Understanding the Connected Classroom

Understanding the Connected Classroom

What is a Connected Classroom?

A connected classroom is a learning environment that is open to the outside world. It’s where students are engaged in real-life authentic learning starting in their own classroom and extends to reach other global learners.

Why should our classrooms be connected?

When we think about redefining learning (especially if we’re using SAMR as a lens to ensure that the use of technology is not just for technology’s sake) then we must think about what can our students do that wasn’t possible before without the technology.  Connecting with others outside the wall of the classroom or providing a window into the classroom is something that’s not possible without technology.  The increased scope of learning, the harnessing of an authentic audience and the ability to share and get feedback on student work were the driving reasons behind my reasons for having a connected classroom. In Grade 3, my students were studying Rocks & Minerals for Science. We were able to skype an expert (a student’s grandfather who just happened to be a Geologist).  I cannot describe the fascination, the attention and the learning that was facilitated by having a conversation with an actual geologist who showed us his tools, shared what it was like to be a geologist and also showed us some of his most memorable finds!

How can we connect our classrooms?

There are many ways we can connect our classrooms. Here’s three easy ways to create an environment that is open to the outside world and engages students in real-life authentic learning that can extend to reach other global learners.

Video Conferencing

Use skype, google hangouts or facetime to connect, share and learn from others outside the walls of the classroom. There’s a variety of different reasons or times of the year to connect with others globally.
Ideas to try

Sam the Kiwi (Class Mascot) Adventurer Extraordinaire!

  • Celebrations
    • Science Week
    • Coding Challenge
    • Christmas Tradition comparisons
  • Expert Encounters
    • Guest expert
    • Author Study
    • Mystery Skype for geography/cultural purposes
  • Shared Units of Study
    • Weather study/comparison
    • Seasons
    • Environmental studies
  • Authentic Collaboration Projects
Sometimes timezones can hamper global connections. Tools like VoiceThread can help. We were able to connect and share some Christmas Traditions with a class in Tasmania this way.


Blogs can be a “window into your class” – an authentic, relevant way to connect to others beyond the four walls of the classroom. To help get started, check out 10 tips for Connecting Students Through Blogging. Blogs can be used to
  • Share learning
  • Have an Authentic Audience
  • Get Peer Feedback
  • build ePortfolios
  • Communicate with Parents
Ideas to try
  • Start with a class blog and build content together
  • Use blogs as ePortfolios to show learning over time
  • Connect between school and home

Use Social Media

Social media tools can be used to
  • share learning
  • participate in global conversations
  • ask questions / get answers
  • connect with experts, authors, other cultures
  • back channel
  • expose students to different perspectives
Ideas to try
  • share learning visually with a class instagram account
  • create a class twitter account to globally connect with others
  • start a class facebook page to connect/share with parents

Tips for Success

  • It takes time to grow connections but it really is worth the effort
  • Be willing to take risks (be prepared to fail)
  • Be adaptable & flexible and have a sense of humour!
  • If you’re just starting out, start small – skype in an expert/guest speaker or your friend’s class from another school in your area, district or perhaps another country
  • Check out Getting Started with Mystery Skype or Authors who Skype with Classes for Free

Ways to Involve Students More

Use roles during video conferencing
  • photographer (responsible for taking photographs during the call)
  • documentor (responsible for writing down the memorable parts of the call)
  • videographer (responsible for video recording the event)
  • Skype Tips (including a list of potential roles for students)
Have a Class Blog
  • Student Writer of the Week (responsible for writing a summary post or a daily post for the class)
  • Blog Photographer (responsible for documenting learning each day)
  • Commenting on a class blog post could be a writing homework option
  • Blogger of the Week – use when each student has their own blog
Use a Class Social Media Account
  • The whole class helps write a summary of the day’s learning in 140 characters for twitter OR
  • A small group of writers during writing time collaborate for 10-15m on a class daily tweet
  • Social Media update – to help provide a window into the classroom, a student writes a morning and an afternoon twitter, instagram, facebook update each day
  • Instagram Photographer of the day – has to post 4-5 images of learning to the class instagram account
  • Facebook Post writer – writes a learning post/summary of the day’s learning am/pm (also uses the class photographer’s images)
Depending on how old your students are, you may wish to have the posts/updates have teacher approval before they are published. With younger students, updates could be orally told to an adult or written out on paper and approved by the teacher first. Questions? Comments? What are your thoughts? Have I missed anything?  Would you like to share your ideas?  I’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment! Over at Eduro Learning we’re excited about launching our brand new Microcredentials range. To celebrate we have  a PDF freebie to give away.  This week’s PDF is a visual poster 3 Simple Ways to Create a Connected Classroom.  You will need to give us your email (even if you’ve given it to us before). Don’t worry we promise  won’t spam you crazy – it’s just so we know what products our audience is enjoying/finding useful so we can tailor future ones!  
All images my own or purchased via Adobe Stock unless otherwise stated
I have Technology-Rich Classroom – Now What?

I have Technology-Rich Classroom – Now What?

Simple, clear procedures have always worked for me for any kind of classroom management. Whether it be a technology-rich classroom filled with laptops (or whatever other devices you may have) or a classroom with hardly any technology. A classroom with access to many devices might feel overwhelming especially when that kind of environment is new for you. Below I share five simple tips that have worked for me over the years. However, it’s like anything. These take time. They need to be modelled and revisited during the year to ensure the smooth operation of learning continues in the classroom whether the devices are in use or not!

