After being fascinated by real time chat at a conference in 1991, a teacher brought the technology to her classroom, where her students used it to begin communicating with people from around the world. In this article, Patti Weeg recounts the first baby steps and the journey that eventually led to her working with teachers to help infuse technology in all curriculum areas to create a truly global classroom.

Date: Oct 4 1992 at 4:30am
Subject: houses in Iceland

Hello Andrew,

My school is Isaksskoli. Our houses are nearly all made of concreat. My mother is going to show me a house that is made of bricks tomorrow. She tells me it is made like “Lego house” is it?

In Iceland there are no trains, I have never seen a real train. Do they go into tunnels?

Our houses are strong because sometimes there are earthquakes. No, no, no, there are no igloos in Iceland.

Gisli Tryggvi

The year was 1992. Primary grade students from Iceland, Peru, Tasmania, Hawaii, and Maryland discussed houses and homes in their country.

In the beginning …

You’re invited on a journey. Come back in time with me as I trace the steps of my own personal journey with technology and how I have encouraged other teachers to follow me. It all began in Maryland at a technology conference in 1991. I attended a session where the speaker communicated with his students who were in their classroom across town via a real time chat on a computer. The audience chuckled as the students’ words appeared on the large screen announcing to their teacher, and all of us in the conference session, that they much preferred him to their substitute!

I was intrigued by the technology that made this communication possible and was determined to find out how I could do this in my classroom. What a motivator this would be for my students! We could discuss educational topics with students in other classrooms across town, around our state of Maryland and maybe even the world. I was now on a mission…

A year later …

My elementary school students and I began using telecom within the state of Maryland as a means to meet other students and teachers, sharpen writing skills, and learn more about other places and cultures. In the spring of 1992 we launched out into the Internet and the world was ours! Internet browsers weren’t invented yet and all of our telecom was done in simple text on a black DOS screen. Nevertheless, we were all excited by the fact that we were “talking” to real people somewhere else on the planet.

Once we were on the Internet we began to meet students and teachers from all over the world and especially within the KIDLINK organization. One of our early projects was called “The Infant Project” and involved communication with six, seven, and eight year old students in London, Iceland, Tasmania, Peru, and Hawaii. Here are a few writing samples. Don’t miss the date – 1992! My students and I didn’t know what a pademelon was until we embarked on our first research project!

Date: Oct 16 1992 at 5:30am
Subject: Infant Project – from Tasmania, Australia

To Dear Jodie,
Today we got out the big map of the world to see
how far away you are from Australia. I live in
the country and it is very peaceful. We have 1
horse, 2 dogs, 4 chooks, a heap of fish, 1 possum,
1 pademelon, 1 duck. My house is pinky colour
and grey. My roof it a pinky colour and on
Wednesday I got a new cat called Countess
Meijan. Love from Lauren.

To Dear Louise,

This is my second letter. My last letter was for
everyone, but this time it is for you. I heard some
people needed help on houses. Are you one?
Anyway, If you are, here are some things about
my house. I have a brother, I have my own
bedroom. My brother has to. We haven’t got
stairs. We have five acres. I am 8 years old. On
our big map we are about 20 centimetres south of
the equator. From your pen friend Lynette

As our projects developed and maps appeared on my lab walls the older 5th and 6th grade students soon showed interest in what we were doing. They saw the flags on the maps pinpointing our ‘keypals’ and the pictures and goodies we were receiving via ‘snail mail’ from our global friends. Little by little these older students started appearing in my lab during their recess time because they wanted to join the fun.

Driven by the kids …

Our telecom program at Delmar Elementary grew because the kids wanted it. Bottom line. This is what inspired me to keep doing what I loved to do best with them – bring them into the global classroom. In truth, all we really needed was a simple word processing program for creating e-mail and for writing text files in the classroom. It never ceases to amaze me that these students were excited about creating simple text files!

The “fever” spread from students to teachers …

One of our wonderful sixth grade teachers was always ready to give her students writing assignments around our KIDLINK projects. Little by little the telecom ‘fever’ spread. Teachers often allowed students to start their project work and writings in the classroom or for homework. Then, during the course of the school day, students would arrive at our lab of donated computers and start typing their files. The students flocked to the computer lab during their recess time and after school. They felt empowered now by the new skills they were learning. I shared our exciting adventures into telecommunication and soon businesses and our local university began to donate computers to our school.

