Holocaust Education via @langwitches & Group Skype

This week, the Idea Hive experienced a significant “first”:  a shared read aloud of The Book Thief using Skype, backchannel chat, and Linoit, a virtual bulletin board.   In previous posts, Clarence shared the beauty of this story, and the pre-reading activities leading up to the book, designed to develop students’ knowledge of Germany in WW II.  In the Hive Thinking classroom, students collaborated to produce research summaries of various topics including Hitler Youth, Jesse Owens, Hitler, Kristallnacht, and the Holocaust.

Following this step, students viewed a video created by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, Kristallnacht- Night of the Broken Glass.  While viewing images, including many of her Jewish grandparents in Germany, Silvia narrates her family’s story surrounding that horrific night on November 9, 1938, when Hitler showed the world his plans for the Jewish community. Please take the 9 min. needed to view her story.  I assure you it will be worth it.

The next day, the Idea Hive students met via Skype to share questions they planned to ask Silvia in a follow-up group video call, a new Skype feature.  During that group video call, it was incredible to watch students in Ontario and Manitoba listen and interact with Silvia as she spoke to us all from Florida.  This call allowed our students to experience together, the emotions shared by Silvia, as she answered their questions.  Silvia helped students learn how similar behaviours are mirrored today in social media sites such as Facebook.  Students connected, as they learned together in an authentic environment.  One of my student’s parents shared the impact this experience had on her daughter.  “When she came home, she talked and talked about the Holocaust.  She cried.”


After the call, I asked my students to share their thoughts on how Skype affects their learning.

When we Skyped with Silvia, what happens years ago, makes more sense. She told us way more than I’d read in a textbook. She made me put myself in Germany during the night of broken glass.

When you’re talking to someone on a Skype call, with people around the world telling their story, you realize how really brave they are, like Silvia. They inspire us to share more of our experiences.  Brad P.

Skyping helps us learn. When our class Skyped with Silvia Rosenthal, she told us more information about the holocaust and WWII than a textbook would have told us. This makes it exciting for us because we can see her expressions and it makes it more real.  We can feel her emotion.

In order for this to work, there must be preparation involved so you have a reason to Skype. Preparing for a Skype call is just as important as studying for a test or practicing a speech for your History project. We prepare because it helps us present the information the way we want it to sound. We also prepare so there is a serious conversation, and so we don’t stumble over words as we are speaking to our audience. Ethan J.

During the Skype call, the students are very quiet and involved.  We are very interested with the call because we are not just reading a boring old textbook.  We are hearing somebody’s story. When we had a Skype call with Silvia on Monday, we got into it, asking questions that we’d previously planned.  And we all know you cannot ask a textbook questions!  If you have access to this technology, why not use it?!  Alyssa H.

The group Skype feature enables our students to share powerful, emotional learning experiences together.  It’s another step in our year-long goal of creating a community of learners in the Idea Hive.

Creating Connections in the Idea Hive Classroom

The collaborative project with Clarence Fisher’s class from J.H.Kerr Public School in Snow Lake, Manitoba, is heading into its 7th week.  The connections have begun.  During the first week of school, using Google Forms, both classes from the Idea Hive completed a survey about their personal interests.  Last year, I created this survey as a way of getting to know my students; this year the Idea Hive students used it for the same purpose.  Once the survey was complete, all students had access to the results once the spreadsheet was “shared”.  After reading the results, looking for similarities and differences, each student wrote their first blog post.  Even though we’re 2 700 km apart, they were surprised with the results.

I have more in common with the Idea Hive then I thought!  Alyssa H.

During the next-step Skype call, we had an Idea Hive class discussion about commenting, highlighting how to continue the conversation.  In order to make sure every student received a comment on their blog from the opposite school, we assigned everyone the names of at least two students. Students were also encouraged to connect to any and all student in the Idea Hive.

Relationships are stronger when you can put a face to a name, and so the Flickr photo contest began.  Wearing the Idea Hive button, students posted pictures of themselves on the Idea Hive Flickr site.  Not only did students now know what each other looked like, but they also could see students in their respective communities, hanging out at the beach, cleaning horse stalls, outside the mining museum or in the soybean field. Students loved checking out the site to see who had posted – “Hey, she has the same shoes on as me!”.  Everyday lives, creating more connections.  The kids were thrilled to get coverage of the story in the local newspaper.

In preparation for Meet-the-Teacher night, I created this bulletin board to inform parents about the Idea Hive, and introduce them to their child’s new classmates from Snow Lake.  Parents also got to learn who the “other” grade 7/8 teacher is!

