Learning in a Digital World

For the second year now, one of our classes has participated in the 24-hour Skype marathon hosted by Beverly Ladd and her Grade 2 students from Pine View Elementary in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA. This year it was the turn of the Grade 5 Pelicans class and as before, it was a huge success!

Beverly started planning this all months ago – I received an email from her in October last year already, and once I had identified a class to participate in the Skype marathon (Skypathon). We were tasked with some preparation too. Out students had to prepare answers to some very thought-provoking questions, and this is where true learning came in. Not only were we going to learn about a class in a country on a continent thousands of kilometres away, but in preparation we were learning about our own community too. The questions posed by Beverly’s class…

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24 Hour Skype-a-thon #PVSkype24

Eyes lit up with each ring ring of each Skype call. They grew even wider when they saw the faces on the other end. Many of those faces looked the same or familiar while others looked different, but one thing that they all had in common was they were kids eager and ready to learn and exchange.

This was nothing new to some students, calls like this happen everyday in our room. We exchange video messages & letters, blog, and participate in Skype sessions with students all over the globe throughout the year. What was unique about it was happening for continuously for 24 hours.

As I started a new year of planning another Skype-a-thon, I looked back to things that went well last year. One positive that came out of it was Nickels for Nepal, our fundraiser to provide aid to our friends in Nepal after the earthquake. Students had the opportunity to learn much more about the environment, culture and global issues surrounding Nepal due to the project. While doing Nickels for Nepal it hit me that my students were not aware of the global issues affecting Nepal and they expressed an interest in knowing more about problems that their peers faced around the world. It was in doing Nickels for Nepal the students at Pine Valley Elementary actually started thinking beyond their everyday lives. They learned about the limited amount of time they have access to water during the span of a day, the amount of poverty in Nepal, the land forms and much more.

With that spirit in mind, once the new school year started, the students listed questions they wanted to learn about during their 24 hour journey. Ironically the questions were heavily intertwined with their concerns over the environment, water, hunger and poverty. It became clear they were eager to learn why kids in Africa didn’t have clean water and other kids didn’t have electricity or the right to go to school, but more importantly they wanted to find solutions to these problems that affect them and their peers everyday.

There were many highlights for me this year. Seeing familiar faces of both educators and students we talked with last year made this journey more special.  In addition we connected  with many new classrooms that we now proudly refer to as our “our new friends in____ .” Not a day has gone by when we don’t refer to, think about, make a connection, or acknowledge exchanges between all the diverse faces we spoke to during those 24 hours.

With each session, the revelation of new information captivated us on our journey. For instance in Serbia we discovered dentists are a part of the staff at each school,  Iceland uses the underground volcanoes to warm their water and El Nino is an issue impacting the country  of Venezuela, causing alligators to come closer to houses and villages while India recycles their water. In New Zealand for instance we had the chance to reconnect with a few students who we met last year. One of which, Ashley, shared with us that she now has a toilet trained goat. Seriously ! (Check out this vimeo of Ashley, Aroha and Snowy the Goat.)  During our stop in South Korea we finally were able to meet our video Mystery Skype buddies face to face. The moments and special connections were priceless and honestly too numerous to list.

Security was surprisingly one of the topics brought up repeatedly from children in Venezuela, Mexico and California. The students passionately expressed a need and a want for a safer place to play during school. This really hit home with students on my side of the camera as I saw their heads drop on several occasions as they realized the kids in time zones close to them had issues that were extremely different. At the same time, the students shared many similarities.  These conversations keep the students in both countries thinking, comparing, and contrasting.

One of the most memorable ones for me was our skype session with Nepal. Emotions were high even before we started the skype because we had well-formed connections in the school. During the skype session we connected with older students who were actually part of the rebuilding process since the earthquake. Our students took turns sharing how they raised money last year through bake sales, during car drop off and pick up at school and even their own piggy banks. The students in Nepal shared what a blessing it was in the days after the earthquake to have the support from hundreds of organizations and people around the world.  The Nepal students were thrilled to be able to actually see the students in our classes who had helped fund drinking water for their school. That was a special moment!