5 Simple Tips for Managing a Technology-Rich Classroom

Set Clear Expectations

Our Classroom Expectations that we make together at the start of the year and agree to as a class, work just as well online as offline. We’re respectful. We listen and take turns. We try new things and we have fun and so on. The expectation is that these apply even when we use technology (it’s just another tool right?) There’s some slight tweaks on those expectations that are needed every now and again. For example, when I need everyone’s full attention. Lids are at 45 if we’re on the laptops. When we take turns sharing a laptop or ipad, one person is the “driver” (the driving the mouse/trackpad or touching the screen) and the other is the “navigator” (keeping an eye on the time, managing what needs to be done next). Then we swap because we share and take turns. In a high school class I watched a colleague use the “phone stack” expectation. She wanted her students to be able to use smart phones in class. Her expectation was that when they weren’t needed,  they were stacked at the edge of the grouped tables, face-down. In addition to that expectation, she had 2 minute “tech-breaks” on the hour in place. Not a break from tech, but “a break to check your tech”. Her students knew that they’d get a chance to check their phones and/or social media etc. This had a huge impact on her students. They stayed focused and on task simply because they knew they would get the chance to “look at their phones” without having to take sneak peaks!

And Establish Consequences

In addition to establishing expectations, you may also want to ensure that you lay out consequences for violating any expectations. This can be loss of technology privilege, a note home, confiscation of the device, or a meeting with the principal. Or it can be whatever else you decide is necessary in order to ensure that everyone understands what is expected of them and the natural consequences of not complying with them. Do consider designing those consequences together with your students. It’s much more powerful. Students are more likely to avoid the consequences when they’ve been a part of deciding what those consequences are! Plus I find they are usually way more harsher than me so we are able to find a happy medium!

Engage the Learners

We all know that our lessons should be engaging and need to have students to staying on task at a steady pace in order to complete them.  Helping students to stay engaged can include playing to their passions, setting firm due dates for a task, differentiating and/or scaling the task for students who finish slower and/or faster. I know that my students become bored when the tasks aren’t authentic, meaningful, engaging or challenging. Differentiation, motivation and engagement are all made easier thanks to the technology devices we have access to. I like using the Socrative app with my students to help keep them focused on a particular task. At the same time it provides me with meaningful assessment that helps guide me in moving their learning forward. Exit-tickets (something they must complete before leaving) is a great way to do this. You don’t have to use Socrative. You could use Google Forms or ThatQuiz (math). When I’m looking at various tech tools to use in the classroom, one of my criteria for evaluation of that tool is whether it has the ability to differentiate. (See Right Tool for the Task below).

Silly First, Serious Second

Even 6th graders (or older) can benefit from this! Whenever a new tool, app, piece of software, or device is introduced we have a “sandpit” time. I let kids have a play, figure out what it does and do the silly stuff with it. I do have a time limit (adjustable for various age levels and based on “knowing” your class).  Another tip is to explicitly state when the “Silly First” time is over. When we first started using the commenting feature of google docs, I gave my students 3 minutes to say hello and type random letters (which 3rd graders have a tendency to do). If we are learning to use a new app on the iPad like DoodleCast Pro (a fav of mine!) or Educreations Interactive Whiteboard App I will actively encourage my students to make one silly recording before they delve into the task. I believe this helps “get the silly-ness out” and creates a fun learning time.  It doesn’t always stop it from occurring – but that’s usually a deeper issue! Most of the problems of using new technology arise from the novelty or newness of the device and/or app/program. If we let students get past the initial excitement they are more likely to be focused on the “serious” learning task.

Go “Walk-About”

Something I’m always asked about is what I do about the inappropriate use of technology (phones, tablets, and/or laptops) in my classroom. Go walk-about is an aboriginal term meaning “highly mobile” and it immediately spring to mind when I’m asked about this topic. Sometimes people don’t like what I reply. In my own personal experience, the best way to ensure that students stay on task is to walk around the room. Look at the work they are doing. Discuss and engage with them about their progress. The more active and mobile you are in the classroom, the easier it is to ensure that your students are on working on what they should be. If you notice that children are quickly closing browsers windows when you come near or “double tapping” the home button on their iPad (that’s a clear sign that they’re switching apps) then you need take some time to investigate what the student is doing and have a discussion with them if necessary. (Refer to Expectations at the top.)  I wrote How Do You Manage IT? a few years ago. If you’ve got time, you might like to check out my 10 top tips for managing technology in your classroom.

Right Tool for the Task

Even though I’m considered to be the “techie teacher with the techie classroom”, we don’t use technology ALL the time! If pen and paper is the “right” tool for the task, then that’s what you’ll find us using. Sometimes it is not appropriate to use technology for a task or activity. We try to avoid using the technology for the sake of using the technology unless the purpose is either to motive or engage. This blog post (from Beth Holland & Shawn McCusker) When to Put the Tech Away in a 1:1 Classroom is a worthwhile read. I found myself nodding in agreement with these particular words …
The trick is to never let technology erode the relationships in your classroom.

Bonus Tip! Build Good Relationships

Nothing takes the place of having good relationships with your students. I’ve always run into issues when I haven’t managed to build a relationship with a student. However classroom management is definitely an ever-changing process because what works one year, might not work the following year. (I have a story to share about that, but I’ll save it for another post later!)

My Advice

Find what works for you and with what students. I have had classes that were easier to keep on task than others; students that have been more easily distracted than their peers; and even a class that really wasn’t into using technology and devices like previous classes (that’s also another post to share later!). I’ll also freely admit that there’s been those lessons that have totally bombed with technology. [Insert throwing hands up in the air and shouting Wahoo F.A.I.L! – First Attempt In Learning]. But that’s ok – it’s all about the learning (mine in those cases!)

Please Share!

What are your go-to strategies for managing a classroom with many devices? Favourite tips? I’d love to hear from you!   Image Attribution: I tried really hard to find out who owns this image so if anyone knows can you please let me know so I can give them credit!