Magazine article Momentum

Collaborative Projects Connect Catholic Classrooms

Magazine article Momentum

Collaborative Projects Connect Catholic Classrooms

Article excerpt

Connection is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Christ

"How do you help your students walk in the footsteps of Christ?" That was the question Barb Gilman and I posed to an auditorium of Catholic educators at the NCEA convention in Houston, Texas, last April. Ironically, they had gathered in person from all over the country to discover how they could use technology to connect with each other from a distance.

To answer our question, Barb and I invited them to use their phones to take pictures of their shoes and send them to a special email address. We instructed them to include a brief description of how they walked the life of discipleship in their schools and where they were from. Within seconds, those emails became automatic posts at a special blog we had set up called To Teach as Jesus Did (http:// We projected the website on the huge auditorium screen to show them the results of their work. As we scrolled through the posts, they saw sandals, cowboy boots, tennis shoes and slippers from Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, and even some shoes from Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico.

The participants didn't have to sign up for anything, they didn't have to visit a web site, they didn't have to know how to use sites like Wordpress or Blogger. They just needed to know how to take a picture with their phone and send it in an email-something they already knew how to do. Although they came from faraway places and although most of them had never met before, within minutes they had collaborated on a project that incorporated the visual arts, writing, technology and faith sharing.

It's Happening in Catholic Education

Projects like these are happening more and more in Catholic education and it's become easier than ever to join them or to create your own. Consider just a few examples.

My co-presenter in Houston, Barb Gilman, began the Advent Wiki Project in December 2010. Gilman, a thirdgrade teacher from Omaha, Nebraska, invites schools across the world to take photos of Nativity scenes and Advent wreaths and post them on Wikispaces for everyone to use as objects of meditation. Gilman is a mover and shaker in the Catholic education Twitterverse and when she invites, people come. For three years now, schools across the country have used tools like Animoto, Picasa Web Albums, YouTube and PhotoPeach to share their Advent decorations with each other on her site. Some schools do this as a classroom project; others assign it as individual work. Joining Gilman's project is as simple as following her on Twitter, where she is known as @BarbinNebraska.

It was on Twitter that I first heard about Mystery Skype or Mystery Location Call, another way to connect classrooms. In this simple activity, classrooms call each other using Skype or Google Hangouts and play a game of 20 questions to guess where each other is located. My eighth grade class had a great time during National Catholic Schools Week last year trying to discover the location of a sixth-grade class taught by Lisa DeLapo in Alameda, California. For students learning about their state, Mystery Location Call is a fun way to demonstrate their knowledge and learn about another part of the country or world. Cybraryman Jerry Blumengarten maintains a helpful list of links for using Skype in the classroom ( With a little creativity it would be easy to adapt some of those video chatting ideas to a Catholic classroom.

For instance, as I stood in line to get lunch during the Houston convention, I struck up a conversation with a teacher from Texas who used Skype with her third grade class to pray the Rosary with third graders from Mexico. Her class was learning Spanish, and the class from Mexico was learning English. After setting up a video connection on Skype, they were able to pray the Hail Mary together in their new languages.

Cooperative Blogging

One final example of a powerful global learning project is cooperative blogging. …

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