Two teachers combine classrooms linked by technology – and a common goal.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rachel Thomas and Steven Lamb

CREDIT THomas and Lamb CollabGenius.jpg

Inspiration or pure insanity. These are the only possible reasons why “Virtual Team Teaching” is successful within an elementary school setting. What is this technology teaching thing? A new curriculum? A professional development book? Essentially, it is two teachers who have combined two classrooms, at two different schools to create one virtual, collaborative environment. Our initial intentions were basic; we wanted students to share information and get to know one another using video. From there, it progressed to students educating each other about topics they were studying in class. Finally, it evolved into an inexplicable entity we never expected.

Not only had it become a student-centered pedagogy, but a student created pedagogy.

Our students began connecting and learning in ways we couldn’t have imagined when we started. Take one of our favorite collaborative moments centered on an integrated health unit: our students were communicating over a video conferencing tool while simultaneously working on a shared cloud document. These elementary-age children were working on a spreadsheet, interpreting data, learning word processing skills, collaborating, and discussing information while carrying themselves with poise, respect, and confidence. They had the opportunity to redefine and shape themselves while learning about different peers, different experiences, and different cultures. They embodied the art of meaningful, productive communication. Perhaps the experience is best described by our students: “This has changed our learning so much that we feel like we are now the teachers. We have a different point of view.”

With more teachers involved, the possibilities are limitless for what this style of teaching can accomplish.

With more teachers involved, the possibilities are limitless for what this style of teaching can accomplish.

This week, follow along as we showcase our collaboration through the @PBS.Teachers Instagram page. We’ll offer a look at how we set up our classrooms, share a few of our favorite activities for building digital citizenship, and highlight the tools that keep us connected all year long. Come take a peek inside our classrooms on @PBS.Teachers.

Ready to start collaborating with other educators? Here are our top three suggestions as you venture into the world of redefined digital collaboration:

TouchCast. Smart video, which is exactly what it sounds like. Record videos with interactive features. The sky is the limit when considering the lessons that you can put together for your students, or even better, the videos your students can create themselves.

Quick collaboration tip: Have students create ‘get to know me’ videos using vApps.

Zoom. Our “go-to” for teleconferencing. Zoom allows you to record sessions, share your screen, annotate, invite multiple attendees (including parents), and much more. Access this tool by invite code (or email invite) only.

Quick collaboration tip: When conferencing with another class, always begin with basic introductions. It helps participants gain some added familiarity and comfort with the teleconferencing environment.

Nearpod. Customizable, interactive, mobile presentations. Nearpod includes mind-blowing features such as 3D diagrams, VR field trips, videos, audio files, open response questions, polls, quizzes, a draw feature, collaborate boards, fill-in-the-blanks, standar-aligned lessons, and more.

Quick collaboration tip: Why control one classroom, when you can control two with over 40 students?! Design lessons to engage two different classrooms from two different locations.

That’s it for now! We hope you explore these suggestions and make great use of them as you continue to engage your students and put them in command of their learning experiences. Want to start collaborating with us or others? Find us on Twitter @collabgenius and share your own cool tools, experiences and success.

Rachel Thomas and Steven Lamb are co-creators, PBS Digital Innovators, and connected educators using a teaching method known as Virtual Team Teaching (VTT), allowing students to share with and learn from peers across their own city, and as far afield as Jamaican high school students and Malaysian college students. Follow @collabgenius

  • Mark Gura


    Thanks for this dose of inspiration! What jumps off the page at me is how the students must be veritably immersed in an all encompassing environment of intellectual excitement and rigor… whatever the specific focus/challenge may be, it is but a mere part of the rich body of learning possibilities.. many of which stem from simply understanding and keeping up with what’s transpiring and rising to the occasion of following, explaining, and taking it all a step further… continually. One doesn’t read often about the value of simply setting up an exciting, enticing learning environment and scenario, but this article indicates that there is so much value to be had this way!

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