learning. After a few weeks I had failed to inspire anyone to try on my connected educator’s new clothing. People were sure I was crazy, but they allowed me to continue my charade and strut around in my birthday suit of connectedness.

Since then I have seen how I cloaked myself similarly to the emperor. I knew better, and everyone else simply did not have the intelligence or foresight to realize the brilliance of being connected. I was wrapped up in how much I was learning and how it was helping to inspire more meaningful, engaging learning in my classroom. I looked at others with a contempt from on high. I, the great, learned, connected educator knew better than those Others. To this day I reflect upon my original experiences and see the foolish emperor.

Connecting means sharing, learning, reflecting, and collaborating. Truly being a connected educator means developing relationships with other people who can help us become better as either educators or as people in general. The more teachers we can get to share and learn from, the stronger education becomes.

There is a movement to expand the isolated pockets of connected educators. Even as the numbers of educators developing meaningful professional relationships outside of their schools expands, connected educators are still the minority. Many of education’s thought leaders, those that are shaping the future of our profession, are connected. Despite seeing more administrators, more teacher leaders, and nearly every major presenter in education as part of the connected educator network, the average educator is still not involved. To the average person in the classroom, the emperor is just a crazy man without clothes. Expanding the small, often clustered collection of educators that can be called connected is, in theory, an amazing movement for education.

Theoretically this is a no brainer.

The problem lies in our definitions of connected, our preconceived notions of teachers that are and are not connected, and the language we use when we talk about other educators. If we use the above definition of connecting, then we ought to push teachers to be connected. Most of us started connecting so that we could learn and improve for our students and ourselves. We sought individuals that pushed our thinking and challenged us to improve.

While we consistently hear the concept that “we are all equals here with equal voices”, many connected educators are discounting the voices of those that are not connected. Like I did, I see many connected educators creating a division between themselves and “the others”. There are statements about “them” that are derogatory and insulting. In case after case we forget that “them” refers to the dedicated teacher down the hall or the principal who has an incredible relationship with staff and students. Somewhere along the line the collective We of educational twitter users decided that Connected meant better, that Not Connected meant stagnant and closed-minded. It sometimes seems that not being on twitter is akin to not caring about your students or your profession.

With this approach, we alienate ourselves from the people we are trying to inspire. If our goal is to improve educators and develop connections among ourselves in the name of helping kids, we are heading down a wayward path. By labeling Others, we start with the preconception that they are already less than ourselves. When we help develop fellow educators’ access to the information, the resources, and the value of connection, they will find what type of connection works for them.

We should be clear that Connected does not necessarily mean “uses twitter.” If being connected actually means that we share, collaborate, learn and reflect through building relationships with others, then it leaves lots of room for choice. Yes, educators can connect through Twitter, but Voxer, Slack, Periscope, live podcasts, Google Hangouts, blogging, Instagram, Pinterest, face to face, and even Facebook, Google Plus and LinkedIn are viable options. I learn from being connected, not to an app or device, but to a vast collection of people who have a greater collection of knowledge and experiences than my own.

Connected EducatorsThe term “connected educator” is not then a bivalent description, but one that extends along a continuum that allows for learning and improvement on an individual basis. One way is not necessarily superior to another, it is the learning and improving that matter, not the format. We cannot brazenly strut about with the belief that if other people don’t see what we want them to, that they are beneath us. We cannot pretend to be wearing ornate robes.

There is a difference between the Connected Educator and the Emperor– everyone can see our new clothes. The truth is, most of us have developed an amazing wardrobe. It is up to all of us to do more than just show them off, but to find as many possible ways to let others tailor their own. We ought to promote connecting, but we ought to do it in a way that is open, allows people to use their strengths, learn from one another, and forge greater opportunities for education.

cem-notxtEditor’s Note: Put your connected educator strategies into practice during Connected Educator month, October every year.

CUE will once again be a theme leader for 2015.

Costello HeadshotBrian Costello is in his 7th year of teaching in Southern New Jersey.  Brian started his career as an instructional aide before going on to teach Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd Grades.  He is an avid writer,blogger, and Twitter user. He recently published his first children’s book, Will McGill and the Magic Hat. Brian speaks at Educational conferences on topics including educational technology, leadership, communication, and professional development.