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[Pt. 2] How to Travel the World Using Virtual Classrooms

Jun 27, 2020

In my last post [Pt. 1], I gave a brief introduction to the ins and outs of virtual classrooms. I introduced you to my virtual classroom series, Classrooms Around the World, and shared about the potential ways you can use virtual classrooms, whether you are teaching virtually or not. I shared about the potential these classrooms bring for increasing engagement, as well as the opportunity they allow for you to reflect your teacher values and what you hope to impart on the students in your class.  

[If you missed it, you can check out Pt. 1 here!]

I've been toying with the idea of how to build off of Classrooms Around the World. I want these virtual classrooms to be more than just a "virtual field trip". I want them to be able to fit into the curriculum and springboard culture-based learning that meets applicable objectives and standards. I want them to serve a true purpose, so to speak; not just be a "filler". My mission as a teacher, which you'll see reflected in this blog and the resources I create, is to bring the world to my classroom. I am passionate about exposing my students to 21st century themes and skills, integrated into the curriculum, in order to support them in becoming global citizens who can contribute to the world in a positive way. 

So one of the ideas I came up with to do this, which also allows me to build off of the original Classrooms Around the World concept, is something I like to call Explore Rooms. 

[Related: Access my Virtual Classroom Library HERE]

What are Explore Rooms?

Explore Rooms are a place where students can dive deeper into a specific theme or topic, in order to "explore" it further, while also practicing important academic skills. I created these rooms with targeting comprehension skills in mind, but really there are many potential ways you could build off of the content within these rooms in order to meet instructional objectives. I'll detail a little bit about the direction I've taken these rooms so far [and you can let your mind wonder with additional creative possibilities!].

So like I said, the original purpose of these rooms was for me to provide an extension to the rooms I create for Classrooms Around the World [although I have LOTS of other ideas I can't wait to get in the works!]. For this reason, I've created eight Explore Rooms that reflect the eight Classrooms Around the World I've created so far. [you'll notice some similarities in the decor :)]

Each room includes seven links: one video link, three text links, and three podcast links. I chose to include this type of variety in order to bring opportunities for differentiated learning to my students, as well as engagement on multiple levels. All of these formats provide an opportunity to practice comprehension-based activities and active learning skills. You could give students the freedom to choose their preferred format and explore independently, or you could choose one of the content pieces and explore whole-group style.

Right now, I've included some general graphic organizers that could be used with any of the content, but you could take it one step further and create follow-up discussion or comprehension-based questions, writing prompts, and so on to extend student thinking about the given topic. 

Another important thing to note is about the content itself. The links I've included in the Explore Rooms I am sharing now reflect current events in each country of study and/or stories that provide more of a glimpse into culture. You could easily make the content reflective of anything about the country you'd like students to explore further. Also, the links I've included are geared towards older kids, middle school and beyond. I plan to use these rooms with my 9th graders, so that's the level I was geared more towards when assembling these links. If you have younger students, or you want to substitute any of the content I've used, just replace the links with others that may be more suitable.

This is a good time for me to just make a quick disclaimer: please, please, please review the links prior to assigning any of these rooms to your students. It goes without saying, but what works for one class and one group of students may not be the best choice for another. [Below I will share a few ideas for places you can look for content!]

A deeper look into Explore Rooms...

I do want to share a little bit about the different formats for content-sharing that I've included in these rooms. 

The video link is not meant to be watched, as much as it's meant to be read. The video link I've included in each room links to a video with captioning. The goal is for students to practice reading, but in a potentially more engaging format. I won't go into the ins and outs of how captioning can support literacy, but I will direct you HERE to read more about the research behind that. Basically, captioning provides an opportunity to boost foundational reading skills, like phonics, word recognition and fluency through additional print exposure. Struggling readers, students with language-based disabilities, and English Language Learners can especially benefit from this format.

The good news is, there are a lot of great sites out there with videos that include the option of captioning. If using Youtube, you can add "subtitles/CC" as a filter and find videos that way. A few other sites I've found useful for videos when assembling these rooms include:

 Depending on the video and the source, you may just have to remind students to turn on the CC function when they open the video.

The next format I included in the rooms is a text link. You'll notice that all of the text links I chose to include were from the source Newsela. This is because I LOVE using this source with my students. My school has a subscription, which allows me to utilize the extra features of the site, but you can still access the articles without having a subscription [there's a free account option].

*After writing this post, I came across CommonLit, a new source that I have completely fallen in love with and plan to use alongside Newsela [I will likely go back and add some of these new links to my Explore Rooms]. Like, you know the feeling you get when you discover something that seems like the best thing since sliced bread? Yea, this did it for me! CommonLit has a library of AMAZING texts, with links to paired texts, related media, guiding questions, assessment questions, and discussion prompts for each text available. And the best thing of all, it's FREE for educators! I'm still in the midst of exploring, there are a lot of potential ways I can see using this resource in my classroom, but this is an additional site I would recommend utilizing for Explore Room links.

Again, there are tons of other great sources out there so you can easily replace these links I've included, if you prefer. Some additional sites I would recommend as a starting place are:

  • Google News
  • New York Times - special note here about *The Learning Network* with NYT, there are literally TONS of text-based resources you can use in the classroom [the possibilities of this source deserves a whole other post in my opinion, it's AMAZING!]
  • Knowhere News

The last format I included in the rooms is an audio link. I found NPR to be the most useful in searching and finding relevant content for each country of study [especially current events]. You could also look into different podcast providers, like Stitcher for example, and search for podcast episodes about the theme you are looking for. Many podcasts like this are lengthier than I was wanting, so I chose 3-6 minute audio clips from NPR instead. NPR also has a selection of text-based sources, as well.

[Related: Access my Virtual Classroom Library HERE]

 More to come...

So this is just the beginning of Explore Rooms. Going forward, I will add Explore Rooms with each corresponding Classroom Around the World I create. I will also be putting together Explore Rooms to help students explore more about important 21st century issues [stay tuned!]. If you want to access each Explore Room as I create them, be sure to sign up for access to my [free] Virtual Classroom Library. Otherwise, I'll be releasing them set by set [if you're following along in the Bitmoji Facebook group!].

Happy Teaching!


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