Google Hangouts

In effort to show teachers and students the power of connecting with other classes (in a different building/district), I set up a series of Google Hangouts between fifth grade classes. It’s been a learning experience.

We started our first Hangout as part of The Global Read Aloud, since Alexander Doniphan was participating school-wide. After tweeting that we were looking to connect with another class, a fifth grade class in the neighboring district responded.

After numerous e-mails back and forth with the fifth grade teacher, we had our first Google Hangout set up. The teacher and I did a trial run without students just to make sure we were able to connect via Hangout. Our main goal for our first Hangout with students was to learn as we go.

I chose the “On Air” option for the Google Hangout so it would automatically document our experience by saving it as a YouTube video:

It was obvious our students needed work on coming up with more questions to ask each other, but students loved it.

It typically takes more than once to do something well, though, so we decided to try again. This time we had quite a bit of trouble connecting. I set up a Google Event page, but the other class couldn’t connect with us through the Event page. Since they started the second Hangout by calling us directly, it wasn’t steamed “On Air” and our experience wasn’t captured in a YouTube video.

My goal of our third Hangout was to connect more than just two classes to discuss read aloud books. We faced scheduling issues, including a conflict with the original class that we connected with for the first two Hangouts, and ended up only having two classes again. It was still great to connect with a new class (another school in the district), and a few other classes chose to watch the Hangout On Air.

I’ve come to discover it’s not easy for students to naturally have conversations through video, and making authentic connections sometimes takes quite a bit of planning.

Although I had hoped classes would participate in the Hangout rather than watch the broadcast, some teachers understandably felt more comfortable just watching the live stream. Once students saw the Hangout though, they wanted to participate and have the ability to talk to the other class(es). Their teacher asked if I knew anyone that had read Wonder or The Girl Who Could Fly? This led to our fourth Hangout since I knew quite a few classes that have read Wonder.

I talked a fifth grade teacher from Liberty Oaks into having her class participate and started promoting the Hangout via e-mail and Twitter. Side note about promotion: It always helps when the author retweets you.

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And this time we had discussion questions prepared that were shared on the Google Event page. Fortunately, R.J. Palacio has published questions to discuss on her website that we used/modified. That helped, although we’re still working through technical difficulties as well as developing students’ communication skills.

As I stated previously, this is a learning experience. We’re encountering issues and trying to learn from them. One of the classes that joined the latest Hangout had some audio issues and had to watch rather than participate. I’m still figuring out how to help guide students to have meaningful dialogue. This seems to be the biggest challenge.

Despite any challenges and road bumps, I am excited to continue utilizing different approaches to effectively engage and connect students in collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.5.1).

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