During our planning in the days before school started, Clarence had introduced me to the online book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined.  I loved working through this book for many reasons.  Rather than being filled with stories of how dangerous the web can be, it paints a picture of a beautiful community.  The web is a place where humans can share common interests with others; a place showing humans at their best.  During the classroom activities, students provided insight into how they use the web.  Following the reading, Clarence suggested all students create a piece of art based on the book.  Visual art is not my strength, so there was some discomfort from my end, knowing I was likely not going to be able to provide much guidance for my students.  But the kids didn’t need me; most loved the  freedom given to create their interpretation of the book’s message.

The thing I liked about my art work is that it was fun to make because I usually don’t do this kind of art at home or at school. Justin S.

Once the was blogs were posted, it was clear that Clarence and I had directed our students slightly differently.  While Clarence’s students focused on key words and their use of the web, my kids wrote about the theme of the book, and how they demonstrated this in their art.  They reflected on their work – what they liked, what they would change.  Since report cards comments were due in two weeks, I needed some reflective feedback from my students.  Working collaboratively challenges teachers who face different deadlines to creatively adapt projects to meet reporting requirements.  From the students’ perspective, they weren’t concerned with the difference; they were excited to have another opportunity to continue learning more about their new friends.

I am happy that you get to see what we did and  I’m looking forward to what you guys did. I  hope you guys are excited to see our stuff.   Cassidy

As this second set of comments are being written, it’s clear from the students’ questions that the connections are firmly in place. “When can I do a project with one of them as my partner?” and “Can I ask them to friend me on Facebook?”

Clearly they’re ready for our next steps which include a shared read aloud and a collaborative mapping assignment.  They’re having fun, they’re growing as a community of learners.  One of the Idea Hive students said it best….

The Internet brings us together ….isn’t technology amazing?  We are really not that different.  We both go to school so why doesn’t every class do this?  Avery B.


This year, the first week back to school has been filled with many “firsts” as my classroom in southwestern Ontario begins a year-long collaboration with Clarence Fisher’s (@glassbeed) class in Snow Lake, Manitoba.  While Clarence and I have collaborated with other schools before, they were for short-term projects.  In his recent post, Clarence clearly explains the value of a year-long collaboration versus the usual “sprints” as he calls them.  Idea Hive is the name of the community our students will meet and work in over the next year.  As our students develop their online communication skills, they’ll meet new friends and acquire the learning skills needed to become responsible digital citizens – skills that are essential in today’s global world.

As Clarence and I began our discussion, we looked for shared visions, curriculum and tools.  From there, we developed a number of specific projects that will take us into the first three or four months of school.  Other projects are percolating; we’ll revisit them as we move through each month.  Most importantly however, we planned to hit the ground running.

During the first day of school, my grade 8’s, who I’d taught last year, helped my grade 7’s as they were introduced to their Google Apps account.  Within a few days, our Idea Hive students completed an interest survey using Google Forms.  Through an introductory Skype session on day three, students got a chance to meet and ask questions as they briefly got to know each other.  Towards the end of the call, Clarence presented our Flickr photo competition.  Students are challenged to submit pictures of themselves taken in unique places, wearing the Idea Hive buttons.  Clarence had previously sent these buttons and magnets to me so we could distribute them to all students at the same time.  We were now connected.  Because of our very differing geographical locations, there are a lot of opportunities for picture settings unique to both classes. This is a great way for students to begin to learn about each other in their daily worlds.

Connecting the Idea Hive

Over a two day period, I felt like an orchestra conductor as I guided my students through the process of setting up their own WordPress blog.  Although I use WordPress, I’d never tried this feat with twenty-three 12- and 13-year-olds at once.  With patience on all our parts, we completed the task.  The students’ blogs will be an important communication tool throughout the year as students comment on each other’s posts.  This interaction begins next week, after students analyze the results of the interest survey to find similarities and differences with their Idea Hive peers.

There’s been a lot of “first” this week.  Showing our students we’re not afraid to take risks is an important part of the modeling process in our teaching practice.  We hope our students model our code of conduct when kinks and wrinkles occur in our plans (we know they will!) as they develop their problem-solving skills.

On a personal note, this weekend I thought about the importance of modeling this very same viewpoint as I experienced another exciting “first”.  My 17-year-old son is a new pilot, a recent  graduate from the Air Cadet program, and he intended on flying his plane to an airstrip closer to home.  I had the opportunity to go with him as his first passenger.  His mentors, both in their 70’s, knew he was ready for the flight home, and therefore so was I.  At the same time, I was nervous, realizing my child could not rely on me for help, but thrilled seeing that he has the confidence to know he doesn’t need it.

Learning with, and from our students and children sends a strong message.  We have confidence in them.  Taking risks inspires those around us to do the same, as they develop into life-long learners.

On the runway, full power – take-off!  It’s going to be an amazing flight.