During the day, the students participated in various global ed lessons and activities thanks to the wonderful staff and educators from Pine Valley Elementary and the Watson School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. They rolled up their sleeves to make this day special for all the students that participated in a Skype session. One of the activities was a Thinking Wall where students posted several questions they could ponder throughout the journey.


Building this global mindset can and should happen spontaneously and intentionally every day. All it takes is a will and a webcam and instantly the only purpose for walls around a classroom is to keep the bugs out!

Again, an event of this magnitude would not be possible without the assistance and support from my wonderful colleagues and parents at Pine Valley; Dr. Tim Markley, our superintendent; my administration who encourages teachers to follow their passion in creating these “out of the box” events.  And no techy educator would be successful without the wonderful technology department of New Hanover County Schools. This department always finds creative solutions for all the tech needs to ensure that teachers can integrate meaningful technology into the daily curriculum.

In the end, it’s not a matter of the duration of the call, but it’s about building the mindset that differences make us great. We need to embrace and celebrate the diversity of our classrooms and our schools and take the opportunity to show our students how beautiful and diverse the world is. It’s imperative that the children learn that they can be a part of making the world a better place. It begins with the first ring ring… the first Skype session…

During the 24 hours, students raised $1495.00 from pledges for every hour they were awake, to increase awareness for the American Red Cross and to bring aid to places in need. This money will benefit our new friends that we met around the world during our brief time together through Skype. The information we shared and learned can possibly be the catalyst to fix the global problems that we discussed.  Lots of information was shared during the 24 hours with 37 classes around the world.  

Awareness is the first step in creating plans to improve global issues.

“Skype classrooms” are aware, are you?


View the @storify from our 24 hour journey here.

Pine Valley’s 24 Hour Skype-a-thon https://storify.com/beverlyladd/pine-valley-24-hour-skype-a-thon-57116e4b12a20b661b0b7923 via @bevladd

Math Awareness Month: Math Beyond the Standards:

Social and Emotional Learning in Math

Originally posted on blog.tenmarks.com on 2/22/2016

Social and emotional learning is vital because it creates opportunities to develop life skills. As teachers we are faced with the task, overwhelming at times, of teaching both hard skills like math as well as those soft skills like empathy, compassion, cooperation and other socials skills that are so important for overall development and well being. How can we as teachers mesh the two?

In order to build empathy in the classroom we must allow students opportunities to work collaboratively with peers and then work with others outside the classroom, to build confidence in themselves while taking pride in their work and at the same time solving some problems and challenges that face them. Building empathy in the classroom will prepare students for successful outcomes once they have parted the doors of our classroom and our school buildings.  

Here are just two ways to ensure integration of empathy in your math block.

Collaborate with peers:

In a collaborative math community where learners are in teams or groups,the teacher can foster communication where problem solving skills can be fine tuned; thus allowing students opportunities to share their voice in a setting that may be more comfortable for them. Giving students the opportunity to interact with others enables them to build relationships that are vital and will allow their voice to be heard while fostering accountability within the group. Groups mixed with a variety of skill levels often provide chances for students to be sensitive to another student’s needs as well. Giving  students the opportunity to both lead and learn, creates a win win situation in that students are learning that making mistakes is all a part of learning.

Break down walls:

Allow students to work with other students outside the walls of your classroom. When teachers explore learning opportunities outside their classroom it gives students the ability to understand different perspectives, cultures and  a greater appreciation for the differences they see with other children from other locations. Allowing students to collaborate on projects with other students in your school or even on other continents while learning math builds empathy and communication skills as questions arise.

  1. Projects – Community Service Projects. A lot of these projects happen around the holidays but can easily be incorporated throughout the year. Projects can easily be integrated with many math skills to stimulate students to learn and provide real life experiences.
  2. Global Math Task Twitter Challenge- @GlobalMathTask allows students to tweet a math task daily while students around the world tweet back their answers. This allows students the occasion to learn cultural differences, while seeing life from different perspectives.

