By B.C. Manion
The children in Danielle Bockus’ second-grade class at Double Branch Elementary arrived at school 45 minutes early one recent day to accommodate a live video chat with a classroom they’ve befriended in England.
By coming in before the opening bell, the Wesley Chapel kids could link up electronically with the children in teacher Jacqui Johnson’s class at Eureka Primary in Derbyshire before those youngsters had to go home at the end of the school day.
Finding out about the five-hour time difference between the two schools is just one example of what the youngsters are learning as they connect in a program that uses technology to give a new twist to cultural exchanges.
In previous generations, when kids were learning about their counterparts in different parts of the world they would send bulky envelopes stuffed with letters, photographs and news articles.
In this program, the children from both schools are learning about each other through blogs, digital photos, videos and live chats.
They each will be working on videos that highlight a day in the life at their schools. They’re also using Google Earth to get to know a bit about each other’s geography.
Each of the children also will help to write an adventure story about this shared high-tech connection.
The kids already have written blog posts to compare their school lunches, chat about their school days and recount what they like about their schools.
In one blog post, Abbie L. Batchelor, at the Eureka Primary writes “at the start of the day (9 a.m.) we come to school and we have our register whilst we are writing some lovely letters.
“After that we like to perform our learning (I like art the best).
After their luscious lunch, she continues, “We play on our wicked playground” before finishing the day with 2 ¼ hours of learning.
Madison MacDiarmid, at Double Branch, notes in her blog post that the school has a big and a little playground.
“I love doing the monkey bars,” she writes. Her favorite part of the playground is where her friends can
“Oh! I forgot something, I love playing in the spider web. You can climb in it.
“This is the best school,” the second-grader concludes.
During the live chat, both groups of children were shown on a white screen at the front of Bockus’ classroom.
Her students were wearing clothes in all sorts of styles. The English youngsters were all wearing red sweaters.
The kids were curious about each other.
“Are hot dogs a popular food?” asked Double Branch second-grader Scott Atkins.
“Yes!” the English class shouted in response.
How do you stay active? a student at Eureka asked.
The kids in Bockus’ class said they play baseball, softball, soccer and football, or to ride on a skateboard.
Johnson said her class wanted to know if any children in Bockus’ class had visited the Harry Potter attraction at the Universal Orlando resort, and she noted: “We’re very jealous.”
“The Harry Potter Village looks just like the movies,” Bockus said.
There were some technical glitches during the chat. The sound wasn’t loud enough sometimes and it cut out entirely at others. The images were often blurry, too.
But none of that seemed to matter to the kids or their teachers.
A number of guests dropped by Johnson’s class to check out the chat. “The whole school is so excited,” the teacher said.
At one point, they talked about their schools.
A Eureka Primary student told the kids at Double Branch about Eureka’s Golden Assembly that happens every Friday. One golden child is chosen from each classroom for achieving an accomplishment. That child gets to wear a special red cap.
Eureka Primary also has a vegetable garden and some badgers, Johnson reported.
Bockus shared some news about her school’s campus: “About once a year, we’ll get our alligator that will come and try to take a nap on our lawn. We have lots of snakes.”
The project seeks to help youngsters develop a global awareness and to gain a deeper appreciation for cultural differences, Bockus said.
It also is helping her students become better writers and communicators, Bockus said.
Another bonus: they’re improving their typing and computer skills, she said.
The collaboration is being achieved through Epals.com.
Bockus registered with the website in August, seeking a partner classroom for a project called “The Way We Are.”
Bockus said she learned about the electronic learning platform from Scott Atkins, assistant principal at Double Branch, who suggested she give it a try.
He’s pleased that she did.
Getting acquainted with other cultures is key, said Atkins, whose son is in Bockus’ class.
“These kids are going to be competing globally,” he said.
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