By Tara Cavanaugh
For the past ten weeks, 20 Mitchell elementary third graders have spent extra time after school in a writing-intervention class.
But the class didn’t feel like work. Instead, it was an opportunity to make a new friend in New Zealand.
The kids used Edmodo, an educational social media website, to write back and forth with another third grade class in Hamilton, New Zealand. The class, called the “Digital Dialogue Cultural Exchange,” provided students with a meaningful writing opportunity and a way to develop technology skills.
“For most of our kids, this is the first time they’ve had a friendship with someone who is in a different part of the world,” said third grade teacher Beth McCready, who co-taught the program this year with media specialist Anne Reader.
Students completed several writing and technology-related projects, such as showing a day in their lives, showing what they treasured, and interviewing a family member.
In order to complete the projects, students learned how to use digital cameras, attach files to a blog, and use Keynote (the Mac version of PowerPoint).
“My favorite thing is the excitement the kids have in learning about culture, and how much they grow, because they care about what they’re doing,” McCready said.
Before the class began, Reader taught all third graders how to use Edmodo. “We have such a short period of time after school, so this way we didn’t have to teach as many technology skills, we could focus on the writing,” Reader said.
This is the second year McCready has done this writing intervention class. She connected to the school in New Zealand with the help of Cathy Reischl, a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan who leads the U-M Mitchell Scarlett Partnership.
The writing intervention class is connected to the school’s improvement plan, pointed out Mitchell Principal Kevin Karr.
The school holds extended-day intervention classes in science and math, and also holds extended-year intervention classes in the summer in reading, writing and math.
“This program is a way for kids to get additional help,” Karr said. “None of the students thinks about this class as just staying longer at school. They all love it.”
Students showed off what they learned about New Zealand and were given certificates at a celebration at Mitchell on May 13. Although the students learned they had much in common with the Kiwi children, they did come across some surprises: There are no kangaroos in New Zealand, and the children always attend recess barefoot.
“It was a very special thing to do for her with friends from school and across the grade,” said parent Christina Sears-Etters.
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