Ingenuity happens and empathy is developed when students are exposed to problem solving with peers in new authentic daily learning experiences. Dealing with the need to convert quantities of measure to other units of another culture is just one way to expand their knowledge. When students come together to solve problems learning becomes exponential in the global community.

Why is creating a classroom in which empathy exists alongside the academics so important? It creates leaders!! Leaders with compassion and respect who will one day be working collaboratively together to create, and solve problems for new possibilities around the world!


A Bridge to Nepal

A Bridge to Nepal

This year my class, along with my school, united and raised money for the British International School of Kathmandu in Nepal that was affected by earthquakes shortly after my 24 hour Skype-a-thon ( #PVSkype24 ) in March. It was very rewarding and successful due to the connection the students had while learning and sharing with the Nepalese students during our Skype session. The kids and I were very grateful to be able to help out and give back to a school that does charity work in surrounding villages.

Beckham Nickelsnickelsfinal

At the same time, in the back of my mind, I was always thinking about how to help Govinda Panthy, another teacher in Nepal whom I had come to know through my PLN. Govinda has a passion for bringing the world to his students through Skype. I wanted to be able to help Govinda and his school, but knew I couldn’t do both.

During the time my kids and I were fundraising for Nepal, I was delighted and honored to learn that Microsoft was sending me to ISTE! I could hardly wait to meet, connect with, learn from and share with other educators from around the world.

Skip ahead three months. It is just 8 days before the start of ISTE.  I’m chatting with Govinda over Skype, and it hits me like a cannonball. Why can’t I Skype with him at ISTE? I am going to be sharing the benefits of Skype with other educators. What better way to demonstrate the power of making connections and how Skype brings the world to students than by bringing my friend Govinda, 8,000 miles away to them?

The sudden realization that Skyping with Govinda would be a wonderful way to not only demonstrate the power of global connections via Skype, but perhaps get Govinda some much needed support feels like only the latest step in a wonderful journey I’ve been taking as an educator. I feel as if I have a path and purpose, and I am blessed to be able to use my skills and talents to help those who are less fortunate than I.

A Global Call to Nepal from ISTE

So if you’re in the in the Exhibit Hall near the Microsoft/Skype Booth around 9:30 on Wednesday stop by to speak to Govinda and ask him how he uses Skype in the Classroom to connect his students to the world. Ask him how Skype has changed his class and his school, and what you can do to help. To learn more about Govinda, his remarkable school and how you can help, visit: https://www.pledgecents.com/cause/lltkrs/bridge2nepal


24 hour Skypathon #pvSkype24


Today we were lucky to be part of the 24 hour Skypathon (#pvskype24), which is theFynn talking across the world masterpiece of Beverly Ladd (@BevLadd).

We sat with baited breath waiting for the call at our set time and spent the next 40 minutes sharing and questioning each other. The time difference was exactly 12 hours behind and it was magical to connect Nanjing China with Wilmington North Carolina.

We began with answering the host classes generated questions, which raised a lot of post Skype discussion. Then we moved onto on the spot student generated questions and the connections and comparisons grew. They sang to us and we taught them Chinese finger counting. Next my class were greeted by a Chinese American girl and the Chinese Finger Counting lesson - Number 8language switched to Chinese for a few minutes.

There were connections, new learning was made and thoughts and comparisons were pondered long into the day…

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The Power of a PLN

As I prepare to do a GHO tomorrow during #ST4T with my fellow Full Circle PD crew on building a PLN, I look back and ask where would I be without a PLN? How has my PLN influenced and helped me?

Like all connected educators , I have a story to tell about how and with whom I connected. Mine started by following a few news media outlets and then wanting to connect to other second grade teachers. I did A LOT of lurking and trying to understand the Twitter lingo. I vividly remember the first time I jumped into a Twitter chat. I was welcomed immediately, by two ladies, and couldn’t believe all the new ideas and resources I’d gotten in a short time. From that moment I was hooked! I didn’t know it then but that was the start of my PLN.

