Connected from the Start is a great read! If anybody doubts the value of getting first graders to tweet, blog and Skype then this will confound and delight you. In fact it is a skillfully told story of one teacher’s digital journey and, because her raw materials involve mainly six year olds, it is full of delightful and heartwarming stories of communication, challenged views and learning. I know that there are those who roll their eyes if they hear ‘Sharing is Caring’ one more time or who bristle at the mention of Tweets and blogging. And even the enthusiasts, who can see the value of digital communication tools with literate students, have their doubts about their worth with emerging writers, but Kathy Cassidy from Canada does such a great job of demonstrating the value of such projects that you might be hard pushed to contradict her by the time you finish the book. Through text, images and video you will be taken on a magical journey all around the world.
I was a bit worried that a book about connecting elementary students with the outside world might be very techie and full of references to common core standards but in fact it is the humanity that shines through on every page. Yes, the tech and reassurances about common core are there, but this is mainly just a great story about the value of, and how to connect six year olds with the world in an effective and responsible manner.
Effectiveness because at several points in the book Cassidy says something along the lines of ‘I could just have told them about X, Y and Z’ but the point is that it was the meeting with Australian and New Zealand classes which prompted questions about volcanoes, time differences, school uniforms and Vegemite and the route by which the children came to those questions means that the answers are likely to be much more meaningful and sticky for them. Here’s what Cassidy says about a project collecting information about what people eat for breakfast around the world which led her to buy a jar of Vegemite for them to taste:
I could have just told the children that people around the world eat different things for breakfast. I could have suggested foods that these other people might eat. I could have read them books. I could even have bought the same Vegemite and shared it with the children. But the process of the students actually collecting information from other people around the world, and of discovering the commonalities and differences for themselves, made the experience so much richer and more meaningful. If not always more tasty.
I could go on with the anecdotes as each one is a delight but I’ll let you discover them yourself.
I have seen the huge and lasting impact that such hook-ups generate, in my case with world weary teenagers, but where I had my doubts was in doing such projects with emerging writers. It was wonderful to see Cassidy putting out short texts written by her students with an added ‘editor’s note’ if the spelling might prove a bit of a challenge for external readers. The key thing always was to get the message out and the dialogue flowing.
Another thing I liked about the book is how transparent Cassidy was about her journey. Too often teachers see a digital expert in action and shrink back in awe. In sharing her journey Cassidy makes us realize that all these projects are within reach, in fact more so now than when she began, because the tools are so much more intuitive to use these days.
And finally, a huge plus for me was to see spontaneity being valued. Cassidy follows up on suggestions such as the offer of seeing some moon rock in a Skype video call. The moon rock was on loan only until the next day and I found myself inwardly cheering that Cassidy made sure that her class was available for this unique opportunity the very next day.
And all this of course while covering standards. What more could you ask?
So this is for teachers who wonder about the value of digital connection, for parents who wonder why their child’s teacher is blogging and for anyone who is curious about how much can be achieved with emerging writers.
Full disclosure: I was given a free copy of this to review
Connected From the Start is available from the PLPress bookstore for $16.95 in a PDF format suitable for desktop, laptop and tablet computers. To celebrate the release of its first solo-authored book, Powerful Learning Press is offering a $2 discount through April 17. Use the coupon code CONNECTEDKIDS.
Photo credit: Kathy Cassidy