opinion

3 Free Apps That Connect My Kansas Classroom to the World

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Want to visit my students and me in southeastern Kansas? Now you can through the power of social media.

About a year ago, I began using an app called Periscope to watch fellow teachers discuss classroom techniques and strategy. In no time, I was hooked. Periscope offered free professional development whenever and wherever I wanted it—whether in the teacher’s lunchroom, the grocery store, or in bed after a long day. Once that Periscope whistle sound goes off, I’m ready to go!

A few months after a dedicated becoming a Periscope user, I decided to try my hand at posting videos. I decided create videos to showcase how I use technology in my classroom for other teachers in my district. Some of them still consider computers to be nothing more than a vehicle for games and entertainment.

To show my colleagues how computers can become an important learning tool, I have my own Periscope “show,” a weekly 15-minute video for an enthusiastic—and growing—audience.

In a recent episode, I demonstrated how I use PicCollage to teach language to my third-graders. The children use this cleverly designed app to assemble word “collages,” drawing on images to define new words. Their colorful collages are fun to make and share with no two being alike. It’s one of the favorite parts of their school day.

Sometimes, my students are the actual expert at using new tools. One student in particular has become a regular on my weekly Periscope show. Not every tool is easy to use, and he wanted teachers to know that it is okay to make mistakes.

Image Credit: Kami Butterfield

Lately, I’ve been looking for ways to deepen my connection to my Periscope audience. There’s a limit to how much information I can get across in a 15-minute video so I’m using other forms of social media to augment each episode.

Recently, I started using Snapchat to share images of my students as they work through daily assignments. Among some teachers there is a misconception that iPads are simply used for games or media consumption. Using Snapchat, I’ve tried to help others see how my students use the tablets to research and write, and to collaborate with peers. The teachers who receive our “snaps” can ask specific questions about what we’re doing and we can respond with another picture, a short video, or a text.

My students now use Snapchat to reach out to students and teachers around the world. Simple questions like: ‘What is the weather in your town?’ and ‘What holidays do you celebrate?’ are their first attempts to understand the world beyond our small corner of Kansas. We’ve begun to create a map to mark the locations of the classrooms we’re communicating with and to catalogue the ways in which our new friends are different and similar to us.

Image Credit: Kami Butterfield

I also point viewers to Instagram, which to me feels like a combination of Twitter and Pinterest. Teachers I’ve met through Instagram are inspired from photographs and words we share. My students like sharing their projects on Instagram, where teachers can ask more detailed questions.

Knowing their work will be on display has increased my students’ motivation and given them a greater sense of satisfaction. They know they are always creating for an audience and this keeps them engaged and challenged.

Each of the social media apps I use comes with a set of tradeoffs. Snapchat is geared to spontaneous communication; its disadvantage is that snaps can only be viewed twice. Instagram is best for demos, but videos must be kept relatively short. Periscope allows for longer videos, but users must be careful to use its privacy settings to prevent inappropriate texts.

I began this project as a way to share ideas with colleagues, but it’s become so much more. It’s become a platform for student creativity and a window into the wider world.

Kami Butterfield (@KamiButterfield) is a third grade teacher in Baxter Springs, Kans.

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