There are few words that fall as beautifully off my students’ lips the way “Wisconsin” does.
A couple of weeks ago, I began preparing them for the exciting opportunity that Pernille Ripp and I are coordinating for our students. She and I are planning to link our classes up as a way for them to learn about two vastly different communities: suburban Madison, Wisconsin and Queens, New York.
There’s little that is novel to our plan, other than the fact that I’ve never done anything quite like it in my education career, nor have my students in theirs’. While Pernille and I share mutual excitement about the possibilities this presents for our students, I, personally, maintain some worries over how it will all play out.
The first concern I had when Pernille and I Skyped about this was the fact that my kids have very little concept of their own community, let alone the fact that it exists as one of thousands across the country. I knew they didn’t know they lived in a neighborhood which was part of a bigger borough which was part of a state which was part of a country. It’s a very hard thing to conceptualize. Pernille presented it as a teaching opportunity (duh! Why didn’t I think of that?) So, since then, we’ve spent time talking about the various levels of where we live and have checked ourselves out on Google Earth, enabling the kids to see there is a bigger picture to our world than their house, the park, and school.
To her credit, Pernille has been exceptionally receptive to tailoring this thing to the needs of my kids. I asked that the videos they are preparing have subtitles using words on the K-2 list, and she said “Absolutely.” I remarked that all my students are native Spanish speakers, and she said it’d be a great opportunity for her ELLs to step out and shine. I hemmed and hawed about saying I was worried how her kids might perceive mine, and she gave me ways we could both take measures to make everyone on both sides feel comfortable.
Our plan is for Pernille’s class to send us a video of their community, from which we can formulate some questions to be asked when we hook the classes up on Skype. There’s been talk about a cross-country food exchange so each class can nibble on something the others’ state is known for (What does it cost to send a couple dozen bagels to Wisconsin, anyway? Is pizza on dry ice an option?) With each conversation Pernille and I have, more anxieties are lifted and more excitement builds.
My kids now know there is a place called “Wisconsin,” and, wouldn’t you know it, it has three words in it – “is,” “on,” and “in” – to help them chunk it into something they can read. They know there’s a class on the other side of the SMART Board waiting to meet them. They know that they can share information about their own community.
More and more, I know it’s going to be a wonderful experience for everyone involved. Speaking for my entire class, it’s safe to say, “We can’t wait to meet you, Mrs. Ripp’s class!”
Pernille Ripp is a 4th grade teacher in Wisconsin. She blogs at Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension and has 2,173 followers on Twitter. I am happy to be one of the ones who gets to learn with and from her.