Comfort zones and time zones …

Global exchanges spread throughout Delmar Elementary as a few teachers became more excited, too. I promised to support them as they moved out of their comfort zone and joined the “global classroom.” It wasn’t easy for them in the beginning. They were nervous and had many questions.

Speaking of zones … We learned about time zones as we wrote to new friends all over the globe. My dear friend in Pakistan, Mahenaz Mahmud, who also volunteered within the Kidlink online community, connected my students with girls in Pakistan. In her own words:

“Eight girls from a govt. run school (with no electricity) began writing to Patti’s girls. Most of them had never seen a computer, learn only very stilted English from a textbook which makes no sense to them. They used to write in Urdu, I’d translate, type and send. They were learning differences (through their correspondence). Their English reading and understanding improved remarkably when the interaction became meaningful.

One day I asked them “what do you think your friends in the U.S. must be doing right now?” They were surprised at my question. “They must be in school!” they replied matter of factly. “They must be asleep right now” I said. You should have seen their faces. I pointed out this learning opportunity to their teacher who accompanies them.”

2006: A New Position: Technology Professional Development Coach

My years in the computer lab at Delmar Elementary came to an end when I was offered a new position in our school district. In 2006 I became a Technology Professional Development Coach and was able to work with teachers in more than one school to help them infuse technology into their lessons in all curriculum areas. I still connect teachers and students around the world in global exchanges. Mahenaz helped me again and connected one of my teachers with students who read Three Cups of Tea together and discussed the book on a blog. Excitement was high because their writing tasks had an authentic purpose and meaning.

2010: Reading Three Cups of Tea together …

Welcome to our brand new blog!

We are two teachers, from America and Pakistan, bringing our middle school girls together to read, discuss and learn from the novel 3 Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. We know that the POWER of communication can change our world, and we look forward to joining in this literary life journey with our students as they share and learn together.
Joyce Taylor (Salisbury, Maryland, USA)
Mahenaz Mahmud (Karachi, Pakistan)

2014: Still supporting … still holding hands

For the past 8 years I have been encouraging teachers and supporting them as they use technology tools in all curriculum topics in their classrooms. We use iPads, iPods, laptops, GPS devices for geocaching, and more. In the 2014-2015 school year our middle and high school students are using their cell phones in the classroom for instructional purposes. This is an exciting development that we hope will enhance learning for our students. They are “digital natives” and are very comfortable in a digital landscape. Our teachers … some are not very comfortable at all. Some resist. Some try, and some jump in with both feet. My advice is always to take baby steps and try one new technology tool until a teacher is ready to try another. We always begin with the standards and our curriculum. After we decide on our goal for our students, then we select an appropriate technology tool to achieve the desired outcome.

At the end of the last school year students made “Shelfies” with an iPad app called ThingLink. They snapped a picture of themselves and their book with an iPad. Then they wrote facts about their book and added them as “hot spots.” They also made a video recording “hot spot” and talked about a favorite book. Listen to their work here:

Geocaching – outdoor learning experiences

Students use GPS devices to find caches hidden around the school campus or a local park. The students in this picture found a paragraph of text inside the cache and a question to answer about the text during a reading activity.

A new school year begins

We waved goodbye to August last night and our new school year is only a week old. Teachers are building classroom routines and guidelines with their students. Some are not ready to venture into a lesson with technology just yet though some have already invited me into their classrooms. Some of my schools have more technology tools than others. In 1991 we had a 2400 baud modem and one computer connected to the Internet yet my tiny computer lab had become a global classroom. More important than technology equipment is the desire to engage our students in learning experiences that prepare them for successful careers as adults.

Where will your journey take you and your students? 🙂 Tell me your stories!

Patti Weeg
[email protected]

Patti Weeg began her teaching career in 1965 and taught at the elementary level for over four decades. From 1998 to 2001 she was involved with KIDLINK, an organisation that promotes global dialogue among young people. Patti has given presentations and talks on incorporating technology in the classroom at various conferences in various countries. She now works as a Technology Integration Professional Coach, helping teachers infuse technology in the classroom. She lives in Wicomico County, Maryland, USA.

December 2014