Kid Blog Pen Pals

Over the summer, I took a trip to a country called Sri Lanka. While I was there, I lived with people from all over the world. I was there for a month, and developed close friendships with these people. I still talk with them on a weekly basis. Right now, my third grade class is learning about countries and their different cultures for their theme study. We came up with the idea to "pen pal" with my friends to learn more about their cultures. Using a website called TodaysMeet, we asked them questions about what life was like for them in their countries. You can read the stream below. We had friends chatting from 5 different countries: Blanca (Spain), Puja (UK), Daphne and Doron (The Netherlands/ Holland), Moeno (Japan), and Michal and Karolina (Poland).
On Tuesday, my class picked the person they want to pen pal from the Today's Meet group from a few weeks ago. I made a powerpoint with pictures of each pen pal, and we went back over the Today's Meet Feed from a few weeks ago to refresh over the responses each person gave.  As a refresher, they have 8 people to choose from, with 6 countries represented:
-Michal, Poland
-Karolina, Poland
-Doron, The Netherlands
-Daphne, The Netherlands
-Jasmine, Hong Kong
-Moeno, Japan
-Puja, UK
-Blanca, Spain

I pulled each student out and they told me their top two choices for pen pals. Using those requests, and the country they are studying for theme study this year as a guide, these were matches I made:

-Owen (Studying Mexico)- Michal
-James (Studying Brazil)- Michal
-Charlie N (Studying France)- Doron
-Charlie F (Studying China)- Jasmine
-Ava (Studying Japan)- Moeno
-Katie (Studying Morocco)- Karolina

-Amy (Studying Greece)- Daphne

Next Tuesday, the students will enroll is a Kidblog class. If you haven't used Kidblog before, here's a quick run down:

A teacher creates a "class", which generates a blog. From there, you can create categories for each student. The student can then post inside their category. When it comes time to publish their post, they can choose different audiences based on the privacy options the teacher makes in the blog settings. Once the students post, the instructor has to go in to approve the publication to the desired audience. Until then, it is only viewable by the instructor.  Guests can also enroll to participate in the blog using a join code, just like the students do. The process for a guest to publish a comment in the same as for a student to post; they comment then wait for instructor approval. This allows the teacher ultimate control for what goes up on the blog. 

The students will be posting their messages to their pen pals into their category in the blog, and the pen pals will comment their responses back. Next Tuesday, our goal is to get the students all enrolled in the class blog and have them write their first message to their pen pal.

Hopefully, the students will be able to get a lot from the blogging. They'll get to make connections with someone who lives in a culture unlike our own, while practicing using technology they may not be used, and get access to an inside source of the country they are studying.
Last Tuesday, students wrote to their pen pals for the first time! They wrote out their first entry on a piece of paper in the morning, and then in the afternoon while I was there I helped them type it into their blog. Since it was their first one, they introduced themselves and asked their pen pal some questions about themselves.

This is how the class blog turned out. You can see on the right each student has their own category they post into. All of the posts go into the home page as well.

All the pen pals responded within a day or so. A few of the pen pals even attached pictures to their responses! Next Tuesday, they'll read the responses from the pen pals and blog back to them.
Yesterday, the students read the comments from their pen pals. I was back in my own classroom at North, but my teacher said the kids acted like it was Christmas. They also typed up their response to their pen pal's questions. They were encouraged to post to their buddy during Thanksgiving break to show them the American traditions we have.

Here's an example of a student pen paling with her partner, Daphne:

The students have continued blogging with their pen pal. Students have posted about their Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Winter break plans. Many of the pen pals have similar equivalents in their countries that are celebrated in a different way.

            One of the pen pals, Moeno (from Japan), recently sent our class a box of Japanese food to try. The kids were delighted! We shared it with both third grade classes, sampling different Japanese goodies. The box was huge and filled with a variety of snacks: flavored gummies, green tea Kit Kats, spicy crackers, and Pocky. She even added little items to show Japanese culture, like a bottle of soy sauce with Japanese characters and a fan. We all had so much fun trying everything. The gummies had to consistency of an eyeball, and were cloyingly sweet. The spicy crackers were deceivingly hot: they grew in heat as I chewed. Oddly enough, the Monday class couldn’t stand them, while the Tuesday class ate an entire package. The pocky was a favorite all around, which isn’t surprising. Both the Monday class and the Tuesday class have students who are studying Japan for their topic study, and they talked to us while we ate.  The Tuesday student noted the packaging on the box: it is meticulously decorated. In addition, each package of food had the English name of it, in addition to a description. She made a connection between the box of food and the Bento boxes the Japanese serve food in. In both cases, great care was given to appearance. She guessed that the Japanese care about fine details. I was super impressed, and excited. It was what I hoped for when the pen pal project started; students being able to take the read in their books and connect it to real world experience. As a thank you to Moeno, we are going to write thank you notes to send in a box back to her, along with each of the student’s favorite candy.

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