Authentic Connections in Social Studies Using Google Hangouts

Our latest curricular inquiries in social studies have centered around what it's like to live in different places around the world. Students are ever so curious to explore and learn about unfamiliar places.
I noticed the look of wonder as they conducted their own research - from the pyramids in Egypt to geothermal homes in Iceland. 

I began conducting my own research (curiosity is contagious!) about ways to connect with communities beyond the walls of our classroom. I had heard positive reviews of Mystery Skype from other educators and began putting out 'feelers' online. I was still apprehensive of what this would look like in the class, how I would facilitate the learning, figuring out the 'how to' aspect of technology, as well as possible hesitation from other stakeholders. After a week or two with no luck on Mystery Skype, I connected with a Google+ community called Mystery Hangout. Within a day I was in contact with a primary teacher from Vermont who was interested in 'Hanging Out' with us. Here is what unfolded ....

PLAN: Students struggle to make deep, meaningful connections when learning about communities around the world. Context is a critical component in deep understanding. Students will generate questions they would like to find out about other communities and use Google Hangouts to connect with other classrooms.

Minds On - We used various read alouds to activate our thinking about communities around the world. Here are just a few examples:
Off To Class by Susan Hughes
All The World by Liz Garton Scanlon

Student Generated Questions
Using Google Docs, students recorded answers for later discussion and reflection (task for 2 students during Hangout).
Mapping our Hangouts (4 so far!)
In the future I will use Google Maps to and create digital flags.

OBSERVE: Having the opportunity to connect real time with other classrooms increased student engagement. I noticed their level of questions deepen as they recognized they were talking to ‘real people’. During the Hangout students had particular roles (questioners, recorders, etc.) This really helped with organization and accountability. After each Hangout we reflected on similarities and differences with our own community as well as others we had learned about. 

REFLECT: When I think back to previous methods of facilitating student connection with global communities, I am struck by the great value in engaging in digital, live discussions with other classrooms. This goes far beyond the capability for student-generated questions to be answered. The value is in students recognizing themselves reflected in others (our similarities) as well as our differences. The value for myself as an educator (affirmed by connecting with educators beyond typical PLNs). The value of facilitating connections that awaken students perspectives about the world around them and their place in it. 

To anyone considering getting started with Google Hangouts ... the risk is so worth the great reward.

Getting started resources:
Google Hangouts EDU - resources
Google Maps for Education


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