TEACHING, TWEETING & TURNING KIDS ON TO LEARNING
Florida educator Lee Kolbert knows the power of networking.
All of Lee Kolbert’s students have experienced the thrill of seeing their work published. They know the gratification of receiving timely if not immediate feedback and have participated in lively conversations inspired by their writing. All this, and they haven’t even graduated from elementary school.
Kolbert’s fourth-graders are reaping the benefits of blogging, as is Kolbert. After setting up blogs for each of her students on Kidblog.org, the techie teacher found that many grew more enthusiastic about writing. It didn’t take long for a healthy competition to develop, with students revising their writing upon reading a classmate’s blogpost. “Years ago if I wanted to publish students’ writing, we would bind books, leave them in the library and invite people to see them,” Kolbert says. Now, “if they publish something that’s outstanding, I’ll tweet it and get feedback from other teachers out there.” Sometimes the feedback is immediate—the ultimate reward.
Creating Long Distance Learning Connections
Contrary to what some people may think, computers and technology are providing Kolbert’s class with meaningful ways to connect with others. Recently her Florida students had the opportunity to see a snowball straight from snow country; 7th and 8th graders from Maine threw a snowball to Florida via videoconference. “We do a lot of collaborating with other classes in other states,” Kolbert says, noting that the Maine students ultimately tossed the snowball her way with a little help from the U.S. Post Office. Now, who can resist that kind of a lesson?
“It would be easy for me to open a textbook and flip through the year that way,” says Kolbert. “With the Internet, specifically videoconferencing, I can bring anyone in the world into my classroom.” Engaging with real people to learn about a particular topic lends an authenticity that would otherwise be lacking. For example, at about the same time that her students started work on their science fair projects, Kolbert “beamed” in biochemist Erika Ebbel. She talked with students about being in the lab, about how trying things and failing is part of the scientific process. “It was awesome,” says Kolbert.
Smart Social Networking
Kolbert found biochemist Erika Ebbel on the PBS website The Secret Life of Scientists. In addition to mining the deep stream of information on the Internet, Kolbert places Facebook and Twitter among her most valuable resources—the latest in a long line of various networking forms that include a CB setup in high school and early chat rooms. “It has always fascinated me that you don’t have to be limited to people within the walls of your building,” Kolbert says. “You can reach out to people who are connected to you by similar interests.”
Kolbert’s enthusiasm for techie tools and for connecting with teachers far and wide does not supersede her more pragmatic side. She’s not interested in adopting something simply because it’s flashy and new: “Show me how it’s going to make my kids learn better, and I’ll be willing to learn.”
Lee Kolbert has been an educator in Palm Beach County, Florida, for 25 years. Five of those years she worked as a district technology program specialist but returned to teaching elementary school this year. Read her blog or find her on Twitter at TeachaKidd and on Facebook.
By Kathy Satterfield
Kathy Satterfield is an editor and writer with more than 10 years of experience specializing in educational media for children. Most recently, as Senior Editor for TIME for Kids magazine, she managed the content of the 2nd- to 3rd-grade News Scoop edition and researched, reported and wrote for the 4th- to 6th-grade World Report edition. Kathy has also written for Grandparents.com and Fairfield Parent magazine.