Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

Elementary School Classes Plan to Read Across America with Google Hangouts

on February 18, 2014
Students around the country plan to read together on Google Hangouts during Read Across America week. Shutterstock.com

Elementary school classes in Wisconsin are planning to read with students from every state next month.

During Read Across America week, March 3-7, Hemlock Creek and Westwood elementary schools will host Google Hangouts with classes from other states so they can read their favorite books to each other. They'll also talk about their states.

"We've been trying so hard in the last couple of years to encourage our teachers to look outside our classroom walls and give the kids an experience — get them out of our little quaint town of De Pere and show them the world in a different way," said Jennifer Zurawski, library media instructional tech specialist for the West De Pere School District.

The seed for this idea started earlier this school year when the district provided professional development for staff through Google Hangouts, which allows people to see and hear each other through video-conferencing technology. The district brought in a Google certified teacher from Iowa to do a session on how Hangouts can be used in the classroom, and Zurawski's wheels started to turn.

She began using Google Hangouts to host book talks with classrooms at each grade level in the district's two elementary schools. During these talks, students shared information about some of their favorite books and interacted with Zurawski over the video-conferencing platform.

How to participate

Classes interested in joining a live Hangout can sign up on the district's Read Across America site. Any grade level class can participate, though the district is ideally looking for elementary school classes. As of Feb. 18, the project still needs classes from these 14 states:

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming
To watch the Read Across America Hangouts after they're done, visit the district's event site, where the archived YouTube videos will be linked on ThingLink. 

The book talks got one teacher thinking about how she could extend this learning experience outside of her school. Jennifer Ruechel, a first grade teacher at Hemlock Creek Elementary School, approached Zurawski with an idea to read with other first-grade classes.

"We don't like to stop at anything small in West De Pere," Ruechel said. "We go big or go home."

And the school district decided to go even bigger than Ruechel had imagined. Zurawski set a goal of having the classes in the two elementary schools read books with a classroom in every state. Students from any grade can participate, though ideally she's looking for elementary school classes. Zurawski created a planning document, spread the word on social media and has seen classrooms in 36 states sign up as of Feb. 18.

"I kind of came up with this idea, and I thought, I'm just going to take it and run with it and pray that this is going to work," Zurawski said. "I have really just relied on social media, and I'm so amazed at the power of social media right now."

With this effort, she hopes to show the elementary school educators that many other teachers want to collaborate. One of teachers' greatest concerns is that they don't know how to find others to collaborate with. But armed with the spreadsheet of educators who've signed up for this project, they will have a place to start collaborating on other initiatives down the road.

For the students in her class, Ruechel wants to show them that they can move from classroom to classroom without leaving the room to see what kids in other states are doing. It's been a long winter for these Wisconsin students as they've had to stay inside for weeks on end, and she hopes this project will keep them interested in reading, writing and learning. She also hopes the experience of reading with students in other states sticks with them long after they finish this school year.

"I think that's the biggest thing," Ruechel said. "When they leave us, what do they remember from being in first grade? I hope they remember, that 'Oh, I read with a kid from New York,' or 'I read with a girl who was in California.'"


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Tanya Roscorla

Tanya Roscorla covers education technology in the classroom, behind the scenes and on the legislative agenda. Likes: Experimenting in the kitchen, cooking up cool crafts, reading good books.

E-mail: troscorla@centerdigitaled.com
Twitter: twitter.com/reportertanya
Google+: Gplus.to/reportertanya

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