Distance Learning Mixers

Linda McConville, E. P. Clarke Elementary, St. Joseph, emailed me this morning with a great question for her Voices of the Twin Cities project. “Do you know of any good distance learning or videoconference mixers?” Which reminded me of the training we did in early 2000 at the beginning of our distance learning training. Shirley Freed, Andrews University, did some of the training for us and I remember doing some creative things across a multipoint connection. Here’s what I found in my investigation.

Quick Introductions
Some of these would be really fun to do jumping between the two sites, each having two students share at a time.

  1. Participants give their name and a word to describe themselves, making an alliteration. e.g. Super Sally.
  2. Participants introduce someone else giving their name and something unique about that person.
  3. Participants give one-two word descriptions of what they expect from the class.
  4. Participants give one word explaining how they feel about the content or process or how they want to be remembered.
  5. You can increase the level of engagement for #4 and #5 by asking the participants to give the word in alphabetical order – fast! e.g. ambivalent, bogged-down, confused, dangerous, etc. And sometimes start at different places in the alphabet.

Here’s another list of introductions.
These might be longer and some are better for adults than fourth graders. But with a long partnership between classes such as this project requires, it might be worth having a few students share their answer to one of these questions for each connection.

  1. What is your favorite place in the whole world? Why?
  2. Where do you go to “re-energize” yourself? What makes it revitalizing?
  3. Think back to kindergarten. In what ways are you still the same? How have you changed?
  4. What is the story behind your name? How did you get your name? Have you ever had a nickname? What was it? Did you like it? What name would you have chosen?
  5. Have you ever been in danger? Did you know it at the time? How did you survive the situation?
  6. Think back to special celebrations in your early childhood. Which celebration is particularly memorable? What made it so special?
  7. Who is your all-time favorite teacher? Why?
  8. What was your favorite toy or activity as a kid?
  9. What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever done?
  10. What has been the proudest moment in your life? What lead up to that moment?
  11. Who is someone you trust? What did that person do to win your trust?
  12. What is your favorite holiday? Why?
  13. What are three of your all-time favorite songs? What makes those songs personally significant?
  14. What is the most frustrating experience that you have had with a computer? What is the best discovery you’ve made with a computer?
  15. Who is your favorite hero or heroine? What qualities do you admire in that person (or character)?
  16. What leader do you most admire? Why?
  17. What would you look for in a “best friend?”
  18. Who in history would you most like to meet? Why? What would you like to ask that person?
  19. If you could visit or live anywhere (besides here), where would it be? Why?
  20. If you could witness (or take part in) any event in history, what would it be? Why?
  21. If you could change one event in history, what would it be?
  22. Do you believe in “love at first sight?” What makes you believe or disbelieve?
  23. Can money buy success (or happiness)? Explain your rationale.
  24. What would you do with one hundred dollars?
  25. If you could go “back to the future,” where would you go? What time period would you choose? What social changes would you make?

Icebreakers for Teachers
Then I did a Google search for ideas. Icebreakers for Teachers has some great ideas. Here’s how a few could be adapted for videoconferencing between two classes.

  • The Venn Diagram idea could be done as a Venn diagram between the two classes. Only one of the classes would need a document camera to do this activity. Students from both sides could brainstorm what could go in the Venn diagram.
  • The Data Processing idea would be fun with most groups made up of local students, but one group has 5 students from each site & then the students work together over VC. I think it could be loud and noisy but would be fun to try and see if it worked. If you did it several times, the groups could be rotated so that each student got a chance to work with a group via VC.
  • The Who Am I would be fun with the other site helping the student figure out the name on their back. You’d need a really big sticky note. The challenge with this one is that some students would be watching. If you rotated students fast enough and only did it for 5 min. or less, they might find it interesting enough to watch. This one would need an experiment to see if it worked.

Post-It Note Answers
Another great idea comes from Carol Fleck and Kim Perry, two teachers team-teaching via videoconference in Ohio. Students can write answers to a question on Post-It notes and then everyone brings the answer up quickly to a paper with a grid under the document camera. Then both classes can see everyone’s answers very quickly and easily.

More Icebreakers
These ideas are from a training document [PDF] the University of Tasmania, Australia.

  • Knowing each other’’s names is the most common way of introducing a group of last. The first student says their own name, the next student repeats that name and adds their own and so on. While it may seem silly the benefits are that students do get to know a few names, they laugh, this breaks the ice and they are enabled to talk to each other when it matters later on. This would be good to do alternating between the two classes as well.
  • A more structured activity is to ask students to pair up and to interview each other for about 3 to 4 minutes and then swap. Suggest that they take notes. Each student introduces their partner to the group. Students can find this less intimidating than introducing themselves. Students would introduce their partner to the class at the other site.

As I’m writing this up, these would be great to use for Read Across America connections and other short term videoconference projects as well.

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