Monday, June 16, 2014

Oh, The Places We Will Go with Google’s Connected Classrooms!

What if you could take your students on unlimited field trips?  What if your class could visit Antarctica or speak with a NASA astronaut? With Google’s Connected Classrooms, this is now absolutely possible.
In recent years, Google has taken their video calling service, known as Hangouts, to a whole new level by introducing the ability to broadcast a live recording of it. These Hangouts on Air allowed anyone to create broadcasts on the Internet for free. Then, Google stepped up their game by launching a new educational outreach program called Connected Classrooms, in which students around the world can participate in virtual field trips via Hangouts on Air.
During every Connected Classrooms event, a few classes are invited into a special Hangout on Air where students can ask questions and interact directly with experts and distinguished guests. Other classrooms can follow along by viewing the live broadcast, submitting questions in the Q & A feature of Hangouts, or by accessing an archived recording at their leisure.
By partnering up with educational institutions, non-profit organizations, businesses, and famous individuals, Google has created a fantastic program that will bring the world into your classroom. Below are some places where students have ‘been:’
  • Seattle Aquarium – Classrooms everywhere were treated to a free field trip to the Seattle Aquarium’s Window on Washington Waters exhibit where a scuba diver in the tank took live questions from the audience and broadcasted this interchange to the world.
  • Above the Arctic Circle – This hangout started above the Arctic Circle in Alaska and ended in Berkeley Lab in California. Students learned “how and why scientists study permafrost to better understand the vulnerable Arctic ecosystem — and what may happen to it as the climate changes.”
  • Dogsledding Through Google Glass – Dave Freeman, a wilderness explorer and dogsled guide from the Northern tundra of Minnesota, took students on a “ride” on his dogsled. Students were able to experience this unique trip through the wilderness from his Google Glass perspective.
Those adventures sound amazing, don’t they? After learning about Connected Classrooms, I couldn’t wait for my class to participate. When when our turn came, I couldn’t have been more ecstatic.
To commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Connected Classrooms partnered up with Peace Jam, and they invited three classes to speak with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee. My students and I couldn’t believe our luck. Then, a couple of weeks later, we received another special invitation. The White House, in partnership with Connected Classrooms, was looking for one middle school class to speak with Education Secretary Duncan. I am proud to say that my students conducted themselves with poise and maturity as they presented their questions to these distinguished guests.
Google+ Hangout with Education Secretary Duncan
All my students were absolutely thrilled to have been given the opportunity to participate in these two wonderful Connected Classrooms events. Not only did they learn from the wisdom of our special speakers, they also learned how to conduct themselves professionally in front of a live camera. The students who presented their questions practiced their public speaking skills in an authentic environment. They also became the superstars at our school that day and were the subject of their classmates’ envy. What student doesn’t want that?

To participate in a Connected Classrooms event, you will need to join the Connected Classrooms Community on Google+. By joining this community, you are also tapping into a global network of educators which was never possible before. Are you teaching Spanish and want your class to chat with other classrooms in Spanish-speaking countries? Are you teaching social studies and want your students to actually talk to their peers who live in the country you are studying?  Connected Classrooms is the place to find these contacts. Feel free to reach out to the other educators in this community. Everyone is very welcoming and quick to respond, and I’ve witnessed many fantastic connections formed through this community.
Join the Google+ Connected Classrooms Community if you haven’t already. I look forward to interacting with you there!
This post originally appeared on the CUE Blog on June 10, 2014.