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Edgerton students use videoconferencing to expand classrooms

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
April 30, 2012
— Students at Yahara Valley Elementary School in rural Edgerton are using a webcam and a SMART Board to run live videoconferences with students in a classroom seven miles away at Edgerton Community Elementary School.

Four days a week, students in the blended third- and fourth-grade classrooms at the two schools use Skype, a computer video communication program, to share learning activities.


For 15 or 30 minutes a day, the students share readings of chapter books, learn what projects the students in the other class are working on and even discuss techniques of writing different kinds of poetry.


It's part of a fledgling program that the school district is developing to use technology to boost learning and bring students and classrooms throughout the district closer.


Carrie Brehm, who teaches the 27 third- and fourth-graders at Yahara Valley, said she and Community Elementary School teacher Nick Sveum decided to start using Skype between classrooms as an extension of the two schools' pen pal program.


"We looked at what can we do to get them more in touch with those 21st-century skills and what can we do to bring classrooms together to collaborate on learning," Brehm said.


Brehm said she uses Skype at home to keep in touch with relatives who live in northern Wisconsin. She said she thought it would be a good way for her students to get to know their future classmates from Community Elementary.


Students from both classrooms will eventually funnel into Edgerton Middle School.


"It's just making those little connections, to bridge and form a bond between the two schools," Brehm said.


During a recent guided reading exercise between the two classrooms, Sveum greeted the Yahara Valley students as they waited for Community Elementary's video feed to pop up on their video screen, which was being projected on the classroom's interactive white board.


Sveum's classroom video feed is set so that while it loads, students at Yahara School see his name under a picture of Yogi Bear.


"Mr. Sveum's not really Yogi Bear. He just likes Yogi," Kylee Houfe, a student in Brehm's class whispered.


Sveum launched into a reading of the final pages of "Frindl," a chapter book by author Andrew Clements that satirizes the English language and the oddity of words. Afterward, students in both classrooms held a short discussion about language.


The talk prompted Yahara Elementary student Alec Hansen to grab a dictionary to see if "frindl" was a real word.


Then the two classes dove into a discussion of poetry.


Yahara students had made construction paper rainbows inscribed with cinquains, five-line poems each had written about springtime. Students at Community School had made the same rainbows, but they'd written three-line haikus instead.


Brehm and Sveum's program is being paid for with a $1,000 grant from the Edgerton Community Fund. Brehm said the classrooms' use of Skype is proof that technology-aided learning isn't always expensive or complicated.


The main equipment to run the program is a webcam and two headsets with microphones. Most students in the classes have learned how to use the program themselves with no help.


The hardest part of the program is getting the two classrooms' schedules lined up, Brehm said.


"This program is a starting point, just one idea, that should really shows people how easy it can be," she said.


Later this spring, students at both schools will use Skype to interview each other one-on-one, Brehm said. The classrooms also plan to use the program to communicate with other schools nationwide and even in other countries, including Africa.


But what sparks the students' interest isn't just the technical element. Kylee Houfe said it's the thrill of doing something new and different.


"It's just really fun being on camera," she said.



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