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Connect Your Classroom to the Outside World

Laura Preble

Connect Your Classroom to the Outside World

Including people and experiences outside the classroom has become ever more difficult with budget cuts. But with the cyber world and the U.S. mail at your disposal, you can connect your kids in lots of ways that are inexpensive or free.

Here are a few ideas to connect your classroom to the outside world.

My Classroom Connections Inspiration

My niece in Ohio sent me a manila envelope a few weeks ago. Inside was her hand-drawn rendition of Flat Stanley, a picture book character who travels around the world in two dimensions, visiting sites both foreign and domestic to connect classrooms to people and places they couldn’t visit in person.

Our mission: take Flat Stanley on a trip somewhere in California where we live, take photos and write a letter from him about his trip. We were to send those back by a certain date so my niece’s classroom could chart where her class’s Flat Stanley had traveled.

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Two things about this project made me happy:
1.) I could connect to my niece, whom I rarely see.
2.)
I could play like a kid, taking Flat Stanley all around and posing him in weird places because I was doing it “for education.”

It brought out my own playful spirit, and added a fun dimension to our trip to the Anza-Borrego desert. It also made me think about my classroom.

Flat Stanley

For elementary students, this project is a lot of fun, and encompasses art, writing practice, letter-writing skills, and geography.  Learn more information on the global Flat Stanley project.

Postcard Collection

Incorporating a postcard project can be fun for students. Start off by asking students to request postcards from all over the world, and map the responses. I’ve done this for friends and relatives, and then sent the request out via Facebook or other networking sites. Since the postcards are being mailed directly to the school, no privacy is compromised for the students, and often people who are traveling or living abroad are happy to help connect students to their cities and countries.

Author Marc Brown wrote Postcards from Buster, a series of books that can help springboard the discussion.

Internships

High school students, especially those in the upper grades, are itching to get out into the “real” world. One way to let them spread their wings is to hook them up with internships. Depending on where you are in the country, there are many opportunities for things during the school year and in the summer.

Here is a national clearinghouse list of several internship opportunities.

Community Partnerships

Connecting to the community can create several great partnerships for students. Some high schools have hosted their own day care for nearby elementary children. Some have started partner reading programs with kids from elementary schools. Some do tutoring with smaller kids. Many schools are striving to become community hubs.

Skype Connections

One sixth-grade class took a virtual field trip to Montserrat while another had a dialogue with a famous author, all without leaving the confines of the classroom thanks to Skype. Skype, or any other internet video chat resource, is free and available to anyone with a computer, a relatively fast internet connection, a microphone and webcam.
For a real-world example, check out
All Things Skype, a site that chronicles the Skype adventures of Chrissy Helyer and her class as they participate in the “Around the World with 80 Schools” project.

Here are more suggestions and precautions for when using Skype.

Pen Pals

Pen pals is a create activity for a class. It may seem old-fashioned in this age of endless electronic communication, but there is something magical about getting real mail from somewhere else in the world. To keep things more current, there is also the option of electronic email pen pals.

Here are resources for those who would like to set up a pen pal exchange with students from other places.

How do you incorporate activities into your classroom that go beyond the school walls? Share with us in the comments section!