In the weeks, months and years that followed, my journey with my Twitter PLN coincided with my journey in my classroom. I quickly discovered what true collaboration meant and looked like for teachers and wanted to give that same love of learning to my students. I wanted them to be able to learn, share, and connect with students around the world so they could get the most authentic learning experiences. I wanted them to know that the walls of our classroom were not there to keep them in but to merely keep the bugs out. Their future, whatever occupation or field that holds, has probably not even been created yet.They will have the opportunities to work with others from all over the world,doing jobs that haven’t been created yet. Why limit our/ their learning now to the 23 other people in our room?

As I search and ponder for an example for how to describe the mighty power of my PLN in preparation for tomorrow. I really didn’t have to think too hard.

Last summer I begin working out the outline for what would become a 24 hour Skype-a -thon. It began with lots of structural and organizational notes. There wasn’t much to go on since one other 24-hour Skype had been done before, and that was in another hemisphere. Come October, I started sending out tweets to my PLN to sign up if they were interested in participating in this amazing around the world learning experience in March. I had a good response and wasn’t worried about finding classes. To make a long story story, while working on the the schedule I quickly discovered that half of Asia was on their break during the week of my Skype-a-thon, and that a lot of Asian public schools do not utilize technology. Potential problem:YES! Enter the mighty power of my PLN. My PLN was ALWAYS there to give me new contacts and resources. I had 33 slots for my Skype sessions and they helped me fill every one. The last three months of planning seemed like one long 24-hour marathon of Voxing, messaging, texting, emailing and yes even getting on Skype to talk to teachers, at ALL hours of the day to plan for the event. I could not have done it without my PLN. They were always there sending me messages of encouragement and offering additional resources when needed.The resources of my PLN were never exhausted and I found plenty of international educators in international schools who were willing to participate. After a year of planning, it became a beautiful collection of 33 Skype calls with passionate and inquisitive learners from 26 countries all over the world.

It was amazing to be able to connect and collaborate with both teachers and students in the months prior to the Skype-a-thon. The classes that we were able to collaborate with,prior to the event, through blog, Padlet, Skype, penpal letters, Twitter, and yes even Voxer, before hand were the ones that stood out and seemed more meaningful for my students. During the Skype visits we talked, laughed, and learned with 596 students from all over the world whom we proudly call our classmates and friends.

All of the people in my PLN, too many to name, brought me to this moment. I couldn’t have successfully organized and made all the connections that I needed without them. Many in my PLN were able to participate and I was able to connect with them face to face just for a brief moment during the Skype which made the 24 hour Skype-a-thon even more priceless.

It was amazing to see, talk and collaborate with those teachers and students that I’d only had the opportunity to Tweet or Vox with due to timezone limitations.

To all of the people in my PLN who have traveled the road with me from the beginning, and to those whose roads have just merged with mine, I want each of you to know you have been instrumental in my learning, and I value each and every one one of  you. Each person brings his or her special characteristics, educational perspective and qualities that make MY PLN absolutely amazing.

To those in my PLN who have shared resources, thoughts, ideas and numerous hours on Voxer, who have donated and contributed to my professional learning and helped my students succeed in ANY way, I say THANK YOU! You inspire me, motivate me, drive me and are always challenging me to step outside my comfort zone and look at things from a different perspective.

I would encourage any newly connected educator to find others with interests and knowledge about topics that interest you, not your friends next door. Take time to really get to know, collaborate and connect with them. Your PLN will become like an extended family. Like me, you will learn that you can rely on them, that you can support them and they will support you. You will be able to send out a request and have a message in my message box within five minutes. My PLN is small, compared to some, but its members are mighty.

And to those ladies, you know who you are, who first welcomed me and gave me my wings to fly on Twitter through our numerous conversations, I thank you.

I can only hope to do the same for others as they start their journeys towards becoming connected educators.